March 11th, 2019

Amazing what a cruise without internet can do for your reading..

I’ve had a great start to the year with my reading, and nearly all of the books have been wonderful. Inspired by a new podcast called BackListed, I plan to venture off my safe path of Murnane, Galgut and Carey one day, but not just yet. I managed to get through about 3 and a half books in two weeks on our New Zealand cruise, and it was all very effortless.

Murnane’s Barley Patch had been sitting around in my piano / computer room for 10 years and I don’t know why. I have a feeling I bought it after listening to him be interviewed at the Melbourne Book Festival back then, but I’m confused by the Readings sticker, since I think the event was at the MaltHouse Theatre. Regardless, I’m going to be vague here and say that once again, his mesmerising and voyeuristic prose will always captivate me, even if I’m occasionally irritated by his wilful and pedantic use of “boy-man” and “image-object” and digressions about what defines fiction writing, however I’m still planning to go to the Goroke Bowling Club one day and shyly stalk my literary hero in his final days. 4 stars.

As someone who thought in 1994 (and still thinks) that the internet was the greatest thing in the world, I felt I needed to see what cultural richness I’d missed in my life, and Sebastian Smee’s Quarterly Essay Net Loss tried pretty hard to describe it to me. It’s true that with phones around, “it gets hard to pick up a book, harder to stay with it”, but I felt that way playing World of Warcraft too. I was more convinced watching a YouTube video of Roald Dahl writing in his shack than I was after 56 pages of Net Loss. 3 stars.

I’m pretty sure that this is my second John Lanchester book, and both have been straightforward, but intriguing stories. This one, Capital, reads like a BBC drama series (and apparently became one), and beguiles with the premise of a nasty campaign against the (mostly) wealthy home owners of Pepys Road, London by an unknown have not, who leaves “We want what you have” messages everywhere, and which escalates. A little cliche prone at times, but it was fresh and humane and a joy to read. It had me waiting nearly the full 575 pages before spilling the beans. 4 stars.

The Imposter, by Damon Galgut is about an early 40’s man, having lost his 20 year corporate job who finds himself being dared to write the poetry he always dreamed of doing in a rundown rural shack owned by his brother, many hours drive from Johannesburg. Aimless months go by with little progress and the man, finding himself progressively becoming unhinged is grateful when an old now-wealthy school friend takes him on board and offers him weekends away with his wife whilst they transform and old game park into a golf course with plenty of graft and money involving local officials.

This is yet another wonderful book by Galgut whose sense of the racial and wealth divide in South Africa is always concisely detailed and who manages a broody unpredictable storyline in all his novels. 4.5 stars.

I’ve finally spat the dummy with an early Peter Carey book, managing 96 pages of The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith before giving up in disinterest. The forced quirkiness and richness of unlikeable characters felt implausible and inconsistent to me; the construct of the lands of Voorstand and Efica (seemingly a simple name replacement for Australia and New Zealand) added just for novelty. I’m a little afraid to go back and read Illywhacker again in case I feel the same way – I think my tastes have just moved on a bit. I wonder if Carey himself feels a little sheepish about this book in 2019? 2 stars.

American Rust by Philipp Meyer was a much more straightforward, but convincing affair set in a rural Pennsylvania steel town, probably one of thousands of novels published in the last few decades documenting missed opportunities and the jobless consequences for blue collar workers. I found it pretty dark (particularly the prison and the hitchhiking / homeless sections), but it rang true and was a compelling read, jumping between 4 or 5 viewpoints. A self-confident high school jock son finds himself involved in an accidental death of a vagrant and wrestles with his allegiances, whilst a world weary sheriff is forced to make a decision between his relationship with the boys mother or his job. Satisfying and convincing. 4 stars.

Detroit by Charlie LeDuff was not quite the anthology I expected, and in a good way. It’s a memoir of 5 parts ego, 2 parts good Samaritan and 4 parts tabloid gonzo journalist, chasing anything that would sell copies of the Detroit News. LeDuff is no doubt a no-bullshit, ballsy guy who rocked a lot of boats amongst those in power in Detroit by exposing corruption, lack of resourcing and the third world-ness of his hometown. There’s not a lot of hope or positivity in this book, but it’s a hell of an eye-opener and his writing is authentic and utterly frightening. 4 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | No Comments » |
December 29th, 2018

More reviews of books I barely remember

I need to not wait 6 months before going back over things – there’s a book in this list I had absolutely no memory of reading, and had to re-scan the blurb to remind myself of its merit.

