"Choke!", "Gasp!" Not A Podcast! BOOKS! Y'Know, Like In The Long, Long Ago!

This is you, right:From "The Whipping" by Wallace Wood & Al Feldstein/Jack Oleck from "CAME THE DAWN and other stories illustrated by Wallace Wood" (Fantagraphics, 2012)

From "The Whipping" by Wallace Wood & Al Feldstein/Jack Oleck from "CAME THE DAWN and other stories illustrated by Wallace Wood" (Fantagraphics, 2012)

And good luck with that because it's a SKIP WEEK! So I have thrown some words into the path of your thwarted desires and curdled expectations. Words about books because it is summer (or so rumour has it) and people like to be told what to read on the beach. Then they ignore it and buy that Dan Brown shit.  I've seen you. I've seen all of you!

Also, it transpires Boisterous Brian Hibbs has done his sales charts for the year thus far and posted them just below this. You are now content rich. Enjoy! Anyway, this...

DIRTY WEEKEND By Helen Zahavi Flamingo (1991) Kindle Edition - £1.99 Dirty Weekend (E-Book) by Helen Zahavi

This was Helen Zahavi’s debut novel and it is VERY GOOD! It’s written in raunchily rhythmic prose delivered by a swaggeringly sarcastic omniscient narrator who takes a sadistic pleasure in every blow our heroine takes, but savours even more every crack she gives back.  Because this is a book about Bella and how Bella woke up one morning to find, as she makes plain, she’d had enough. Had enough of the shit that men give that women are expected to take. Bella works her way through a menagerie of misogyny leaving no doubt as to her feelings on the matter at hand. You could say they asked for it, and Bella thought it rude to refuse. Murder, I’m talking about there. She kills ‘em. You may be thinking that it sounds quite a lot like a female Death Wish. Well, it sounded enough like a female Death Wish for it to be filmed in 1993 by one Michael Winner the director of, yes, Death Wish. 

For those blissfully unaware, Winner is a tireless self-publicist who has had occasional cinematic success with films that ,while derivative, do , at their best, possess an entertainingly  grubby energy  and disarming absence of taste. At their worst, which is most of the time, they are just puzzlingly shit. Basically, Michael Winner is the cinematic equivalent of Mark Millar. Although Millar probably won’t end up trading on his status as national laughing stock and appear in daytime TV Insurance adverts. More’s the pity. Anyway, the movie is precisely as good as you would imagine a feminist fable of retributive violence would be if it were filmed by a man who titled his restaurant review column Winner’s Dinners. Stick with the book is what I’m saying there. Also, be nice to ladies.

THE LAST WEREWOLF By Glen Duncan Canongate (2011) Print - £7.99 (p/b) Kindle Edition - £1.99 The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

The title helpfully cues you into the fact that this is, ostensibly, about the last werewolf. And some vampires with whom he fails to get along with quite violently. Oh, and the human organisation which hunts them both while you doze, sedated by light ale, in front of Mad Men, wishing you too dressed like an adult. Because, as you have known in your bones since birth, there is a supernatural world hidden behind the net curtains of the mundane. It is of course a sexier and more exciting world too. There’s little doubt about this as our narrator takes great pleasure in regaling us at tedious length about the arousing and, yes, rousing existence he has suffered, lo, these two centuries past. And is it all about to end? Is the world to suffer not only the loss of his self-centred self but his very species itself? After a pretty gripping start I soon failed to care, alas.

Duncan’s primarily hobbled himself in presenting the story in the form of a journal written after the fact. This means he’s (mostly; no spoilers!) limited to one POV and all the most interesting shenanigans occur offstage. This does mean the exposition is smoothly delivered but it also means there’s a lot of exposition required, as all manner of shit has a tendency to just suddenly happen out of nowhere. This latter is okay in moderation but it’s taken to excess here. Tension and suspense aren't exactly engendered when a helicopter spraying garlic napalm could burst through the wall at any second to save our lycanthropic lead. Speaking of whom, he sure soon wore out his welcome. Yammer, yammer, yammer, that’s this guy. And it’s all about him, and how hard it is to be a sexy, dangerous and dangerously sexy manly wolf. Wotta maroon, this fella is. The guy’s had two hundred years to get used to the fact that he kills and eats someone once a month. After two centuries of failing to psychologically adapt he comes off as narcissistic nincompoop. People have got used to far worse thing in far less time, like being a Tory.

Oh, it’s OKAY! Duncan can write, and he writes well at that. He’s got an interesting premise and I was, I really was, really into bits of it, but the combination of overly facile plot machinations and self-pitying narration just rubbed me up the wrong way. Seemed to me that the biggest danger of being the last werewolf is you spend far too long sniffing your own arse.

