The Essex Serpent

Happy International  Woman’s day – here’s a great book featuring a strong independent woman. It’s unfortunate that such women still need to be labelled so.  Strong independent men are just called: men.

Like a lot of great novels, The Essex Serpent is one big MacGuffin. The Goldfinch is not about a stolen goldfinch painting, Jaws is not about a shark (book not movie), and The Essex Serpent, is not about a water-lurking beast. It’s about a cast of wonderfully realised characters, and how their various relationships overlap, how they navigate unrequited love in its various forms and remain true to their own vocations. At the heart of the book is a person called Cora Seaborne, who is determined to cast aside the shackles of woman and just be. She has no time for the expectations of femininity and is devoted to the pursuit of curiosity.

Cora has recently been set delirious with the freedom widowhood has granted her to explore the world’s curiosities, though bereaved widow is another label she refuses to wear. Her travels take her to Essex where rumoured sightings of a serpent have rattled a small parish and the local vicar sets to banish serpentine superstitions and maintain faith in the more established Christian superstitions (a trope that never fails to amuse me).

The basic* plot is strongly bolstered by an array of characters which doesn’t contain a single extra. Every character jumps off the page; including Luke Garret, the wonderfully talented, yet tragically impish, surgeon, in Love with Cora. Cora’s precocious son, who is every bit as curious about the wonders of nature, yet somehow seems to have little in common with his mother. And William the well read parish vicar who sees no conflict between Christian faith and scientific reason.

* I say basic, but it’s a subtly intricate plot with just enough going on to make it a very entertaining and engaging read.

Lisa McInerney – The Blood Miracles

This is my second time starting a Lisa McInerney novel with great excitement. I have to admit I had mixed feelings when I realised The Blood Miracles was a sequel. I’m not a big fan of series books, not sure why. I never buy anything with a number in the title. Yet this cast of characters was so wonderfully realised in the debut novel, that I was more than happy to delve into their chaotic lives again.

The Blood Miracles picks up the plot a few years on from the end of The Glorious Heresies: “This, like so many of Ryan Cusack’s Fuck-ups, begins with Ecstasy”. And we’re off. That first line sets the pace for the whole book. Ryan is a fuck up. He just can’t get his head out of gangland and drug dealing. He’s been making too much easy money. And he’s already in too deep; it’s not a job where you can just hand in your two week’s notice and ask for your p45. But he’s sick of his own wheeling and dealing, and getting off his head more than he can handle, and more than his girlfriend can bear. His creative musical side nags him constantly. He has so much wasted potential and his girlfriend, Karine, is sick of telling him this.

Their relationship has soured badly. The whirlwind romance is over. It’s on the floor of some filthy toilet cubicle in the remnants of a coke wrapper. The relationship is threatened from all angles. Ryan is really trying to make some progress with his music, but the gangland nutters keep pulling him back to the gutter. There’s a huge Ecstasy deal going down and he’s the only man for dealing with the Neopolitan dealers who don’t have a word of English. There’s a new girl on the scene too, and an old one, our beloved mystic; Maureen. There’s too much chaos to juggle and Ryan can barely keep his head together to make sense of it all, or make any sensible choices.

Blood miracles is a thoroughly engaging and thrilling read. I can’t remember the last time I found it this hard to pull myself away from a book when needs must, and then the pull of it demanding to be picked up again was magnetic.

True Dat Boy!!

Released 20th April

Ali Land – Good Me, Bad me

A lot of people have been talking about this book lately. It has a memorable cover, which keeps popping up in my various timelines. When I heard the basic premise: a young girl is taken into care after going to the police to hand in her mother, a child serial killer, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be YA, a sensational thriller, or literary fiction (what I was hoping for). At a high level, it’s a mix of those three genres, and much more; it’s its own thing really.

