Monday, 13 November 2017

Book #54

Socrates’ Defence by Plato

Somewhere between a historical account and work of philosophy, Socrates' Defence details the final plea of Plato's beloved mentor. 

Socrates is put on trial for his free thinking, for his exploration of the space between heaven and earth, and for expressing his thoughts free of charge to the youth of Athens. In this gorgeous work by Plato, we are shown him arguing for his life whilst exposing the twistedness of his accusers.

He expresses his defence in the simplest terms available to him in order to quash the accusations of his confusing eloquence. Despite the simplicity of his words, his argument remains thought-provoking and profound as he explains why he believes himself to be innocent. The attempt at vindication itself should be read to appreciate the wonder of it, which is why I won’t go into further detail here.

Despite his carefully put explanations, Socrates is sentenced to death. Plato beautifully allows us to understand why this is a grave mistake from the jurymen of Athens as Socrates describes his lack of fear pertaining to death, and also reminds us that no one knows whether death is worse than life - we only assume.

The accusers of Socrates feared him for his individuality, for how he differed from them, for how he was wiser than them. They feared him speaking the truth, and for the population to realise he was speaking the truth. They made him pay for all of this, and I defy anyone to disagree with the fact that people are still persecuted for all of these things today. It’s mind-bending, maddening.

‘If you think that by killing men you can prevent someone from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and the noblest way is not to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves.’

It truly is unbelievable how relevant this text is today as it was in the fifth century. Socrates was targeted simply because of who he was, and he paid the ultimate price for his distinctiveness. It doesn’t take a philosopher to see how that jars with 2017 - many already have been forced to drink the hemlock merely because of the way they are.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Book #53

Strange Scottish Stories by William Owen

Ghosts, witches, unexplained mysteries, and the supernatural are the basis for this fascinating Ghost Series which relates ghost stories from Scotland.

I was prepared to be thoroughly terrified by this collection of stories; I wasn’t. Instead, I was filled with an immense feeling of intrigue, curiosity, and (bizarrely) déjà vu. As each of the tales originated in Scotland, mainly the Highlands, I felt a huge impact of patriotism and an odd pride at seeing my ancestors cut each other’s heads off.

Owen’s collection of tales range from myth and legend, to those he tells us are absolutely true. We are left alone to decide which of the stories fall into each category - an uncomfortable and difficult feat. Murder, ghosts, deceit, revenge, and even Falkirk’s favourite - the kelpie, are themes within the book, and each glimpse is as grim as the last.

My favourite thing about this book is its commentary on old Scottish custom and social hierarchy. We’re going as far back as the 1700s here, and it was gorgeous to read of the ways of the people in our country at that time. Even if, y’know, they were plagued with the ghost of a widow bent on vengeance.

It’s nothing that will keep you from sleeping, but there’s something really queer about it that I can’t put my finger on. Well worth a read for us Scots, and for anyone else who’s looking for a piece of something arcane. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book #52

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Yale hopeful Bronwyn has never publicly broken a rule. Sports star Cooper only knows what he's doing in the baseball diamond. Bad body Nate is one misstep away from a life of crime. Prom queen Addy is holding together the cracks in her perfect life.
And outsider Simon, creator of the notorious gossip app at Bayview High, won't ever talk about any of them again.
He dies 24 hours before he could post their deepest secrets online. Investigators conclude it's no accident. All of them are suspects.
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you'll go to protect them. 

This is a stunning reinforcement of my opinion that young adult fiction is for everyone.

McManus’s range of characters was a big hit for me here. Painted on the cover as stereotypes - the geek, the jock, the criminal, the princess - they were so diverse, so complicated, so not stereotypical at all, and so dredged in teenage angst, that I was gripped from the beginning. Each of them having that Breakfast Club vibe in the modern time was only a bigger hit for me. Add in the murder and we’ve got ourselves a party.

