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on 3 June 2012
I like this book. What's not to like? It's easy to read (I read it one sitting), cheap, entertaining, funny, moving, surprising and completely original. There is no other book quite like it. But what I like most about it is that, despite the fact that some unbelievable things happen within it, it has its own internal consistency and is somehow deeply satisfying.

It's a bit like a fairy story. In fairy stories magical events occur which exist outside the scope of normal reality. Trees have spirits. The venerable stranger grants wishes. The hero is lead into a mysterious and often threatening world where strange things happen.

The Brandy of the Damned has something of that quality. There are a series of magical events, in the form of little blue bottles which appear intermittently throughout the story, which contain chapters from a future bible. Various things occur which exist outside the scope of normal reality. But there is a light touch to all of this, and we never find our credulity strained.

Our three characters - all ex members of a band which broke up twenty years ago - are on a journey around the coastline of Britain. But, while the place names stay the same, you soon realise it is a mythical Britain we are travelling through, a Britain of the subconscious, and that the events are occurring on a magical or a symbolic level.

However, just like a fairy story, we find ourselves going along with the logic of this. It is not handled in a clumsy way. The plot twists are frequent enough and surprising enough to make us want to keep on reading, and the characters are real enough for us to believe in them. We care about them enough to want to follow them on their journey, by which we are lead to a series of understandings about our own journey through existence.

In another life JMR Higgs writes scripts for children's TV. What we have here is a child's tale of the imagination told for adults, in a way that is both entertaining and beautiful.

I have no hesitation in recommending this book.
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on 11 October 2012
What an unusual book. It's subtle yet gripping. - without driving any cliches. In fact I can't compare it to anything I've read before.

Towards the end of the story, I felt I had become quite wed to the road trip and I didn't want it to end. But this wasn't the greatest gift that the story delivered. It seemed to me that the author had squared up to 'reality' and given it a knowing wink. I was left thinking - what if the world being described here isn't an alternative - it's just the reality that we ignore every day.

I'm probably wide of the mark - but that's the selfish joy of reading a book and being left alone to draw your own conclusions.
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on 7 June 2012
This book is a beautifully observed trip around the UK by three reunited rock musicians. More metaphysical than John Donne, more cryptic than Howard Overman, it does for middle age what Gregory's Girl did for teen age.

Although "Brandy Of The Damned" appears to ask more questions than it answers, it is the very fact of understanding what the question was in the first place that makes this book such an utterly astonishing achievement. JMR Higgs has mastered the skill of getting into people's heads, straight to the crux of their thoughts.

The book veers from outrageously funny to painfully poignant. The story flows quickly and is written using a device (that I won't give away here) that makes it uniquely possible to empathise which each of the three central characters. And empathy is really what the point of this book is. Because with every page turn comes a deeper understanding of oneself... one that has come by looking at life from JMR Higgs' perspective. The plot is driven along by a series of mysterious events and situations, which helps make the book a page turner that the reader will want to devour as quickly as possible.

I thoroughly recommend this book.
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on 27 June 2012
An increasingly mesmerising hybrid of engaging travelogue and unsettling genre elements, The Brandy Of The Damned defies categorisation. It sees three former members of a rock band head off on a tour-van journey around the coast of Britain, for reasons which escape them. We learn their motives as they do. Why's one of them carrying a shovel? Why's another of them so obsessed with bottles which wash up on the shore, containing pages from a future Bible? To say more about any of this stuff would be to spoiler, but TBOTD is sure to surprise and move you.

At one point towards the end, I felt like I'd been shown one of nature's great hidden secrets. Surely there can be no higher recommendation than that. Buy this book and become part of the early groundswell of recommendation which is sure to propel it from Kindle to Kindle to Kindle.
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on 13 October 2012
What a little beauty this is. Right from the start the idea feels fresh and exciting, with the members of a once-famous band getting together for a road trip in which they plan to drive around the entire coast of Britain, just to make sure it's definitely an island and that cartographers haven't been lying to them.

The three friends - Will, Russ and Penny - take turns telling their stories as they progress around the coast, experiencing a mix of regret and nostalgia while their journey becomes increasingly surreal. Will keeps finding bottles floating at sea, each containing a page of an alternative and very sarcastic Bible. Penny carries a spade with her at all times and won't tell anyone why. Russ worries that he might have broken the boundaries between fiction and reality.

Higgs is plugged right into the British psyche throughout, with nods to Pratchett & Gaiman's Good Omens and Banks's Espedair Street, and has the good sense to make sure that such a psychadelic road trip stops off in Portmerion, home to that mind-boggling TV show The Prisoner. With rich characters, properly funny jokes and intelligent observations on life, art and love, this is really a very special novella.

