Eric Idle Online
False Nine by Philip Kerr - Apr-2016

A disappointment for me in the end. The story of Manson, a black Scottish football player and manager and solver of crimes in and around the game. The gags are good, but he fails to convince me that this guy is real. Even if he does get to shag all the beautiful women in the book, who throw themselves at him, this is more Bond than reality. I liked January Transfer but I’m not sure if I’ll bother with the one in between. About a missing French footballer returning to Guadelope before joining Barca from PSV. He writes well always, but one recurring character too many?

The Mystery of Michael Black by Adam Johnson - Apr-2016

Thank heaven I found something finally by him I wasn’t crazy about. This is about a writer who writes what is about to happen. A little too cute and fantasy for me.

Maigret and His Dead Man by Georges Simenon - Apr-2016

On I-Pad
Impeccable and reliable as ever.

The History of the Conquest of Mexico by William H. Prescott - Apr-2016

On I-Pad
For the second time. Magnificently written telling of the fall of Montezuma and the Aztec Empire in the face of the implacable Cortez. 150 men and 16 cavaliers, four cannon… Outrageous manipulation of will, diplomacy and determination. I am still avidly reading this beautifully written book first published in 1842. Of course he cannot from his time period entirely show that the Aztec Gods were just as weird as the Spaniards, but he can at least suggest it, and his prose is to die for. And what a story. Shameful, reprehensible, but world changing and it happened.

Emporium by Adam Johnson - Apr-2016

On I-Pad
Recent volume of short stories. He is just so great. I am still reading this. Savouring them, and saving them, like the best chocolates in the box. You’ve been good, now you can have another.

Clandestine by James Elroy - Apr-2016

On I-Pad
Interesting. Gripping. And at times downright weird. A huge work, with great ambitions most of which it achieves.

The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr - Apr-2016

And thank h. Philip Kerr came through and redeemed himself at the last whistle with another Bernie Gunther novel. I loved it, and it is amazing how cleverly he works real people into his stories, which accounts for their quirky reality. Here Somerset Maugham plays a big role, really?, yes and also Anthony Blunt. Good fun.

The Gap of the Time by Jeanette Winterson - Mar-2016

The Winter’s Tale. A modern rendition of the Shakespeare play. The first half is absolutely brilliant. Gripping, thrilling and the people come bursting off the pages. The second half falls apart totally. As I suspect so does the play but it’s been a while since I saw or read it. Even when we get to our longed for end, when the lost Perdita is reconciled with Leo (Leontes) and her mum comes back from the dead (as a statue in the play, as a recluse here), she cuts it short and flips into an essay on Shakespeare and his heroines. Because of course she, the author, is an abandoned daughter, a Perdita, and lost to her own mother, and to her that is of course more interesting than the reconciliation with a fictional mother, which never in her life happened. And of course she hated her foster mother and wrote two absolutely brilliant books about this monster of a woman. If it had only stopped at page 123 I would be raving about this. But sadly it doesn’t. Pity. What with Howard Jacobson having a go at Shylock this is quite the age of novelising Shakespeare.

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson - Mar-2016

Superbly written short stories I could easily re-read again. Read on Kindle on flights and in Hotel rooms on the road. He is just fabulous. One of the stories actually concerns two North Korean defectors, which was interesting. He seems to know so much about the Koreas. The stories are: Nirvana, Hurricanes Anonymous, Interesting Facts, George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine, Dark Meadow and Fortune Smiles.

Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks - Mar-2016

A sort of sentimental novel, a memory of war and love and visits to an old man on an island. Robert Hendricks never quite seems to enjoy love affairs with any of the women offered up to us. Instead spending his life quietly denying his thirty years regret of not being with the Italian woman Luisa he met and had an affair with during the war. Anzio is described well from the British perspective and he is supposed to have written a book about new ways of looking at the mad, but all in all it feels like that rather sentimental type of movie, where the nurses wear starched white and no one quite gets to do anything. He is of course reconciled with Luisa once she is tragically stricken with cancer. An odd thing. Many good things but…

I think I have also read by him Charlotte Gray, and The Girl at the Lion D’Or.

Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante - Mar-2016

So well and succinctly written, even if we hadn’t become accustomed to Helen Mirren playing the role. The first case of Detective Jane Tennison, and she is up against the full prejudice of the Police force. This adds a piquancy to what is already a great tale.

Girl in The Dark by Marion Pauw - Mar-2016

Amazing how good all these contemporary female thriller Writer’s are. This is the English language debut of a Dutch writer. Masterly (mistressly?) construction, gripping and unexpected.

The Orphan Masters Son by Adam Johnson - Feb-2016

An absolutely first class brilliant book. A work of fiction and imagination that seems entirely real. Set in the bizarre and foul world of Kim Il Sung’s North Korea, he relentlessly exposes what it is like to live under the insane dictatorship of this poisoned state, and the contradictions in self behaviour and self correcting thought it requires to even survive. A brilliant and thoroughly original and unique book. Masterful.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon - Feb-2016

I thought I had read this, but reading the first page in a Brisbane bookshop really grabbed me. Now 50 pages in I’m beginning to feel he’s lost the thread and that the extremely funny prose that seduced me is losing its pull. Will give it a bit more of a go. Which I did and finished by the last night, but wtf? Conspiracy theory as a novel. So many good things, so unsatisfactorily woven together, and so much that is frankly puzzling.

