31 May 2009

May Classic: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Ahhh...so I completely forgot I was doing the may classic, not Alcott, which is why this one is so late. Oops. Which means my review comes without a re-reading of this classic - was planning to have a bit of a refresher read before my June classic review. No matter - I studied this one at school so god knows I had to read it over and over and over and over and over...
Which is really too bad for me because I hate this book. I rarely say that about books - even while disliking just about every character in Wuthering Heights I was able to appreciate it as a great piece of literature - I can see where people are coming from with that. Tess of the D'Urbervilles not so much. Seriously, Thomas Hardy: What was your problem? Do you hate happiness that much? Would it have killed you to give Tess a skerrick of joy in her miserable depressing life?

Tess Durbeyfield is a poor girl sent to rich relations to get cash, the rich son takes a liking to her and so rapes her. She gives birth to a kid called 'Sorrow' who dies, she falls in love, on her wedding night tells her new husband of her past, he chucks her, her father dies and her family is facing life on the streets so she becomes rich-son-who-raped-her's mistress. Husband comes back feeling bad, she tells him its too late, then angry at life, stabs rich guy to death, kisses husband one last time before being hung. The End. 

Can you hand me that straight razor?

The thing is, not only is the book incredibly depressing, but it is a chore to read, each chapter drags on and on and on and on and on...AND its confusing too. Half of my year eleven English class didn't even realise that Alec had raped Tess. Suddenly this random baby turns up and you have to turn back a chapter and realise that when Alec 'gives her a flask' you're supposed to assume he give her something else as well. Wink wink. Except in my second hand old copy the text is still censored so Alec 'gives her his cloak'. Wink?

Maybe there is something I am not getting: my English teacher assured me that in 30 years time I will have grown to appreciate the wonder that is Tess. I think not. Feel free to disagree though...


27 May 2009

The Woodcutter's Good Deed

I finished this and was told I actually looked like a fish, my mouth opening and shutting with no words coming out. I tried in vain to school my expression to one of polite disinterest- my amused disgust winning in the end.

This is a DREADFUL children's book. It tells the story of a woodcutter who is coming home one day when he comes across a snake he thinks is dead in the middle of the road. On closer inspection he realises it is just almost frozen from the cold, so he wraps it in his jacket and takes the critter home, hoping to revive it. His children and wife help him to warm the snake up, although they are scared of it.

This is where I was thinking that the snake would prove very grateful to the family who showed him kindness, even though his kind are normally feared and reviled. 

Ummm... not so much.

The snake sees the family, rears up suddenly and goes to bite one of the children. The woodcutter runs across the room and, with his axe, strikes off the snake's head. 

The End.

This is all illustrated with graphic pictures of the action. Apparently this is based on one of Aesop's fables, but I have no recollection of it... besides which aren't the fables supposed to teach us something? What does the story teach us? Don't bring snakes home? Always keep an axe handy?


Rating: 2/10. 

The Women (T.C. Boyle)

Reading this book was kind of killing two birds with one stone. I wanted to read it (one bird) and I've always felt in a vague kind of way that I should read some T.C. Boyle (the other). The Women provided me with the perfect opportunity, seeing as it is about a topic which I am especially interested in: the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright. Specifically his women.

In case you are unaware: FLW is one of history's greatest and most influential architects. And boy did he know it. The book opens with the following quote from FLW: "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility; I chose arrogance".

Just to give you an idea of the kind of guy we are dealing with (i.e. an awesome one!)

The book is a fictionalised account of his three marriages and one long term affair (the assumption is there were many shorter term affairs as well). Working in reverse chronological order, we are introduced to each new woman as the previous relationship falls apart. One of the main problems seems to be that Frank keeps on 'finding his soul mate' (despite the fact that he's found one/two/three already), each time falling in love completely.

What is great about this book is that you get a readable (admittedly fictionalised but based on fact) account of FLW's life. Previously I had really only known his buildings, reading Boyle I learned he was often a heartbeat away from bankruptcy, the scandal of his wife swapping making it hard to get commissions. Boyle's FLW is a tempestuous artist who knows he is a genius, an obsessive perfectionist, with an insane pull - you can understand why all these women fell under his spell. In fact, someone I work with at the bookshop pointed me out to a customer: "See her, well I think she'd like to be one of 'The Women'."

