The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor

bookshelves: summer-2014, music, published-2014, autumn-2014, britain-england, luton, newtome-author

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from August 23 to September 06, 2014

 

BABT

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f9lmn

BBC description: Spanning 25 years, Joseph O’ Connor’s new novel The Thrill of It All rewinds and fast-forwards through an evocative soundtrack of struggle and laughter. It deals with the formation of a band in the early 80’s in Luton, their struggle for recognition, playing low dives, living in transit vans culminating in overnight worldwide success. Then the inevitable, “artistic differences!”

This is an incredibly warm-hearted and uplifting story for anyone who has ever loved a song.

Author ….. Joseph O’Connor
Abridger ….. Neville Teller
Producer ….. Gemma McMullan

The Author: Joseph O’Connor is the author of eight novels: Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Desperadoes, The Salesman, Inishowen, Star of the Sea, Redemption Falls, Ghost Light and The Thrill of it All. He has also written radio diaries, film scripts and stage-plays including the multiple award-winning Red Roses and Petrol and an acclaimed adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel.

His novel Star of the Sea was an international bestseller, selling more than a million copies and being published in 38 languages. It won France’s Prix Millepages, Italy’s Premio Acerbi, the Irish Post Award for Fiction, the Neilsen Bookscan Golden Book Award, an American Library Association Award, the Hennessy/Sunday Tribune Hall of Fame Award, and the Prix Litteraire Zepter for European Novel of the Year. His novel Ghost Light was chosen as Dublin’s One City Book novel for 2011. He received the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature in 2012.

1/10 October 1981 in Luton, and Robert Goulding first meets his ‘glimmertwin’ Francis Mulvey.

2/10 On Rob’s 19th birthday, life is about to change when he meets Trez.

3/10 The trio turn their attention to finding the band’s ‘unbeatable drummer’.

4/10 An unexpected windfall for Fran prompts the band to make a go of it.

5/10 Are the fortunes of the band about to change?

6/10 After being dropped by their London music label, the band try their luck stateside.

7/10 With the release of the album in New York, the Ships look set for global stardom.

8/10 Twenty-five years later, and Robbie’s life is very different to his former music career.

9/10 Robbie receives a surprising invitation to Dublin by his former bandmate Fran.

10/10 At the reunion concert in Dublin, will Robbie hold his nerve?

I thought the story really started to fly once the band had broken up and we zoom twenty-five years to see just who is doing what. Before that it was an okay sort of read but nothing special, a cliche almost.

Apache Indian – Boom Shakalaka for dancing with the nurse in hospital.

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The Thief Taker by C.S. Quinn

 

Description: The year is 1665. Black Death ravages London. A killer stalks the streets in a plague doctor’s hood and mask.

When a girl is gruesomely murdered, thief taker Charlie Tuesday reluctantly agrees to take on the case. But the horrific remains tell him this is no isolated death. The killer’s mad appetites are part of a master plan that could destroy London – and reveal the dark secrets of Charlie’s own past.

Now the thief taker must find this murderous mastermind before the plague obliterates the evidence street by street. This terrifying pursuit will take Charlie deep into the black underbelly of old London, where alchemy, witchcraft and blood-spells collide.

In a city drowned in darkness, death could be the most powerful magic of all.

Opening: London, 1665
In the year of the Black Death London is a city of half-timbered houses and dark towers. In the narrow backstreets, astrologists predict the future, and alchemists conjure wonders. Traitors’ heads line London Bridge, where witches sell potions, and gamesters turn cards. The river flowing beneath lands a daily cargo of smuggler gangs and pirates.

Loved this from the very start: it is gory, graphic and dead gruesome. Many gizzard for dinner scenes so I suppose this is not for the squeamish, and the murdering hulk is terrifying so this is not for the shiverers either. Rest assured though, it is not a horror fic by any stretch of the imagination. The Thief Taker for all its grisly subject is written in a very upbeat fashion. I would loath to call it YA because lots of people have a very prejudiced mindset when it comes to that shelf. It is a highly enjoyable piece of hist-fic fluff.

Holborn Bridge: 1831 Drawn by Tho. H. Shepherd. Engraved by M. Woolnoth.

What a debut, and ike Oliver Twist, I’m asking for more of Charlie Tuesday. Three point five plague hoods rounded up for the sites that do not operate on half ratings.

Endorsed by my Peter James: ‘Quinn is a brilliant new talent!’
Images from the book

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

 

Description: How do you solve a crime when you can’t remember the clues?