There are a few things going on in with the plot too. There’s the dark background of the awful crimes Millie’s mother has committed but against Millie, and fatally to other children, Milly’s integration into a foster family with their own problems, and her struggle with settling into a posh girl’s school with some horrible bullies. And also as the perfectly descriptive title suggests Milly’s struggle with her own identity and morality. All these elements are finely weaved into a very compelling read.

Cecilia Ahern – Lyrebird

Popular Romantic Fiction really isn’t my thing. But this was one of the options in my online book club, and I thought I’d give Cecilia Ahern the benefit of the doubt. It can be refreshing to read a genre you wouldn’t normally read now and then. Also there are so few Irish Audiobooks, I’ve only listened to about 4 including this.

Plot: a documentary crew stumble upon a young woman with a unique talent for mimicry; Think Little Voice possessed by Michael Winslow and you have it.

This started off really well. I was quite surprised. Really well written realistic interesting characters. I was hooked from the start and enjoyed every bit of it. And then it all went wrong. The plot took a turn that I found as cheap and tacky as the TV show that got involved. I just didn’t enjoy this turn of events and hoped it would be short lived. But it stayed with it for the rest of the plot. I didn’t buy this at all. None of the characters would have gone along with this, and it really felt like a cheap and tacky plot diversion to prolong the oldest romance trope in the book: “Will they won’t they?”. What a disappointment to such a great start. It could have been so much better. Also I couldn’t help thinking I was reading a potential screenplay for a hollywood romance.

I never hated it. I never wanted to abandon it. And I never got bored. And I liked most of the characters. But I found this whole section of the book, which was the majority of the plot, very disappointing which only confirmed the suspicion that popular romance doesn’t have much to offer me. Particularly if tacky cliched plot devices are the best they have to offer.

My top 10 books of 2016

 

10. Tender – McKeon, Belinda

Kindle edition

Heady college days. Two friends, Catherine and James. James is vibrant and energetic. Catherine is whiney and clingy. These characters border very close to being very irritating but McKeon, a master in exploring the subtleties of human interaction, pulls back just enough to let you care about them.

9. Bird Box – Malerman, Josh

Kindle edition

Fun unhyped thriller with a simple concept: people have started to go Berserk when they see *something*. The world quickly escalates to apocalypse. This is the story of one woman trying to survive with two children who have only known this world through a blindfold. Fun.

8. A Decent Ride – Irvine Welsh

Audiobook edition

Juice Terry Jones. A total shagmeister. Drives a taxi. Shags everything in sight. He’s almost too much to bear but he’s contrasted by the story of a sweet simple radge called Jonty. Welsh breaks every taboo in this book. The Guardian wrote it off as Poor writing and penis jokes. In lesser hands, I’d agree but no one can write this kind of stuff like Welsh, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this.

7. Undermajordomo Minor – deWitt, Patrick

Audiobook edition

Patrick deWitt really gets the idea that writing should always be entertaining;  I’m yet to meet someone who hasn’t loved The Sisters Brothers. Under Major Domo is probably not quite as good but it’s not too far off either.

 6. Alan Partridge – Nomad

Audiobook edition

The follow up to Alan Partidge’s autobiography, sees him retrace a path his father took many years ago. Once again this is a laugh-a-minute. The audio version read in-character is a must.

5. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Harari, Yuval Noah

Audiobook edition

Essential non-fiction exploring many theories about why we are the way we are, where we’ve come from and how we got here. Lots of common sense where you find yourself nodding and thinking you knew that already. But plenty of unique ideas also. One of the major themes is the idea that sapiens are different to other animals mostly because of myths that we’ve all agreed to believe in, such as the concept of money.

4. Nothing on Earth – Conor O’Callaghan

People go missing. Where have they gone? Why have they gone? Is it a psychological thriller? A domestic drama? A whodunnit? Something else entirely? All of these things? None of these things? I loved the slight shapeshifting of form and the ambiguity in this story.

3.  My Struggle: Books 2 & 3 Books Knausgård, Karl Ove

Audiobook editions

3 down, 3 to go in this autobiographical masterwork dissecting the minutiae of human interactions and everyday life and somehow making it all fascinating.