Each of the accused give us their first point narrative in alternating chapters. This allows us to get under the skin of all of them, find out what their motivations could be to commit the crime, and understand everything else going on in their lives. Even the sub-characters were perfectly rounded - I have a particular love for the badass we call Maeve. Relationships, family issues, and ill health were all part of their struggles, and McManus paints them all in such a way that we can’t believe any of them had anything to do with it. How could they?

An author’s skill in these types of novels is to leave ambiguous clues for the reader to guess what’s happened before the big reveal. If you have the intellect (or, if you’re like me and have read so much Sherlock Holmes you should probably consider joining the police), you’ll be able to work this one out pretty quickly. McManus peppers little hints throughout the pages, which can either lead the reader to the secret, or make the plot even more tantalising. Everyone wins here.

It’s difficult to say much more without descending into spoiler-realm, but I will say this: if you think young adult novels aren’t worth your time, you are missing out immeasurably. One of Us Is Lying is the most gripping, enjoyable, addictive and plain readable novel I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in a long time.

Get buying. 

Monday, 30 October 2017

Book #51

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don't like her. She jokes that she won't bite, but they don't laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children's cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she'll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn't know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

Zombie-lit has never been my thing. The moaning, shuffling undead, hellbent on chewing the flesh of a group of protagonists who are mostly armed and ready to send them from dead, to completely dead. Throw in a couple of character development points, probably a couple of them falling in love, and we have ourselves a novel. No thanks.

I didn’t know this was a zombie novel until I was pretty far in. It was a blessing, but this is one novel I am finding very tricky to review.

Britain has been infected, and Melanie is a child born after the Breakdown. She lives in a cell in a military base, and is transported to her classroom each morning by wheelchair, shackled, muzzled, and restrained. She isn’t clear on why she’s in this situation, but she loves learning, and loves her teacher. Melanie is infected, but she has still retained her intellect, her humanity, and her capacity for love. Her hunger is triggered by the smell of flesh, and with the measures taken by the staff at the base, she never feels it. Until the base is attacked and Melanie escapes alongside he teacher, a sergeant, and a doctor.

Melanie becomes the only hope for a cure. Literally none of the group travelling with her have any particular desire to keep her alive, apart from the teacher who isn’t willing to sacrifice her due to personal feelings of guilt over an incident in the past. Lady, let the doc slice her brain open, let’s cure the country and go back to sitting comfortably at home watching X Factor rather than running across the barren metropolis as zombie bait.

The book is essentially a commentary on humanity, what makes us human, and the blurred lines between what is good and what is evil. Melanie is torn between her human thoughts and feelings and her survival instinct to feast on those she has escaped with, and who are keeping her safe.

Carey spends time giving us back stories to each of the characters, helping us understand where they’ve come from, and their motivations. These stories also give us a good grasp on what happened to the country at infection, and how the government handled this going forwards. Despite the stories, I felt the characters blended into each other by having similar dialogue. I found it difficult to understand who was talking, and I would have appreciated some more differentiation.

There’s loads of action in here, plenty of tension, and the suspense killed me in places. But I didn’t love it. I don’t even know if I liked it. All I know is that if you asked me to read another zombie novel, I’d be asking you what option two would be.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Book #50

Transit by Rachel Cusk

In the wake of family collapse, a writer and her two young sons move to London. The process of upheaval is the catalyst for a number of transitions—personal, moral, artistic, practical—as she endeavors to construct a new reality for herself and her children. In the city she is made to confront aspects of living she has, until now, avoided, and to consider questions of vulnerability and power, death and renewal, in what becomes her struggle to reattach herself to, and believe in, life.

I was bought this book as a gift, and didn’t realise until this very moment that it had a predecessor. I wondered if this was why I maybe didn’t get it, but quickly realised I did get it; I just didn’t like it.

Faye moves to London with her two sons in the aftermath of her divorce. Once there, she stumbles into various people with whom she has highly unlikely conversations. These small glimpses of sub-characters lives are what make up the plot. I’m sure there’s something there about Faye making sense of her life through other people, but these tiny vignettes did nothing to pique my interest, and only seemed to distance us further from Faye. Not that this was problem, as Faye was as bland and emotionless as they come.

