fiction

Book review: Islam: The Essentials

Islam: The Essentials by Tariq Ramadan.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I’m not a Muslim – I’m not really religious in any meaningful way – but I’ve always had an interest in Islam. This interest is probably a mish-mash of things: the lingerings of Orientalist stories from my youth, and the fact that the belief seemed such a mystery to me.

I’ve lived in areas with plenty of Muslim neighbours, but I’ve not known much about what they believe. Certainly, there’s a lot of investment in the West in presenting the faith as the origin of Everything Wrong With The World, so it’s the sort of thing I’ve long had a niggling desire to get a better handle on. Because surely tabloids aren’t the best source of qualified comment on the religion, right?

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Book review: The Parsifal Mosaic

The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Airport novels. They’re the ideal way to defrag your brain. It took me years to deprogram myself from the literature degree belief that everything I read had to be worthy, had to be a classic.

Sometimes, you just want some brain-popcorn rather than multi-clausal comedies of manners.

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Book review: The Cook

The Cook.The Cook by Harry Kressing.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I imagine this novel to take place in some kind of weird Mad Men universe. It’s that drinks-before-dinner, hired-help-run-the-show kind of world where there’s precise demarcation between what’s meant to happen and those it’s meant to happen to. Think of it like Upstairs, Downstairs only with Betty Draper and you’re probably about right.

Naturally, this clockwork world goes to shit the moment the titular character shows up.
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Book review: Water Shall Refuse Them

Water Shall Refuse Them.Water Shall Refuse Them by Lucie McKnight Hardy.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Heading to a drought-stricken Wales in 1976 seems like a shitty holiday idea. It’s even shittier when you’re a 16-year-old girl accompanied by your family – a needy toddler, a sculptor father and a grieving, wasting mother – and eaten up by a dedication to something called The Creed.

You can tell things aren’t going to go well, and that’s before the village turns out to be, uh, none too friendly to outsiders.
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Book review: Burnt Island

Burnt Island.Burnt Island by Alice Thompson.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I’d read the blurb for this book – writer applies for a fellowship on a Scottish island and mysteries ensue – and noted the price (three bucks on Kindle!) and took the plunge. I mean, I’ve spent more on bad coffee, let alone good spookiness.

Imagination is a terrible thing, Max. It perverts reality. You can lose yourself in it. Not realise what’s really happening to you.

This is good spookiness. (more…)

Book review: The Roo

The Roo.The Roo by Alan Baxter.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Photoshop is responsible for a lot of things. Most of them are bad, but in the case of this novella – written in response to the image which ended up as its cover – Adobe should be profusely thanked.

The world has a serious lack of stories about rampaging kangaroos. Even fewer of those involve exploding heads, multiple appearances of the phrase “shit cunt”, and can be read in about an hour. Alan Baxter has filled the void pretty well, here.

Also, there’s this in the introduction:

If you’re not too familiar with the anatomy of kangaroos, may I also suggest you Google ‘kangaroo feet’ before you start reading. Seriously, you might think you know, but have another look. They’re insane.

That they are. (more…)

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…)