fiction

Book review: The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn.The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I’d been meaning to read a bit more Soviet-era fiction, particularly science fiction. And any exploration of that area is likely to involve the brothers Strugatsky: writers known for some excellently grim work with a coating of political commentary. (Roadside Picnic, filmed as Stalker is a supreme bummer, for starters.)

So it’s a bit of a surprise that my first Strugatsky novel turned out to be a detective story, free – mostly – of politicking, which features a collection of oddballs and a super-sentient dog.
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Book review: A Terrace in Rome

A Terrace in Rome.A Terrace in Rome by Pascal Quignard.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

This is a strangely compelling little book. It’s about disfigurement, love, lust, pornography and the finer points of mezzotint and etching. It’s a slim collection of fragments describing a leathery life, which eventually chokes to death far from its origin.

There’s also a lot of dicks described within.
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Book review: The Return

The Return.The Return by Walter de la Mare.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

Until this point, I’d only been familiar with de la Mare’s name, and not with his works. The Return has rectified that, but I’m left with some confusion about whether I actually liked the novel… and about whether I actually knew what was going on throughout.

So that’s a reasonable start, I guess: if both of those thorns haven’t put me off other authors, they shouldn’t put me off ol’ Walter, right? Right. (more…)

Book review: The Rich Man’s House

The Rich Man's House.The Rich Man’s House by Andrew McGahan.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Andrew McGahan is dead. And this is his last work. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his work from Praise onwards – thanks to the excellent movie adaptation first, text later – and have appreciated the descriptive examination of the personal throughout his texts. The way he looked at lives that might be considered a failure by any measure, and shone tiny lights of relief on their struggles.

So naturally, his final book is a thriller, set on the edge of the world, in which degenerate wealth and animist revenge combine to paint a portrait of how fucked capitalism is, and how we’ve basically rooted the earth, to the point that it might smack us down for it.

Wait, what? (more…)

Book review: The Allingham Minibus

The Allingham Minibus.The Allingham Minibus by Margery Allingham.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Before I picked up this iteration of The Allingham Minibus – a work that’s been around in varying versions since the 1970s – I’d never read any of Margery Allingham’s work. I knew little of her, save that she was considered one of the Queens of Crime, alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I expected, given her contemporaries, that I’d have a quaint read ahead, of clockwork mysteries and tea and crumpets before bedtime.

Pictured: the 428. If you know, you know. 

Thankfully, that presumption was false. The 18 tales gathered together in this collection (the name of which admittedly made me think of a Tarago packed with story denizens) are of a distinctly stranger bent. (more…)

Book review: Infinite Ground

Infinite Ground.Infinite Ground by Martin MacInnes.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

So what’d happen if you were in a restaurant, right? And then you got up from the table, went to the bathroom and then never came back.

Would you be missed? Would people know where to look? More importantly, would people know how to look?

This is, in a fashion, the thrust of Martin MacInnes’ first novel, Infinite Ground. It’s a detective story – more or less – but that’s a bit like saying that Gravity’s Rainbow is a war story. There’s a bit more to it.
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Book review: Q

Q.Q by Luther Blissett.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Q is a book I’ve had on my to-read list for quite a while. I can’t remember where I first heard of it but I’m willing to lay money on the fact that it was in my pretentious “I only read LITERATURE!” stage, fairly recently after graduation. (Which, as we all know is bullshit, because airport lit absolutely slaps in the right circumstances.)

Where was I? Pretension. Right. Well, I’m assuming that Younger Me was driven by that rather than an earnest interest into the religious and political machinations of middle Europe in the 16th century. (Unlike Me Of Today who is All About That Shit.) So I have to assume that the main reason I wanted to read it was that the author, Luther Blissett, doesn’t exist.

Pictured: the author, but also not the author.

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Book review: Salvation on Sand Mountain

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Ever since I’d first heard of its existence, I’ve wanted to read Salvation on Sand Mountain. This is, of course, largely because Younger Me was pretty obsessed with the outré nature of its subject – churches whose adherents practised snake handling – which I admit is a pretty rubbernecking approach to something.

Yeah, no reason why I’d be like HOLY SHIT, CHECK THIS OUT at all. (Picture: Jim Neel.)

I finally – some 20-something years later – managed to read the book and discovered that while there was plenty of snaketacular narrative to go around, the book is more rewarding that my youthful self, labelling of it as churchy hicks with scales could ever have imagined. (more…)

Book review: The Acolyte

The Acolyte.The Acolyte by Thea Astley.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Shockingly, I’d never read any Thea Astley until I read The Acolyte. I felt guilty about having not done so, sure, but it wasn’t until I was at a loose end and needed a book quickly that a hasty grab from a bag of books rescued from the last-days sale of a cavernous bookstore brought it to my attention.

And boy, am I glad that chance brought me in contact with the story of Paul Vesper, the titular acolyte of blind (and fictional) composer and pianist Jack Holberg. Because it makes me feel a lot better about my own creative inertia, frankly. (more…)

Book review: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment.Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (tr. Oliver Ready).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I first read Crime and Punishment in my late teens, I was surprised at how accessible I found the text. I’d been led to believe that Russian literature was, to a word, turgid and overblown – not to mention depressing. Imagine my surprise when I found that the straitened world of Raskolnikov was intriguing and compelling. It was a revelation, and opened me up to a lot of literature I’d not previously considered.

This time around, I was surprised at how much more lively the text appears when viewed through the lens of a more recent translation. And how much deeper the book appears – and how differently I viewed parts of it – after an extra 20 years of life. (more…)