2. Reasons to stay alive

Audiobook

This started with a little bit of eyerolling at the mansplaining and preaching-to-the-converted about mental illness. Explaining how mental pain far exceeds any physical pain, and that telling a depressive to cheer up, is as pointless as telling a cancer patient to uncancer. Aren’t we past all this? probably not. This was all fine – it’s a book aimed at everyone, so it starts with the basics, fine. And then as I read on, not only did I start to think of it as essential reading for everyone, but I finished thinking this was the most amazing, intelligent, philosophical, life-affirming , wonderful book that I’de read in a long time. I basked in it’s warm after-glow for the rest of the day that I finished it.

1.  Non-superhero Graphic novels

All paperpack

If there’s one good thing about having your own site, it’s being able to write whatever nonsense you like, and with that, my number 1 book this year is a genre; non-superhero graphic novels.  This was the year of the graphic novel for me. I’ve since stopped reading paper books entirely, except for anything with graphics. I’m not so interested in Superhero type books, they covers such a huge amount of the graphic novel market, that what’s left is very niche and hard to find good books. What I really like are graphic novels that match my non-graphic tastes: contemporary, literary fiction, dark humour, memoirs, short stories etc. I really enjoyed all these:

Everything is Teeth – Evie Wild & And Summer

A graphic novel memoir of Evie Wild’s childhood, during which she was obsessed with Sharks, her brother was bullied, and the family spent hot summers in Australia and it’s shark infested waters. Opened packaging and immediately read from start to finish in one setting with 8-year-old daughter. We both loved it.

teeth

Killing and Dying – Adrian Tomine

A book of short stories with a variety of characters, with a running theme of loss and broken relationships in modern life.

killing-and-dying

Lucia  – Andy Hixon

This one is all about the imagery, I love the dark creepy nightmarish characters in this end of life coastal town somewhere between Roston Vasey and hell.

luc4 andy-hixon-lucia-6-jonathan-cape

Fun Home – A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel

A decade old (wow – it seems so fresh to me) but my favourite book this year. This is an absolute gem of a graphic novel memoir from the woman most famous for the Bechdel test who grew up in a funeral home with an eccentric family.

0c9d1642ef9aaefa0c8bc99259a09e12 wils450

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Update: I somehow forgot…

Beetlebone – Kevin Barry

Audiobook – read by author

I never added this to my goodreads read list so it was off the radar but it was definitely one of my favourite books of the year. A mostly-fictional account of John Lennon coming over to Ireland to stay on an Island he had bought as a retreat from the limelight. Amazing writing which really touched a nerve with me.

 

 

A year in books 2015

That was a great year for books. I’ve just finished my Goodreads challenge of reading 50 books in 2015. First time doing a challenge. It kept me on my toes. And I got to read a lot of amazing books:

goodreads50

20 Female writers.  30 Male. ( I’m surprised it has ended as more male but that’s just how the cookie crumbled this year…. I think anyone who chooses books based on the sex of the author needs to wake the fuck up.)

10 Irish writers.

6 Short stories.

29 Novels.

11 non fiction.

23 Audiobooks, 22 Kindle (I think. looking at some covers, I just can’t quite remember )

2 on paper. Both Graphic;  pretty much the only paper I read these days.

Once again, some of the more interesting books are Narrative non-fiction, and sit somewhere between novels and non-fiction: H is for Hawk. My Age of Anxiety, My Struggle, The Guest Cat, and 10% Happier.

According to Goodreads, the most popular book I read this year was  “All the Light We Cannot See” which was one of the most disappointing reads of the year for me. It just didn’t work for me. “Narrow Road to the deep North” was a close second.

Top ten books

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
It’s the prose (too broken to conform to English standards) that transforms this book from standard Irish misery porn to a raw outburst of thorny emotion.

