Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Monday, March 20, 2006
Just to prove I don't hate Irish authors (just the bad ones), here comes Keith Ridgway's collection of short stories about Dublin people, past, present and future. I read his novel The Parts a couple of years ago and found it excellent in places but a little stretched in the telling and maybe not as brilliant as some found it. His short stories, however, are spot on. Funny, weird, magical, mundane, violent, personal and cryptic. He picks up on great details and paints a Dublin I recognise: just another city that has nasty histories as well as great ones, and has nasty presents as well as sophisticated European ones. Top stuff.
Presents from The Carpenter and The Lady arrived today, hooray. Another Magnus Mills book (which reminds me that I must read that other Magnus Mills book and give it back to William) with a picture of a ship on the cover, and this four-CD set.
The first thing I did with the Irving Berlin box set was import it to iTunes so that I could listen to it on the iBook. So, once again I am in the amusing position of using thousands of monies' worth of equipment to reproduce crackly mono recordings. I'll be on the wax cylinders before long, I predict.
I find myself struggling to like DBC Pierre. I did like Vernon God Little when I read it, but I would be hard pressed to remember a single thing about it now and I know a lot of people hated it. Recently I heard DBC being interviewed on Rattlebag and he made his new book sound really interesting. He made the situation in the Caucasus sound grim and overwhelming and as though it would make a great subject for a novel. And it would. But this is not that novel.
The story concerns Ludmila and her family who live on the constantly shifting border between two warring zones in... I want to say Armenia(?). At the beginning of the book Ludmila's grandfather, whose pension is the only income the family has, dies. So someone has to become the new breadwinner for this unpleasant, backbiting family. But Ludmila has plans to escape to the West with her boyfriend and make a new life for herself there.
During the meanwhile, over in an England made paranoid by terrorist threats, conjoined twins (one conservative, one liberal, one weak, one strong, oh the symbolism!) are separated and set loose on an unsuspecting public, having lived in a sheltered home all their lives. One of them is looking to crawl back into the home, the other wants to get out and have some sex. And if he has to order a young woman off the Internet from the Caucasus, so be it.
Pierre's dialogue is superb, and his story - what there is of it - is reasonable, but his actual narrative is awful and his descriptions are so offputting that they leave you more confused than you would have been if he'd described nothing at all. Eileen Battersby's comment that you should only write a book if you've something to say is unfair, because he does have something to say about what a luxury it is to be able to worry about terrorism and to fear bombs, when there are so many people for whom getting shot is a very real daily possibility that they can do nothing to avoid because poverty has left them without any choices. But I had to look hard to find that point, and I only found it because I was well disposed towards the book to begin with.
Compare and contrast with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, which also deals with former USSR states and how people got out of them. Billed as a comedy, this book is in fact more like one of those chirpy, hummable Beatles songs that actually turns out to be lyrically dark and quite depressing.
The story concerns a family of Ukrainian immigrants to Cambridgeshire. When the mother dies, the father (who is eighty-six) decides to marry a thirty-four year-old Ukrainian woman in order to help her stay in England after her visa runs out. The novel follows the efforts of his two middle-aged daughters to extricate their hapless father from the clutches of this scheming woman and her supposedly genius son. It's a very quick read and does actually have some stuff about tractors in it, but for the characters in this book, much of the awfulness of Eastern Europe is consigned to the past and has a discreet veil drawn over it. Until, of course, it rears its loud, garish head again in the shape of Valentina, who terrorises everyone and everything around her in an effort not to be sent back to Ukraine.
The book raises some serious issues about older people and their rights and abilities, but ultimately relies on a whimsical and Anne Tyler-ish wrapup that allows everyone to feel better about themselves. Maybe I'd have liked it better if it was grimmer all over, but then, I'm maybe a little young to be the target market for this book, and maybe the target market has had enough of that unpleasantness to be going on with, thank you very much.
Columbo gave me this book last year around the time I got married, which just shows you how big my to-read pile is that I only got around to this recently. It's a great book, lovely American-style paperback that flops open and feels smooth to the touch and is easy to read on the train.
Oh, and what's in it is great as well. Ryszard Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist who wrote articles about his life in Africa from 1955 onwards, taking in the broad sweep of post-World War Two independence movements, dictatorships, famine, reconstruction and everyday African life. He acknowledges the difficulties inherent in attempting, as a white Northern European person, to get to the root of the nature of Africa, but he does a great job of sketching the basics. I like that he looks at geographical as well as political and historical factors, and that he never lets you forget some very basic facts, namely that Africa is very, very hot, and that it is very difficult to live there. I enjoyed this book immensely and will seek out more of the same.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
An Fear Moncai's birthday present to me finally arrived. On a gloomy day when I am feeling ill, he arrives home from work with a new Canon Digital SLR for me. Because he got a bonus in work.
He is nice.
We decided we like this photo because it shows our living room in a good light. Groovy accessories, clever telly, highly groomed cat. The filth with which we are generally surrounded does not show up much. Just what I've always wanted - a camera that makes my whole life look better.