book reviews

Goodreads review: The Commandant

The CommandantThe Commandant by Jessica Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jessica Anderson is someone who I’ve always meant to read more of but hadn’t managed to. Tirra Lirra By The River was loosely covered in my Eng Lit degree, and didn’t make much of an impression (probably because of my youthful inattention, frankly) but The Commandant, it turns out, is exceptional.

It’s one of the titles reissued in Text Publishing’s yellow-covered series of classics, and from the introduction I can see how the work might have been considered a bodice-ripper when it came out. Though – the off-screen appearance of shagging, if any, aside – it’s a disservice to call it such. It’s a meditation on early Australian history, as well as a forerunner of other such historical fiction as Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda. It sits well with Patrick White’s Voss inasmuch as it takes history for its basis, and then adds to it, using invention as the magnifying glass for fact. (more…)

Goodreads review: Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu

Junji Ito's Cat Diary: Yon & MuJunji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu by Junji Ito
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If there’s anything the manga-reading public can agree on, it’s that Junji Ito is one fucked-up dude. He’s a writer of horror manga, and is probably most famous for Uzumaki, a spiral-obsessed mind-fuck of popped eyeballs and extreme scoliosis. (I reviewed its three volumes here, here and here, if you’re still unsure about his oddity.)

His work is normally known for extreme violence and inventive ick and squick, so when I found out he’d written a series about cats – yep, cats – I figured I had to give it a go. (more…)

Goodreads review: Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll

Post Everything: Outsider Rock and RollPost Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll by Luke Haines
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, there’s a lot of room in my life for books in which the creator of one of the best Britpop-umbrella bands details the life-and-death of his next project, writes a music featuring a Lord Lucan cameo, filches cash from a label even as they are dumping him, is told how to make decent scrambled eggs (low heat, folks, low heat) by a perhaps-imagined drug-addict cat, and receives album advice from dead rappers.

(Even though he’d hate the fucking Britpop bit.)

This is that book. (more…)

Goodreads review: The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are

The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You AreThe Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan W. Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alan Watts died in 1974, but he seems to be much more popular today than ever he was while alive. This book, The Book, was written on a Sausalito houseboat, and has been on my to-read list since I heard about it on a discussion forum years ago. I feel it might have been of more import to me had I read it when I was younger – it’s certainly a counterpoint to the “you’re all special!” mindset imparted by school – but I still found it quietly reassuring today.

(more…)

Goodreads review: Revival

Revival Revival by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So, I’m back on the King train. I’d fallen off it when I was in my early 20s – I feel his readership is probably most vehement about keeping up in its teens, as I was – and it had been years. I read From A Buick 8 some time ago and really enjoyed it. Since then, though, there’s been thirteen-odd books – four (including one out later this year) since the time Revival was written.

It’s hard to keep up, is what I’m saying. Also, I’m not sure I’d pick Revival as the book to jump back in on. (more…)

Goodreads review: Mahu: Or the Material

Mahu: Or the Material Mahu: Or the Material by Robert Pinget
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Well, I tried.

Previously, I’ve liked Pinget. I read The Inquisitory which, despite being often confusing or obscure, was at least remarkable in setting and in country-house weirdness, and is something I’ve reread and kept on my shelf for future examinations.

Not so much with Mahu: Or the Material.

Now, it’s described as being a sort of fellow-traveller with works such as At Swim-Two-Birds and while it does have a surreal sort of humour flowing through it, that’s where the comparison ends. Likewise the comparison of Pinget to Beckett: that seems a bit of a reduction – with Samuel at least there’s the idea of a plan behind the words, a meaning to the ranting. Not so here. (more…)

Goodreads review: Wrong About Japan

Wrong About JapanWrong About Japan by Peter Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am both a fan of Japan and a fan of Peter Carey, so one would think this book a no-brainer for me. I enjoyed it, sure, but I found my enthusiasms for both broader topics were greater than my enthusiasm for this book.

The book details a journey the writer (and his son, Charley) took to Japan. It’s an indulgent parental gesture – Carey’s son is a manga and anime fanatic, and the trip is suggested after the author observes the way his offspring enthusiastically consumes Japanese cultural exports. (School-mandated reading does not have a similar effect on the younger Carey.) (more…)

Goodreads review: The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Serpent and the RainbowThe Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Zombies! Death! Mystery! Haiti! THE UNKNOWABLE! All of these are perennially interesting to the whitest of the white – me, for example – and Davis’ book, a tale of the search for potions to make and unmake a zombie, is no exception. It’s interesting, but dryness (and occasional self-insertion) can make it tough going.

The cover of this edition is not a design which offers confidence in the book’s contents. It features a screaming Bill Pullman and a coffin, a tie-in with the frankly shithouse film of the same name. The film that’s loosely based on the source in the same way that I can loosely be called a virtuoso because I can play a three-chord banger as long as it doesn’t involve odd barre positions. (more…)

Goodreads review: Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing

Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to WritingUse Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing by Catherine Deveny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catherine Deveny is a writer, comic and general shit-stirrer. She’s a dyslexic atheist who sees CAPS LOCK as COCK SLAP and is by her own admission pretty lazy. She’s also authored a bunch of books, shows and columns, and manages to get shit done with alarming regularity. Use Your Words is an excellent distillation of her work ethic, and a rarity in the world of writing-help books: something that’s useful without being bone dry or coming across as some kind of pan-pipe backed recruitment ad for a writing cult. (more…)

Goodreads review: Frankenstein

FrankensteinFrankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s almost a fool’s errand to review Frankenstein. The book’s been so firmly ensconced in the literary canon for so long that it can’t be dislodged, and the story of its inception – spooky story competition with Byron, Percy Shelley, Polidori – is almost so doused in writerly name-dropping as to be something you couldn’t make up.

But hey, I’ve never shied away from a fool’s errand so away we go. (more…)