10% Happier
Dan Harris cuts through a lot of new age bullshit in a search of some self-help that genuinely works, and lands on the increasingly popular: mindfullness. I’m in.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami delivers once again. A story that somehow brings to life the kind of flittering sub conscious thoughts and feelings that lurk in the back of your mind. This novel explores some typical Murakami themes; but in essence I think it’s mostly about guilt, sexual fantasies, and that space in between fantasy, reality, inner thoughts, and outer realities, ahem.

Spoiled Brats / Daft Wee Stories
A tie for these two books of short stories. Every top ten deserves a spot for some of the more light-hearted reads and both of these were great fun.

Asking for it
The cover and title put me off this book for a while, it seemed like a different kind of book to me. But I kept hearing it was great, and it was.  I found it very brave and clever in so many subtle ways, like having a character who could have been made more sympathetic in many places, but wasn’t. Which made her all the more real. And the point is none of that matters; rape is rape. Behaviour is irrelevant. Sex without consent is rape. End of. There are no fucking blurred lines.

Into That Forest
A unique story about two girls raised by Tasmanian tigers. Works great in audio; the narration is fantastic: an intriguing old lady telling you a story by a fire.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither
Another book where I almost didn’t. I worried that a book about a lonely man and his dog would be way too twee, but it never was. The fine writing was anything but twee.

Purity: A Novel
This is a funny one. It’s as solid Franzen as ever. A solid five stars. I can’t fault the rich fabric of the story or the wonderfully believable characters you always get with Franzen. Yet he seems to have lost a sense of fun that he had with The Corrections. But I still enjoyed every minute of it. There’s a great Mark Twain quote that came to mind while reading this: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” i.e. Novelists often have to hold back on some of the weirdness because they can’t get away with it as easily as they could if they were writing non-fiction but in Purity, I think Franzen got the balance just right.

The Glorious Heresies
Another novel with a great story and believably flawed and nuanced characters. But this time we’re closer to home in the arse end of Cork.

A little Life
Isn’t that title a great joke? There’s nothing little about this book. Anyway, Hanya Yanagihara is right up there with my favourite gang of great contemporary American novelists now; Franzen, Eugenides, and Tartt. It starts off about five friends, but it’s really about one, a tortured mind, body and soul called Jude St.Francis. The writing is so good, you just know you’re in very fine hands from the very start. I thought it might be over hyped but it’s as good as everyone is saying it is.

H is for Hawk
I just loved this book. I think it just about pipped it as book of the year for me. It’s about grief. It’s about a Hawk. It’s about trying to replace grief with a Hawk. In parts it’s also an autobiography of another Hawker. It’s about mental health. It’s about connecting with another soul. It’s about life. It’s about everything in between. Written with such charm, intrigue, and intelligence.  I’ve very fond memories from the summer, sitting in Stephen’s green with this book at lunchtime, and such fine company it was.

p.s. There’s 12 books in my top ten. Bite me!

Two shit books

With most books that I don’t enjoy, I can still appreciate the writing or see why other people might enjoy them – and just think this isn’t for me for one reason or another. But now and then a book will come along that I just think is utter shit and that’s that. I’ve had two this year:

Fat Chance – Nick Spalding
This was a daily deal on audible.com and I think I had heard of it before. So I nabbed it. It’s basically “Carry On Fatty”. Let’s all laugh at fat people. That’s it. And it’s just not that funny. The writing is fairly mediocre, the similes are just non-stop “as busy as a midget in quicksand” or similar, every few pages. Groan. So far, so bad, but then it gets worse. There’s an undercurrent of casual racism, sexism and homophobia. I thought maybe I’m missing the joke, maybe Nick Spalding is actually a fat gay asian woman. That might put a different slant on things. But no, sure enough he’s a slim, straight, white man. He’s alright Jack. I thought it might somehow redeem itself, and slowly switch things around but it just kept getting worse.

“What self-respecting straight man would ever consider going on a diet?”. That’s the line where I thought “What self-respecting reader would finish reading this piece of shit”? Not me.

