Category: fiction


WALKAWAY – a novel by Cory Doctorow (Head Of Zeus, 2017)

220px-walkaway_28a_cory_doctorow_novel29_book_coverWhat is it that derails dreams of utopia and resigns us to the notion that the future is fated to turn out dystopian? Cory Doctorow‘s ambitious and entertaining novel doesn’t provide any definitive answers to this plight but asks plenty of thought-provoking questions.

The problems of the soul-corroding world of work in the modern world are vividly described by Doctorow as one character  remembers a daily routine consisting of “early mornings crunched on meaningless deadlines with the urgency of a car-crash for no discernible reason”.

Cory Doctorow poses the question : If another world to this is possible, what would it be like? His answer comes in the form of a utopian vision of a “better nation” which takes the sociopolitical aims of the Occupy Movement to their logical conclusion. Continue reading

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer (First published in the USA by Lee Boudreaux Books 2017)

lessAs a picaresque, comic novel this, at first glance, appears to be an unlikely winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Yet, although there are moments of high farce, there is a serious message behind the humour.

It is the bitter-sweet tale of Arthur Less, who is about to turn 50 and is described as “an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered”. He is far from being a failure but a long way from being the success he once dreamed of. He is a single gay man whose most significant of numerous relationships was with a Pulitzer prize-winning poet who is now gravely ill.

Aside from this, Less has recently ended a relationship with a younger man on such amicable terms that he has been invited to his ex’s wedding. Anxious to avoid this, he devises a plan. Continue reading

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins, 2017)

eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine-original-imaeufdjggmjv38wIt pays to increase your word power. I remember seeing this slogan many moons ago in a newspaper advertisement promoting a distance learning course aimed at those who frequently feel tongue-tied or inarticulate in social situations.

The promise was that a wider vocabulary would lead to greater self-confidence and would provide a vital step towards overcoming feelings of inadequacy.

The premise sounds persuasive enough but, as the fictional character of the 30-year-old Eleanor Oliphant shows, it takes more than precise elocution and fancy wordplay to win friends and influence people.

If anything, these factors make Eleanor more alone as she’s universally viewed as a freak of nature. She’s a woman who has learned to live with her scars both imaginary and actual. Her condition is summarised in the extended epigraph to the novel taken from Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’ which notes that “the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents”. Continue reading

LANARK by Alasdair Gray (Canongate, 1981)

lanark1

If anybody denies that Lanark is a work of genius, that man or woman is not be trusted. If that same person says that it is a work of madness, you might concede that he or she has a point.

It is, by now,  common knowledge that the line between the two concepts – genius and madness – is a fine one. Navigating life can be defined in terms of such a fine line. Imagine a tightrope walker moving between two points without the security or consolation of a safety net. On false step could prove fatal and the safest option of all is not to start the walk from point A to point B in the first place.

Fortunately, enough humans have an inbuilt drive to do things that  have not been done before.  Convention tends to stifle such urges but the risk takers and iconoclasts of this world may embark on journeys that no-one has contemplated.

Lanark is such a journey. It was written over the course of 25 years and eventually published in 1981 when Gray was 47. It is a work of diversity and perversity and is to Glasgow, Scotland what Jame’s Joyce’s Ulysses is to Dublin, Ireland. Continue reading

161037Quote of the day.

In Alasdair Gray’s ‘Lanark,  the protagonist and aspiring writer is reflecting on  the two main types of novels he found in his local public library:

“One kind was a sort or written cinema, with plenty of action and hardly any thought. The other kind was about clever unhappy people, often authors themselves, who thought a lot but didn’t do very much”.

A sweeping generalization perhaps, but there is a lot of truth in this.

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