Thursday, December 31, 2015
Firstly, this is a rare thing in that it is a Booker Prize winner that is readable,but as it is written by Margaret Atwood this is no surprise. I still can't believe she didn't win for "The Hand Maid's Tale".
The story revolves around two sisters, Laura Chase, who as a result of the publication of a novel titled "The Blind Assassin" is quiet notorious and her sister the narrator Iris Chase.
Iris is now 82 and poor, despite marrying a prominent industrialist at aged 18. She reflects on her life and that of her sister. This narration encompasses the present day and then in memoir form back to their childhood.
The novel "The Blind Assassin " -"sexually explicit for its time describes a risky affair between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron"
So there are three stories told here and they are riveting.
Atwood is fantastic, I loved this sentence-"Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens."
You read of things "smashed to smithereens" but rarely read of the smithereens themselves.
This is great.
After watching Dracula movies for 50 years I finally got to read the book.
The young lawyer Jonathan Harker goes to Dracula's castle to assist with expediting the Counts move to England. It is here that strange behaviour is noted and from here the story unfolds.
The story is told by way of diaries,letters and newspaper articles. The diaries and letters are written by Harker, his wife and others, notably Dr Seward and Van Helsing who are all main players in the story.
What surprised me is that its not Van Helsing who is the star of the story but rather Mina Harker.
She is a true hero and I am surprised that she does not feature more when female heroines are mentioned as is often the case these days.
This is a true horror story and I should have read it years ago.
Ezekiel Farragut, college professor, junkie and a killer is sent to Falconer Correctional Facility to serve his sentence.
Cheever tells us of the "vice, misery and degradation of prison" and he writes beautifully.
At the beginning of the book while being transported to prison a fellow prisoner, deformed by boils and acne, laments that he has never had sex that wasn't paid for; it is heart breaking to read and Cheever is able to do that to the reader over and over through the book.
The ending of the book has been done, most notably by Dumas in 1844 but the writing is brilliant so this is a small quibble.
This is a many times read book and will be read many times more.
A country columnist, William Boot of the Beast, is mistakenly sent to the African nation of Ishmaelia and becomes the super star of British Journalism.
This is very very funny and is satire at its best while still being a damning indictment on newspaper journalism.
One can only guess how Waugh would view the state of the worlds media today. At least in his time journalists left the office and went on assignment rather than re-writing press releases in the office.
It is 1944 and an 89 year old man living in retirement the English country side becomes involved in trying to recover a stolen African grey parrot belonging to a nine year old boy. The boy and the bird have escaped previously from Nazi Germany. There was a murder committed when the bird was stolen.
This bird constantly repeats a code which has several agencies clamoring to get their hands on it.
The retired consulting detective rises to the challenge and becomes involved in the case and despite his advanced years his mental abilities have not diminished too badly.
This is novella in length, very clever with a very sad ending but worth reading.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
No book for years has unsettled me as much as this has.
The story is narrated by John Dowall telling the story of two couples and their relationship over a period of nine years.
As the story unfolds you realize what an 'unreliable" narrator Dowall is and nothing as described can be trusted.
Many reviews states that Dowall is naive and those about him are the manipulative ones but my conclusion is Dowall is one the the truly evil characters I have ever read, outstandingly evil.
There are no laughs here but an outstanding novel and very unsettling.
An ex-con, an ex-nun and an ex-cop band together to dis-attach a Contra thug of several million dollars that he has raised to take back to Nicaragua.
The CIA and the IRA also poke their noses in.
There's no such thing as a bad Elmore Leonard only varying degrees of fun.
Sub title -Four Seasons on Back Roads.
This is a travel / social commentary on areas of the southern United States. Theroux makes four separate trips into the south travelling the back roads meeting the poor, the strugglers, living in areas where the work has gone to Mexico or China and there are very few options for those living in these localities.
He meets people and then re-visits some months later, we hear if things have changed; whether money for projects has come through; usually it hasn't and more people are being helped with the same resources.
This could be really depressing but its not. Paul Theroux has the ability to stay realistic and this stops his reportage becoming mawkish. The thread on the state of and the ownership of the many motels he uses is worth the price of admission alone.
