Saturday, 8 September 2012

A year in books catch up

As I mentioned in the last post I'm way behind on a year in book so here is a whistle stop tour that gets me up to date

First up is At Last the final book in Edward St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose series of novels. I wrote about the previous 4 books here

At Last is built around the funeral of Patrick's mother who at the end of the last book, having given away Patrick's inheritance to a spiritual guide, backed out of assisted suicide. This book is back to the broad social commentary of Some Hope. Friends relatives and foes gather to pay their respects as Patrick struggles with his understanding his past relationships. The book is a fitting end to the traumas of the previous novels and Patrick, now free of his addictions, reaches as sense of calmness and finally stability and control.

You can read this as a stand alone book but if you do you are missing out a real delight and a set of novels which I feel will grow in importance and recognition long after more successful contemporaries have faded out of print

you can get Never Mind the first of the series here

I've also written previously about hopefully finding a successor to a series of annual short story compilations here .

The 2012 edition isn't quite as good as the 2011 one. Bookending the collection with 2 short stories based around a library feels too neat and politically current, which makes me question the "best of" title. However there are some crackers

Dan Powell's story of loss and dignified grief and Jon McGregor's tale of a doomed swimmer are the pick of the bunch and like the best short stories, both have a power in the economical sense of not a wasted word or sentence as well as an ending that makes you stop before you go on to the next one. Stuart Ever's tale of sex with an ex is full of truths and Will Self's contribution is as clever as you'd expect it to be.

Whilst I thought the quality was a bit more patchy than last year (there were 2/3 that really annoyed me) what is good is the variety of styles is broader with comedy . modern fables , horror, personal drama and the surreal all present

Roll on 2013 and you can buy 2012 here

I seem to be spending the year reading trilogies and the Honourable Schoolboy is Carre's second book in the Smiley trilogy. Set in the aftermath of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it takes Smileys world to the far east. It suffers from the lack of the "who done it" element of Tinker and could have been 200 pages shorter but it has that same feel of 70s seediness and a great sense of time and place

you can buy Honourable Schoolboy here

Ex Smash Hits journalist Dave Rimmer tells the story of the bright shiny new pop that emerged in the early to mid 80s using the rise of Culture Club as his vehicle. Originally published in 1985 it ends with the band in disarray but reconvening for their 3rd lp.

Like most music books it works much better when it focuses on the facts and tells the Culture Club story. Where it struggles is when he tries to make broader social points and paint pop in a wider context. I just found myself getting annoyed at the way selective examples were used to illustrate points and anything that contradicted was ignored. As ever the story it tells is very London centric and tends to make things seem more important and significant than they were. Pop music ,by its definition, is disposable and lasts because of our own individual memories and associations , first kiss , ex girlfriend , student parties , holiday songs, etc and not due to some wider social trend / context.

Having said all that it is a good read and an interesting document of that time written from the heart of the action.

You can buy Like Punk Never Happened here

Ctirus County is a kind of comic American gothic novel, as disturbing as it is funny , a cousin to the Coen Brothers Blood Simple or Fargo crossed with one of those misfit high school movies.

The book focuses on Shelby and her building relationship with fellow school misfit Toby. Toby has a secret that we all know in that he has done something terrible and unforgivable to Shelley's family. Anymore detail would be too much of a spoiler. The effectiveness of the writing comes from the fact that as you get sucked into their friendship and romance and the quirky supporting cast, author Brandon keeps bringing you shockingly back to what Toby has done.

you can buy Citrus County here

More teenage angst in Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie is smart introspective and shy, a combination that makes first year at high school an ongoing assault course. Befriended by  older brother and sister, who begin Charlie's education into love , drugs , friendship and life.

Charlies tells his tale in a series of letters to some one he doesn't know, a technique which at first I thought would really grate but in the end works really well. Through Charlies voice you get the sense that something isn't quite right both with Charlie and his view of his friends and the world.

The reveal at the end is easy to spot but that isn't the point, it is one of those books that acts on 2 levels. You'll read a chapter that is light and funny but as you slowly see beyond Charlie's eyes a lot more depth is revealed. It has been made into a film which I dread will be one of the coming of age / american pie like efforts - I hope not because the book is so much more than that.

Catch it quick and you can buy it here

Tim Binding is one of those authors who really should sell more than he does. he has tackled a variety of subjects but always with the same great grasp of character and dialogue.

For the Champion he returns to the middle england of his Falklands novel Anthem. The Champion focuses on what happens to the middle class world when someone with an oversize ego, ambition and personality takes over.

Charles Pemberton has lived his whole life in a small market town where his father was mayor. School was ruled by Clark "large "Rossiter who had moved up from London and had a working class background.  His easy charm , sporting prowess and big personality meant he soon was school captain , sleeping with the best looking girls and king of the common room.

After making money in the city , Large returns with the same easy charm , but with bigger plans, a determination to shake things up and a desire to upset the establishment. Charles becomes his at first reluctant and then enthusiastic accomplice, until Large's ambitions begin to get a bit to close to home.

Set in the Major years this is a biting satire (is satire ever described as anything else but biting?) on money, power and greed

You can buy the Champion here

So that brings it up to date and you can breathe a sigh of relief that it is back to music!

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