Five stars for the ideas on posthuman living, taking back 3 for the lifeless prose style. A book with talking virtual lobsters really should be more fFive stars for the ideas on posthuman living, taking back 3 for the lifeless prose style. A book with talking virtual lobsters really should be more fun. ...more
Have loved some of NG's output for adults in the past, eg the Sandman comics, their spin-off stories and many of his prose short stories, so I was keeHave loved some of NG's output for adults in the past, eg the Sandman comics, their spin-off stories and many of his prose short stories, so I was keen to try this.
It's not my favourite Gaiman work, but then I'd argue it's not a fully adult novel - certainly nowhere near as adult as, say, the Sandman episode '24 Hours'. Just as Stardust was a fairytale pastiche, this is a fantasy novel about childhood written in a wistful, nostalgic Laurie Lee / Ray Bradbury style (despite the occasional adult content) - a kind of Cider With Beasties.
I don't usually find stories about childhood, fantasy or not, as interesting I do ones about adolescence or adulthood. Indeed, I came away from this remembering how much I enjoyed - and prefer - Mr G's brilliant short story about teenage boys, 'How To Talk To Girls At Parties'. But despite that, there's plenty of fascinating self-aware digressions about the nature of children's books, along with teasing details about what sort of creatures the Hempstocks and the monsters they have to deal with actually are, which kept me reading to the end.
What I do admire is that despite his willingness to publicise his work as widely as possible - even doing interviews for mainstream arts journalists who seem confused that fantasy novels and comics for adults exist - Mr Gaiman still produces exactly what he wants to produce, and lets the genre concerns fend for themselves. Probably about time I read American Gods and Neverwhere now.
Oh, and excellent inclusion of 'Prince Dickon' too. Presumably Richard 1st in this case.
1956 British novel about a drifting young couple of sexually ambiguous London bohemians, by the genre-defying Brigid Brophy. Last seen as a Virago Mod1956 British novel about a drifting young couple of sexually ambiguous London bohemians, by the genre-defying Brigid Brophy. Last seen as a Virago Modern Classic in 1990, now republished by youthful indie fanzine types Coelacanth Press. This edition also comes with a couple of new introductions, helping to argue why this dusty old novel - and Brophy herself - are worthy of wider attention today.
I'd compare it to the later films of Lindsay Anderson, in that it feels both incredibly British, but also very European, trying to kick back at its Britishness at the same time as commenting upon it. There's doses of dazed Camus-style existentialism, plus a hint of Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge's autobiographical works about bright young women in the post war era. It also echoes the genre of gay coming of age novels, and even a touch of the Beats when the location moves to Italy.
Although it's not as experimental as her later works (eg In Transit), I was particularly impressed by Brophy's device of carefully omitting the narrator's own name throughout the whole book, except at one crucial moment (as far as I can make out). ...more
Newly republished by Penguin Modern Classics, this is held up by some critics as a 'lost gay classic'. It's a short novel from the early 50s about a BNewly republished by Penguin Modern Classics, this is held up by some critics as a 'lost gay classic'. It's a short novel from the early 50s about a British schoolboy's love for an older boy. I found this hard going, despite its short length (150 pages), because the style felt overcooked, lifeless and inert and lacked the wit of, say, Waugh or Firbank. However, there are still some scenes of dreamlike sensuality which remain in the mind, such as the one where the younger boy commands the older into biting into an apple at a Halloween ball. ...more
Interesting to compare this with Alison Bechdel's 'Are You My Mother?', published recently. Both are memoirs about mothers by established lesbian authInteresting to compare this with Alison Bechdel's 'Are You My Mother?', published recently. Both are memoirs about mothers by established lesbian authors, but with questions in the title, and both referring in turn to earlier autobiographical works, ie 'Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit' and 'Fun Home'.
Just as we got to read Ms Bechdel's mother's response to 'Fun Home', here's the terrifying Mrs Winterson revealing that she had to order 'Oranges' from the library... using a fake name.
