Tuesday, March 31, 2009

1983 - post II

As things start to unfold the questions that you have been looking for answers to start to get closer. Some of the characters that seemed so important at the start of the four book cycle have almost completely disappeared leaving you to concentrate on a smaller and more important number.

Without slapping you in the face with the facts some of the pennies start to drop about the movers and shakers in the police corruption and how things are connected.

Everything is connected with the same places, people and visions returning time and time again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

1983 - post I

One of the immediate challenges for a reader going through books that are set years apart is to find a reference point that makes it clear what has happened in the in between years.

Having gone through 1980 with an alternate character narrative it picks up again this time weaving in the strands of thoughts from John Piggot, a solicitor looking to help with the appeal of the wrongly fitted up child killer from 1974 and Maurice Jobson a senior policeman.

Things start weaving backwards and forwards through time starting to fill in the gaps not just from 1974 but even before that.

The same dreams are there with references to underground kingdoms and wolves but there is from the start a clear indication the story will be told through the latest case of a missing girl.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In defence of the bookmark

Only a few years ago any museum, cathedral or exhibition you went to always ended with a trip to the shop and a bookmark purchase.

But these days there just don't seem to be as many bookmarks around. It can't be because people have stopped reading because that cannot be the case. It just seems to be less popular. First the leather and fabric bookmarks were replaced with magnetic ones that clipped half a page rather than stuck out at the bottom or top of the book. But even the magnetic ones are now hard to come by.

It's a great shame because bookmarks always remind you of a day, time and place that usually is connected with a happy day. I hope the current lack of bookmarks is just a fashionable fad and not something permanent.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Damned United - post II

This is clearly going to be a day one through to 44 but each day uses plenty of historical material to not only sketch out the story of the present but how Clough got to be there.

As Derby become more successful under his management his relationship with Leeds starts to fall apart. The hatred of Don Revie becomes one of the defining relationships of his career and the hatred of Leeds is established early on.

That helps explain just why Clough might not be the right man to take over Leeds but the character of the man is all his own doing and like him or loathe him he does his best to get noticed.

More next week...

Friday, March 27, 2009

1980 - post V

I am not going to give away the ending but just when you think progress is being made the case is closed on the Ripper but the old wounds reopen and the search for the truth in a corrupt world of policemen and prostitutes re-emerges to take centre stage.

As well as a poetry with the use of visual and textual repetition there is equally a return to places of the past. Most of the crime scenes seem to have remained largely undisturbed, even six years after some of the events. That provides those places with a haunted quality and a power to retain that sense of death, fear and pain with the ability to influence the present.

It puts the psycho back into psycho geography but does so in a clever way that creeps up on you and is sometimes shocking its in unexpectedness.

Having gone forward and suffered the plague of the Ripper the way is now clear to solve the original crime and work out just where the corruption in the West Yorkshire police started and who will finish it.

Onwards to 1983.

A review will follow...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

1980 - post IV

After the trials and tribulations of 1974 and 1977 you put your faith in the main character of Peter Hunter but he is being dragged down by the corruption and the atmosphere.

Dreams plagued with images of black wings and dead children put a unique Lancastrian spin on a Yorkshire hell. Hunter then falls victim to a classic fit-up job and the tables are turned and it is not some much a battle to fight corruption but a battle to fight and save his career.

he knows some major pieces of the jigsaw he just doesn't have enough to out them together. As he walks down a path partly trodden by those before him he not only starts to find out the same things but falls victim to the same sense of altered reality and fear that consumed those before him.

Last chunk tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

1980 - post III

The lyrical poetical side of this book is becoming more pronounced as the killing continues and the pressure starts to mount on Hunter directly.

Lancashire has its own deep connections with Yorkshire as the Dawson brother illustrates and the connections start to mean that Hunter has to fight fires on both fronts as the blood spills on both sides of the moors.

