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monica (Ireland)

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An A-Z of Possible Worlds (Boxed Set)
An A-Z of Possible Worlds (Boxed Set)
by A.C. Tillyer
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff. Read it., 29 May 2012
I've just re-read this and think even better of it than I did upon first reading, perhaps because this time 'round I wasn't concentrating solely on plot and atmosphere and so was able to get a sense of the intelligence and humour underlying the writing.

Tillyer's stories are of places, people, events in off-kilter versions of this world, a reality gone slightly awry, and not the surreal or wholly fantastic: A city whose streets are literally labyrinthine; a slumming visitor to a kingdom who is at great cost made king; an ring road of nearly hypnotic appeal and inexplicable danger; civilian astronauts whose time in space is televised as a reality show.

Not one of the stories is a dud and some are truly haunting: For a few years, something I'd read about an underwater city and charging horses now and again came to mind and I was delighted to find it again in 'R is for Reservoir'. Tillyer's style is straightforward and--for the most part--polished, her ability to pack so much matter into stories so short is admirable, and her imagination is something I covet. I'm surprised there are so few reviews of this, as though the book in no way resembles mass-market pap it seems like one that would have a very wide appeal amongst general readers. And anyone who's a fan of Chateaureynaud's or Alois Hotschnig's stories would probably take to these (and vice versa).

The format of A-Z is outstanding. Each story is a separate chap-book and all are contained in a box. This isn't a tricksy design decision but packaging inspired by and perfectly appropriate to the content and, it occurred to me, forced me to take a bit of time to let each story sink in, whereas had the book been in conventional form I would have raced through it. The only slight let-down, at least to a geek who looks at copyright pages and credits on end flaps, is that the designer seems to receive no mention. The format might have been a group decision, but surely the letters of the alphabet weren't drawn by a committee.

No doubt I'll be reading this yet again in a few years . . .

3 1/2 stars
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 23, 2013 6:45 AM BST


It's a Boy - it's a Girl
It's a Boy - it's a Girl
by Kirsten Dietz
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge a book by its cover or title or introduction, 29 April 2012
I pulled this book down from a shelf in T.K. Maxx despite its title and the pink-and-blue lettering on its spine because it was from Taschen and thus I'd a very faint hope that it wasn't a book about babies. It isn't, nor is it 'also' a photography book: It's a photography book, full stop. The 'product' description seems to imply that the editor's remarks about using it as a source book for babies' names were in earnest.

Dietz's colour photographs are all of signs, almost always shop-front ones, containing someone's given name. She seems to have a good eye for the quirky incidental detail and for urban clutter--the roof-top pipes, the wall-mounted meters, the grafitti, the billboard--that one is usually blind to. Though the photos were taken in several countries and sometimes portray what seem to be thriving shops, and though their content left me lingering over almost all of them, the ones I particularly adored were of hand-lettered signs, sometimes with rather poignantly clumsy pictures on them, askew on paint-peeled walls of shops long since closed on unpeopled streets under what seems to be a very stark light in California.

I've not given this 5 stars because on the one hand I've not the knowledge of photgraphy to assess the book properly and on the other because the content and mood of the book have so immediate an appeal to my tastes that I can't possibly judge it objectively. But if you can imagine yourself feeling in the shadow of mystery and desolation when really only standing in the shade cast by a shop-front, you might pass as I did several happy hours looking at this book.


Candy Story (European Women Writers)
Candy Story (European Women Writers)
by Marie Redonnet
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars best hurled from the top of a Seineside lighthouse, 17 April 2012
Whenever Lilo went to the lighthouse on the seaside, Lala would read aloud to Lurm from a book. When I was in my studio on the Seine I had the book with me. Kurlu had left a message on the answering machine. After Jack Bobbin and I flew to the seaside I asked Louie about the book. He often read books while working at the front desk in the Seaside Hotel and he said that at bottom it was an attractively tawdry thriller.

Lilo left the seaside town to manage the Sea's Edge Casino. Lail and Cryz thought she was as glamourous as Lali the movie star or Carlotta the famous singer. The televsion crew were filming. Kurlu asked me to a wrap party, but so many people were murdered that Lummy cancelled it. I had put on my green summer Givenchy gown and my forcedly simple writing style but threw the gown into the lighthouse-keeper's bonfire. I kept the style because it was the only one I had and it reminded me of the poetry Lulu's son Lao wrote. Lao likes airports as much as I do. I met him in Arrivals. After drinking lemonades we left from Departures for a seaside place where we had it on in an abandoned dance hall near an empty airport hangar. It was an evocative or a random setting but it wasn't then he hinted that the book's author was equal to Echenoz and Robbe-Grillet.

