Sunday, 22 September 2013

This Is How Review

By MJ Hyland.

Let me start with an aside.  My copy of the book has a quote from Hilary Mantel on the front cover and it says this: "Aims straight at the truth and the heart."  What does that even mean?  Did Hilary just hit 'click' on a random word generator?  It's not even praise!  If I was Hyland I'd be swapping that with something like, "This is a terrific book" - Salman Rushdie.  Or something.  But I digress.

This is a book in two parts about a man who wants a hug.  Part One is 147 of the best pages of a book I've read in yonks.  Our asperger-y anti-hero, Oxtoby, rocks up in a seaside town after a relationship breakdown and tries to make new friends and start a new job.  He says, does and thinks everything wrong.  I got tense reading it, knowing he was continually fucking everything up and I wanted him to get it right, but he's some sort of mild-mannered psychopath who can't pull it together.  I knew it was leading to some sort of horrible climax, but unfortunately for me that horrible climax came at the end of Part One.  Part Two is 230 pages of finishing scenes and it goes all Breakback Mountain and shit.  If the book was just Part One I'd be lauding it as one of the finest short novels written in years, but it's not.  There's a Part Two that is kinda glued on.  If it was a movie, every chapter of Part Two would feel like the movie is winding up and the credits are about to roll, and I'd be making sure I've picked up my rubbish and I have my phone with me, but then thinking, "Oh, wait, there's another scene..."  It did have a terrific last chapter but.  In fact, fuck Rushdie, she can put this quote on front cover of the next print run:  "Great Part One and terrific last chapter" - Perseus Q.

I give it a B-minus.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Things That Are Review

By Amy Leach

I don't like the taste of pumpkin and as such I don't like pumpkin soup (or any other pumpkin-based dishes).  I am not saying pumpkin is intrinsically bad, or that people who like pumpkin are my inferiors; I'm just saying I don't like it.

This book is pumpkin.  If you liked it, good on you.  You are my equal (unlike people who liked The Kite Runner or Memoirs Of A Geisha: you are my inferior).

I didn't get past page 12.  Others may love it though.  She can certainly write, but I had no taste for her writing style or subject matter.  It's a book of, umm, creative essays? Anecdotes? Vignettes?  Observations?  

Here are three of my own observations of page 11 and 12 (which has something to do with salmon).

She verbed a noun: "..the music starts to dance the people passing by."
That was ominous.

She is adjective heavy: " are the music's toy, juggled into its furious torrents, jostled into its foamy jokes, assuming its sparklyblue or greenweedy or brownmuddy tinges, being driven down to the dirgy bottom where rumble-clacking stones are lit by waterlogged and melancholy sunlight..."

Allow me to re-write that extract:  " are a musical toy juggled into torrents, assuming its muddy tinges, being driven down to the dirgy bottom where stones are lit by a melancholy sunlight..."

I prefer my version, but I didn't write the book, Amy Leach did, and she is free to write it how she sees fit. 

I had no idea what she was talking about:  "...even if you have built masterful Aspen castles in your mind, have toppled whole forests to throttle the writhing elements into a liveably serene personal pond; if you have longtime sculled your ingenious fins to withstand the tumble-crazy currents, there is music that will dissolve your anchors..."

Even if I what? I'm not a salmon anyway so maybe it doesn't apply to me.  But even if I appropriate salmon-brain, I'm still not interested or happy with the adjectives and metaphors.  It all reminds me of new poems by 19 year olds at a Creative Writing night course.

Still, many people love this, so, you know, I'm sorry I didn't finish it, but the thing is, I like stories.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Left Hand Of Darkness Review

by Ursula Le Guin

This was the second of two sci-fi books I chose to read because some geezer in The Guardian said non sci-fi fans might like them.  The first one I read, The Sparrow (reviewed below) was fucking shithouse. This one was fucking great!A cracker of a read.

Written in 1969 but set way in the future, Earth is one of 80 or so human-species' dwelling planets that belong to 'The Ekumen' which is similar to Star Trek's federation, and this Ekumen has sent a sole envoy to the cold and icy planet of Gethen to invite them to be the next planet on the team.  Though all Ekumen planets, including Earth, have evolved from human ancestors on some planet called Haim, they have all evolved slightly differently on their own worlds.  In the case of Gethen, they're ambisexual.  A gender only surfaces when they screw and it can go either way, so a Gethenian could be a mother to one child and a father to another.

My friend AC Fanta expressed a fear that it would be some post-modern feminist rant about gender, but it wasn't at all.  'Gender' was of course discussed, but the discussion was never preachy, academic, political or feminist.  It was just a thing (the best bits was when the King of one of the nations heard that all the other planets had gendered humans and referred to all of them as 'perverts', and most brilliantly, though we sort of approximated all the Gethens as men (because they were Kings and Prime-Ministers and so on) there was sexual tension between the (male) envoy and the main Gethenian character).  But all of this gender stuff never once interfered with the excitement of the story itself.  There was political intrigue as to which nation of Gethen would be the first to accept the fanciful notion of beings from another planet, there was a great trek, some escapes, some torture... it had all the excitement of a classic yarn and the gender stuff was just icing on the cake.

I give it a B-plus.