Book reviews: six or so (no, it’s six)

Once more, I’ve slackened off a bit in my reviewing duties. So instead of reading one review this time ’round, you’re going to cram six of the buggers into your eyeballs.

Talk about value for money! But that’s not all! There’ll be surveyors, pandemics, pugilistic pain, shoals of teen suicides, bad TARDIS houses, Nazi-influenced ‘shrooms and, er, Simon Callow.

Never let it be said I don’t offer value for money! Let’s get on with it.


Book review: The Anomaly

The cover of Hervé le Tellier's THE ANOMALY, winner of the 2020 Prix Goncourt.

The Anomaly by Hervé le Tellier
My rating: four stars

Doubles have always freaked me out. Perfect example? The Black Lodge sequence from the end the second season of Twin Peaks: you know, Cooper is running around trying to avoid a maniacal version of himself, identical except for clouded eyes. The perfect image of something so mundane, something an individual sees every day – themselves! – except multiplied, with presumably ill intent.

There’s a long history of doppelgängers being evil, or at the very least a sign that everything is very fuckin’ far from okay – and their appearance is, understandably, a cause for concern.

(A special shoutout here to the Irish for using the term fetch to describe the same thing, which brings new depths to the demand that people stop trying to make fetch happen.)

Le Tellier’s The Anomaly takes the idea of the sudden appearance of a doppelgänger but adds a bit of a twist: what if there was a planeload of doubles?


Book review: Waypoints

The cover of Adam Ouston's WAYPOINTS: a shot of an orange sky with an airliner proceeding from behind clouds, contrails behind.

Waypoints by Adam Ouston
My rating: four stars

So you know Harry Houdini, right? The straitjacket-and-locks guy? Big hater of spiritualist fraudsters? Escapologist, man with a dynamic gaze? Eventually bought low by a sucker punch? You know, this guy:

It’s a look, I’ll give him that.

Well, it turns out that prestidigitation and being a momma’s boy weren’t the only things he was interested in: he also had a brief flirtation with aviation. Including Australian aviation: on a trip out here (organised at great expense), Harry was keen to be the first to attain powered flight on the continent.

(He ended up being third, though that didn’t really stop people blowing his trumpet, so to speak.)

This quest for aviation supremacy – and one man’s quest to reenact it as a sort of psychic salve – form the basis of Waypoints, Adam Ouston’s novel of uncommon energy and beauty.


Book review: Faith, Hope and Carnage

The cover of FAITH, HOPE & CARNAGE by Nick Cave and Seán O'Hagan

Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan
My rating: five stars

I’ve been a fan of Nick Cave’s work for a couple of decades, but I admit to having held a certain amount of cynicism about the guy (and parts of his output) over the years. Partially this was a bit of a pose, part of it was (perhaps justified) criticism at the increased deification and man-of-letters mantle he’d been gifted by certain parts of his fanbase, and by his home country of late, which of course disregards the fact that he had to fuck off to England and Germany before earning any sort of praise here.

The news of the death of Arthur, Cave’s son, put paid to that. Selfishly, it allowed me to focus more on the work than the man – it seemed like a particularly cunty act to want to run down a man (remember that Nick Cave & the Bad Everything photo?) in the wake of such terrible events. How would someone bear such a thing? How would they survive? How do you keep getting up in the morning?


Book review: Mount Analogue

A picture of the cover of the Tusk Ivories edition of René Daumal's MOUNT ANALOGUE: A NOVEL. Cover is green with dark blue lines, and features an image of a mountain range.

Mount Analogue by René Daumal
My rating: three stars

Here we go: a book about climbing mountains. About climbing one mountain in particular: Mount Analogue.

There’s a slight snag in this crampons-and-rope plan, however: the mountain doesn’t exist.

(I mean, until a voyage to a corner of the Pacific, where it’s suddenly discovered that it does.)

Were you expecting anything less from a book written by a pataphysician and Gurdjieff devotee?

(I wasn’t.)


Book review: Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
My rating: four stars

I first read Cryptonomicon more than 20 years ago, when it first was released. A good friend of mine was visiting from the US – I lived in London at this point – and had a copy of the book in his satchel.

It sounded cool, and so I found a copy, read it, and while there was a lot I didn’t understand in it, I enjoyed the hell out of it, which was quite remarkable because at the time I wasn’t really into 1000-page epics.

I figured it had been long enough that I should revisit: to see a) if it was still as impressive and b) whether I understood it any better.


Book review: Cinema Speculation

Cinema Speculation by Quentin Tarantino
My rating: four stars

Are you a film nerd?

You probably are if you’re interested in reading this book. I mean, you’d probably have to be a film nerd to be interested in the very specific period of filmmaking (and styles of film) that are this title’s focus.

There’s one thing I can guarantee, however: you are not and will never be as big a film nerd as Quentin Tarantino. (Or as big a dick as he is, some might add. Some)

Thankfully, the Tarantino on display between the covers of Cinema Speculation is the amiable nerd who wants to share his passion rather than a ponytail-free Comic Book Guy. In fact, the copy within might prove to be some of the best QT PR in quite some time.


Book review: Tigana

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: four stars

When I was a kid, I got onto the Tolkien trip and read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Pretty cool, I thought.

Then I tried The Silmarillion and man, did those emergency brakes slam on. I haven’t tried that one since, and that was… about 35 years ago, now.

“Language. The process of sharing with words seemed such a futile exercise sometimes.”


Book (and movie?) review: Solaris

Solaris by Stanisław Lem
My rating: three stars

Apparently this wasn’t the first time I’d read Solaris.

After I’d finished this Kindle edition – one with the Lem-approved translation, executed by Bill Johnston – I discovered an older, dog-eared copy of the work on my shelves. I must have read that version from the time in university when I had a Russian partner who was interested in getting me into Russian literature, to the extent that I wrote some essays for her. (On Goncharov, I think? I can’t quite remember.)

Anyway, being unable to remember treading those star-paths before seemed to be very in keeping with the work itself, and I assume Lem would approve.