Our sub characters, however, were all philosophy personified. Each of them had incredibly profound and intellectual views on life, and the human psyche; each of them an unrealistic, trite piece of work. You’re lucky if you can find one person in life who you can have these types of conversations with - for it to be every single person you bump into is simply fantasy.

Although I felt the writing flowed beautifully, and Cusk’s language was lyrical, it blundered along like a bad dream. I understand the benefits of the passive listener, but this was really dire.

Style over substance. 

Friday, 13 October 2017

Book #49

My Dearest Father by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

A selection of personal correspondence between Mozart and his most important mentor and supporter, his father. 

A not incredibly interesting collection of collections between Mozart and his father, Leopold. Unless overly (and I mean overly) interested in the composer and his life, you won’t take much from this.

Both men write to each other in the awkward state that is the result of parental lectures and childlike defences. With father trying to make son see the frivolity of his expenses, and the fact that he’s slowly surrounding the family with debt, and the son hotly justifying his failure to account for every penny, their love and frustration for each other was abundantly clear.

Other than the family commentary, however, the correspondence is filled with arias, symphonies, compositions, orchestras, and a thousand other terms I wasn’t familiar with. Names, faces, places; all swept by as a fog as I gave up the energy to understand.

My favourite part was when Mozart got drunk and sang, “O you prick, lick my arse,” but that probably just says more about me than anything else.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book #48

A Little Candle by Letitia McClintock

No summary available.

This little book came to me in a strange way. I say strange way, what I mean is that I have no idea how I came into possession of this book. A few nights ago, it appeared at the top of my (digital) reading list, so I inspected my shelves. There it was. Written in 1904, and with no explanation on what the book held inside, I opened it up to find the following inscription:


What I found inside wasn’t, as I had feared, ancient ghost stories within a cursed tome to haunt me for the remainder of my days. Instead, I was treated to three little stories (with the book’s namesake story being slightly longer) of morals and the power of Christianity.

As someone who believes in no God but myself, and who will undoubtedly have some sort of throne of honour installed in hell when my time comes, you’d be forgiven for thinking I hated this. But maybe it just came at the right time. Religion aside, the stories teach their reader how to be a good person, and how to love her peers. Sorrowful, heart-rending; they were exquisite in their simplicity.

Although the mystery remains of how this time-worn, modest book arrived in my home, I feel a better person just having read it.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Book #47

Anthem For Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

The true horror of the trenches is brought to life in this selection of poetry from the front line.

This is a very strong introduction to Owen’s war poetry. Making no apologies for the truth, he shows us the horror of the trenches in wonderful verse. It's bleak as hell, yet enlightening, with not one glory included. 

His opinion of war is clear here; young men are sent to die, are bound to die, for the good of their country. It's heartbreaking to note that these poems were written in the midst and tumult of WW1, only for their poet to be killed some days before the war ended. There's something in that.

These poems are so important in reminding us of early wars, and the people, rather than the numbers, behind them. It's amazing that we see such atrocity still happen almost one hundred years later, but we are bound to forget those who fought and died for us.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
Thr old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Book #46

Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks & Ken Hicks

No good deed goes unpunished. When Jane Larson—a hot-shot litigator for a large firm in New York City—helps out a friend, she is sucked into the unfamiliar world of divorce and child support. 
Jane's discovery of the deadbeat dad’s hidden assets soon unravels a web of lies, drugs, and murder that keeps getting more dangerous. 
Soon, Jane is involved in a high stakes race to recover a missing suitcase of cash and catch the murderer before she becomes the next victim.

The plot is wonderful at weaving webs, hence the title, and we soon find each of the characters seems to have something to hide. All are suspicious, and all could be killers. There’s a lot going on here - a number of characters, a healthy amount of legal jargon, and in-depth descriptions of New York which made me wish I was more familiar with it. The plot is rammed with action, and is incredibly fast-paced, which is perfect for a thriller.

