Wednesday, 21 June 2017

The Black Dahlia by James Elroy

 "I remember moving toward him and I remember picking him up two-handed by the neck, wondering how hard you had to squeeze a dog's throat to make its eyeballs pop out."

I used to be a massive fan of film noir and love L.A. Confidential  also based on an Ellroy novel. I have vague recollections of seeing the cinematic rendition of this novel and yet the plot seemed completely new to me as I read the book.Perhaps it was a little forgettable.

Unfortunately, the last few weeks and months have been a little fraught with drama of a non literary variety. That might be one of the reasons why it took me such a long time to finish this novel. Even the opportunity to tick off another 1001 list book wasn't enough to increase my speed of consumption.

Another reason, in these rather sombre times where the horrors of watching people die in a burning building in real time on the television is the new reality, the idea of reading about a violent murder, combined with a tonne of other violent acts and sad loveless couplings just wasn't the kind of thing I was inclined towards. Ellroy's stock in trade is grimy violence and lately, I'm not sure that's what I need.

Is it well crafted? Why, certainly. There were moments, particularly the seedy bars and sweaty boxing matches, where , as  a reader, I felt completely immersed in the tale. There were other times where I felt like perhaps I needed a long, hot, bath and a course of antibiotics.



 3 out of 5 cover ups are murder.


Monday, 19 June 2017

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

“Books’ll be back,” Esther-in-Unalaq predicts. “Wait till the power grids start failing in the 2030s and the datavats get erased. It’s not far away. The future looks a lot like the past.” 

This is a book, I mean, if you threw it at someone it could do serious damage. Don't take that as a critique by any means, I've rather loved the journey through time and lives and unravelling the mystery across its many delightfully written pages.
It is also a gorgeous experience that has got me through a rather crappy vortex of a shit storm that has been my life of late. The weather is clearing, fear not.

Reading this at odd intervals, sometimes a page or two, sometimes a hundred pages, probably added to the confusion of the non-linear story and yet somehow also made me love it even more. I appreciated this escape into another reality where underlying forces are waging war within the bodies of mere mortals without them even knowing. It is a fascinating conceit, potentially extrapolated from the notion of bacteria and/or even particles. My science is iffy - so seriously, don't quote me on that.

Regardless the writing is beautiful and offers delightful morsels of insight on everyday life in between the action. Other readers have fallen in love with Mitchell's Cloud Atlas,  which left me a little cold, despite my love of time travel, or rather, my love of reading about the idea.
I lacked the tenacity to stick with that novel and yet this one I found more approachable. I'm not sure whether that is indicative of greater patience on my part or a different style of writing or a more approachable subject. There is something vampiric about the "villains" of this piece that was always going to draw me in. I don't know why I'm always attracted to that trope and yet who could resist the opportunity of reading up a storm that eternal life would facilitate?

5 out of 5 Holly's journey drew me down the rabbit hole.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Only Dull People Are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde

"Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed."

An absolute delight and how could it not be? A collection of Oscar Wilde's witticisms makes for fifty two pages of curated brilliance. No-one could coin a phrase quite like Wilde and this gorgeous little book clearly illustrates his amazing talent. Oh to be able to travel back in time and hang out with Oscar, or better yet, transport him to the present day where hopefully he'd find an easier life.
I could re-read this over and over again and will no doubt be stealing quotes from it at every possible occasion.


5 out of 5  - "One should always be a little improbable"

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

"One floor above Lenny and Colin, Miriam was screaming that she wouldn't get undressed."

So, by now you will no doubt have read that the winner of the Bailey prize has been announced, and here am I still not through the shortlist! The Dark Circle,  did not take out the prize and I'd have to say I definitely preferred The Power and am not surprised that it won. Now to the matter at hand, I have to admit to being a little nervous about reading this particular novel due to the subject matter. Reading the synopsis - a brother and sister being sent to a post war tuberculosis facility in Kent - did not send me running to the bookstore for a copy. Nevertheless, the novel is intriguing and surprisingly drew me in.

The writing seemed a little uneven, much like the plot and while there is much to recommend, ultimately this tale left me a little cold.
I found it difficult to relate to the protagonists and that distanced the story somewhat. What is far more successful is the sense of youth trapped in a cage, as Lenny and Miriam come to grips with their unusual new surrounds, peopled with characters very different to their familiar circles.One of the quotes on the cover makes reference to the great sense of atmosphere and I'd have to agree that Grant's strength is creating a sense of place.

I will be looking forward to see what my reading buddy Nicki thinks of it when I lend it to her.



