Category: England Page 1 of 10

Ian McEwan: Lessons

The latest addition to my website is Ian McEwan‘s Lessons. This is McEwan’s longest novel and tells the story of Roland Baines, his friends and family from World War II to the present day, Baines is clearly based in part on Mc Ewan himself but only in part. The basic theme is that we are who we are because of world events but also because of things our parents and others do. This may be very obvious but Mc Ewan shows us how the life of Roland, his wife Alissa and others are shaped by these events. A key event in Roland’s life is when he is seduced by his piano female teacher when he is only fourteen and the affair will change his life. Another key event is when Alissa walks out on him and their one year old son to become a novelist. Both sides of the story are given – the women’s reasons and the effect on Roland. Both parents had been influenced by the war and its aftermath. Roland drifts through life but has a more or less happy life, with ups and downs and we follow the changes he faces and the other main characters face. This is certainly the best McEwan novel for a while .

Ellis Sharp: Alice in Venice

The latest addition to my website is Ellis Sharp‘s Alice in Venice. Alice Short is on holiday in Venice to visit the varioius sites where the film Don’t Look Now was filmed. She meets – maybe -a Frenchman called Alain who may be drug dealer, an assassin or an academic specialising in Henry Fielding or may not actually exist. She visits the sites and we learn about the film, what happened to the cast and the director and how, in some cases, the sites have changed. They chat about books set in Venice and famous visitors to Venice and various other, often cryptic, matters. As is normal with Sharp, things are not always clear but the book certainly joins the list of fascinating books set in Venice.

Robert Irwin: The Limits of Vision

The latest addition to my website is Robert Irwin‘s The Limits of Vision. Marcia is an English housewife seemingly obsessed with cleanliness. When her vacuum cleaner breaks down, just before her coffee morning guests arrive, she is confronted by Mucor the Fungus, the spokesperson for dirt. Once her guests arrive, admiring the Dutch painting of a spotlessly clean house, she drifts off to the Gobi Desert with Teilhard de Chardin, who admires her housekeeping skills. She will later have a bath with Leonardo da Vinci, hear Blake’s poem about the Hoover and meet other long deceased celebrities to help her solve her cleaning problems. Is she mad and, more importantly, what does husband Philip think? The answer is not what you might expect. As always Robert Irwin produces something different from the norm. The book was first published in 1986 but has been republished in 1922 by Dedalus Books.

Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi: Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure

The latest addition to my website is Adelle Stripe & Lias Saoudi‘s Ten Thousand Apologies: Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure. This book is a fictional biography and an alternative version of historic events about Fat White Family, a contemporary English rock/punk band. The book is told in the third person (presumably by Stripe) with first person commentary by Saoudi, the frontman of the band. Saoudi (Algerian father, English mother) started at art school but soon moved into music and, in particular, aggressive, punk with outrageous performances. We follow the rise of the band (with many hiccups on the way) and their thoroughly self-destructive nature (lots of alcohol and drugs, continual squabbling, lots of personnel changes, clashes with the authorities) . Whether you are interested in the Fat White Family or not, the book is certainly a fascinating account of a band that set out to shock and is clearly self-destructive, narcissistic, provocative, controversial and badly-behaved.

Robert Irwin: The Runes Have Been Cast

The latest addition to my website is Robert Irwin‘s The Runes Have Been Cast. This is a very funny spoof campus novel/spoof ghost story, set in the early 1960s. Two Oxford University English lit students have been asked to write on the Victorian ghost story, and this gives us a lead-in to many references to ghosts and the like, particularly inspired by the works of M. R. James. Lancelyn gets a first and heads to St Andrews University, where he gets involved in academic politics as well as arcane English literature, while Bernard gets a starred first and stays at Oxford. Coming between them is Molly, who switches her favours more than once. The ghosts are hovering, people turn out not to be who they seem to be and Irwin mocks ghosts, academics, English lit, sex and anything else that passes by. It is great fun and you will also learn about authors and books you have never heard of.

