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How I Killed Margaret Thatcher

How I Killed Margaret Thatcher - Anthony Cartwright I didn't watch her funeral. I don't read newspapers. And, until her recent demise, I had forgotten all about the Heart-of-Iron-Lady and how miserable it felt growing up in a country being brutally divided by a woman whose first concern was always "is he one of us?" On the day of her funeral, the current, pitiful excuse for a Prime Minister, claimed we were all Thatcherites now. No, Dave. Some of us could never be 'one of us' - we were always just 'one of them'.It's 1979. Sean Bull is nine years old (four years younger than I was at the time). He lives in Dudley, in the West Midlands (a key electoral battleground at the time), and his dad has voted for the Tories. "The country's got to change" he says. "Things can change for the worse, yer know, as well as the better" is his wife's reply. She's a wise one, Sean's mother. I don't know her name. I don't think it is mentioned in the book. That's one of the things wrong with the world: the women who have to pick up the pieces, try to keep their families together through adversity - the backbone of a nation - are left behind in anonymity while the Thatchers of this world have millions of words written about them. "To keep wanting more's no good," Mrs B tells her husband, "it just goes on and on." A very different world-view to Mrs T, whose words are quoted between chapters. ("Oh, but you know, you do not achieve anything without trouble, ever.")Here, in what would otherwise be just another run-of-the-mill, growing-up-in-middle-England-in-the-late-70s/early-80s novel (like [b:Black Swan Green|14316|Black Swan Green|David Mitchell|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320562118s/14316.jpg|2166883], [b:The Rotters' Club|41038|The Rotters' Club|Jonathan Coe|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320495527s/41038.jpg|2951664] and, of course, [b:Adrian Mole|114950|The Adrian Mole Diaries|Sue Townsend|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347344294s/114950.jpg|2911907]) Anthony Cartwright vividly and accurately chronicles what it felt like to be on the wrong end of the Thatcher 'miracle'. Here are some of the things Sean says about her:"She must really hate us, I think. You can see if you watch her on telly or even if you hear her voice coming outof the radio that we make her angry. At least, someone makes her angry. Even when she said that Saint Francis stuff, it was like she was telling everyone off.""From then on she was always there, a picture on the television hundreds of times over; sometimes only her voice, nagging away across the allotments and gardens and factories; the meanness of it, her voice, working away at you like rust."The anger echoes The Grapes of Wrath:"It was like a plague had come. It was what you'd do, I suppose, if you had a plan, if you set out to destroy a place: close the big works first, one by one, create waves that spread out from their closing, factory after factory, shop after shop; later on the brewery, the rail yard, passenger trains had long since finished, even the football ground, the cricket ground, which both slid into the old limestone workings. Johnny was right about the hill being hollow, a whole town was disappearing, caving in. If you had a plan, you'd tell people they're no good, finished, if they haven't got a job, right after you've taken theirs from them; tell them they're no good if they don't own their house and then try to sell their house back to them; tell them that all that really matters are houses and cars and money, as theirs begin to slip away from them. You'd set people against each other, some of them will applaud what you are doing, some of them will want their thirty pieces of silver or pay you yours, depending on who the betrayer is - it's not always clear, after all. Some people will do very well, and that's what you'd understand and exploit.""Thirty years or more is what you need, I think, if you really want to destroy something; community, society, whatever you want to call it. It takes a long time for things to die. It's what you planned for, if there was a plan.After the first shocks, keep the pressure up. Sell off what you can, every last scrap. Maintain this permanent crisis; turn the world upside-down. You rob from the poor you've made and give to the rich. And you keep going, unrelenting. The revolution is permanent, after all.""They loved rubbing our noses in the dirt."Anthony Cartwright was not chosen by Granta for their recent list of the twenty best British novelists under forty. Zadie Smith, who was, said that this novel "shines a light brightly for regional fiction" - a comment which sounds a tad snobbish to me, implying 'regional' fiction to be inferior to 'metropolitan' fiction. The ambiguity may have been unintentional but, like the Granta editor's reference to Leeds as being "completely out of the literary world", revealing.

