Friday, 2 October 2015


Perfidia - James Ellroy

"The looming apocalypse is not of our doing. We have been good citizens and did not know it was coming."

I am sad to say that this book was a disappointment. I have been reading Ellroy with excitement since the late eighties, working backwards and looking forward to each new book but this is the first new book to disappoint me.

I'm not sure why. I will have to return to a favourite some time to see if it is just this book or if some spell cast by Ellroy's manic distillation of paranoia and gift for creating voices that carry the whiff of a genuinely authentic desperation has lifted.

I imagine the first, and as a reader all you can do is trust your own instincts.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

While the Women Are Sleeping

While the Women Are Sleeping - Javier Marías

This collection of Marias' short stories spans his writing career from his teenage years in 1968 through to 1998. Quite a stretch of time. While not essential, perhaps, this collection hangs together better than might be suspected and includes much to  savour.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Crime and Punishment - A Playlist

Crime and Punishment - A Playlist

Just thought I'd let the blogosphere know that I'm still alive by posting one of my intermittent playlists, this one loosely loosely held together by the theme of crime and punishment.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Gruts - Ivor Cutler

Although Ivor Cutler has long been a favourite of mine it has been of his recordings rather than the written versions of his work. When I saw this in the children's section of a local Oxfam store for €1.50 I had to have it. The pieces within it are the scripts for radio broadcasts from 1959 to 1963.

And I was not disappointed. These pieces work just as well, if not better, on the page. Cutler's quirky, sinister, humourous flights of fancy beguile in both formats.

No matter how strange these stories get, whether it is the cold potato man throwing his goods to a woman at a window on the twelfth floor or a man leading another to the top of a hill to show him the way, waving his arms and taking off, the stories all have a conspiratorial tone that seems to say "They won't believe it was like this, will they? But you and I know better."

Saturday, 22 August 2015


Dublinesque - Enrique Vila-Matas
(Translated by Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean)
"'Dublin?' she asks, surprised. 'And what are you going to do there? Start drinking again.'"

When #SpanishLitMonth was brought to my attention it was Bloomsday so this was an obvious choice, concerning, as it does, a visit to Dublin for June 16th to hold a funeral for "the Gutenburg Galaxy" - the world of the printed book. I was also eager to read more from Vila-Matas as I had enjoyed Bartleby & Co so much. This was also sitting on my shelves in three-dimensional, ink on paper form...

The central character is Samuel Riba, retired publisher, sober alcoholic. He "has published many of the great writers of his time" but, we learn, is not great with figures and his company went under. Drink almost pulled him under with the company and threatened to bring his marriage to a painful end. With little to fill his time Riba has developed an unhealthily close relationship with his computer screen and feels that he is becoming like the "hikikiomori, young Japanese people who suffer from IT autism, and who in order to avoid outside pressure react by withdrawing completely from society." I felt a certain fellow feeling...

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Mulatta & Mister Fly

The Mulatta & Mister Fly - Miguel Angel Asturias

As August has been united with July under the umbrella of #SpanishLitMonth (at Caravana De Recuerdos, WinstonsDad's Blog & on Twitter) it means that this post is not my usual #SpanishLateMonth. Although, as I'm now reading my fourth book there is plenty of time to be late yet...

This is the first novel I have read from the Nobel prize winner Asturias, and I have to say that it was not quite what I expected. The book is less a narrative than an incantation: an amalgam of myth, history, sex and politics that seems more closely related to the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, or William Burroughs, than to other South American writers I have read.

This isn't the whole picture, though. The book is soaked in the myth-story of South America and clearly draws on the same sources as Galeano's Memory of Fire. Indeed the author note in my copy says that Asturias "studied the philosophy and religion of the Mayan civilisation at the Sorbonne." This clearly gave Asturias the foundation upon which to build this strange world. At times the book heads into very weird terrain, as is shown this quote I scanned and posted on Twitter as I read.

Monday, 27 July 2015

The Conformist

The Conformist - Alberto Moravia
Translated by Angus Davidson
"I shall flare up and then die down again without reason and without result . . . just a little piece of destruction hanging in the blackness of night."

