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.

Glow – Audiobook

Glow is a mysterious new drug popping up on the rave scene in London. Raf has a rare disorder called non-24-hour-sleep-wake, and guards the transmitter of pirate radio station. Raf’s friend has vanished. Urban Foxes are acting strange. And corporate conspiracies are afoot.

As much as I’ve mentioned the fact that I know when I won’t like a book regardless of how much other people rave about it, it works the other way too; sometimes I know I’ll like a book even though I keep hearing negative comments about it. And so it was with Glow, which just keep popping up on my horizon.

The biggest problem with Glow is the intricate plot. It’s too much work to follow. And that’s where all the negativity lies. But there are so many elements that make a good read, and all the other bits made Glow worthwhile, for me at least.

For a start, Ned Beauman books always seem to be brimming with fascinating topics both fictional and factual.

Then there’s the backdrop; Illegal raves, DJs, mysterious street drugs, and pirate radio stations. Ok you got me!

And though not necessarily a great story teller, in this case at least, Beauman is a fantastic writer.

So even though I had issues with following the plot and even bigger issues with believing parts of the plot and motives of the protagonist, those three elements above were enough to make it a really enjoyable read for me.

Beaumont also created a great Glow Spotify playlist which inspired the novel.

The Circle (Audiobook)

The Circle is Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter rolled into 1 and turned up to 11. It’s a parody of social media and it’s a parody of society in general. Or at least the portion of society that is addicted to screens and social media, and the internet (guilty!). And it’s a very tongue-in-cheek, and very current, commentary on privacy. It’s also really good fun.

I think you need the right approach to enjoy it though. I often get annoyed with books that don’t have authentic characters. But if the main characters in this book behaved authentically, then the whole story would fall flat.

It’s mostly a great, fun read. But it hits a few bumps along the way: Many conversations in The Circle are in the form of an interrogation between the protaganist, Mae, and other employees, behind a wall of passive aggression and office politics. These conversations are of course supposed to be grating but it got a bit much and the grating really ramped up when the whole book turned into a hi tech version of The Truman show. All the dialogue from then on was purely for-the-cameras falseness. And there was no reprieve from this.

But on the whole really good fun that really takes the piss of hi-tech hammock companies.

1984 v2.0

My month of Madness (Audiobook)


This audiobook was going cheap in an Audible sale. So I just nabbed it without looking into it much and got off to a bad start because I’d assumed it was about mental illness, and the whole style was so flippant, that I started to find it quite irritating. My fault, not the book. Though the title is quite misleading for anyone who has decided to read it without any background info.

What it’s actually about is one woman’s experience with a rare autoimmune reaction in the brain called Anti-NMDA receptor antibody encephalitis. Her experiences are a bit mental! but have little to do with mental illness, though some of the symptoms were similar to psychosis, and schizophrenia. Once I realised it wasn’t about mental illness, I could enjoy it for what it was, and it is an an interesting story. 

It also clearly depicts how easy it is to fall prey to negligence, ignorance, and misdiagnosis at the hands of the medical profession, and how sheer luck can sometimes play such a huge part in getting the right diagnosis and treatment.

I also love to coming across nuggets of information that completely dispel mythical tales of woo. In this case the symptoms that she suffered, seen through the wrong eyes, could be perceived as a demonic possession.

Science:1, Superstitious Bullshit: 0.

John Braine – The Vodi (Paperback)

I’ve read a couple of John Braine books just for the namesake. But The Vodi sits just below my favourite book, The Wasp Factory, in a top ten by John Harrison*. Funnily I just did a search for this top ten and came to a post on this blog that I’d forgotten about.  I knew I started this book ages ago, but didn’t realise it was about 5 years ago! Not being as convenient as Audiobooks or Kindle books, it only got read when I was sick or on holidays. But I finished it at last!

The Vodi is an imaginary race of childhood creatures conjured up between two school friends, Tom and Dick (amazingly there’s a Harry in the book too), which have a  continued presence into their adult life by representing the bearers of bad luck. You know the way some some people get the best jobs despite being incompetent, and the best girls despite being dickheads? Well that’s the essence of this novel.

Dick is as much the protagonist of this book as every Country & Western song; he’s lost his youth, his job, his health and his girl. And he spends dark days in a  hospital bed suffering with TB and damning the Vodi for taking his life away.

