Goodreads reviews

Book review: How Proust Can Change Your Life

How Proust Can Change Your Life.How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

I’ve decided to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time this year, because it’s been sitting on my shelf for too long, and I figured if I was ever going to take a stab at it, it should be now.

Whatever the merits of Proust’s work, even a fervent admirer would be hard pressed to deny one of its awkward features: length.

The problem is that such a work requires a bit of a running start. I mean, there’s multiple volumes, and indeed, not much goes on between the covers, albeit in beautifully rendered sentences. The whole collection of tomes could probably be considered unnecessary for modern life, but still it persists: something people aspire to read because, like a genteel Everest, it’s there. (more…)

Book review: Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters

Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters.Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

So hey, here’s an idea for a book: a history of artists from a certain place, and a certain time. Let’s call them London Painters and bung them together, even though there’s little to link them stylistically, or even philosophically.

Sounds like a hiding to nowhere, right?
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Book review: Tokyo Ueno Station

Tokyo Ueno Station.Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri (tr. Morgan Giles).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I first went to Tokyo, I made a habit of walking through a large park in Shinjuku. It was just down from the Tokyo Park Hyatt (as featured in Lost in Translation) and the park was exceptionally groomed – in the same way much of Tokyo was.

Unlike a lot of the other places I’d seen, though, it featured a lot of homeless people. It was ordered and quiet and a little hidden away: visible, but visibly ignored by most others walking through the space on their commute.
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Book review: A Maggot

A Maggot.A Maggot by John Fowles.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I’m a bit of a fan of Fowles because of the creepy perfection of his first novel, The Collector, and the madness of The Magus, a book spent a couple of years pushing on people at any opportunity.

I wasn’t quite so taken with A Maggot the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. But as I’ve aged, I think I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more, as this reread was supremely enjoyable. I guess the fact that the author has taken a kitchen-sink approach to the work – it’s variously a mystery, historical record, SF exploration, class critique and theological query – ensures that there really is something for everyone here. (more…)

Book review: Beauty and Chaos

Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life.Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life by Michael Pronko.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I’m a bit of a fan of Japan. I’ve learned some [terrible] Japanese, and have travelled there several times, for holidays and for music competitions. I like the contradictions of the place, and am always looking for an excuse to journey back. This, Michael Pronko’s first collection of essays on Tokyo, offers a pretty good trip.

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Book review: Twisted Clay

Twisted Clay.Twisted Clay by Frank Walford.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

So here’s a book that was written by a future pillar of the Katoomba community who, aside from writing, spent time as a buffalo hunter, crocodile shooter, mule packer and prospector. He was a boxer and dab hand with a knife, and shared the same bucolic Blue Mountains literary salon as Eleanor Dark.

Naturally, it’s a book about a murderous teenage lesbian who receives communiques from her dead father – letting her know his brains are falling out from where she hit him with an axe in retribution for wanting to try and cure her with hormone therapy, so can she please come and dig him up – who ends up in Sydney committing further murders. Written in 1933, no less. And promptly banned for thirty years.
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Book review: Psycho

Psycho.Psycho by Robert Bloch.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I was a teenager, going through something of a Hitchcock stage, I found a copy of this book and I remember loving it. But that was thirty years ago, so I figured I’d better revisit Bloch’s best-known work and see if it still stands up.

Unsurprisingly, it does. I think it’s probably more affecting at this point than it was when I was younger: the book is a lot sharper than I remembered.
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Book review: Swedish Mysteries

Swedish Mysteries; Or, Hero of the Mines.Swedish Mysteries; Or, Hero of the Mines by Anna Maria MacKenzie.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars.

I’m a fan of gothic literature. Chuck me some Radcliffe, and I’m happy for hours. Dripping caves and fusty castles are my thing. Wicked religious orders and Machiavellian familial fuckery? I’m all ears.

You’d think, then, that I’d be all over MacKenzie’s based-in-fact-but-not-really novel about Gustav Eriksson, a man possessed of a shitload of derring-do and a will to power that saw him take on Christian II (of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, because one country’s obviously not enough) and win.

You can set your chronograph to that fringe.

You’d also be wrong. This one’s a bit of a stinker, and as much as I wanted to like it, I just couldn’t. (more…)

Book review: The Ritual

The Ritual.The Ritual by Adam Nevill.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I saw the film adaptation of this novel before I read it, so I was slightly wrongfooted coming into it. I wasn’t, for example, prepared for how metal as fuck the original is.

Yes, it’s still a story about middle-aged guys having a failed bromance in forests so offputting they should be marked HERE BE DRAGONS on the topo map they’re using to get around. But the film adaptation – which was just fine, and plenty creepy on its own – lacks a certain corpsepaint madness that makes the novel so appealing.
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Book review: The Aosawa Murders

The Aosawa Murders.The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (tr. Alison Watts).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Parties are great. Parties celebrating the auspicious birthdays of elders are also great. What’s not great is when the party is spoiled by cyanide, resulting in the deaths of most people at the party, in vomit-tinged terror.

That’s one way to break up a celebration. (more…)