A few years ago I wrote a piece about the film version of The Conformist and recently, (*It was recently when I started writing this but ain't so recent now) seeing as Richard at Caravana de Recuerdos was having a bit of a Moraviafest I decided to join in and finally read the novel. And I'm glad I did. The Conformist is a stylish book written in a terse style with great clarity and powerful use of imagery. Bertolucci's use of contrasting light and dark stripes in the film was something I felt the director may have added to the mix but it is almost a defining aspect of the novel. Moravia seems to revel in dialectics, setting up contrasts at every opportunity and exploring how each action leads by often subterranean routes to the next.

Monday, 22 June 2015

The Ache - Memory

The Ache - Memory

Another offshoot of my earlier list The Ache Towards Transcendence Tempered By Death, this one focusing on memory, the most seductive mistress of all.

1.Blind Willie McTell by Bob Dylan
2.Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie by Bob Dylan
3.Needle and the Damage Done by Neil Young
4.You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory by Johnny Thunders
5.Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen
6.My Mummy's Dead by John Lennon
7.Spring Hill Disaster by The Dubliners
8.Chelsea Hotel No 2 by Leonard Cohen
9.Corvair by Jim White
10.Eid Ma Clack Shaw by Bill Callahan
11.Here Comes a Regular by The Replacements
12.Bastards of Young by The Replacements

Sunday, 14 June 2015

My post on Miss Lonelyhearts nominated for Prize / Canvassing your VOTE!

Miss Lonelyhearts post nominated for Prize

I was pleased and flattered to find my post on Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts nominated for the 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2015.

I was even more pleased that I was nominated by Tom over at the wonderful Wuthering Expectations blog.

There are 45 blog posts nominated and twenty of them will be shortlisted to be judged for the final prize by Jonathan Kramnick, Maynard Mack Professor of English at Yale University and author of two books, Making the English Canon (1999) and Actions and Objects from Hobbes to Richardson (2010), and many essays.

I am under no illusions that I will win as there are many excellent entries from many prestigious online publications. However, I would like to get to the shortlist and so I am shamelessly canvassing that readers who enjoyed the post on Miss Lonelyhearts go to the following link where they can cast a vote for me (or, I guess, someone else). The list is arranged alphabetically and so Vapour Trails is at the very bottom, No 45.
Post listing nominees with links to articles. The link you need to click to vote is at the bottom.

Thank you!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Top 102 Albums No Minus 15 - Look Away Down Collins Avenue

Top 102 Albums No Minus 15
Look Away Down Collins Avenue - The Drays

"I hear voices / said "I see the light" (I hear the light)"

After sixteen years of waiting there is a new album from Stephen Ryan, who first came took my heart in The Stars of Heaven back when I was young, passionate and impressionable. If you want to know what The Stars of Heaven meant to me you can get some clues here. He followed up his time with The Stars of Heaven by forming The Revenants and releasing two great albums with them.

The Drays feature fellow travellers from his Revenants days Conor Brady and former Would-Be's singer Eileen Gogan. Alongside them is drummer Paul Byrne, who played in Sounds Unreel / Deaf Actor with Conor Brady in the late seventies, and later In Tua Nua. (Brady has also been midwife to the re-emergence of Paul Cleary and The Blades in recent years.)

It has been sixteen years since his last release with The Revenants but he has been playing guitar in The Dinah Brand since then and has, it is clear, continued to write songs. Indeed he has been squirrelling them away against the onset of winter. (awful pun on one of the meanings of dray. Sorry). The presence of Derrick Dalton on the credits means that some of this was recorded in 2008 or earlier, when Derrick died. Also credited is Revenants bassist Naeem Bismilla who is set to be part of the touring band. Conor Brady plays bass as well as guitar on most of the album.

