What I’ve read this week

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I’ve been brushing up on my postmodernist theory this week.  I’m not sure why exactly.  I still have a few university text books in my possession, from twenty years ago, and I spotted John Docker’s Postmodernism and Popular Culture on my bookshelf and started leafing through it.  No doubt there are more up-to-date overviews of Postmodern theory available, but as academic books go, it’s quite accessible.

I was reading about Frederic Jameson’s, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, in which he discusses the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles as postmodern space (although other cultural theorists say it’s actually Late Modernist architecture due to the lack of pastiche, blah, blah, blah…) and I started wondering if I’d ever stayed there.  I’ve definitely been to a hotel in the states with glass elevators and a revolving restaurant, but really don’t remember much about it.  Perhaps there are lots of similar hotels in California?

Anyway, this memory loss is quite postmodern in itself, as my amnesia puts me in mind of Blade Runner’s Nexus 6 replicants, who can pass as humans, partly because they have implanted memories.  Perhaps I’m a robot?

I also stumbled across Donna Haraway’s, A Cyborg Manifesto, written in 1984, which is incredibly prescient and actually highlights much of what I dislike about destructive postmodern Feminist ideology, in that it sees all established taxonomies as problematic and envisages the “utopian dream” of a “world without gender”.  In Haraway’s view the hybridisation of people and technology (I guess what we, nowadays, would call transhumanism) provides a challenge to dualities such as human/machine, natural/artificial, self/other and so on.  I’d say it was all pretty wacky, if it wasn’t actually happening at this moment.

My brain is currently a jumble of all the things I’ve seen and read this week and I find that the only way to make sense of them is to write – but not fiction, because it’s like when you have too many windows open on your computer and your screen freezes.

I could try writing a dystopian story, in which the hero goes to a hotel in a desert and can’t find the entrance and then gets lost in its city-like interior space, which is a jumble of stylistic parodies and has a confusing layout and perhaps this experience would induce in the hero, “a state of terror proper to the schizophrenic, of too great a proximity of everything which touches, invests and penetrates without resistance”, as described by Baudrillard.  Perhaps the hero will never be able to find his way out and will be doomed to wander the corridors forever?

I have been that person.  As a child, I would be sent out with an empty ice bucket and some unfamiliar money and somehow end up getting lost and wandering round the hotel for hours, because for some reason, even if I could remember our room number, it seemed to bear no relation to what I was experiencing.  If you watch the video below, you will discover that the Hotel Bonaventure has the effect on visitors of making their internal GPS systems malfunction.

I’m not sure if Will Self ever gets lost*, but he managed to walk from London to New York without getting run over; which, considering the unfriendliness of urban planners towards pedestrians, is quite an achievement.   I also read his Psychogeography this week and found it entertaining.  My brain being what it is at the moment, I can’t think of anything else to say.

I should probably read something less stimulating next.

*If Will Self does ever get lost, then he probably says he was being a Situationist, to save face.

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Philip K Dick

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I’m not a Dickhead.  This is the first Philip K Dick novel I’ve ever read (and quite possibly the last).  I thought I would give it a go, as it’s the book on which Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is based, and I was interested to see how they would compare.

I have a strange relationship with the film Blade Runner, as I was first introduced to it in a darkened lecture theatre, rather than seeing it at the cinema.  There was a brief introduction by the lecturer, in which he told us that the movie was an example of postmodern cinema, and he kept pausing throughout, to discuss elements of Film Noir pastiche and so on.  So you see, I have never been able to relate to it as an ordinary, passive viewer, only as a student frantically scribbling notes on an A4 pad.

I can see what my lecturer meant.  If I ever had to explain postmodernism to someone who has been in a coma for the past twenty years, then I’d make them watch Blade Runner first.  Though, postmodernism is so ubiquitous a term nowadays, I imagine that everyone else has a handle on it.  Do I like the film?  Not especially, but I am sort of obsessed with it.  I enjoy it as visual spectacle and think the cityscapes are particularly wonderful (can you believe they are just little cardboard models?).  In terms of plot, dialogue, and so forth, it is quite superficial, but to misquote Leon in the movie, it’s like an itch I can’t scratch.  It even crops up in a story I wrote, as a perpetual source of torment – an essay that the story’s heroine can never finish.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is very different in atmosphere to the movie Blade Runner, although the main plot elements are there.  The novel is a product of the late 1960s, first published in 1968 to be precise, and seems very influenced by the drug culture of the time and Philip K Dick’s own prodigious drug intake.  The ‘Mood Organ’ which allows Deckard to dial an emotion (like taking uppers and downers), the shifting sense of reality, the paranoia, the eastern mysticism of the Mercer cult and the novel’s shallow philosophical musings reek of pot smoke, dirty Afghan coats and patchouli oil.  In fact, they put me in mind of a bloke called ‘Simon the Hippy’ in my halls of residence, who used to get stoned and talk boring bollocks at me.

