Book Nineteen 2014:
The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes
I’ve read a couple of his things over the years (A History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters and England, England) and was never sure why I didn’t stumble across him again. Glad I did.
Simply, this is the story of a young man, the people he falls in with in school and college, an event that happens and the the ripples of which that extend all the way through his life right up to retirement.
There are very sharp and real observations here mostly about the fallible nature of memory and how we reshape stories from our past both for the telling to others (and the telling to ourselves!) and about how vain and silly we men get in our old age. His characters too scream of reality and an everydayness that I’m sure seems easy to pull off, but isn’t.
I know I seem to be on a run here but this one too is definitely one to buy.
Book Eighteen 2014:
The Quick by Lauren Owen
I’m going to do her as I have done in so many others and say that I’d rather tell you as little as possible about Lauren Owen’s upcoming debut novel The Quick.
It’s set in 19th century England, reads like it was written in 19th century England, deals in the gothic, you don’t get a confirmation of exactly what sort of book it is for at least 100 pages. Beyond that I’d rather not say any more as I think I’d be ruining it for you.
She writes effortlessly and with huge energy where she needs it, intricate slow detail in others, creates a series of fantastic characters that will sit very nicely in the history of the genre. Whatever genre that may be…
If the second paragraph above seems like it might be your thing, I’d recommend it to you without hesitation and, even though it’s 520 pages long, it rattles along.
Top, top stuff. One of the most enjoyable things I’ve read in the last year.
Book Seventeen 2014:
Night Train by Martin Amis
This is both a recommendation from my wife and part of the project this year to read “authors I should have read before at some stage”.
I’ve always had a roped-off corner of my world marked “my grá for noir books”. I’ve read a fair few Chandler, Hammett, Ellroys over the years and I’m currently wading my way through this, story by story:
Night Train falls squarely within the genre even though it’s author is English, it deals with a hard boiled cop in the modern day and she’s a tired, disillusioned, older woman instead of your usual Sam Spade archetype.
How this differs is the structure and the end. No spoilers as usual but save to say that it’s a quick read, thoroughly engrossing and has an ending that will slap you hard across the face and then walk away.
Book Sixteen 2014:
The News – A User’s Manual by Alain De Botton
This was an easy sell for me. I’ve read every book he’s written and even a few written by others under his “School Of Life” banner.
This time around he attempts to dissect modern news media and outlets (asking first why we never do that ourselves) and wonders are there better ways in which they could be giving us “The News”.
Yes, most of it is pie in the sky and will never be touched by the gatekeepers of daily information that we all trust so blindly, but that’s the job of the philosopher surely – to look at what we need for our wellbeing and ponder how that could be achieved even if the end result isn’t something you would immediately think practical.
Honestly, this was a swift and satisfying read for me even if all it did was reinforce ideas and theories I’ve held myself for a long time. The bonus is a few new ideas I need to let rattle around for a while in my head, particularly those about how you can make “World” news something people engage with more, how to reorder “Consumer” news and why we engage with such a violent interest sometimes in the areas of “Celebrity” and “Disaster”.
Just as an aside I don’t know if I’ve come across a more beautifully typeset or printed book in a long time as well. It doesn’t affect the content one whit but it makes it very easy on the eye…
Remember Under My Bed in January when I wrote and performed a piece onstage in Smock Alley for Barnardos Ireland?
Well they finished the highlight movie…
Book Fifteen 2014:
Black Moon – Kenneth Calhoun
First-time novelist Kenneth Calhoun has chosen very, very crowded waters to swim in by creating a book set in a post-apocalyptic world. In the last 3 years alone I’ve read, amongst others, The Road, the Wool trilogy, The Girl With All The Gifts, World War Z, I Am Legend, The Passage and The Twelve… It’s the SF du jour at the moment and he is a brave man indeed.
The premise is the first thing that sets him apart – his characters are all living in a world in which almost everyone on Earth has slowly, inexplicably all lost the ability to sleep. After a few weeks all of human life unravels and those who can are sought out and ripped to shreds by those who can’t.
He gives us equal parts human stories of those seeking loved ones through the ruins of a feral society and meditation on the nature of sleep, dreams, hallucinations and what happens to the human mind when it loses its downtime.
There are some beautiful images and turns of phrase in here (always meaning it’ll get my vote) and, in particular, two chapters spent with characters who are quickly losing their grip on reality that will make the bottom fall out of your stomach and realise that we are really only a few steps away at any given time from falling into the 9th circle of hell over the simplest change in our make-up.
It’s very much worth your time and one that will easily be snapped up for a movie or series.
Read the book first
It’s out in Irish shops on March 6th.
Book Fourteen 2014:
Rainbow Pie – A Memoir Of Redneck America by Joe Bageant
This one of those wonderful “I stumbled on it in a bookstore one Sunday morning when I hadn’t really intended going in to buy anything” sort of books.
It’s both a memoir of growing up in the 50s in rural Virginia in what he calls himself “redneck country”, the disappearance of subsistence farming in such places after the second world war and a scathing attack on the creation of what he claims is an enormous poor white underclass of over 50 million and how the industrial interests of America keep them in their place to act as a huge bank of cheap labour.
Fascinating stuff and well worth your time if you want theories as to why so many Americans are so far to the religious right, why they love the Republican Party and why they believe everything Fox News sells them all from a man who claims “redneck America” as “his people”.
Loved it. A real find.
Book Thirteen 2014:
The Thing About December by Donal Ryan
I don’t want to tell you too much about this genuinely incredible, stand-out piece of fiction. It’s set in relatively-modern day Ireland and, through the eyes of its narrator, tells a story of family, small towns (and how people can be total bastards to those closest to them) and how tabloid newspapers can twist a story any way they want.
I actually have no criticisms of it. I love the voices her creates for his characters, the sometimes stifling sense of parochialism he creates, the arc of his stories. He is the bright, shining star of new Irish fiction and, in me at least, he has a reader hooked on whatever else he will create.
I didn’t think I could enjoy an Irish novel this year more than I did his earlier The Spinning Heart.
I’ve told you how much I *love* getting surprises of new books in the post, have’t I?
And with a lovely little card from the editorial director too!
Someone must be reading these reviews somewhere…
Book Twelve 2014:
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
Not the first of the Culture novels of the late Iain M. Banks I’ve read and I wonder if that has coloured my feelings about it. I read the exceptional The Player Of Games last year (they don’t run in sequence so you can, in theory, read them any old way you like) and this is just a little less pacy, a bite more long-winded in terms of the action that happens, a little less cerebral.
There were times when I just wanted him to get the hell on with it, which is a terrible thing to say about a writer I like and admired hugely.
Decent, just not as exceptional as Book 2.
Will be reading the rest of the series without question.
Book Eleven 2014:
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Reading Graham Greene is part of my drive I started at Christmas to read more novels from pre-1960 by what are broadly referred to as “classic authors”. The ones I thought I’d missed and left behind…
This was not what I expected at all (I was thinking more John LeCarré, more espionage, more political intrigue). Instead it’s a tight, character-driven human interest story (with a fair amount of intrigue in the backdrop, it has to be said) set against the backdrop of Vietnam in the late 50s while the French are still fighting what is a small colonial war.
Well worth your time.
Today, Monday February 10th 2014, is European Epilepsy Day.
Anything you can do to share this on social media is hugely appreciated…