I do almost all my reading on the bus. Thus, my go-to indicator of a great read is how surprised I am that I’ve reached my destination. Continue reading Books – Senlin Ascends and The Sudden Appearance of Hope
“I was brilliant. Not just your run-of-the-mill brilliance either. I was extraordinarily brilliant.” Continue reading Books – The Name of the Wind
In the last few weeks I’ve read two great books; both are clever and both feature a strong central trio of characters. Continue reading Books – Beyond Redemption and Hunters & Collectors
Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant bolsters the list of fantasy genre writing that pushes its boundaries and should invigorate the genre’s authors and fans. Continue reading Books – The Buried Giant & The Quarantined City
Brian Catling’s The Vorrh is a very beautifully written book, with the most unforgettable first chapter I’ve read in years.
Where do I begin? While this is not my favourite book, it is the best novel I’ve read. Pynchon, for me, is the most accomplished writer in English alive. Here is my impossible benchmark. Continue reading Books – Against The Day
If the awards and critical acclaim have not steered you towards the fractious company of the two foremost English magicians of the nineteenth century, then it is unlikely my meagre addition to the chorus will tip the balance. Nevertheless, I exhort you to go get this enchanting novel. Continue reading Books – Jonathan Strange & Mr.Norrell
This is a story about superheroes in the second world war and beyond, a counterfactual fantasy.
At first you will rightly think of Watchmen and X-Men but Lavie Tidhar has created something here that is more bleak and more noir, as though the X-Men had been re-told by John le Carré. Continue reading Books – The Violent Century
The poem ‘Epitaph On An Army Of Mercenaries’ by AE Housman** is one of my favourites, and graces Snakewood as its foreword. It was an influence on the novel not so much because it happened to be about mercenaries, but because I had challenged myself to tell a story about them such that a reader might find sympathy with them, and engage with them in their attempts to right their own self-centered wrongs. Continue reading They followed their mercenary calling…*
The title of David Mitchell’s marvellous book almost fully encapsulates it, as all its characters, deathless or otherwise, serve its dominant theme: the misery of ageing. Continue reading Books – The Bone Clocks
I’ve written here about my miserable realisation I wouldn’t read more than a couple of thousand books in my lifetime, if I really went for it. I thus struggle to read more than one or two books by any author because there are so many more authors to read. How could I read another Philip K Dick while I’ve not yet read The Odyssey? Continue reading Books – The Children Act
Helen Macdonald has opened her soul, and unlike most of us, is able to articulate its pain and its healing with a beautiful and haunting power. Continue reading Books – H is for Hawk
“if our secrets define us, as opposed to the face we show the world: then the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am. And it’s there: in my notebooks, every page, even though it’s not. Dream and magic, magic and delirium. The Unified Field Theory. A secret about a secret.” Continue reading Books – The Goldfinch, The Liars’ Gospel
Minor spoilers regarding early part of novel ahead…
I’ve not personally overdosed on zombie movies/games/books/TV shows/tee shirts etc. but because the rest of the world has, I’ve got a second-hand kind of weariness of it, so much so I have tried to avoid it. I’ve done the odd George Romero, loved Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, but then I’d had enough. Continue reading Books – The Girl With All The Gifts
I’d been putting off trying to articulate my thoughts on Adam Tooze’s masterful analysis of global history from 1916-1931, The Deluge, because, being so ignorant about that era, I wasn’t sure what I could say other than ‘read it, it’ll educate ya’, for fear of drawing incorrect or misleading conclusions from this densely detailed and nuanced appraisal of the post-WW1 political order. Continue reading Books – The Deluge
This book has no right to be a debut. It’s exhilarating, a tour de force.
The Quantum Thief is a heist thriller the threads of which are woven into a sinuous and densely realised future. It’s a challenging read, I’ll admit hard to follow in places, as Hannu Rajaniemi displaces the awesome intelligence and agency of his protagonist, the ‘Thief’, into discontinuous layers – his past self, his memories – locked away. The threads deepen and widen, the narrative is fragmented, but not frustratingly so; it’s as though it reflects the discontinuity of self that resonates throughout this future. Continue reading Books – The Quantum Thief
I recently read, back to back, Ben Aaranovitch’s Rivers of London and Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself, the latter a long overdue read for me as a fantasy author.
It was because of their similarities that I’m writing about (and recommending them) together. Continue reading Books – Rivers of London, The Blade Itself
Here, by Richard McGuire, is no less than the zenith of the graphic novel as an art form.
It is one of the most profound things I’ve read. Continue reading Books – Here
Hopefully all China Miéville’s novels are as original and engaging as this one. The City & The City is on one level a standard ‘detective investigating death of girl uncovers big conspiracy’ story, but Miéville has decided to weave the tale into a quite unique milieu. Continue reading Books – The City & The City
If the horror genre is a journey, then House* of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, is its destination.
I say this not only because it is an attempt to get at the fundament of what is horrifying, but also because the nature of the attempt is an audacious, remarkably intelligent and emotionally satisfying weaving of multiple narratives and perspectives working on many levels; straight, ironic, comic, academic and post-modern. It is astonishing. Continue reading Books – House of Leaves
Hearing that I hadn’t read any of Gabriel García Márquez’s work, when his death was announced, a friend kindly bought me this, as he had Wolf Hall. Clearly, he knows what’s good for me.
