Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2018

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…

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…

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…

The point of arbitrary goals

I laughed at myself yesterday morning. You ridiculous man, I thought.

It was a dreich, bleak, January morning, the wind was bringing scuds of stinging rain flat across the west lancashire plain horizontally, so one half of your body got soaked. I was, naturally, out for a run, and then I saw some pheasants. Two cocks, jerking around a barren field. First of the year, I thought, and made a mental note to put them on the list.

Which is when I laughed at myself, the list. One of many. The run was on a list, too. Earlier on during the run I'd been thinking about the book I was reading. Also, on a list. Targets for the year. 200 bird species, 1500 miles and 50 books. Why does everything have to be a challenge? Why not just enjoy things for what they are: the beauty of two richly plumaged birds in an otherwise barren field, the pure physical pleasure of a long run, the fresh perspectives of an author new to me.

When I'd finished shaking my head at my inability to just enjoy the mome…

A 50 Book year #2: The Power, Naomi Alderman

I approached this book (a christmas present) with a degree of duniousness. I'm not really a fan of "what if" books, which can often seem as the author is too pleased to have thought of their central conceit, and forgotten to write a book to go with it, but Alderman here does something interesting with the genre - she's written a good old fashioned page turner.

The basic premise: that woman develop the power to generate electricity, becoming, at a stroke, far more dangerous than men, could have been the backdrop to a chaotic potboiler, with revolution almsot instananeous. But Alderman eases the idea along, positing a world where some parts descend to lawlessness but others continue, with only subtle shifts in power (there's a particularly good running gag about a pair of newscasters whose relationship evolves as The Power becomes a moving force in the world: ending with the irascible male half being replaced with a good looking young man "well, I wouldn't…

A 50 Book Year #1: Sweet Thursday

Like most relatively chaotic indiciduals who don't have a clue what they want out of life, I'm fond of setting myself an arbitrary challenge in a probably vain attempt to impose some order on my otherwise aimless existence. This year's is to get back in the habit of reading.

2017 was absolute mayhem for me, what with one thing and another, and my reading was pretty woeful (as was the writing), as I realised with horror when I came to do a few end of year lit quizzes and discovered that I was way off the pace (my crossword game has gone to shit, too). This needs rectifying, I thought, so, remembering a challenge last undertaken (and documented in these pages) before the birth of son #1 I set myself the task of getting through fifty books this year.

20 year old me would scoff at this meagre total. But 20 year old me was a useless chancer with far too much time on his hands, far less talent than he thought he had and a questionable attitude towards most things. These days I&#…

Jobs for the boys

I was going to write a lengthy piece about Toby Young's appointment to the Higher Education watchdog. There's plenty to get your teeth into. Young, a classic example of someone promoted far far beyond their ability due to being relatively well connected (Young "writes" for Spectator under editorship of Boris Johnson. Johnson's brother appoints Young to government role. Johnson and Gove immediately tweet their approval, just....eurgh) getting the job over people who actually have higher education experience ("he will bring independence" says Johnson, his ex colleague and brother of the bloke who hired him).

But then I just didn't, frankly, I didn't have the energy.

Because it's astonishing there's even an argument about this, it is such a palpably bad idea (Young has spent the day busily deleting tweets, most of which refer to breasts) and so clearly a case of a group of braying private school dickheads scratching each others backs that i…

Not a post

I woke this morning and had a strong urge not to write a blog post. Or, for that matter, anything.

This isn't precisely correct. It would be more accurate to say I had an urge to write something, but felt like a pillock for having that urge. Each January, as I emerge from the cheffing black hole which is December I realise, groaning that all the good intentions I started the previous January with have evaporated like campaign promises. Keen students of the Fallaize writing process will have noted, down the years, a pronounced upswing in activity in the January of each year, followed by a pathetic dribbling off as I fail to keep up with even the frankly modest targets that I set myself.

So my thinking went thus: oh God no, not that cliche again

No, it's too obvious. New Year, more blog posts.

You know you won't keep it up.

But then...

If I don't write anything at all, I won't even have the stuff I get done in Januray, when I have good intentions, to look back on.

Is…