The Whites by Richard Price - Feb-2016

Often novels end weakly. The author seems to run out of steam. The only category of novels in which this is absolutely unacceptable is the Thriller, or Detective novel. The climax, the end, is the whole point. This one I found took me a page or two to understand and then built and built and went off like a rocket. I loved it.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver - Feb-2016

Vintage Carver. Literally and publishing. This Vintage book 2009. The original from 1981. So simply written, so brilliantly expressed. Often the same sad tale of alcohol and the falling away of love. These are wonderful short stories. He is amongst the greatest of the genre. Found them in Brisbane and devoured them.

Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson - Feb-2016

His first novel. The end of the world caused by anthropology. Fabulous, funny and brilliant. An anthropological discovery near an expanding Casino, causes fascination, theory and ultimately chaos to the whole world except the discoverers in ways you neither predict nor could foresee. He really is the real thing.

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes - Feb-2016

An ironic life of Shostakovich or how to live under tyranny, oddly the same subject that Adam Johnson tackles so brilliantly in The Orphan Master’s Son, though here done as a narrative biography of the real composer. Perhaps because it is based on truth and isn’t fiction it fails to come to life. It isn’t biography either but a strange hybrid. It’s hard to know who is telling this tale. It is pseudo biography but it stirs no emotions except pity. You feel sympathy towards this highly gifted composer being forced to compromise for Stalin, but I think by adopting this method of telling his story it feels more like a lecture and I miss the dialogue and character at which Julian Barnes is so amazingly good. A puzzler.

Monsieur Monde Vanishes by George Simenon - Feb-2016

An interesting Maigret. He starts with a mystery he immediately explains, and follows the runner, a middle aged business man weary of his dull life who escapes to the South of France.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - Feb-2016

In the fine translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I am about half way through my third reading of this amazing book, and let’s face it, probably my last…. In a copy sent to me by Mike Nichols. As I am off on tour I shall continue reading the same translation on my I pad. Certainly easier on the wrist. Of course inspired by watching the exceptionally good BBC TV series. This is one of my favourite novels.

The Myth of American Exceptionalism by Godfrey Hodgson - Jan-2016

Both an explanation of the theory of American exceptionalism through history, and how it arose, and a warning that it has now become dangerously politicized, which led in the second Bush administration to a serious of disastrous foreign policy decisions, from which America still suffers. To be honest I wasn’t really aware of AE, or for that matter Manifest Destiny, so I’m catching up. Good book to start. He is very gentle with America, which makes his case far more effective.

“My thesis is not that American exceptionalist thought is intrinsically corrupting or that it was destructive in the past, but that what has been essentially a liberating set of beliefs has been corrupted over the past thirty years or so by hubris and self-interest into what is now a dangerous basis for national policy and for the international system.” A thought provoking and interesting book.

April 1865: The Month that Saved America by Jay Winik - Jan-2016

A wonderful book, beautifully written, with great thought, about the enormous changes wrought in this month to America. From the fall of Richmond, to the noble and dignified surrender of Lee to the courteous wisdom of U.S. Grant at Appomattox, and the other brave decisions of the Southern Commanders to relinquish arms, rather than committing the nation to endless guerrilla warfare. The assassination of Lincoln only six days after the actor Booth shot him in the theatre might have revived the whole bloody mess, but mercifully it didn’t. A very fine book with unforgettable scenes right to the end when the extraordinary General Lee joins a black communicant kneeling at the altar rail before a shocked community in a Richmond Church. So many great moments. A really thoughtful, succinct, yet wide-ranging tale of a nation almost rending itself in half, but coming together at the last moment. A classic.

I caught the flu and in my delirium I dipped into many books. Some of them I did not finish. The fault, if there be any, is mine. I may or may not take them up again for I must leave on a long journey soon and they cannot come with me. So for the fallen, a salute:

Herzog by Saul Bellow - Jan-2016

I know many people, the wonderful Christopher Hitchins for one, who adore this book. I got about half way through. He is very good, but he doesn’t do what some other writers do for me, which is make themselves indispensable in my life. I will return…

The Narrow Road to The Deep North by Richard Flanagan - Jan-2016

I was enjoying this Booker Prize Winner of 2014, an Australian tale of sons, and fathers suffering on the Burma Railroad. And oh how they suffered, and oh how few came back, to the shame of the honour of the Japanese nation. The book contains important lessons about individualism against Fascism. The modern world has embraced the individual. That is the way forward. In many ways World War Two is a moral triumph of the individuals of a nation against the mass forces of insanity, led by single insane leaders. About half way through.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: An Essay by David Foster Wallace - Jan-2016

(Digital Original)

A fun essay about his week on a Caribbean Cruise Liner for a glossy Magazine inspired me to read: