Category: fiction


THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS by J.M. Coetzee (2013)

jesusThis is an odd and frustrating novel.

Calling a book The Childhood of Jesus and then not referring once to Jesus by name is perverse to say the least. On top of this we never learn when and where the story takes place. The protagonists speak Spanish but it’s not their mother tongue (neither is it English).

David is a child with no known natural parents but he doesn’t behave like the son of God. His strangeness and learning difficulties could be due to the fact that he is dyslexic, retarded or too gifted to connect with fellow mortals. The latter would be more in keeping with a religious angle but it’s hard to see that this is Coetzee’s sole motive for writing the novel. Continue reading

The third in a series of 13 book reviews I wrote in my pre-blogging years.

 KIPPS – The Story of a Simple Soul by H.G. Wells (1905)

kippsThe excellence of this novel is not sustained to the end. Book III (Kippses) comes as quite a disappointment with its excursion into the domestic problems of the newlyweds (Anne & Kipps). Other events like the birth of their son are merely sketched in as the story drifts towards an anti-climatic conclusion.

Books I and II are, however, quite wonderful. Firstly, the plight of Kipps as he is forced into a dead-end job and sent out into the world in a state of complete innocence are superbly described.

Wells’ touches of irony are almost always effective, for example he describes the pitifully short amount of leisure time Kipps has at the end of the day as follows: “the rest of the day was entirely at his disposal for reading, recreation and the improvement of his mind”.

The confused dreams of Kipps are very believable. He, for instance, longs to be more learned but knows nothing about books, It is another irony that at the end of the novel he acquires a bookshop.

If confusion without money is bad enough, confusion with a windfall of £1200 a year proves to be just as bad. One feels for Kipps as he struggles to learn the “manners and rules of good society” and is taken advantage of by the so-called respectable classes. Continue reading

THE BOOK I READ : MOLLOY

The second in a series of 13 book reviews written in my pre-blogging years.

MOLLOY by Samuel Beckett (First published in English – translated from French – in 1955)

molloyMolloy is far from being a conventional novel. In fact, Beckett seems to mock traditional plot devices and characterisation.

He gives impressions of people and places through images rather than details. He pointedly avoids using descriptions, apparently regarding them as superfluous. Of a bicycle he writes : “I would gladly write four thousand words on it alone” but does not do so!

The novel is divided into two sections, both written in the first person singular. The first is by Molloy, the second is by Moran. Through these two characters Beckett explores the central themes of freedom, doubt and human frailty.

At first the two elderly men seem dissimilar aside from the fact that they are both world-weary. Gradually they become to seem like one of the same person with Moran as the public face of Molloy.

Moran’s comment that “As soon as two things are nearly identical, I am lost”, is therefore highly significant.

Each slowly becomes aware of their failings. They have tried trusting in others but now feel disillusioned. Molloy says “All the things you would do gladly, oh, without enthusiasm but gladly, all the things there seems to be no reason for your not doing and that you do not do! Can it be that we are not free? It might be worth looking into”. Continue reading

I find writing notes on what I read can clarify my thoughts and it also helps to jog the memory on plots and characters that would otherwise be all too quickly forgotten.

I’ve just stumbled upon a notebook of short handwritten reviews written between 1983-1993 which goes to show that I was blogging even before I had the internet! Rather than simply let them gather dust again, I am turning into a short series of blog posts so this is the first of a baker’s dozen (that’s 13 for all you non-bakers out there!).

DYING, IN OTHER WORDS by Maggie Gee (Harvester Press, 1991)

This is an ambitious novel with death as the obsessive theme.

Characters are introduced and, almost without exception, killed off. Some deaths are violent, some are tragic and many are farcical. The black humour makes the point that the most savage joke of all is death itself.

Because our demise is a certainty and may come at any time Maggie Gee makes the valid observation that there is nothing at all to gain from putting off our ambitions; as she puts it: “saving life is the quickest way to die”.

The characters in the novel include dreamers, murderers and millionaires. Most have dark secrets or fears which are kept hidden so each seems remote from the other.

The biggest fear of all is that after death the person will be forgotten:“And over this death looms another; the death which might come voicelessly, senselessly [..] dying with no words”.

The author’s main influences are undoubtedly Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka. The final section is made up of poems based on the characters in the novel and a series pf excellent short essays denouncing the 9 to 5 routine and bureaucracy with Kafkaesque accuracy.

There the first novel’s classic error of writing for effect when a simpler statement would be more forceful.

Gee has admitted that many details of the girl Moira’s life are autobiographical and said that the fragmented and, at times, incoherent structure of the novel was deliberate. As a self-consciously experimental work, it is not always successful but the author’s honesty shines through.

UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (UK,USA, 2013)

ScarlettThe greatest movies are those that discretely change your perception of the world. Inspiring auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch play upon the voyeuristic nature of cinema and their strength of their vision lies in drawing the viewer into the kind of dark and sinister worlds ‘normal’ citizens would go out of our way to avoid. Jonathan Glazer can safely be added to this exclusive director’s club.

Under The Skin is loosely based on Michel Faber’s brilliant and disturbing debut novel. The operative word here is ‘loosely’ because so much of the plot has been changed it almost amounts to a different story entirely. The Scottish setting is the same but otherwise the divergences far outweigh the similarities. Even so, the movie captures the essence of the novel by being faithful to the atmosphere if not the details.

In the novel the alienated alien, Isserley, is described as “half Baywatch babe, half little old lady” which is hardly a description that applies to Scarlett Johansson who still manages to look sexy despite wearing a scraggy black wig and manky fur jacket. In fact Glazer makes sex the chief way in which the solitary males are lured to their fate; they don’t have to be drugged.

The movie is seriously creepy although not as explicitly horrific as the book. The victims disappear into a strange liquid, a symbolic and seemingly painless death which is a happy death compared to the nightmarish process of being turned into braised meat that Faber describes. Continue reading

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