The Drays Paul Byrne; Stephen Ryan; Eileen Gogan; Conor Brady
(photo by ex-Stars of Heaven drummer Bernard Walsh!)
There's no attempt here to embrace anything other than Ryan's own heritage and as one of the finest songwriters to emerge from Ireland, and that simple guitar/bass/drums format harking back through the Byrds / Big Star / Replacements bloodline. With a small but exquisite body of work, why do otherwise? The quality of the songs here is an argument for longer breaks between albums. The sense of time passing hangs over this collection like a gently charged fog of years. There are songs that seem to catch life happened and happening, a sense that the people in them have changed, or are changing. Epiphanies, perhaps?

"Nothing changes then it changes a lot
Did you really think nothing would change?"

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Unfortunates

The Unfortunates - B.S.Johnson
"How did I not realise when he said, Go and do City this week, that it was this city?                 Tony.    
      His cheeks sallowed and collapsed round the insinuated bones, the gums shrivelled, was it, or shrunken, his teeth now standing free of each other in the unnatural half yawn of his mouth, yes, the mouth that had been so full-fleshed, the whole face, too, now collapsed, derelict, the thick-framed glasses the only constant, the mouth held open in a controlled scream, but no sound, the head moving only slightly, the white dried and sticky saliva, the last secretions of those harassed glands, cauterised into deficiency, his mouth closing only when he took water from a glass by his bed, that double bed, in his parent's house, bungalow, water or lemon he had to take frequently, because of what the treatment had done to his saliva glands, how it had finished them.               Him"

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

1985 Playlist

1985 Playlist

It's thirty years since I was eighteen. A fact I find hard to believe. Here's the soundtrack to my memories of 1985.

Here's the track list.

1. Young and Happy by The Golden Horde
2.The Boy with the Thorn in his Side by The Smiths
3.How Soon is Now? by The Smiths
4.The Last Man in Europe by The Blades
5.Downmarket by The Blades
6.My New House by The Fall
7.Cruisers Creek by The Fall
8.Never Understand by The Jesus & Mary Chain
9.Cemetery Polka by Tom Waits
10.Time by Tom Waits
11.Clothes of Pride by Stars of Heaven
12.Tupelo by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds1
3.New Day Rising by Hüsker Dü
14.Terms of Psychic Warfare by Hüsker Dü
15.This is What She's Like by Dexy's Midnight Runners
16. Tina, the Go-Go Queen by Tav Falco's Panther Burns
17.Begging Bowl by Microdisney
18.Time Flies by (when you're the Driver of a Train) by Half Man Half Biscuit
19.A Pair of Brown Eyes by The Pogues
20.The Sickbed of Cuchulainn by The Pogues
21.When Love Breaks Down by Prefab Sprout
22.Lost my Job by Alex Chilton
23.Can't Get There From Here by R.E.M.
24.Wendell Gee by R.E.M.
25.Pale Clouded White by Cocteau Twins
26.Sub-Culture by New Order
27.Yesterday's Men by Madness
28.Raspberry Beret by Prince and the Revolution
29.This is England by The Clash
30.Between the Wars by Billy Bragg
31.The World Turned Upside Down by Billy Bragg
32.Beyond Belief by Elvis Costello & The Attractions
33.Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) by Kate Bush
34.Cloudbursting by Kate Bush
35.Bastards of Young by The Replacements
36.Here Comes a Regular by The Replacements
37.Green Eyes by Hüsker Dü
38.Makes No Sense at All by Hüsker Dü
39.Take the Skinheads Bowling by Camper Van Beethoven
40.Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads
41.Singing in Braille by Five Go Down to The Sea
42.Chansonette by Agnes Bernelle
43.V2 by That Petrol Emotion

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The Ache - Mancruel

The Ache - Mancruel

This playlist is an offshoot of my earlier The Ache Towards Transcendence Tempered by Death which grew too long and so I tried to break it down into more thematic strands. This one focusses, mostly, on man's inhumanity to man, beast and planet.

Easy listening for raging misanthropes...

(Thanks to Goya for the illustration)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Ache Towards Transcendence Tempered by Death

The Ache Towards Transcendence Tempered by Death

A playlist of some of my favourite music. The title was the only organising principle. It's an attempt to summarise the human condition. It's music for night time, much of it haunted., but by beauty as well as death.

