Sunday, 27 March 2011

Book #21

Spiral by Koji Suzuki

Pathologist Ando is at a low point in his life. His small son's death from drowning has resulted in the break-up of his marriage and he is suffering from traumatic recurrent nightmares. Work is his only escape, and his depressing world of lonliness and regret is shaken up when an old rival from medical school, Ryuji Takayama, turns up on his slab ready to be dissected. Through Ryuji's bizarre demise Ando learns of a series of mysterious deaths that seem to have been caused by a sinister virus. From beyond the grave Ryuji appears to be leading Ando towards a suspicious videotape -- could this hold the answer to the riddle of the strange deaths? Or is it merely the first clue?

This is the sequel to Ring, which I read in April last year and really enjoyed. Unfortunately I didn't find this one quite as interesting and engaging as I did its predecessor.

It takes place almost immediately after the previous novel leaves off. Our protagonist, Ando, is dissecting the body of one of the characters who died in the previous novel. This leads to the discovery of the Ring virus, and everything from this point is given a scientific explanation. Not being particularly scientifically minded myself, I struggled to understand the links. The way Suzuki tied the supernatural to science was incredibly difficult for me to grasp, and it wasn't really what I was looking for in this novel; I like my supernatural to be inexplicable.

Much of the book is spent explaining what happened in Ring, and although this was a good reminder, also allowing the book to be read as a standalone, it was very tedious.

For these reasons too, I didn't feel the novel to be very effective as a horror. I felt no forms of suspense, shock or panic at any point whilst reading, and it failed to hold my attention at times. It just wasn't as creepy as I was expecting, and this in itself disappointed me.

Despite all this, I'm still interested in reading Loop, the final installment of the trilogy. I'd only recommend Spiral if, like me, you are interested in reading the entire series. I absolutely would not recommend this as a standalone read, unless you have a specific interest in how science relates to the paranormal.

21 / 72 books. 29% done!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Book #20

Porno by Irvine Welsh

In the fag-end of his youth, Simon 'Sick Boy' Williamson is back in his native Edinburgh after a long spell in London. Having failed spectacularly as a hustler, pimp, husband, father and businessman, Sick Boy taps into an opportunity, which to him represents one last throw of the dice. To enable this scam to work out, Sick Boy needs bedfellows.

This is the sequel to Trainspotting, and takes place ten years later. I've heard a lot of mixed reviews on this one, always comparing it to Trainspotting, but I have to say I like it just as much, if not more than, its predecessor.

It's slightly less intense than Trainspotting and shows sex rather than heroin as the drug of choice. Despite this, it's still filled with corruption from beginning to end.

It's possibly not the best book to read in public. I have the edition with the cover above, and this provoked a few raised eyebrows from the public when I was doing my relentless 'read whilst walking somewhere' routine. If you're easily embarrassed, then this is one that should be read only in the comforting depths of your own home.

The main thing to notice here is how deeply Irvine Welsh falls in love with his characters. They appear in sequels, but they also appear dotted around in the backgrounds of his other novels and this intertwining is something I love about his work. Porno seems to have been written to continue the stories of the much loved characters from Trainspotting, and who can blame the man for this? I found the character development to be almost perfect; every character was more or less where I would've expected them to be ten years down the line.

The narrative is set out similar to Trainspotting’s, with each new chapter being narrated by a different voice. This is wonderful as it gives us a greater insight into the minds and actions of more of the characters, rather than just one. Again, some of the characters use Scot's dialect, which can become tiresome (I imagine) if it's not your native tongue. Most of Sick Boy's chapters were written in perfect English, but it was interesting to note the occasions where he reverted back into Edinburgh slang, and wonder upon the reasons for this. How pondersome of me, I know.

There is a lot Welsh is trying to say here about consumerism and corporate capitalism, which is interesting to think about also.

I wouldn't say this is a necessary read for everyone who has read Trainspotting. It is necessary, however, for lovers of Irvine Welsh and his characters; the insight into them here is phenomenal.

It's filthy, it's dark, it's dirty and hilarious. I really don't understand what's not to love here. I'd even go as far as to demand another installment.

20 / 72 books. 28% done!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Book #19

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye've produced. Choose life.

This is an old favourite of mine. Irvine Welsh can do no wrong in my eyes.

Trainspotting is almost like a collection of short stories in the way it's written. Welsh flits through different narrators so quickly and frantically that you really have to pay attention to the words and themes in new chapters in order to understand who is telling you this next particular tale.

Welsh writes predominately in Scottish colloquialism, particularly in common Edinburgh dialect. I found this easy to read, being Scottish, but at times I wasn't too sure whether anyone other than a native Scot would be able to understand certain parts of this type of narrative. I imagine it would be a bit like reading A Clockwork Orange for the first time.

The book is dark and absolutely repulsive, but at the same time hilarious and relatable in places. There are some real emotional and moral struggles, and although these are experienced by some depraved criminal losers, sympathy can still be evoked by Welsh.

As a small aside, and since this a question that many people ask me, I'd like to comment on how much I prefer the book to the film. In all fairness, the film is one of my favourites, but it misses out a lot of key points and issues, and embellishes a few others. It's a lot less disjointed than the book is which is less appealing. It raises fewer questions. It's like Diet Trainspotting.

I have always maintained that Irvine Welsh is a man who can bring the lowest lows to life. Anything coarse or depraved that can be imagined can be personified by this man. I think it's his sheer sickness that I'm attracted to; I like reading his books and being transported almost down into the gutters with his characters. I’m sure this is a book that most people are familiar with, and I’d urge everyone to read it. It’s harrowing and to the point, and it’s something that has to be read.

19 / 72 books. 26% done!