Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Is Joanna Briscoe's Touched just too polite to be a real ghost story?

The novella's 1960s analogue setting is an excellent backdrop to what promises to be a chilling and creepy tale from the Hammer stable (expectation = intelligent horror with film noir nuance). 

The drama begins with the Crale family, with their five children, relocating to the village of Crowsely Beck from London. A displaced family in a new and isolated countryside community, very promising. What ghastly secrets could possibly lay beyond the village green in this quintessential English setting?

A few chapters in the biggest scare is how difficult this story is to get in to. Characters are flimsy and under-developed and the story goes nowhere despite having all the ingredients of a good old fashioned haunted house page turner. 

The star of the show is the cottage itself; the stench of cat urine, the curious damp stains on the wallpaper, the aroma of an old lady's perfume and the brick wall that just won't budge during the renovation work.

Although there are hints of suspense, the ethereal daughter Evangeline in Victorian dress who disappears for days on end with her imaginary co-conspirator Freddie, the story struggles to come together and realise the tension and fear that a real ghost story needs to deliver. If you're looking for chills and scare from this Hammer release you'll be sorely disappointed.

Much has been written recently about the back breaking weight of some of the novels on the market (have editors lost the ability to cull??) so the chance to pick up a slender novella like this is a luxury.

Read this book during an extra long lie in on a Sunday morning but don't be surprised if its just not Hammer enough for you - you will undoubtedly miss the spine chilling moments you expected.

Read, in part, at Foodhall in The Barbican
Discovered on Net Galley (Thank you!)

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

Pulp fiction meets cyber-punk in 'Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World'

If Colourless Tsukuru wasn't quite Murakami enough for you try this novel from 1985 (translated into English in 1991) which many fans cite as their favourite. In this idiosyncratic story Murakami spins two separate narratives that delve into the kind of existential angst at the heart of Murakami mania.

The odd numbered chapters, Hard Boiled Wonderland, are set in a near future Tokyo which blends science fiction and cyber-punk without conforming to either genre. Anime fans will recognise this version of Tokyo as a megalopolis in which data is a commodity to both steal and protect. Warring factions fight for control in a cyber crime detective story with more than a hint to the novels of, Murakami favourite, Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep and The Long goodbye).  

Even numbered chapters, The End of the World, are set in an ethereal walled city where citizens are separated from their shadows and where great horned beasts rise and fall with the changing seasons.

What runs through both stories is profound sense of isolation. Although this is a recurring theme in Japanese fiction it reaches new heights in both of these worlds where characters are nameless; The Librarian, Chubby Girl, INKlings, and lives are governed by the routine of task based work.  

The Hardboiled chapters are arguably the most successful. The near future setting exaggerates the neo-noir science fiction scenes which hit many Westerners on a first time visit to Shinjuku or Shibuya. Both stories are dream-like and delusional in places which, to first time Murakami readers, may be inaccessible. 

The real reward for reading this particular novel are the 'Murakami-isms' which are aplenty throughout from the mundanity of the laundrette to the whimsy of the secret worlds beneath the Ginza line - all set of course to a soundtrack from mid-century jazz to Dylan.

Discovered in Foyles, Charing Cross Road

Read, in part, in The Monocle Cafe, Chiltern Street

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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe.

Certainly one of the more eccentric titles on the bookshelves at the moment is this novel by Romain Puertolas. The novel was a big hit in French speaking markets last year and follows the success of recently translated thriller The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. 

This is a picaresque caper that sees our unwitting hero, the eponymous Fakir, traversing Europe from France to the UK, Italy and Libya following an unsuccessful attempt to purchase a bed of nails from the Roissy branch of IKEA outside Paris. 

The first couple of chapters are good fun, once you accept the idea that IKEA would actually sell a bed of nails. The idea of a story being told within the fake theatrical habitat of an IKEA showroom is a great premise - could we see a season of pop up performances in IKEA Milton Keynes soon? 

More likely is that in this novel we have a screen-play just waiting to be committed to celluloid. Given the novels direct casting of Sophie Marceau (disguised as Morceau) in a leading role I suspect the film version is currently in pre-production with Canal+.

Following well worn European people trafficking routes this tale offers up a refreshing take on the typical narrative around immigrants trapped in shipping containers and aeroplane holds but the trouble with the novel is that the fast pace and episodic adventure actually conceals a very light story that fails to fully reward the reader in the end. Yes there's victory over adversity but this is little more than a (partly) humorous romp with a quirky title.

Sometimes novels can be just too quick and easy to read. 

Discovered in Daunt Books, Marylebone

Read, in part, in Curators Coffee Gallery and the 09:53 from Haddenham and Thame Parkway to London Marylebone.

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Monday, 1 September 2014

On the bookshelf this month.....

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe - Romain Puertolas 

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Haruki Murakami

Touched - Joanna Briscoe

The Year of Reading Dangerously - Andy Miller

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