Wednesday, 30 June 2010

My Month in Novels (June)

Among the crimes I perpetrated against fellow writers this month include:

– A flaming scarf around JM Coetzee’s neck
– An assortment of daggers in Michael Morpurgo’s cot
– Three small weevils in AL Kennedy’s stew
– Burglarising David Mitchell’s Persian villa
– Tattooing ‘I am a berk don’t cha know’ onto James Kelman’s bum
– Nailgunning Katie Price’s ghostwriters to the pavement while four bulldozers cancel their being

I read some junk too. I began with
JG Ballard’s Empire of the Sun. Not his hippest work, ‘tis true, but I bagged it for £1 in a Burntisland bookshop, so no complaints here.

Nicola Barker’s Wide Open is the best work I’ve read from this unique novelist. I adored her cast of coastal misfits with an Icke-like mania and have been “converted” to her oddball lovelinesses.

To end last month’s
Gilbert Adair splurge, I read his 1990 novella Love & Death on Long Island. The title reeks of oxtail but the work itself is an entertaining descent into lunacy. Gilbert never hangs around too long to attract nefarious criticism. Clever little pup.

I was given
Strip the Willow by John Aberdein to read, but my brain couldn’t make sense of the whole product. I found the humour toe-curlingly embarrassing (which isn’t saying much given the bilge peddled in this blog) and the story made no actual sense I could discern. An Aberdonian political satire-cum-romance set in the future is certainly unique, but is it required? Umm . . . no. Aberdonian political satires are not required.

Having told
Martin Amis to lump hisself hither and yon, I read The Information. It is, in my estimation, the man’s finest work. He’s writing about himself. And writing. And himself. And there’s only occasional interruptions from awkwardly rendered peasants. Scathing satire on the writing life that I recommend as essential reading for writers everywhere.

I don’t like
Jonathan Lethem. There. I said it. He bores me. I said it. Having said that, I did like As She Climbed Across the Table – a humorous shortie about a man whose girlfriend dumps him for a black hole. Still, Lethem should be an author whose work I scrawl onto my arm in gouts of passionate fanboy adoration. But no. He passes the time amiably. And no more.

A month has passed in which I have read one
Gilbert Sorrentino book. I should be lashed and razored and have other perforations performed upon my person for this heinous oversight. Crystal Vision was outstanding. I wrote about it on the new Napier CW MA student blog – look! (And read the other posts from my co-student bitches, please).

I returned to
Alasdair Gray after a long absence of four months. He does bang on about Scottish independence and send the class to sleep, but often he turns in a weird postmodern work of radical wowness. A History Maker is muddled and strange, but looks gorgeous. Stuck in Orkney with nothing to read, I also chanced upon his Short Survey of Classic Scottish Writing. It told me everything I knew about Scottish writing and why it makes me depressed.

I borrowed two books from
Miss Lickspittle Debussy for my Orkney trip. The prominent bulge of Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole occupied the first half of my travails. This is a spectacular book – gruesome, ludicrous, hilarious, embarrassing and improbable. Like South Park meets Albert Camus. Most invigorating. The other was John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces which was distracting but hardly Pulitzer-worthy.

To close the month in a splash of sophistication I bought five English lit classics, beginning with
Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which is the best girl-meets-boy-girl-has-boy’s-illegitimate-child-girl-leaves-boy-girl-meets-new-boy-new-boy-finds-out-about-child-and-spurns-her-girl-falls-into-long-depression-that-lasts-for-100-pages-first-boy-returns-and-so-does-other-boy-girl-kills-first-boy-girl-is-arrested story EVER.



  1. Yay, you're back! (The Orkneys sound worth going away for, though) I have been eyeing 'A Fraction of the Whole' for a while. Reading your description of it makes me think that the next time I'm in the mood for ludicrious, improbable and gruesome all at once I shall not pick up a vampire novel but instead go for this one. Good job stearing me away from that risky manhole!

  2. You said *blorf* Man, I thought I was good having read 2.5 books this month. You put my reading list to shame. "Tess" has been on my list for years (along with 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' shhhhhhhh)

  3. Fraction is really magnificent. A real tour de force, bravura performance and all those other reviewer clichés. I'm glad to be your manhole cover. There are worse things for a man to be.

    I read loads, Johnsie, because I eschew all forms of commercial culture, such as TV and cinema. I do this because I am a pretentious idiot. Also because I'm trying to make up for the seven years I spent watching TV and playing Playstation in my youth.

  4. I love your reviews. I also love you claiming to put weevils into people's stew, though I intend to avoid dining with you unless I can tie you up first.

    You really do read an impressive amount. I think I read maybe 4 or 5 books this month, and that was a good month.

  5. Hey! I love your lists! I love your lists! I've put Fraction of the World on my reading list.