Clothing etc

10 05 2015

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

viv

In 1975, Viv Albertine was obsessed with music but it never occurred to her she could be in a band as she couldn’t play an instrument and she’d never seen a girl play electric guitar.

A year later, she was the guitarist in the hugely influential all-girl band the Slits, who fearlessly took on the male-dominated music scene and became part of a movement that changed music.

A raw, thrilling story of life on the frontiers and a candid account of Viv’s life post-punk – taking in a career in film, the pain of IVF, illness and divorce and the triumph of making music again – Clothes Music Boys is a remarkable memoir.

Raw, uncompromising, honest are the adjectives most used to describe this powerful memoir by Viv Albertine. A brutally direct account from childhood through her place at heart of punk as a member of the Slits and subsequent rollercoaster existence this is an at times funny, often painful, but always frank description of a both extraordinary and ordinary life. It really is rather compelling and Albertine comes across as a sincere and principled individual although always challenging.

(Similar words in a slightly different order appear in this Times Higher review.)

stars-3-5





Pure magic

21 03 2015

The Magician by Somerset Maugham

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Set in the bohemian café society of Paris at the turn of the nineteenth century, Maugham’s exploration of hypnotism and the occult was inspired by the sinister black magician Aleister Crowley. At the start of this compulsive gothic horror story, Arthur and his beautiful, innocent fiancée Margaret look forward to an idyllic life together, until they encounter the mesmerising and repulsive Oliver Haddo…

It’s a really good yarn and something of a horror story based around the black arts. Needless to say therefore that the idyllic life anticipated by Arthur doesn’t quite come to pass and the Crowley-esque Haddo has a dramatic and disturbing impact on him. But even more so on Margaret….

stars-3-5.





Marching

14 03 2015

The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth

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The Radetzky March is a meditation on the Austro-Hungarian Empire through the prism of three generations of the Trotta family. The novel opens in 1859 at the Battle of Solferino, when the young Lieutenant Trotta saves the life of the Emperor and is ennobled. He owes the Empire everything, and his son also becomes a conscientious servant of the great multinational state even as it enters into its period of chaos, with competing nationalisms and ideologies tearing it apart. The final generation of Trottas cannot comprehend or survive the collapse of the Empire, which no longer has any purchase on reality.
Beginning at the moment when the Habsburg dominions began to crumble, and ending at the moment when the old Emperor’s body is finally entombed in the vault of Capuchins in Vienna, the narrative arc of Roth’s novel is perfectly judged. However, it is Roth’s intelligent compassion and ironic sense of history that confer on The Radetzky March its greatness.

 

 
One of those books that really should be much better known than it seems to be. Have been recommending to everyone I can since reading it. It’s really well judged, nicely translated and just an excellent read.
 

 

four stars





A very French affair

21 02 2015

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

 

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PARIS, JANUARY 1895.

Twenty thousand spectators are baying ‘Death to the Jew’ as Captain Alfred Dreyfus is denounced as a spy. Sentenced to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island, his case seems closed forever.

Newly promoted to the head of ‘the Statistical Selection’ – the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus – Officer George Picquart begins to suspect there is something rotten at its heart.

Despite official warnings, Picquart continues to pursue the truth until he realises he has more in common with Dreyfus than he could ever have imagined.

 

It’s an excellent tale of power, corruption and lies in high places. Combining historical detail and espionage with a gripping plot line its a terrifically exciting read.

 

four stars





Mischievous

14 02 2015

Their Lips talk of Mischief by Alan Warner

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High up in the Conrad Flats that loom bleakly over Acton, two future stars of the literary scene – or so they assume – are hard at work, tapping out words of wit and brilliance between ill-paid jobs writing captions for the Cat Calendar 1985 and blurbs for trashy novels with titles like Brothel of the Vampire. Just twenty-one but already well entrenched in a life eked out on dole payments, pints and dollops of porridge and pasta, Llewellyn and Cunningham don’t have it too bad: a pub on the corner, a misdirected parental allowance, and the delightful company of Aoife, Llewellyn’s model fiancée, mother of his young baby – and the woman of Cunningham’s increasingly vivid dreams.

It’s a fantastic tale of shambolic and dissolute literary lifestyles in Thatcher’s Britain. There’s more than a touch of Withnail & I about it too. And, although it’s London rather than Warner’s more familiar Oban, the settings are thoroughly convincing. A really terrific piece of writing.

stars-4-0._V5268001_





Gig nostalgia

7 02 2015

Everything But The Girl – January 1985

This academic year Edinburgh University Library has been publishing, each week, the edition of Student from 30 years ago. 1984-85 was my second year as a student at Edinburgh and every one of these brings back some great (mainly) memories. One of my favourites from the 31 January 1985 paper though is this review of the first Everything But The Girl gig I attended:

 

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It’s a rubbish headline obviously and not quite how I remember the gig which to my mind was uniformly wonderful.

That’s nostalgia for you though.





No poetry

31 01 2015

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter

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Meet Matt Prior. He’s about to lose his job, his house, his wife, and maybe his sanity too.

Financial journalist Matt quit his job to set up a website which couldn’t fail. Only now he’s woken up to the biggest crisis since the Great Crash, and it has. He’s got six days to save his house. It’s hard to focus when your wife’s having an online affair with her childhood sweetheart, but there are children to think about . . . So when he gets hold of some high-grade dope and finds he can sell a piece on at a profit, he begins to think this might be his salvation.

A fabulously funny, heartfelt novel about how we can skate close to the edge of ruin – and pull back.

Despite the obvious confusion about the main character being named after a former England wicket keeper, it’s not a bad premise for a story which then takes off in an absurd direction. However, it really isn’t nearly as amusing as this blurb suggests.

3 star








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