In my studio on the Seine I wondered where the last year had gone. After I put on my red dress and the puce headband that had looked so nice on Ma's head, I went to Winkle's dining room. Laramie was there, and he told me that I had been wrong to trust Lao and Louie and the publisher's description of the book.

Lulu, Carlotta, Lummy, and the Interpol detective were murdered, and Jack Bobbin wasted away with one of those diseases that Europeans who sleep with Africans get. I wondered how I had wasted away a year at seaside hotels and in my studio on the Seine. Lime wondered why I had wasted an hour reading the book.


Necrophiliac, The
Necrophiliac, The
by Gabrielle Wittkop
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars little deaths with the dead, 15 April 2012
This review is from: Necrophiliac, The (Paperback)
3 1/2 stars.

Very short and very good. The content is described in the other two reviews, and both story and Wittkop's presentation of it are arresting. This could have been a lurid tale, or one overwhelmed by a narrator's moral agonising over his behaviour, but Lucien's narration is calm, spare, subtly humourous, and sometimes poetic. The style is so attractive that when I tried to begin a more conventional novel shortly after finishing this, I gave it up as an irritant: relative to this book, it seemed ridiculously wordy. Wittkop passes no overt judgement on Lucien though she gently implies, through both his words and his actions, the extent of his self-delusion.

There is one rather colourful description at the book's beginning, but that aside I can't imagine a reader finding any of the incidents repugnant in a visceral way. A couple of aspects of the story did niggle slightly, though: Whilst the origin of Lucien's inclinations is entirely plausible, the passage detailing it doesn't seem quite to fit in--perhaps because it's the only one taking us back to the distant past--and I found it difficult to suspend disbelief so much as to accept without question Lucien's being able to dig up graves and take bodies home (via a lift, no less) to his apartment unobserved.

Overall, I'm left very eager to read more of Wittkop's books.


King Cophetua
King Cophetua
by Julien Gracq
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars nonpareil, 31 Mar. 2012
This review is from: King Cophetua (Paperback)
I won't be reading another novella any time soon, as I can't imagine doing so without feeling maddeningly frustrated that it wasn't approaching the near-perfection of this one.

In 1917 the narrator takes the train to the country, where he's been invited to stay with a friend whose villa is deep in the forest. The friend, who was to have been on a short leave, falls to arrive and the narrator passes a night in the house whose only other inhabitant is a silent and unfathomable woman.

It's Gracq's genius for evocative description that makes this work a thing of beauty: The dark squally November day; the ancient trees looming at forest's edge; the smell of wet mouldy earth; the glimpses afforded by the brief flare of a candle; the sounds of clock chimes, violent wind, and, from afar, artillery in the battlefield. . . Gracq's unique style somehow lends a sense of immediate reality to the events whilst simultaneously shrouding them in a dream-like haze. Really. It crossed my mind that I might be over-estimating the book's quality simply because I so like storms, and effects of light, and coldly impersonal interiors, and an air of insoluble mystery--but no, I think the book would have seemed wonderful had it been lacking those things.

This would I suspect be a good book to begin with for someone curious about the writer; certainly the story-line is more pronounced and the prose less extravagant than in the Gracq novel I've read.

A quiet masterpiece.


Fosca
Fosca
by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm too sensitive to live. Your hysteria is terminal. We're made for each other., 19 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Fosca (Paperback)
So much about this book is risible, though Tarchetti was in dead earnest. So is his narrator, Giorgio: No one who takes pains to tell us how preternaturally sensitive a soul he is is likely to have a large store of humour. And deathly serious as well is Fosca, the invalid with whom Giorgio becomes entangled. Their relationship, the subject of the novel, is the result of Giorgio's declaring his love to Fosca.

He does this, though he finds her repellent (too skinny), after a doctor tells him that if he does not do so, Fosca will die. (He finds consolation in the doctor's subsequent warning that their 'love' must remain unconsummated, as, once again, Fosca would otherwise die. Later still the doctor issues another alert: If Fosca doesn't die soon, Giorgio must instead die of the same contagious strain of hysteria. Giorgio is too occupied with agonising to tell us whether the doctor was finally removed from the register.) If you were to imagine a parody of a Decadent novel narrated by a parody of a Romantic hero you might imagine something a bit like this book. It can't be excused as a product of its time--it must have seemed silly in 1869--and Tarchetti isn't accomplished enough a writer to get away with it: He's no Zola, and this is no Therese Racquin, no over-heated melodrama that is redeemed by good atmospheric writing.