Winterson writes so clearly and honestly here, and despite the grimness of her childhood she manages to involve moments of laugh-aloud humour and even suspense (will she finally track down her birth mother? What will happen if she does? You find out!).
There's absolutely nothing in this book that feels unnecessary. Winterson is a lover of poetry, and it shows in her prose: words cut down to give the most power.
A fun romp about angels and antichrists, mixing about two thirds of Mr Pratchett's satirical japery and pastiche to a third of Mr Gaiman's wistfulnessA fun romp about angels and antichrists, mixing about two thirds of Mr Pratchett's satirical japery and pastiche to a third of Mr Gaiman's wistfulness and his love of Cool Spooky Women. The plot felt a bit formulaic towards the end - all the characters suddenly getting into cars and onto bikes so that they can assemble for the big final stand-off. But I enjoyed the ride.
I think it's also interesting that double-authored novels are rare, and that when they do happen, it's often to make the reader laugh. eg Diary Of A Nobody, 1066 And All That. ...more
Wasn't keen on the device of a narrator wondering what people in novels would do (this is hard to pull off in what is ultimately an old-fashioned noveWasn't keen on the device of a narrator wondering what people in novels would do (this is hard to pull off in what is ultimately an old-fashioned novel - Barnes is not Borges or Calvino). I also find it tiresome when literary novelists get pop music wrong, and invent fictional hit songs to mention alongside real ones - here there's a one-hit wonder punk band who have a track called 'Every Day Is Sunday' - in which the sole lyrics are the title, repeated. Made me think that Barnes had clearly not heard of the 80s Morrissey hit, 'Everyday is Like Sunday'. But this is another theory of mine - that established novelists who are getting on a bit should try to avoid inventing pop culture beloved of younger ones - it's so easy to get wrong. Just as well he didn't include a rap number.
Not quite the Gatsby-like masterpiece that some of its plaudits made it out to be, but it's still a clever little page-turner. I particularly liked the opening list of images, which works as a kind of teaser.
In which the reader gets on the couch with Alison Bechdel.
I was dazzled by Ms B's 'Fun Home' when it came out in (gosh) 2006. The graphic novel as coIn which the reader gets on the couch with Alison Bechdel.
I was dazzled by Ms B's 'Fun Home' when it came out in (gosh) 2006. The graphic novel as confessional-style memoir is no new thing, of course: one thinks of 'Maus', 'American Splendor', Joe Matt et al. What Bechdel brought to the genre was, I thought, a unique style of rhetorical detective work, blending time-jumping shards of memory with entertaining anecdotes, intimate questions, a sense of expiation and detached commentary. If anything, it had more in common with JR Ackerley's 1960s prose memoir 'My Father And Myself' than with those aforementioned comic books. Ackerley used his book as a writing out of his feelings about both his father's double life (he kept a hidden second family going alongside his legitimate one), and his own double life as a gay man, at a time when homosexual acts were criminalized. Similarly, in 'Fun Home' Bechdel compares and contrasts her father's secret bisexuality with her own coming out as a lesbian.
It wasn't just me who loved the book: the Wikipedia page for 'Fun Home' lists its umpteen awards, its bestseller status, and its place in 2012 as a bona fide modern classic, worthy of serious academic study - it's also a set text for the English Literature degree I'm taking right now (at Birkbeck, University Of London).
So 'Are You My Mother' is, on one level, 'Fun Home 2: This Time It's Even More Personal'. It covers the most obvious subject to write about next: Bechdel's mother. This time, though, the project is far more complicated, because Ma Bechdel is still around, still a part of Alison's life, and still uneasy about being written about at all. In this new book, she is shown disapproving of 'Fun Home', just as she disapproved of 'Dykes To Watch Out For', though she ultimately (if mutely) respects her daughter's success, being a writer-manque herself. The goal of the book, therefore, is compromised. So instead, Ms B tells the story of FAILING to properly write her mother's story, making it more of a kind of 'Tristam Shandy' meta-book. We even see her discussing how 'marketable' the book might be, during the copy-editing process. It's also about her own self-knowledge progress as an adult - the most recent event chronologically shows her feelings about reaching the menopause.