Jeffrey Archer – Twelve Red Herrings
I really had no idea what kind of books Archer wrote. All I knew was that he was a very well known English writer. I was on my Kindle one night, browsing the store and this was in the Editor’s Choice section. Editor’s Choice my hole. This has to be some kind of auto-generated list. There’s not a chance someone read this and actually thought it deserved a place in an Editor’s Picks list. The writing was so bad, the characters so one-dimensional, the plots so basic, the twists so predictable, and the cliches so ever present. At one stage I actually thought it was some kind of pastiche of bad writing. But no – I eventually realised, he must be one of those awful writers that sells a shitload of books because he hits that lowest common denominator mark right on the nose.

– –

Note. Both of these get *almost* 4 stars on Goodreads. Nearly everything on Goodreads levels out at almost 4 stars. To get any decent indicator from these star systems, you’d really want to strip out the first three stars and then recalculate.

For example, a shit book might level out at 3.2 overall and a great book might level out 3.9 but these look very similar on Goodreads, almost 4 stars. The real rating is that one is a “.2” and the other is a “.9”. Forget about the 3 at the start.

I’d love if someone programmed a browser plugin to strip out the first 3 stars and the 5th star and give it a newly weighted rating. That’d be much more indicative of the quality.

June / July Reads

My Struggle, Book 1 – Knausgård, Karl Ove
Everyone is talking about these books lately, so I found My Struggle to be enjoyable but slightly overhyped.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it at times; it’s so incredibly pretentious in parts that it’s hard to know if he’s taking himself (too) seriously or not, though I think there’s a hint of knowing self-mocking here and there (I also suspect the audiobook narrator made him sound a bit more earnest than intended). And yet there’s also something endearing about the pretentiousness. And there’s so much open bare-faced honesty about family life, often described in minutiae, that it’s hard not to relate. At one point I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with the series, but I was won over by the end and am looking forward to the next one (particularly after hearing the teaser about the hardships of children’s birthday parties and family vacations!)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Murakami, Haruki
Murakami is currently my go-to author. I know I’m going to be in good hands and he never disappoints. I love the semi dream-like worlds he creates, with stories that somehow bring to life the kind of flittering sub conscious thoughts and feelings that lurk in the back of your mind. This novel explores some typical Murakami themes; but in essence I think it’s mostly about guilt, sexual fantasies, and that space in between fantasy, reality, inner thoughts, and outer realities. (Says the guy rolling his eyes  about pretentiousness in previous review).

The Testament of Mary – Colm Toibin
I’ve been meaning to read Toibin for a while. He always seems to be on my horizon (in book podcasts etc) and I also happen to pass by him at lunchtime on Baggot street quite often. I really enjoyed this short story giving a very alternative reality of the life of Jesus. He’s a great writer. Devout Christians must hate it. A few full length Toibins are now on my t0-read list.

The Garden of Evening Mists – Twan Tan Eng
I always find Booker nominations a bit hit and miss, and the slightly disappointing ones always seem to have the same themes: foreign country in troubled times [check], war [check], political strife [check], redemption [check]). This is no different, and again  doesn’t quite meet the Booker hype. The story is pretty much Karate Kid with Mr Miyagi teaching gardening instead of Karate. (With some extra war, political strife and redemption thrown in).

The Last Girlfriend on Earth – Rich, Simon
More hilarious short stories with whacky scenarios. The title story is about a disease that kills everyone on earth except one woman, and her boyfriend who starts to get totes jealous as everyone from Bill Gates to the US president tries to hit on her. Not quite as good as Spoilt Brats but still good fun.

