By Andrzej Stasiuk.
Nine was quite different from Fado and White Raven.Having said that – it was a good ‘different’. I saw a quote from Irvine Welsh in the usual back cover superlatives and the novel has some similarity with his work – or the tone. The book is very gritty but also surreal at times there are flights of fancy and leaps about within the narrative so you have to concentrate to make sure you really understand what is going on. Generally though, it is quite an easy read – you are drawn into the seedy Polish underworld. I’ll keep looking for books by Stasiuk. This was well worth reading.
Soundtrack: Camper Van Beethoven – Pictures of Matchstick Men
By Bohumil Hrabal
An amazing imaginative novel. This is exactly what I like. The story is so many different things all at once and there are constant surprises and quirks that make this novel sublime. Everything I have read by Hrabal has been fantastic – did he write anything bad? Freed from commercial constraints it seems he wrote whatever he wanted to write. The only negative is that perhaps I could see the end coming however I am not sure how else he could have ended the novel.
Such a singular, powerful voice throughout and again a different voice from his other books. I started this from London to Paris on the Eurostar very early in the morning so the dream-like tone of the novel was even more pronounced. I enjoyed this very much.
By Emile Zola
This possibly one of the bleakest books I have ever read. I am no stranger to Zola having read La Debacle, Germinal, Therese Raquin, Nana and some others. However, none of them have the pathos of this and there really is no glimmer of hope in this novel that I can see.
About a third in I found myself getting a little fed up with it as the plot started resembling a bad season of Eastenders. Or, rather what I imagine Eastenders to be like as I haven’t really watched it. Zola said that his novel was the only book about the common people that doesn’t lie, but i’m not sure. It does seem a bit exagerated at times – like Eastenders. They are all having affairs, no one cares about the children, there’s gossip, sniping and families breaking up. There was only one murder though.
I’m glad I read it but it wasn’t as good as La Debacle or Germinal even, which wasn’t a soap opera but still about the working people. There was craft in this but I don’t know why the critics say that this novel is the most masterful example of Zola’s craft. The action did just seem to be at one level and often quite superficial as it moved from one episode to another.
By Nick Cave.
This book was only ‘OK’. It had its moments but only on the descriptive side. Cave has a fantastic turn of phrase at times but it isn’t enough to save a novel that was quite predictable and not really very entertaining idea-wise. Which is a pity as his first novel had many ideas and was really strong I thought. After a while it was as though you were just waiting for it to finish – which is not how reading a book should be. You can forgive him all of this because he is Nick Cave and if you have an affinity, as I do, with the dark, brooding storytelling that fills his songs then the novel makes some sense and is more engaging. The delight Cave takes with words and phrases is what saves this book for me. If it was written by anyone else… I probably wouldn’t read it. For that reason the soundtrack for the novel has to be the Go-betweens song about Patti Smith.
The phrases fell like decadent pieces of meat, rich, enigmatic and meant only for the the obscure at heart. Bunny stopped and thought – shouldn’t that be the ‘pure’ at heart. It didn’t really matter he decided – Bunny Munro had booty products to sell.
Soundtrack: The Go-betweens – When She Sang About Angels.
By Patrick Hamilton.
I really enjoyed this novel. I thought it was very strong and there was some unusual elements structurally. Quite a melancholy end but you were not really aware it was going to end in such a way by reading. Hamilton is thought of as a ‘minor’ writer and I am not sure why – the story and characters were really very powerful and not dated at all. Very impressed. I will definitely be reading more. By far the best English writer I have read for a long time.