Perhaps the anti-Vietnam war protests and political assassinations of the era feed into it too.  Although Dick has said that he was preoccupied with Nazi Germany at the time of writing.  Rick Deckard struggles with his task of killing an android he feels empathy for, leading him to question the human/android distinction, and wonder if it doesn’t “violate his own identity” to do so.  Add to this, Deckard’s constant fears that the Voigt-Kampff test, used to identify an android, may not be accurate and might lead him to accidentally kill a human.

Like the movie Blade Runner, these philosophical themes, such as ‘what makes us human?’ are not dealt with in any meaningful way, they are mere conundrums for the brain, or frustratingly unscratchable itches.  But for me, reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was very much like being forced to discuss the meaning of life with Simon the Hippy.

 

 

The Intellectuals and the Masses, John Carey

intellectuals massesMy copy of this book, which I bought in the early 1990s, has managed to stay with me through twelve changes of address and a depressive episode in which I gave all of my books away on Freecycle.  It is very creased and battered – it has character, you could say – and is much loved.

I read it again this week, for the first time this decade, and found that I still really enjoyed it, but now have the discernment to pick apart some of its argument.

The premise of Carey’s book is that early twentieth century literature, I suppose what we would call Modernist literature, was a reaction to mass culture.  Though more than this: it was an attempt to make literature too difficult for the ordinary person to understand.

He takes the examples of D H Lawrence, H G Wells, Graham Greene, T S Eliot and Virginia Woolf, among others, and shows how they abhorred ‘the masses’, inventing dehumanising terms with which to describe them, such as swarm, herd, beetles and bacteria. The intelligensia, Carey says, objected to a whole host of modern developments, such as democracy, railways, radio, Universal Education, tinned food, newspapers, bicycles, cameras and the suburbs and invented ways to exclude and destroy these symbols of degeneracy in their writing.

However, where I think Carey’s argument becomes a little far fetched, is in seeing the novels and poetry of these writers as part of a genocidal impulse, which found ultimate expression in Hitler’s gas chambers.  Perhaps some of them did think this – I’ve read some of Virginia Woolf’s diaries and in one entry she describes seeing some ‘imbeciles’ at Kingston-on-Thames and wonders if they shouldn’t just be killed.  I suppose I think Carey’s greatest mistake is in grouping all of these writers together to fit his argument and taking his hypothesis to a wild extreme.  Carey even tries to shoehorn Sir John Betjeman into his thesis at one point, though having seen the wonderful Metro-Land many times, I can’t see how anyone could argue that Betjeman disliked the suburbs.

Clerks were particularly despised by twentieth century intellectuals, which being an invoice clerk myself, I found quite amusing.  However, Carey fails to mention that T S Eliot was himself a bank clerk.  Perhaps some writers did hate the suburbs and find them ugly, but destroying the suburbs in a piece of fiction, doesn’t mean that you would actually like to see millions of people wiped out in reality.

Carey has a couple of chapters on H G Wells, who in The War of the Worlds has a martian spaceship land in Weybridge and then unleash destruction on Shepperton, Woking and Richmond.  As Carey says:

Towards the end, the narrator walks through suburban London – Mortlake, Putney, Roehampton, Fulham, Ealing, Kilburn, South Kensington – and finds it quite empty of people.  Vegetation is returning.  A red weed, introduced from Mars, spreads everywhere, burying the remnants of houses in its rampant growth.

On Putney Hill, the narrator meets an artilleryman, who rejoices in the devastation and exclaims that, “all those damn little clerks” ought to die!

Does this mean that H G Well thought the same?  I don’t think so, but Carey seems to suspect him of playing out destructive urges in his stories, because he was upset about urban encroachment into Bromley, the rural hamlet where he grew up:

In fantasy he took – again and again, and with mounting savagery – a terrible revenge on the suburban sprawl that had blighted Bromley.