Mr Theroux, like the rest of us is not getting any younger and while this isn't as good as " Dark Star Safari" its quality writing and more of the same is needed.
The travels of Gulliver in four parts. Most of us know of the Liliput story but not the remaining three.
The voyage to Brobdingnag where he lives among a race of giants. This race is immense , where we have Gulliver naked stride one of the females nipples.
Part three is a journey to Laputa, Blanibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan where he ends up on a flying Island.
Part Four, a Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms, which is run by horses and the human like Yahoo's are are a sub-tribe scorned as filthy and uncivilised.
The book satirises religions and governments and asks "whether men are inherently corrupt or whether they become corrupted".
The satire is savage and as things have not improved in the 300 years since this was written I can imagine Swift would have nothing flattering to say on our political situations world wide at the moment.
The best known of Dickens's tales, the story of Pip, how an act of kindness changes his life, gives him huge opportunities but then he does some major life failing because he is human.
This is enjoyable and has one of the most decent characters in literature Pip's uncle, Joe Gargery.
This is an easy read, not too many characters with silly names.
Monday, December 21, 2015
From ValanCourt Books:
" David Benedictus was only twenty-three when this shock-filled, highly controversial first novel was published in 1962. In "The Fourth of June", Benedictus shoows what it was like to have attended Eton College, one of England's prestigious schools. Among its hallowed buildings, a boy is savagely beaten into paralysis by his House Captain, a bishop spends his evenings spying on a Chaplin's half dressed daughter, and a housemaster is seduced by a desperate mother. Condemned by some reviewers as a farrago of sex, snobbery, and sadism................"
This is an excellent read, brutal; its satire taken to the nth degree which is the best kind. I found it after reading a biography on Guy Burgess who stated it was a favourite as he lived out his life in Russia.
Bar owner Rick Wendell is murdered, a young man is found standing over the body wiping fingerprints off the gun.
Insurance Investigator Dave Brandstetter become involves and digs deep and uncovers a mystery involving several relationships.
This series evidently is the first to feature an openly gay P.I; all the relationships in this story are homosexual but this has nothing to actually do with the plot, which is weak, compared with several others I've read in the series. It's all a bit tedious.
The story is a 'whodunnit' but Hansen has done it better.
A selection of Waugh's journalism. Some if its interesting and some of its just going through the motions. He freely admitted that he would write for money and some of these efforts are just for the cheque.
There are a couple of highlights and he always has an argument but this might be the last of Waugh's writings to be cobbled together.
I'd file this under a " must read for completests"
This is another multiple re-read by the master Ross Thomas.
Again this feature Wu & Durant . They are hired to find two missing hypnotists who are needed to prove the innocence of a movie star charged with killing her ex-fiancee. This is all run of the mill stuff until things get complicated.
To complete the job they enlist the assistance of the crew first seen in 'Out on the Rim'. A bunch who are completely without scruples which makes this a rollicking good yarn set in Southern California.
Thomas is the best writer of the crime caper there's ever been. Books that are brilliantly entertaining.
Find them and read them all.
Arthur Wu and Quincy Durant are " con men'- who will do most anything for a dollar.
They get involved in they Philippines with Security Experts, retired FBI agents and others in an attempt to get their hands on 5 million dollars. Plus there are CIA agents and sundry other odious characters which make s this one of Ross Thomas's best 'capers'.
This is the 3rd or 4th time I've read this and will keep on doing so. The characters, the dialogue, humour and the plot twists show why Thomas was the best there was at this type of book.
Donald Westlake who was no slouch at the "caper" bowed down to Thomas.
His books are brilliant and deserve to be better known.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
The latest biography of Guy Burgess, one of the Cambridge spies and a very interesting read it is.
All the previous articles and books I've read on Burgess tend to show him as an alcoholic promiscuous homosexual who was not much of a spy. This book however highlights how he was a very very intelligent individual who but for a few quirks of fate may have gone on to be a high ranking navel officer or a Cambridge Don.