(Only slightly true...)

8/10 for fascination factor.

25 May 2009

Just Let It Be...

Those who read the blog often will know that Earhart and I have an unashamedly flamboyant approach to punctuation marks. Those grammatical tools we find most conducive to editing our reviews in a cohesive manner our penned with little thought to moderation and elegance. In particular we employ ellipses gratuitously and make liberal use of the caps lock button. 

I'm sure you are now wondering what rambling train of thought I am going to inflict upon you, but the above is merely an introduction to this rather amusing (yet simultaneously horribly dry) article on the use of the semi-colon in writing. It is written by Lionel Shriver (author of the hideous We Need To Talk About Kevin) and can be found here


Marked (P.C. and Kristin Cast)

Well, well, well.
I haven't read such a truly awful book in a SERIOUSLY long time.

In some ways it is unfair to shaft this book, because the natural thing to do whilst reading it is to compare it to the vampire book of the (extremely extended) moment: Twilight. I decided I wasn't cutting the book enough slack and realised I was probably on par with those Anne Rice fans who hated Twilight because it was so different to Lestat et al (read: supremely superficial in comparison but the sexual tension bridges the gap). 

Then I had another think and came to the conclusion that, NO, this book was just plain rubbish.

Mother and daughter team wrote this together and in the credits P.C. thanks her daughter for ensuring the protagonist actually sounded like a teenager. First of all, if this is what the kids sound like nowadays I vote we let the zombie war occur and write them all off. Zoey Redbird is the most annoying, whining, forced, prudish, pathetically moral character I have had the displeasure of reading about in yonks. This would be fine if she had some interesting or unique qualities to redeem her, but she doesn't (apart from a more prominent vampire mark on her forehead than her peers, which marks her out as special. The Goddess has approached her and.... oh wait, I don't care.) Secondly, I would never in a million years sit down with my mother and write a book like this. How were both of them not wincing and cowering in humiliation when they had to pen the oral sex incident? 

The plot moves extremely quickly and everything is explained in asides. Unlike in other novels of the vampire genre, the basic human population knows that vampires exist in this series, which is quite handy for the authors as it makes it much easier for them to churn out the story quickly. The book feels like it was written with the final chapter in sight and the authors thought to themselves: What is the absolute quickest way we can get to the last chapter, with minimal effort on our part concerning plot or character development?

I know this is a YA book but in my mind this does not excuse the travesty of writing that has occurred here. This was absolutely terrible and NOT in a good way. I will most definitely not be traipsing off to buy the other two in the series and I might try and sue Waterstones for stocking it in the first place. It has actually decreased my IQ by 25 points. 

Rating: 2/10. 

22 May 2009

The Magic Toyshop (Angela Carter)

In picking up this book I broke the golden rule (the golden rule of books that is - not that one about doing unto others) - don't judge a book by its cover. Well, I judged away. And you would have to if you'd seen my edition of The Magic Toyshop. Virago classic hardback, cream with stencilled puppets all over. So whimsical! The story on the other hand, not so much. Too eerie to be whimsical. And the puppets in the book are kind of evil. As much as inanimate objects can be.

Shall I start from the beginning? Melanie's parents die in a plane crash and she and her two siblings move in with an uncle they have only met once, his wife and her two brothers. The uncle is a mean mean mean old tyrant, their aunt hasn't spoken a word since her wedding day, and her brothers are...odd. Read the book to find out just how odd things get. The story kind of meanders along, plot development coming in between long musings about Melanie's becoming a woman. Not that musings aren't enjoyable to read, I love the way Angela Carter writes, but it does not make for a speedy read. Reading on the train to work I'd space out thinking about something Melanie was thinking, and then before you know it I'm jumping up frantically, bag/coffee/book flying everywhere so I don't miss my stop.

AND there were lots of really dark out of the blue moments, like the uncle orchestrating the rape of Melanie by a swan puppet (she is being Leda). (I know that wasn't really related to trains in the morning but I don't care).

A good if really weird book; luckily I like weird so I survived.


P.S. As Alcott mentioned, am having weird (bad weird) things happen to my computer, the hard drive is full of mysterious nothing - 33GB and I have 600MB free. And I don't know what with!! Any tips? So my posting may be a little erratic since it takes 1/2 hour to get my computer up and running at the moment.

