Clocking on

19 07 2015

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

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One drowsy summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands exactly what sort of asylum the woman was seeking . . .
The Bone Clocks follows the twists and turns of Holly’s life from a scarred adolescence in Gravesend to old age on Ireland’s Atlantic coast as Europe’s oil supply dries up – a life not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality. For Holly Sykes – daughter, sister, mother, guardian – is also an unwitting player in a murderous feud played out in the shadows and margins of our world, and may prove to be its decisive weapon.
Metaphysical thriller, meditation on mortality and chronicle of our self-devouring times, this kaleidoscopic novel crackles with the invention and wit that have made David Mitchell one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. Here is fiction at its most spellbinding and memorable best.

Do love David Mitchell’s writing and, although this one has not enjoyed universal acclaim, the Bone Clocks feels like classic Mitchell. Very much in similar vein to Cloud Atlas with its distinct but interwoven narratives this really does tick along fantastically well.

four stars





Remains

4 07 2015

The Remains of the Day by Kazoo Ishiguro

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The novel’s narrator, Stevens, is a perfect English butler who tries to give his narrow existence form and meaning through the self-effacing, almost mystical practice of his profession. In a career that spans the second world war, Stevens is oblivious of the real life that goes on around him–oblivious, for instance, of the fact that his aristocrat employer is a Nazi sympathizer. Still, there are even larger matters at stake in this heartbreaking, beautifully crafted novel– namely, Stevens’ own ability to allow some bit of life-affirming love into his tightly repressed existence.

A really outstanding novel this. It’s a book which I had unaccountably avoided reading for many years. Actually this is possibly because of it’s Booker prize winning status, film tie in and general popularity. So, unwarranted prejudice on my part. Anyway, having finally got round to it I realise what I was missing. Terrific and powerful.

 

four stars

 

 





A very British do

27 06 2015

British Story: A Romance by Michael Nath

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What’s haunting Kennedy? He believes that literary characters exist just like you or me, but he’s getting nowhere trying to prove it. His Falstaff project is an embarrassment; Barbara’s wanting a baby; there’s that trouble from last autumn; he can’t even tell a story.

His fortunes change when he’s befriended by Arthur Mountain, a larger-than-life Welshman with a peculiar take on history and a grand distaste for the modern world. Together with his trainspotting wife, snooty secretary and trusty machete, Arthur opens Kennedy’s soul. Philosophical, frightening and hilarious, British Story is an adventure in imagination and a rallying cry for wonder. With this witty and critical examination of contemporary life, Michael Nath has called up the lost spirit of resistance. The stoplines are operational!

The second novel by the University of Westminster academic, this at times surreal tale follows the entanglement of a lecturer with a group of oddballs who share a strange extended tale stretching back to wartime Swansea via Doncaster and Edinburgh. Reminiscent of Vonnegut in parts it is a really rather engaging and entertaining yarn with plenty of knowing literary allusions.

stars-3-5





Clothing etc

10 05 2015

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

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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








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