Impossible Object

Impossible Object - Nicholas Mosley Impossible Object very nearly won the first Booker Prize in 1969. Two of the judges - including the renowned literary critic Frank Kermode - favoured it, but were "soon silenced" by the others - it seems a particularly impossible one objected.I waited a long time to get hold of a copy. It is an old book so I was in no hurry, but it intrigued me the way the library copy I was waiting for was continuously out on loan for several years - apparently someone was constantly renewing it, unable to let go. Why? It's not a long book. Finally it turned up - and, having read it, I think I understand why the previous borrower held on to it for so long. It's brilliant, but impossible."I wanted to write you something impossible," we are told at the end, "like a staircase climbing a spiral to come out where it started or a cube with a vertical line at the back overlapping a horizontal one in front. These cannot exist in three dimensions but can be drawn in two; by cutting out one dimension a fourth is created. The object is that life is impossible; one cuts out fabrication and creates reality."It's a fascinating observation: some things that can be drawn in two dimensions are impossible in three. Like an Escher stairway; a triangle whose inside becomes its outside; or love. Impossible Object mainly comprises eight short stories, one of which - A Morning in the Life of Intelligent People - is an extraordinary, bravura depiction of the internal monologues of a married couple who, from the moment they wake up, are trying to second guess each other - like chess players locked in a battle of attrition, anticipating their opponents' every move. In their mental calculations breakfast becomes a battlefield, and eggs grenades. After the husband leaves for work, his wife digs out some old love letters and reads this:"I have a terrible compulsion to do as much hurt as I can while I can. I think this is what love is, an attempt to get what you can't and then to destroy it. There's a shred of sanity left which tells you what's happening; but this doesn't help, it only means you can't escape it."Love: impossible to live with; impossible to live without - making life impossible either way? As another writer/character, in another story (A Journey Into The Mind) puts it:"All life is impossible; you hope for reality."Published in 1968, this is meta-fiction that makes [a:Paul Auster|296961|Paul Auster|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1287451428p2/296961.jpg]'s career look like one long game of catch-up. It's the sort of book you have to read more than once. The first time in puzzlement, the second in awe. The writing is full of classical allusions, philosophy, and some eye-popping sentences: "My sons were embarrassed. They went downstairs like ambulance men."In [b:The Left Hand of Darkness|18423|The Left Hand of Darkness|Ursula K. Le Guin|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309282484s/18423.jpg|817527], published the following year, [a:Ursula Le Guin|874602|Ursula K. Le Guin|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1244291425p2/874602.jpg] said that "the only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next." This reader certainly had no idea what would come next in Impossible Object, nor how it related to what had gone before. As the book progressed the stories became more entangled: the writer of one story becomes a character in another, while the narrator of the other seems to be a character in the first.In Public House, a writer spends several lunchtimes eavesdropping on the assignations of a man and a woman who are having an affair, and who each narrate later stories. In Life After Death the man arrives home to find three men waiting outside his flat looking for the woman. Are they police? He fears she has murdered her husband. Then in The Sea, she describes the events of a holiday in North Africa previously glimpsed in Public House. Like the game of hide and seek in a dark cellar in the first story, Family Game, it doesn't end well. But which is the story, and which is the story-within-a-story? Which ending is true? Is reality the impossible object of fiction? I said "This is a fairy story. None of it is quite real."She said "Do you think you're God?"I wanted to review something impossible. Like a book full of stories that are subsumed by other stories within them. The object is that this is impossible; one cuts out certainty and creates circularity."Nietzsche said that everything goes round and round; have I told you this before?" "He said that everything eternally recurs; or rather, that we should act as if everything did.""As if everything we do were such that we were going to go on doing it for ever."Does any of this make sense? Does love? Does life?"All life is a struggle; then you come to the end of it."It's brilliant, but impossible.