The book also contends that he was the glue that held the Cambridge spies together due to his dedication to his Marxist ideology.
It is established that Burgess supplied the Russians with amounts of information so vast much of it will not have been looked at even today. Most of this information was irrelevant but he was so dedicated that he literally took suitcases of documents to his masters.
He was alcoholic, very promiscuous and either utterly charming or repulsive depending on who was being spoken to. One thing all persons interviewed agreed on on that his personal hygiene left a lot to be desired.
This is a fascinating read and sheds light on one of the five who has not been given the attention by historians in the past.
Again as with all the books on the Cambridge spies no due diligence was done on Burgess prior to him working for the government. Burgess was a leader of the Cambridge University Communist party, was publicly involved in all sorts of actions on their behalf but "no worries" later on he just told everyone he'd "given up". Again, this was accepted because he was an Eton old boy and he had given his word. Again staggering, the same happened with Philby.
Reading this he does sound like he would have been great fun to have several drinks with at almost anytime.
The latest in a series of 'James Bond' re-boots written by guest authors and its not bad. The story is set three weeks after the end of 'Goldfinger' with Bond back in London have a break with Pussy Galore the unrivaled female lead name in the series for making school boys giggle.
Bond goes Formula 1 racing at the Nurburgring as you do and goes up against SMERSH directly who have a dastardly plot to cause havoc as usual.
Horowitz writes in the Fleming style well, this is much better than the last Bond book by William Boyd. There is a good villain who perhaps could have done with a bit more air time in the book but good escapists fun and Horowitz should get another outing. The proviso on this is, as long as he doesn't attempt to do with the Bond series anything like he did with Sherlock Holmes in "Moriarty'.
This is the sequel to "Power of the Dog" set several years in the future.
It covers a a ten year period with a DEA agent ,Art Keller, attempting to track down a Mexican drug cartel boss, Adan Barrera.
Firstly, the book is about 200 pages too long, we have a characters introduced and disposed of for no other reason than to have a grisly death.
The second problem I have with the book is the grisly deaths. I know that these cartels specialize in spectacularly horrid deaths for those they want to dispose of but it seems at times every third page describes a beheading, de-limbing or disembowelment. After the first three hundred beheadings they lose their shock value, take up space and appear as padding.
The book highlights the corruption that is rife in Mexico and Central America that allows these cartels to flourish, when you have police earning $100 per month and they're offered $10,000 to look away its understandable.
Winslow can write much better than this,( Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine) the book feels dictated. His novels are starting to be made into films which again makes me think this has a film or TV series payday in mind.
If this had been edited tighter and the rather weak ending tidied up it would have been much more satisfying.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
The second book in the "Karla" trilogy and this must be the 5th or 6th time I've read it and even though I know the story back to front there's still something new every time.
The "Circus" is in turmoil after Bill Haydon was discovered to be a Soviet agent in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", Smiley is the temporary head and sets out to uncover a sleeper agent in Hong Kong.
To assist he activates part time agent ,The Honourable Gerald 'Jerry' Westerby.
From here we have a story set in South East Asia during the last days of the Vietnam War and the back rooms of London.
This story is often over looked as a real Smiley novel with many jumping to Smileys People, but I think its one of the best, certainly the saddest. You don't have to have had read the previous book as this stands alone but you should.
In fact if you are over 12 years of age you should have read the series. Brilliant 11/10.
This is the third book in the Fanny Logan "series" following "Love in a Cold Climate" and "The Pursuit of Love" and its one book too far.
Where the first two were full of quirky characters and poked fun at the UK upper classes this one has none of this.
Fanny is still married and her husband out of the blue is posted to Paris as the British Ambassador. The book revolves around events during this ambassadorship. There's smiles but no belly laughs, characters appear from the previous books but it is all a bit lame.
This was very hard work and not recommended especially if you loved the first two novels like I did.
Another re-read featuring the two retired MI 6 spies who now work for a shadowy intelligence section which involves them disposing of enemies of the state.
This collection of short stories is brilliant. Gilbert only wrote the two collections which is a shame. They are much better than the Ashenden stories and have lots of humour.