Jane is an excellent protagonist - an intelligent, career-focused litigator, hard as hell, with a serious aversion to taking crap and letting things go - she lets her mouth and her bad decisions get her into trouble, but always manages to use her brain to talk herself out of situations. Although she was our narrator, the authors skilfully didn’t display every single one of her thoughts to us; this allowed for a bigger reveal both at the novel’s finale, and in other sections of the plot.

There’s a lot to keep up with here, particularly the relationships and backstories; however - dodgy dealings, drugs, murder, red herrings, twists - what’s not to love?

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Book #45

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Dorian is a good-natured young man until he discovers the power of his own exceptional beauty. As he gradually sinks deep into a frivolous, glamorous world of selfish luxury, he apparently remains physically unchanged by the stresses of his corrupt lifestyle and untouched by age. But up in his attic, hidden behind a curtain, his portrait tells a different story.

I’m not sure which I loved more; this story, or the questions it poses. If you could cast all of your sins onto an object, an object which will rot and decay with each wrongdoing, would you try to be good to preserve the object, having a tangible reminder of your morality as an incentive? Or would you consider the object your saviour, and allow it go to seed as the foulness of your soul becomes more and more visible each day?

Dorian Gray chooses the latter, and in doing so allows us to wander through his malicious deeds and see him digress from a pure young man into a horrible villain without even obtaining the smallest wrinkle.

Of course, Gray’s gorgeous good looks and perpetually young face make others believe he is truly good. Associating goodness with appearance, as we know, is incredibly problematic, and Wilde shows us this clearly. It’s also disappointing to note that this still happens today - we’ve advanced almost 130 years since this work was first published and people are still discriminated against based on how they look. Ironically, this is the novel where the below quote is taken from:

“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”

I wonder what each of us would do in a life of no consequence. It really doesn’t bear thinking about. But Wilde shows us the emotional effects of a life without dread, without grief, without regret. Gray becomes a numb, emotionless void. His only joy is in his sin and vanity, with the aftermath being borne by a painting in a locked room.

Although Wilde has written this novel as an exploration into the human condition rather than a fantasy, I forgive him for this. I don’t even think there was such a genre as fantasy in Wilde’s day. However, the picture itself is in the novel only a few times. I would’ve loved to have found out how this curse managed to take root; I would have liked to have been able to witness the slow decay after each of Gray’s transgressions. Despite these hopes, the social commentary and the moral questions posed more than made up for it all.

There is so much to take away from this. Melancholy, brilliant, with the perfect hints to Faust, I was mesmerised. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Book #44

Hings by Chris McQueer

Peter’s earned his night off, and there’s not a bloody chance he’s covering Shelley’s shift. He just needs to find some pals for the perfect cover story. Deek is going to be at the forefront of the outsider art movement and do Banksy proud. Davie loves tattoos and his latest is going to be a masterpiece. Tam is one of the most creative minds in the galaxy (apparently), but creating parallel universes can cause problems. Everybody on Earth wakes up with their knees on backwards.
He caught folks’ imagination on Medium with his stories, had rooms howling with laughter on the spoken word circuit, and now it’s time to put Chris McQueer on the page. Are you ready?

What a fucking ride this was.

This collection of McQueer’s short stories is completely and utterly brilliant. Glaswegian working class norms, social custom, and patter rips right through the pages, and I was presented with characters the likes of whom I could bump into no bother on a stroll up Larky main gaff.

In some of the stories, McQueer explores the mindset of the working-class, their needs and desires, their family. All of this felt familiar and relevant, and I was almost comfortable with seeing Sammy get a samurai sword for his Christmas, because that’s just where am fae. In others, we are dropped right into the macabre, surreal, and downright random. We’re given aliens, budgies with arms, knees bending the wrong way, and hell mend yi if it’s a korma yir after.

Written using a great deal of colloquialism (which I know some of you plums can’t handle), but with some excellent prose weaved into it, McQueer really nailed this for me. His stories have been compared to Welsh, but this was totally different; a stark and realistic jaunt over to the West coast using this type of narrative is something I didn’t know I was looking for. 

