Exemplary Stories



By Miguel de Cervantes.

There are some fantastic stories here. How I wish Cervantes had had time to write another Quixote. Ah well, i’ll have to just re-read it.

“He answered that of the infinite number of poets in existence, the good ones were so few that they hardly counted, and so being unworthy of consideration, he did not hold them in any esteem; but that he admired and revered the art of poetry, because it contained within it all the other sciences put together. It makes use of all of them, and they all adorn it, so that it gives lustre and fame to their wonderful works, and brings great profit, delight and wonder to all the world.”



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The Master and Margarita




By Mikhail Bulgakov

This was a re-read as I was travelling to Moscow and wanted to see the city with Bulgakov’s eye. Patriarch Pond was pleasant and I waited for Woland there but there was no stall selling warm apricot juice, and no malevolent cat nearby. A magnificent novel. I think I enjoyed it most on this, the third, read.

“With a groan Ivan looked ahead and saw the hated stranger. He had already reached the exit leading on to Patriarch’s Street and he was no longer alone. The weird choirmaster had managed to join him. But that was not all. The third member of the company was a cat the size of a pig, black as soot and with luxuriant cavalry officers’ whiskers. The threesome was walking towards Patriarch’s Street, the cat trotting along on its hind legs.”

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The Little Demon



By Feodor Sologub.

This was very enjoyable. It reminds of Deal Souls and other novels in the Russian literary canon. Dead Souls is more amusing, possibly. The novel feels more random and fragmented and dispassionate.

“Indeed a lie is often more plausible than the truth. “Almost” always. The truth, of course, is never very plausible.”


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The Galley Slave

By Drago Jančar.

If this novel had been published first in Britain or had Jančar lived in the west this wouldn’t have been published – no publisher would have had a punt on it – as it probably wouldn’t have sold. This would be a tragedy for literature and this is symptomatic of the control marketing (and the shifting of units with the least possible effort) has on on the creative industries in the UK. What a great book. It is dark, challenging, imaginative, amusing, bleak and many other vicarious elements. Jančar is a special writer and this is exactly the kind of book I like – it defies definition. Stasiuk makes reference to Jančar in one of his novels, I realised after I read this – so good writers lead to good writers. This novel is still in gestation, and all the elements it includes – Ot is an intriguing character and symbol. Following is a quote regarding Slovenian literature – I believe it came from Dalkey Archive.

Literature means different things to different people. For past generations of Slovenians, many of the books in the list below provided flesh to their growing minds and bodies during a time of scarcity and censorship. These novels were as essential to them as food. To the current generation of savvy, traveling, computer-literate Slovenians, and of course to foreign readers as well, these same books are not lifeblood: now they must succeed as mere words, as mere art.

And here is the List:










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Too Loud A Solitude

too loudBy 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.

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The Mighty Angel

pilchBy Jerzy Pilch

Absolutely brilliant. There’s an intelligence here that rivals Gombrowicz. Pilch is pretty much unknown outside Poland with only one other novel translated (which I am sure I will be reading soon). What makes this so good are the twists and turns of the alcoholic’s mind and the penetrating insight that accompanies it. He reminds me of Erofeev or Bukowski but with more depth. There is a meta-fictional aspect of it that leaps out and surprises you: it isn’t laboured though and instead of meta-fiction it would be better to call it meta-alcoholism. I can’t recommend this book enough. The end was a little unexpected too, which is definitely a good thing. Highly entertaining, imaginative and thought provoking; there’s not much more to be said except that I felt sated at the end – the literary palate was delighted with this little book.

Soundtrack: ‘Burning Alcohol’ by The Stereo Bus.

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The Death of Bunny Munro

bunnyBy 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.

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The Peacock Manifesto


By Stuart David.

My friend Alessandro sent me two of Stuart David’s books for my birthday the other week. I was interested to see what they would be like as Stuart David had once been in Belle and Sebastian and then went on to form the band Looper who are great. The first book I read was ‘Nalda Said’ which was ok. It was an easy read and it didn’t really draw me in. The same can’t be said for the Peacock Manifesto which I thought was very good. It was a picaresque journey across the States but very different to what James Kelman did a couple of years later with ‘You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free‘. The Peacock Manifesto was funny and the characters were brilliant. There was some reference to it being made into a movie and I can see why. There were a few moments where it could have become serious but it maintains its levity throughout. That’s not to say it isn’t substantial – it just doesn’t fall into the plot trap that many novels do: everything is amusing and then there is a crisis and the characters have to grow up and deal with a serious situation. Aspects of the plot are left unsaid – I like this as well. The only thing I would say is that you can see the final pivotal action coming a mile off and you know roughly what it will be. Something completely surreal would have been better – but that is probably just me. Definitely worth reading. The three main characters of Peacock, Bev and the Wee Man are really strong and memorable. I am tempted to write a new novel with these three in it just so I can have more happen to them.

Soundtrack: Belle and Sebastian ‘The State I am In’.

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