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!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry

Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry - B.S. Johnson

"It did not take him long to realise that he had not been born into money; that he would therefore have to acquire it as best he could; that there were unpleasant (and to him unacceptable) penalties for acquiring it by those methods considered to be criminal by society; that there were other methods not (somewhat arbitrarily)  considered criminal by society; and that the course most likely to benefit him would be to place himself next to the money, or at least to those who were making it. He therefore decided that he should become a bank employee."

I finally got to read something by B.S.Johnson and I will be looking out for more. This comedy of morals is an all out attack on the 'realist' novel and draws on a tradition that includes Nathanael West and Flann O'Brien. It is also easy to see the influence of this on What a Carve Up! by Johnson biographer Jonathan Coe.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Gate

The Gate - Natsume Sõseki
(Translated by William F. Sibley)

"They walked along through life together on the path toward death, lashed by fate each step of the way. Yet the lash's tip, they realised, had been dipped in a honey-like balm that healed all wounds."

Although it dates from 1910 there is something very modern about The Gate. It deals with the death of ambition under the pressure of financial strain, conformity and the wearying monotony of commuter life. At times I found myself thinking that it sat somewhere between Dostoevsky and Revolutionary Road.

The main characters are Sōsuke and his wife Oyone. Right from the start there is a sense that the are just pawns in a bigger game, or perhaps prawns: "She saw that at some inner prompting he had brought his knees up to his chest, prawn-like, as if he were occupying a cramped space." They cling to middle class respectability but we are constantly being made aware that there is something shameful in their past, or at least in Sōsuke's past. For some reason he failed to finish university which has hampered his career progression. Work seems little more than an exhausting chore that leaves Sōsuke worn out: "when he gets home he's exhausted - even the walk to the bathhouse is a chore."

Sunday, 18 January 2015

14 Books of the Year 2014

My 14 Books of the Year 2014
(none of which are actually from 2014)
(and there are actually more than 14)
I guess I'm a bit late with this but I seem to be developing a backlog of half completed posts and I would rather finish than delete them. 2014 was marked by a few separate events, none more so than the death of Dermot Healy, the brilliant Irish novelist, poet and dramatist. I'm not sure what order he would have put those in but that is the order they hold in my head. I was inspired to reread all of his novels, his only collection of short stories and a couple of books of his poetry (although I have yet to post anything on the poetry). The novel reading culminated in a reading of his final novel, Long Time, No See, which I had bought when it came out but which had remained (in good company) unread on my shelves. This had probably been partly a result of the lukewarm reception the book received. However it was the highlight of my year and brought my "project" to a satisfying close.

Friday, 9 January 2015

An Atheist's Grace

An Atheist's Grace

The grace I know is
We will be forgotten

Like sandcastles
Even the very beaches

The closest secrets of our hearts
and the furthest reaches of our imaginations
Are separated by little more
than comes between one second
And the next

In the final end we will have changed nothing
For good
or ill

In this we are blessed

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Riot of my Own

A Riot of my Own
One of the more memorable things I did this year was presenting a paper at the A Riot of Our Own conference on The Clash in Belfast. It was nowhere near as frightening to do as it was to contemplate in advance, fortunately. I have been meaning to brush up my notes into a more coherent essay and 'publish' it here. However, I never seem to manage to get the time and in order to clear my backlog of 'things to do', here, in the spirit of punk, is the rough version, including the powerpoint images which were well received, whatever about the words...  

Monday, 5 January 2015


Ghosts - César Aira
(Translated by Chris Andrews)

I was expecting Aira to be a strange writer, although not sure in what way. I had bumped into him at a few of my favourite blogs: Caravana de Recuerdos; In Lieu of a Field Guide; Jacquiwine's Journal; Wuthering ExpectationsSix Words for a Hat and probably a few other places as well. And strangeness I did get, although not quite in the way I expected.

Ghosts gives the sense of being improvised and contains the mundane and the supernatural living comfortably together. It takes place on New Year's Eve in a building that is under construction and seemed to me to be a reflection on how we construct spaces, stories and cultures. It explores choice, inviting us to consider the choices that are always being made by the writer. As the novel progresses the focus moves from the builders of and future owners of the apartments to the family of one of the builders, the alcoholic, Chilean Raúl Viñas, who is also night watchman. His family live with him in an apartment "no more finished than the rest of the building".