Tuesday, 5 January 2016


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Sara Martins. Most beautiful woman on television
ALL MY PUNY SORROWS [By Miriam Toews]. Very highly regarded novel and on several people’s Best of 2015 List. Not mine. It’s a well-written first-person narrative set in Canada about two sisters, the older is beautiful and gifted and the younger isn’t. The older sister has had enough of life and wants to die and in fact by the end, has committed suicide despite the younger sister’s very considerable efforts to stop her both physically and emotionally. As the reviewers say it is grim material but the up-beat [gong show] voice of the narrator is attractive and compelling and keeps the reader fully engaged with the vicissitudes of the family’s situation. The mother I have to say is a terrific character but the problem with it is you never hear the suicidal sister’s voice and never get to know why she wants to kill herself. It’s a novel, so we shouldn’t be left in the dark; if it were non-fiction this device would be acceptable because in real-life non-fictional terms we may never get inside her head but in fiction we are entitled to know why. I think.

THE COLD SIX THOUSAND [By James Ellroy]. Another American novel. Too many. The Guardian says it’s a ‘Knockout’; the Sunday Times calls it ‘Enthralling’. He is without doubt the number one Crime Fiction writer of our times; he sets the bar. Sample:

Pete broke three C-notes. Pete gloomed sixty five-spots. He grabbed a scratch pad. He wrote down his phone number sixty fucking times. He hit a liquor store. He bought sixty short dogs. He grabbed his sap and drove to West Vegas.

He cruised in slow. He wore the sap. He held his automatic. He saw:

Dirt streets. Dirt yards. Dirt lots. Shack chateaus abundant.

That’s from page 90 which I just opened completely at random. Could have got the same result, made the same point if I had opened it at page three or page three-hundred. Haven’t got a clue. What’s a sap? What’s a C-note? What’s a five-spot? Why sixty times? What’s a short dog? And it’s like this all the way through; every sentence, every paragraph filled with incomprehensible information. I’ve put it to one side for the time-being. Until  I’m feeling stronger.

I almost never read Crime Fiction of any kind, let alone American Crime Fiction. It is bewildering to me. I’ll let you know in due course if it was worth the effort.

SUBMERGENCE [By J M Ledgard]. This guy lives in South Africa but was born in Scotland. Not American, anyway. It has good reviews on Amazon generally . . . can’t remember now who recommended it . . . it’s okay. I am not being hyper-critical today; it’s okay. Wilfully obscure which is always a turn-off for me it is written as two parallel stories of two people who meet briefly at a hotel in France and try to conduct a relationship across many impossible miles of land, sea and situation. She is a marine biologist working out of Woods Hole in the USA, he is a British spy who has been captured by jihadists in Somalia.
Sound fascinating? Interesting then? What about challenging?

I didn’t really care about him, or her. She is a complete contrivance of someone’s erotic fantasy [dusky, sexy, brainy, impossibly self-sufficient]. He is semi-realistic and in fact his character is based upon a French spy who really was captured by Somali resistance fighters around the middle of 2012 and dragged around the desert from hell-hole to hell-hole.

Just not sure what the point is. I did finish it and there are a lot of words about the state of civilisation in the early 21stC which are sort-of interesting but I can get all that in a more palatable form from In Our Time on Thursday morning, so I wasn’t riveted. I read today that they are turning it into a film with James McAvoy, the X-Men actor. Good luck with that.

REVENGE [By Yoko Ogawa]. Ha ha. At last, something to get your teeth into. Simply but beautifully written with a front-cover recommend by the great woman, Hilary Mantel so we must be on track. It’s a series of rather gothic but contemporary short stories which are all linked in some way. Very Japanese. She is highly respected in her own country but I wholly accept this isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste.

I’ll say no more.

SPILL SIMMER FALTER WITHER [By Sara Baume]. A young Irish writer, she has rave reviews everywhere. I’m about fifty pages in but so far it isn’t doing much for me. Will keep at it.

Later. No, I threw in the towel at page 120. Nicely written nonsense.

THE FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST [By Claire North]. I wrapped this up at page 250 which is definitely a record for me. Usually I know by p.fifty if I am going to like something and I do like time-travel tales but I had just had enough. Terrific reviews on Amazon – average 4.5 stars in over six-hundred reviews so I am definitely in a minority in not enjoying it. Didn’t like the voice. And it’s not brilliantly written as so many reviewers claim. Everything Vincent does he does airily. Over and over. He said airily. He airily indicated. He looked down airily.

One reviewer said it was like reading Forest Gump. I agree; watching Forest Gump was hard enough never mind reading about the bugger.

A PLACE CALLED WINTER [By Patrick Gale]. Given to me by Susan Gray and highly rated by her so I will definitely try to like it; have reached page 90 but it is beginning to feel increasingly like more nicely written - but humourless -  nonsense.

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