Since I was going to visit the Midwest in September, I remember seeing Between the World and Me, by Coates and thinking – great, a black author and a thin book; perfect if I’m not enjoying it, as I’ll still finish it, and also intriguing because I’ve never consciously read anything about race before. I suspect I didn’t want to slog through Hillbilly Elegy either. I need not have worried about it because it was terrific and eye opening to me, and I read it in about 3 short sessions. 4 stars.

I’ve always liked Peter Carey’s earlier books like Oscar and Lucinda or Illywacker the most because of their quirky characters and unlikely scenarios, but this barely continues to hold true after the Kelly book and now Amnesia, which is set in nearby Coburg and Carlton. Once again (for an expatriot) he shows a remarkable feel for (a perhaps 80’s dated) Melbourne and it’s political factions and migrant families. I wasn’t overly taken by the hacker teens premise of the book, but his characters were very believable and the pages just melted away. An easy read in the presence of a master. 4.5 Stars.

I had absolutely no idea what Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White was about when I nabbed it secondhand, but the reviews were all great and that’s usually enough for me. I read big chunks of it up in Woolgoolga sitting outside the caravan minding Fergus and it was a pleasure. Apart from the 800 pages – almost twice as long as it needed to be (or could have been), it was an enthralling rags to riches tale of Sugar, a lowly prostitute in the awful, patron-dependent world of 1870’s London. Some really rich character depictions here (the inscrutable Sugar, the ill Agnes Rackham, and the tortured Henry Rackham). A really engaging and forthright story and deserves all its accolades. 5 stars.

In contrast, Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Life was the lazy read I thought I needed afterwards, and by a quarter way through I was regretting it. I should have chucked it then and there but slogged through. 2 stars.

Knowing I was likely going to visit Indianapolis, the early home of Kurt Vonnegut (and the Vonnegut Museum), I decided to read the only book of his I didn’t own – the amusing God Bless you Mr. Rosewater. Having afterwards listened to a nearly 2 hour podcast specifically on this book by two clever guys who call themselves the Vonneguys, I realise how shallow my readings of his books have been. It’s been 10 or 15 years since I’d picked up one of his books, but this one reminded me yet again of the unexpected humour, the originality, and the deep pessimism and cynicism of the man. 4.5 Stars and a fun read.

Cricket is not exactly one of my interests, but there was enough quirk in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland to capture my interest. A corporatised Dutchman in New York in the midst of an expat marital breakdown finds a local with the passion and insanity to try and introduce the game to the U.S public, with some illegalities thrown in for spice. It was a fun read, however occasionally a little too autobiographical for comfort. Still, a solid book that felt at times like a slow burning thriller without actually delivering as such. 3.5 Stars.

I’ve developed a bit of a love affair with books published by Harvill Press which existed from 1946 to 2005, with their distinctive leopard icon on the spine. I always seem to give them an extra look in secondhand bookshops, perhaps because they seem to publish “serious fiction” which has austere or non-playful covers, as is the case in William Maxwell’s short story collection All the Days and Nights, published in 1994. I had not known Maxwell was a mentor to writers like Updike and Cheever, but on the evidence here, I want to read his longer works too. His writing (to me) is dated by his propensity to not finish stories cleanly or simply, leaving room for interpretation, which is the antithesis of the modern age. I hear him described as a humanist, which I can see, but after Vonnegut, everyone else seems like a milder blander version of that. I still think there is plenty of quality here, and I’ll try him again sometime. 4 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on More reviews of books I barely remember |
June 9th, 2018

Limping through the books this year

Reddit, Fantasy Baseball and U.S Trip planning have combined to make this my worst year for reading books in a long time. But I’ve been really happy with the ones I’ve finished – this lot were done by March, and then a stressful work computer room move from Southbank to Docklands happened and before I knew it, May was over.

 

The Knausgaard book A Death in the Family was an easy, never-boring read, and thankfully I didn’t feel I needed to finish all 3600 pages of the 6 volume set to sense the mastery and confidence, and enjoy the density and detail. Like Proust, there’s every chance I’ll go back and finish it oneday. 4 stars.

