Category: fiction


HIGH RISE directed by Ben Wheatley (UK, 2015)

high_rise_2014_film_posterIf this movie had met with universal critical acclaim or had achieved commercial success it would almost certainly have denoted its failure in artistic terms. Fortunately, therefore, it polarized the press and bombed at the box office.

J.G. Ballard’s novel (published in 1975) was meant as a morbid, provocative slice of entertainment designed to leave readers absorbed but seriously spooked. It begins arrestingly: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Doctor Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months”.

This big screen adaptation has a similarly jarring impact since, in Ben Wheatley, we have a director whose mindset is every bit as warped as the polite but misanthropic English writer. Continue reading

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (Viking Press, 1962)

A friend recommended this extraordinary novella and I am a little ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of it beforehand. It’s such an immediate and surefire classic that it seems amazing that it hadn’t crossed my radar before.

This dark, funny and strange tale sadly proved to be Shirley Jackson’s final work. She died in 1965, aged just 48.

Here’s how it begins:

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This hooked me from the get go.

The unreliable narrator – whose pet name is Merricat – proves to be a real enigma and remains something of a mystery right to the end. Continue reading

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS by Marlon James (Riverhead Books, 2014)

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The Novel

When asked in a recent Channel 4 interview how much of this bold and extraordinary novel came from personal experience and how much derived from rumors, Marlon James replies without hesitation “All of it is rumor. In Jamaica, you trust rumors, you don’t trust facts. Facts come with an agenda”.

 

It is something of a dumb platitude to say that truth is stranger than fiction but, like most dumb platitudes, this has a strong basis in reality. Nowadays, people increasingly struggle to separate the two concepts, reacting to natural and man-made disasters with comments to the effect that ‘It was like something out of a movie’ or routinely responding to some shocking or bizarre news story by saying ‘You couldn’t make this stuff up’.

To make sense of the ‘real world’ (whatever that is) and the irrational behavior of humankind, I must have some Jamaican blood in me because I don’t believe it is enough to stick to the facts by watching documentaries, reading history books or studying psychological manuals. While these resources can give valuable insights and context they, as James observes, always come with an agenda.

Fiction comes with its own baggage too of course but, while novels can take greater liberties with the ‘truth’ they can also encourage readers to embrace scepticism by ‘seeing’ events from diverse and multiple perspectives.

This is brilliantly exemplified in James’ masterly and multi-layered third novel, a worthy winner of 2015’s Man Booker Prize which has been accurately and acutely described by one New York Times critic as “an epic of post colonial fallout”. Continue reading

THE NIX by Nathan Hill (Picador Books, 2016)

thenixAccording to the cliché,  everybody has at least one book in them. Nathan Hill has now written his in the form of this bold and hugely entertaining debut novel.

The American author says that his previous attempts at fiction followed formulas in vain attempts to win a lucrative book deal.

After a series of rejections he decided to cut his losses and simply write a book to please himself. In doing so, he had no idea whether or not it would be published.

It took him ten years to write, a slow but enjoyable process that he equated to tending to his own garden. The result is a triumph. Continue reading

INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace (First published 1996)

infinite_notesInfinite Jest was written over two decades ago but is still remarkably topical in an age where the line between entertainment and ‘real life’ is increasingly blurred.

It is, by any standards, a big novel and a daunting proposition to all but the most dedicated reader. It stretches to 981 pages with a further 96 pages of footnotes to push it beyond the 1000 mark.

Footnote is probably a misnomer since many are more than just clarifications or references. One runs to 17 pages. This is not a novel you’d pick up lightly or cast aside easily (unless you wanted to do someone harm!). Continue reading

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