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‘Ello, ‘ello, back for more, Sunshine?

Moon over SohoMoon Over Soho cover

Aaronovitch, Ben

Gollancz, London

ISBN: 9780575097629

It’s only because I saw this book in the library the other day that I’m reviewing it now.  If you’ve already read the bit on Rivers of London, you’ll pretty much know where I’m heading with this one; the same criticisms apply here too.

Isn’t it strange how you get into the habit of reading one particular author?  The Sookie Stackhouse books had the same effect as this one on me, though I came much later in the piece to those.  Which meant, of course, that I could read several of them in quick succession, blam-blam-blam.  Not so with the Peter Grant books, since this is the second of what is clearly turning into a bit of a series, and my public library doesn’t seem to have the third book, Whispers Under Ground in just yet.  Sigh – that’s what they made the internet for though, right?  So that you could bankrupt yourself buying books off of it?

Anyway – you can see why both author and publisher would be keen for this to be more than a single book kind of dealie.  The characters are endearing, there is a lot of interesting subtext to explore and setting the series in London almost has the effect of creating an additional storytelling element in itself.  However, these factors don’t make it any less of a rapid-fire read.  Which is not a bad thing, not at all.  Man (or at least, this particular example of the human race) does not live by highbrow, impenetrable literature alone.  Most of the time that’s exactly what I don’t want in a book – I want to relate to the characters, I want to see the human struggle that we all contend with in the characters that the author has created.  This book certainly delivers on both fronts.

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‘Ello, ‘ello, what ‘ave we ‘ere?

Rivers of LondonRivers of London cover image

Aaronovich, Ben

Gollancz, London

ISBN: 978 0575097568

NOTE:  This book is also known by another title, Midnight Riot.  I don’t know why for sure, but I have a feeling it’s something to do with the market outside the UK.  But more on that later…

SO many apostrophes in that title!  You get what I’m going for there though, right cublings?  It’s all a bit Saauf Lundun, innit.  Oh alright, I’ll stop embarrassing myself now, and get back on topic.  This book, or at least the copy that I read, has a quote from Diana Gabaldon on it’s cover which reads “What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.”  Now, I’m no Potterphile, but if I’m not mistaken, not only did Harry Potter want to grow up and join “the fuzz” (or at least the magical version thereof), but that quote is going to put off a lot of people who probably would really enjoy this book.  It’s funny, irreverent, and has enough serious subtext (on race, the nature of authority, and other good pondering subjects like that) to keep you engaged with the story long after you finish reading it.

Getting back to the Potter thing, Rowling takes the approach that magic is something you’re born with, and has to be developed if it’s going to be usable for the witch or wizard from an early age, right?  Aaronovitch’s main character, Peter Grant, doesn’t discover that he’s capable of magic until he’s coming to the end of his probationary period as a police constable as a part of the London Metropolitan Police.   Peter explains to his superior officer in the Police equivalent of the exit interview that he wants to join the CID and become a detective; but when the superior asks him why he doesn’t want to join one of the specialist units, Peter “suddenly had a horrible thought.  What if they were thinking of sending me to Trident?  That was the Operational Command Unit charged with tackling gun crime within the black community…[and]…always on the lookout for black officers to do hideously dangerous undercover work, and being mixed race meant that I qualified.” (p12)  There are two things that interest me about this little two sentence nugget – firstly, that use of jargon.  This book is full of it.  That’s not something that I mind personally; in fact it bought back childhood memories of watching The Bill as a kid; “Get ‘im daaun to CID!”, etcetra, etcetra.  The acronyms are only elongated once (thank goodness – nothing makes me more irritated that authors who feel the need to explain themselves again and again), so if you were someone who got obsessed about these things, it might be a bit annoying, but I just rolled right over them.