Against that background the Ripper seems to be waiting for the moment to shatter any remaining confidence that Hunter has. The repetition of phrases and images adds to the almost literal sound of the moment coming nearer when something will give and the landscape will change again.

Can Hunter stop it? It seems highly unlikely that in his current situation he has the ability. But hidden in the files and the hundreds of interviews that have taken place over the years he knows and we do too that the answer is waiting to be found.

The only question is can he find it before the corruption distracts him, the Ripper kills again and Hunter loses his sanity?

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

book review - The Reader

When a book becomes synonymous with a film it is difficult to enjoy one without evaluating the influence of the other.

In my case I had not seen the film and picked up Bernard Schlink’s book at a charity shop a while ago. What drove me to read it was a quick flick through the first few pages. The style is taut and the chapters short.

The emotional depth has to be provided by the reader themselves as they piece together the things that are left unsaid between the 15 year old boy Michael and his 36 year old lover Hanna. The relationship is physical, lived in the gap between work and school and relatively brief in the wider scheme of things.

Of course for the boy it is a fundamental part of his growing up and his relationship lives on in the memory for the rest of his life having an impact on his marriage and other sexual entanglements.

But that is only half the story because the focus is on what the woman did during the war and the big questions of where guilt lies during war – with the individual or the system – and how different generations should react to it.

Is it possible to love someone who was responsible for hideous acts? In the end that is the struggle that destroys Michael and as he sits as a law student a few years after the affair and watches Hanna defend herself against war crime charges it is an uncomfortable experience.

What are those pushing the trials motivated by? Finding people to blame, even when the facts are vague at best, seems to be the desire to at least hold someone up as guilty to count for the debts and sins of others.

During the case Michael works out that Hanna cannot read and it is that fact that not only allows him to piece together why she relied on him to read aloud so much but why she also got prisoners in the camps to do the same. He could potentially save her when she lies but her pride is so much that she would rather go to prison than reveal her weakness. At the conclusion it is that pride that destroys her. She does not want sympathy.

In a way the reader is left working out what they feel about guilt, responsibility and the merits of chasing down people long after the event to get them to face some sort of justice. Are the Germans as a nation collectively to blame for their failure to resist the darkness of Hitler’s regime? If you answer yes then of course the individual fingering of Hanna seems to be unfair. If you believe not then the trial makes more sense but only slightly more.

A provocative book that for many will be about the power of relationships across the generations but for me was an intelligent way of looking at the consequences and reaction to some of the horrors of the Second World War.

Monday, March 23, 2009

1980 - post II

Hunter and his team start to go through the murders but the madness that is at the fringes of the Ripper hunt starts to infect Hunter himself.

Dreams detailing murders are shared by his wife and by himself. others in his team start to crack up under the strain of the Ripper hunt and the dangers that trapped Whitehead and some of the characters from the first two books start to come out of the shadows for Hunter.

In terms of portraying a pyschological as well as literal thriller this is growing in intensity and someone is going to crack up and make a mistake. You sense that it is a battle between the Ripper and Hunter with the pressure so far all coming on the policeman.

More to come...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

1980 - post I

There are always two approaches to a series of books. Either you read them all at once or leave gaps in between. Having taken the decision to read this straight after 1974 and 1977 there are clear benefits.

The story obviously progresses but with the gaps of time. But what remains are the images, dreams and motifs from the first two books. If anything they become even more important here with the Yorkshire Ripper still at large out there.

With 1977 ending with Fraser and Whitehead having run their course for now the focus of the next stage of the story is Peter Hunter. The Manchester thick skinned copper is sent into sort the Ripper investigation out and at the same time try to discover who and what is going on with that force.

he knows he will be unwelcome, he knows that he has to catch the killer but does he know just what sort of screwed up world he is walking into?

more tomorrow...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diary of a Nobody - post II

It's rare for humour to last across a couple of generations. It can still cause a smile but books like Scoop and three men in a Boat are hardly going to cause you to split your sides laughing.