21 May 2009

Something for the Weekend...

From the mouth of Sherry Jones, UK citizens are being called upon to "...speak out against those who are limiting their right to read, think, speak, listen, debate, discuss, criticise... I hope the people of the UK can find the power, and the courage, to raise any outcry against censorship."

That all sounded very impressive on the Guardian homepage so I clicked through to the linked article. I wanted to see what this Sherry Jones person was protesting. Jones is angry that her book was dumped by Random House in the US before publication and now no UK publisher will pick it up. Jones is convinced that it is the controversial content that could offend the Muslim population that is the reason behind The Jewel of Medina's lack of publication.

However, and here's the amusing part, that's not the reason at all. According to the Guardian (full article here), Jones' book has been snubbed because it is 'absolutely awful', the prose is 'lamentable' and it can be summed up as 'an anachronistic bodice ripper'.

How embarrassing. The woman is out there campaigning for her book to be published, complaining that publishers are too scared of terrorist acts of retribution to pick up the title and it turns out that it is just... really, really bad.

So, no offence Sherry, but I'm not going to be organising a protest march for you in London anytime soon. If I'm going to be assaulted by the Met I want it to be for a good cause.

What I would like is for the one small publisher in the US who printed Jones' book to send me a proof copy, ASAP. I want to judge for myself the 'lamentable prose'. A shout-out to these guys, who simultaneously have the great courage to publish such a controversial title and the idiocy to think it was worth the risk.

20 May 2009

Look Who It Is! (Alan Carr)

I have mentioned before on this blog that Alan Carr ENCHANTS me. I can't explain it, but when I watch him on television I want to be his friend. When I read his twitter account (don't you dare judge me) I want to cause grievous bodily harm to those who insult him.

How can anyone dislike a man who says he'd take a cup of tea over drugs any day, because you can't dip a biscuit in crystal meth?


The family I was living with in December found it overly amusing that I had so much adoration for Alan. They would call me when Celebrity Ding Dong (Aussie readers... you're missing out!) was on and I would come rushing in, a huge grin already stretched across my face. The opening credits would be playing, Alan would be grooving to Fat Boy Slim's Weapon of Choice and I would literally feel no pain or sadness for the following hour. 

So, you can imagine my exultation when I discovered Alan's autobiography. Look Who It Is! Alan Carr: My Story was the most enjoyable book I have read in a seriously long time. Considering he's only been a famous comedian for about ten minutes the book is not so much about name-dropping and more about his childhood, growing up in Northampton with his parents and younger brother. Alan has said in the past that he never came out to his parents, mainly because "he was never in" and from the stories in his book you can see this is quite true. Alan appears to have been exuberantly self-deprecating, loving and totally 100% gay from the moment he was born and his parents seemed to have been quite clued in. His father (a football coach) used to make him run laps to lose weight, calling him "a fat fairy" and his mother used to ask him to not mince along the beach twirling his spade like a parasol. 

However, it's not the reassurance that Alan has always been Alan that made me adore him even more. It's the obvious intelligence and kindness that seeps from the book on every page; without agenda or intent Alan has written a book that screams out just how terrific he is. For crying out loud, the man went backpacking through South-East Asia with a friend of his who was legally blind. No matter how drunk Alan got each night he always made sure Caroline was OK... because, you know... SHE COULDN'T SEE. 

Alan, if I wanted to be friends with you before I am now certain, after reading your book, that we could be the BEST of friends. I too love Graham Greene! I too, have worked in a supermarket! I too like a good biscuit dipped in a cup of tea!

I hope I've convinced our Aussie readers to at least YouTube some of his shows, but I really think the key to understanding how marvellous Alan Carr is is to read his utterly engaging book. You will probably begin to adore him too. 

Rating: 8/10. 

Note: Earhart has technical problems of some sort, so you'll mostly be hearing from me until she gets those sorted... i.e. no coherent, intelligent book reviews for a couple of days. 