Lazarus Is Dead

Lazarus is Dead - Richard Beard At a gala performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, comedienne Victoria Wood was asked what she thought of the show. "It's very sad," she said, "he dies in the end you know." Here, it is Jesus's friend Lazarus who dies, not at the end but in the middle. Then comes back to life again - thanks to his childhood friend. We are presented with episodes from the childhood of Lazarus and Jesus, speculations about those formative years together and the different paths their lives subsequently followed. "Among all the people Jesus knows, and all the people Jesus meets, Lazarus is unique in the Christian New Testament. Not in coming back from the dead (there were others) but in being named as Jesus's friend. Jesus has disciples, some of whom he loves, but Lazarus is his only recorded friend. And famously, unforgettably, in the shortest verse of the bible, Lazarus can make Jesus weep."As you can see, much of this novel reads like non-fiction. The author, as narrator, attempts to piece together the life (and death) (and life again) story of Lazarus, and his connection to Jesus, from the few clues to be found in the Bible. A kind of literary archaeobiography (biblioarchaeology?) setting out to answer questions like: what did Lazarus die of? He lives with his sisters, who are unaffected, so whatever he has cannot be infectious, for example. "Lazarus has eight months to live. That much we know, but smallpox would have killed him quicker than that. His rash at this stage must therefore be scabies, caused by parasitic mites beneath the skin. The mite Sarcoptes scabiei clusters on bedding, clothing and other household objects. Impregnated female mites wait for contact with human skin, then seek out the folds of the body. They make a home in the softness between fingers and toes, inside the elbow or behind the knee, between the buttocks or in the red heat of the groin. They start tunnelling."Beard switches between this forensic analysis and speculative historical-fiction in the way of a highbrow television docudrama. Reconstructing history while deconstructing the barrier between fiction and non-fiction. Leaving us to wonder how much of history is as speculative as fiction anyway. Where is the line between reality and imagination? Can we ever know?Lazarus is Dead does not have the sweltering atmosphere of Jim Crace's Quarantine, but it is a fascinating and compelling read. A fictional biography of someone who didn't exist, and then did, and then didn't, and then did again, and then...what?

Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room

Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room - Geoff Dyer Back in the 1980's I used an iffy videotape to record a rare television showing of the classic films Solaris and Stalker by the Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. I didn't think I would want to keep them. I certainly didn't expect that more than twenty years later I would be watching Stalker while reading a book about it. The author, Geoff Dyer, would not be impressed: "One cannot watch Stalker on TV for the simple reason that the Zone is cinema;" he says, "it does not even exist on telly."Zona reads like a director's cut commentary from a man obsessed by this spellbinding film. One mark of a great work of art is that it affects people and draws them back to it time and again - Stalker certainly has that effect on Geoff Dyer. (Me too, even though I am the very opposite of a cinephile. I seldom watch films. I never got rid of that tape though - I knew I would watch it again someday.) Stalker is a very strange film. It's based on the book Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers (albeit with most of the sci-fi aspects removed by Tarkovsky) in which a 'Stalker' guides people through a Forbidden Zone at the heart of which is The Room in which your deepest wish comes true. Because Stalker is long and slow-moving it would be possible to read the book while 'watching' the film, were it not for Dyer's circumambient footnotes in which he digresses into personal memories and making comparisons and connections with other films. It is those digressions that make Dyer such a fascinating writer, along with his luminous devotion to the film:"From here on we are in a realm of loveliness unmatched anywhere else in cinema. We are able to believe in something blatantly untrue, an amendment to the idea that men were put on earth to create works of art: that the cinema was invented so that Tarkovsky could make Stalker, that our greatest debt to the Lumière brothers is that they enabled this film to be made."Zona is never stuffy; and at times, Dyer's reverence switches to irreverence as his dry commentary teases some aspects of the film, such as Stalker's bedroom attire. Pointing out that at the start of the film: "...he sleeps without his trousers but with his sweater on. "As before, he keeps his sweater on - his sweater, which is dirty, soaking and stinky-looking, ripe for the starring role in an advertisement for the latest breakthrough in biological detergents."There is a black dog in Stalker and it reminded of another work of art that haunts me for reasons I find difficult to pin down: [a:John Berger's 1999 novel King: A Street Story, in which a day in the life of a homeless couple is seen through the eyes of a stray dog. Coincidentally, Dyer has also written a book about Berger. I found myself wondering if it was the same dog.

