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.

 

 

Advertisements




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





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





A funny thing happened on the way to Uni…

23 12 2017

True Crime on Campus

by someone or other

 

Students, staff and visitors often do the strangest things. From zombie apocalypse and unexplained beeping incidents to Quidditch and scrabble accidents it really is all kicking off on campus.

Pigeons, tigers, ninja turtles and a tarantula are all involved and there is much strange behaviour and many unfortunate events.

Staff, students and anyone interested in what really happens outside the university lecture room will enjoy these very real examples of True Crime on Campus.

 

I’ve been publishing True Crime on Campus since 2010 under the banner of Registrarism at Wonkhe.  Over this time many hundreds of bizarre, unfortunate, inexplicable and just plain weird campus crime reports have appeared. Now the very best of them are collected in an exciting book. It’s full of this kind of thing:

You can buy the book here, via the University’s online shop, confident that half of any profits from the sale will be given to support the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at the University of Nottingham.

Go on, you know it makes sense. Look at all these reviews:

 

The Guardian thought it was a great Christmas gift and it got a recommendation in the Times Higher too as well as on the University’s news pages. The Nottingham Post also liked it:

 

And obviously it gets from me although it is possible I am not wholly unbiased.

 





Murder most East Anglian

16 12 2017

 

It is 1937 and disillusioned Spanish Civil War veteran Stephen Sefton is stony broke. So when he sees a mysterious advertisement for a job where ‘intelligence is essential’, he applies.

Thus begins Sefton’s association with Professor Swanton Morley, an omnivorous intellect. Morley’s latest project is a history of traditional England, with a guide to every county.

They start in Norfolk, but when the vicar of Blakeney is found hanging from his church’s bellrope, Morley and Sefton find themselves drawn into a rather more fiendish plot. Did the Reverend really take his own life, or was it – murder?

Beginning a thrilling new detective series, ‘The Norfolk Mystery’ is the first of The County Guides. A must-read for fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, every county is a crime scene, and with 39 counties in store there’ll be plenty of murder, mystery and mayhem to confound and entertain you for years to come.

It’s very much pitched as Miss Marple meets Sherlock Holmes and certainly embraces elements of both with a largely entertaining mix of highbrow banter and murder. Irritating in some parts, fun in others it was certainly distinctive. Not sure I’m ready for part 2 in the series, let alone another 38.

 








%d bloggers like this: