Ruptured

17 02 2018

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson

 

1955. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. The case is never solved. Fifty years later an old photograph comes to light, and it becomes clear that the couples may not have been alone on the fjord after all…

In nearby Siglufjörður, young policeman Ari Thór tries to piece together what really happened that fateful night, in a town where no one wants to know, where secrets are a way of life. He’s assisted by Ísrún, a news reporter in Reykjavik, who is investigating an increasingly chilling case of her own. Things take a sinister turn when a child goes missing in broad daylight. With a stalker on the loose, and the town of Siglufjörður in quarantine, the past might just come back to haunt them.

It’s a pretty decent thriller, very atmospheric and rather spooky. Plenty of twists and turns and much to keep your interest right to the end. And the Icelandic setting really adds to the flavour.

 

 

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Dead good

10 02 2018

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?

Not at all sure it is better than some of the other books on the Man Booker longlist or shortlist but nevertheless it is a really excellent read. From some unfathomable principle I generally aim to avoid reading Man Booker winners for at least a few years. However, in this case I’m really glad I didn’t as it really is an incredibly original work, clever, funny and very moving in places.

 

four stars





Falling for the Fall

27 01 2018

I started this blog back in September 2004 and named it after my favourite Fall Song.

I first fell for the Fall thanks to my very good friend Robbie Foy who played them continuously on a car journey from Edinburgh to Truro – Palace of Swords Reversed and Bend Sinister three times each I think. A very compelling and persuasive induction and after that I was hooked.

There have been plenty of obituaries of the late, great Mark E Smith but this one in the New Statesman is one of the better ones (still waiting for the Economist one) and there was a nice piece from Dave Simpson too (see also below).

Anyway, in recent years, there have been a number of books about the Fall, some of which I’ve covered here:

This entertaining autobiography from Brix Smith Start covers her time in the Fall and marriage to MES.

Dave Simpson’s book on tracing every former member of the Fall is a key record of the band’s development.

Steve Hanley, one of the longer lasting Fall members, does a great job in The Big Midweek of making the insanity of life in the Fall sound almost like a normal job.

And then there is Smith’s own autobiography. Not a great read to be honest but entertaining in places, including his views on other artists – primarily negative of course.

So, no doubt there will be more reflections in future but in the meantime there is one heck of a back catalogue to revisit.

And then there is this old BBC Documentary, The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith,  which has recently been revived and is well worth a look

 





Furious!

20 01 2018

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

 

 

 

 

With extraordinary access to the Trump White House, Michael Wolff tells the inside story of the most controversial presidency of our time.

The first nine months of Donald Trump’s term were stormy, outrageous – and absolutely mesmerising. Now, thanks to his deep access to the West Wing, bestselling author Michael Wolff tells the riveting story of how Trump launched a tenure as volatile and fiery as the man himself.

In this explosive book, Wolff provides a wealth of new details about the chaos in the Oval Office. Among the revelations:

– What President Trump’s staff really thinks of him
– What inspired Trump to claim he was wire-tapped by President Obama
– Why FBI director James Comey was really fired
– Why chief strategist Steve Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner couldn’t be in the same room
– Who is really directing the Trump administration’s strategy in the wake of Bannon’s firing
– What the secret to communicating with Trump is
– What the Trump administration has in common with the movie The Producers
Never before has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.

There are plenty of revelations as indicated in the blurb. It reads like a thriller and is a real page turner, relating story after story of pure awfulness. Whilst there have been plenty of doubts cast about the veracity of some of the detail of some aspects the overall impression of utter and total chaos and a Whitehouse full of largely terrible and/or incompetent individuals (all with very distinctive names) is inescapable. It’s not going to end well.

I kept being reminded of this while reading it:

 

And this quote was really striking:

The information he did not get was formal information. The data. The details. The options. The analysis. He didn’t do PowerPoint. For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to—“professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note—he got up and left the room.

