Offshore capers

29 03 2012

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre

Gavin is creating a unique ‘holiday experience’, every facility any tourist who hates abroad will ever want, will all be available on a converted North Sea oil rig. To test the facilities he’s hosting a reunion for his old school (none of his ex-classmates can remember him, but what the heck, it’s free). He is so busy showing off that he doesn’t notice that another group have invited themselves along — a collection of terrorist mercenaries who are occasionally of more danger to themselves than to the public. And they in turn are unaware that Inspector MacGregor has got wind of their activities. Within twenty-four hours Gavin’s dream has blown to the four winds, along with a lot of other things. Fast, rabidly funny, and seriously over the top.

It’s another highly entertaining and darkly comic romp from Brookmyre who seems to have made this genre his own. All utterly preposterous but really good fun (apart from all of the unfortunate deaths, of course).


15 03 2012

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

One of those classics I have been meaning to read for, ooh, about 30 years and as it turns out I don’t feel that I’ve missed an awful lot. Some really entertaining passages both pre- and post ship wrecking and during 28 years of solitary on the island but some rather dull spiritual musings too. I was prompted to pick it up though by <a href=’’>a review  by Terry Eagleton of a recent book about Crusoe in the London Review of Books </a>:

One of the ironies of Robinson Crusoe is that although the setting is exotic, Crusoe’s behaviour is just the opposite. He potters around like a Home Counties gardener tending his flower-beds. We half expect him to open a greengrocer’s. The novel is a celebration of sturdy commonsensical English rationality, which looks all the more impressive and unflappable when up against such outlandish conditions. It’s nice to see a desert island looking a little like Dorking. There is something both admirable and absurd about Crusoe’s petit bourgeois approach to his new home – for example, when he rigs up an umbrella for himself. He distils the true spirit of a nation of shopkeepers.

Spot on.


8 03 2012

Nemesis by Philip Roth



Athletic but unfit for war, Bucky Cantor is in charge of the playground in an oppressive New Jersey wartime summer when a polio outbreak begins to strike down the kids in his charge. His reluctant decision to leave his playground director job though has disastrous consequences. It’s a thoroughly compelling and claustrophobic narrative which captures the horror and sadness caused by an invisible enemy and the dilemmas faced by one man trying to face it down.

From the blurb:

Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground – and on the everyday realities he faces – Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain.

Not his best but still very good indeed.


Book v kindle: let’s have a pointless debate

1 03 2012

Does it matter?
No. I still like books but now prefer to read most things on the iPad. So why are people getting quite so exercised about it? It really isn’t the end of civilisation.

Ye olde books

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books offers a thorough and utterly sensible commentary on ebooks and concludes:

The e-book, by eliminating all variations in the appearance and weight of the material object we hold in our hand and by discouraging anything but our focus on where we are in the sequence of words (the page once read disappears, the page to come has yet to appear) would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience. Certainly it offers a more austere, direct engagement with the words appearing before us and disappearing behind us than the traditional paper book offers, giving no fetishistic gratification as we cover our walls with famous names. It is as if one had been freed from everything extraneous and distracting surrounding the text to focus on the pleasure of the words themselves. In this sense the passage from paper to e-book is not unlike the moment when we passed from illustrated children’s books to the adult version of the page that is only text. This is a medium for grown-ups.

The end of civilisation

It’s a powerful and compelling argument and really difficult to disagree with. The debate really is pointless. So can we move on now please?

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