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Back home she finds the place horribly unrecognizable – just like she sometimes thinks her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Some nice ratings around for this one already. Smashing.

I thought this an exceptionally clever debut novel, and we really get inside the mind of senile dementia. But what really is senile dementia if not just the notching up of internal dialogue to the exclusion of all else? Well it’s a safety hazard, that is apparent but not scary per se. I thought the grand-daughter dealt with it all better than daughter Helen.

However Healey did rather over-egg the pudding didn’t she, bet I wasn’t the only one screaming at the pages saying: ‘get the Foxtrot on with it, why don’t you.’

Like I said above, a clever debut where the some of the looseness should have been edited out. Three point five marrow flowers.

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Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love by James Booth

bookshelves: summer-2014, radio-4, published-2014, biography, newtome-author, nonfiction, poetry

Read from August 23 to 28, 2014

 

BOTW

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f9frc

Description: Philip Larkin was that rare thing among poets – a household name in his own lifetime. Lines such as ‘Never such innocence again’ and ‘Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three’ made him one of the most popular poets of the last century.

Larkin’s reputation as a man, however, has been more controversial. A solitary librarian known for his pessimism, he disliked exposure and had no patience with the literary circus. And when, in 1992, the publication of his Selected Letters laid bare his compartmentalised personal life, accusations of duplicity, faithlessness, racism and misogyny were levelled against him.

There is, of course, no requirement that poets should be likeable or virtuous, but James Booth asks whether art and life were really so deeply at odds with each other. Can the poet who composed the moving ‘Love Songs in Age’ have been such a cold-hearted man? Can he who uttered the playful, self-deprecating words ‘Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth’ really have been so boorish?

A very different public image is offered by those who shared the poet’s life – the women with whom he was romantically involved, his friends and his university colleagues. It is with their personal testimony, including access to previously unseen letters, that Booth reinstates a man misunderstood – not a gaunt, emotional failure, but a witty, provocative and entertaining presence, delightful company; an attentive son and a man devoted to the women he loved.

Read by Michael Pennington
Written by James Booth
Abridged by Libby Spurrier
Produced by Joanna Green
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4

1/5 Aged 17, Larkin goes up to Oxford to read English and meets a jazz-loving kindred spirit.

2/5 Philip meets Monica Jones, an assistant English lecturer at Leicester University.

3/5 Philip begins work as librarian at Hull University and oversees plans for expansion.

4/5 As middle age approaches, Larkin’s private life is as complicated as ever.

5/5 Despite having two continuing relationships, Larkin brings another woman into his life.

Would you have shagged him? Not me. It is a question of liking the output, disliking the outputter. And Oh! how he disliked his parents, and families in general, which is why he penned these:


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

and in reply, this:

They suss you out, your girls and boys.
You may not know it, but they do.
They find out all your faults and foibles
Because they concentrate on you.

Their eyes and ears are sharp, perceptive,
Slicing through your best disguise.
And if you grit your teeth and take it,
Their advice might make you wise.

They cannot cure your old compulsions;
They will not stroke away the aches
That plague your heart and grieve your bones
But they can learn from your mistakes.

And:

They tuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not want to, but they do.
They give you games and stories they had
And make up new ones, just for you.

And they were tucked up in their turn
By parent figures in the past,
Who helped them, growing up, to learn
That pain and misery end at last.

Your kids can comfort smaller kids.
And get some pleasure from this chore.
The fretful baby’s drooping eyelids
Move our hearts to ask for more.

“Annus Mirabilis” by Philip Larkin (read by Tom O’Bedlam)

Research by Philip Kerr

 

Quercus Books

Dedication:

For Harry Armfield

Description: If you want to write a murder mystery, you have to do some research… In a luxury flat in Monaco, John Houston’s supermodel wife lies in bed, a bullet in her skull. Houston is the world’s most successful novelist, the playboy head of a literary empire that produces far more books than he could ever actually write. Now the man who has invented hundreds of best-selling killings is wanted for a real murder and on the run from the police, his life transformed into something out of one of his books. And in London, the ghostwriter who is really behind those books has some questions for him too…

Opening: It was the American novelist William Faulkner who once said that in writing you must kill all your darlings; it was Mike Munns – another writer, but like me, not half as good as Faulkner – who made a joke out of this quote when he telephoned my flat in Putney that Tuesday morning.

Ironical it is that this story is published ~ nine months after Prayer. The blurb for ‘Research’ includes this: a book factory publishing many bestsellers a year – so many that he can’t possibly write them himself. Heh.