This twentieth century classic in the magical realist tradition was my first foray into the realm, unless Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller counts.
I urge you not to wait as long as I have, but to throw yourself into the story of the Buendía family across six generations and their doomed trajectory intertwined with that of Macondo, their near utopian village soon despoiled by the industrial revolution. Continue reading Books – One Hundred Years of Solitude
Replay, by Ken Grimwood, tackles the classic ‘What if…’ scenario: “What if I could live my life over again?”
It treads a path between the wonderful Star Trek episode ‘The Inner Light’ and Groundhog Day. Jeff, the book’s protagonist, is going to ‘replay’ his life more than once, unlike Picard; but unlike Phil Connors, he’s repeating decades rather than a day. Continue reading Books – Replay
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, is a masterpiece. It is one of the best books I will ever read.
I know this because I’ve lost count of the times I’ve paused over a page, muttered ‘Fuck off’ at the sheer and dazzling quality and control of the form and the narrative, and then carried on reading, a little bit sick at the work I still have to do, learning how to tell a story. Continue reading Books – Wolf Hall
So, I’ve popped my Haruki Murakami cherry, having heard from a number of different sources about this writer and his cult following and magical prose.
Norwegian Wood is a story, set in Japan, of a teenage boy, Toru Watanabe, in love with a girl, Naoko, who we learn is schizophrenic and with whom he shares a tragic bond. Continue reading Books – Norwegian Wood
What would you say constitutes great writing? For a practising writer like me, good writing isn’t just about what is enjoyable to read, but also about the choices a writer makes when they select words to convey their message.
I thought I’d try to articulate what great writing looks like to me, using an author that delivers effortlessly the kind of writing I love. I’ve just finished Kathleen Jamie’s Sightlines, a book very similar to The Old Ways, which I posted about here.
Like that book, the writing is remarkable, better in some ways, Jamie being an award-winning poet. Given poetry involves (for me anyway) a meticulous choosing of words to create imagery, meaning and emotion in a distilled form, her prose is some of the purest and cleanest I’ve read, but in particular, like Annie Proulx’s writing, it has lines that work on multiple levels; efficient prose that delivers depth with the minimum of effort. Continue reading The deliciousness of hard-working prose
Altered Carbon, by Richard Morgan, is a cyberpunk-noir detective thriller of the ‘locked room’ variety. If you want steam rising out of your grates in grimy streets straight off the ‘Blade Runner’ mood boards and a bosomy femme fatale in a plot full of twists and turns then stop reading and go buy it, because as a debut novel, it’s astonishingly assured plotting and writing. Continue reading Books – Altered Carbon (veers into bonus thoughts on mental continuity and my nan!!)
City of Saints and Madmen, by Jeff Vandermeer, has been labelled ‘avant-garde fantasy’. It is. The city is the star; Ambergris is a violent and gothic-romantic ecosystem, the inhabitants of which live in a fearful symbiosis with the deeply mysterious ‘Greycaps’. These underground dwellers were initially displaced by the founders of Ambergris from the much older city that it grew out of.
The Greycaps give a Lovecraftian edge to the tales of the city, silently malign landlords living in a world beneath the city’s people, the balance of power shifted emphatically after their initial genocide at the hands of Ambergris’s founders, with an event known as ‘The Silence’, that shattered the collective psyche of the city’s denizens, leaving behind a fragile society with a black hole where its heart and soul should be. This book feels like Lovecraft-meets-literary fiction, and while not quite as dark as the master, its emotional canvas is broader, a playful black humour mixing with the horror in its veins. Continue reading Books – City of Saints and Madmen
Spoiler free. Rest easy…
Hugh Howey is in the enviable position of the author who self-published with a good enough book, got a buzz going and then took off into the stratosphere – publishing deal! film in the offing! I’m delighted for him.
It reminded me afresh that all the self-marketing in the world isn’t going to help a story that doesn’t drag the reader in and keep them there. It also made me think that perhaps the books that break out from the ocean of self-published novels are the easy reads; great plot, transparent prose, a speeding train of mildly pleasurable distraction well worth a couple of quid. I’ve yet to hear of work that is squarely literary fiction that has also broken out and gone gangbusters, but I’m happy to take some recommendations if I’ve missed anything. Continue reading Books – Wool
The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane is a book about walking country paths.
I know, that’s what I thought, and I only bought it because writers of the stature of John Banville named it as one of the books of the year on its release last year.
But then I started reading it, and I was blown away by the writing. He writes, near the start, of paths:
“Paths were figured as rifts within which time might exist as pure surface, prone to weird morphologies, uncanny origami.” Continue reading Books – The Old Ways
The Stress Of Her Regard – Tim Powers
Byron, Keats and Shelley – check.
Vampires – check.
Life or death adventures through London, Venice, Rome and the Alps – check.
As with the other Tim Powers novels I’ve read (The Drawing of the Dark, On Stranger Tides and Last Call), The Stress Of Her Regard pits a hopelessly outclassed protagonist, here Michael Crawford, against various supernatural forces in a clever weaving of Powers’s research and love of the classics, myth and folklore into the lives of the three great poets mentioned above.
He’s been called ‘the apostle of gonzo history’, which alludes to the fact he can weave a fiction in and around historical characters or places, as writers like Hilary Mantle and Ken Follett do with such aplomb, but that fiction is riotously supernatural. Continue reading Books – The Stress Of Her Regard & Sum