As regular readers will have noted, I am not blogging as much as usual as I am busy working on other projects, but I hate to let a good book go by unremarked upon so here are some brief reviews of books I read during January.
Ray Robinson - Jawbone Lake
Robinson is somewhat of a literary chameleon, reinventing himself for each book. In Electricity he transformed into a young woman with epilepsy, the text of the book fragmenting and falling apart whenever she had a seizure. The Man Without was a dark tale of cross-dressing and auto-erotic asphyxiation, grim yet utterly compelling. Forgetting Zoe saw him shed his skin once more, this time emerging as the best American writer to come from North Yorkshire. His latest novel is a literary thriller with traces of Enduring Love. It is cold and bleak and brilliantly done. He is one of the finest British novelists of his age.
Charlie Hill - Books
Imagine if there was a novel so badly written, so cliched and devoid of quality, that it actually killed the people who read it. That is, sort of, the premise of this unashamedly silly but enjoyable satire of the publishing world.
Lawrence Wright - Going Clear
More than one person has advised me not to review this book. 'If you say anything bad about the Scientologists then they'll hack your phone and stalk you online' was the general gist. Having read this expose of the cult/religion/business, which includes accounts of the 'Church' doing just that to many of its opponents, I concede that they may have a point. Wright paints an unattractive picture of an organisation founded by arch-fantasist L. Ron Hubbard but, to be completely fair, if he were to present the beliefs of any religion they'd look pretty daft on paper, even so some of the stuff in here is mindblowing. I was saddened by the chapter on John Travolta, who is portrayed as a confused gay man turning to Scientology to help him hide his sexuality, and riveted by the stuff on Tom Cruise, especially the account of the Church trying to find him a new girlfriend. Scary and hilarious in equal measure.
Roberto Bolaño - Monsieur Pain
This was my first Bolaño and it was a bit of a disappointment. It started off in fantastic Kafka-esque fashion but fell away into a confused mess in the second half.
Barbara Graziosi - The Gods of Olympus: A History
Traces the story of the Greek gods from their origins to the present day with a fascinating look at their continued influence, millennia after they stopped being worshipped. Nicely accessible to the general reader, i.e. me.
Robertson Davies - The Lyre of Orpheus
Third part of the Cornish trilogy and a fitting end to one of my most surprising literary discoveries of recent years. Everyone should read some Davies, he is great. This final instalment didn't perhaps have quite the joyous bravado of the previous two but it was still a delight to read.
John Banville - The Sea
I tried to read this when it first came out, almost ten years ago now, and gave up early on as it was altogether too dull. I fared better this time round and warmed to it a bit more but still found it somewhat pedestrian and uninspired. Still staggered that this beat Never Let Me Go to the Booker Prize that year.