Mindfulness – Hasson, Gill
I’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness lately and my interest has been piqued, so when this popped up as a daily deal for Kindle, I grabbed it. It’s ok as a basic introduction, but it’s pretty much in the self-help-by-numbers format featuring hypothetical situations and hypothetical people, which is the kind of thing that I hate in books like this. But I suppose it was fine for 99 cents.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – Dan Harris
I heard this guy being interviewed on Sean Moncrieff’s show and liked the sound of this book. The promise of just “10% happier” already tells you it’s not your typical self-help type book. It’s a new kind of hybrid that I’ve noticed lately: a mixture of memoir and self help (real experiences: no bullshit hypothetical people). Dan Harris is a cheesy american news reporter, but he’s a bit like Saul Goodman – cheap and cheesy but you can’t help liking him. Dan had a panic attack on a live news broadcast (see video at top of post), mostly as a result of caning class A’s when he wasn’t reporting. After the panic attack, he realised he needed to change his life and went on a kind of quest. What’s great about this book is that he’s a total cynic about anything spiritual or hippyish. He’s very sceptical about mediation and all it’s variations, so I found his whole journey much more convincing. And have indeed been convinced of the merits of Mindfulness which I am now practising daily with the help of an app called headspace.

Ommmmmmmmmmmmm.

A few book reviews

After Dark – Haruki Murakami (Kindle)

A short book that’s much more about mood than narrative. It’s like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks brought to life. Mari goes from cafe to cafe, visits a Japanese Love Hotel, and meets various characters, during one long night. While in the background there’s a Sleeping Beauty thing going on with her sister (Eri) who inhabits a cathartic dream state. She is visited by a dark character who’s present both in the real world and the dreamworld. The stories of these characters never fully resolve, they just play their part in conjuring up this metaphysical nocturnal mood. After Dark is somewhere between a long poem and a short novella.

– 3.5 stars

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa Mcinerney (Kindle)

I had this on pre-order for months and I was really looking forward to it. It was well worth the eager awaiting. It’s set in the arse end of a Cork City which the Celtic Tiger shat all over before it scarpered. Though it starts with a murder, it’s no whodunnit. What’s it’s really about is how the characters deal with the small and large ways the murder impacts their lives. And that’s the strength of this book; they’re rich, believably flawed characters.

There’s Ryan who’s a smart kid but a bit of a dosser. His coming-of-age is the anchor of the story. His dad Tony, is a bit of a waster; he loves his kids but makes no real effort to be a good father. Jimmy, a proper gangster has his thumb firmly over everyone else, and then there’s his mother Maureen who pops in and out of the story. She’s a great character; a little bit mad, but world-wise and full of charming self-made superstition, the best kind. There’s also a nosy neighbour with a penchant for teenage boys. And a girl stuck in a loop of self-medication to get through one more bout of prostitution which she needs to continue to pay for the habit she’s got through self-medication.

Every character in this book could have been very cliched in lesser hands. But these are as close to the real deal as you get in fiction. Though some people do very bad things, there’s no inherently good guys or bad guys.  It’s really about a bunch of people trying to figure who they are and what they need to do to survive, and the effects those decisions have on all those around them.

– 5 stars

Into that Forest – Louis Nowra (Audiobook)

Two young girls  spend four years in the wild after being adopted by two Tasmanian Tigers. That’s all you need to know really. It’s a great read, and works really well on audio because it’s pretty much an old lady sitting by a fire telling you the story of her life. A fascinating story, well told.

– 5 stars

Spoiled Brats: Stories – Simon Rich (Kindle)

When we go camping, I love sitting out by the fire at night. A few Saturdays ago, I decided I didn’t need to go on holiday to do this. I went out the back, fired up the fire pit, cracked open a four-pack, and read Spoilt Brats under the stars. As sad as it might sound, sitting on my own reading a book on a Saturday night was one of the best Saturday nights I’ve had in ages. This book of short stories about various spoilt brats had me laughing into the fire all night. The standout story is about Rip who falls into a vat of brine in 1915, is preserved for 100 years, then after being rescued and revived, stays with his great-great-grandson and tries to make sense of a world populated by hipsters. Really good fun.