What makes the book of more than historical interest is Fosca herself. I can't at the moment remember another fictional character so monstrous as she. Clinging, hysterical, utterly selfish, manipulative, demanding, she's credible--and therefore hateful--partly because in her case as opposed to the narrator's Tarchetti does a good job of showing what she's like rather than telling us and partly, no doubt, because her traits are merely an exaggeration of ones we've all seen in everyday life. A perfect villain (though I'm not at all sure that that's how Tarchetti intended the reader to regard her) and a memorable character. It's because of her that the book was worth reading.

Venuti, the translator of the Oneworld edition I read, interjects slangy modern American phrases into well-researched 19th-century English (and gives his reason for doing so, my translation of which is 'I dumbed it down for the American market'). So be prepared to tack from 'I was utterly in want of love; when one is unloved, vanity lacks any reason to exist. . . .' to 'Time flies when you're having fun.'

I've upped my rating a star because Fosca is so vividly horrid a character. And by the way, Tarchetti's novel Passion is this book issued under a different title.


Bitter Blue
Bitter Blue
by Jeremy Reed
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars what lies beneath, 10 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Bitter Blue (Hardcover)
3 1/2 stars.

Reed was addicted to Valium and Ativan for many years, and it's the hallucinations caused by withdrawal from them, as well as the panic attacks worsened by his kicking, that are the springboard for what is really a long reflective essay on what lurks in the unconscious and on the breakdown of defenses against recognising those hidden things, and more specifically how certain writers have deliberately or inadvertantly knocked down the barrier between inner and outer and used what they discovered inside in their work.

The writing that interests Reed is modern and in opposition to social realism and to 'the anaesthetized regionalism that suffocates most late twentieth-century British fiction'. Michaux and Kavan are discussed at some length; Proust, Cocteau, Trakl, and Breton are some of the other inner cosmonauts whom he contemplates. (But you needn't have read any of them to follow what Reed says.) The book isn't tightly organised, and that's all to the good: Wending from dreams to drugs to death and back again, interspersing the personal with acounts of other writers, observing rather than arguing, not only seem suited to the subject matter but to me give a stronger sense of what the author's saying than a more conventional treatment would have.

And Reed's style isn't a straitened one, either, and that too is all to the good here. As well, the book has some marvellous turns of phrase--'He smokes a cigarette with the elegance of someone choreographing the escaped smoke'--and beautifully evocative passages:

[on Lonely Street from 'Heartbreak Hotel'] ' . . . you just find yourself there and later on piece together the fragments of the mosaic leading to your arrival. It is usually raining. A blue rain. Sometimes the people have faces without features. Dogs pick through garbage in the streets. Soggy books, rubies and old photographs litter the pavements. . . The taxi that crawls down the street has no driver behind the wheel. . . You are too tired ever to sleep again. There is only one place to go: the blue, neon-lit hotel. But when you arrive in the entrance hall the desk-clerk is slumped over with a bullet-hole through his right temple. The stairs have been demolished. Spiders run in zigzag spirals across the fissured floor.'

A book that was hard to put down, that had me yearning to turn down page-corners despite its being a pristine hardback, and that has me annoyed now because when I finished it there were so many bits I wanted to re-read and I'd no dog-ears to help me find them.


What a Life! An Autobiography E.V.L & G.M.
What a Life! An Autobiography E.V.L & G.M.
by E.V. Lucas
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars clip art c. 1910, 1 Feb. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I can't imagine why this book is so very little known when lesser books are famous and considered British comic classics. I learned of it only because a few pages were reproduced in the catalogue for an exhibition devoted to Bataille's journal 'Documents'; Queneau, I then found, had written an essay about it, and I've the impression that it's received more attention from French thinkers than from the British public. If you pride yourself upon being a John Bull type who considers 'French intellectual' a contemptuous term, stick that in your pipe and smoke it. (Mine's a Gauloise, thanks.)