THE UN-DIVIDED SELF By Will Self Bloomsbury (2010) Print - $30.00(h/b) The Undivided Self by Will Self

This is an overseas only selection of Self’s shorter fiction culled from each of his collections existent at the date of publication, together with a brief new piece. As such it’s a VERY GOOD! overview of his work from the early stylistically ostentatious stuff concerned primarily with effect to the more disciplined and, thus, more emotionally affecting later work. Here you can read Self gravitate from the impressively deadpan evocations of drab horror (“Grey Area”) to a tale which quietly allows you a peep at the singular level of Hell which can flare open in a moment of parental inattention (“The Five Swing Walk”). Some of it is quite funny too. Honest.

Um, that's it...Next time - COMICS!!!


"Choke! Gasp!" Not A Podcast! Not Comics! BOOKS! You Know, Like In Days of Yore!

It's a SKIP WEEK so the dulcet toned duo of Gentle Jeff Lester and Glamorous Graeme McMillion$ are off...um...doing, er, stuff and things. Probably. But we here at The Savage Critics love and value each and every one of you (especially you, sir! (or madam!)) and thus I have provided some hacky trash about some books you, let's face it, have no interest in. I know, you can hardly wait! Anyway, Jeff (who lives at home) and Graeme (who works from home) will be back next week. (Please, God.) Grin and bear it is my advice.  Say, anyone remember that time Howard Victor Chaykin got trapped in SWORD OF THE ATOM#3 (DC Comics, 1983) by Gil Kane & Jan Strnad?  photo Atom_B_zps07e47e43.jpgNo, because (as our Savage Legal Dept were fast to point out) that didn't happen. Anyway, this...

TRAPPED IN THE SATURDAY MATINEE by Joe R Lansdale PS Publishing, £19.99 (2012)

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This one’s another career spanning grab bag of bits’n’bobs from the Mojo storyteller hissownself. It’s mostly short stories but there’s also a couple of non-fiction pieces about how imaginative fiction and hard work (also, although modestly whispered, talent) saved the sturdy sensei from a life spent building aluminium lawn furniture. I’m sure we can all agree that aluminium lawn furniture’s loss is weird fiction’s gain. Back there I said another because Lansdale’s career’s so lengthy and his output so vast that there are now several of these retrospective things studding his bibliography. They are all pretty much of a muchness. Each effectively represents the progression of Lansdale’s relaxed and down home style and how he has used it with increasing success to corral his wild flights of fancy into work as entertaining it is deceptively sophisticated. To misquote the American poet and visionary Jon Bon Jovi; He gives pulp a good name (good name). The actual contents of these samplers vary some but they are consistent in demonstrating Lansdale’s vulgar vigour, his inexhaustibly inventive imagination, a nice line in potty mouthery and also the sure sense of place his work delivers. Well, if it’s set in Texas anyway. Which, no fool he, most of his stuff is. Since that’s where he was born and formed Lansdale’s work is deep fried in his Texas surroundings and the colourful vernacular thereof. This is extraordinarily appealing to someone who lives in a country as grey, damp and intrinsically self-hating as England. Hey, I guess if you live in Nacogdoches, Texas then Joe R. Lansdale would be gritty kitchen sink realism. That’s a wild and woolly thought right there. Fair warning for Lansdale fans: this volume includes Lansdale’s Hellboy novelette Jiving With Shadows And Dragons And Long Dark Trains. This being a tale which Lansdale doesn't own and so this will probably be the only book with his name on the spine in which it appears. Hey now, it’s one of them there books by that there Joe R Lansdale and that’s GOOD!

THE QUIDDITY OF WILL SELF by Sam Mills Corsair, £12.99 (2012)

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Thanks to the benevolence of the titular man with the face like a despairing hound Sam Mills uses the name and work of Will Self to lure readers into what would otherwise be a daunting work of bewildering convolution and disorienting stylistic facility. Yes! This is what you want! It’s several hundred pages embodying what Kingsley Amis found so unattractive about his own son’s work and graced with the phrased “titting the reader about”. Or as we mere plebs know it: post-modernism. Apparently this is Sam Mills’ first novel intended for an adult audience (adult as in grown up not adult as in brown paper bags, wandering hands and heavy breathing) and it took her nine years to complete it. Given all that and the fact that Will Self’s work haunts every page (if not every word; if not every letter; you get the drift) then I’d have to say Sam Mills is quite the fan of Will Self. Fans of Will Self or lovers of the use of the word "sesquipedalian" will get the most out of this, I guess. But that doesn't mean folk unfamiliar with Will Self will get nothing out of it. Mills is canny enough to have a character unfamiliar with Self’s work act as the reader surrogate and the various Self-ish sections are based in familiar genres (murder mystery, future dystopia etc) to aid immersion if not actual outright comprehension. It’s fun stuff but most of the fun comes from the bizarre turns and confounding twists this wonkily weird beast takes, so I'll not spoil any of them. I will note that that the underlying theme of how creativity in one person is insanity in another and is thus, by necessity, unique to each of us (if we have any) is vividly and entertainingly plumbed throughout this odd duck's duration. In sum, as Terence Blacker’s Kill Your Darlings is to Martin Amis so is The Quiddity of Will Self  to, well, Will Self, obviously. Keep up now. Or to put it another way The Quiddity of Will Self is VERY GOOD!