I’ve read so many books now that it’s rare any make me laugh or cry these days. I read this over the course of a few days, with a red coupon from laughing too much each time.

A massive congratulations for a total stormer of a debut novel; now I’m looking for a full biography on Big Angie.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Book #43

The Figure in the Carpet by Henry James

The story of an unsolved literary mystery that explores what James referred to as "troubled artistic consciousness" 

I enjoyed this, but I’m not too sure why; it was no Turn of the Screw.

Our protagonist is a keen book reviewer for a popular periodical. After reviewing the work of a pretty famous author, he is lucky enough to meet him at a social gathering. The author hints to our protagonist that no critic has ever successfully hit upon the one thing he has peppered throughout his novels. This maddens the protagonist, and we join him on a journey to uncover the meaning behind all of the novels.

There’s a lot to be said here about author intention. To this day, authors still subtly refer to their meaning, and their intent, in words. Does it really matter? If one enjoys a novel, what are the consequences of deriving a meaning no where near that of the author? Is author intention relevant in every book, or are they just trying to encourage us to read (or reread) their work? Do we subconsciously look for meaning in works of literature? Does finding meaning give us pride? Accomplishment? Who the hell knows.

Although not as compelling as his other works, it’s (ironically) fun to try and deduce what James is getting at with this one. I was only glad I remembered whose pages I was reading from before the finale came like a kick in the gut.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Book #42

As I Lay Dying by Willian Faulkner

Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundren family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members—including Addie herself—the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

I’ve never read Faulkner before now, and I’m really kicking myself about it, because As I Lay Dying is a complete masterpiece.

Faulkner employs multiple voice narrative to help us get under the skin of each of the Bundrens, and various other characters. An open mind is essential, however, as this is no stream of consciousness walk in the park; nor is it in any way linear, with the characters moving from past to present, to what ifs, to maybes. One character would explain what was going on, only for the next to go back and explain it again on their own terms, and from their own perspective. Their narratives confused the life out of me until I settled into their utterly weird voices, and only then was I truly able to enjoy what they were telling me. 

There are various instances in the plot where everyone knew exactly what was going on, expect me, the humble reader. Initially, I felt idiotic, as though I’d missed something, but after this happened a few times, I realised Faulkner likes to throw us into the delirium before offering his explanations for it. This lends a real sense of pandemonium and bewilderment to the reader, and ties in nicely to the character narratives.

The Bundrens could be the very people who inspired the phrase “dysfunctional family”. Each of them isolated from each other both physically and emotionally, the only thing connecting them is the rotting corpse in the back of the wagon. They respond differently to their mother’s death, some with physical or emotional distractions, some with physical or emotion reactions. The variance in each of them is gorgeous, as is seeing them attempt to achieve their purpose with no form of honest communication or understanding of one another.

In summary, this novel could be explained away as a comedy. Reading it, however, is anything but; Faulkner’s atmospheric melancholy and sense of hopelessness bleeds through the pages, and inadvertently shows us the turmoils of poverty in the Deep South. It was wonderful.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Book #41

Fat Jimmy and the Blind Ballerina by Eddie Owens

This is the story of one young man’s desire for comedy fame: a tale of ambition and humiliation on the way to the top.
Fat Jimmy is a cynical, young comedian and writer, who desperately wants to make it to the big time. He wants it all and he wants it now.
Fat Jimmy loves women; he loves booze and he loves comedy. He is sweary and controversial, but always funny and always memorable.

A huge thank you to Eddie Owens for asking me to review this; it was right up my street.

Fat Jimmy is a stand-up comedian looking to break into showbusiness. He’s a crude arsehole of a man, with no shame, no filter, and no self-deprecation. If I met Fat Jimmy somewhere, he would be a victim of my famous death stare, but Owens allowed me to like him.

Jimmy’s journey through the labyrinth of showbiz is fuelled solely by his grit and determination. He stays true to his morals, never sucking up anyone’s arse, and making sure to bring people down a peg or two when they’re due it. He’s relentless, mortifying, hellbent on success, and so flawed. And a flawed character, as we know, is a great character.