There are moments when this feels the same with the gentle humour ticking away but then there are flashes of real brilliance as Pooter and his wife clash. The chapter on the Lord Mayor's ball is very clever with the wife filling in the misisng details at the end.

As a way to relax last thing at night it is hard to better this for a funny and distracting read.

More to come...

Friday, March 20, 2009

1977 - post IV

The pace in the book is exhilirating towards the end and even though the ending isn't quite what you expected it is enough of a conclusion to leave you coming to 1980 with fresh expectations.

Without giving away the ending lets just say that the idea of angels that appears obliquely in 1974 via the swan motif is more dangerous here plaguing jack Whitehead the crime reporter.

For Bob Fraser now alienated after his prostitute girlfriend has turned up dead he discovers that on the family front not all is as it seemed anyway.

That sense of wondering who you can trust never leaves the narrative for a second. police follow police and journalists try to outdo each other. Even when you think you can turn to sleep the dreams and memories are there to destroy you.

A review will follow...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

1977 - post III

The parallel stories of Bob Fraser the policeman and Jack Whitehead the crime reporter are linked in several ways with both sharing a connection with the events of 1974 and both having relationships with prostitutes.

The horrors of the past appear in dreams and visions and the corruption and dissapointment of the present keep them mired in despair.

The trigger for both to consider their lot in life is the emergence of the Yorkshire Ripper. His brutality is something that is more genuione than anything the police themselves can construct and is far more worrying.

Whitehead coins the terms Ripper and Fraser starts to discover not ll crimes are quite what they seem.

more tomorrow...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

1977 - post II

You have the twin characters of the policeman Fraser and the crime reporter Whitehead both losing control. Fraser has fallen in love with a prostitute and is watching his marriage fall apart. Whitehead is plagued by dreams of a dead woman and has clearly lost his competitive streak on the paper since Eddie ( from 1974) moved on.

Linking them both is the hunt for the yorkshire Ripper and as the police stumble around with their usual racist and agressibe tactics they display a complete lack of detecting ability. Meanwhile it is the papers that coin the term Ripper and without any real appetite for it Jack Whitehead is following one of the biggest stories ever.

The hunt is not so much for the Ripper but for the resolution of the demons that are tormenting the leading characters.

The problem is those demons are caused and supported by the very society they work and live in.

More tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Damned United - post I

When this book first came out it rather past me by. Being neither a Leeds United fan, that bothered about Brian Clough or a conniseuir of football books I couldn't see the interest. But that was before I read 1974 and started 1977 and got into the David Peace style.

As a result I knew that this was going to be about more than Clough and wouldnl be about a moment in time and a place - the north East and Leeds. So far, with the first few days of his Ill fated 44 days at Leeds and the history of Clough and the development of the legend are interwoven with tales of hard drinking chairmen, dirty footballers and a fickle general public and press.

Clough fails from the start to win over Leeds and the book looks set to become a painful one as the egos clash and the threat of the sack comes ever closer.

More tomorrow...

Monday, March 16, 2009

1977 -post I

Having left 1974 with all guns blazing you start this not quite knowing what to expect. Clearly it is three years later but how many of the characters from the world of the first book will be around?

Although there are a few familiar faces it almost doesn't matter because this is 1977 and the Yorkshire Ripper is on the loose and that story creates it's own pace and momentum.

If anything those characters, both on the sides of law and paper, from the first book seem to be troubled by their dreams, depressed and on a booze sodden road to self destruction.

More soon...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

1974 - post III

It would totally inappropriate to give away the ending but It is fair to say it is a surprise. It would be tempting to describe it as a shocking surprise but by now very little shocks in the world described by David Peace.

The world that he describes is brutal and corrupt and destroys people and by default communities. There are no winners just bigger criminals and blaggers able to play the crooked system. Those searching fir truth are destroyed by the sheer extent of the corruption. This is a world that you hope was left behind in the 1970s but you are left with the gnawing doubt that he is half warning us of what might and could be happening today out there hidden behind police station doors and the entrances to luxury homes.