In his conclusion, Carey also has a pop at post-structuralism (because it’s too difficult) and people who don’t like television (because they’re obviously intellectual snobs).  He also says that he admires some late-Twentieth Century poets, such as Ted Hughes, because even a schoolchild could understand them.  Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that the job of literature or poetry is to be easy to understand, or that accessibility should be used as some sort of benchmark of literary or moral worth.  There is still a place for ‘difficult’ fiction and God help us if authors feel they have to cater to the average Sun reader in order to avoid accusations of elitism.

I’m off to open a tin of spam and read The Wasteland.

Money, Martin Amis

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This isn’t a review.  I wouldn’t be so cheeky.  I just wanted to get down some thoughts on Money, before my memory of reading it evaporates (for my own benefit and for the edification of the two or three people who read this blog).

This was my first Martin Amis novel (yes, I know, I’m rather late to the party) and it seemed to me to be a masterclass of ‘voice’.  I’ve said before that I’m a dabbler in fiction writing and find voice difficult to get to grips with.  (To be honest, as my characters are based on me, they all have my voice!).  However, John Self, the main protagonist of Money, is clearly nothing like Martin Amis.  I’ve seen Amis on TV and he is erudite and intellectual, where John Self is not.  In fact, in a metafictional flourish, Martin Amis actually appears in this novel as himself.

So that’s interesting.  What is also interesting in Money, especially if you happen to spend a great deal of time thinking about cities, are the locations: London and New York.  I’ve never been to New York, and in any case, John Self hangs out in the seedier parts of the city that I’d probably avoid, with their ‘singles bars’, brothels and porn emporiums.  I once read a piece, written by Christopher Hitchens, about visiting a brothel with Amis, which was probably research for this novel.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter that I’ve never been there, as this novel is set in 1981, which no longer exists.

London in the novel is grey, like ‘washing up water’, and we experience it filtered through the eyes of a money and pornography obsessed slob, which is funnier than it sounds.  It is a satire on the greedy 1980s, so all of the excesses that you might associate with that decade, are given a comic twist by Amis, and end up in the arena of Rabelaisian grotesque.

Los Angeles also makes a brief appearance in Money, in the memory of John Self, and from a psychogeographical point of view it’s a highlight of the novel.  I have been to LA and couldn’t wait to leave.  As someone who can’t drive, and has to walk everywhere, it’s tantamount to purgatory.  John Self sums it up beautifully:

In LA, you can’t do anything unless you drive. Now I can’t do anything unless I drink. And the drink-drive combination, it really isn’t possible out there. If you so much as loosen your seatbelt or drop your ash or pick your nose, then it’s an Alcatraz autopsy with the questions asked later. Any indiscipline, you feel, any variation, and there’s a bullhorn, a set of scope sights, and a coptered pig drawing a bead on your rug.

So what can a poor boy do? You come out of the hotel, the Vraimont. Over boiling Watts the downtown skyline carries a smear of God’s green snot. You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hour, but can you get lunch? And should you see a sign on the far side of the street flashing BEEF-BOOZE – NO STRINGS, then you can forget it. The only way to get across the road is to be born there. All the ped-xing signs say DON’T WALK, all of them, all the time. That is the message, the content of Los Angeles: don’t walk. Stay inside. Don’t walk. Drive. Don’t walk. Run!

Very long blog post, in which I visit a bookshop

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I had a plan.  I would visit the Howard Hodgkin exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and then walk up Charing Cross Road to Foyles bookshop.  I exited the train station quickly, as I no longer like to hang around obvious terror targets.  Although even that is an old fashioned outlook, as Jihadis can and do strike anywhere.

I lived in London many years ago, while the IRA were still active, and dodged the Ealing station bombing by a couple of hours.  The next day, I had to find an alternative route to work, but it never crossed my mind not to go.  I’m altogether more jittery nowadays.

Why?  Possibly, because I’m not ready to die yet, but more likely, I have lost all of my London survival skills.  I have become tamed and softened by years of provincial living.

The last time I visited London, I noted that the pavements outside some restaurants are studded with metal spikes, like those on a medieval mace. Their frontages have the look of a torture device; iron maiden, bed of nails.  Don’t even think of resting here, they scream, lest your arse becomes a colander.