 Tracklist below.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Miss Lonelyhearts

Miss Lonelyhearts

"The letters were no longer funny. He could not go on finding the same joke funny thirty times a day for months on end. And on most days he received more than thirty letters, all of them alike, stamped from the cookie dough of suffering with a heart-shaped cookie knife."

King James had the bible translated into English. Nathanael West has transmigrated it into the language of hard-drinking, utterly cynical newspaper men, creating a book at once funny and heartbroken, perhaps as bereft of hope as any book I have read. Indeed, it is a rare pleasure to read a book almost as pessimistic as I feel.

Miss Lonelyhearts, firstly, is a man who took on the 'agony aunt' column in 'the New York Post-Dispatch' in order to further his career. Now even he refers to himself as Miss Lonelyhearts. Even his identity is inauthentic. He is a figure of fun for his editor, Shrike, who makes a joke of Miss Lonelyhearts' earnestness and quasi-priestlike position. "'The Susan Chesters, the Beatrice Fairfaxes, and the Miss Lonelyhearts are the priests of twentieth-century America.'"

Sunday, 22 March 2015


Lila - Marilynne Robinson

"The child was just there on the stoop in the dark, hugging herself against the cold, all cried out and nearly sleeping. She couldn't holler anymore and they didn't hear her anyway, or they might and that would make things worse."

This is the third of Robinson's Gilead books, after Gilead itself and Home, and there are gaps left here that point to possible future instalments. Lila is the wife of Reverend John Ames, who was the central consciousness in Gilead.

The long letter that John Ames writes his son in Gilead contains many of his "begats". He is one in a long line. Lila, however, knows little or nothing about her forebears. Her life begins when she is taken from the 1920's equivalent of a crack den by Doll. Doll dosses down in the house herself and has really nowhere to take the child, who is sick, having been left outside in the elements. She is the only one who ever shows Lila any kindness. Indeed, when Doll is kind to Lila before taking her away, Lila hates her for it, a trait which is prevalent in children (and adults) with attachment difficulties. They share their homelessness, and that becomes a part of the bridge between them. ""Well, we got no place to go. Where we gonna go?""

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Airwaves - Irish Rock Part Two

Airwaves - Irish Rock Part Two

My St Patrick's Day offering is the second part of my mix of some of my favourite Irish music. You will find much Cathal Coughlan and Stephen Ryan here; That Petrol Emotion; Luggage; The Idiots; Female Hercules; Into Paradise; Eating Betty and more - see playlist below.

Happy St Patrick's Day

Friday, 13 March 2015

Airwaves - Irish Rock Part One

Airwaves - Irish Rock Part One

Given that I am currently under orders to refrain from reading and writing, and anything that involves looking down too much I have been experimenting with putting together a couple of "radio shows".

There are some programmes on the history of Irish Rock on BBC Four tonight, and St Patrick's Day approaches so I thought I would put together a personal selection of Irish rock music. This is part one of at least two.

Apologies for gaps, clicks, pops, cat noises and "eh"s.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Blood in My Eye

Blood in My Eye

To add injury to inertia, my recent bloggers block has been compounded by an injury received playing football this week.

Having received an elbow in the eye I am currently walking around with smoke-like trails of blood in the visual field of my right eye. It is like my own personal Northern Lights, in red.

I am under doctors orders to look ahead and not downwards or upwards. I was told not to READ for a few weeks. Also no activity beyond a gentle walk which endangers my recent flirtation with improved fitness and reduced weight...

At least when I get the all clear i'll be raring to go again.

Just before I got the doctors advice I re-read Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts which was, if anything, better than I remembered. One of the greatest masterpieces of American fiction. I was also loving B.S.Johnson's The Unfortunates. More on both when I return in a few weeks..

Monday, 16 February 2015

It's Been a bit Quiet Around Here.

I seem to have briefly (I hope) lost my blogging mojo but I did make this video/slideshow for The Knocking Shop's track Half-Orphan. The song was written in memory of my mother and she 'stars' alongside me in the video. It was made as a Valentine's Day card to her memory.

I hope you enjoy it.

Hopefully it will be back to book-blogging business here soon!