UMBRELLA by Will Self Bloomsbury, £18.99 (2012)

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From what I can gather the writing of this book was pretty challenging for the lugubrious human lexicon known as Will Self. His previous book, Walking To Hollywood, was decidedly not a success (an unsuccess?) and he appeared somewhat shaken by its poor sales. I stress that he appeared so in interviews etc not in close personal encounters as I don’t know the man or anything. So, I certainly don’t have access to his sales figures but I can’t imagine Will Self has 7 Shades of Shit level sales in the first place so those must have been some pretty sobering sales. Which is a shame because it was a good book; a mix of psycho-geography, insane asides and a moving consideration of the debilitating encroachment of Alzheimer’s. It didn’t sell despite a scene where the Hulk bums a car and also an extended bloodily ferocious fight between the morose flaneur himself and James Bond (Daniel Craig flava). People just ain’t got no taste, I tells ya! Stung Self retreated, regrouped and reconsidered. The result was a book written in very short sentences about a vampire boy wizard’s adventures in sex and shopping set in space. My little elitist joke designed to raise your hackles there. No, the book Will Self wrote, Umbrella was a decades spanning examination of the effects of technology on the human psyche presented via the experiences of several characters ranging from a coma patient, her ambitious but flawed psychiatrist, her WWI trenches bound class agitating soldier brother and her icy, almost robotic arms manufacturer other brother. And to really reel in the punters, to really bother the upper levels of the sales chart, to ensure those units shifted, Self chose to do it all in a stream of consciousness stylee. In effect it’s a 400-some pages long single paragraph in which the text is so molten that there can be a shift in character and a jump of decades in a single sentence. Paying attention is required I’m very much afraid, but you will be more than amply rewarded for your payment.

The big sexy hook on which all this majestic Modernism (yes, Modernism not Post-Modernism) hangs is the Sleepy Sickness (or encephalitis lethargica for any Romans stil kicking out there) of 1915-1926 and the use of L-Dopa in the ‘70s to briefly awaken the surviving sufferers. Yes, that’s right, this is similar ground to Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings or, for the cinematically inclined, the Penny Marshall directed 2007 motion picture adaptation of same. But Sack’s was fact(ish) and this is fiction and if it were (and it won’t ever be) filmed it should come off like Terry Gilliam directing a mash up of Awakenings, Charley’s War and Britannia Hospital scripted by a maniacally focused Dennis Potter. Umbrella is a beautiful thing is what I’m getting at there. Self's been quite open that his choice to apply the Modernist style was a direct reaction to what he perceived to be a lack of invention in the fiction nominated for such literary lottos as the Man Booker Prize. In a move that could leave only a stone unmoved Umbrella went on to adorn the Man Booker Prize short list for 2012. That’s irony in action there. But! Hilary Mantel took the prize with Bring Up The Bodies the second in her more traditionally honed Richard III Thomas Cromwell trilogy. That’s the literary establishment putting someone in their place in action there. And when you hit the crossed out words you'll see reality taking me down a peg or two too. As the splendidly well read and  factually accurate Jacob pointed out in his comment - I was talking out of my (smart) arse with this next bit. I wrote this stuff on paper, typed it up and forgot to do a basic fact check.  N.B. It is particularly important to fact check books you haven't read.  I've left it in because who doesn't like to see someone humbled? Gandhi? Are you Gandhi? No you are not, sir; so enjoy the schadenfreude it's free!... Still, there’s no shame in Self’s loss as the cosmic fix was clearly in anyway as, shortly after her win, the actual corpse of Mantel’s main character was found buried in a car park. Richard III just pops up for fuck’s sake, what are the chances?!? When reality is pulling publicity stunts on your behalf then winning the Booker’s a walk in the park. I’m sure Hilary Mantel’s book deserved its award but Umbrella was my book of 2012 because it was EXCELLENT!

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Well? What did you want? COMICS!!!