 

In addition, one of the most improbably named individuals, Reince Priebus, who spent six months as Trump’s Chief of Staff, and doesn’t come out of it terribly positively, I kept imagining was actually a fictional royal relation of a famous Ian Rankin detective, Prince Rebus. That didn’t help.

So, it’s flawed and grim but a compellingly awful read.

 





Musical memory mania

13 01 2018

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan

 

This Is Memorial Device, the debut novel by David Keenan, is a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland in the late 1970s and early 80s as they were temporarily transformed by the endless possibilities that came out of the freefall from punk rock.

It follows a cast of misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be artists and musicians through a period of time where anything seemed possible, a moment where art and the demands it made were as serious as your life. At its core is the story of Memorial Device, a mythic post-punk group that could have gone all the way were it not for the visionary excess and uncompromising bloody-minded belief that served to confirm them as underground legends.

Written in a series of hallucinatory first-person eye-witness accounts that capture the prosaic madness of the time and place, heady with the magic of youth recalled, This Is Memorial Device combines the formal experimentation of David Foster Wallace at his peak circa Brief Interviews With Hideous Men with moments of delirious psychedelic modernism, laugh out loud bathos and tender poignancy.

Very different kind of story this. A range of overlapping and inter-related accounts from an extraordinary cast of characters all connected to a band that never quite was in a time and place that seems both real and remote. It’s strange, dark, inventive, sad in some places and very funny in others. Recommended.

four stars





Modern times

6 01 2018

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Cervantes’ tale of the deranged gentleman who turns knight-errant, tilts at windmills and battles with sheep in the service of the lady of his dreams, Dulcinea del Toboso, has fascinated generations of readers, and inspired other creative artists such as Flaubert, Picasso and Richard Strauss. The tall, thin knight and his short, fat squire, Sancho Panza, have found their way into films, cartoons and even computer games.

Supposedly intended as a parody of the most popular escapist fiction of the day, the ‘books of chivalry’, this precursor of the modern novel broadened and deepened into a sophisticated, comic account of the contradictions of human nature. On his ‘heroic’ journey Don Quixote meets characters of every class and condition, from the prostitute Maritornes, who is commended for her Christian charity, to the Knight of the Green Coat, who seems to embody some of the constraints of virtue.

Cervantes’ greatest work can be enjoyed on many levels, all suffused with a subtle irony that reaches out to encompass the reader, and does not leave the author outside its circle.

One of those BIG books that have been avoiding for decades but finally decided to tackle. And very glad I did. Whilst it does seem to go on forever it is, nevertheless, a consistently smart, clever, funny and really entertaining read throughout. Despite the fact it was written over 400 years go it feels incredibly modern in all sorts of ways including the stories within the story, the self-referential elements and plenty of irony. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are consistently fascinating and complex characters making the narrative thoroughly captivating. It really is worth the effort.

 





No Ordinary Conference

30 12 2017

Munich by Robert Harris

 

 

September 1938. Hitler is determined to start a war. Chamberlain is desperate to preserve the peace. The issue is to be decided in a city that will forever afterwards be notorious for what takes place there. Munich.

As Chamberlain’s plane judders over the Channel and the Führer’s train steams relentlessly south from Berlin, two young men travel with secrets of their own.

Hugh Legat is one of Chamberlain’s private secretaries; Paul Hartmann a German diplomat and member of the anti-Hitler resistance. Great friends at Oxford before Hitler came to power, they haven’t seen one another since they were last in Munich six years earlier. Now, as the future of Europe hangs in the balance, their paths are destined to cross again.

When the stakes are this high, who are you willing to betray? Your friends, your family, your country or your conscience?

Yet another gripping tale from Robert Harris. Must admit to my historical knowledge of this period being a little sketchy at best but Harris does an excellent job of providing a ton of period detail within  a compelling narrative which portrays the leading figures extremely convincingly and not unsympathetically in at least some cases. Great stuff.

four stars








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