I've never seen them in book form in New Zealand, I got the books on Kindle but they are available on Amazon.
Money well spent. They deserve the re-read every few years
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Or The Hunch Back of Notre Dame as its known in English.
Firstly, this novel is nothing like the many film and television versions that have been made over the years. It is set in medieval Paris, a very tough time to be alive, and although Quasimodo plays a central role he is by no means the central figure.
The central figure is Notre Dame itself ,all the human characters are involved with it and the story revolves about it.
I found that there are very few remotely likable characters in this story, Quasimodo is probably the closest but he gets much sympathy because of his deformity which has made him totally rejected by society.
Esmeralda is a rather silly little girl, which she is of course she is being in her mid teens and then there is Archdeacon Frollo, who even though he saved Quasimodo as a baby and raised him is evil.
In the middle of the novel, Hugo digresses into an essay arguing that prior to the invention of the printing press architecture was how man expressed his learned knowledge from other cultures to the masses i.e incorporating designs noted on travels and brought back from military campaigns. ( This explanation is mine and is wildly simplifying what is argued)
He then states that the invention of the printing press is the greatest of all inventions. (An argument that still stands today). With the printing press knowledge became available to more than the religious orders, observations from afar were able to be described simply,ideas were argued,messages spread and therefore the demise of architecture across Europe began to decline.
After this essay the story returns to the characters we have have been introduced to, as stated the majority are unlikable and their fates didn't elicit any sympathy from myself with the exception of Esmeralda who was treated rather harshly which is probably a wild under statement
My fun fact from the novel was learning the true meaning of "Truant" -i.e. someone who chooses to be a beggar rather than someone who begs out of necessity.
This is a great novel, uplifting its not probably because the characters are so obviously human with all their faults and vanities its like looking in a mirror.
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
This is an hilarious satire on the British upper class set in the period between the wars. The attitudes and snobbishness of the upper class taken to the nth degree.
Polly Montdore, daughter of one of England's wealthiest families, shows no inclination to marry despite many attempts to match make by her mother, that is until she announces to friends and family she is going to marry her recently widowed uncle. This is where the trouble starts.
The story is told through the eyes of Polly's distant cousin, Fanny,who comes from a titled family but without the immense wealth. Our narrator fills us in on the daily lives of the upper classes in great detail and keeps it amusing throughout.
Polly's mother is a wonderful snob and a highlight of the book.
Back in the Long Gallery some of the women went upstairs to 'powder their' noses. Lady Montdore was scornful. ' I go in the morning,' she said,' and that is that. I don't have to be let out like a dog at intervals, thank goodness- there;s nothing so common, to my mind".
or this gem:
And if I might offer you a little advice Fanny, it would be to read fewer books,dear, and make your house slightly more comfortable. that is what a man appreciates in the long run.'
I laughed all the way through this and it got even better when the delightfully camp Cedric appears. This is a delight, even the introduction by Alan Cumming is great.
I also recommend Mitford's collection of letters between her and Evelyn Waugh, laugh out loud funny and very pointed.
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Young Edmond Dantes is looking forward to a big week. He is about to be promoted to ships captain and he is to be married shortly to the love of his life. Things couldn't be going better until three people conspire to have him imprisoned. He is locked up in solitary confinement and forgotten for 14 years.
During this time he manages to make contact with an old priest in the next door dungeon. The priest tells him of a fantastical treasure that he is aware of which awaits them if they can escape. Edmond eventually does escape and locates the treasure.
This treasure along with the education the priest has given him enable him to set out on the path of revenge against those who betrayed him.
This is a very complicated and brutal revenge involving many European locations and people which makes for a wonderful novel.
I've seen this described as a children's book but it contains adult themes which are not bed time reading for the kids, suicide, murder etc. There are many abridged versions of this book in the market but this full unabridged version needs to be read which runs 1200 -1400 pages depending on the edition.
Of course there are contrivances to keep the story and plot on target but this is a novel and novels do that.
There are religious themes and a moral lesson that is brought home at the end but the main point this makes apart from being very entertaining is never ever give up hope.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
In days of old when Knights were bold and as susceptible to temptation and stupidity as the rest of us.
