Tag Archives: Fiction

A Challenge Overcome

earthDid you know how many countries there are in the world?

Lots – and some of them have authors living in them. Ann Morgan knows all about that. In 2012, she set herself the challenge of reading a book from every independent country, all 196 of them, to celebrate the Olympics. Writers do mad things, don’t they? You can read the whole story over on her blog – it’s quite inspiring, especially if, like me, you’re somebody who mindlessly sets themselves challenges for no apparent reason.

Today was a typical case in point. In Ann’s latest blog post, she asks her readers to pop along to their local bookshop and count how many countries are represented on the shelves.

“I can do that”, I thought. But then I thought I could do so much more. I decided to find out how well represented each country was within the fiction section, create an Excel spread sheet, and make a pie chart.

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It got a little out of control and, between helping my beloved customers and chatting to my colleagues, it took all day. Now that it’s done, I have to wonder what I’ve gained from the experience…other than a pretty rubbish-looking pie chart.

I suppose the joy of a job thoroughly completed is reward enough. I’m better equipped to do my job as well. Let’s say somebody comes in looking for a book from Kyrgyzstan. Can you name one? Did you even know there was such a thing as Kyrgyzstan? I can’t say I did, but today I discovered Jamilia by Chingiz Aytmatov…a guy from Kyrgyzstan!

I learned something and you can’t put a price on that.

In closing, here’s the list for all of you anoraks out there.

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Have fun!

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn: A Review

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn“Because you can’t be as in love as we were and not have it invade your bone marrow. Out kind of love can go into remission, but it’s always waiting to return. Like the world’s sweetest cancer.” 

Gillian Flynn hates people. That’s the over-riding feeling you have walking away from her latest success, Gone Girl.

Nick’s wife, Amy has gone missing. There are some signs of a struggle and although the police don’t have anything to go on, it’s only natural to assume that Nick was involved in the disappearance.

The book is divided into chapters, each one opening a window into the minds of the central characters. From this, we’re pretty sure Nick didn’t have anything to do with his wife’s disappearance, but he’s definitely hiding something.

As the plot opens up, more evidence is uncovered – evidence which further incriminates our clueless hero (if you can call him that). It becomes clear that someone is trying to set him up.

But Who?

And Why?

“There’s something disturbing about recalling a warm memory and feeling utterly cold.”

Around the half-way point, just as things are really starting to go wrong for Nick, something changes. We, the jaded readers, catch a glimpse of the other side of a dark and tarnished coin, something that sheds a whole new light on the case.

That’s as much as I’ll say on that, but it’s a big twist and it sets the pace a little higher for the rest of the novel.

Now, I won’t say it’s the best book I’ve ever read. The characters are despicable to such a degree that it becomes impossible to identify with them. I will concede, however, that it deserves its success. It’s not a literary landmark but if you’re looking for a clever, psychological page-turner, it’s among the best in its genre.

“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.” 

Gone Girl is a very cynical story which poses a lot of questions about relationships.  The main lesson to be learned is that you can never truly know someone as much as you think you do and in Gillian Flynn’s world, that blind spot will be your inevitable undoing.

So don’t get married and if you can manage it, avoid all contact with the opposite sex. While you’re at it, you might as well shun your own gender because they can’t be trusted either. Keep your head down and mind your own business because you never know what you might unleash upon yourself.

For those who have read Gone Girl, Flynn’s other two novels (Sharp Objects, Dark Places) come recommended and, you’ll be pleased to hear, are both littered with dysfunction and darkness.

The Sisters Brothers – Patrick DeWitt: a review

 

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt

“…The Sisters Brothers is the book the Coen Brothers might have written had they not become film-makers instead.”

In The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, Charlie and Eli Sisters are guns-for-hire, sent on a mission by the Commodore. With a name like the Commodore, you have to be involved in some shady dealings that require the help of hit men. He sends the assassins to San Francisco to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, again, a fine name to embody a mysterious character waiting at the end of an epic journey.

We follow these outlaws on their odyssey across the dust-strewn plains of an America still in the grip of the manic hunt for gold. The Sisters Brothers are synonymous with death and destruction and everyone knows to give them a wide berth. As the story progresses, Charlie and Eli find their reputation waiting for them wherever they go in the form of the fear and mistrust of the layman. They meet an ensemble of losers, victims of circumstance, and once-normal men tipped over the edge of sanity by the harsh realisation that their American dream was just that.

-“…I am happy to welcome you to a town peopled in morons exclusively. Furthermore, I hope that your transformation to moron is not an unpleasant experience.”  

