Category: Books


A good God is hard to find

A PRAYER JOURNAL by Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2013)

flanneryMy favorite joke about praying is by the surreal American comic Emo Philips (although it’s also been attributed to Al Pacino) and goes: “I asked God for a bike but I realized it doesn’t work that way, so I stole a bike and prayed for forgiveness”.

I think the Southern Gothic novelist Flannery O’Connor would have appreciated this witticism. She was a staunch Catholic but she also had an eagle eye for life’s absurdities.

As an atheist I am biased, but surely even believers can recognise that praying ought to consist of more that than reeling off a wish list to some kind of celestial Santa.  Continue reading

The power games of Denial

DENIAL directed by Mick Jackson (UK/USA, 2016)

denial1It is something of a paradox that in our fact check dominated world, liars and cheats continue to flourish.

A quick Google search will expose the most blatant of falsehoods but, as the campaigns of Brexit and Trump have proven, you can win votes simply by repeating lies ad infinitum.

Holocaust denier and credited British historian David Irving was and is a pants on fire specialist but he has never wavered from his position as a Hitler apologist. This film gives a clue as to what motivates him and how he is a potent (and pungent) example of someone who redefines the ‘truth’ to justify his own ends.

The movie is adapted from David Hare’s stage play which was in turn based on Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book ‘History On Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier’.

At its centre is the Irving vs Penguin Books Ltd trial which took place in 2000 at the High Court of Justice in London and gave judgement on Irving’s claim that Lipstadt had made libellous statements against him in her 1993 book ‘Denying The Holocaust’. Continue reading

NEUROMANCER by William Gibson (1984)

neuromancerI have a difficult relationship with this novel.

I know that it is one of the most groundbreaking and significant SF works ever written but each time I pick  it up I always get lost in the dense prose and what hits me as an overwhelming rush of jargon.

As most will know, this was where the word ‘cyberspace’ was first popularized and for that alone Gibson is assured of immortality, at least until the wires of that feed the human race are permanently unplugged.

He brilliantly describes the then fledgling internet as a “consensual hallucination” and the lead character Case is paid to hack into “the infinite neuroelectric void of the matrix”. Continue reading

THE GREENLANDERS by Jane Smiley (Anchor Books, 2005)

franzen_smileyIs life too short for big books?

When it comes to novels like Infinite Jest or Middlemarch, I’d say not.

David Foster Wallace was so overflowing with ideas that he needed the space to expand his thoughts while George Eliot used a larger palette to create a world with a world.

Yet, there seems to be a trend (or requirement) for writing 500 or more pages as a demonstration of a writer’s prowess.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s  sprawling ‘Here I Am’ is one recent example of a novel that would have greatly benefited from trimming by at least 200 pages.

Jane Smiley’s epic Norse saga is another. Continue reading

THE ART OF SEDUCTION by Robert Greene (Profile Books, 2001)

seductionThis is not overtly presented as a self-help book but it will mostly be consulted as one.

Although it contains some bleak truths about the human condition, American author Robert Greene takes to the cultural high ground in an attempt to make the salacious details more palatable.

He draws examples from literature, notably  Les Liasons Dangereuses by Laclos, and from the amorous exploits of historical figures like Casanova and Don Juan who have all been immortalised in novels, plays, operas or movies.

Psychological mind games are ruthlessly advocated on the dubious basis that the ends justify the means. The object of one’s lust or desire is frequently described either as a “target” or as a “victim” with the ultimate goal being to lure, ensnare and manipulate. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: