Hollywood hollows

26 01 2019

The Deer Park by Norman Mailer


Amid the cactus wilds some two hundred miles from Hollywood lies a privileged oasis called Desert D’Or. It is a place for starlets, directors, studio execs, and the well-groomed lowlifes who cater to them. And, as imagined by Norman Mailer in this blistering classic, Desert D’Or is a moral proving ground, where men and women discover what they really want—and how far they are willing to go to get it. As Mailer traces their couplings and uncouplings, their uneasy flirtation with success and self-extinction, he creates a legendary portrait of America’s machinery of desire.

It feels very much a novel of its time. The central characters, whether or not they were based on those around in that era, feel like credible portraits. None of them though is remotely attractive and few have any redeeming features at all. Mailer, who I still think is an outstanding writer, was not known for his progressive sexual politics and unfortunately the underlying misogyny really does come through powerfully here. Still, an impressive, if unedifying, portrayal of a particular time and place and an interesting artefact if nothing else.



Flying higher

19 01 2019

The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

With echoes of Raymond Carver as well as Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road, The Last Pilot re-ignites the thrill and excitement of the space race through the story of one man’s courage in the face of unthinkable loss.

Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot begins in the bone-dry Mojave Desert during the late 1940s, where US Air Force test pilots are racing to break the sound barrier. Among the exalted few is Jim Harrison: dedicated to his wife, Grace, and their baby daughter.

By the 1960s, the space race is underway and Harrison and his colleagues are offered a place in history as the world s first astronauts. But when his young family is thrown into crisis, Jim is faced with a decision that will affect the course of the rest of his life whether to accept his ticket to the moon and at what cost.

It’s a good portrayal of an extraordinary time and place and does capture some of the excitement of the early days of the space race. But at the heart this is a tale of relationships and the absence of what would now be described as work-life balance. Whilst it is tightly written and well crafted, the comparisons with Carver and Hemingway are somewhat overstated. Nevertheless a decent read.


Top reads of 2018

12 01 2019

Big six

These are my favourite reads from the past 12 months. Plenty of other very good ones too but these are the stand out novels including a couple of older classics and two soon to be ones.


The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje


The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles by Giorgio Bassani


Villette by Charlotte Bronte


Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes


This is Memorial Device by David Keenan


The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills

All highly recommended.

Jack’s back

5 01 2019

Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre

What if your deepest secret was revealed?

Sam Morpeth is growing up way too fast, left to fend for a younger sister when their mother goes to prison and watching her dreams of university evaporate. But Sam learns what it is to be truly powerless when a stranger begins to blackmail her.

Who would you turn to?

Meanwhile, reporter Jack Parlabane has finally got his career back on track, but his success has left him indebted to a volatile, criminal source. Now that debt is being called in, and it could cost him everything.

What would you be capable of?

Thrown together by a vindictive and mysterious mutual enemy, Sam and Jack are about to discover they might be each other’s only hope.

It’s one of the best in the very good eight book Jack Parlabane series by Brookmyre. With all the customary ingredients including moral ambiguities and some complicated plotting the story really races along. Brookmyre often covers some really contemporary themes, including around IT, media and politics,  and this is no exception – it could all sound pretty dated in a few years but at present it feels really convincing. Parlabane is also a great leading character – largely honest and credible with some big character flaws which keep him interesting and unpredictable.

The climax is certainly a gripping one but does depend on the author holding back some narrative which would otherwise have been revealed – a bit of a cheat really but forgivable. Anyway, great fun and recommended.



four stars

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