The Quiddity of Will Self

The Quiddity of Will Self - Sam Mills Quiddity means what? It means the essential nature of something, from the latin 'quid' meaning 'what'. And 'What?' was the first word that crossed my mind when I heard something heavy drop through my letterbox one morning. This book was the what - courtesy Sam Mills herself, who sent me a copy as a reward for slagging off Nick Clegg on Twitter. I was delighted because this was one of those books that make my eyes light up the moment I hear about them. So, I hear you ask, it's about what?What connects a young man who finds the body of Will Self in 2006 and a lesbian book reviewer in 2049? The WSC that's what. A literary cult devoted to Will Self towards which they are both drawn, along with its shadowy leader Jamie Curren, author of How Will Self Can Change Your Life.As the young man, Richard Smith, explores Self's body of work he becomes more and more obsessed - possessed even - by the sesquipedalian genius of the real Will Self, whose physical body it was not. The murdered 'Will Self' from part one haunts the real Will Self in part two, while in part three Richard is imprisoned in a tower block writing The Diary of a Murderer under the care? of a psychiatrist called Professor Self (no relation) who is experimenting with some literary potions.Mia, the lesbian book reviewer, receives a mysterious package containing Richard's diary, that sets her on the trail of the WSC in part four and last, but not least, in part five we meet my favourite character: 'the author' 'Sam Mills' - who reminded me a little of Timothy Cavendish in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, not least because both are literally (and literarily) laugh-out-loud funny. He - for he is a he, unlike our author who is a she - has written a book called, yes, you've guessed it: The Quiddity of Will Self - the literary equivalent of Being John Malkovich which, he explains to the real Will Self in a letter, "aims to be a bizarre comedy, a murder mystery and a sincere homage to you and your work".Obviously there's some sex and drugs along the way.Quirky and distinctly contortuplicated, this novel is so tricksy it comes up behind you, taps you on your right shoulder, then whispers "boo!" into your left ear, while wearing sinister masks on each of several scary faces. Full of words that jangle in your head, The Quiddity of Will Self is a dangerous odyssey through a cloudy mind - but whose? I'm not even sure how many Will Self's there were. I just hope the paranoia that pervades this novel isn't infectious.Why are you looking at me like that?What?

The Banned List: A manifesto against jargon and cliche

The Banned List - John Rentoul I have just seen the political journalist Andrew Neil use the 'word' 'totes' (for 'totally') on Twitter. This would be excruciating enough from a teenager but from a grown man - not to mention a former editor of the Sunday Times - it is quite distressing. This is something up with which we should not put. Fortunately someone has his 'eye on the ball', so to speak. Or rather: so not to speak.The Independent journalist John Rentoul seeks to do for clichés, jargon, waffle and other crimes against the English language, what Lynn Truss sought to do to bad punctuation in Eats Shoots and Leaves. To give writers and speakers a 'wake-up call' and force them to 'smell the coffee' and leave their 'comfort zone' - but not in those words. Not on his watch."My experience is that people care about language; pedantry is also popular," he says, in the entertaining fifty-page polemical essay that precedes the list itself. He is not the first person to try to uphold standards in English language usage, of course, and he does acknowledge his eminent predecessors: Henry Fowler (Modern English Usage) and George Orwell (Politics and the English Language) - whom he admires "mainly because his real name was Blair." (Adding a little more evidence to my theory that his Blair veneration is a long-running satire.) The list itself includes a variety of horrors, few of which I would be sad to see thrown into the dustbin of history. As you might expect from a political journalist, it includes many of those slippery phrases found in the repertoire of politicans, like 'going forward', 'crunch talks', 'moral compass' and 'social mobility'. He also debunks some ill-considered metaphors: "Catalogue of errors. (Does it have glossy photographs?)" Then there are tautologies such as 'added bonus', 'job of work' and 'any time soon' - which, as he points out, "is not a different way of saying 'soon', just a longer one." Also on the list are many of those phrases that begin to grate the moment they become fashionable, if not sooner. ('Epic fail' is a 'no-brainer', 'end of.') Plus "Full Stops. When. Used. For. Emphasis."All banned, and rightly so. Although I think some of the more abominable entries ('normalcy' and 'problematise', for example) should not be given the oxygen of publicity. As for 'render inoperative', I really did laugh out loud at that one. I wonder who came up with that, and why they thought it necessary. Rentoul wisely leaves such etymological archaeology to Susie Dent, and simply bins it. Sorted.The problem with a project like this is that it will always be a work in progress. More expressions that have jumped the shark will keep springing to mind. Best not to set the bar too high though, eh? Journalists, politicians and others who 'bandy words' for a living will find this an instructive text. Amusing too.