– 5 stars

Irvine Welsh – The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Audiobook)

I read this straight after “All the Light We Cannot See” which wasn’t my kind of thing. So my initial reaction to this was “YES! back in familiar, reliable hands”. Lucy Brennan is a super-fit, super-healthy, female trainer who’s a real bad ass. Lena Sorenson, is an overweight, artist lacking in self-esteem and confidence. I could be wrong but I’m assuming Welsh has moved to LA, got a personal trainer, and got into a real health buzz. This book is one massive rant against obese americans and their lifestyle. It’s not completely without sympathy for their plight though, the body-obsessed certainly get stick as well. But the tirade is mostly in one-direction. Lucy Brennan is a great character with some great lines but her schtick does start to wear a bit thin after a while.

There’s one other issue. The audiobook really falls down in a way that often happens with multiple-narrator audiobooks. It’s convoluted to explain though: When the Lena Sorenson narrator/actress is telling her own story, she sounds like a strong modern woman. But when the Lucy Brennan Narrator/actress is para-phrasing Lena’s character, she makes her sound like a pathetic whiney girl. I don’t know how this happens so often with audiobooks. It’s like the two narrators recorded their parts in complete isolation without any director / producer / whatever guiding them into any kind of consistency.

Overall good fun. But probably better as a non-audio read.

 

The Dinner – Herman Koch (Audiobook)

This is my second Herman Koch book. And I think it’s fair to say you don’t quite enjoy Herman Koch as much as you endure them. His books always seem to feature despicable, yet darkly comic characters.  I’ve seen this book recommended several times for fans of dark novels. And I thought it was going to be super dark… I was actually expecting some dinner guests to be the final course of the meal! But it’s not that kind of story at all. The meal is secondary to a story that unfolds while two couples have their meal. (Although a genuinely interesting read, there’s one major flaw in the book though. It makes no sense why a highly public politician would arrange to meet his brother and sister-in-law to discuss a dark secret, in a restaurant instead of one of their homes.)

– three stars

 

Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Audiobook)

2015 Booker winner about Dorrigo Evans, an Australian Doctor who survives a Japanese Slave Labour camp in 1943.

This is a very long meandering book that takes a very long time to get going and tried my patience several times – but never quite tried it enough to make me consider abandoning. I think the story is at its strongest and most straight-forward when you’re with the Australian prisoners of war going through their daily toils. But for more of the book, we’re with the protagonist in modern times, but in a lot of parts, you’re not quite sure where and when you are – and I found a lot of it quite wishy-washy and vague.

– 3 stars

A girl is a half formed thing

I remember going through a stage of reading book after book and wondering why every single novelist writes in the exact same style. Now and then you might find someone with a slight lilt to their style (Kevin Barry springs to mind). But rare to find a book written in a uniquely distinctive style.

And then comes along Eimear McBride. Brave enough to throw sentence structure out the window completely. Because sometimes, perfectly formed plain english just isn’t enough to express the head banging frustrations of life. How can you truly express the internal monologue of a troubled girl, with such plain language as regular English? And while I understand that most writers set themselves the challenge of working within those refrains, in some contexts, it’s so much more effective to run. Riot with fragmented. Sentences that don’t even

Actually this story might even be mundanely typical without the powerfully effect style of the writing. As it’s such typically Irish writing: religious mothers, sleazy uncles, prayers, catholic guilt, funerals.

Even though some parts were hard to follow, others were wonderfully concise and poetic.

Mad lust of it you get for computer games go blip across a screen”

“Fuck me softly fuck me quick is all the same once done to me. And washing in their rusted baths and flushing brown with limescale loos amid the digs of four a.m. before I put my knickers on.”

“Sister be a brother sister fixer of her woes”

“Doesn’t it look like a when we were little day?”

As much as I was wowed by the her style and overall impact of how the story was told, I’d be lying to whack five stars on it as it is a bit of work to read and truth be told, I yearned for the end to come more quickly. But I’m still thinking about it a week later.