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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…
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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…

The point of it all

If you cast your mind back to the start of the year, you will note that I made a bit of a to-do about why I set myself a bunch of arbitrary goals and targets. I mounted a relatively spirited defence of what could seem to the less charitable observer to be either a box ticking exercise or an act of monstrous self-aggrandisement, well, as spirited as my jaded and haggard middle-aged sensibilities can manage. And so I thought it high time to swing by these parts and offer further explanation as to the point of these various tasks.

The eagle eyed amongst you will note that, after a flying start, the reading of books seems to have ground to a halt. Not actually the case, but unfortunately for getting the numbers up, one of my Christmas presents was Paul Auster's 4321, which clocks in at a thousand pages, nearly done, (and a review will be up shortly), so it's probably a bit too early to draw any conclusions about that.

The birds though, goodness me. There's a lot to say about t…

Pics, or it didn't happen

I am not a man blessed with a great deal of what might be termed free time. I'm phrasing this carefully because I'm equally not a man who lives an onerous life. I work a 50 hour week, which, whilst a fair whack, also includes a lot of time stood about drinking coffee, writing menus and, most of the rest of the time, banging out plates of food, a process I find immensely enjoyable. Time at home is divided largely between hanging out with my children, again, not a task one could reasonably class as a bind; housework, which, as it comes under the banner of keeping everything on an even keel is generally something I approach zestily (and in the chastening knowledge that I maybe do about 30% of it, so best not to whinge, eh) and, every once in a while, doing a spot of this sort of thing.

Yes, dear reader. I fit you in when I can. I know this comes as a shock, and I'm sorry I had to tell you like this, but really, you must have known. Like an adulterous husband desperate to be c…

A 50 Book year #3: Arlington Park - Rachel Cusk

If the purpose of this exercise is in part to challenge myself to read stuff out of my comfort zone, then it certainly suceeded with this book. Rachel Cusk's novel is the story of the residents of an affluent suburb over the course of a single day. That is to say, it is the story of the female inhabitants, the husbands are otherworldly creatures, mostly discussed off screen aside from a couple of telling interventions.

This is an excellently written book. Cusk's prose style is vivid and poetic, though maybe a trifle overdone for my taste at times, but you're still in no doubt that you're in the hands of a writer who has an ear for a lyrical turn of phrase and excellent command of language. And the first chapter was something of a showstopper with Juliet, a teacher, seething with resentment at what her life could have been, reflecting on how her past glories have been subsumed by the greater glories of her husband, Benedict. In one particularly telling line she says &qu…