Paperboy

Paperboy - Christopher Fowler A memoir of a book-loving boy growing up in England back in the 1950s & 1960s, when putting salt on your crisps passed for entertainment. The food, the pastimes, the family dysfunctions, the being gay, the mivvis, the toys and games. It brought back memories, made me smile and it made my heart bleed."I was not allowed to mix with the kids from the next street because they lived above shops and were therefore 'common'. My mother had a peculiar sense of what constituted commonness. Heinz Baked Beans, football, margarine, Spam, the Daily Mirror, council flats, motorbikes, public displays of emotion, playing in the street, television, tattoos, dyed hair, shouting, swearing, braces, the Labour Party, plimsolls worn with trousers, over-familiarity, and failure to hold a knife and fork properly were unconscionable..."

Genus

Genus - Jonathan Trigell Genus is set in a BladeRunneresque future London rid of religion following a series of 'Caliphate Wars' which have lain waste to half of mainland Europe. People have ID chips in their arms, drink synthetic alcohols and children can be genetically 'enriched'. There are a number of vividly memorable characters, the main ones being Holman Prometheus and Detective Günther Charles Bonnet. Holman, the son of a famous model (and the last ever winner of 'Miss Natural') is a deformed and dwarfish artist who struggles to get around on his "fractal, valgus legs." Detective Gunt on the other hand is "as handsome as a politician" and is the sort of policeman Jeremy Clarkson would admire. In between beating up suspects, he is investigating a series of violent deaths which lead him to something more dangerous as Genus mutates into a conspiracy thriller.Like Trigell's powerful debut, 'Boy A', a sharp analysis of society underpins this novel. Despite being set in the future, or perhaps because of it, Genus is a blazingly good contemporary novel. Earlier this year, Graham Swift wrote that "the novel that's contemporary in the sense of being wholly 'of now' is an impossibility, if only because novels may take years to write, so the 'now' with which they begin will be defunct by the time they're finished." However, as he also pointed out, they can have "nowness" or "something which actually out-thrills the thrill of the merely contemporary. They can have immediacy."Genus certainly has - or, by the time you read this, had - immediacy. Published in July 2011, it includes a punchy depiction of riots of the kind which London experienced a few weeks later. At which point Trigell turns up the power:"Gunt was in the thick of it. Gunt was dealing out turbans - bandaged heads - with his retractable steel club. Soon that was snapped, broken on scum-skull. Instead he took a baseball bat from the hand of some fat gene-lack. Smashed it into the man's own kneecap. Gunt didn't arrest anyone. Gunt didn't want slowing down. It was like truncheoning the sea. But Gunt was wading anyway. Gunt was bloody. Gunt was happy."Elsewhere, "The blue spark of a stun gun is seen in The Kross, a jagged flash visible for an instant before it is buried in someone's neck. They drop to the floor and twitch among the sharp confetti, tinsel crystals of broken glass. It is a crystal night. Might yet be harbinger to such things as crystal nights have signalled before. The assailant is just protecting his property. Defending what is his."'The Kross' is King's Cross, which has become a ghetto for the genetically 'unimproved', wherein this novel is confined. It may be, as the author himself has pointed out in an interview, that beyond The Kross, Britain might have been greatly improved - a genetically engineered utopia. Perhaps dystopia is always with us, and always has been, beneath polite society where the underclasses reside. As a character we know only as 'The Professor' muses:"meritocratic capitalism was never a fairer system, in the strictest sense, than feudalism; it only randomly selected different winners and allowed more people to win. Now that the castes are genetic - with the hopeless breeders lingering far beneath - life's winners are generally predetermined and genuinely superior, it's no fairer, but is it really any less fair? The best prosper and leave ever-fitter offspring, it was always thus, only the speed has improved."Thought-provoking, surprising and written with real verve, Genus exceeded my expectations and confirmed Jonathan Trigell as a must-read author.

