Bryan Murphy's Blog

September 13, 2020

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

Utopia Avenue Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


David Mitchell is a great story-teller, and here he uses that talent to sublime effect in a historical fiction recreation of the late 1960s. In the process, he takes a collection of stock characters and breathes life into them.
He is very kind to the real-life people he includes, portraying them first and foremost as dedicated to developing their talents as musicians more than their drug habits. The only jarring note in his evocation of the 1960s concerns language habits: he has English characters using 21st century colloquialisms (e.g. the rhetorical “even” instead of “What on earth” or “What the [expletive]” and “going down” instead of “going on” to mean “happen”) decades before they slipped into Britspeak.
Unfortunately, rather than simply present us with a superb piece of historical fiction, Mitchell tries to link this novel up with other works of his, via the character of Jasper de Zoet, and to do so finds it necessary to weigh the book down with a great lump of frankly stupid fantasy. Ah, well.



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Published on September 13, 2020 13:27

The Body by Bill Bryson

The Body: A Guide for Occupants The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The book of the century, so far. Its only flaw is that it is too short.



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Published on September 13, 2020 02:34

August 17, 2020

Review: Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

The interesting thing about this book is the spoken language it portrays, which is that of young people in today's urban USA. It often baffles me, an ancient Brit, and not just because of its references to objects by their brand names, and leaves me thinking, to adopt the idiom, “Seriously?” This is a good thing, because it means that USAmerican English is continuing to evolve faster than my fellow Brits can keep up with it, leaving them room to help Britspeak evolve through innovation, not just emulation.
Reid's novel is an addition to the literature of identity politics. She seems particularly keen to deny the possibility of love or even friendship between members of different ethnic groups. This conceit, that the racists were right all along (but just misidentified the bad guys) is itself a bad fiction.
The central character is engaging: a passive young woman who from time to time leaps into life when she is egged on or just egged. She ends up stewing in her own juice, alone but with health insurance. The other characters are stereotypes. The plot hinges on a coincidence that defies belief.
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Published on August 17, 2020 04:10

July 14, 2020

Best American Short Stories 2016

From the predictable opening story to the pretentious final story, this volume contains a lot of clever writing. Rarely, though, does it grab you. The bios show that most contributors have experience of university writing courses, which is perhaps a reason for their similarity of approach: I suspect they are tempted to write for each other as much as for the wider public. Perhaps, to cite Ayi Kwei Armah, “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”.

The Best American Short Stories 2016 by Junot Díaz
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Published on July 14, 2020 09:07

Best American Short Stories 2016

From the predictable opening story to the pretentious final story, this volume contains a lot of clever writing. Rarely, though, does it grab you. The bios show that most contributors have experience of university writing courses, which is perhaps a reason for their similarity of approach: I suspect they are tempted to write for each other as much as for the wider public. Perhaps, to cite Ayi Kwei Armah, “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”.

The Best American Short Stories 2016 by Junot Díaz
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Published on July 14, 2020 08:55

June 21, 2020

The Glass Hotel

A very fine example of the story-teller's art. Intriguing plot and sub-plots; interesting characters and character development; prose that flows: in short, a book that is hard to put down. The only black mark, for me, is the descent into the supernatural at the end, which is jarring in an otherwise realistic novel. However, it does allow the author to ghost around the world and tie up loose ends: clever but not convincing. Despite that, Emily St. John Mandel has a new fan.[

book:The Glass Hotel|45754981]
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Published on June 21, 2020 11:25

April 9, 2020

Virus Flash

The Day Before

The Pope was dead. The luminaries of the Christian world´s largest Church gathered in Rome and were sequestered in the heart of the Eternal City until they would succeed in choosing a new leader.
“I’m getting out of here for a day. Want to come?”
It was natural for Cardinal Healy to have struck up a friendship with Cardinal Varela. Not only were they by far the youngest at the Conclave, they were also both from the New World, Healy being an Irish-American from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and Varela hailing from São Paulo in Brazil.
Cardinal Varela coughed a few times, then drew breath and answered, “I am with you. But how we get away? And back?”
“I know some hidden passages. This place is riddled with them.” Healy’s eyes gleamed with more than the slight fever he had picked up.
“They will miss us, no?”
“No. There’s nothing on today. Just the Chamberlain droning on about procedure.”
And so the two young cardinals went out into the city, unobserved.
The Chamberlain, Cardinal Grugliasco, however, did not drone on about procedure. Instead, he came straight to the point.
“I am joyful to announce my conversion to the one true, true faith, to which I submit, and for which I shall be a martyr. Yes. I have infected myself with a virus that will soon kill me. We are taking this rare opportunity to eliminate the foremost members of our main rival, in numerical terms. Most of you already have the virus, and it will kill you, too. All of you. It dies with its host, so the killer disease will spread no further than this sealed environment; we are not mass murderers. My dear Cardinals, I urge you to convert while you can, to turn your pointless deaths into meaningful martyrdoms. If you do, you too will receive the martyrs’ rewards in Paradise.”
Later, while the few Cardinals who still had the strength were slowly beating Grugliasco to death, Healy and Varela were tucking into rich Italian cuisine in a crowded Roman restaurant.
Healey beamed as he dried his pale face with his napkin. “Sure, it’s good to be alive at a time like this, eh?”
“Indeed.” Varela reached for his blood-stained handkerchief yet again. “Life is wonderful!”
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Published on April 09, 2020 08:13 Tags: flash-fiction, horror, religion, satire, short-story, virus

October 28, 2019

The city and the city

Dead Simple
In Franc Roddam's 1979 film “Quadrophenia”, the gang of Mods coming down to Brighton for a weekend of violence stop their scooters on the South Downs when the coast and a shimmering town come into view and say, reverentially, “That's Brighton!”.
In reality, it was not louche, dirty, pulsating Brighton but the sedate retirement town of Eastbourne. Nevertheless, watching the film in Portugal, the scene was enough set off pangs of nostalgia and longing. Forty years later, back in Portugal, I'm still drawn to anything set in Brighton, which is what led me to Peter James's novel "Dead Simple". It is replete with evocative place-names, though it is a fantasy Brighton, in which a hard rain falls as it might in a post-apocalyptic Seattle, and all the police are jolly good lads and lasses, whereas we used to say that the city had “the best police force money could buy”, and woo works. This last is used by the author to set the story straight. Convenient car crashes also play a role. The characters are static and lacking in subtlety, unlike the real city's denizens, who give the place its true flavour.
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Published on October 28, 2019 06:36 Tags: brighton, characterisation, crime, england, exile, fantasy, police, procedural, woo

September 27, 2019

Giveaway

Curious about Portugal?
Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution forms the background to this torrid tale of love and mystery.
myBook.to/zin
Travel free by e-book on September 27 and 28 (midnight to midnight US Pacific time)
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Published on September 27, 2019 11:00

September 22, 2019

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Trust Exercise
The point of a trust exercise is that you know your trust will prove justified. In this case, however, Choi lets us down.
The first part of the book is a fairly interesting story of young people forced to become adults before they are mature enough to handle it; but as we leap into the second part, Choi withdraws her support by going all "meta" on us and leaves us dangling in mid-air. Nor does she bring us gently down to earth in the final part.
To put it another way, Choi is a good writer, but not so good that she can successfully shift the burden of communication from writer to reader.
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Published on September 22, 2019 09:23