The Diary of a Bookseller (Shaun Bythell) was a book Kim bought me, and having read a few of these over the years, I expected a slog, but he keeps it very fresh, making outrageous but amiable jokes about his part time staff, and some of the deadbeat customers he deals with in a small bookish town in Scotland. It was pretty funny and quite a success I thought. 4 stars.

A few years ago, I became enamoured with the idea we’d catch a freighter ship from Perth to London to get to Europe in the shortest time for a long non-flying holiday, but it never happened, however my subconscious may have kicked in at the 3MBS Book Fair, and I decided to read about it instead. And it was very revealing, in a sad Oh-boy-the-lives-people-are-forced-to-live kind of way. There are some wistful interviews with outgoing sea captains who bemoan the introduction of automated container loading (boats are now in port a number of hours, not days so workers get few breaks), and who feel the highly paid skilled folk are being forced out by computing and super cheap 3rd world labour, in an industry more opaque than any other. It was a terrific read, and I’m full of admiration for the writer Rose George (Deep Sea and Foreign Going), whose fastidious research shines through. Some of the Somalian pirate section was surprisingly tense. Highly recommended  – 5 stars.

Finally, I thought I’d have a dig through Melbournian David Nicholls’ “Dig – Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-1985” which had been sitting around awhile. Really well researched also, and although I didn’t read it cover to cover (mostly the second half), I thoroughly enjoyed it. He’s only a few years older than me, but has industry contacts and musical insights I could only dream of. One day I’d like to meet the Jacana man, whose Distant Violins fanzines I once bought and whose 3RRR radio shows introduced me to The Fall and lofi-pop. I even bought a copy of Dig for a mate. Onya David! 4 stars.

 

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Limping through the books this year |
May 16th, 2017

Brix

I knew it would be pulp but it needed to be read. The Rise, The Fall, and the Rise by Brix Smith tells a surprisingly rocky and neurotic tale. It’s a pretty candid romp about a damaged person who just seemed to choose all the wrong guys but who ends up mostly happy considering things. There’s nothing much new about Mark Smith here ( except for a disturbing hand-biting episode), but what was great to hear about was her life after 1988. Not being plugged into Brittish TV or fashion I didn’t know about her talents in both fields nor whether she still had dealings with ex band members. The perfect book to finish off on a plane to Perth for work. 3 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Bands, Books | Comments Off on Brix |
May 7th, 2017

Ford Madox Ford

If you had a Germanic sounding surname and lived in the UK post-WW1, it might seem wise to anglicise things a little. Perhaps turning Hueffer into Huffer or Heffer, however Ford chose Ford maybe out of imaginative desperation or love of symmetry. Whatever the reason, for someone like myself, this aroused a certain level of curiosity about such a man, leading me to buy his 4 part book Parade’s End on the cheap recently. It didn’t hurt that the rear cover proclaimed it “the finest English novel about the Great War” and was fronted by a mysterious gentile man in strange shiny shoes escorting a lady in a huge hat up some stairs. Talk about inviting your reading audience into your little tome of mystery!

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Let me say that I’ve become a more patient reader over the years and I no longer baulk at 800 odd pages, however this book’s first 50 pages had me completely bewildered – reminding me a little like my one and only attempt at Ulysses nearly a decade ago. A month or so later after finishing it, after reading a couple of Amazon reviews, I was pleased that others felt the same way about the disjointed conversations, exaggerated reactions and impulses which begin the book, and are peppered throughout. It’s really not the most straightforward read (particularly the last part), and possibly the most challenging book I’ve read, however there is some some structure / story to it, and at certain points it gained a certain fluidity which made it very enjoyable. But I don’t think at any point I truly understood all that was going on – often due to conversations which were more about what was left out than what was said, and I went through an entire section being unsure of his use of the word “draft” and what that meant! The main character Christopher Tietjens is described as an 18th century Tory, a dour, brilliant, practical man for whom chivalry and honour are the foundations by which (to his downfall) he lives his life. I get that he is one of the great unique fictional characters, and I loved that the book was long enough to display many aspects of his personality and family history, but I felt you only ever got oblique angles on him, and his helplessness was nothing but frustrating by the end. As for Sylvia, the less said the better! I’m amazed that the BBC saw enough material in it to make a 5 part TV series in 2013, but I’ll have to watch it now. 3 stars.

