Category: fiction


Making time for Ishiguro

A PALE VIEW OF HILLS by Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber, 1982)

paleviewofhills72436I can’t remember why , after reading and enjoying ‘Remains Of The Day’ in 1989, I didn’t follow this up by immediately seeking out other books by Kazuo Ishiguro. Maybe I was swayed by negative reviews of his other novels or perhaps I dipped into one without any real committment.

Certainly, if I had been looking for fast-paced fiction with a clear linear narrative structure I would have been disappointed. Ishiguro’s writing is built around emotional reflections rather than being preoccupied with standard plot-driven devices.

I have come to recognize that patience is a virtue when it comes to reading. Writers that are superficially accessible are usually the least rewarding. Thankfully, therefore, I’ve belatedly discovered how rich and powerful Ishiguro’s other novels are. Continue reading

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NO LAUGHING MATTER by Anthony Cronin (First published by Grafton Books, 1989)

984085There are certain novels, like Robert Musil’s ‘The Man Without Qualities’, that I find too daunting to even attempt and others, such as Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under The Volcano’ that I have tried but failed to complete.

‘At Swim-Two-Birds’ by Flann O’Brien was, until this year, gathering dust in my unfinished pile. I have Anthony Cronin’s candid and informative biography of O’Brien to thank for finally completing this short, comic but notoriously challenging novel.

Cronin skillfully puts the work into a literary and historical context while bluntly presenting the man behind it as a sad character. Continue reading

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

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

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