A review will come soon...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Supermarket sweep

I read with interest the other day a news story (think it was on the bookseller and I will try to dig out the link) about asda starting a books price promotion.

Up to now the supermarkets have not been a great source if books because of the lack of choice. But in Sainsbury's today I picked up a copy of the damned united by David peace. Because of the film the book has made into store but at £4.99 it is. Sving that can't be sniffed at. J put it in the trolley and certianly if the choice was wider the liklihood is that I would buy more books in the supermarket.

But I think most decent bookshops can rest easy for the moment because the choice remains poor and the space put over to books miniscule.

Friday, March 13, 2009

1974 - post II

There is such an intensity to this story that it doesn't even strike you as odd when the journalist spends days on the road going front
one dangerous situation to another without too much regard for personal or professional safety.

But of course as a reader you want to go into those places where the journalist goes and as be gets names and places the story grows organically. This is not just about girls being murdered and corrupt coppers but what happens when the law is bent to become the protector and plaything of a dangerous elite.

There continue to be some cool one liners and moMents that make you think of Get Carter but perhaps that just underlines the authenticity of the 1970s feel.

More soon...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

2666 - post V

The last section takes you off at a slight tangent telling you the life story of the german writer that connects the three critics, the town in Mexico and the other marginal characters.

But it is not until you have waded through a large number of pages you understand how be is connected, be relation, to the crimes in Mexico.

But it is at that point that the book finishes with a postscript that seems rather apologetic explaining that the reason for the book feeling unpolished is as a result of the author's untimely death. That leaves the reader in the wonderful position of being able to dream up their own ending and the answers to the main questions you are left grappling with. But after 900 pages it also leaves you feeling slighty cheated. The journey might have been interesting and no doubt there were things learnt on the way that were useful but the final destination isn't quite what you expect. After such an investment in time that doesn't feel quite like the reward it should.

A review will follow soon..

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An evening with Iain Sinclair

Went to see Iain Sinclair earlier tonight talking at the LRB bookshop about his new book about Hackney.

What was interesting hearing him talk was how even in the confines of a bookshop he was able to weave some magic as his imagination unfolded. His attitude to time is one of the things that I took away with me.

Events of the past impact the present day as well as some of the histories of key characters in history living on via landscape, memory and the odd coincidence or two.

That explained his resistance to the Olympics because Sinclair talked about the impact it would have on the landscape changing memories and causing a social amnesia. He also didn’t like the way that the collective view of the Olympics was being handed out by those building the place and via computer animation and controlled images a view of the future was being manipulated.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

1974 - post I

Having enjoyed Life on Mars this initially seems like a similar trip into the world if the police in the 1970s. But this makes Life on Mars look like a parody of reality with the police corruption and violence nowhere near the levels described here.

This is a collection of stories all running in parallel and crossing over occasionally. On the one hand it is about the ambitious reporter trying to make a name got himself. But it is also bout missing murdered children and the police. In particular a police force that is out of control and making it's own laws.

But added to that it is also describing a time gone by with ad much if not more effectiveness than a tv series. The pace and violence are always there just as the deadlines are for the main character and from the very first pages this has you gripped.

More tomorrow...

Monday, March 09, 2009

2666 - post IV

The fourth part of 2666 is the longest and so far the most difficult to read.

If the aim was to get across a sense of the confusion and corruption that surrounds the mass killings in Saint Teresa then it works. But it is often brutal reading with the murders described in a repetitvely graphic way. That is nothing to the hideous things that happen in the prisons. Inside a german computer seller waits to see if the police charges of murder will stick.

Meanwhile others ranging from mediums to congress women are looking for the truth but not coming any closer to it.