Set one hundred years after the Norman conquest of England, we have an occupied country ruled by Normans. King Richard is in prison and his brother Prince John is ruling for his own ends.
Wilfred of Ivanhoe is the son of a Saxon Lord but is out of favour with his father because he's been off at the Crusades with the Norman King Richard The Lion Heart, who as mentioned is a prisoner off shore.
We have a Friar Tuck, a Locksley who splits the arrow with one of his own at the games-Locksley of course invents as Robin of Sherwood toward the end.
The book itself is more about Issac the Jew and his daughter Rebecca, these two are the main catalysts for events. religion plays a large part in the story, the astounding ignorance shown by believers is staggering and these are the same problems that plague us today.
There are lots of minor characters,Wamba the Jester, Gurth the Swineherd and many Knights Templar who all add a lot to this tale.
The book is 600 odd pages and does drag a bit in the middle where Scott gets a bit verbose and tries to put too much history into the yarn, history which evidently is debatable as to whether its true or not, but is finishes well and is genuinely exciting.
It s a great wee adventure story and not a children's book by any stretch, even if it was I'd have still read it.
This is one of those book that we had at school in abridged form when I was 8 or 9, very glad to have read the entire thing.
Sunday, July 12, 2015
This is number ten in the 'Bernie Gunther' series. This time Bernie is sent on a mission by Goebbels to locate the father of a Yugoslavian film star . The father needs to be located because the 'star' won't work unless dear old dad is located.
From this premise we have a couple of murders which Bernie gets involved in, meet a particularly nasty Croatian killer and go along on another of Bernie's love affairs.
If you've never come across this series, the back story is Bernie is a ex-Berlin detective serving in the SD. He is continually roped in to assist the Nazi hierarchy solve problems. He does the work to stay alive and generally gets a result which keeps his masters happy and allows him to live with his conscience.
I've read the series from the get go and apart from one real dud these stories are consistently entertaining with decent general history thrown in. I always remind myself when I finish one of these books that the world must never be allowed to forget the Nazi's- the fact that gangsters took over an entire country is staggering.
The good news is I've had the pleasure of briefly meeting Mr Kerr and was told that the series is to continue, which is brilliant.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Frederick Henry is an American soldier serving as a Ambulance driver for the Italian Army in the First World War.
Through a colleague he meets Catherine Barkley , a British nurse. This book is the story of their love affair with the war as a back drop.
Shortly after the initial meeting Henry is seriously wounded and the affair blossoms as Catherine nurses him and becomes his lover. The wounding is what occurred to Hemingway in real life and he supposedly went on record as the first American to be wounded in WWI.
The affair continues and Henry eventually deserts to be with Catherine due to her pregnancy.
The Hemingway I like -the short punchy sentences - is here but in my opinion the book can't decide whether its a full on romance or full on on war novel and ends up not being either.
I began to struggle with this with about a third of the book to go, I stuck it out but it dragged for me after a promising start. And like Graham Greene , Hemingway won't leave you tired from laughing.
Monday, June 22, 2015
Between 2007 and 2009 Clive James was one of several people who took part in a 10 minute slot on the BBC espousing their views on various topics- A Point of View.
This book is the collection of the 60 broadcasts. The original text is printed and then there is a post script added by the author prior to this being published.
As normal with anything Jamesien its brilliant-funny, cynical, well researched and hits its target every time.
There are myriad of topics covered- Harry Potter, the golf ball potato crisp, Dairy of a London Call Girl, soccer (football). My favourite started about futurologist Herman Khan. Herman was prone to making claims about the future, what will be happening in 20 or 25 or 35 years times. Clive concludes the most impressive thing about Hermie was it made Hermie sound impressive and that is all. The topic then segues into climate change. Clive and I agree on the " man made climate change" brouhaha , we are not fans.
There is something for everyone here- I believe the programmes themselves are still up on his web site- www.clivejames.com.
Lastly, not wishing an earlier demise than is already underway for Mr James, who is very ill, I will mourn him for the fact the the world needs quick witted intelligent cynics like him and Hitchens.
