fiction

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?

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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.

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A reading recap (2021)

This year, I had intended to write reviews of everything I read.

Obviously, with this year being this year I haven’t been able to do that for a lot of the books I ploughed through. I really wanted to record some thoughts on them, because it’s an important part of the reading process, for me: it helps bed down each book in my mind, so that I’m not taken by surprise halfway through an unintended reread by a plot development that suddenly reminds me that oh yeah, I’ve read this before.

Part of my process this year has involved the taking of notes to serve as a sort of memory aid for my reading. Generally, they require a Rosetta Stone to be sifted through, even by me, so they’re not particularly enlightening on their own, but they do allow me to crack out a couple of brief thoughts about what I’ve read this year.

Yes, there is a certain type of pen I like to use while writing these. No, they’re probably not very profound. But hey, there’s two notebooks full of them this year, so I guess that’s meaningful.

So that’s what I’m doing here.

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Book review: The Wanderer

The Wanderer by Timothy J. Jarvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

It took me a while to read The Wanderer and I’m not entirely sure why. It might’ve been this cursed year – hell, let’s blame that. But I certainly found that as much as I was entranced whenever I perused the book, I wasn’t quick to come back to it.

Curiously, this isn’t the bad thing that I had expected. It meant that each time I returned, I was surprised anew at how bizarre the thing is.

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Book review: Imperium

Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas by Christian Kracht
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

First things first: this book is great and you should read it. I found it deeply enjoyable and odd in a a manner reminiscent of Fitzcarraldo: a story of absolutely genius/idiotic zeal.

Second things second: if you don’t read this review, at least read the Wikipedia description of the book because if it doesn’t make you want to read it, I just don’t know what to say to you.

Imperium is a 2012 satiric novel by the Swiss writer Christian Kracht. It recounts the story of August Engelhardt, a German who in the early 20th century founded a religious order in German New Guinea based on nudism and a diet consisting solely of coconuts. The fictionalized narrative is an ironic pastiche.

See?

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Book review: I Am God

I Am God by Giacomo Sartori
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I was a kid, I remember a lot was made of what-ifs. What if you could be invisible? What would you do? Where would you go? Where would you sneak to, in order to see things you weren’t supposed to.

Honestly, I don’t like to watch some things human beings do. But as you can imagine there’s no roof nor wall nor duck blind nor sheet nor wile that stands in the way of a god; unfortunately I must put up with all of it.

Take that idea, add an alpha and omega and you’ve got I Am God, a novel which features a God who, when He’s not reminding the reader of how powerful he is, spends his time observing a pigtailed atheist microbiologist who somehow has attracted His notice, despite Himself.

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Book review: Down the Hume

Down the Hume by Peter Polites
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

This is not a fun read. The novel, I mean. This review may be a fun read depending on how low your humour threshold is, but the novel definitely isn’t, in much the same way that Christos Tsiolkas’ The Jesus Man isn’t. That book sent me into a weeks-long depression after reading it, because I’d spent so much time in the company of thoroughly unlikeable characters. Same thing here.

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Book review: Night and the City

Night and the City by Gerald Kersh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Gerald Kersh is someone I’d wanted to read for a while. Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock were and are both fans, and the author seems to be one of those, like Poe or Dickens, who managed a hack’s volume, but also kept a remarkable quality.

He also looked natty as fuck, let’s face it.

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Book review: The Outsiders

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

You know, there’s not a great deal of point to reviewing something like The Outsiders. It’s the sort of work that’s become such a cultural touchstone – who hadn’t heard “stay gold” before reading this? – that it’s impossible to rank it. The score won’t change anyone’s mind, nor will it change the book’s reputation.

Still, in the spirit of trying to review everything I read in order to give some shape to my post-read feelings, I’ll give it a go.

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Book review: 54

54 by Wu Ming.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Last year I read Q, the medieval pastiche created by Luther Blissett, a guy who did exist but also – for authorial purposes – didn’t.

They’re a photogenic lot. Or are they?

This year, I moved a bit forward in time and read 54, set in 1954. It’s another creation by parts of Q‘s creative steering committee, except this time around they’re known as Wu Ming. Basically they’re a bunch of anonymous Bologna-based scribes who create playful pieces, which is just as well because their nom-de-plume is the Chinese phrase for anonymous.

How handy is that?

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