4 out of 5 patients have patience.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Rather Be the Devil by Ian Rankin

"He knew he should do something about them, but knew too, that he never would. That would be someone else's problem -Sammy's probably - after he was gone."


I was fortunate enough to attend the Sydney Writer’s Festival session with Ian Rankin on “Who says crime doesn’t pay”. I’d bought the tickets based on name recognition, and so grabbed his latest paperback at the Airport in Brisbane on my way home, and to the festival. A real page turner, I’d managed to take in three quarters of the novel on my journey and just in time for the session.

While the author today oozes charisma wrapped up in one hell of a fantastic Scottish accent ( think David Tennant’s older brother), this hasn’t always been the case and his self-effacing tales of the struggles of his early writing career were particularly charming. This interview with the abc might give you just a taste of being there.

Back to the book and, Rebus, the  hero of some 21 novels, this being the 21st and frankly I'm hooked. I'm sure it would have been interesting to get on board the band wagon earlier in the series when Rebus was a younger man, and yet his sprung from retirement ex-cop makes for a compelling protagonist. Big scary crooks carrying some serious bottle age still make for an intriguing read and let's not forget that a cold case can still bring the heat.

I'm confident that I've not let you in on any plot points or given the game away, so get yourself a copy and jump into the shadowy Edinburgh underworld.

 5 out of 5 pints would be great if I wasn't gluten intolerant.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi



“Dad taught me to flirt with everyone I met, girls and boys alike, and I came to see charm, rather than courtesy or honesty, or even decency, as the primary social grace.”


Clearly a constant fixture on all the editions of the 1001 books you must read before you die for a reason, Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia is at heart an enjoyable, compelling and often transgressive coming of age tale. The recipient of the 1990 Whitbread Award for the best first novel, it centres on seventeen year old Karim, the offspring of an Indian father and English mother (much like the author), the impact of his father’s affair and his resultant attempts to fashion himself as a kind of guru for hire among the smart set frequented by his new lover, Eva. That serves as the launching pad for twisting side tales that will have you engrossed.

Take for instance, the man you can’t have but everyone wants – Charlie; Karim is smitten. It doesn’t help that Charlie is the son of the woman Karim’s father is romantically involved with. He is far more interested in securing international fame than responding to Karim’s crush.

Karim’s cousin and sometimes bed partner is a rather interesting character. The reader feels her constant struggle to reconcile the world around her and that imposed on her by her father. This leads to a rather disastrous arranged marriage which introduces the reader to the delightfully hopeless Changez. He steals the novel for me as a figure of such sadness and schadenfreude. He might be useless in his father in law’s grocery store but don’t let him loose with a sex toy!

There is quite a bit of sex going on in the book and that’s natural given that it is possibly the central preoccupation for a teenager. Sex is fraught with danger and despair here. It drives a wedge in Karim’s family life. It leads to some often hilarious circumstances  and yet to reduce the story to merely its sexual leanings would do the book a disservice. Growing up is all about questioning everything, where is this going, why do my parents act this way, who am I, what do I want? An endless array of questions and that sense of growing curiosity combined with the self obsession of young adulthood is fantastically captured here.
What is particularly remarkable are the aspects that resonate regardless of one's race, upbringing or circumstances there are central human truths about growing up we can all relate to. That sense of the forbidden, the inexplicable, the precociousness of youth is infectious. Life is a glorious mess and that is something this book so beautifully expresses.

 5 out of 5 people have moments where their parents are a source of embarrassment.


Monday, 15 May 2017

Holding by Graham Norton

"How strange that she could imagine sharing a bed with him again but couldn't envision looking into his eyes and asking him what it was he felt."

I am a massive fan of Graham Norton's talk show and his autobiographical writing to date has been as charming as his interview style. When I heard he had branched out into fiction, I was eager to get myself a copy. This is the perfect read for a cold winter's night. Settle down with a glass of Graham's Wine (I've not tried it, but its from New Zealand so I imagine  it is drinkable) and launch into this touching murder mystery set in a sleepy little corner of county Cork.
When property developers discover human bones on an old farm, the portly Sergeant PJ Collins will have more worries than mere traffic management. Everyone in the village has skeletons in the closet including three spinster sisters, an unhappy wife, a miserable husband, and a mysterious cleaning lady. The characters are completely engaging, a heady mix of angst, lost opportunity and insecurities. Their human frailties gorgeously explored.

Go get yourself a copy or you might end up chucked off the red chair. Thanks for lending me your copy Nicki

5 out of 5 villages can be deadly.