Despite its grim setting, DeWitt’s Gold-Rush America has an air of the fantastical about it. The descriptions of the landscape are minimal enough to have been captured from a dream and every character seems to represent their own misfortune.

It’s a funny book, mainly because it is peopled by a collection of sharp-tongued, cuss-slinging smartasses. The one-liners and imaginative put-downs are so regular as to provide an honest-to-god pulse for the story.

The book isn’t without its harsh and gruesome scenes (There’s a particular incident with an ailing horse that I won’t go into here), but our characters can find their own joy in the strangest places. Towards the beginning of the book, Eli, the narrator, is introduced to a new-fangled doo-hickey called a toothbrush and he is so awed that he spends the rest of the story extolling its virtues to everyone he meets.

-“I will never be a leader of men, and neither do I want to be one, and neither do I want to be led.  I thought:  I want to lead only myself.”  

All in all, this is a tale of redemption.

The brothers come to a head when Eli begins to question the life they’ve chosen. He dreams of a simpler life without any killing, but his brother doesn’t share his sentimental bullshit. Death is paying work after all.

This book made the shortlist for the 2011 Man Booker prize and has received great critical acclaim since its publication. It’s still one of my go-to books whenever a customer is looking for something good, something different and I’ve yet to hear any complaints.

If you’ve already had the pleasure, be sure to pick up a copy of Ablutions, DeWitt’s first novel. This is a contemporary tale of alcoholism and inertia set in a seedy Hollywood bar peopled by a wealth of human detritus.

As for the future, there hasn’t yet been a peep from DeWitt regarding any upcoming projects. It’s a shame to have to wait, but in the meantime, you can always read the Sisters Brothers again.

Buy The Sisters Brothers at Waterstones.com

Repent! – A list of Apocalyptic fiction titles

With certain doom approaching, your ereader isn’t going to be worth a damn without a power-source. Best stock up on tinned food, bottled water and real books!

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Here’s our selection of reads for the rapture.

  • Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
  • Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
  • I Have Waited, and You Have Come – Martine McDonagh
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • The Postman -David Brin
  • On The Beach -Nevil Shute
  • The Drowned World -JG Ballard
  • Hothouse – Brian Aldiss
  • Then – Julie Myerson

More optimistic recommendations are sure to follow soon…

Try a Little Kurt

You know, I’m still surprised at the number of customers who, on hearing the name ‘Kurt Vonnegut’, look blankly at me as though I’ve just sneezed.

Without going into nauseating detail, reading a book by Vonnegut is like hearing an anecdote from an American door-to-door vacuum salesman who just missed his calling as a stand-up comedian.

His patter is so authentic that even his less-impressive stories are brought to life by his descriptions, his characters and his voice.

In the words of a stand up comedian who missed his calling as a door-to-door vacuum salesman, “It’s the way he tells ’em”.

For a limited time, we’ll be stocking the entire Vonnegut backlist in store and we’ll even knock 25% off.

And it’s not even Christmas!

Japanese Fiction

It’s not all sushi, samurai and sumo wrestling – Japanese fiction also has a lot to offer. So, for our inaugural post, how about a fine selection of Japanese novels from Japan?!

Battle Royale

In an alternative version of Japan, 42 high school students are gassed, transported to an uninhabited island and forced to fight to the death. Yes, it’s a gratuitous and violent concept but this is a gratuitous and violent book. It’s over-the-top premise makes for a thrilling piece of escapism.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

This is not so much a novel you read as a dream you remember…and still don’t understand. Don’t just sit there assuming that you should read Norwegian Wood first, like everybody else – jump in at the deep end!

Spring Snow

How about a book written by an actual samurai? It doesn’t get much more Japanese than that! Spring Snow is the first in Mishima’s Sea of Fertility tetralogy, an opus which meant so much to him that, upon it’s completion, he committed ritual suicide.

Out

The very real problems that Japanese women face come to a head for our four heroines in this game of hide-the-body. If you’re looking for a thriller that doesn’t pull punches, then give this a go.

And Then

Like it’s main character, the story meanders unhurried towards it’s conclusion. If you’re simply looking for something that is written beautifully, you won’t go far wrong with this.

Kitchen

You know it’s going to be interesting when the author is named after a fruit. This is the book that blasted Banana Yoshimoto into Japan’s literary limelight. The book consists of two stories which deal mainly with loss, death and grief. Fantastic storytelling aside, it’s worth buying it just so you can tell your friends that you’re reading a book written by a Banana.