 

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Ford Madox Ford |
April 18th, 2017

Too long (again)..

Once again, a pile of books to write up and embarrassingly, one of them I cant recollect. Might as well stop reading non fiction for all the learning I’m doing right now.

I found The Sellout by Paul Beatty confusing and over my head. Satire isn’t my strong point nor my normal interest but the cover reviews and that little Man Booker Winner sticker worked their usual magic. At times I struggled to understand subtle points or the language and so many characters were unlikeable that I just slogged it out and finished up nonplussed. 2 stars.

Realising I had largely forgotten the subtleties of U.S Football I wanted a reference book to teach me about line play, types of coverage and play calling in general. I think Take Your Eye Off the Ball 2.0 by Pat Kirwan achieved that but only just. A few months later I should probably skim it again, though I at least know what Mike, Will and Sam linebackers are now. 3 stars.

Underground is Tobias Hill’s first novel, written in 1999 but hey, decent author and public transport / infrastructure theme and I’m interested. Hill does sinister and claustrophobic moods really well and avoided most of the usual serial killer tropes. That’s enough for my tick – 3 stars.

Having heard the ABC’s Book Club review of Ian McGuire’s The North Water, this novel was a must-read for me. Probably a little overly graphic at times (to the point that I felt queasy during a particular whale hunt scene) the novel delivered in spades and I couldn’t recommend it more highly although I certainly couldn’t watch the movie. Best book I’ve read in years, though not for the squeamish. 5 stars.

Grant and I, by Robert Forster was about what I expected for a Go Betweens memoir, but in a good way. A rock documentary a few years back had ex-drummer Lindy Morrison nearly in tears talking about how awful Grant and Robert had been to her/the other females in the band and I wanted to know why. To his credit Robert largely confesses to focusing more on competing with Grant for songwriting glory than on the women in their lives – both girlfriends / band members being ditched when it all got too much. There are a ton of songs listed and critiqued here (probably to the detriment of the book) and the studied pretence / concept / ambition of the band (even early on) was for some reason a surprise to me. It was still a wonderful read however much like after reading Fall biographies, I was left thinking how little I would like to spend time with the egos that made these great bands possible. 4 stars.

Ah….Slow Man by J.M.Coetzee, the writer who can do little wrong by me after the incredible Disgrace. Now that he’s Australian I seem to have developed a slight cultural cringe when reading him which isn’t helped by this unflattering portrayal of a recent amputee (bike accident) which is so plausible it felt autobiographical. Having not read Elizabeth Costello (written a few years before this novel) the injection of this magical / imaginary figure into this second book both saved it and had me arching eyebrows in disbelief. I don’t think this is anywhere near his best but it still wallops nearly anything else for honesty. This would be an awful movie though! 4 stars.

Lastly I had to know more about the circumstances that led to Ern Malley becoming one of the few genuine front page literary hoaxes in history. Michael Heyward’s The Ern Malley Affair drily spelt out the ingredients…the perceived pomposity of Max Harris and the Angry Penguins school; the greater foothold poetry had on a pre-television society and increasingly free-form experimentation in language and arts. The line between what was brilliantly original and what was a nonsensical pastiche was hard to draw, and the hapless but driven Harris was wounded for life as a result. Some of the court transcript of an inept prosecutor trying to prove vulgarity in the poems is amusing now but carried a jail sentence back in the 40s. What does “the black swan of trespass” mean anyway? 3 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Too long (again).. |
December 31st, 2016

2016 windup

My reading has slowed in the last few months, as, on holidays up north, I started listening to weekly ESPN Cleveland Browns podcasts and found myself intrigued by a sensationally bad Browns team. This rapidly led to buying an NFL Game Pass in late October, and downloading 4-5 games a week to an old IPad and watching them on the daily tram to work. It confirmed for me that I enjoy it more when my team is losing than winning, and it was the sporting highlight of my year to see the 0-14 Browns finally win the second last game of the season in the dying seconds, and act like world champions.

Books:

Ended up reading Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which was and wasn’t what I expected. The Burma railway work camp and prisoner of war-scenes were graphic and revolting, and the description of surgery being performed with a sharpened spoon nearly made me put the book down for good. It was a terrific book I thought – 4.5 stars.

Had a 100-page go at Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey – My Own Life, and loved the snippets and diary format, however it was hard to stomach 500 pages of diary entries. Abandoned!

