Category Archives: Something New

Reviews of newer books.

SOMETHING NEW

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Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (Sphere, Little Brown Book Group, 2015)

Hiding in plain sight. Hiding in plain sight”.

An amputated leg is delivered by motorcycle courier to private detective Cormoran Strike’s assistant, Robin. It’s no mistake, but a sadistic message to one legged war vet Strike that someone is out to destroy him, piece by piece. Robin and Strike are consequently catapulted into a race to derail a deranged serial killer with a penchant for keeping body parts as souvenirs before he claims another victim.

The reader capers around with the duo as they delve into the salubrious worlds of Strike’s (numerous) enemies in an endeavour to put a stop to the gruesome and disturbing killing and mutilation. A strong, satisfying and clever plot emerges from the maelstrom of characters, suspects, wannabes and decoys thrown up along the way.

Though several of the themes are uncomfortable and dark (paedophilia, sexual abuse, Body Integrity Identity Disorder – the mental disorder that makes sufferers want to amputate their healthy limbs – to name a few), it is the book’s characters which dominate and drive the story and as a consequence, Career of Evil manages simultaneously to be repugnant and thrilling, yet also engaging and droll. It would be difficult not to give in to the irresistible combination of a gripping murder mystery and the latent romance between the two principal characters. It’s sometimes a bit silly but mostly a very entertaining and diverting  read – I felt resentful whenever I was forced to put it down.

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SOMETHING NEW

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All That Is by James Salter, (Random House, 2013)

““Sorry to be late,” she said. “Forgive me. Have you been waiting?” “No, it’s nothing.” The minutes of his unhappiness had instantly disappeared.”

All That Is is set in America, principally in New York City and follows the 40 year passage of Philip Bowman, a book editor, from youth to middle age.  The general gist: Bowman fights in the second World War, gets married, has loads of affairs that never quite work out, everyone (including Bowman) has quite a lot of sex and in between those bits, there’s a sort of literary motif, with irrelevant/fanciful gossip about real life authors.

The overarching story is Bowman’s, but the book trawls through all the lives that make up Bowman’s world.  There are innumerable secondary and tertiary characters including his lovers, his publishing colleagues, his in-laws, his writer and artist friends.

I didn’t get on with this book.  I didn’t care about Bowman AT ALL. Midway through the story, all that we really know about the character is that that he peppers both his conversation and inner monologue with annoying clichéd “truisms” such as: “all powerful women cause anxiety“. I thought Bowman a boor and a bore.

The insight into the lives of Bowman’s friends and associates didn’t help deepen my engagement with him in any way, as I didn’t care about them either. Towards the end of the book I could barely remember any of their names and started to forget which ones Bowman had married. I found the haphazard structure and garish carousing of the hordes of superficial, stock characters (most of whom were indistinguishable from one another, especially the women) teeth grindingly annoying. Some people might enjoy the undeniably glamorous character vignettes but I found them superficial and unsatisfying.

Reading this I couldn’t help but think of the reality show The Real Housewives of New York – there’s a bit of fighting, a lot of (mildly embarrassing) sex talk, an abundance of physically beautiful women and a fixation with real estate. I love trashy TV and I wanted to like this book. However, All That Is is missing any quality silliness or sensationalism which might have made it a fun, glossy romp through the decades of Bowman’s life and the lack of plot wasn’t redeemed by beautiful writing or interesting characters. I thought maybe I was just feeling negative with it being February and cold and with the tube strike and all, but I subsequently read a non-fiction book (I don’t usually enjoy reading non-fiction) about cats (I don’t like cats) and I loved it, so it can’t have been that.

SOMETHING NEW*

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Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Hachette, 2004)

Astonishingly in one so old, his curly hair was not yet grey. His eyes and mind alert, he was a delightful man. He had always been thought so.”

Old Filth tells of the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a sartorially magnificent, highly esteemed retired judge. Starting with his unpromising beginnings in Malaysia, the story flashes through his wanderings and struggles as a child of the British Empire.

On the face of it Eddie “Old Filth” is an old fashioned, emotionally stunted relic, who strides about town flashing his elegant ankles in yellow silk socks. But Old Filth is not by any means a comic caricature of a posh old lawyer, or a vehicle through which to poke fun at the trappings of the British Empire and British institutions. The story unfurls to describe a life full of unexpected turns – some humorous, some decidedly sad – and reveals the frailties and losses which lurk beneath the still and polished surface of this funny old man in a manner so poignant I was on the verge of tears at some point in nearly every chapter. It was a good thing that I couldn’t put it down (and as a consequence, got through it very quickly indeed) as I read a lot on the train to work and I was in danger of getting a reputation as a cry baby on the 08:07.

*New-ish. Bit tenuous, but a new edition was published in 2013.

SOMETHING NEW

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This is the Way by Gavin Corbett (First published in Great Britain by Fourth Estate, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2013)

‘They was fish says my mother. The Sonaghans and the Gillaroos all was once fish. And you heard of this place Melvin where the families is from. All that’s there now is a pond but it was all once a lake where the Sonaghan fish and the Gillaroo fish did live.”

This is the Way is narrated by Anthony Sonaghan, an Irish traveller who is lying low in a crumbling tenement house in Dublin. Anthony, living fearfully in the shadow of an ancient family feud, is joined by his roguish uncle Arthur, apparently on the run himself, who appears in Dublin with a toe set into his hand in lieu of a missing thumb.

The story is told in Anthony’s voice as he and Arthur range the streets of Dublin.  Anthony’s perspective is that of an outsider living on the periphery of society. His observations are a blend of naïve, perceptive and melancholic, couched in unsentimental language but shot through with a certain spirit of myth and romance, conjuring a vision of Anthony, his family and Ireland in which an ancient spirits interweave with contemporary life.

I thought it was beautiful. There’s a moment in the book where Anthony talks about a conversation he had with Conchita, a Spanish exchange student staying at his father’s house. Conchita had described how she believed the true test of whether you love someone is how you react if you imagine you are strangling that person to death:

She says if you see in their eyes [in your imagination] as they look at you for one last time  a look of being confused and suddenly sadness and if then what you feel then outside your imagination is sadness and you want to go to that person you imagined murdering and hold them and they do not know where this feeling in you of wanting to hold them close to you came from, but they are happy it is happening and the sense of this comes to you and you want to hold them tighter and with more love then that means you truly love them.”

According to that test, I truly loved this book. I can’t write anything horrible about the story. Some people might not fall for Anthony’s naivety or be able to forget the fact his very distinctive voice, dialect and state of estrangement are the bogus creation of an author but I did, what can I say, I’m a real sucker. Maybe, if I was a bit less of a romantic and a bit less taken in by an Irish accent and a star-crossed under-dog, I may not have found it so magical, but it made me feel glad it to have an hour long morning commute when I could read this, and helped me find a twinkle in some seriously bleak January days.