My favourite parts of the novel were the small snapshots of Jimmy’s childhood, and the stories of his family. How his mum and dad met, the differing characters of his brothers and sisters, the fights they go into were all so real. I loved it.

There were a lot of sub-plots here, and I must admit I enjoyed these more than the main story. Many of these weren’t resolved entirely to my satisfaction, and I would’ve liked more than I got. But maybe that’s just real life.

I really enjoyed the metaphor of the blind ballerina - someone who makes it despite the obstacles life has thrown at her - but I would have liked this to be a bit more rounded. The ballerina was only referred to fleetingly, a few times, and I felt this could have been crafted into something bigger. For such a clever and impressive analogy to have so little exposure disappointed me.

A great wee story on fighting for your dreams, and being the person you really are. Even if the person you really are is a big-mouthed sycophant. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Book #40

Arms From the Sea by Rich Shapero

Lyle is a young man who hates his life in the State of Salt, a cultural and literal desert. He vandalizes a State icon, then swallows a poison pill that transports him not to death, but to a liminal realm—blue, watery, and wholly alien.
He’s rescued and shepherded by henchmen of the Polyp, god of the oceanic world they call “heaven.” A series of encounters unfolds between Lyle and the monstrous, seductive god, who gradually reveals his grandeur and mysterious purpose.
Lyle is horrified at first but soon finds himself falling for the Polyp, and the potent and bizarre creative potential he represents.

I have no idea what I’ve just read; it was like smoking a load of bad grass.

This is a standard dystopian future story where the protagonist is a paragon rebel caught up in a fight to overthrow the malicious government. Although this is usually an excellent formula for excitement and adventure, Shapero manages to miss the bullseye entirely by jumbling his prose and baffling his readers.

The plot is infernally foggy, with a tiring quantity of confusing imagery thrown in. It’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on - and what’s going on isn’t at all compelling, or even significant. The narrative slops along for a few pages at a time until something somewhat evocative happens, only for nothing to ever become fully realised. 

Lyle the protagonist is dull, with no real substance between his ears, making him incredibly difficult to connect with. His motivations and backstory are told, rather than shown, rendering any potential emotional connection null and void. 

There are various scenes where Lyle, after being whisked off to the water kingdom, has encounters with the Polyp, or water god. Many of these felt really creepy and sexual, as the god felt him up constantly with his tentacles, and whispered questionable things to Lyle. Think Robin Thicke with fins.

An utterly baffling story whose plot I am at a loss to describe; I’m only glad it’s over.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Book #39

The Reckoning by Edith Wharton

Two moving stories of love, loss, desire and divorce, from one of the great chroniclers of nineteenth-century New York life. 

I much preferred the first story, Mrs. Manstey’s View to the second, the collections namesake. Mrs Manstey is a lonely widow, who takes her only pleasure from the view of New York from her window. Wharton describes this view in it’s truly beautiful, albeit small, form, and familiarises us with Mrs Manstey’s pure love of it. When the view is threatened to be taken away from her, we see our poor widow take drastic action in her desperation and loss. It’s a very clever commentary on how the smallest thing in someone’s life can really be the most important.

The Reckoning itself is a quite amusing tale of how one’s own rules and ethics can become enemies with your needs and desires. The moral quandary the protagonist finds herself in is as delicious as it is heartbreaking, and truly underlines the contrariness of the human psyche.

Both stories well ahead of their time, they’re an excellent introduction in Wharton’s work. Another glorious addition to the Little Black Classics range. 

Book #38

Bedroom Secrets of the Masterchefs by Irvine Welsh

At Edinburgh's Department of Environmental Health, hard-drinking, womanising officer Danny Skinner wants to uncover secrets: 'the bedroom secrets of the master chefs', secrets he believes might just help him understand his self-destructive impulses. But the arrival of the virginal, model-railway enthusiast Brian Kibby at the department provokes an uncharacteristic response in Skinner, and threatens to throw his mission off course. Consumed by loathing for his nemesis, Skinner enacts a curse, and when Kibby contracts a horrific and debilitating mystery virus, Skinner understands that their destinies are supernaturally bound, and he is faced with a terrible dilemma.

