Sunday, 10 December 2017

Smiley's People by John le Carré

“Tell Max that it concerns the Sandman. Tell him I have two proofs and can bring them with me.” 

With a more than two hour train trip on the cards for a Wednesday night, it seemed like the perfect time to indulge in a big read. When I say "big read" I mean greater than 300 pages, which is particularly challenging with end of the year deadlines, Christmas party season and the like. So, I settled back on the train and immersed myself in the shadow world of espionage. An ageing George Smiley is chased out of retirement by the murder of one of his former agents. The final instalment  in the series that began with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a worthy inclusion in the 1001 novels list and you know how much I love ticking off novels from that seemingly never-ending list. I'm writing this review after a big night out for a friend's significant birthday and so my level of detail on the content is going to be a little light on. Nevertheless this is the moody, suspense ridden le Carré you would expect and it is fantastic - I almost didn't notice how long I was on that darn train trip. It also neatly ties up the series in an entirely satisfactory way.

5 out of 5 spies can not be trusted.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

“Remarkable how the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children’s minds and created life to fill their every desire. The children thought lions, and there were lions. The children thought zebras, and there were zebras. Sun—sun. Giraffes—giraffes. Death and death.”

This collection of short stories is Twilight-Zone (or Black Mirror) style excellence and the stuff of nightmares. From leaving your children in a very dicey new nursery that could have dire consequences, to turning racial wrongs on their heads in Mars, to the end of the world, to voodoo dolls; here we have a veritable treasure trove of vignettes to whet your appetite. Even a drunken Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce and Charles Dickens make an appearance. Could an exact duplicate marionette be the answer to a successful marriage – or the start of a whole new raft of issues? All these marvels and more await the reader here.

All comes to an end with a delightfully wicked epilogue that might be guessed by the introduction.

“And at last a face formed itself there, a face that gazed out at me from the colored flesh, a face with a familiar nose and mouth, familiar eyes.”

5 out of 5 tattooed into my brain

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman, Jessica Cohen (Translation)

"People stare at their drinks, swirl their glasses of wine and peck distractedly at their little bowls of nuts and pretzels."

I started reading this winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2017, in September and finished in December. At a mere 208 pages long you can see it took me AN AGE, because I found it tedious, annoying and just plain not worth the effort. Perhaps something got lost in translation?

The tired jokes, and sweaty grossness of the ageing stand-up comedian Dovaleh G, really did not float this reader’s boat….. At all! I’m confounded that this got such amazing reviews. Did I miss something? I was deeply uninterested in the protagonist’s relationship to the comedian and the reasons for his summons to the show. The stand-up routine was excruciating, the way it jumped back and forth from bad jokes to recounting traumas and then back to paltry humour again. I wanted out even more than the audience.

If you know me, you’ll know I love to finish things. Job done, tick in a box. Therefore, I had to muddle through and I did; ever optimistic that it would get better. For me, it just didn’t.

1 out of 5 times I’d like a refund.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks

"She'd married John because he was rich and because she felt he'd make few demands on her".

I'm actually quite a fan of Faulks and so was eager to devour this novel when the lovely Louise lent it to me. A rather contemporary setting with terrorism high on the agenda and a side dish of social commentary form the setting for this easily digestible. While the pace was great and I was drawn into the story, there was a real sense that something far more momentous would occur than ever did. It feels that this story got off one station too early and left me feeling a little frustrated. That being said, the journey was an interesting one and certainly had me engaged.Would I recommend this as a read? Certainly, although with reservations. This is one to pass the time on a bus, train or, like me at the car wash and while there are moments of deft social commentary, I just wanted a little more.

4 out of 5 is my car ready yet?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Journey Without Maps by Graham Greene

"Today our world seems peculiarly susceptible to brutality."

