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".