Short cuts

28 04 2018

Every Short Story  1951-2012 by Alasdair Gray

The first sixteen tales in this collection were published by Canongate in 1983 with the title Unlikely Stories, Mostly. This collection also has fifty-seven tales from later books, plus sixteen new ones written for the hardback publication of this collection. This last section, Tales Droll and Plausible, shows that Gray’s recent twenty-first-century fiction is as uncomfortably funny and up to date as his earliest.

This is a terrific collection of stories by one of my favourite writers. As the first page of the contents shows there are some great ones in here:



And there are many, many more. They all demonstrate Gray’s extraordinary imagination and often dark and disturbing creativity. A great compendium to dip into.


four stars

So long…and thanks

21 04 2018

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Trilogy by Douglas Adams

As Wikipedia has it in relation to the first book in the series:

The broad narrative of Hitchhiker follows the misadventures of the last surviving man, Arthur Dent, following the demolition of the planet Earth by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Dent is rescued from Earth’s destruction by Ford Prefect, a human-like alien writer for the eccentric, electronic travel guide The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by hitchhiking onto a passing Vogon spacecraft. Following his rescue, Dent explores the galaxy with Prefect and encounters Trillian, another human that had been taken from Earth prior to its destruction by the President of the Galaxy, the two-headed Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the depressed Marvin, the Paranoid Android.

And it all gets even more improbable after that. Moreover, it’s the most inaccurately named trilogy there is. I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy nearly four decades ago and have returned to it many times since (including as part of the Nottingham Reading Programme) along with its successors

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
Life, the Universe and Everything
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish
Mostly Harmless

I’ve just read them all again, after a bit of a break, mainly to check if they were still as much fun as I remember. I’m pleased to report that, on the whole, they have still got it although if I am honest things do flag about towards the middle of book 5 and it doesn’t end in a terribly upbeat way either. (And as for the sequel to this, penned by Eoin Colfer years after Douglas Adams’ death, the less said about that the better.)

So, whereas the 80s TV series is not perhaps quite as good as I remembered it to be, the recent movie is pretty dreadful and the latest Radio 4 series is more than a little lame, the books all still do stand the test of time, with Zaphod, Arthur, Ford, Trillian and Marvin all still doing the business.

Stoned, the crows

14 04 2018

The Crow Road by Iain Banks


‘It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.’
Prentice McHoan has returned to the bosom of his complex but enduring Scottish family. Full of questions about the McHoan past, present and future, he is also deeply preoccupied: mainly with death, sex, drink, God and illegal substances…
With some trepidation I recently re-read this early Iain Banks novel, now over 25 years old, having not done so since shortly after its publication, having loved it back then. I should not have been so worried, it remains a cracking yarn and definitely one of Banks’ best. Banks ploughed a distinctive furrow in contemporary fiction at the end of the last century and The Crow Road is an outstanding example of his work. Although some of the IT references may now seem a little quaint in the attempt to sound terribly cutting edge, nothing can distract from a great plot, well-drawn characters and a thoroughly compelling narrative.

Not Wholly Unbearable

7 04 2018

The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth by Malcolm Pryce



There is nothing unusual about the barrel-organ man who walks into private detective Louie Knight’s office. Apart from the fact that he has lost his memory. And his monkey is a former astronaut. And he is carrying a suitcase that he is too terrified to open. And he wants a murder investigated. The only thing unusual about the murder is that it took place a hundred years ago. And needs solving by the following week. Louie is too smart to take on such a case but also too broke to turn it down. Soon he is lost in a labyrinth of intrigue and terror, tormented at every turn by a gallery of mad nuns, gangsters and waifs, and haunted by the loss of his girlfriend, Myfanwy, who has disappeared after being fed drugged raspberry ripple.


I keep reading these hoping for a breakthrough. The characters are entertaining enough and the plotting is appropriately bonkers but the rib-tickling promised by many of the reviewers just fails to arrive. Nevertheless, it’s harmless, clever and mildly diverting so quite a long way from unbearable.

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