Category: fiction


Burning down the house

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press, 2017)

220px-little_fires_everywhereWhen I first saw the cover of this book, it brought to mind the artwork for ‘Everything That Happens Will happen Today’ , an album by David Byrne and Brian Eno released in 2008. This association proved to be not so wide of the mark. David Byrne’s work with Talking Heads often cast a sardonic eye on suburban living. In ‘The Big Country’, for instance, he gazed down from an airplane at the neat houses and comfortable urban amenities below and concluded “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to”.

Celeste Ng is not quite so scathing in the way she presents Shaker Heights in Cleveland, Ohio but, equally, she is not blind to the faults of a community that smugly prides itself on having a plan for anything and doesn’t see race.

This is “a town built for cars and for people who had cars” and a place where “an un-mowed lawn would result in a polite but stern letter from the city”. Anything regarded as a flaw to the domestic perfection is regarded as a threat. Continue reading

Screen shot 2019-12-31 at 18.08.08Since 2013 I have set myself a challenge of reading 50 books a year and then I track my progress on Good Reads.

I fell three short in the first year but have hit my target ever since. This year I gave the maximum five star rating to six titles: Continue reading

BURNING directed by Lee Chang-dong (South Korea. 2019)

burningThis quietly subversive and absorbing movie is based on the short story, Barn Burning, by Nobel laureate in waiting Haruki Murakami.

I haven’t read this but from a synopsis on Wikipedia it seems that the tale has been used as a stub from which the director has let his imagination flow freely. Lee Chang-dong appears to have added more than a few ideas and themes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle such as a missing woman, a mysterious garden well and an elusive cat. Continue reading

YESTERDAY directed by Danny Boyle (UK, 2019)

yesterday Can this really be the same director who brought us Shallow Grave, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later?

Aside from one of the most unconvincing and sexless love stories ever brought to the big screen, the audience is asked to swallow whole the most lamely contrived plot devices (and holes) in the name of blurry-eyed nostalgia.

If this had all been pitched as a dream, we might have accepted that anything is possible as we do when Alice falls into Wonderland and Dorothy lands in Oz. But here we are in the real world of modern England with Himesh Patel in the part of Jack Malik.

help

Help me if you can!

He is a struggling singer from Suffolk who is about to quit when an global blackout causes a planetary memory loss of epic proportions.

Following this inexplicable (and unexplained) event we are asked to believe that :
1. Nobody remembers The Beatles.
2. Cigarettes and Coca Cola don’t exist
3. Harry Potter was never written.
4. John Lennon lives to enjoy a contented solitary retirement in a house by the sea.
5. A mediocre ginger-haired singer-songwriter plays a show and fills Wembley Stadium.

All of these are plainly absurd although since the fifth just so happens to be true, I suppose screenwriter Richard Curtis would resolutely defend his corner.

The Ed Sheeran cameo is especially grueling for self-respecting music fans although it could have been worse since rumor has it that Coldplay’s Chris Martin was first choice for this role.

This truly dreadful movie makes even the soppiest of Disney fantasies look like works of gritty social realism.

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers (Bluemoose, 2017)

Why I read this book

gallowsFirst and foremost I fell in love with the cover art. I know, I know ….you should never judge a book in these terms but it does make a difference.

A naff cover can be off-putting. I cool cover means you can look fashionable when reading in public, something that is not possible with a Kindle.

I liked the image to Gallows Pole because it looks like a subversive Penguin Modern Classic.  It made me think of Weird British folk art; the kind of deranged visions that feed into Wyrd folk music and the cult movie classic, The Wicker Man. Could, I wondered, Benjamin Myer’s writing conjure up the same mood?

What’s it about? (Without spoilers)
The novel is inspired by real events in and around the Upper Calder Valley, West Yorkshire in the late 18th Century. It centres on the Craig Vale Coiners, a motley assembly of struggling land workers led by ‘King’ David Hartley. The gang forge coins in an attempt to get rich and challenge the oppressive capitalist system that keeps them poor and powerless. Hartley is an anti-hero prone to “delusions of grandeur, extreme hallucinations featuring stag-headed men and supreme acts of cruelty and violence”. Continue reading

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