Lucas and Morrow used images from a department-store catalogue to illustrate a cod autobiography. Whilst the book could be read in five or ten minutes, it wants far longer than that to be looked at because, while there's a certain charm and some humour in the words, the appeal of the book lies largely in the illustrations in juxtaposition with the text. The catalogue pictures are used without regard to scale or style: On one page might be a line drawing of an archery target and at the top of the next a fashion plate next to a densely cross-hatched piece of furniture. Flat-irons are used to illustrate swans, a brooch stands in for a bird in flight, and one of the body parts strewn about by a train wreck is a box shaped like a heart. Rum bottles rest on a table that could never support their weight and figures who, given the relative scale, would be giants or midgets pop up often. The story itself seems to be inspired by the pictures, not vice versa--after all, who could resist mentioning a horse with a swollen neck simply in order to display a strikingly inept drawing of a horse with what seems to be the grandaddy of all goitres?

Off-hand, I can't think of another British book whose overall feel is as surrealistic as this one's. Certainly I can't think any such book as old as this one. A little treasure.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 3, 2013 9:10 PM BST


The Architect of Ruins (Dedalus Europe 2011 Dedalus Europe 2011)
The Architect of Ruins (Dedalus Europe 2011 Dedalus Europe 2011)
by Herbert Rosendorfer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Doomsday Decameron, 10 Jan. 2012
In the grounds of a country estate the main character encounters a few other people. One is an architect who's overseen the partly-finished project that will serve as refuge when the world is ending, where he and the others can meet the end whilst playing a Schubert string quartet and so die in a state of exultation. Suddenly signs of the end appear, and the narrator is whisked away to that shelter.

The construction and the events happening there are engrossing--the magic show, the attacks from outside, the sacrifices that weaken the enemy, all within a House-of-Leaves sort of place. But most of the book is stories, stories of a startling range of times and places told by many narrators. Some are within each other, some within dreams, and some refer to elements in other stories.

All these are absorbing, but what makes the book nearly superb is Rosendorfer's playfulness, a sly playfulness that creeps up on the reader rather than shouting Boom Boom! There are digs at a fellow writer, musical and literary references, and delightful pastiches: A story placed in England has all the silly names, presposterous situations, and rapid-fire plot complications of a certain strain of British comic (or, to me, 'comic') novel. A fairly disturbing horror story contains of course a castle, packs of wolves, an evil genius and a naive young victim. The same spirit of fun seems to underlie the self-referential passages and comments: A man is killed whilst reading a book and, asks a story-teller, 'Do you think it was mere chance that it [the book] was the Sargasso Manuscript?'

By disregarding what Rosendorfer's said about dreams, time, and the universe--and by ignoring a piece of paper with holes punched in it--someone who likes tidy endings could convince himself that in the end the novel has come full circle. In any case, it's wonderful stuff that I'll one day re-read, no doubt catching many allusions that I missed this time.

I think very highly of the publisher, Dedalus, but the book itself has a rather cheap feel: narrow margins make the text seem crowded, the spine looks after one reading as if the book had already made a couple of journeys to the 2nd-hand shop, and there are a couple of consistent non-standard uses of punctuation. (Did the editor, I wonder, come from a country with a weirdly different use of inverted commas?) Other small publishers of translated books whose budgets probably stretch to the same shoestring's length as Dedalus's manage to issue some beautifully produced books, after all . . .
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 13, 2012 10:51 AM GMT


Windows on the World
Windows on the World
by Frederic Beigbeder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Insignificant,, 15 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Windows on the World (Paperback)
if not indeed vapid. The scheme and content of the novel are described in other reviews, but none of those seems to express the exasperation it made me feel.

Both Beigbeder's alter ego--his 'cousin', as he once calls him--facing death in the south tower and the narrator who seems to be the real Beigbeder are bores. No problem with that in itself: it's never been important to me that a character, or an author, seem likeable or sympathetic. What is a problem is that they're not interesting characters to read about, though I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that Beigbeder thought readers would find them as fascinating as he does. And, except for the setting, there's nothing out of the very ordinary here. Middle-aged men attracting hot young babes? Houellebecq did it better. Author intrudes upon his own fiction? Michon did it better. Musings on life, death and, above all, oneself? An 18-year-old of slightly-above-average intelligence could do it better. Beigbeder makes some good points but none that wouldn't occur to that teen-ager, who probably would disdain using as Begbeder does references to pop culture as a cheap replacement for insight.

Barely 3 stars, but 3 it is because the reactions of people in that tower are interesting and often convincing, and because Beigbeder does manage to give a strong sense of their gradual realisation that they are irrevocably trapped in a place that is with torturous slowness being filled with fumes, debris, smoke, and the stink of death.


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