Books – City of Saints and Madmen

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

Books – Wool

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

Books – The Old Ways

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

Books – The Stress Of Her Regard & Sum

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

Books – The Intellectuals and the Masses, The Dying Earth trilogy and Little, Big

I’ll share my thoughts and recommendations here of great books I’ve read.  Here are three I’ve read recently, I’ve not read a bad book in a while it seems ;)

The Intellectuals and the Masses – John Carey

“The tragedy of Mein Kampf is that it was not, in many respects, a deviant work but one firmly rooted in European intellectual orthodoxy.”

So, I’ve spoiled the ending, but this conclusion was persuasively argued by John Carey throughout his series of essays collected in this volume. Continue reading Books – The Intellectuals and the Masses, The Dying Earth trilogy and Little, Big