The picture of a Mexico that is bring destroyed by drugs, corruption and crime is vivid and after a while it starts to drag you down a bit. You are now left starting the final part not only searching foe a lost german author but also wondering if the killer can be found. Maybe they are one and the same. We shall see...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Getting bogged down

Most of the time reading is a pleasure. As worlds unfold you are detained by books that you would have been happy to have spent much longer in the company of.

However now and again you get pulled into the quicksand of a book that takes a long time to get through. As a result you start to become more resentful and wish away the hours that you should have been enjoying reading.

Sadly that is the case with 2666 by Roberto Bolano. It has an odd structure that means you end up getting through the first three of five parts but still have more than half of the book to go.

Then there is the way it is written with the translation from the Spanish potentially causing problems.

But the reason for this post is one of a statement of intent. Over the next few days I aim to crack the book, post section conclusions and then at some point a final review.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Anansi Boys - post I

Never having read any Neil Gaiman before the choice of Anansi Boys was down to the stock held in the local library. This large hardback is probably not where I would have wanted the Gaiman journey to start but beggars can’t be choosers.

Things start with a funeral and a bit of family background and for a chapter or two things seem to be going on in a fairly normal way with fat Charlie heading home to the US from England for the funeral of his embarrassing father who died mid-karaoke.

But then Charlie is filled in on the fact his father was a God, some sort of spider god, and at that point the things you have heard and are braced for with a Gaiman seem to be starting to come true with the fantastic and the macabre.

More to come…

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Diary of a Nobody - post I

There are some books that get the blurb on the back that describes them as a work of comic genius and “hilarious”. Sadly those of a certain age, and you can throw in Scoop and Three men in a Boat into this category, have dated with age.

But the pleasant surprise about The Diary of Nobody is that the main character is a man for all times. Someone unable to see themselves from an external angle and someone unable to almost completely comprehend their failure to interact with the world. The hilarity comes from Mr Pooter’s amazing sense of self confidence as the world around him turns against him.

From work colleagues, butchers and friends there is no one that Mr Pooter cannot offend but believe that he has been insulted when they react to his jokes and complaints.

More soon…

Thursday, March 05, 2009

2666 - post III

For almost 80% of part three you are wondering where on earth the book is going and what the connection is to part one and two. Then the penny drops and you start to appreciate the scale of the ambition here.

What is starting to come clear is that the hunt for the German novelist was important but more so was the location that he was last seen in. A god forsaken Mexican town full of immigrant poor workers is not only the scene of the German author’s last known appearance but something a great deal more sinister.

More than 200 women have been murdered in the town in the last decade and it is the murders that have been in the background in part one and two that start to come to the fore. The character of Oscar Fate is used to reinforce thru sense of unreality that exists in the town.

The black political journalist is sent to cover a boxing match and even as an outsider to both the sport and the country he picks up the sense of strangeness that hides real danger. It makes the town seem strangely like a larger version of the world David Lynch created in twin Peaks with a fair amount of the Mexican danger painted by Cormac McCarthy thrown in.

Part IV next - a long one but with some sort of end in sight an important one to tackle…

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Human Factor - post V

The depth of characterisation means that even when the lead Castle does something you might not agree with you view him sympathetically. He certainly needs a lot of it at the end because he ends up ruining his routine abiding life by opting to do what he believes is right but in actual fact he is wrong.

Not wrong in the sense of wanting to fight apartheid but wrong in his failure to understand how the system works and how he is quite capable of being used as a pawn by both sides.

Ultimately if Castle was guided by love of his wife and adopted son then it is the separation from them that shows so clearly how he has failed and he is left alone and cut-off unable to protect them anymore.

On one level this is a cat and mouse game of spy versus spy but on another level it is about human values and what is right and wrong. That comes down to an individual level. But sadly even those who want to resign in protest can’t make a difference and those who try to share information are just temporary flies in the ointment and the real losers are themselves.

Brilliantly observed and political without preaching not just about South Africa but also the cold war and the class system.