So it's a book about Bechdel writing, or failing to write, as much as it is about her connecting with her mother, or failing to connect. There's lots of depictions of her dreams, references to Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse and A Room Of One's Own, and wonderful scenes of her mother singing in the Sondheim musical A Little Night Music. I like how Ma Bechdel has 'claimed' Sylvia Plath, while Alison has custody of Woolf - this rather reminded me of how my own brother and I divided up favourite bands while growing up. Funny how territorial some relatives can get about culture.
I also found it particularly interesting that instead of drawing the book page by page, Bechdel scripts the whole thing first, seeing if it works as a long form text, before she starts on the artwork.
Warning: 'Are You My Mother' contains a LOT of psychoanalysis - perhaps too much. Bechdel's search for a satisfying mother-daughter connection leads to her reading the works of Freud, Alice Miller and (especially) Donald Winnicott. This is my sole criticism of the book - Bechdel inflicts on the reader panel after panel of highlighted words from rather dry books by other people (Woolf excepted). When she actually illustrates the ideas, however, eg drawing Winnicott himself, depicting him playing with troubled children or passing Virginia Woolf in Tavistock Square, the ideas feel much more justified.
Seeing Virginia Woolf (plus dog) drawn in a Bechdel style was my personal highlight. I'd just been reading the Alexandra Harris biography of VW, and some of the quotes that Harris selects are also repeated by Bechdel - which was a very unexpected yet very Bechdel coincidence....more
Soho clothes shop manager turned author Clayton Littlewood's second volume of 21st century diaries, after 'Dirty White Boy' a few years ago. This bookSoho clothes shop manager turned author Clayton Littlewood's second volume of 21st century diaries, after 'Dirty White Boy' a few years ago. This book is a lot more poignant, covering the illness and death of one of his Old Compton Street friends, as well as the passing of unique dandy artist Sebastian Horsley and the closing down of the shop itself. Larger-than-life characters come and go: eccentric customers, lovelorn elderly gay men, priests with a thing for thongs, and not least of all the street's formidable brothel madams.
This is a valuable book for social historians of the future, I feel, as it chronicles a rapidly changing era for both gay men and London. Mainstream Western acceptance of homosexuality has reached the point where straight people (including US presidents) happily campaign for the recognition of gay marriage - less than 50 years since being gay was a jailable offence. Gay men no longer need to find each other in dedicated bars and clubs - the Internet has changed all that. So Mr Littlewood is from one of the last generations of gay men who can remember how hard it was just to BE gay, and how London (and particularly Soho) used to represent British gay life per se.
Soho is changing, too, with the Crossrail development and the late Noughties recession forcing out its quirkier shops, while the more fashionable gay bars tend now to be found in Shoreditch, Vauxhall, Stoke Newington and Hoxton. 'Goodbye To Soho', therefore, says goodbye not just to a district, but to a whole era of old-school gay London life.
Still, some things haven't quite changed. I read somewhere that this book was having trouble getting reviewed because some magazine editors found it "too gay". This is an unhelpful phrase that says more about the person using it than the thing they're describing. Far more useful to say that anyone - however they spend their evenings - who likes reading contemporary diaries will enjoy this entertaining and honest book. ...more
I read this because of its massive popularity and seemingly permanent place in the charts. It's a romcom based on a concept, ie the reader checks in wI read this because of its massive popularity and seemingly permanent place in the charts. It's a romcom based on a concept, ie the reader checks in with the same will-they-won't-they couple once a year across two decades. Well-written and unpretentious, somewhere (cunningly!) between romance fiction and literary fiction, with lots of detail and a nice use of changing tenses to vary the pace. Very nearly cried at the end... but only nearly. Mr Nicholls has his own tasteful style of unabashed sweetness, combined with a gentle fondness for his characters that's hard to begrudge, but I found it all a little too sweet and unchallenging for my taste at times. Still, it was pleasant and likeable enough and I did want to finish it. Nothing wrong with a bit of well-written sweetness. ...more