The second interesting thing about that sentence is the reference to race.  When I was thinking about it afterward, I can’t actually remember ever having read a book with a mixed-race character as it’s lead.  Which is weird, don’t you think?  Maybe it’s just my bad memory, but it still interests me.  There is a part later on in the book where a very senior police officer (who, to be fair, is under the influence of a rather malicious revanant) tells Peter that ‘back in his day’, Peter would be unwelcome to say the least in the Met; “A locker full of excrement would have been a warm-up.  Odds are, a few of your relief would have taken you to one side and explained, in a rough but friendly manner, just how unwanted you were.” (p322)  It’s always lurking as a subtext in the back of the story, and that is one of the things that made me enjoy it so much.  I really believe that some of the most effective ways of getting people to think about these issues is to make us laugh about them first.  Laugh, then think really, really hard. Read the rest of this entry

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Metro 2033Metro 2033: Dmitry Glukhovsky

Glukhovsky, Dmitry (translated by Natasha Randall)

Gollancz, 2009 (originally published 2007)

ISBN: 978 0575086241

I gotta say, I’m lovin’ the sheer Russian-ness of this book.  You remember when I was trying to read that Solzhenitsyn book The Cancer Ward, and it kept defeating me?  Well, this was something else entirely.  Seriously cublings, it’s so good!  Admittedly, it’s taken me a while to read it, but that’s more me than it is the book.  There’s a lot of stuff going down in Mama Wolf’s world at the moment, but instead of boring you with that, I’ll suffice to say that this book has been a nice little break from reality.

Just a note here – I decided not to make this review into a Word vs. Image challenge, even though this is kind of a special circumstance.  As far as I’m aware, Metro 2033 hasn’t been made into a movie, but it has been made into a game; the game came out a few years ago now, but I still remember watching my Lad play it (I don’t possess the manual dexterity or nerves of steel for FPS-type games – hacking madly with a sword from a distance is about my limit).  It was certainly true to the books claustrophobic, terrifying feel; beasties leaping out at you from all angles.  If you’re keen to read about the novel as a game, you can do so here.

Getting back to the ‘break from reality’ thing, I think that that’s mainly because it’s so bleak.  I’d really challenge anyone with a skerrick of imagination to think that they’d had a bad day after reading about daily life in the Moscow subways after the Nuclear Apocalypse as Glukhovsky imagines it.  You feel tired just thinking about it.  And as much as I love pork and mushrooms, I think that I’d be weeping after a few months of only eating that – let alone years.   Read the rest of this entry

Booksluts Reading Challenge #3.2: Cancer Ward

Cancer Ward

Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr

Bodley Head, London

ISBN: 0370006569

 

Jeez Louise, there’s impenetrable Russian literature, and then there’s this book.

What was I thinking?  My brain is fried enough as it is these days without trying to wade through this kind of thing.  It seems to be the problem that I constantly have with literary fiction, right?  That I just can’t seem to do it, to enjoy it, to not wallow in the fact that what I’m reading is supposed to be hard, to feel martyred (and secretly pleased with myself) because of this wodgey fortress of a book.  To give you an idea, the edition that I got out of the library was the first time that Cancer Ward had been published as a single volume.  A single volume, that’s right cublings – it used to be two books!  It weighs nearly two kilograms! Okay, so I made that up, but it gave me wrist cramp just getting through the first chapter, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

This was meant to count towards the Full-Frontal Challenge, because Solzhenitsyn was a Nobel laureate, but damnit, I didn’t read enough of it to even fake having read it.  I did learn some interesting stuff about Solhenitsyn (though, not how to say his name quickly) in the course of researching my next read for the Booksluts Award-Winning Challenge.   But really, I’d just be padding out the post, and it’s nothing that you couldn’t find out for yourselves on Wikipedia.  And I love you cublings too much to fry your brains, so I’ll just content myself to steering dinner party conversations onto gulag’d Russian authors of the 2oth Century to show off my retention skills.

I might start off a bit slower next time and read The Gulag Archipelago instead.