A review will follow soon…

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Human Factor - post IV

I had hoped to finish this today but in a way it's not such a bad thing that I get to enjoy it tomorrow. Greene slips in twist after twist as he unpeels his characters like onions. At their centre are their real emotions and the feelings that they all have - hence the title.

Castle's mistake is to love too much and to keep the loyalty going even after the ability to protect himself has gone.

Of all the books I have read that touch on the subject of apartheid this is one of the most powerful. The south African Muller simply cannot understand why anyone would want to see an end to the race laws even when the oddity of extreme hatred is exposed in another climate.

There are also plenty of jokes at the expense of Ian Fleming with the mundane cruelty of the real secret service being something quote different from the world of James Bond.

What will happen to Castle? But also what will happen to the others? Final chunk tomorrow...

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Human Factor - post III

It is quite an achievement to create a character that the reader likes so much that when the twist comes that reveals they are far from innocent you forgive them.

Yet when you read about it in black and white it seems odd that an old and introverted man with relatively limited social skills can become the hero of the piece.

The problem is that as he is starts to be unravelled the reader is challenged more and more to make up their mind about Castle and to decide whether or not you can still sympathise with him when he is so adept at playing the spying game. he might be doing it for love but people are dying.

More tomorrow...

Sunday, March 01, 2009

book review - Poor Folk & Other Stories

The Fyodor Dostoyevsky literary career had to start somewhere and this was his first major work, which won him the plaudits of many in the Russian literary scene. Part of the reason for the warmth shown towards this story is because of the subject and the ease with which those campaigning for social justice could use it for their own ends.

But it is not quite so simple as that because this tale of poverty and living on the border of destitution and social disgrace is applicable to much more than a period of Russian history. If anything the current recession is a good time to be reading Poor Folk. It shows that the misery of the poor is often self-inflicted with human failings and weaknesses knocking them off the road to self-sustainability.

Mind you for those that can only dream of renting an entire room, as compared to a portioned off part of a communal kitchen, it is no wonder that occasionally the lure of drink and the chance to forget proves too strong. At the heart of Poor Folk is the relationship between a clerk and a young seamstress who are both trapped in poverty. In the end she is forced into a marriage to save herself and he is only lifted out of misery by a spontaneous act of kindness from his employer.

You sense that for Dostoyevsky the point here was to portray characters in extreme circumstances and in many ways the poverty is a fact and almost neutral in terms of being a fact of life. Presumably those that believed this was a campaigning writer highlighting the inequalities in Russian society were dismayed to find that it was character and the internal battles ion the mind that were to be the focus of Fyodor.

Some of the other stories in this collection illustrate that perfectly with The Landlady illustrating the dangers that an innocent faces once he is forced to move his lodgings. He is unable to cope with some of the more bizarre and barbaric people he meets on his journey and the unsettling relationship between his new landlady, a young woman, and her aged and possessive keeper. He is unable to break her away from the old man and ends up losing his confidence in life and his own studies. In some ways it is a battle of the new Russian versus the old mystical and village based world. The lack of comprehension by the former means that the more established and solid old-world triumphs in this tale.

Elsewhere the tale of Mr Prokharchin again is a story that on one level describes an old man who hoards money in his mattress and is driven to death by the pressure of keeping that secret. But it is also a study in human relationships with some of his fellow lodgers using his madness and fall into death as a chance to lecture him and others after the fortune is discovered as a chance to show their ugliness and petty mindedness.

If you like Dostoyevsky for the reasons that he tells it like it is and lifts the stone to reveal the inner workings of the human character then this collection of stories ticks all those boxes. But it also shows how he started with concern not just about the situation that people where in materially and physically but of course spiritually. He believed very much in brotherhood, something that comes through in his later works, but here it is even more powerful because of its absence. Without some sense of brotherhood or belief in something better and a common cause the characters that are described are a great deal poorer than just at first realise.