Thursday, 18 September 2014

Bone Clocks

I promised @hmckervey some feedback on my current reading. I expect this is what being in a book club is like (I've never been invited to join one, and/or I'm afraid to commit to other people's book choices).

My most recent read is Bone Clocks. It's publication was eagerly awaited, it arrived to much fanfare from Sceptre, and I was eager to hand over my €25 for a gorgeous hard-backed, signed copy, having gobbled up Cloud Atlas, and thoroughly enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

You can hear the 'but' from here, can't you?

David Mitchell knows how to hook and reel his reader in, and once there, he will entertain. Guaranteed. Bone Clocks did exactly this, through the first novella, and the second, and the third. But — there it is — by the time I got to the fifth novella, the fantastical stuff, my enthusiasm waned and then fizzled out.

My son grew up with Harry Potter and I read the books along with him. And enjoyed them, to a point. Fantasy fiction has at its disposal all the tricks it needs to resolve all the problems it creates, which feels like a cheat to me. I had to remind myself that my disappointment with them was unfair; they were, after all, children's books.

It used to be the case that loosely grouped, ill defined 'genre' fiction was disparaged for being light weight, low brow pulp. Though it's no longer p.c. to describe it in this way, in truth, while I enjoyed my granny's Mills & Boons and Agatha Christie's when I was growing up, they felt a little bit shabby when contrasted with Austen and Shakespeare (school), and Rushdie and Joyce (pre-Uni summer). Like comparing fast food to your Mammy's cooking, both provide calories but one is (in my opintion) far superior to the other. The genre stuff no longer satisfied because it was not nourishing.

Cloud Atlas combined novellas of different genres into a magic mix where the whole was more than the parts, but as I near the end of Bone Clocks I've enjoyed the ride, but I'm just not feeling nourished.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

John Boyne and David Mitchell at Mountains to Sea

Friday night's Mountains to Sea event in the Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire with John Boyne and David Mitchell entertained a full house, with good banter between the two writers and Edel Coffey, the interviewer. They read from their respective books, and riffed on whatever topic
Edel hit them with: Kate Bush, Boyzone... the usual literary stuff.

Boyne talked about his reasons for naming his old school in his book and was
unrepentant about it, having suffered beatings at the hands of priests there in his schooldays. His new book, A History of Loneliness, sounds well worth a read.

Mitchell read a letter from Bone Clocks, which was doubly intriguing because I'm halfway through the book (and enjoying it). He denied being so Irish now that he felt he'd had to write a novel about Ireland, but admitted that he was able to do 'expat living in Ireland' or second generation Irish. Maybe he just needs a few more years...

The highlight, though, had to be when Mitchell, responding to an audience question, said he'd see the young lady (whose question it was) later, and would introduce her to "excalibur"... You had to be there!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hidden City

Or, to give Karl Whitney's book it's full title: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin by Foot, Bike, Bus, Train and Tram; In the Sewers and Underground Rivers; Along the Edges and Behind the Hoardings...  As promised to @hmckervey, this is the first of a few short reviews of books I've been reading lately. (It should probably be in Goodreads, not here, but somehow I've never managed to make the time to figure out how or why to use that site. Should I find time? Is it worth it?)

The concept itself is what first recommends the book to me, closely followed by 'dammit, why didn't I think of that'. Whitney moves around Dublin by foot, bike... well, you know the rest, and describes what he sees in clear, unprejudiced prose. Yet, because this is psychogeographical writing at its best -- yes, I stole this term from the flyleaf, and later, from Whitney's book when he references the Situationists, an avant-garde group set in 1950's Paris (where else) -- there is a very personal layer to the essays. Thus, when Whitney explores the fringes of West Dublin, he describes his own family's move there, and the effect the moves had on him. And because his is highly structured and intelligent writing, this move is echoed by the later chapter on Joyce and his family's many moves. You can follow Whitney down Dublin's drains in an excerpt from book, printed in last Saturday's Irish Times. You too might find it completely compelling.

PS For the sequel, I'd recommend taking along that smartphone, and a nutritious packed lunch. It's the Mammy in me -- we worry!