Month: October 2014

Book review: The Cold Six Thousand

The Cold Six ThousandThe Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Cold Six Thousand picks up from where American Tabloid left off: immediately following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The broad sweep of history continues through the book – Cuba, Castro, MLK, RFK, Howard Hughes in Vegas, the Mob, J. Edgar Hoover and any number of Hollywood figures – are dissected and dramatised. The book takes us from JFK to RFK on one long death trip – with plenty of scalps on the way. (more…)

Book review: American Tabloid

American TabloidAmerican Tabloid by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first in another history-minded trilogy, American Tabloid unpicks the hem of the myth of Camelot while keeping an eye on the main chance. The prose is as jacked-up as half the characters, and it moves forward with a terrifying urgency.

Like his other works, there’s a lot of character specificity and a lot of fine detail evoked. But the Underworld USA trilogy manages to more convincingly convey a sense of momentousness, of this-is-probably-how-it-happened. But it ain’t pretty.

Reading this book is a bit like being repeatedly punched in the face by History. You know something has happened, and you know it’s important and will leave lasting traces for the future. Though you can’t help but feel as if Events had taken you out to an alley and kicked shit out of you. (more…)

L.A. Noire (2011)

Otherwise known as James Ellroy: The Game.

Ah, I kid. Sorta. L.A. Noire is pretty indebted to Ellroy’s canon. It’s a mostly historically-accurate presentation of downtown LA in the 1940s, with some not-so-accurate versions of famous faces attached. It’s dark, long, a bit convoluted and full of wonkiness – but it’s as compulsive and endearing as any crime novel, largely because you’re made to feel that you’re in one.

We’re talking Los Angeles at the time of the Elizabeth Short killing. Corrupt cops, the birth of the freeway system, returned soldiers and streets awash with drugs and booze. There’s detailed clothing, excellent cars and bystanders who jump out of the way of your terrible driving with a spirited “Holy Toledo!”, while the movie plays on film noir tropes like there’s no tomorrow. (more…)

Book review: The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of WomenThe Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hard on the heels of my reading of My Dark Places comes this, a second exploration of the role of women in author James Ellroy’s life.

You probably won’t want to read it if you’re sick of jacking-off-and-peeping stories. Because – though they’re not as explicitly described as elsewhere – they’re here. That and darkened-room fantasising. The short book reeks of control; of others, of self, and the lack thereof.

Ideally, this should be read in concert with My Dark Places. That book explains the importance of the murder of Ellroy’s mother, and its effect on his life. The Hilliker Curse moves past the mechanics of the death and into how his relationships with women have played out over the years. True, his mother is looming, forever, (more…)

Book review: My Dark Places

My Dark PlacesMy Dark Places by James Ellroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a bummer.

Yes, because the rest of Ellroy’s writing is full of joie de vivre, right?

Nope. This is a complete bummer. But it’s essential if you’ve enjoyed any of his work in the past, because this book is an honest, gruelling examined of how he became who he is. If you’ve ever had a feeling there were some weird peccadilloes in his writing, they’re at least ameliorated a little here.

The book chiefly concerns three people: Ellroy’s mother, Jean Hilliker, Ellroy himself and Bill Stoner, a detective. Each is separately considered – first Hilliker’s murder; Ellroy’s childhood and adolescence; Stoner’s work as an investigator – but latterly combine when Stoner and Ellroy reopen the unsolved case. It’s part confessional, part police-procedural and part ghoulish tourism. (more…)

New Oren Ambarchi review

My review of Quixotism, Oren Ambarchi’s new album on Editions Mego, is now live at Cyclic Defrost.

(Spoiler: it’s really good. )

Here’s a sample:

There’s a cold feeling to some of the composition – ‘Part 2′ touches on the ground Gavin Bryars walks upon – but it’s leavened with the joyous humanity of ‘Part 5′. Organ notes, muted guitar picking and tabla are joined with swooning strings in an elegiac celebration. It’s humanity writ large, and gives the piece narrative – this burst of sad joy seems to tell the story of a machine gaining sentience, a soul, before relapsing.

You can read the rest of the review here.

Book review: Inherent Vice

Inherent ViceInherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Soon to be a film – something I suspected I’d never hear in relation to a Pynchon work – Inherent Vice is a druggy, super-California mess that’s somehow super-endearing. It’s Pynchon’s version of a noir potboiler, seen through the tinfoil hat of paranoia which accompanies most of his other work.

The Crying of Lot 49 was my introduction to the writer’s what-the-fuck-is-going-on? style of writing, and I’m happy to say Inherent Vice is another in the same vein. It’s shorter than Gravity’s Rainbow but feels as large. Like most of Pynchon’s work there’s a lot going on here. It’s a bit like sticking your head in a cannon loaded with cultural ephemera and conspiracy theories. (more…)

Book review: Amrita

AmritaAmrita by Banana Yoshimoto
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Amrita is much longer than other Yoshimoto books I’ve read. It’s also the most scattered and least considered of her works. Magical realism and urban observation combine in the story about a memory-loss victim and her family – most notably a dead, beautiful sister and an uncanny-child little brother – which features some nice locales but nothing which stays with the reader afterwards.

The characters created are fairly detailed and clearly defined. But I found it difficult to muster interest in their fates, apart from the younger brother. Indeed, locations seem to be more of interest: the transformative nature of a change of location has more oomph than anything the cast goes through.

Elements of the work venture into supernatural territory. (more…)

Driver: San Francisco (2011)

I’ve just finished the main story mode of Driver: San Francisco on the PS3. I’d originally bought it as part of a Playstation Plus discount deal – I think it cost me about six bucks? – and it had sat on my hard drive for months, unplayed. Which, given how stupidly great it turned out to be, was something of a mistake.

If you imagine any cop buddy movie, then change the setting to San Francisco, while adding in car-swapping superpowers resulting from a coma then you’re getting close. There’s prison breaks, terrorism, tourism and an ungodly amount of film tributes all fleshed out through the undeniably enjoyable experience of pushing a range of expensive cars to their limits with no regard for pedestrian safety. (more…)