Friday, 20 September 2013

Book #32

My Friend Leonard by James Frey

While in rehab, James Frey finds a father figure in a shady mafia boss called Leonard. When Leonard returns to his dubious, prosperous life in the criminal underworld of Las Vegas, he promises James his support on the outside. Tragedy strikes the day James is released and his world seems set to implode. Unsure where to turn, he calls Leonard. Paradoxically, it is in Leonard's lawless underworld that James discovers the courage and humanity needed to rebuild his life.

I really wanted to hate this book. I was fully prepared to hate this book. After reading the entirety of A Million Little Pieces, taking it in as a memoir, and loving every minute of it, only to find out the majority of the story was sheer fiction, I had trust issues with James Frey. This time, though, I was prepared. I knew it was highly unlikely that this book would be all truth. I had absolutely no thoughts in my head that this is was in any way an account of Frey's life. I took the story in as fiction, and it was absolutely wonderful. It made me smile like a loon, it made me cry my eyes out (which isn't as easy as you might think), and I really enjoyed the story.

Frey's writing is unorthodox, and frantic. The sentences move in a stream of conciousness, as though they were the thoughts in his head, and this really hammers home the paranoia and the issues involved in being a recovering addict. It's all very raw, emotional, and captivating. The tragedy James goes through, and the despair that comes with it, is shown in great depth in just the words he uses. The way James narrates changes gradually over the course of the book, along with his feelings, and the changes in his life. The writing style grows and evolves with the narrator, and that's something that I find really remarkable.

What I loved most is that the story tells of the power of love and relations in the healing process. James had his friend Leonard to help him through the difficult times. Yes, I imagine having a very wealthy crime boss helping you out in times of need would be very beneficial, however Leonard was a wonderful character. He was full of love and wisdom, and I can't imagine anyone reading the book disliking him. The book seems to be more of a tribute to Leonard than anything else.

I'd encourage you all to read A Million Little Pieces before getting into this one. It will explain a lot about the place James is in at the beginning of the novel, and the relationships within the book. This isn't as painful as Pieces; it's filled with more hope, which is never a bad thing. I'd say pick it up for the writing style alone; it really is wonderful.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Book #31

Filth by Irvine Welsh

With the festive season almost upon him, Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson is winding down at work and gearing up socially - kicking off Christmas with a week of sex and drugs in Amsterdam. There are irritating flies in the ointment, though, including a missing wife, a nagging cocaine habit, a dramatic deterioration in his genital health, a string of increasingly demanding extra-marital affairs. The last thing he needs is a messy murder to solve. Still it will mean plenty of overtime, a chance to stitch up some colleagues and finally clinch the promotion he craves. But as Bruce spirals through the lower reaches of degradation and evil, he encounters opposition - in the form of truth and ethical conscience - from the most unexpected quarter of all: his anus.

I truly believe this is the ugliest and most twisted novel Welsh has ever written. I've read it many times, and I have been more disgusted with each read. It's a confusing train wreck of a novel, one which makes you feel sleazy for even opening, but one which is worth it for the more contemptible of us.

Robertson is an anti-hero. Welsh presents him in a horrible way, a complex way, and a way in which begs the question whether Robertson is the monster or the victim. The novel begins with our narrator being given to us on a plate as a typical sexist, racist, homophobic, sectarian, close-minded white male. But slowly, we come to recognise Robertson's flaws as products of experience, lifestyle, and abuse, and this presents some old existential questions. At times I, wrongly, admired Robertson for his unapologetic evil, and ways of getting round people. He's a genius. At times he made me sick.

Welsh uses one of the most bizarre narrative devices I have ever seen. Robertson develops a tapeworm, which crawls its way on to the pages in a typical worm shape. The voice of the tapeworm begins simply by begging Robertson to eat, but the longer the worm talks, and presumably the older and wiser it gets, the more the worm interprets its host. We're given Robertson's background and family life, and things begin to fall into place. This type of narrative has been slated by many, but I feel it works. Robertson comes across as a hard, solid man; stronger than you, wiser than you, better than you. But the worm speaks from inside of him, and this proximity to our narrator, this 'I am inside you' feeling, means that we trust this parasite's words of wisdom. It's a really strange feeling, and odd to read, but it's clever, and wonderful. The tapeworm shows us that Robertson is very unreliable narrator, and gives us his most repressed memories to feed on as though we were the worm.

I decided to read the novel again as the film adaptation will be in cinemas at the end of the month. It looks absolutely brilliant, and I have really enjoyed the trailers. The promotion I've seen so far, however, seems to be glamourising the filth aspect of the novel, more than anything else. Welsh doesn't do this with his writing; the sex, drugs, racism, language, violence, and everything that contributes to the depravity of Bruce Robertson, all contribute to his descent into madness, and his slow disintegration. There was nothing sexy about it; it was all sad and pathetic. I'll be interested to see how this is interpreted by Jon S. Baird, however hearing James McAvoy say, "turn ma gas oaf" will make up for any cinematic distortions.

This book is a hard pill to swallow. I'm not easily offended, and have a pretty strong stomach, so all I really wanted was a shower after reading a chapter, however I can completely understand how this could seriously offend typically rustic readers. That said, typically rustic readers shouldn't be picking up a Welsh novel in the first place. Anyone I know to be reading this blog should be picking this up. Sláinte.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Book #30

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

When a troubled model falls to her death from a snow-covered Mayfair balcony, it is assumed that she has committed suicide. However, her brother has his doubts, and calls in private investigator Cormoran Strike to look into the case.
Strike is a war veteran - wounded both physically and psychologically - and his life is in disarray. The case gives him a financial lifeline, but it comes at a personal cost: the more he delves into the young model's complex world, the darker things get - and the closer he gets to terrible danger.
So this is the  novel by the famous Robert Galbraith; the man who's actually a woman. I'd love to say I'd have picked this book up if it hadn't been revealed the author was in fact none other than demigod JK Rowling, but it just wouldn't have been the case. I do enjoy the odd crime novel, but I tend to find them predictable and unchallenging. Now, I am biased, but I couldn't predict a thing here. This novel is absolutely no Potter, but you all seem to have forgotten how well Rowling can weave a mystery.

For me, a mystery is all about how easy it is to work out. Crime authors pepper their pages with little clues for their readers, leading them to build their own conclusions surrounding the whole whodunit. Nine times out of ten, they give themselves away while there's still a chunk of the story to go, and each turn of the page is then confirmation that the reader has guessed correctly. And don't get me wrong, this happened here. I interpreted each of Rowling's clues to find my killer, and patiently turned the rest of the pages, each time having my suspicions confirmed. The thing is, I was completely wrong. I had been led down the garden path with a load of red herrings, smoke, mirrors, and excellent writing. If jaws actually hit floors, I'd have no teeth left. The shock was incredible. "She's done it again!" I screamed to no one in particular.

I liked Rowling's explorations of social class; similar to those in The Casual Vacancy, but this time a lot more focused on wealth and seriously high society. She explores those blurry worlds of celebrities, and the media, and lets us into their seedy little worlds. Not only this, she exposes the reality of these worlds, and adds layers of substance and vulnerability to the people who live in them.

This book is wonderful. I was at work twitching to get home and read more; I was out with friends, wishing I wasn't; I was starved for it. It's intriguing, exciting, and very real. It's just a shame Rowling's secret was given away by a friend. I hope it doesn't put her off continuing the series, and part of me is glad the secret is out; I'd never have picked this up otherwise.

(Although I am biased and can't say a bad word against again, my unpopular opinion is that I preferred The Casual Vacancy. Am I the only one?)