Lazarus Is Dead

Lazarus Is Dead - Richard Beard At a gala performance of Jesus Christ Superstar, comedienne Victoria Wood was asked what she thought of the show. "It's very sad," she said, "he dies in the end you know." Here it is Jesus's friend Lazarus who dies, not at the end but in the middle. Then comes back to life again, thanks to his childhood friend. We are presented with episodes from the childhood of Lazarus and Jesus, speculations about those formative years together and the different paths their lives subsequently followed. "Among all the people Jesus knows, and all the people Jesus meets, Lazarus is unique in the Christian New Testament. Not in coming back from the dead (there were others) but in being named as Jesus's friend. Jesus has disciples, some of whom he loves, but Lazarus is his only recorded friend. And famously, unforgettably, in the shortest verse of the bible, Lazarus can make Jesus weep."As you can see, much of this novel reads like non-fiction. The author, as narrator, attempts to piece together the life (and death) (and life again) story of Lazarus, and his connection to Jesus, from the few clues to be found in the Bible. A kind of literary archaeobiography (biblioarchaeology?) setting out to answer questions like: what did Lazarus die of? He lives with his sisters, who are unaffected, so whatever he has cannot be infectious, for example. "Lazarus has eight months to live. That much we know, but smallpox would have killed him quicker than that. His rash at this stage must therefore be scabies, caused by parasitic mites beneath the skin. The mite Sarcoptes scabiei clusters on bedding, clothing and other household objects. Impregnated female mites wait for contact with human skin, then seek out the folds of the body. They make a home in the softness between fingers and toes, inside the elbow or behind the knee, between the buttocks or in the red heat of the groin. They start tunnelling."Beard switches between this forensic analysis and speculative historical-fiction in the way of a highbrow television docudrama. Reconstructing history while deconstructing the barrier between fiction and non-fiction. Leaving us to wonder how much of history is as speculative as fiction anyway. Where is the line between reality and imagination? Can we ever know?Lazarus is Dead does not have the sweltering atmosphere of Jim Crace's Quarantine, but it is a fascinating and compelling read. A fictional biography of someone who didn't exist, and then did, and then didn't, and then did again, and then...what?

Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here - Graham Swift Book of LamentationAs part of his investigations into the properties of light, Isaac Newton poked around behind his own eyeball with a bodkin. In this novel, Graham Swift undertakes an equally painful investigation of the darkness that lies behind the demise of a traditional farming family.Jack Luxton and his wife Ellie run the Lookout Caravan Park on the Isle of Wight, when one November - and in this book it is always November - Jack is notified of the death of his younger brother Tom, a soldier on active service in Iraq. In his mind, Jack goes over and over the events that led to this point. Remembering their life on Jebb Farm in Devon where the Luxton family had lived for generations. The death of their mother, their cattle having to be culled because of mad cow disease, the death of the farm dog, the death of their father, the death, the death, the death. No wonder Tom left home to join the army on his eighteenth birthday.When Tom's body is repatriated, Jack attends a ceremony in which a bugler plays the reveille, and that is what this novel reminded me of: one long reveille - a griefful musical canon reverberating incessantly. Like a billiards player compiling a lengthy break from nursery cannons, Graham Swift's skill as a writer is as mesmerising as it is monotonous.Jack Luxton is a doleful character whose whole life seems to be nothing but dullness punctuated by bereavement - full of whatever the exact opposite of 'joie de vivre' is:"Death, Jack thought, looking out at brilliant exposing sunshine in Okehampton, was in many ways a great place of shelter. It was life and all its knowledge that was insupportable."Jack's father had the right idea: he blew his brains out in the middle of the book. Regrettably, I didn't have a shotgun, so I had to carry on to the (not-so-)bitter end.Jack lays a loaded shotgun on his bed in chapter one, in a transparent attempt by the author to inject some tension into the narrative, but I had little hope of it going off by the end - literary fiction of this calibre can only end with a polite anticlimax. Chekhov might not be impressed.Nevertheless, Wish You Were Here is truly well written, but be warned: reading it temporarily sucks all trace of happiness out of the world, so make sure you have plenty of chocolate to hand before opening it.