19 May 2009

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Paul Torday)

What better way to celebrate the corruption of the MPs in my adopted country than with a review of a book about a corrupt, delusional government wheeling and dealing? If you've been living under a rock (or in Yorkshire) you might not have heard about the corrupt expenses system many of the English public servants have been taking full advantage of. And when I say full advantage, I mean FULL ADVANTAGE. Details of the mangled expenses system were leaked by The Daily Telegraph, including bills for moat cleaning and porno films.

I was highly amused, although if I paid taxes I probably would have been outraged.

Torday's first novel describes a government gone slightly mad when the powers that be at 10 Downing Street command a scientist to work with a very powerful sheikh. His task is to help the sheikh develop salmon fishing in Yemen. The only problem is... Yemen is completely the wrong climate for salmon, hence why there are none there. Undaunted, 10 Downing Street ignore the scientific reasons as to why the industry cannot be developed, their eyes focused on the possibility of a positive story out of the Middle East.

What ensues is a marginally ridiculous solution masterminded by this poor, long-suffering scientist whose wife keeps threatening to leave him throughout the process. The story is told in a series of interview transcripts, letters, emails and diary entries. Whilst I would often use this as a selling tool ("It's so interesting! All those different formats!") I am actually not a fan of constructing a story this way. I feel it's catering to the lowest common denominator and, if you get down to the bare bones of it all, this multi-formatted style is normally executed much more fluidly by Marian Keyes. If Marian Keyes can do something better than you, DO SOMETHING ELSE.

I read this and wasn't overly impressed, despite all the hype. I found Fred (the scientist) to be uber-depressing in his downtrodden existence; and the disintegration of his marriage and budding relationship with another woman are PAINFULLY written. I'm cringing now, just thinking about those moments. The diary entries and emails all seem somewhat forced, as though real people aren't actually writing them.

However the book has several redeeming features. One, the title is superb. You may not think this matters that much, but it does. Two, SO many people come into the bookshop after a book for a non-reader. ARGH. You have come to the WRONG SHOP. However, this is one of the easiest books to sell to those desperate customers. "Government gone mad! Think Yes Minister! Fishing! Funny! Different formats! SO MANY different formats! Not really a book at all when you get down to it!"

Three, the satire that Torday uses in his depiction of Jay Vent (the British PM) and his cabinet is very, very funny. My favourite quote from the PM is here: "We're pretty much committed to going down a particular road in the Middle East... and it would be difficult to change that very much without people beginning to ask why we'd started down it in the first place."

And now I've just read the Speaker for the House of Commons has resigned, the first speaker in 300 years to do so. I feel it's only a matter of time until more than just the highly ridiculous is uncovered. Black glitter toilet seat and chocolate Santa aside, I reckon there are some ludicrous salmon fishing-esque skeletons in the British parliamentary closet rattling to come out.

Rating: 6/10.

18 May 2009

Dyslit: Never Let Me Go

I made a new friend the other night in Soho. We were having a chat about this and that and then she suggested (with a slightly manic glint in her eyes) that she grab us a 'bottle' to share.

"Of course." I said eagerly, because I'm that kind of girl.

My new best friend does not, as I expect, bring a bottle of wine back to the table. No no. It was a bottle of rum.
Not even good rum.

"Ummm, I'm not sure I can drink half of that..." I hedged, but she waved off my protestations and began pouring.
A quarter of the way down the bottle she announced "I've only ever been in love once."
Half-way down the bottle she decided the table was wobbling, took her chicken fillet out of her bra and shoved it under one of the legs.
Three quarters of the way down the bottle I was having trouble concentrating when she said seriously, leaning in close like it was a state secret.
"I'm not at all sure Keira Knightley will be good in Never Let Me Go."

I don't remember much else from the night. My new friend quite happily continued on clubbing whilst I stumbled to my accomodation for the evening, forgetting for a moment I lived in London and giving the cab driver my address in Sydney.

As you can see... rough night. HOWEVER (and this post IS about books, I just needed a lead-up!) I am completely on board the concerned boat when it comes to the casting of Keira Knightley in the film adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I can't remember the ensuing conversation we had about this but I am certain I agreed with her and empathised with her concerns.