Of Godzilla, saline and other perversions

Crooked Little Vein'Crooked Little Vein' by Warren Ellis

Ellis, Warren

Harper Perennial

ISBN 978 0 06 125205 1

This book is just kind of beautiful.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s no classic of literature or anything, it’s not even really culty enough to be a cult classic.  But that’s almost part of the charm.  I mean, I only had an inkling that it might be good because of Ellis’ comic writing, and the fact that I read his blog and he had been banging on about his second novel, Gun Machine, for a while there.  Now, I know that being asked back to do another one is no guarantee of quality when it comes to writing… sometimes just the opposite.  But after reading this one, I can see why they asked him back.

It’s pretty compelling.  Okay, yes, I know, I have a weakness for the gross out, and there are bits in this book which are terminal gross out.  Weirdly, it’s been compared to the Chuck Palahniuk story Guts, but I can’t really see it.  I mean, Guts is almost medical-porn in its level of detail, and while there is a little of that in here, the whole motivation feels entirely different.  It’s almost like, Ellis is faking a world-weariness through the character of Michael McGill that is just a thin veneer over something romantically, comically unpleasant. Read the rest of this entry

Enter Confusion

The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J. G.

Publisher: Harper Perennial

MNnnerrrgggh.  This book made my brain hurt.

I actually do think I may have sustained long-term damage to my brain cells.  Let me paint you a picture; I was aware of having an out of body experience while I read this tiny volume because I clearly remember watching my body sitting on the sofa smacking the open book against my head until the Lad asked me to stop.  Maybe that’s why my brain hurts, but I’m pretty much blaming it all on The Atrocity Exhibition.  Please don’t get me wrong though, the writing is genius, but it’s a little bit like the book version of that movie Mulholland Drive.  You get little snippets, literally, wee snips of story in no particular order that you have to wade through and even then you don’t know if you get the story, but you’re too scared that people will think you’re a moron if you say you didn’t like it.

Well, no more!  I’m standing up for morons everywhere.  I didn’t get it.  Which is not to say I didn’t like it, because by some miracle I did.  But I had to try and make sense of it by looking it up on the Internet, and you know that it’s a bad sign when you do stuff like that.  This book, according to the Internet, is a classic of underground literature.  It’s style is reminicent of William Burroughs, though that’s from the Internet too, because it’s been so long since I read any Burroughs that I couldn’t trust my memory of what his stuff is like.  He wrote the preface which is contained in this edition, so that was nice to read.

In retrospect, I should have started with something simplier.  We’ve had Ballard’s Empire of the Sun sitting in the bookshelf for a million years, but I read an interview recently with William Gibson where he talks about Ballard being a big influence on him.  And you know what a sucker I am for anything gruesome sounding.  And while parts of it are unnerving, and disturbing, and you end up searching for meaning which you’re not really sure is there, it is totally worth every second. Read the rest of this entry

Booksluts Challenge Read #2.5: The Old Devils

The Old Devils

Amis, Kingsley

Century Hutchinson, 1986

ISBN 009 163790 2

Ahh, summer reading.  That’s right, northern hemisphere-ers, it’s summer down here now.  Don’t worry, I’ll drink a beer in the sun for you.  Although, any New Zealander will tell you that summer never really comes to the city that I live in – all we get is slightly less wind, and this summer in particular has been pretty pants so far.  I have kind of an intense programme set up for the break that I have over summer, as far as reading goes.  Lots of cheerful titles – Catch-22, The Cancer Ward, Speaker for the Dead.  Oh, and this one, The Old Devils, which doesn’t sound very cheerful, but even before I’d gotten to five pages in had me laughing.  Out loud.  In the staffroom.  With other people present.  Lucky for me I’d already finished my avocado on toast, otherwise I could have had a bit of cleaning up to do.  And on that disgusting, unladylike note…