The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes

The Strange Return of Sherlock Holmes - Barry Grant I nearly gave up on this novel in the first paragraph, when our supposedly English narrator John Wats...erm, I do beg your pardon, John Wilson, mentions having been "on an airplane to India". I think you meant to say you were *in* an *aeroplane*, old chap. I immediately deduced that the author was an American gentleman. (Assuming there is such a thing.) I turned to the back flap in order to confirm this deduction - only to be informed, rather tantalisingly, that "Barry Grant is a man of mystery with a double identity, a published author writing here under another name."So the mystery began.At Hay-on-Wye, Wilson is introduced to one 'Cedric Coombes' who, slowly but surely, is revealed to be Sherlock Holmes, revived after being found frozen inside a glacier since 1914. (Adam Adamant anyone?) Cedric tells the Thirty-Nine-Stepsy tale of how he came to be trapped in the ice while on a mission for King and Country at the outbreak of the Great War, but it's the current war in Afghanistan that provides the backdrop for the crime with which Scotland Yard require his assistance in 2007.Since being thawed out, Sherlock has been busy catching up with the modern world: he is au fait with DNA (he's trying to develop a forensic technique for determining who has owned or handled any book in the world) and he now attends crime scenes armed with a digital camera as well as his magnifying glass.Anyone who enjoys Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde detective stories will probably enjoy Barry Grant's Sherlock novels as well. Although the author's Americanness results in a few more jolting clangers along the way. Cedric uses the phrases "I guess" and "pretty much", for example, which I think we can safely say Sherlock Holmes never would - being, as they are, one step up from "I dunno" and "whatever!" Be warned though: in the end, this is no cosy mystery. Some readers (American ones) find the denouement uncomfortably political. For me, the ending added unexpected power to what was otherwise a mere divertissement.I had never heard of this book until I saw it on the shelf at my local library and borrowed it on impulse. It was good to find Sherlock living on - despite occasionally lapsing into New World lingo, but sadly the library is slated for closure. Hopefully a future case for Cedric will involve the mysterious, and very brutal death of the British Culture Secretary inside a closed library.

The Maintenance of Headway

Maintenance Of Headway - Magnus Mills This is a little gem of a book. A wryly humorous, gently satirical - and slightly ethereal - portrayal of the bus driver's art of timing their journeys so as to avoid being late by, say, having to stop to pick up too many passengers...and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game between them and the inspectors trying to maintain a regular gap between buses. "If we're late the people don't like it. If we're early the officials don't like it. And if we're on time we don't like it." Arguably the perfect book to read while sitting on a bus (if you can manage to catch one).

Confessions of a Conjuror

Confessions of a Conjuror - Derren Brown The first thing to say about this 'memoir' is that Derren Brown has a writing style like no other celebrity, or possibly anyone since the days of Dickens and Melville. His rococo prosification would not be unbefitting of a lawyer in a 19th century novel. I only hope it's not catching.His recollections of a performance of a card trick to an audience in a Bristol restaurant some years ago (before he found fame) form the scaffolding onto which he hangs various digressions - psychological and philosophical flights of fancy. In fact this book is one long meandering, but fascinatingly peculiar, reverie.His astonishingly anal attention to detail as he observes individual audience members - noting the significance of every glance, nuance and gesture and describing events in super slow-motion, is extraordinary. Like Sherlock Holmes deducing everything in bullet-time.It's not just the audience who are under the microscope though, he becomes more and more self-analytical:"Sometimes as I squatted, performing this task in a scruffy coat, surrounded by my shopping bags and glancing shoppers, I wondered what really separates the mentally peculiar from the merely particular," he muses.The task was buying earplugs - which apparently requires a good feel so as to ascertain that the density of the foam is of the desired sufficiency. This is a man so finickety he makes Niles Crane (from the sitcom Frasier) seem like a bit of rough. If I had been told this was a book written by a high functioning autistic, or someone with some similar syndrome, or perhaps a patient of Oliver Sacks, I would have been no more surprised. "Some of these rituals do seem to knock tentatively at the looming fortified door of the asylum," he admits at one point. No shit, Derren! Well, I say no shit, but he does then go on to discuss methods of bottom-wiping...Along the way he does briefly reveal some of the tricks of the trade - conjuring that is, not bottom-wiping. Not only the mechanics of forcing and palming cards but, more interestingly, the psychology of misdirection, the manipulation of the audience's imagination and the whole theatricality of performing magic.Fabulously odd.