The male psyche is a complex thing. In the never-ending battle to become the alpha, men beat their chests in an attempt to not only establish dominance over their brothers, but to commit the most humiliating act possible - embarrass them in front of the burds. In this way, rivalries are created and nurtured, and Welsh shows us in Bedroom Secrets how poisonous this rivalry can truly be.

Danny Skinner is a pretty standard Welsh character, with flashes of Bruce Robertson and Sick Boy peeping through the cracks. Through booze benders, and his love of being a part-time football casual, we begin to understand his motivations. 

When mummy’s boy Brian Kibby arrives for his first day in Skinner’s work, something malicious takes root in Skinner’s mind - a hatred for which he can’t locate the source. Kibby is a hillwalker, a train-set collector, and a total geek. He struggles talking to women, his shyness holds him back in the office. There is nothing about Kibby for Skinner to feel threatened by, yet this unfathomable hatred takes root, and Skinner unknowingly casts a curse upon him which will link them inexplicably in the future.

Welsh uses these two men to show us the horrors of this type of hatred, the similarities between them which we hadn’t quite clicked on to initially, and explores the differences in family situations. One man has grown up a product of a single parent family, and the other in a much-coveted standard mum, dad, and kids outfit. But, do either of these upbringings have any sort of effect on their moral compass? Or are you just your da’s bairn?

None of the characters here have anything redeeming about them, and that is one of Welsh’s skills. Everyone here has their skin peeled back for us to see the maggots underneath, and I love it. 

I also particularly enjoyed Skinner’s jaunt to America, where I saw him become a better person. Is there something about living here amongst the grey, dreich, depressing buildings, the closed off, miserable people, and the complete lack of vitamin D, that drives us all to drink? Doesn’t take a genius.

Although I’ll admit there are far better Welsh novels, this is still a wee underrated gem. You’ve got your flawed characters, you’ve got a good bit of violence, and you’ve got the booze. Fucking party. 

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Book #37

The Power by Naomi Alderman

The world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Alderman flips gender norms on their heads in this stunning depiction of a sudden onslaught of female power. Young women begin to develop a strange, electrical power, which they can bend and control at their will. They can hurt, they can influence, they can awaken the power in their elders, and they can do pretty much what they damn well want. The patriarchy crumbles; we see men become the victims; I begin to salivate.

The story progresses through the viewpoints of different characters. And they’re very different. An American mayor with high hopes of her own progression, a daughter of a British gangster, an orphan escaping her disgusting foster parents, and a man hellbent on documenting everything in his notebooks and digital camera. None of them fit with each other, none of them felt like reliable narrators, yet each of them had to come to terms with what was happening in the world.

It feels liberating for a while. Society has been flipped, and we are the dominant sex. The thrill is in you, you long for this electricity to course it’s way through your veins. Then Alderman takes us down a dark, political path, and it’s clear to see what is bound to happen in a world where this type of power is available.

Alderman is so clever with this. She describes the atrocities committed against men until you feel sick to the stomach. How can we live in a world like this? Until the realisation dawns that we are living in a world like this; it’s just not the men who are taking the pain.

Just imagine a world where one sex is oppressed, sexually violated, and lives in fear of their lives daily. Unable to walk alone in the dark, a world where listening to music with both earphones in place is unimaginable, where if you’re a member of the weaker sex, you are fair game. Imagine that. Unthinkable, right?

If you don’t get it yet, see below for a member of Goodreads being schooled:

This was truly wonderful and so intelligent; I haven’t read a book like this in a very long time. I think it’s important, exciting, and absolutely gorgeous. Read it immediately.

One of them says, 'Why did they do it?'
And the other answers, 'Because they could.'
That is the only answer there ever is.