(original review on
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on 4 July 2012
A delightfully skewed look at music, middle age and the landscape of the Great Britain. And utterly unlike anything else you may have previously read on any of those subjects.

What starts as a simple story of a simple quest, three faded musicians taking to the road one more time, gently evolves into a kind of meta-magical fugue full of unexpected, almost accidental, profundity. The remarkable feat of the book is that it travels through a landscape where just about anything might happen while never compromising the readers belief in the reality of the characters.

Highly recommended.
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on 17 October 2012
This debut novel by JMR Higgs is good fun, easy to read, and quite original. It's about 3 ex-friends who get together two decades after they used to play in a band together, and decide to drive around the coast of the UK, for reasons they can't really put their fingers on. It's the kind of road trip the Beatles probably had in mind when they made the Magical Mystery Tour. Stuff happens - some of it mundane, some of it magical. And although I must warn you there's not much of a plot, it still packs in a few surprising plot twists.

There might well be a serious point hiding in there somewhere, perhaps to do with fate, bibles (in general, not The Bible), friendship, time travel, love and music. But I wouldn't bet on it.

About two thirds of the way through an intriguing character called Orlando Monk pops up and rather steals the show. We're promised more adventures of Orlando Monk in a future book. Let's hope the author is actually working on this, and it's not just one of the book's many little jokes.

At 200 pages, it's a short book which left me wanting more. So much better than the opposite case, as I find with most novels these days.
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on 24 June 2012
Three members of a defunct rock band reunite, not to play, but to share a strange journey round the coast of Britain. Along the way, they encounter mysterious travellers going the other way round, find bottles containing fragments of an alternate Bible, and nearly kill each other. Up for discussion are the real differences between men and women, God, and why music doesn't mean what it used to.
The Brandy of the Damned is a freewheeling trip into the delirium of middle age - funny, dark, imaginative and profound.
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on 19 September 2012

Higgs' travelogue is an eye and mind opening trip around the island of Britain. From it's starting page to the finish it covers topics as diverse as music, brain programming, cognition, conditioning, fiction, religion, coincidence and empathy. It's a short book, and can be read quickly, but I'd recommend a second reading and possibly one or two breaks! When I'd finished I was left with a lot of questions regarding the story - reflecting on those questions, and why I'm asking them, has been almost as pleasurable as reading the book.

I laughed, got annoyed with Higgs for suddenly veering from what I expected, laughed a little more, was shocked and appalled, and ended up worrying for the future of the books characters. Higgs managed to flesh out his heroes sufficiently via narrative and first person descriptions to make me feel that they were as 'normal' as me. The use of a narrator also worked extremely well, despite being what initially frustrated me - for me it highlighted the main aim of the book which I saw as illustrating that there will always be mysteries to us, know matter how much we think we know.

While reading this I was reminded of Cope's The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-Millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain. In Slip Case. and Robert Anton Wilson's Prometheus Rising - I think Higgs does a great job pushing my thoughts to two heavy weight books like these while telling a story about a journey on the A roads of England, Wales and Scotland.

Highly recommended!
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on 28 January 2013
This novel makes a very good companion piece to "KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money", a non-fiction work also by Higgs and my favourite book of 2012 by far. They share similar themes of perception, art, intent and meaning, but whereas the latter considers the reasons behind the KLF's burning of a million quid, "Brandy of the Damned" is ostensibly about three members of a defunct band travelling the coast of Britain in a van and trying to make sense of it all.

Mysteries in the book abound and keep the reader engaged: Why is Penny carrying a shovel? Why do bottles containing the remnants of an alternative Bible keep washing up to shore? What do you do when you're no longer young but not quite old?

Beneath the plot, which is wryly told through characters it's easy to emphasise with, lies a deep love of Britain and music. Anyone's who's been stuck in a van, loves grey days, has been to a festival or two and secretly doesn't mind rain so long as it's pattering on a tin roof will hugely enjoy this travelogue...

But beneath the plot and the travelogue lie some Rather Big Ideas, all discussed simply and well, leaving the reader filled with well-being and a sense that the dashboard windows of their mind have just been given a good clean with a frayed old set of windscreen wipers.

This is a really easy book to read. And it's fun. And witty, too. I found it hard to put down and it left me thinking for a few days afterward.

And, without giving spoilers, the bit that explains why Penny is carrying a shovel is the best description of That Sort of Thing I've ever had the pleasure to read.

Read this book: It'll make you want to carry a shovel too. G'wan, now. Let's face it... someone, somewhere, needs it. Might even be you.
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