Ellis Sharp: Twenty-Twenty

The latest addition to my website is Ellis Sharp‘s Twenty-Twenty. This is a diary, influenced by Uwe Johnson‘s Jahrestage (Anniversaries), which he reads and comments on, in the early part of the book. We follow the author – he simply calls himself Ellis – both in his daily activities – shopping,looking after his young daughter, watching TV, reading – but also in his strong political views. Reading online, often Twitter, he is highly critical of Israel/Zionism, the Labour Party, the British media, the British government, particularly its handling of the covid crisis, Biden and much of the UK liberal commentariat. We follow what he reads, what he watches and what he listens to but much is left out – his writing, his daughter’s mother and the details of the many phone calls he makes and receives. Issues such as covid and climate change do make an appearance though perhaps not as much as we might have expected, while Brexit is barely mentioned (though he does not like the EU.) It is an enjoyable read – if you are not a Zionist, Blairite, or Boris Johnson supporter.

Sarah Hall: Burntcoat

The latest addition to my website is Sarah Hall‘s Burntcoat. Our heroine is Edith Harknesss. We follow her life from when she was ten and her mother, a successful novelist, had an aneurysm but survived though much changed. Edith decides to become an artist, focussing on monumental works using shou sugi ban, a Japanese charred timber technique and has considerable success. However a pandemic strikes – seemingly worse than covid just as she is starting the love affair of her life with a Turkish chef and the pair hide out in her huge converted warehouse called Burntcoat. The pandemic leaves Edith with the equivalent of long covid, though this form seems it be generally fatal, as she works on her final monumental work. It is another superb work from Sarah Hall and confirms her as one of Britain’s leading novelists.

Pat Barker: The Women of Troy

The latest addition to my website is Pat Barker‘s The Women of Troy. This follows on from Barker’s previous novel, The Silence of the Girls, where we followed the story of Briseis, a captured royal who became Achilles’ trophy. At the beginning of this novel, Achilles, rightly fearing his impending death, marries her off to Alcimus. The events in this novel takes place after the events described in The Iliad, starting with the Wooden Horse and the fall of Troy, with the focus on what happens to Briseis and the other Trojan women after the fall. We see the men drinking, holding games and having rough sex with the women, while the women suffer, burying (or, in the case of King Priam, trying to bury) the dead, tending the sick and trying to survive. As always in war and its aftermath, it is, as Barker clearly shows, the women who are the greatest victims.

Michel Butor: L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time)

The latest addition to my website is Michel Butor‘s L’Emploi du temps (Passing Time). I had already read and reviewed this novel (link is to the old review) but a new edition of the English translation has just appeared from Pariah Press so I have read that. (I read it in French for the previous review.) This is a complex story of a Frenchman Jacques Revel who spends a year as translator in the fictitious Northern England town of Bleston (based on Manchester). Jacques reads a murder mystery – The Bleston Murder by J C Hamilton – and finds it might not be entirely fiction and that it is also a key to some of the mysteries of Bleston, a town he hates and which seems to have an evil personality of its own. We follow his travails around the town and with some of its inhabitants as well as The Bleston Murder, its author and the mysterious fires which keep breaking out in Bleston. It is a superb book and very much worth rereading.

Ellis Sharp: Neglected Writer

The latest addition to my website is Ellis Sharp‘s Neglected Writer. The eponymous neglected writer may well refer to Sharp himself, a British experimental writer who is still relatively unknown. However, it probably refers to Eliot Blount, the narrator of this novel. Blount is an Englishman in Hollywood in 1932. He receives an anonymous phone call telling him that Paul Bern, the film director and husband of the actress Jean Harlow, is dead. This leads him on a trail. Did Bern really kill himself? Who was the mysterious caller? And can he make a gangster film out of a Virginia Woolf novel? For while, there is a fascinating plot, Sharp has a lot of fun and games,mocking Hollywood, making obscure literary and cinema references, telling in-jokes and following Eliot’s weird and often erotic dreams. (Yes, Freud also makes an appearance). It is clever, witty and a highly enjoyable read.

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