Chapman's Odyssey

Chapman's Odyssey - Paul Bailey At the front of this book, Paul Bailey expresses his "deep and abiding gratitude" to the Royal Literary Fund. He had had to turn to them for financial support in 2009 when publishers showed no interest in publishing it, despite his belief that it was as good as anything he had done since Gabriel's Lament (which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1986).As Philip Pullman said in his rousing speech in defence of libraries recently: "the greedy ghost of market madness has got into the controlling heights of publishing. Publishers are run by money people now, not book people. The greedy ghost whispers into their ears: Why are you publishing that man? He doesn’t sell enough. Stop publishing him. Look at this list of last year’s books: over half of them weren’t bestsellers. This year you must only publish bestsellers. Why are you publishing this woman? She’ll only appeal to a small minority. Minorities are no good to us. We want to double the return we get on each book we publish." Harry Chapman, a melancholic 70 year-old writer who describes himself as 'a common or garden queen', finds himself in hospital with stomach pains. He drifts in-and-out of consciousness: lapsing between the here-and-now and the there-and-then. Conversations with the nurses, to whom he recites poetry, blur with the internal voices of long-departed family and friends - and various literary characters, including Pip, Emma, Prince Myshkin and Bartleby the Scrivener. Having finished Chapman's Odyssey - and it was one of those books I really didn't want to end - I would like to offer my thanks to the Royal Literary Fund as well. And also Bloomsbury for using some of the money they earned from another Harry to allow us to get to know this one. Everything Ali Smith is quoted as saying on the cover is spot on. No reviewer could fail to use the words beautiful and moving.The reminiscences of a life. So many memories, so many people, so much poetry: treasures stored in a mind destined to be lost? Like this book nearly was? Imagine living in a world in which beautiful, moving books like this go unpublished. Like Bartleby, I would prefer not to.

Brideshead Abbreviated: The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century

Brideshead Abbreviated: The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century - John Crace John Crace writes the Digested Read column in The Guardian in which he reviews new books by distilling them into a few parodic paragraphs, and here he does the same to a hundred 20th Century classics (ten from each decade). He gives you the gist of each book garnished with some wickedly irreverent humour.A bookaholic would enjoy receiving this book for Christmas every bit as much as an alcoholic would love to be given a box of liqueurs.I'm loving it. Hic.

Hand Me Down World

Hand Me Down World - Lloyd Jones Hand Me Down World is the story of one woman's journey to find her child, as glimpsed by the people she meets along the way. "Her story is in the hands of others" as the author himself has put it. A truck driver, a chess player, an alpine guide, a poet-thief, a film researcher, a blind man - otherwise unconnected lives linked by the thread of one woman's journey. Determined to be reunited with her son, who has been taken to Berlin by his German father, she leaves her job as a maid in a Tunisian hotel and travels across Europe as an illegal immigrant.I found it to be quite a far-fetched tale in every sense - at one point, for example, she appears to be trying to cross the alps on foot. Also, the narration style never changes, so the voices of the characters are not distinct - although their view of the events they describe certainly is.Only in the final part of the book do we get to hear her version of the story and see her perspective on the events previously described by those other characters. Was their testimony the truth? The whole truth? How can we ever know what the whole truth is? And how much truth can we handle anyway?This is a book full of questions. "What are we supposed to see? What is it we are supposed to think?" the blind man asks regarding a disturbing photograph found in his late father's wardrobe. What indeed. Perhaps, as the woman herself observes: "the only way to get through where we are from one day to the next is to think of where we are as a better place."At its heart this is a story of the quiet determination of a mother to go anywhere and do anything to be with her child, so Hand Me Down World may resonate more with women readers than men, but will doubtless give reading groups plenty to talk about. I'd like to suggest that such groups also consider reading [b:A Seventh Man|9037499|A Seventh Man|John Berger|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ztxBWabaL._SL75_.jpg|295897] - John Berger and Jean Mohr's recently re-published book about migrant workers - as a companion piece.