Monday, 24 May 2010

Philip Reeve's Review of The Liberators

Here is a link to the marvellous Philip Reeve's review of The Liberators. He is the author of several brilliant books, including the Mortal Engines series, and my personal favourite, Larklight. His comments on the social situation of the children in the Liberators are particularly interesting (see earlier posts). I am also thrilled that the book reminded him not only of M R James, that consummate ghost story writer, but also Saki, one of my favourite authors.

The link is HERE

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Trouble With Roads

It's rare for a book to throw me into raptures, but J G Farrell's Troubles is one such. It's just won the Lost Booker Prize. Everything in this marvellous, meaty novel, is decaying. A taciturn Major returns from the trenches to claim his supposed fiancĂ©e from a crumbling hotel in Ireland. There are cracks in the wall, troops of wittering old ladies, an increasingly insane owner, and pulullating cats. Of myriad striking images, the most apt are a cold-hearted English officer consuming a rose, petal by petal, including the thorns; and a mournful peahen searching for her strangled mate amongst the wreckage of a violent ball. The hotel is a metaphor for the British Empire; the Major, post-Great War, tries his best to keep it standing. But the Irish Republican Army is advancing, and things fall apart. Farrell’s novel is so expertly controlled, with even the most minor characters (a well-dressed gardener, a Cockney officer) given vivid life, and the whole is spiked with such mournful humour, that it is a fine and fitting winner.

The second book to cause me to hyperventilate with glee comes from somewhere so totally left-field I was amazed at my enthusiasm: it is On Roads: A Hidden History
by Joe Moran. This is a marvellous book which delves deep into our collective psychologies to examine our obsession with motorways. For a non-fiction book which is basically about tarmac and asphalt to grip me until one o'clock in the morning is as rare as a pleasant service station. Buy, and read, and enjoy, although preferably not whilst riding on the Autobahns.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Sorry, We're Open

There is nothing I enjoy more than being reclusive, which is what I have been doing, burrowed away amongst books and dust, for the last couple of weeks. I did, however, manage to emerge blinking into the light (or rain) to attend a gallery show called 'Sorry We're Open.' This was at Unit 2 on Whitechapel Road, and the pavement outside was thronged with people wearing jeans so skinny I wanted to take them to a hospital and put them on an intravenous drip.

Inside there was a huge wall of light switches (which, being, as I am, rather like a rat in a maze, I pressed many times in the hope that something would happen. It was only after I'd pressed them all that someone came running up and told me that every time a switch was pressed, someone somewhere died. You know, like in that crazy film The Box, which I still haven't seen, but really want to.) So, a huge wall of lethal light switches, and a vast orange climbing frame, and a video of some men dancing, and a photo story in which two men's heads got sewn on to each other's bodies (projected onto a screen, it was like watching a really weird version of Deirdre's Photo Casebook, only with hospital beds and surgery instead of pouting lovelies in lingerie). Only joking about the switches, by the way: apparently a light went on somewhere in the world. I only hope that noone was trying to read by the one I was pressing.

Two pictures caught me: I discovered later that they were by the same person: Charlotte Bracegirdle. One painting was like looking through a bright window into some strange other world: it was a version of Courbet's 'The Painter's Studio', but with all the figures taken out. I almost wanted to be sucked into it, to have my own personality dilated and erased, a nightmarish and seductive proposition. The other was a photograph of a disembodied dress, floating, black and white, spectral. Both pictures stay firmly rooted in the retina, firm reminders of the impermanence of personality.

I also managed to attend the opening of a new magazine, called Dare2. It's an ecologically aware journal that shows how you can be fashionable and save the world at the same time. It's online, of course. There was a goody bag, but unfortunately I lost it on the way home. Someone very lucky will no doubt find a nice selection of green soaps and face creams, appropriately enough, on the District Line. Here is a link to their website: DARE2

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Chocks Away

John Wyndham's Chocky is a rather marvellous piece of science fiction. I remember reading it as a child and finding it immensely disturbing - I think I missed the message at the end of the book, which warns us about overusing the planet's resources. Here is a link to my review of a reissue in the Telegraph:


To buy it from Amazon, click HERE Chocky (Penguin Modern Classics)

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Mythic Interview with Lucy Coats

Here is a link to a lovely interview the children's writer Lucy Coats conducted with me. She writes marvellous mythical stories:


Monday, 3 May 2010

In A Strange Room by Damon Galgut: review

Damon Galgut's new novella, In A Strange Room, is striking and compelling. Here is a link to my review of it for the Daily Telegraph: CLICK HERE

To Buy from Amazon: In a Strange Room

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Man and Superman

The Greek gods were strange beasts: petulant and childish, their immortality rendering every one of their actions futile. It's all been pre-ordained, anyway. All that the lesser gods can do is stall for time; when Zeus wakes up he'll see what's gone awry and sort everything out with a nod of his shaggy head. In Christian literature, God is often rather dull (just dip into Paradise Lost); as is heaven (singing all day in praise of God? Hmmmm.). Goodies are usually much more boring in literature than baddies. Such is the glamour of evil. In the Morte Darthur you'd much rather hang out with the complicated, sprightly, adulterous Lancelot than with prim, pious Galahad (something T H White picks up on in his marvellous The Once and Future King.)

This is true for superheroes, too. That's why Clark Kent's Superman makes my eyes droop, whilst the twisted Batman makes me raise a cheer. And that's why I absolutely loved Kickass. It's a loopy, lovely, weird cartoon, a joyful paean to adolescence as much as it is stuffed with Kill Billesque violence. Though discomfiting, there is no mistaking the two-dimensional quality of the world in which Kickass takes place, so the violence becomes part of the film's expected texture. Mr Sam Taylor-Wood, otherwise known as Aaron Johnson, is sweet and tender and sympathetic. He plays a dorky, speccy teen who puts on a wetsuit and calls himself Kickass - a real life superhero. Johnson is as thin and rubbery as his suit. As he twirls around his room trying out moves, you can't help but like him and admire him for overcoming his vulnerability. The real star of the movie, though, is the eleven year old Hit Girl. Born into revenge, she can run up walls, slice up bad guys and plan military operations with the finesse of the most brilliant general. She is like a malevolent demon, but is also curiously loveable: twisted by her father into an avenging machine, she has never had a chance to have a childhood.

These superheroes made me feel a lot better about the world than Superman or even the brooding Wingedrodentman: when calamities occur, there is no point hanging around waiting for a deus ex machina who may or may not deign to help. Kickass reminds us that self-reliance and resilience are the greatest qualities that anybody can have. I heartily recommend it, to anyone.