Monday, October 30, 2006

October Reading Round-Up

Some Hope, Edward St. Aubyn. The third part of the Patrick Melrose Trilogy, and thus the immediate predecessor of the Booker-nominated Mother’s Milk. The first two books are rather grim, but true to its title Some Hope finds Patrick in less immediately threatening circumstances. Apart from the upward drift of Patrick’s story arc – difficult to discuss without spoiling the earlier books – Some Hope is the most Wauvian of the series, with St. Aubyn tearing into the vacuous upper strata of society with not a little malice. Take Proust’s representation of the cross-currents of soiree twittery, magnify by ten thousand, and you’ll have some idea of the contents of this book. It’s all quite blatant and unsubtle, but great fun too.

Kingdom Come, J.G. Ballard. See my review.

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov. I’m working through Nabokov at the rate of one book every six months; any more than that and I experience something akin to sensory overload. I liked Pale Fire, but not as much as Lolita and perhaps not even as much as Despair, which I read a couple of months ago. Kinbote, however, is a work of genius. I now plan to reread Pnin, Bend Sinister, The Eye and The Defence before (maybe) tackling Ada. That one scares me a bit.

The Meaning of Recognition, Clive James. See Jon’s review – I agree with pretty much everything he says. I skipped a lot of the essays in this collection, but as always with James there was plenty worth reading.

But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer. Dyer does jazz in his idiosyncratic way, fusing non-fiction with fiction to create a series of vignettes that attempt to capture the mood or atmosphere of jazz. There is some extremely evocative writing in this book, but overall I found the tone and style repetitive. It is a bleak book, really, and while that might be appropriate given the miserable men it describes it doesn’t do justice to the multi-faceted music those miserable men created. Then again, writing about music is bloody hard, so the fact that Dyer succeeds at all is admirable.

House of Meetings, Martin Amis. Yellow Dog, Amis’s 2003 novel, was widely held to be a “problem novel”, the problem being that it wasn’t any good. Given this, and given how much of an arse Amis has been making of himself in the press of late (of late? I mean of course the entire twenty-first century thus far), I wasn’t really looking forward to his new novel, House of Meetings. Turns out I was right to be apprehensive, because HoM is a comprehensively bad novel. I was going to pull it apart at length but I can’t be bothered. Amis used to be something of a literary hero to me, but now I wish he would just go away. The Rachel Papers, Success, Money, London Fields – great books all, but the man who wrote them is gone, replaced by a desperate, grasping fraud with delusions of relevance.

Stiff, Shane Maloney. I have read some of the later Murray Whelan books, so it is a bit weird to go back to the first book in the series. It’s still Maloney, and it’s still Whelan, but it’s not quite the same. Whelan’s voice, a glorious, living thing later in the series, here suffers from the author-ventriloquism effect so common in first novels with first-person narratives. The geographical/architectural riffs feel forced, as does much of the dialogue, and indeed monologue, even if you imagine it being delivered by David Wenham. Still it’s good fun, and interesting to see how Murray’s adventures began.

The Final Programme, Michael Moorcock. First and least of the Jerry Cornelius novels, I always feel I ought to plough through this whenever I feel like rereading the series. It’s pretty slapdash stuff, although amusing in its outlandish, 1960s way. Would love to see the movie.


TimT said...

Oh, I quite like The Final Programme. I think he gets the balance of strange ideas and weird plots just right; the only characteristic Moorcock trait that is missing is perhaps the heady dash of high literary modernism. Apparently he based the plot structure on one of his earlier Elric novels. And he isn't always able to express his ideas in quite so iconic a fashion as he does in this book. (I'm quite fond of the mobs of people who have lost their individual consciousness and go roaming the streets looking for individuals to swallow).

Do you have the same edition I do? Mine has psychedelic cover art, depicting a naked and gigantic whore of Babylon lying in the ocean swallowing hordes of people. (The picture is 'taken' from a point presumably on her chest, so the artist 'looks' up between her two breasts.)

Tim said...

Unfortunately not. Mine is a Fontana paperback with this crappy illustration. Yours sounds much more fun. Is it a Mayflower edition. I used to own stacks of those, but unfortunately I sold or misplaced most of them. I kept this particularly choice one though.

I also have a 1976 hardback reprint of the first edition and a hardback first edition of A Cure For Cancer, but they also have bad cover art. In fact, none of the Moorcock books I own have good or even not-crap covers.

TimT said...

Yeah, it's the Mayflower one.

In the past ten years or so publishers have started releasing decent editions of Moorcock books. Minotaur might have some, or possibly even Penny Syber's in Windsor.

The movie would be something else. Horrendous - but glorious. About time for a revival ...