For someone who doesn’t get on too well with older books, I found this quite enjoyable and interesting, and it dated extremely well for a book that’s 55 years old – my copy still has the price on the front of Three and Sixpence or something like that, I’m not sure.. .answers on a postcard please Three Shillings and Six Pence.

4/5 stars

*though I’ve no idea who John Harrison is.

Silas Marner – Audiobook & Kindle

I don’t have a good track record with ye old classics. I’ve found a lot of them quite dated, regardless of how ahead of their time some of them once we’re.  And others are just a bit too… stiff & stuffy for my liking. I just I connect with contemporary books more easily. Simple as that.  Hot off the press. That’s how I like it. But I thought I’d test the waters again and I ended up with Silas Marner as my test subject.

I found my enjoyment of it, and lack of, a bit of a roller coaster. I quite enjoyed the opening chapters and could really appreciate the fine writing. But then I hit a massive bump all of a sudden: there was a scene with a bar of old codgers talking a godawful load of codswallop, and I couldn’t wait for it to end. I found it really unpleasant to listen to. I thought I might have to abandon the book completely. I wasn’t quite sure if it was the actual dialog, or the narrator of the audiobook, but I switched from audio to Kindle and it was definitely a major improvement reading it myself,  I’ve never experienced that before.  And there wasn’t another such chunk of dense dialogue again.

Then I found there were definite peaks and troughs in the actual story. Not much different than a lot of books but overall it really added to my rollercoaster experience of this book. It went up and down through the range of star ratings from 1,  2, 3, 4. I settled on an overall 3 out 5 for Silas Marner.

A worthwhile exercise, and not a terrible experience overall. But I’m definitely happier with more contemporary work (though not necessarily a contemporary setting) and I don’t see any reason to break from that comfort zone again any time soon. Some people don’t read sci-fi or other genres. I don’t read old classics. So that’s that.

PS I’m glad I was steered away from Middlemarch,  which I nearly went for.  Although reputedly one of the greatest novels in the English language, it doesn’t seem like the ideal book to test the waters of the classics pool.

Doctor Sleep (Audiobook)

Like a lot of young readers, I grew up reading lots and lots of Stephen King. Then I found myself tiring of the genre. And then I starting thinking a lot of his books were, to be blunt: shit. “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” was the last straw for me. He clearly took all his shoddiest short stories and chucked them together to keep some publisher happy. There were a few decent stories but they were mostly tripe. That was the end of King for me, which was…. WOW! twenty years ago! Over the last few years I’ve grown curious. Particularly as I’ve heard lots good things about some of his more recent novels.

So I finally bit the bullet with Doctor Sleep.

Little Danny Redrum Torrence has grown up, and has clearly inherited from his father, both The Shining, and Alcoholism and this book deals with both demons equally.

King is still a master of the crafts he was always good at; he’s a great story teller, such a great turn of phrase, and he can carve great believable characters out of thin air. But then I hit a big bump. Quite early on he went bang into some really over-the-top supernatural woo. Over the years I’ve really grown to hate anything which promotes woo, and my eyes would not stop rolling in my head reading when he started rolling out the same old supernatural tropes; a load of puerile mind-reading-ghosty-vampire nonsense, turned up to eleven. I think he could have eased us in a bit, it got quite ridiculous, quite early. I was *that* close to sending it back via Audible’s wonderful no quibble returns policy.

But then he slowly won me over. Even though it’s ultimately the classic King trope in the form of an epic battle of good against evil. What King does best is to really get you rooting for the characters; namely the grown-up Danny and a young girl he befriends who Shines like a lighthouse.

Here’s something I found really interesting:

In Skagboys, the sequel to Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh described the characters in such a way that he made it clear that this was a sequel to the book, not the movie. But the characters in Doctor Sleep are clearly straight out of the movie; the way he describes that grin could only be Jack Nicholson.

That’s interesting. Considering he famously hated Kubrick’s adaptation, he still seems to have taken on board the collective King/Kubrick authorship of people’s collective memory of The Shining. No one can think of Jack Torrance without picturing Nicholson smashing through that door.
And he alludes to all this in an authors note at the end of the book, still getting a dig in saying “Plus, of course, there was Stanley Kubrick’s movie, which many seem to remember – for reasons I have never quite understood – as one of the scariest films they have ever seen.”