This is the third book that I’ve read that will go towards the Full-Frontal challenge that those darling Booksluts have set up.  The Old Devils won the Man-Booker prize in 1986.  If you read that little description that I’ve linked to just there, you’ll probably note, as I did, that there seems to be a lot of ‘bursting’ going on in Kingsley Amis’ career.  What up with that, literary descriptors?  What about… erupting?  exploding?  Ach, well… it seems a little redundant to me to have bursting twice, but… whatever.  I have read Lucky Jim before, Kingsley Amis’ first book, but it was so long ago, back when I was doing speech and drama lessons that I couldn’t honestly tell you what it was even about.  Which is ridiculous really, but that was a long time ago now (sob), so I might have to re-read it one of these days.  But who has time to re-read a book I honestly can’t remember a damn thing about?

Actually, on a side note, I often find that with funny books.  I read them, enjoy them, then forget about them.  The books which stick in my mind as ‘good books’ are the hopeless ones, the terrifying ones.  I don’t know if that’s just a propensity of mine to enjoy observing other people’s (even fake people’s) suffering… which is a disturbing trait, but glossing over that for the time being… I remember quite a few books which have made me laugh so much I’ve nearly cried (44 Scotland Street, Fever Pitch, Breaking Dawn, although… I guess that last one isn’t strictly meant to), but I’ve never gone back to read any of them, and I don’t think that I’ve ever recommended any of them to anyone.  No, that’s not true, I actually bought Fever Pitch for the Lad, since he’s almost as rabid a supporter of our local team as Nick Hornby is of Arsenal, and I wanted to show him the path that he was heading down.  Yup, I do my nagging in literary form.  Mind you, he bought High Fidelity for me first.

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There are Some Things Rats Can’t Do

Neverwhere

Gaiman, Neil

Kindle e-book edition

Um.  Yeah.  I don’t know about this one.  Well, okay, maybe I need to come back to it, but I got halfway through and that was all I could be bothered with.  It’s not terrible, don’t get me wrong.  Just… seriously generic. It reads like a bunch of other fantasy books would read if they were written for twelve year olds.  Which is not a bad thing in itself, it’s just not what I was after.  I thought it would be a bit more gritty, somehow.   This was possibly because I read Un-Lun-Dun and King Rat, both by China Mieville, before I read this one – they deal with the same sort of topics, but in quite a different way.

I didn’t actually know that this was written originally as a screenplay, then ‘novelised’ (not sure if that’s actually a word, but you know what I mean, hopefully) after the television series it had been written for had aired.  This was in the mid-nineties, according to the Wikipedia entry on it anyway.  Did any of you cublings out there see the TV series?  It certainly never showed here, at least as far as I remember.  It actually looks pretty good.

And don’t say, Oh, it’s a bit soft like that because Neil Gaiman is English.  There have been lots of rough and tough and gross and horrible novels written by the English.  Of course, now that I’m thinking about it I can only think of comic book guys, but you know, I’m sure I’ll think of some novelists later. I guess, the main reason that I didn’t like it very much is that I thought it was kind of an insipid treatment of a really interesting topic.  Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, but it was a very insipid treatement of several really interesting topics – even the bit where Door finds her brother Arch floating in the pool had me shrugging with meh.  There are some really interesting ideas in it, don’t get me wrong.  Maybe I’ve just moved on from Neil.

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Booksluts Challenge Read #1: ‘The Immoralist’

The Immoralist

Gide, André

Okay, off to a hiss and a roar with the Insatiable Booksluts ‘Award-Winning’ Challenge!  As mentioned in my last post, I’m doing this ‘Full Frontal’ Challenge, which is where you read three books from Nobel Literature Laureates, three from Man/Booker winners, and then one each from winners of the PEN/Faulkner award, National Book Award for Fiction and… one other award winner. Oh yeah, the Neustadt International Prize for Fiction. Which is great, because that means that I can read Baby No Eyes by Patricia Grace as part of this challenge, which I’m feeling quite patriotic about. I’m just gonna record for posterity my apologies to New Zealand Novelists; I’m sorry for hating on you guys for so long, but I’m trying to mend my ways.