Finally for the year, a wonderful crime gem, translated from the French by Scot Graeme Macrae Burnet. The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau was an odd and charming novel. The guilt-driven paranoia of Manfred; his obsession with routine, and the oddly abrupt and suitable ending made for a perfect few days of entertainment. Just loved it. 5 stars.

Running:

Had a great end to an interrupted year by surpassing some modest goals post knee surgery in April. I didn’t really get back to running till July but I was fairly aggressive in building up mileage at Woolgoolga in September, and managed a first half marathon (1:39:00) in October, a 10k best (42:30) in the Zatopek minor grade track race in Nov., and a painful best Coburg parkrun (20:12) in December. Knee and hip issues have intervened though, and yesterday’s hip MRI apparently means stop everything for now. Gah.

Bonnie the wonder dog:

She continues to delight, and yet be completely ravenous at all times. We found out her original birthdate was 21st February 2004, and that she is a Jack Russell x Maltese. So fat!

Kim’s Christmas Presents:

Many books, many running tops and a whopper of an intimidating 3000 piece jigsaw which I hope to show more of later. Overall rating: 8/10.

TV this year:

These are the ones I remember: House of Cards, MadMen, WestWorld, Tudors, Wolf Hall, Ask the Midwife, Last Hope U, Midnight Sun, The Detectorists, Gavin and Stacey, Still Game,  Raised by Wolves, Please Like Me, Rosehaven, Stranger Things, Downton Abbey, Fargo, The Killing, The Legacy and other Scandinavian stuff.

Things to look forward to in 2017:

More jumbo Flat Whites; playing old records on my newly fixed turntable; Malaysian trip in Jan; seeing The Bats in late-Jan; 50th birthday dinner in March; another year up at Woopi in August; a ton of books to work through all year; the end of summer (and daily plant watering); some running without knee issues – maybe?

by dfv | Posted in Books, General | Comments Off on 2016 windup |
October 8th, 2016

Next lot

Managed to get through a few chunky books this time around, though sadly there were a few self indulgent doozies amongst them. And a few unfinished ones too.

 

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Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory was a great, if slightly depressing read. It’s not hard to think that many elements of this are autobiographical, especially those about his dying father and his lament about his own failing libido / interests and health. His trademark hedonism is all present, but what makes this book stand out is its more reflective tone, despite plenty of laughs along the way. A melange of observations about modern life (French Tourism; Mercedes A Class vehicles; the financial madness of the Art world) in moments I didn’t expect, and even better, a book that kept surprising me. Probably a 5 star book for me (or close).

Fifty pages into The Hidden by Tobias Hill, a book that had sat unread for five years at home, I knew I was in for another real treat. There were visceral elements that reminded me of Tim Winton or Christos Tsiolkas, and a sense of impending tragedy (McEwan), plus the small group claustrophobia of Golding. I just thought it went on a little long and lost the tension of the earlier part of the book, though the chapter-flipping between modern day Greece and Spartan history was effective. Still a remarkable novel, and a writer I will seek out again. 4 stars.

About a third of the way through Bolano’s The Savage Detectives, I remembered that similarly in 2666, there was a monstrously relentless (and almost endless) section of the book documenting forty or fifty murders of Mexican women who fell fowl of local officials, or who just happened to be around when the cartel chiefs wanted to demonstrate their cruelty to scare off foes. Though not as gruesome as the earlier novel, the 400 page bulky midsection of this book is seemingly designed to wear you down in the same way, via interviews of people coming into contact with our two mad poets Arturo Belano and Ulisis Lima over 25 years of worldwide travels. The book is a loving, scattergun series of recollections about a brief period in Mexico when poetry meant everything to young writers and Viceral Realism was “a thing”. The final section is a harrowing hunt for the founding mother of this genre and whilst I applaud its wackiness and indulgence, I simply couldn’t recommend the book due to length concerns. It still largely won me over – 4 stars.

Well, there’s finally a Coetzee book that I didn’t want to endure, and it was his first and shortest – 1974’s Dusklands. I only managed to get to the end of the first novella and found myself thinking I’d rather move on. What a shame as his later books were so good. 1 star.