For those of you who have not read Ishiguro's re-imagining of Britain in a time when human clones are created to act as organ donors for the rest of the population I seriously recommend it. This isn't "slap you in the face" dyslit of the kind Margaret Atwood normally produces. For the first part of the book the reader has no idea that the children's boarding school we are reading about is actually priming them for their lives as donors. Ishiguro has a masterful yet subtle touch to his writing that creates stories so imbued with emotional wallops I have to take breaks whilst reading them. Either that or I allow myself to get completely lost in the story and for days afterwards will feel shaky, disturbed and wary of people who smile too much in the street.

Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy, which is the part I thought would go to Knightley. However, my great friend IMDB actually informs me Knightley is playing Ruth, who is the annoying, controlling girl in the small group of friends. This makes more sense, as she has more personality than Kathy, who always seemed a bit distant even though it was she who was telling the story.

I just hope Knightley uglies up for the part a bit. Even when she's trudging around with Sienna Miller in wellies she always looks quite poised and elegant (ridiculously pursed lips aside) and all the girls in this story are just meant to be normal, plain, slightly eccentric schoolgirls. However, lately she's been putting in some solid acting efforts so you never know. I guess the best I can do is say this to Keira: "No pressure, but DON'T STUFF IT UP. This is a very, very important book. DO NOT LET THE READERS DOWN."

IMDB has also told me Knightley is set to play Zelda in a film adaptation of The Beautiful and the Damned. Ye gods, I don't know if I can stomach the stress of what butchery might occur.

Rating: 9/10.

15 May 2009

Thoughts I Have Had

When you subscribe to The Economist you get sent the Pocket World in Figures. This is an excellent publication (and before Earhart has a go at me, YES, it is a REAL BOOK, look to the right, there is a picture of it) and I quite enjoy having the GDP of Chile at my fingertips whenever I need it. 

However, I was perusing this informative smorgasbord of a read this evening and I came across a couple of very disturbing facts, which I will get to shortly. As soon as I have justified the fact that I was reading this on a Friday night:

1. The sound on my computer does not work so I cannot watch Susan Boyle on YouTube like the rest of the world.
2. My local is the Reddie, the most dangerous pub in London. I have yet to convince a friend to meet me there.
3. Everywhere else involves walking and... it's raining. AGAIN. 

HENCE The Economist's little book of delights entertaining me this evening.

Now, where was I... oh yes! The disturbing facts. Whilst Australia is top of most lists concerning alcohol it comes depressingly low down in some of the other areas. We are 7th in the world when it comes to students' reading performances. Not bad, but New Zealand beat us. A WORRY. Of course, enrolment in schools isn't a problem. According to the guide, 105% of kids go to primary school and 150% go to secondary school! 

And where are we COMPLETELY ABSENT? Most notably, we don't have any names on the Nobel Prize Winners lists. I know we have had Nobel Prize winners, just not enough to feature them apparently. Patrick White won it for literature as did J.M. Coetzee and we can kind of claim him because he's become an Aussie citizen (with reluctance as I don't really like his work) but that's all I can think of.

So, this is a call to arms. Australians: write more. And write better. And write more prolifically. The French dude who just won the prize? He's got a TONNE of books. Sure, none of them are at all accessible and they're all to do with sensory feelings and perceptions and the mind as a floating organism... but now he's got carte blanche to keep doing what he's always been doing, with a seriously inflated bank balance. 

I've just googled him and his name is Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (hmmm, must be a first-born child. I too have too many names). What I wrote about his work above may seem a little dismissive so let me quote a more concrete description of his body of work for you: "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization." 


Thank you for listening. Over and out. 

14 May 2009

Twilight and Marketing: A Match Made in Heaven

Aside from the obvious (i.e. thousands of teenage girls whose poor boyfriends will have to live up to some ri-DIC-ulously high expectations) Twilight has been wreaking havoc all over various areas of the world of books, including flooding the YA shelves of any good bookshop with vampire/faerie-tinged romances. Let us mourn the latest victim: marketing. I'm putting it out there: marketing for girls YA titles has gotten L-A-Z-Y. Nowadays, a book comes out and they don't bother promoting the book/author itself, instead they resort to one of two strategies:

1) The Meyer Endorsement
This strategy only works if Stephenie Meyer has in fact read the book in question. It worked for The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - the promotional bookmarks for which featured a quote (in the 'Twilight font') from Stephenie Meyer saying how much she loved it. (The actual author's name was only present in teeny writing on the thumbnail of the book jacket). INSTANT BESTSELLER. It looks like the same thing is going to work for Wings by Aprilynne Pike. This book hasn't been released yet, but we were inundated with reading copies (normally you have to bug the reps for proofs) each containing a letter detailing the praise which Stephenie heaped upon the manuscript.