Let me begin by professing my absolute love for all the Greene novels I have read to date. Thus setting  the scene, Journey Without Maps,  while possessing an amazingly good title, left me a little tepid. That is not to say that this isn't an interesting read and some of the prose is brilliant. Perhaps the misstep in my appreciation is due to a lack of connection with a naive young, male, traveller, protagonist in a very different time.
Travel writing in essence is all about the discovery of a new circumstance, the experience  of the foreign. We impose our own view upon our surrounds and take away a sense of renewed understanding of our own homeland and of our own expectations of the world. Intriguingly, reading the book backwards would add a layered nuance, as the author notes, with the benefit of  time, in the Preface to the second edition 
   "I have been able to recognise in myself after a year;s sojourn the inertia which as a tourist I condemned so harshly in other people".
Indeed, perhaps my disconnection from the text is an aversion to my own gauche behaviour as a tourist. Now, upon reflection, my initial view of the novel is elevated and perhaps I initially judged it too harshly. Discussions of the novel are doubtlessly full of commentary about the language and racism which are part and parcel of the time in which it was written, and sadly still prevail often today. The novel is also in some ways a rite of passage, a young naive man goes to remote Africa to discover a broader world view. That is perhaps the reason we all travel - to broaden our horizon and , as the title suggests, a trip without the benefit of coded directions is being truly adrift in the world. There are a surfeit of descriptions of topless native women in this novel and a real sexualisation that adds a further barrier to my enjoyment, and yet reflects the social norms of the day. I finished this novel on a rivercat from Olympic Park to Barangaroo on a beautiful Sydney sunny day - that was the journey it accompanied me on.

3 out of 5 Facebook posts can't compete with the old slide night.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Year One by Nora Roberts

"They came in hacking and puking, bleeding and dying. Most from Doom, some from Doom's by-product of violence."

Cards on the table here; I was lucky to grab a pre-release copy courtesy of NetGalley and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading anything by this author previously and was engaged from the get go. Judging by her back catalogue on, she has been prolific to say the least; so perhaps that is to my detriment.

The beginning of the novel envelops you in a fast paced Armageddon-like experience as a strange plague unleashed by some birds weaves its way around the world causing pandemonium. It seems no one is safe from the illness and, if the sickness doesn’t get you, weirdness just may. People are discovering new and strange abilities, the atmosphere of violence and self-preservation becomes all pervasive and there are rumours of a military round up of the gifted.

This could all be quite trite dystopian fiction, because – let’s face it, there has been quite a lot of that in recent years. Robert’s character development overcomes this. As a reader the threat of danger is palpable and you can’t help but care for the characters you meet. Not all will be in for the long haul – there are some Game of Thrones style deaths of characters with a deep reader investment, these were particularly jarring for this reader; in a good way.

The supernatural elements grow apace in the later chapters of the book and at first they struck me as anomalous. The violence, sickness and anarchy is particularly easy to relate to. The reader is then swept up into a greater good versus evil battle. That took me a little longer to settle into, perhaps because it wasn’t particularly telegraphed. What could have been a perfectly rendered tale of surviving an almost extinction event pandemic is transformed into something broader. After a few chapters, I was back on board and it was certainly a worthwhile ride.

Year One is the first in a series and while it may have lost me for a little while in the middle, the ending ensured I will be seeking out the next instalment. Look for this first novel due out December 5.

4 out of 5 times I think to myself I need to learn some practical life skills in case we ever lose Google.

Monday, 20 November 2017

A Pale View of Hills by Kazoo Ishiguro

"In any case, that's when it started, Mariko's obsession with that woman."

Fancy a dash of moodiness? A melange of suspense with just a hint of horror? This might be the one for you. This strange and rather short tale is both evocative an interesting. If, perhaps you seek things spelled out clearly then this may not be the novel for you. If, alternatively, you enjoy second guessing and getting to grips with strange, dreamlike occurrences, I'd say grab yourself a copy. I was keen to explore another of Ishiguro's works, particularly in celebration of his recent win of the Nobel Prize - quite the achievement. While I did not enjoy this nearly as much as Never Let Me Go,  which I consider an amazing novel, it does nonetheless pack a punch. Unease is something which pours forth from the pages and that, in of itself, is rather impressive. Apparently this was his first novel and I think there are aspects which mark it as an earlier work, less polished.
Thematically, its treatment of mothers and daughters and distance and priorities struck me as particularly interesting, albeit jarring. This is a book I could re-read and possibly discover more new, and alternate views; perhaps that is a testament to its promise.
Happily this represents another tick on the 1001 novels to read before you die list. In fact at this point, I've read 461 of the 1,305 combined list of all the series published and this one was a winner.

5 out of 5 strange neglected children can seem rather ominous.