Another country

28 11 2015

A Month in the Country by J L Carr

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In the summer of 1920 two men, both war survivors meet in the quiet English countryside. One is living in the church, intent upon uncovering and restoring an historical wall painting while the other camps in the next field in search of a lost grave.Out of their meeting comes a deeper communion and a catching up of the old primeval rhythms of life so cruelly disorientated by the Great War.
One of those lost literary gems which seems to resurface occasionally, this slim novella is a poetic pastoral masterpiece. In terms of pace, tone and texture it really is just perfect. Do read it.

5 star





Sweet on the vine

22 11 2015

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon

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Vineland, a zone of blessed anarchy in northern California, is the last refuge of hippiedom, a culture devastated by the sobriety epidemic, Reaganomics, and the Tube. Here, in an Orwellian 1984, Zoyd Wheeler and his daughter Prairie search for Prairie’s long-lost mother, a Sixties radical who ran off with a narc. Vineland is vintage Pynchon, full of quasi-allegorical characters, elaborate unresolved subplots, corny songs (“Floozy with an Uzi”), movie spoofs (Pee-wee Herman in The Robert Musil Story), and illicit sex (including a macho variation on the infamous sportscar scene in V.).

Utterly bonkers and very, very Pynchon. Funny, anarchic and genuinely weird it isn’t an entirely straightforward read but well worth it.

four stars





All Smiles

14 11 2015

Smiley’s People by John Le Carre

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Into a shadowy, violent and intricate world steeped in moral ambivalences steps George Smiley – tubby, perceptive and morally perplexed as ever – sometime acting Chief of the Circus, as the Secret Service is known.
A Russian émigré woman is accosted in Paris in broad daylight by a Soviet intelligence officer. A scared Estonian boy plays courier in Hamburg. In London at the dead of night, George Smiley is summoned from his lonely bed by news of the murder of an ex-agent. His brief is to bury the crime, not solve it. His dilemma is the number of ghosts from the past who clamour to him from the shadows.
Through scenes of mounting revelation, and a cast of superbly drawn characters, through Switzerland, Hamburg, Paris and the fens of Schleswig-Holstein, le Carré rallies us irresistibly to the chase, till we find ourselves at Smiley’s very side on the Berlin border, where Smiley’s people – the ‘no-men of no-man’s land’ – conduct their grimy commerce.

Follow up to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy  this classic Cold War novel is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. Having come late to these I nevertheless found them really quite compelling and enjoyable. They do seem to hold up pretty well.

four stars

 





Shiny shiny

7 11 2015

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

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From the Guardian review

The novel’s first-person narrator, known simply as U (we don’t find out Y), is a consultant ethnographer retained by an influential organisation to gather data in the furtherance of a multi-tentacled project to gain some strategic, unbreakable stranglehold on the world. The how or why of this isn’t entirely clear, not even to U, as he jets off to international conferences or busies himself in his basement office identifying memes and overarching rhetorical behaviours, casting his anthropologist’s eye over breakfast cereals, rollerblading, oil spills, the mysterious deaths of skydivers.

There follows dense babble from the narratives of cultural theory, technology, tribal lores and so on, from which U must compile a Great Report that will unlock the underlying codes that govern our age. No wellspring of learning is left unfathomed, while the commonest observation – a shoe buckle, the buffering circle on a computer screen – is liable to trigger a poststructural disquisition on time and memory, or a lesson on how iodine or ventilation systems work.

Unfortunately this all makes for a really rather dull read. It’s clever but ultimately unsatisfying and leaves you with an empty feeling at the end. Despite its Booker shortlist status this really is one to avoid.

2 star





The quarry man

1 11 2015

The Quarry by Iain Banks

 

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Kit doesn’t know who his mother is. What he does know, however, is that his father, Guy, is dying of cancer. Feeling his death is imminent, Guy gathers around him his oldest friends – or at least the friends with the most to lose by his death. Paul – the rising star in the Labour party who dreads the day a tape they all made at university might come to light; Alison and Robbie, corporate bunnies whose relationship is daily more fractious; Pris and Haze, once an item, now estranged, and finally Hol – friend, mentor, former lover and the only one who seemed to care.

But what will happen to Kit when Guy is gone? And why isn’t Kit’s mother in the picture? As the friends reunite for Guy’s last days, old jealousies, affairs and lies come to light as Kit watches on.

Actually read this a while ago. It is a classic Iain Banks and so sad that it was to be his last. It has all the hallmarks of his previous work and this, of course, makes it a compelling read. Great stuff.

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