Without question I was drawn to David Szalay’s All that Man Is by the maps on the front dust jacket, and (I think) a review in The Age or The Guardian. I found the stories intriguing to begin with, in particular the second one in which the hapless Bernard finds himself trapped with an overweight mother and daughter at an overseas holiday resort. Towards the middle of the book the stories became more angry; materialistic and career driven men and their insensitivities in full flight. The internal lives of young to old men (in sequence) are lovingly examined in small slices, each believable and beautifully described. Well worth the read if you can forgive the stage-prop role of many of the female characters. 4 stars.

Stuck in Woopi, with all the time in the world to pick something long or tough, I lucked out on Foucault’s Pendulum, so grabbed Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. What a terrible mistake that was; rarely have I found a book so infuriating and circular. Fooled by the Gulliver’s Travels adventure / man finds himself shipwrecked in odd place premise, Eco then digresses to alchemy, explains the cultural relevance of Doves, inset with expositions about longitude and scientific history. Somewhere amongst the 510 pages, there’s meant to be a story, and then it turns out, he’s been writing an imaginary story all along and pretty soon you really don’t care if he ever sees his Orange Dove. Eco is no doubt a clever man, but shouldn’t bore the pants off us needing to prove it. I think I said that about David Foster Wallace in a review of the Infinite Jest too. 2 stars.

I feel so sorry for Ben Pobjie (Melbourne’s Own), as I think he’s a smart guy, and his book Error Australis is often funny, particularly in the absurd chapter quizzes, but heck, reading it made me physically exhausted. I pretty much had to put it down every couple of chapters due to the relentless gag count, and I feel sick thinking about how many hundreds and hundreds of hours he’s put into writing it, only for me to want to bin it or give it to a smart nephew who wouldn’t ever read the Fatal Shore. If I ever need to light a fire, this is the first book I will use as kindling. 2 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Next lot |
July 20th, 2016

Getting on a roll now

I don’t miss riding to work at all – especially not in winter when the trams are warm, and I’m sufficiently rested to enjoy an early morning read. This is not overly encouraged in our house – it’s like someone wants to play the parent figure of her teen years and shush me out of bed because there’s work to be done (there usually isn’t). So, I’ve been plowing through some fiction (some American also – something I doubted I would return to) and have some weighty books accounted for in 2016 so far. NOTE: This doesn’t mean In Search of Lost Time is on the cards for 3Q16 – let’s not get too crazy. I bought the set on a whim (and on some bonus money from work), but heck, it is mainly just for the bookcase if I ever develop a literary buddy or if Gerald Murnane by chance dropped around oneday.

Sometime in early 2016 I started watching Youtube Clips produced by a passionate man called Gilles (is that pronounced Giles or Gille – I’m unsure) in his early 40’s in Quebec. The amazing thing about Gilles is that he thinks nothing of live-streaming his Friday and Saturday night Amateur Radio hobby for three hours at a time without a co-host. The other amazing thing is that he almost single handedly convinced me to buy a small Shortwave (with SSB) radio to listen to mystery stations and generally tool around listening to a lot of static. Sadly, despite a trip to the Moorabin Ham Radio fair with Ash, and a flick through Low Profile Amateur Radio, the possible passion fizzled due mainly to the lack of channels I could pickup in urban Preston. So, the radio sits ready for a trip up north later this year – maybe.

July2016

Reading War and Peace threw my interests towards Napoleon, and this lead to Robespierre and the French Revolution by J.M. Thompson, probably the dullest book in the Teach Yourself History series to date. It seems that anyone 200 odd years ago who stuck their neck out and agitated for change, managed to cop it in the end, and Robespierre and his cohort of Jacobins polished off the Girondins before being flushed out themselves when the time came. Gosh he would have been a dull man to live with. 3 stars.

So, Gerald Murnane gets to 75 and then writes easily his most accessible book to date Something for the Pain, perhaps the only one I would recommend to a non-believer. I was delighted again and again with this recollection of childhood events and memories of the turf. It is possibly the only book that I’ve ever found myself consciously trying to slow down and soak in, because it I was gobbling it up like a pack of ginger biscuits. Outstanding! 5 stars.