When you read both they make you realize we humans are rather puffed up dweebs who need to laugh more at ourselves.
This collection is gold.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
This is sub-titled: A Nightmare. Gabriel Syme is a Police detective and poet who infiltrates a meeting of anarchists,joins becoming member code name "Thursday. This is written in 1908 when the anarchists were a movement.
The cynic in me thought that they can't have been much of anarchists if they were having organised meetings but there you go.
He soon finds out that no one is who they appear to be. Many scenarios later there is a confrontation with the head anarchist ,Sunday, and all is found to be well proving that goodness will prevail in a wicked world.
The clue is in the sub-title, its a feat of imagination where Chesterton goes with his characters but once its apparent what is happening it takes a bit long to come to a conclusion in my opinion. This is not a Father Brown story by any stretch, very different.
If you enjoy the metaphysical give this a go, its short and won't take too much of your time.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
From 1932 this is Snow's first published novel and his only 'whodunnit', after this he embarked on his "Strangers and Brothers" series.
Six people are on a boating holiday in the 'fens". The host is found shot dead at the tiller of the yacht. From this the remaining guests move to a conveniently local house to solve the matter themselves with a cameo by an idiotic local police man.
This is what Raymond Chandler called a 'cheat ' crime novel, in that the reader is not given remotely enough information to solve the crime by information from the story.
The highlight for me is the puritan housekeeper, she made me laugh constantly. Apart from that the only interest is the manners of the people of the period- (everyone is so damn polite even though they loathe each other)- there's not much to recommend this.
It is short, two decent baths on a rainy Sunday nailed it but there's much better 'crime' around from this time period.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
After viewing several of the several hundred film and televisions adaptations of this novel I have finally read it and what a treat. Its a "rollicking good yarn" of "daring do"- females in distress, political chicanery and one of the most evil females in literature.
The bare bones of the story are well known I assume, a young country lad, D'Artagnan, goes to Paris to become a Musketeer in the employ of the King. He meets three serving Musketeers who after initial "issues" become friends with them.
They have to deal with the political trickery of the Cardinal and "Milady" who is wonderfully evil; killing and plotting with impunity until....
The Musketeers and D'Artagnan are nicely flawed humans - Athos is alcoholic, Porthos a compulsive gambler, Aramis a religious nut bar and D'Artagnan would be in jail for stalking if he behaved towards females like he does in these enlightened times.
The four are also very touchy- insult them and you're likely to get run through with a sword in short order.
This was great fun, timeless and I wish I had read it years ago.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
Rob Fleming, owner of a second-hand London record store has been left by his girlfriend and he is not handling this well.
From this we have Rob's revisiting of previous relationships. We have Rob's constant issues with his staff. We have Rob attempting to start new relationships. This all sounds a bit trite but its not, the novels about relationships and is very funny. It also has untold moments regarding relationships where I just cringed for the simple reason I know I've behaved like this and this behaviour was not good.
As well as writing a book that contains bits of us all Nick Hornby has an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music which makes it an interesting diversion on its own.
The only negative and the reason we could never be friends is Hornby doesn't rate " Frampton Comes Alive' -adieu.
Monday, June 1, 2015
"In the summer of my nervous breakdown, I went to live in Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada."
So begins this journalistic, autobiographical novel, memoir, work of fiction. It recounts a summer where the author moves to Las Vegas to re-evaluate.
There he befriends a $10,000 a week stand up comic, a prostitute and a private investigator. Interspersed with his meetings, evenings and days with these three, there are autobiographical reminiscences.
He acts a a pseudo pimp for the hooker, taking her into casinos past security so she can work, gives a breakdown on how the P.I works using a web of contacts throughout the gambling industry, and listens to the comic how he has come up through the ranks working in 'mob' controlled clubs on the east coast
The scenarios are dated, this was published in 1974, but what never dates is Dunne's sparkling, punchy dialogue, he doesn't waste words. This is interesting, not a "True Confessions" which is Dunne's masterpiece but an interesting slice of time and life.