2) The Stylistic Endorsement
This is used for those books which Stephenie hasn't read herself and which often have no connection at all to the Twilight series. The most obvious I've seen is an upcoming series called Poison Study. The promotional material features a glossy black cover with an apple core on it, and the slogan 'After such a feast, what will they devour next?' The books all feature that same 'Twilight font' on a black cover with one central image (normally red). Sound familiar? Probably because it is EVERYWHERE. The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which freaked me out so much last month, is another culprit - red flower leaf thing on a black cover.

People: is it so much to ask for a little originality? 

13 May 2009

Cocaine Nights (JG Ballard)

I find it excitingly creepy that neither Earhart nor I normally read crime, yet in the last few days we have both picked up crime novels... and both of them are about cocaine!! Unfortunately, my pick didn't feature a diamante garter... probably because most of the female characters appear to be without clothes for a large portion of the novel (Europeans... tsk). 

I was a bit disappointed with this read. Partly because everyone was calling it 'dazzlingly original' and I didn't think it was. The plot was incredibly crafted and the characters were well-constructed in terms of realism and depth... but the actual writing style didn't resonate I'm afraid. It was Greene with a shot of Hemingway (so... definitely GOOD, I'll give it that). Dazzlingly original is DBC Pierre. Show me that level of originality and I'll be impressed. 

Cocaine Nights is about a journalist (Charles Prentice) who flies to a wealthy Spanish resort town when his brother is convicted of the murder of five people. Frank Prentice runs a local club and is well-known throughout the town... so well-known that absolutely nobody believes he committed the murders- the police included. However, a guilty plea is pretty hard to ignore, so everyone seems pretty set on just letting Frank take the rap. Charles, firmly believing in his brother's innocence, sets about uncovering the many secrets of the resort.

In all honesty, this had a gripping plot line and a classy, elegant feel to it (ummm.. despite the gratuitous sex, drug use and violence) for crime. Ballard is obviously gifted and I applaud the fact he got me to finish a novel in this genre. But I had high expectations for a mind-blowing read and these didn't eventuate.

Perhaps it is because I was prejudiced against the book from one of the earliest chapters... when one of the characters chucks his remaining tapas at a bunch of homeless cats for them to eat. I cannot explain the outrage I felt when I read that alley cats were eating (fictional) tapas and I was not. (I may have been hungry at the time of reading that part). 

Rating: 8/10. 

11 May 2009

33 1/3: The Who Sell Out

33 1/3 is a series of books that feature one influential album per book, written by a different author each time. This series has been kicking around for awhile, but I've only recently come across it because I'm a bit slow off the bat that way.

There are 33 1/3 rpm in an LP, for those wondering where the series title comes from. I did not happen to know this piece of information and so, wandering into Foyles on Charing Cross the other day I had another insufferable conversation with the staff, where we started off with a misunderstanding and ended with sarcastic, Harry Potter-themed mockery.

Alcott: It's a series of books, with a number in the title. I know there's one on Radiohead.
Staff Member: A biography of Radiohead?
Alcott: Not a biography. It's just on OK Computer.
Staff Member: What's OK Computer?
Alcott: You DON'T KNOW what OK Computer is?
Staff Member: I can look it up.
Alcott: No, no, it's an album, not a book.
Staff Member: Ok... but this is a bookstore.
Alcott: Ok, well ANYWAY, it's called like 32 or 39 3/4 or something.
Staff Member: PLATFORM 9 3/4?
Alcott: Can I speak to someone else?

I was finally directed to the music section where a gorgeous man knew exactly what I was talking about immediately. After all the rubbish with the moron at the front desk I didn't even purchase the Radiohead title. Instead, I went for The Who Sell Out, written by John Dougan.

If you're a fan of the band I fully recommend this little gem of a book. Dougan gives a great history of not only The Who as a band but also the pop and emerging rock culture in London during the 1950's onwards. The growing popularity of pop art was an obvious influence in The Who Sell Out but I had never really known the full context behind what drove the band to create the album.