Despite being pretty passionate about music in the past, composer stories (real or not) don’t excite. Ok, I did enjoy those Phillip Glass and Glenn Gould bios. I think I was dazzled by the Booker 2014 Longlist on the cover, and the mention of Bach on the rear. In truth Orfeo by Richard Powers wasn’t a bad book, but I just couldn’t accept the premise of the composer deciding to morph his passion into finding musical structures amongst the biological world. The book is clearly a love letter to classical composition, but I found myself glazing over in the more musical chapters and enjoying the human interactions and suspense elements. 3 stars.

I wasn’t convinced at all by Margaret Atwoods’ The Heart Goes Last. Although a real page turner with a sexy theme, the whole premise felt flawed; the story light and overly simple, the characters not believable and I spent the second half of it fobbing off my cynicism whilst trying to wind it up. This has shaken my faith in one of the few female writers I (mostly) trust. Will wait for her next nervously. 2 stars.

Speaking of female writers, Barkskins by Annie Proulx was a much more solid proposition (in more ways than one at 710 pages). Early on, I accidentally read a negative review of it in the Irish Times which called it trite and lambasted it for its “set pieces”, but thankfully I never found these aspects irritating. My problem with the book was (like Accordion Crimes) its overly broad generational sweep, which towards the last quarter of the book became a gallop through reams of names and sons of sons in a few quick lines with nothing more than an intention to get you to the present day. Other sections were far more consistent and engrossing – the fiercely business-like Lavinia Duke, the desperately unlucky travels of Jinot Sel, the descriptions of the logging camps and river work were all wonderfully convincing – I had no lack of interest in this book at all until about 3/4 way through. I’d read it again though – probably my second favourite of hers after Postcards a real return to form which whilst lecturing about mans irresponsible ways, told some wonderful stories, with all the usual Proulx research and attention to period detail. Way too many characters though. 4 stars.

When selecting this book, I think I mistook the “#1 International Bestseller” label on the cover of  The Truth and the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker for “Winner of the 2015 Edgar Award“, because that’s what I wanted out of my annual / bi-annual crime book (just to show my wife I really do read other genres occasionally). I thought it would be a little more serious, and by the end (640 pages mind you!) it felt preposterous and silly; the number of twists in the last few chapters becoming a bit crazy. The dialogue was terrible, the inclusion of the young novelist into a 33 year old crime case implausible and yet it was still a massively addictive page turner which had me wanting to know who killed Laura Palmer, I mean Nola. 3 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books | Comments Off on Getting on a roll now |
April 29th, 2016

Some easier 2016 goals knocked over

I don’t know what it was about this year which made me write down some Post-It note goals and want to actually do some of them. I’ve read about people hitting middle age and sensing the tightening of time they have left, which leaves them feverish till the end; ambivalent years in their 20s seeming wasteful in hindsite. Maybe I’ve become one of those people.

 

Ommegang

 

Finished a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle which took me about 5 months in the end. It only cost $1 – a shrewd buy from Kim at an Op shop up north. Choosing a 1615 Belgian civic parade or “Ommegang” ticked all the right boxes (historic, low countries, and fine detail) which generally draw me to a picture. At one point it sat untouched for 6 weeks around Christmas, when I’d done all the easier bits (top 3rd) and had to identify maybe 2000 single pieces and place them in their spots – never connecting them all till right near the end. That was exhausting, and the lighting and uncomfortable seating didn’t help. But I’m really pleased I did it in the end – many cups of herbal tea (and dry biscuits) later. Now I want to go see a real one!

pg-38-war-and-peace-1-bbc

Then War and Peace got read. When I heard the series was coming on TV this year, I knew that my 2013 purchase needed to come off the shelf, and at first I was worried with all the French phrasing interspersed amongst the Russian to English translation, but it was quite a pleasure to read really. Apart from a tedious Epilogue which I think Tolstoy intended to prove his rigour but to a modern reader seemed like the same argument twisted 20 ways to fill pages, it was surprisingly breezy and fun. I didn’t really know what to expect, not an anti-war piece; Tolstoy at pains to point out the fate of the naive, seeking glory or the blind worship of the Tsar, and scornful of those wishing to summarise the result as a series of won or lost encounters. General Kutuzov seemed to be the anti-hero, unpopularly retreating again and again to save the Russian Army, at the risk of being un-Russian but in doing so, gaining eventual victory but lifelong ignomony amongst his peers. Loved the 6 part series on the BBC too. 4.5 stars.

by dfv | Posted in Books, General | Comments Off on Some easier 2016 goals knocked over |













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