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Book #9 Small Island, Andrea Levy

As Coastalblog falls ever more drastically off the pace when it comes to the business of getting through fifty books in a year, let me at least take the opportunity to hail reading this book, because in doing so I fulfilled in part one of the main aims of the challenge: catching up with stuff I really should have got round to by now. Prize winning in 2004, defined as a "book of the decade" in 2009, finally got round to by your humble correspondent in 2018. Particularly shaming as I suspect I borrowed it off my mate Celeste in about 2008.

But get round to it I did, and I'm deeply pleased that I did so. This is an exceedingly satisfying read. Levy's command of tone and voice is convincing, and impressive given the range of characters she inhabits in this book. As with Richard Georges' poems, it would be presumptuous to say that I fully understand, but Levy's depiction of the intrinsic racism of post-wart Britain reads convincingly. We've all met a Bernard B…
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Book#8 Make us all Islands: Richard Georges

Been having to sit on this one for a while, as my review of this book for Stride Magazine was sat waiting for its turn. Having been published I can now, finally get round to blogging it (yes, yes, I know it's been over a week, that's quite quick for me though). I won't retread that here, if you want close reading, click the link.

When my review copy came through, I initially thought this wasn't going to be my cup of tea at all. My poetry reading tends towards the school loosely described as linguistically innovative. I rarely read poetry this straightforward, so I wasn't sure I quite had the toolkit to deal with it. But I realise that I'm getting less dogmatic as I age (there's probably a blog post in there somewhere, so I shelved preconceptions and got stuck in.

Having fretted already about the preponderance of middle aged white blokes in these pages, Georges' starkly lyrical poems, harshly lit by a pitiless Caribbean sun came as a healthy counterbalan…

Book #7, Elizabeth Costello, JM Coetzee

Having thought before that I may be getting into a rut with heavyweight white authors of advancing years I then chose to combat this by rading a novel by a heavyweight white author of advancing years. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose and all that. But then, when a book's as much of a call to arms of the intellect as this bad boy is, it's not such a bad rut to be in.

In it, the ageing author Elizabeth Costello, her best work long behind her, is pushed from pillar to post in a series of "lessons". Be it receiving prizes, being a writer in residence on a cruise ship or giving speeches which dwell on man's cruelty to animals when people were expecting something about literature, it's the story of someone who's race is almost, though not quite, run, trying to make sense of it all. As such, it's certainly a heavy read at times. Costello herself is disputative, contrary and, at times, self-defeating. But it's never not interesting. Coetzee dr…

Book #6 Even the Dogs, Jon McGregor

I was a huge fan of Jon McGregor's debut, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, which rocked my world back in the (I choose to remember) sun-drenched and carefree days of 2002. There then followed what Coastalblog readers have come to know as The Wilderness Years when I stopped doing anything much other than working, and the memory of McGregor's classy, assured and emotionally taut writing dropped somewhat off my radar.

So it was a pleasant surprise when the Materfamilias decided to pop this in the post to her first born son, having mentioned it in passing. It was slightly less of a pleasant read, but that's more due to the subject matter rather than the writing.

Even the Dogs begins almost as a whodunit: the classic trope of a body, cooling in a flat, a tonne of questions and no answers. But it soon becomes apparent that that's not what the book is dong at all. McGregor uses this body to tease out the lives of the chaotic collection of junkies and marginalised people…

Book #5: Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut

Blimey, got a bit of catching up to do, it seems. I did actually read this a while ago (and so, all things being equal, the reviews of books 6 and 7 should be fairly hot on its heels), but a combination of busyness, technological woe and blogger being weird (my browser is NOT a fan of multiple blogs from different accounts) has meant that I've not actually got round to poor old Coastalblog for a bit.

(Coastalblog passim: it was ever thus)

Anyhow. In a shattering leap of type, I went from a tricksy novel by an American heavyweight to a tricksy novel by an American heavyweight. Though in my defence, Vonnegut has always resisted being bracketed with, well, anyone, which is rather why I like him.

Another reason for my fondness for Vonnegut is his utter disregard for the standard moral framework in which most Western novels are placed. His characters are often cheerfully, blankly amoral, and yet there is a deep and underlying humanity which makes us like to think we could identify with…

Somewhere to come from

Gool Peran Lowen, chaps. That is to say, happy St Piran's Day. The day when the Cornish diaspora gets a bit of a lump in the throat for the old country, and dreams longingly of sheltered coves, forbidding moors and frankly ludicrous hills; as well as precise rules about what goes first on a scone, an interest in rugby that borders on the unhealthy and a good old dose of casual racism (okay, not quite as nostalgic about the last bit).

I have lived in Ormskirk, Lancashire, for over twenty years now. I lived in Cornwall for about seven. But when asked where I'm from (which happens quite a lot, a southern accent, amazingly, still being something of a source of wonder in these parts, even if I do find myself saying "lad" at the end of sentences), the answer is immediate. Cornwall. Followed immediately by the question, what are you doing up here, then?

Well, I'm not about to go into the reasons behind that (largely because they would require a degree of navel-gazing wh…

Book #4 4321: Paul Auster

It would be reasonable to say that when you set yourself the challenge of reading a certain amount of books in a limited time frame, it would make sense to pick a number of slim volumes to give yourself something of a flying start. However, this 1000 page monster was a Christmas present, so it seemed slightly perverse to leave it sat on the shelf purely because of some daft task I've set myself (and also to be slightly missing the point of the whole exercise), so in the dog days of January I embarked on the exercise.

The premise is an intriguing one: the different paths our lives may take. It follows four versions of the same boy's life: Archie Ferguson, growing up four times in mid 20th century America. The conceit being that his immigrant grandfather had picked the wrong name when arriving off the boat. It speaks to the what ifs we ask ourselves, what if I'd stayed with her, what if I'd gone to x Uni, what if I'd taken that job offer, what if I'd actually tak…