‘Research’ is a standalone book with unsympathetic, two-dimensional characters and the ugliest cynicism towards the written word and mentality of readers I have ever encountered. I can’t work out if it is full-on satire or just partial but the outcome is the same, readers will be insulted.

Every behaviour has its impact.

Mainly this is an attack on all those combo authorships of test-tosh thrillers that churn out many books a year, yet Kerr is in his own firing line, two crap books in a year.

I took time out half way through just to pick up other stories to reassure myself that some authors still feel passionate about writing and care for their readers; what a breath of fresh air.

Although technically this is marginally a better book than ‘Prayer’ purely because it doesn’t bring Old Scratch out to play, ‘Research’ flat-lined out of any enjoyment factor. There wasn’t enough good stuff to make a feedback sandwich so I’ll just deliver the line: cynicism, snark, distain for readers, and authorial career suicide is not a pretty thing to witness.

3.5* March Violets (Bernard Gunther, #1)
3.5* The Pale Criminal (Bernard Gunther, #2)
3.5* A German Requiem (Bernard Gunther, #3)
3.5* A Quiet Flame (Bernard Gunther, #5)
1* Prayer
1* Research

On Silbury Hill by Adam Thorpe

bookshelves: summer-2014, published-2014, nonfiction, ancient-history, britain-england, wiltshire, archaeology, autobiography-memoir, bullies

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from August 16 to 22, 2014

 

BOTW

Description: Silbury Hill in Wiltshire – together with Stonehenge, Avebury and the remains of numerous barrows – forms part of a Neolithic landscape about which very little is known or understood.

Adam Thorpe describes his book as ‘”a marble cake of different soils. Memoir, data, theory, streaks of poetry, swirls of fiction” – but he is not alone in having been drawn to explore the meaning of the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Artists and archaeologists as well as various cults and neo-pagan traditions have focussed on the blank canvas that the hill presents as a way of exploring our complicated relationship with the past and the people who lived there.

“An estimated million hours spent on construction rather than herding or cooking or stitching must have had a point, but we don’t get it. Is conjecture a species of fiction? To muddy the difference further, Silbury insisted on being called ‘she’. I obeyed, not out of New Age winsomeness but from the influence of country dialect, in which neuter pronouns are as alien as robot leaf blowers.”

This chalkland memoir told in fragments and snapshots, takes a circular route around the hill, a monument which we can no longer climb, and celebrates the urge to stand and wonder.Abridged, directed and produced by Jill Waters. A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4.

Episode 1: The base of Silbury Hill covers five acres of Wiltshire turf which have not seen sunlight for 4,300 years. Adam Thorpe has known her since he was 13yrs old.

Episode 2: A target of bullying, the author was grateful for the soothing mysteries of the landscape.

Episode 3: What can archaeology really tell us? Face-to-face with Neolithic man.

Episode 4: The author meets a pair of enthusiastic Wiccan drummers.

Episode 5: All Hallow’s Eve 2013 – Silbury and the stone circle at Avebury, shadows and rituals.


YES! This is the sort of offering I like to see as a book of the week, however I prefer less whimsy, reminiscing and affectation mixed in with my non-fic.

Please note, the hill is not open to the public nowadays.

Three crop circles, just.

I Refuse by Per Petterson

I Refuse by Per Petterson


Random House UK, Vintage Publishing/ Harvill Secker. Translated by Don Bartlett.

Description: I refuse to compromise. I refuse to forgive. I refuse to forget.

Tommy’s mother has gone. She walked out into the snow one night, leaving him and his sisters with their violent father. Without his best friend Jim, Tommy would be in trouble. But Jim has challenges of his own which will disrupt their precious friendship.

Dedication:

to Øivind

Opening: DARK. IT WAS half past four in the morning. I was driving towards Herregårdsveien from Hauketo. Just before Ljan station I turned off to the left over the railway bridge, the lights were red, but there was no one else around, so I turned anyway.

I am inordinately fond of Petterson’s writing when he is on top form, and he so very nearly is here, with a tragic tale of family and friendship. A fab slice of Nordic gloom with an underlying translucency of Steinbeck’s ‘The Moon is Down’ and Telemark, fortified with repression and suppression. Three and a half fishermen.

5* Out Stealing Horses
4* To Siberia
4* In the Wake
2* I Curse the River of Time
2* It’s Fine By Me
3.5* I Refuse