Art by Jack Kirby from THE JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS Vol.1 (DC Comics, 2011) Oh, okay, it's not really a dating thing for lonely adventurers. After all, Love should be the least lonely adventure of all!
No, what it is is Mr Jeff Lester and Mr Graeme McMillan are denying us all the pleasure of their patter as this is A Skip Week. So here's some stuff I threw together about some other stuff so you don't feel all aggrieved and put out or something. It's either this or me telling you about filling in my tax return or why men should take off their hats when indoors. (Because we aren't animals is why.) Anyway, this...
THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED A CLOUD The Collected Stories of Jonathan Carroll By Jonathan Carroll 600pp. Subterranean Press (2012)
Jonathan Carroll is a funny one alright. He's the kind of writer I blithely assume is at the top of some chart somewhere and beloved of thousands of eager and appreciative fans. The fact that I never hear about his new books and have to actively go look up if he's done anything since the last time I checked, together with the fact that this, his most recent book, is published by Subterranean Press, indicate that he probably isn't as popular as I presume. Which is a shame. It's a shame because he is a really good writer. He does a kind of magical-realist-fantasy-horror thing which is firmly and insistently set within the mundane frame of day to day reality. He does this so that when the Bad Things happen it is all the more effective. In a fairly short number of pages, and in a terse and limited vocabulary of fierce neutrality he'll map out the setting and then, well, pretty much anything can happen.
Basically he's like Neil Gaiman if Gaiman hadn't been neutered for public consumption. While Neil Gaiman is gabbing away at you he's always too busy refilling your cup of tea and making sure you have enough cushions; while Carroll would chat with you until your guard dropped at which point he'd throw the steaming hot tea in your face and force the cushion down your shrieking mouth while a talking dog appeared from nowhere and pissed in your stinging eyes. He's been robbed is what I'm saying. If you've never read Carroll then this book is a good place to start as it collects all Carroll's short fiction from 1990-2012 and amply demonstrates the effectiveness of his sharp contrast approach. The work of Jonathan Carroll is as arresting as a sparkling work surface smeared with human shit. One for the book jacket there. He's not a one-note writer though as well as the horror there's humour, eroticism, intelligence and a very playful sense of invention. I liked this book (I like all his books) it was VERY GOOD!
SWEET TOOTH By Ian McEwan 336pp. Jonathan Cape (2012)
Difficult not to spoil this one but some might say the author does that for you. It starts off at a right canter and you'll be whisked along with your pearly teeth exposed in delight as your long clean hair flies behind you like a streamer of joy. Because it looks like you're getting a nut-tight spy thriller graced with all the literate loveliness only a prose perfectionist like McEwan can deliver. It looks like you're getting a fascinating view of the paradigm shift within the Secret Services as the Cold War politely steps back and the Irish mainland bombing campaign thuggishly elbows its way to the forefront of State concerns. It looks like you're getting a fascinating portrait of the silent sexism that soured the '70s, it looks like you're getting a love story, and then...
You just couldn't help yourself could you, McEwan? Look, pal, no one likes a smart arse. Lucky for lad-di-da Ian McEwan that we all like good writing and the writing in SWEET TOOTH is fantastic but since it is put to such ultimately shallow ends the book wound up just being GOOD!
HHhH By Laurent Binet Translated by Sam Taylor 336 pp. Harvill Secker (2012)
It was the fictional light entertainment dunderhead Alan Partridge who said, “The more I learn about Hitler the more I dislike him”; a statement that it is hard to argue with and one which is also equally applicable to Reinhard Heydrich who is the titular subject of this book. Yes, reader, the more I learned about Heydrich the more I disliked him. Although, to be fair, he had an uphill struggle from the off as he was one of the architects of The Final Solution. You know the one, that's right, that one. Revealingly the impetus for The Final Solution was to ease the burden on the sensitive souls of the SS who found slaughtering men, women and children round the clock was a tad wearing on their ickle nerves. That such tremendous horror should have been born of such tender concern is almost funny. If it isn’t funny it is at least instructive, as is much of the book since its subject is not just Heydrich but also the kind of Mind-State occupied by a people willing to implement the unthinkable in the same way as a change to bus routes; the attempt on Heydrich's life by a small group of Czech and Slovak resistance fighters; the appalling consequences of this (See! A village disappear!) and how it all lead to the world finally facing the fact that the only way to deal with Hitler was to burn him down and salt the earth afterwards. The book is written in a chatty, discursive style in which Binet reflects on his doubts regarding his work, the impossibility of being objective, the ladies he has liked and the other works of fact and fiction dealing with the same areas. I guess some would find this post-modern and innovative, and it probably is, but I just found it absorbing and appealing. Which, of course, can be due in no small part to the translator Sam Taylor. Don't worry the style doesn't reduce the subject matter to vapid emo-tainment (You know: "Enough about The Holocaust! What about my problems!?!") but it does just take the edges off so that you can finish the book without collapsing in despair at the whole shoddy mess of Evil involved and all the unthinkable implications about our species that all that sad Nazi shit contains. It wasn't exactly a feel-good romp but it was VERY GOOD! Remember: Always leave 'em laughing!
Next time maybe I'll avoid a disciplinary from Bwana Brian and observe the remit and talk about COMICS!!!