This is a microcosmic expression of the city; designed to prevent the loiterer, the homeless, the rough sleeper, yet also constructed for the tourist’s discomfort.  No visitor to London is welcome to relax there.  Perhaps those who live here are privileged with knowledge of its arenas of recreation, designed for lounging, recuperation, or idleness.  Or maybe Londoners become accustomed to the physical privations of the city; building up stamina, developing deep reservoirs of endurance, nerves of steel and the ability to block out everything around them?

At the National Portrait Gallery, I noticed that bags were not being checked and the ‘security’ presence at the entrance was a young blonde girl, who was probably about five feet tall.  Yet I remember when I worked at a major London museum, a decade ago, that security was much tighter.  I could flash my staff pass and walk right through, but all visitors were made to queue for bag searches by two burly male Front of House staff.  Are such measures now deemed an unnecessary inconvenience or is it a consequence of budget cuts?

In any case, the exhibition was uneventful and pleasant.  Unlike my struggle to walk along Charing Cross Road without being knocked down like a skittle by a wheeled suitcase.  Everyone seems to be dragging one along in that part of the city; either that, or carrying a collection of dirty rucksacks and leading a pit bull on a string.  Has it always been this filthy?  Probably, but the stink of piss was especially pungent on Saturday.  I felt like I was being jostled along and yet I only came into physical contact with two other pedestrians: one a granite-bodied young man talking on his phone and the other a plump northern tourist on a hen-do, whose body was as taut and bouncy as an over-inflated beach ball.

I didn’t mind too much.  At least on this occasion, everyone seemed to be real.  I had a very strange experience earlier in the year, when I visited the National Gallery and then walked to Covent Garden, via Soho.  I sat in a sandwich bar on St Martin’s Lane and began to wonder if I was in some sort of holographic simulacrum of London, and if the people were acting on a pre-programmed loop, like avatars from The SIMs.  This form of derealization can be an indicator of mental problems, but in this case, I think I was just feeling alienated and let my imagination run wild.  It later inspired me to make a mini graphic novel about the day, in which Jean Baudrillard welcomes me to the desert of the real, like Morpheus in The Matrix.

The Foyles flagship store isn’t all that new, but it still seems fresh and gleaming.  I accidentally spent hours in there and could have spent a fortune.  In the end I bought some graphic guides to philosophy and John Berger’s Confabulations.  I would have bought more philosophy books, but I was driven away by the brain haemorrhage inducing jazz music coming from the adjacent department. Unfortunately, the same music was being playing the café on the top floor, but I managed to ignore it while I ate my lentil soup.

Some other diners were wearing earphones, while they nursed their coffees and read their books.  Perhaps they also hate jazz?  I enjoy eavesdropping on other people’s conversations, so I probably wouldn’t do this.  Not that very much was being said, as most people were alone and reading.  For anyone who has never been to Foyles café, it is always busy and it is very difficult to find a seat, which means squeezing onto long bench-like tables opposite a complete stranger.  I found this quite uncomfortable, as I felt that I was too close to the person opposite, invading their personal space.  Most people politely ask permission before they sit down, but this actually seems to increase the awkwardness, because they are then nervous that you might try to strike up a conversation.

I’ve been formulating a dystopian story based on Calhoun’s Mouse Utopia Experiments, so visiting London was part of my research – there simply aren’t enough people to spy on where I live.  Calhoun built high rise environments for rodents, that were intended to investigate the effects of over-population, and I have been particularly intrigued by the mice he described as ‘the beautiful ones’: well-groomed and healthy-looking subjects which seemed bright and alert, but were actually very stupid.  Anyway, I ended up writing more about my own discomfort, while observing that everyone else in Foyles looked quite relaxed.

No one else appears bothered by London’s transition from Imperial city to global Megalopolis, with its hideous new buildings, that look like chrome and glass sex toys.  They are taking the changing skyline, the constant erasure and rebuilding, the over-crowding and unfamiliarity, and even the ever present threat of extinction, in their stride.  The conclusion I reached, therefore, is that the problem may be mine alone and I need to get over it and move on.

[Note: I drafted this blog post on my way home from London on Saturday, a few hours before the horrific terrorist attacks on London Bridge and Borough Market.  My thoughts are with all those affected.]

