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IF I DIE IN A COMBAT ZONE by Tim O’Brien (First published 1973)

Nowadays, few are prepared to defend America’s invasion of Vietnam in the 1960s but, at the time, anyone who opposed the draft were seen at best as naive beatniks, at worst as traitors.

In times of conflict, propaganda machines of the state and media go into overdrive. Dissenting voices are ridiculed or silenced. Lip service is paid to alternative perspectives but killing continues to be routinely sanctioned in the bogus name of patriotism and justice.

Tim O’Brien’s first book was written, or begun, while serving in the combat zone of Vietnam then completed at graduate school when the war was over. The short sentences and plain language are reminiscent of Hemingway but this is no celebration of machismo.

On the contrary, O’Brien’s first instinct was to escape to Canada or Sweden. He ended up signing up; not because he believed in the cause but out of “a fear of society’s censure…..fear of weakness, afraid that to avoid war is to avoid manhood”. View full article »

Walking the Green Mile

THE GREEN MILE by Stephen King (1996)978711

This is a curious hybrid of a novel combining horror, crime fiction, social realism and fantasy.

There’s even a hint that it is intended as a religious allegory.

King himself admits that the novel is an experiment. It originally appeared in six installments in the New York Times with each part needing to end in a way that left the “constant reader” wanting more.

This is the way novels of old, notably those of Charles Dickens, were presented to the public and King was curious to see if he could get modern-day audiences hooked in the same way.
It helps ,of course, that he loves to surprise and shock in fictional works that are always strongly plot driven. View full article »

We are all explorers

Dechirico Siamo esplratori pronti per una nuove partenze“We are explorers ready for fresh beginnings”. This quote alongside Giorgio de Chirco’s Metaphysical Muse painting from 1918 can currently be seen at an inspiring exhibition at  Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara (it ends on 28th February 2016).

It serves both as an illustration of the Italian surrealist painter’s restless yet hopeful spirit and is as good a message as any to end another year on the planet.

Heaven knows, we all need to find something fresh, joyous and innovative in a world that constantly appears on the brink of irreversible disaster.

The Dadaists and Surrealists got it right, I think, when they concluded that the subconscious mind reveals more truth about being and nothingness than any rational analysis can provide.

THE EDEN EXPRESS by Mark Vonnegut (Seven Stories Press, 2002 – originally published 1975)

I seriously doubt that this ‘memoir of insanity’ would have found a publisher so easily if the author did not also happen to be the son of Kurt Vonnegut. Much of its interest derives from this blood connection rather than any obvious literary merits.

Since Vonnegut Sr wrote so well about a world precariously balanced on the brink of universal madness, his son’s schizophrenia might be expected to connect in some ways with the surrealism and cynicism of the Vonnegut mindset. If this is what you hope to find from the book, you will be sorely disappointed. View full article »

ON WRITING – A MEMOIR by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, 2000)

Instead of a book, this could easily have been a post on Facebook by his wife Tabby on why Stephen King would never write again.

It was finished as part of the recuperation following horrific injuries King sustained after being hit by a truck while walking near his home.

It takes King an average of three months to write the first draft of a novel. This ‘manual’ was only half finished after 18 months and its completion is a testament to his determination and love of the art and craft of writing. View full article »


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