Personally I hate that The Shining is always rated in terms of scariness. I think it’s one of the best movies ever made, regardless of whether it is or isn’t one of the scariest horrors ever made.

So if you can get past the supernatural nonsense, it’s a great book, and if you are a fan of that stuff it must only be better.

Also – the narrator of this audiobook was one of the best I’ve heard. His scarey voice was chilling!

A few quick reviews

Tampa, by Alissa Nutting (Audiobook)
Celeste Price became a teacher with the sole purpose of seducing teenage students. I usually roll my eyes when I hear people complaining that a  book is controversial just for the sake of controversy, but found myself thinking something similar with this. It was just a bit too shallow and frivolous. Had it’s moments, but at times, it reminded me of a story you might come across in a bad waiting-room magazine. I still love the cover though. And I was amused by the ever present subtext that if this book was about a male teacher, there would probably be book burnings across the States.

The Guts, by Roddy Doyle (Audiobook)
The most apt thing I can say about this is “Brilliant, fucking brilliant”. Nice sequel to The Commitments. The Audiobook is pitch perfecto, with a great job by Laurence Quinlan (Elmo).

The Troop, by Nick Cutter (Audiobook)
I haven’t read a horror in years. This was a pretty good read though. Lord of the Flies meets World War Z tells you all you need to know. The narration was a tad over-baked in places though. He read every single line as if something terrifying was happening. Steady on, he’s just opening a tin of beans!

The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson (Audiobook)
Although a few slip through the net, it’s hard not to hear about a good movie. But I’m often amazed at the volume of amazing books that you never hear about and are so easy to miss. The premise of The Gargoyle is based around an old trope; is a character insane or has she actually {insert-impossible-fantastical-truth}. But that doesn’t take away from how great this book is. I was hooked from the start: a porn-star crashes his car while off his head and hallucinating then get’s horribly burned alive in the car, which is described in great detail, and that’s just the first page, awesome stuff!

Tenth of December, by George Sanders (Kindle)
I don’t read as many short stories as I would like but I heard a lot about this one. It’s good but just slightly overhyped. What I found interesting is that I didn’t find it much different than a novel; there were so many common elements throughout the stories that it was like a novel with many characters tidied away into neat chapters.

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simpson (Kindle)
Don Tillman is a teacher on the autistic spectrum trying to find a wife via a inanely strict questionnaire. Hilarity ensues. This was really good fun. I genuinely laughed out loud a few times. I just stumbled across one day and bought it on a whim, I had no idea it was one of those books that was everywhere until I saw it in a spinner at my local garage.

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful ruins (Audiobook)
Written by Walter Jess
Narrated by Edoardo Ballerini

I said it before and I’ll say it again: I love a good dose of contrast in books. Beautiful Ruins contrasts between the charms of a small Italian coastal village in 1962 and the cynical world of modern day Hollywood where everyone is pitching for the latest reality TV show.

The cover and title of this book are a bit misleading – it looks like it’s going to be a romantic story set in that coastal Italian Village, but that’s only the half of it, I think I would have tired of it quickly without the contrast of flicking between the romantic past and the shallow present. It’s got a great cast of characters also:

  • Pasquale Tursi an Italian Hotelier with grand notions of making a beach and a tennis court beside his small empty hotel.
  • Alvis Bender, an American war veteran / failed novelist / successful drunk philosopher
  • Pat Bender, a has been musician, who’s on the brink of being a full time waster
  • Shane Wheeler, a wannabe playwright who manages to get a pitch with a casting agent…
  • Claire Silver, Film school graduate, whose soul sinks further with every ‘reality tv’ pitch she has to listen to.
  • Michael Deane: a horrible, a plastic-faced, movie exec, who puts a price tag on everything
  • Richard Burton – yes Richard Burton!
  • And Dee Moray – the Hollywood Starlet who links them all together through the past, present, Italy & Hollywood.

I really liked it – and it’s quite different than the cover makes it seem.

The audio is quite good, and won awards but thank God the Irish character is a minor role, that accent was woeful

4/5 stars