Orwell’s England

orwell I was delighted to pick up this copy of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in an antiquarian bookseller’s today. I’ve never seen this particular edition before, which is published with some of Orwell’s diary entries, letters and journalism. It even has some contextualising black and white photographs, for those who’ve never seen working class people before.

I love The Road to Wigan Pier and read my previous copy until it fell to pieces.  I used to live ‘up north’ and so have a familiarity with many of the places mentioned, as well as a residual sense of what it was like to be working class in the 1930s, from my own working class upbringing in the industrial heartland of the West Midlands.  My grandmother even lived next door to an old fashioned chimney sweep, who looked like he’d stepped straight from the pages of Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor.

As I now live ‘down south’, I get a sense that the world described by Orwell will be alien to many English people.  Few of the people I work with have ever been to Wigan, Manchester or Leeds.  Not that these places are now anything like the cities described in this book.  However, I would say that this is more of a reason to read it, not less.  I feel it is more important than ever to get a sense of what England used to be like, before it is altered beyond all recognition.

My fascination with the British class system is probably evident to anyone who has read this blog before.  Although, the class structure, as it was taught in my ‘O’ level Sociology lessons thirty years ago, now seems very different.  The Upper, Middle and Working Class system has divided and proliferated to include new terms: the elite, the established middle class, the technical middle class, new affluent workers, emergent service workers, traditional working class and precariat.

Not that I think it’s an exact science – according to this calculator on the BBC Website, I am now a Precariat, which would mean that I have dropped down a rung on the ladder from the Traditional Working Class family I was born into.  I would contest this categorisation – I now have a degree and I’m definitely posher than I used to be!  Although, I did yesterday buy a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, thinking it would be white, so I have a long way to go before I’m middle class.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the point of this blog post is really.  Apart from to encourage everyone to read Orwell.  I think we need a modern George Orwell, actually.  Is there anyone to inherit his mantle?  Unfortunately, I read the Guardian (purely out of habit) and they seem to hate the working classes, while repeating a brainless mantra of ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ from their metropolitan bubble.

There is a sort of read-a-thon happening next Tuesday, 6th June, 9am until 10pm at Senate House, London WC1E 7HU.  Where those who wish to, can read Orwell’s 1984, from beginning to end.  Followed by a ‘two minutes hate’ (I made that bit up).  It sounds like a wonderful event.  See here for further details: 1984 LIVE.

 

What have you missed?

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I haven’t blogged here for such a long time, though you’ll be pleased to hear that I have still been reading books during my absence.  I think I’ll do a quick recap of the year so far, to get the ball rolling again.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read twenty-six books in 2017, though I have actually read more than this, as I’ve re-read certain books either in full or just a few chapters for research.  One book I read again recently, was ‘How to See the World’, by Nicholas Mirzoeff.  I find the chapter on cities particularly interesting and I would recommend it for a stimulating discussion of the peculiar times in which we live.

In a similar vein, I also read ‘How to Think Like an Artist’ by Will Gompertz.  I wouldn’t say it was life changing, but it was definitely encouraging, and if, like me, you’re a bit chaotic, then you may find it a helpful way of approaching creativity in a more structured way.

I haven’t read many novels this year.  Those I have read have been pretty average in the main: The Silver Linings Playbook, Apple Tree Yard and The Girl on the Train.  They were entertaining enough, I liked the use of an unreliable narrator in The Girl on the Train, although I think it became increasingly implausible towards the end.  One book absolutely loathed was The Girl with all the Gifts by M R Carey.  In hindsight, I’ve no idea why I thought I would enjoy a zombie novel, but my expectations were raised by some Booktubers’ enthusiastic reviews.  The best novel I’ve read in 2017 is Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, which probably shows that I should stick to the classics, rather than listening to what other people rave about.

Sticking with Brontës, I also read the anthology of short stories called Reader, I Married Him, taking the famous line from Jane Eyre as their inspiration.  Or so I was led to believe.  In actual fact, very few of the stories seemed to have anything to do with Jane Eyre at all.  My favourite was by Tracy Chevalier, who also edited the collection, and so perhaps was the only author who stuck to the brief!

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing is an examination of loneliness through the art work of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz.  Now this was quite fascinating actually, when she was talking about the artists instead of herself, that is.  I can’t deny that she is a very good writer, but I found the discussion of her own mental state a bit boring and felt she was someone trying to make herself seem more interesting by piggybacking on other people’s hardship.  Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, but I’ve had enough of self-indulgent moaning from a Feminist perspective.

