Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week

What was the grand plan? Build a clifftop church and then hurry away back to London when it was finished? Or was he to remain and become a spiritual guide of some kind? He didn’t know . . .” 

Midlife crisis, existentialist angst, spiritual awakening, burnout, soul loss . . . the list of labels is a long one, but whatever the inner crisis, transformation or degeneration are among the possible outcomes.

Proctor McCullough and his business partner Jim are consultants on catastrophe – “futurology at its most pessimistic“. They run an “independent agency that analysed behaviour during terrible events and helped businesses plan better resolution strategies . . . Their small client base included corporations, broadcasters, and now the government.” He and his partner Holly, a solicitor for asylum seekers, have been together for 13 years and have six year old twins, Pearl and Walter. They live in a semi-detached Victorian house in Wandsworth. Continue reading Review | As a God Might Be, Neil Griffiths | Book of the Week

Review | Your Father’s Room, Michel Déon | Book of the Week

The Duke of Westminster, the richest man in England, walked past, a cigar clamped between his teeth, in an out-at-elbow suit with corkscrewing trousers and his jacket pockets stuffed with tokens he had forgotten to cash in on his way out of the gaming room. A woman walked a step ahead of him, not turning round. She had an imperious expression and a very mobile face and wore a boater with a black ribbon. She was dripping with jewellery. Blanche said to her son, ‘Look. That’s Mademoiselle Chanel. Thanks to her we can cut our hair short without looking like servants’.” [Your Father’s Room, p. 36]

French novelist Michel Déon was born in Paris and died in Galway in 2016 at the age of 97. Admirers of Fournier and Flaubert and the world according to Proust would love his writing which is pared down and, although quintessentially French, has a universal resonance. The author of more than fifty works of fiction and non-fiction, and a member of the Académie Française, Déon was also a member of the 1950s French literary movement, ‘Les Hussards’, founded by Roger Nimier to oppose Existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre. (The group was named after Roger Nimier’s novel Le Hussard bleuThe Blue Hussar). The distinguished and controversial right-wing novelist, Paul Morand, was an inspirational figure for the group. “They form a fascinating quartet of original, cosmopolitan, witty minds, far superior to their British contemporaries, the Angry Young Men,” poet, novelist and translator, James Kirkup wrote in The Independent in 2001. Continue reading Review | Your Father’s Room, Michel Déon | Book of the Week

Review | A Man of Genius, Janet Todd | Book of the Week

She knew her love was flecked with revulsion, both from him and from herself – for what she was becoming under the influence, not of his personality exactly, but of her dependence on it. She wouldn’t look too closely: for she couldn’t combat the deadly longing, the sweet need for him.

London 1816

gothic horror bookblastAnn St Clair, writer of gothic horrors “created for yearning women,” is an independent and self-sufficient woman until she meets Irishman Robert James, the successful author of Attila. He is “another kind of being” compared to other men. “He loved an audience, a discipleship. Men were drawn to him.” A scholarly force of nature, he makes sweeping intellectual statements at Mr Hughes’ dinner, and also proves to be a great entertainer as a mimic and a ventriloquist. “Politics didn’t matter. Only poetry of philosophy, philosophy of poetry – purity of language which is its beauty.” Ann is mesmerised. They meet again, and soon they are living together in her lodgings.
Continue reading Review | A Man of Genius, Janet Todd | Book of the Week

Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press

Some said it was karma, the industry had grown at an extraordinary upturn in the era of C.D.s – selling their clients their whole discography on a medium that cost half the price to make and was sold for twice the price in shops . . . with no real benefit to music fans, since no one had ever complained about vinyl records . . .” Age twenty, Vernon Subutex started work as an assistant at the record shop Revolver, and took over when the owner moved to Australia. File sharing on the internet thanks to the likes of Napster and Limewire heralded the beginning of the end of the party. In 2006 he shut up shop. 

Live for today, who cares about tomorrow?

Easy-going Vernon had drifted through Parisian night life, lost in music and high on sex and drugs, oblivious to time passing and how people change. “He didn’t do monogamy . . . Vernon understands women, he has made an extensive study of them. The city is full of lost souls ready to do his cleaning and get down on all fours to lavish him with lingering blow jobs designed to cheer him up.” Continue reading Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press

Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week

 “Our own, personal experience of the event – as it unfolded live in front of us – gets over-written, overlain with any narrative available that complies with Thomas Carlisle’s ‘Great Man’ theory, that ‘history is but the biography of great men’, that the rest of us, the ‘bystanders’, aren’t part of history. The short story rejects this version of events because, as a form, it has evolved to prioritise the non-heroes – the bystanders, the disenfranchised, the ‘submerged’ (as Frank O’Connor would say). And when it comes to ‘world events’, none are more suited to the short story than the protest. In a protest, we’re all bystanders, we’re all there because of some attempt to marginalise us; the bystanders are the people making history,” writes Ra Page, editor of Protest! Stories of Resistance.

The workings of the state when it is under threat are not pretty. One man’s system is another man’s nightmare. Protest! takes the long view. From the Peasants’ Revolt sparked by the Poll Tax of 1381 to the anti-Iraq War demo of 2003, the 20 movements featured in this superb book have parallels in terms of ideas and tactics and emotional charge. The framework of the anthology brings to life the events and the people involved. A short story like a snapshot in time is followed by an afterword by an academic who, in certain recent cases, was an eyewitness.

Prior protests loom large over present ones. This struck me forcibly while reading the stories and simultaneously following Westway 23’s facebook posts about the Grenfell Tower Protest in my neighbourhood. It is no coincidence that safe Tory seat, Kensington, went to Labour by a narrow margin for the first time ever in the recent snap election. The gruesome fire has illuminated years of institutionalised abuse and disregard for the law on the part of the corrupt powers-that-be. Establishment standard bearers The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Spectator have been accusing the ‘hard left’ of ‘hijacking’ the Grenfell fire tragedy for their own ends. Plus ça change.

Continue reading Review | Protest! Stories of Resistance, Ra Page (ed.) | Book of the Week