Book review: Theatre of Fear & Horror

Theatre of Fear & Horror: The Grisly Spectacle of the Grand Guignol of Paris, 1897-1962 by Mel Gordon.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

The Grand Guignol was Paris’s smallest theatre, was named for a horrifying puppet, and was also a place where you could see various comedies interspersed with incredibly vivid, naturalistic horror.

And clowns. Always with the fucking clowns.

Couple of laughs and some throat-slitting? Sure, mon ami, sounds swell.


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.


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?


Book review: The Plague

The Plague by Albert Camus.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

The Plague mightn’t have inspired a Cure song, but that doesn’t mean you should discount it. I mean, is it on the nose to be reading something with this title in 2020? It feels a little on the nose, but here I am, ploughing through Camus’s 1947 examination of the effects of bubonic plague on a city because frankly, there’s not much else to do in 2020 other than to try and avoid disease by any means necessary, as others seem hell-bent on playing chicken with it.

Camus: possibly anti-mask, but definitely pro-ciggie.

(Well. I suppose I could’ve come up with a radio adaptation and recorded it remotely but I guess I don’t have the funding or the spark of the BBC, so reading it was about all I can stretch to.)


Book review: Nightmares

Nightmares: Three Great Suspense Novels by Ira Levin.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Ira Levin. You know the guy: novelist, playwright and the man whose stories became adapted into a dozen or so films, from Sliver to The Boys From Brazil. A jobbing writer, whose tight planning is a thing of wonder.

Why yes, I do have an Edgar award as well as this father fetching pullover. And I wrote The Stepford Wives.

Nightmares is a collection of three of Levin’s novels in one book club-style hardback. It’s something that I came across in an op shop in a small town in the middle of the country, which is probably fitting because each of the stories are about people fitting in – or trying to fit in – to a community.


Book review: American Kingpin

American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind behind the Silk Road Drugs Empire by Nick Bilton.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

You like to read about drugs? And the internet? Murder-for-hire? Inter-agency squabblings?

You’re probably not all that interested in the last of these, but they provide a lot of the forward thrust of Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin, a book about the rise – and eventual downfall – of the man behind The Silk Road, an online emporium that taunted law enforcement for years.


Book review: In Search of Lost Time Volume VI: Time Regained

In Search of Lost Time Volume VI: Time Regained by Marcel Proust.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

Well, I did it. I survived In Search of Lost Time. Admittedly, this is probably easier to do in a year where chunks were spent in mandatory lockdown than in a year when you can do … I dunno, anything. But here we are.

This review of the final volume of the Modern Library edition will probably serve as a review of the piece as a whole, as it’s difficult to view them as anything except interlinked, because the individual books don’t stand on their own merits – it’s only as part of this elephantine endeavour that they can be appreciated.

Yeah, you’re not the only one who needs a lie down mate.

Book review: Tai-Pan

Tai-Pan by James Clavell.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

The thing I suppose I needed most this year was a balls-out story of daring, legal piracy and hard-nosed colonialism in the service of personal riches and furthering the drug trade. Either that, or everything else going on was balls enough to make me believe that that kind of story would be great.

Enter James Clavell, from beyond the grave, holding a copy of his 1966 tome, wordlessly gesturing that I should get that into me.

Page by page. I’ll wait. This will be a long haunting.

Book review: In Search of Lost Time Volume V: The Captive & The Fugitive

In Search of Lost Time Volume V: The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

This review’s going to be shorter than my other Proust ones, which is amusing because, even with everything else going on this year, this book was an enormous fucking slog. I mean you’d think there was more to write about it, but ensuring I maintained the will to live seems to have taken precedence.

Oh Christ, not another fucking party.

Book review: Some Must Watch

Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars.


No, really, it was. That’s the set-up for White’s novel, famously made – with some alterations – into The Spiral Staircase in 1946. The film has, it seems, driven many to seek out the novel to sup at the story’s source, though I’m coming at it from the position of a heathen non-watcher, which means I’m likely not as irritated by the material changes which some argue made the film.