So that’s the pick of the year so far.  I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot at the moment, though it’s too soon to say what I think of it.

Review of 2016

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halls-bookshop1Well, it’s nearly over and I’ve decided to do my review of the year while my Goodreads Reading Challenge is at a nice round figure of one hundred books.

I’ve read some fantastic books this year, but my reading has tailed off slightly since the summer.  This is because I’m making art in the evening, rather than reading.  Time is precious and unfortunately something has to give.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that 2016 has been a dreadful year, which has made reading even more important to me as a means of escape.  It’s wonderful that there still many books and authors out there for me to discover, and this year I have found a new favourite author and a new favourite book.

Looking over my year of reading, I’m slightly ashamed that I haven’t read more modern fiction.  Perhaps this is because I’m so often disappointed by contemporary literature, falling for the hype and then feeling completely out of touch when I haven’t enjoyed it.  I also haven’t read much poetry in 2016, because I haven’t been writing poetry.  However, A Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe stands out for me, as does anything I’ve read by Selima Hill.

A year of non-fiction

img_20161016_163721This year I have enjoyed Paul Theroux’s travel writing and Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography.  However, my particular favourite has been Simon Garfield’s To the Letter.  Not only is it an accessible and fascinating history of letter writing and the postal services in England and America, it has actually proved life-changing for me.  To the Letter inspired me to start making mail art and I now have penpals in the USA, Canada and Germany as a result.  I owe my friend Ray a big ‘thank you’ for introducing me to this book and for rekindling my interest in the art of letter writing.

A year of women writers

owls hier resI haven’t made it a mission to read so many female authors in 2016, it just seems to have happened that way.  This year, I have acquired a taste for the novels of Barbara Pym and Muriel Spark, have finally got round to reading something by the incredible Janet Frame and have ‘discovered’ the short stories of Lucia Berlin.  Janet Frame’s books aren’t readily available in the UK and so I intend to track down more of her work in 2017, via AbeBooks and other secondhand sources.  Having read Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women, I’m saving Barbara Pym’s other books for a rainy day, as there’s something so cosy and cheerful about their world of curates, middle-aged spinsters and cauliflower cheese.

 

My favourites of 2016

voyage dark2016 is the year I fell in love with Jean Rhys and read all of her novels, apart from After Leaving Mr MacKenzie.  I also read her short stories, letters and a biography.  It would be impossible to pick a favourite of her books, as I think they’re all wonderful.  However, I don’t think that everyone will read her work and feel the same way about her as I do.  I just relate to her bitterness, misery and loneliness on a really personal level and she articulates it all so beautifully!

Having said this, after careful consideration, I think my favourite book of 2016 is Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.  I’m old and jaded and it’s difficult to excite me, but this novel made me sit up and take notice.  It is grim and violent, though beautifully written and strangely uplifting.

Didn’t quite make it

The first book I read this year was The Blue Fox by Icelandic author, Sjon, and this deserves an honourable mention – the stark poetry of this novella has sustained me all year and I may well re-read it in 2017.

Death and the Seaside

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Death and the Seaside
Alison Moore

I can’t possibly review this book, as I am yet to finish it.  However, it is a very stimulating novel and I want to get a few thoughts down about it, while I have the time…

If you’ve read this blog, then it will be no secret to you that I’m not a fan of modern life, and this novel highlights one of the things I hate about being alive in the 21st Century: everything is so bloody clever nowadays.

This is a very clever novel: it is full of literary references, packed with nods to Behaviourism, semiotics and postmodern theory.  It has a story within a story – Bonnie writes Susan into being and the fictional character, Susan, is very much like the fictional character, Bonnie, who created her.  Only, they were both created by Alison Moore, who perhaps bears no resemblance to either of them.  So this in itself is a reference to The Death of the Author, an essay by Roland Barthes.  Can you see how clever it all is?

And yet… it is really badly written – full of horrible similes and clumsy chapter endings.  But it can’t really be badly written, can it?  Even this is Alison Moore being clever.

In the same way that Les Dawson must have been an excellent pianist to play the piano so badly; Alison Moore must be a very good writer, who knows exactly what she’s doing.