Tuesday, April 27, 2010

FLASHMAN'S LADY - George MacDonald Fraser

Welcome to the sixth installment of the Flashman papers.

To the uninitiated the cad and bounder from Tom Brown's School Days left several volumes worth of manuscripts detailing his adventures from when he left school.

This volume starts with a chance meeting with Tom Brown who talks Flashy into playing a game of cricket for his old school. Of course Flashman ends up getting a hat trick at Lord's. But then gets into serious trouble with a bookmaker.

The adventure continues when his wife gets kidnapped by a pirate and the story travels through Sarawak meeting James Brooke,the White Raja and onto Borneo and Madagascar. Most of the historical figures encountered actually existed.

As with all the Flashman stories, historically they are very accurate apart from the hero himself who is entirely fictional.

He managers to "roger" anything female he encounters and run away from anything that would require the slightest bit of courage. If you have ever wondered about where brothel cricket originated, you need look no further than here.

All these stories are good fun and worth a read ideal for the plane trip or beach.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

RIPLEY'S GAME - Patricia Highsmith

This is the second of the Ripley thrillers and was published in 1974.

We have the anti-hero Tom Ripley coercing a stranger into committing "two simple murders". Unfortunately things are not quite as simple as first thought.

The premise here is preposterous but as The Times says on the blurb "..insanely readable"

There are several murders, the Italian mafia and some upset wives along the way.

Highly recommended if you like your " heroes" completely amoral.

Highsmith herself was a diagnosed psychopath, the real deal, and she writes very disturbing novels but they are very exciting and are "page turners".

In real life the authors personality made Ripley look like a candidate for 'the crimson", she was a truly awful human being.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

PICTURE THIS - Joseph Heller

"The novel is an eclectic historical journey across three periods of history, all connected by a single painting: Rembrandt van Rijn's Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer. With constant reflections between the different time levels, we jump back and forth between the time of Aristotle, Rembrandt and Heller: the Golden Age of Athens, the brief 17th century golden age of Holland, and the golden age of the USA."

This is a stunning read, its that good I put off a day fishing to read it.

We have a biography of Socrates, from his trial until his execution by drinking hemlock.

We have a biography of Rembrandt from when he first becomes famous until his bankruptcy and death.

We have a brief biography of Aristotle as well as his views on life from inside the painting being created by Rembrandt, true.

We have the provenance of the painting "Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer" which is not a painting of Aristotle, from its inception until it was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

As well we have Heller's trade mark cynicism and humorous asides. All this in one book ,its fantastic.

The main thread is that we humans do not learn from our mistakes and are destined to forever repeat them. We have the parallels from ancient Greece until the 20th century. It is actually quite scary when you see them laid out on paper.

Heller concludes that we don't learn from history (and in fact so much of history may be nonfactual that learning may be impossible)." (Wiki)
My personal favourite paragraph from the book is :

" Aristotle knew what Plato did not, that politics and good intentions do not mix"

followed closely by:

" Politics and knowledge did not mix either".

Also did you know "that the people living in the year 4 B.C had no idea that they were."

This is great, I haven't enjoyed a book as much as this for years.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

VISITING MRS NABOKOV and other excursions - Martin Amis

This is another collection of occasional articles, a follow up to - The Moronic Inferno.

This also consists of reviews and interviews of the famous and not so famous. There are also a couple of travel pieces thrown in as well.

This collection does not have the consistency of the previous one and some of it has a " scraping the bottom of the filing cabinet " feel. As in - Cannes - where he rambles on about topless beaches, he even apologises in a new preface for the standard of the article.

Most unforgivable of all he does a very disparaging review of a Rolling Stones concert. This is a mortal sin.

When he is good Amis is excellent as in - Chess: Kasporov v Karpov - on the world of chess. I found out it that cheating has been rampant in chess for hundreds of years, not out and out stealing of pieces, but very heavy gamesmanship, fascinating stuff.

This is still worth the read but not as good as other articles that he has put together, but not a bad Sunday filler.

Friday, April 16, 2010

THE FACTS - A Novelists Autobiography - Philip Roth

A short 1988 autobiography written in answer to criticism that all his novels are purely autobiographical.

It is very short only 195 pages and is broken down into 5 chapters , childhood, education , first loves etc.

He writes about everybody but himself which is strange for an autobiography, of course he is present but all the details are about others.

We have a big chapter on his girlfriend Josie - the angriest person he ever met- she was also mad, pulling little stunts like feigning pregnancies ( buying urine off pregnant woman). So he did what you normally do with a creature like this - he married her!! and sentenced himself to a few more years of hell.