So, without further ado, here are my impressions of André Gide’s book, The Immoralist.

Gide won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1947, four years before his death.  But man, according to Wikipedia, he had a pretty amazing life – buddies with Oscar Wilde, critic of the French colonisation of Africa (in particular the Congo and Algiers).  He actually has a centre for Gidean studies now, which I took a quick glimpse at; crazy. He was, from reading around about his life, a highly moral individual who was unfortunate enough to be living in a time when his sexuality was enough to condemn him to living outside of the ‘normal’ model of moral behaviour.  Okay, actually, given his penchant for young men, outside the morals of this current time as well, but… yeah.  His work was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Forbidden Works) by the Catholic Church in 1952 too, just for good measure.  They abolished that list in 1966, so that’s alright. Read the rest of this entry

A Parrot among Crows

Let the Right One In

Lindquist, John Ajvide

Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2007

ISBN: 978 0 312 35529 6

Pre-movie

You may know this movie as ‘Let Me In’, but it’s the Swedish version (the original version, I should add), which has been sitting in the pile of ‘to be watched’ DVD’s for a good long time.  We’re terrible at that kind of thing, the Lad and I – we have probably about seven movies sitting in the pile next to the TV at the moment.  I prefer to look at it as ‘seasoning’ them, but I don’t know what I’m seasoning them for exactly… still, to get back on topic, I didn’t even know this was a book until I found it by accident while looking through horror stuff at the Book Depository.  Since I knew it was a movie already I tried desperately not to get the edition with the movie poster as it’s cover (God, I hate that.  I mean, it was a book before it was a movie, right?  So why would you need a whole new cover for it? Are people that lazy that they don’t recognise a movie is taken from a book unless it has a dirty great movie poster on it?  Okay… climbing down off my hobby horse now.  I promise.), but I failed and settled for the movie poster version.

So, I don’t know, I may have jinxed myself out of liking this movie by being determined to read the book first.  I guess I just didn’t want to be seeing the actors from the movie in my head – particularly Håken post-acid-face.  There were a couple of really beautiful scenes in this book, so I could see why whoever it was wanted to make a movie about it; particularly the scene with Oskar and the school group on the ice when the body is discovered, and the scene in the church with Tommy and the saltpetre in the baptismal font.  But tone is always the thing, don’t you think?  I mean, when you’re reading a book, the thing that either leaves me cold or makes me keep reading is the tone, the feeling around the edges of the events.  Ugh, you know, that’s a phrase that I use a lot, ‘feeling around the edges’, but it’s the only real way that I can think of to describe that sort of thing.  It’s like an emotion that’s not directly described, it’s just there, and in Let the Right One In, it’s a feeling of desolation, of loneliness and the desire for a connection, almost at whatever cost.

Okay, okay, so it’s also a vampire book.  What is it with ladies and the fanged ones, eh?  I have to say that I am no exception to the craze of vampires, though I like to think that I was kind of riding the wave before they became cool.  Hopeless justification, but hey.  And just to get this out in the open, yes, I have read Twilight, and I seem to be powerless to resist Sookie and the Bon Temps gang, but mostly that’s just romance dressed up in horror drag – sort of like those cute zombie cheerleader outfits you see around now we’re approaching Hallowe’en.  This is not that.  Not at all.

I don’t feel like I can comment too much on the writing style of this book because of the translation issue. Just so you know,  this version was translated by Ebba Segerberg in 2007. I mean, how can you say that something is well written when all you have to go on is the translated version?  It’s enough to me that the story was compelling, and thought provoking, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of books that come under the Fanged Canon.  It’s a pretty intricate plot, with a lot of seemingly unconnected characters who are swirled up in several violent events.  So I’m slightly concerned about how that plot is going to suffer being told in only115 minutes.  We’ll see though.

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