Dougan also talks about the pirate radio stations offshore that were eventually outlawed by the English government in 1967 and the effect that such hard line tactics to ensure the BBC remained on top had on the band and their contemporaries. It was interesting to read something about The Who that doesn't place Tommy as the focus of the discussion. I've never really sat down and properly digested The Who Sell Out, but after reading this I listened to the album straight through, no distractions, for a whole afternoon.


It's not cool when the BOOK about the album resonates more with you than the album itself, but there you go. Tommy is just such an epic album (as is A Quick One) and I don't feel the same excited connection with Sell Out. If you're not familiar with The Who, I wouldn't start with this album, let's put it like that. But I might recommend the book! If you have no interest in ever listening to or reading about The Who remember, this is the band who originated the smashing of instruments on stage! Seriously... what's wrong with you?

I will not be rating this series because I think it's a moot point.

If you go to Charing Cross to buy the series, skip asking at the front desk and head to the third floor music section.

10 May 2009

Cocaine Blues (Kerry Greenwood)

Well..this was just one big bowl of meh. Despite being perfect on paper (1920s... sassy detective with a gun in her diamante garter) - it didn't come through. Which is a bit sad since this is the first in a series of a million titles which have been coming out since the 80s, and I was thinking it was maybe a new series I could occasionally dip into when feeling like a bit of intrigue.

Phryne Fisher is an English socialite who moves to Melbourne to try her hand at being an amateur detective. She has barely stepped off the boat when she gets caught up in a cocaine smuggling ring, a back street abortion clinic...and the arms of a Russian dancer called Sacha. We get intrigue, scandal, witty banter...but not much of a story.

I think Kerry Greenwood needs to be told that having a witty detective does not a mystery plot make. If a little more effort was put into making the plot slightly interesting, and a little less in thinking up snappy one liners which Phryne can dole out at will, I think I would have enjoyed this book more. It is never a good sign for a mystery if halfway through an attempt on Phryne's life I picked up a reading copy of some crappy teen fiction and was instantly more interested in that. Maybe it was the weird brainless mood I was in, but when you're being beaten by the latest in a long line of faerie/vampire/general supernatural romances aimed at preteens, you know something ain't right.
6/10 (Five of those points are for Phryne's cool wardrobe. Only one for the mediocre plot).

05 May 2009

American Pastoral (Philip Roth)

The long-awaited review! Huzzah huzzah it has arrived! 

Somewhere Philip Roth's eyes are glued to the computer screen, eagerly scanning through my excessive opening prose, yearning to reach the accolades I promised him days, nay WEEKS ago and never delivered. Never fear Philip, you will always be loved here!

American Pastoral is the tale of Seymour "Swede" Levov, a sports star at his local high school in Newark, NY who goes on to marry a former Miss New Jersey and take over his father's glove factory. An idyllic existence is ripped to shreds when his daughter Merry becomes a little too excited about protesting the Vietnam War and blows up the local store and post office. What follows is the Swede's desperate attempt to keep his family together in the wake of his daughter's disappearance.

The first part of American Pastoral is narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, who, five years younger than his hero, has idolised the Swede since he first met him at school. This is a nifty bit of penning on Roth's part: he is able to set up the Swede as this mythic, strong, AMAZING sportsman who was also a great guy going after the American dream. If the whole story had been told by the Swede it would have sounded more than a little naff if the opening chapters had been all "I was so wonderful, I was revered as a Greek GOD, to have met me was to have walked in the shadow of greatness for the briefest of moments..." Yes, I am glad I didn't have to go through that, because it would have made me dislike the Swede and that is something I am NOT PREPARED TO DO.

The Swede is one of the most magnificent characters of modern literature. He is the ultimate martyr yet never insufferably so, he is tall and handsome (Roth SAYS SO, I'm not just imagining this), good at every sport, gentle and thoughtful. Loyal, kind, in control, traditional with a modern twist...*SWOON*. I could go on but will spare you.

Watching the Swede's heart get ripped out as he witnesses his daughter's growing radicalism and subsequent bomb-making expertise that results in four deaths was quite unbearable. I felt tremendously sorry for him, supporting his hysterical wife, consoling the widow of the man his daughter murdered... and all I'm thinking is "Swede! Who is looking after you???" The thought actually crossed my mind, if I was living in Newark, I would have taken him cookies. 