There is nothing regarding his writing, it all seems to have just fallen into place for him, there doesn't appear to be any rejection from publishers, the novels just got published and he carried on meeting new women and having holidays at the beach.

Of course there are events in his life that have cropped up in his novels, there was however no mention of him abusing the family liver as in Portnoys Complaint.

But really as an autobiography this is a flop, as I have mentioned he is very good writing about other people but he keeps himself fairly well hidden.

Roth is an acquired taste and if you are a fan this is worth while, but if not I would wait for the biography and hopefully get a bit more information about the lad.

THE MORONIC INFERNO and other visits to America - Martin Amis

Published in 1986 this is a series of occasional pieces written for magazines and news papers.

There are 27 interviews and reviews included in this compilation and 26 of them are really interesting. The 27th was about someone I had never heard of and as this is about me, there you have it.

Amis covers Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer,Gloria Steinman, Truman Capote and many others as well as a couple of news events.

They are all very well written with Amis's humour running through them all. The only annoying thing is that while reading a interview on one of the subjects there will be a page break and you find that you are now reading a review of the latest book of the person that was previously being interviewed. At the end of the chapter you then find that it was cobbled together from two different articles from two different publications published many years apart!!!

But the above problem is not the authors but the editor's NOTE: Mr Editor it doesn't work.

The subjects and books are all interesting with a highlight being the Claus von Bulow trial. Not a nice man at all.

And this little one from the Joseph Heller chapter on a review of his novel "God Knows" - Like cunnilingus, tending sheep is dark and lonely work; but someone has to do it.

Highly recommended as a bath or travel collection, short sharp chapters that will entertain.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

HALFWAY TO HOLLYWOOD: Diaries 1980-1988 - Michael Palin

I love reading diaries. I think its the voyeur in me.

This is the second installment of Michael Palin's diaries.

This volume covers the period post the Python television series. From when he was most prolifically involved in making movies, up until the eve of his departure for the first travel series. (Around the World in 80 Days).

Palin was always my favourite Python and these diaries just flow along seamlessly, with lots of gossip, none of it too nasty, but with enough detail to make it interesting.

We have the inside view of getting movies made and financed ,which appears to be a very hard business indeed.

The highlight for me in this volume is when he and fellow Python Terry Gilliam go on a short trip to Checkoslovakia. We have wonderful descriptions of what he observed under a communist regime. This augers well for later volumes when I presume the travel shows he has done for the last twenty years will dominate.

Its not all about the movies, we have lots about his family, who he is very close to, included is the sadness of his sister's suicide.

This is very funny in parts as you would expect from a Python and it shows how hard he works, he just never stops. As well as work for cash he is constantly hit upon for charity events and public works.

After two volumes Palin can not lay claim to being a great diarist yet,I believe he will get much better as we get more of his personal observations rather than a ball by ball account of film production and the like. He is a very good writer already and will only get better.

These are genuine diaries and not written for a contract and also there appears to be no hindsight editing, which keeps it real for me.

A very busy, interesting man and the good thing is there should be according to my admittedly very poor maths, at least another 4 volumes.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

BLACK MONEY - Ross MacDonald

There are very few things in life guaranteed except the old death and taxes but you can add , quality crime writing when you pick up anything written by Ross MacDonald.

The New York Times describe the Lew Archer books - The finest series of detective novels ever written by an American- and this is no exaggeration. Personally I am struggling to remember anybody better full stop.

There were 25 of them written before MacDonald died in 1983, all featuring Lew Archer as the detective and all consistently outstanding.

This one is about the ninth or tenth I've read and its as good as any previous.

As usual the story is set in Southern California, Archer is a Private Investigator hired to get information about a Frenchman who has swept the clients girlfriend off her feet.

Theres death and violence but nothing graphic, the writings that good you don't need descriptions of heads exploding.

Over the next 237 pages we have many, many twists until right at the end when all is revealed and its a beauty.

As in all his books there is no real depth to Archer himself, just an ex-cop out for hire, but these are superbly written, - a moral complexity- you don't find in a lot of crime writing.

Anything written by MacDonald is 100% guaranteed to please.

Once again these are a bit difficult to locate in New Zealand, there are a few around the second hand scene in both paper and hard back. If you are serious about getting the series, they are available from Black Lizard through Amazon or Powell's over the net or Unity Books will get them in for you.

Worth every cent and you can re-read them as well which is unusual for me with crime novels.