Roth doesn't exactly have an economy of words, like Marquez the anecdotes are packed in until the covers of the book are groaning, but it's all part of the richly textured story and, unlike Marquez, I lapped it all up. I think it's because of the faith I have in Roth. If he wants me to know that much about how to make a leather glove there's gotta be a good reason!

It was also satisfying to read a book about American culture and have it not be a parody or a vitriolic tirade of hatred written by a belligerent youngster. Instead, Roth has created an intelligent comment on America that ultimately, is no comment at all, but rather an offering of characters and events that play themselves out with little obvious manipulation from the author. 

Exceptional, glorious and, above all ELEGANT, Philip Roth I salute you. 

Rating: 9/10. 

04 May 2009

Hashish, Wine, Opium (Charles Baudelaire and Theophile Gautier)

Do we not all think that Theophile is quite an amusing name? And what a difference the end of a name does make:

Theodore: cute, teddy-bear like person, could be English, definitely wears a waistcoat.
Theophile: drives a white van, drinks vodka from a syringe, sweats a lot.

HIGHLY intellectual musings aside, I quite enjoyed this little homage to narcotics and alcohol written in the early 19th century. Baudelaire and Gautier both wrote extensively on their experiences with hash and opium in particular and both were members of the Club of Assassins. Detailed sketchily in the book (everything is a bit sketchy, most of it was written while they were stoned or drunk), the Club of Assassins was a little group of men who used to meet on Ile St Louis in Paris and get stoned together. They then used to go home and write or paint about the effects they had experienced.

I picked this up for the title and who wouldn't? I am well-versed in the effects of wine, but opium has never been offered up at any of the parties I've gone to (actually most of the time the most potent thing offered up is a vodka watermelon, and that's on a REALLY wild night) and I giggled to think of 19th century philosophers in knickerbockers smoking joints, thus I felt this was a necessary purchase.

The book was informative as well as amusing... I learnt that these dudes used to cook the hash with butter, pistachio nuts, almonds and honey to form a kind of jam "similar to apricot conserve". YUM. Sounds delish, I could even do without the hallucinogen to be honest. It's like... baklava jam! GENIUS.

I also learnt that the word 'assassin' is actually derived from the Arabic 'hasishin', which means to be under the influence of drugs. Assassins in Persia were fed drugs before they killed. Interesting non?

Last lesson I learnt from this book- If you work with children (sigh, as I do), do not leave this lying around your place of work. The only thing worse to leave around is Dead Babies.

Rating: 7/10.

01 May 2009

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (William S. Burroughs & Jack Kerouac)

To the Kerouac/Burroughs/Beat fans out there - you have got to read this book. And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, written in 1945, is Kerouac before On The Road, Burroughs before Naked Lunch. It is so cool.

Burroughs and Kerouac write as 'Will Dennison' and 'Mike Ryko' respectively, telling the story of the Kammerer/Carr murder. (David Kammerer - obsessed with Lucien Carr, Lucien Carr - kills David Kammerer. Kerouac and Burroughs know about it and don't tell police). This murder has been described as 'the murder which gave birth to the Beats', and in Hippos you get to read about it (in a fictionalised-ish form) from Burroughs and Kerouac themselves. You can't tell me you're not excited by that prospect.

This is another one of those read-for-atmosphere-rather-than-plot books, specifically a constantly drunk, 1940s New York atmosphere. You don't read this book as the mystery it is sold as... in fact if you picked it up expecting a mystery you would be seriously disappointed - the killing of Ramsay Allen (Kammerer) happens in one of the last chapters, followed not by any kind of sleuthing, but a confession from Phillip Tourain (Carr) and a couple of dark dark chapters of aimless drinking.

The book remained unpublished until November last year, as Lucien Carr requested it not be released until after he died. Because of this you experience Kerouac/Burroughs' writing in reverse, you get tantalizing glimpses of the writers which they became.

Added tidbit - the book was supposedly named after a line heard in a radio broadcast about a fire in a zoo (although some say circus) and sparked a lively conversation between my housemates and I about Worse Ways To Die Than By Boiling (for example being eaten alive by ants).

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