Book reviews

REVIEW: “Monte Carlo” by Peter Terrin (hardback)

I first picked up this book for its cover, a vintage fashion shoot time black and white photo cover. Also it has all the themes which inspire and interest me: vintage, obsession, fame, class.

There has been a Formula One Grand Prix accident in Monaco, May 1968 witnessed by the world press in the grandstand as the celebs mingle with drivers and their racing cars. grandstand is witness to a terrible incident. Jack Preston, a simple mechanic for Team Sutton, will bear the scars of injuries from which he shielded Deedee, a budding film star. Back in a remote sleepy village in England, it seems like it is still the 1950s. Church-going villagers wish him well. A slow-witted boy stands around and assists Jack back in his garage while he tinkers with cars. Jack recovers from his injuries and is nursed back to health, after which he owes it to his wife and has to put up with her insatiable sexual appetite. Jack becomes totally obsessed with Dee the glamorous Hollywood actress. waiting every day for a sign that she would be back to show her gratitude, to find him, to see him, to say ‘thank you for saving my life’.

Peter Terrin’s writing is rich, beautiful and evocative. Already he is being compared to Camus and I can see why. This is a thin book, only 160 pages, yet it is full of restraint, lacking in verbosity and descriptive excess. Instead it is a clear, simple and imaginative account of a car mechanic’s obsession with a film star. “Monte Carlo” has been translated from the Dutch language by David Doherty. Peter Terrin himself was born in 1968 the year of the Grand Prix.

Proverse Spring Reception 2017 ‘Live’ in Hong Kong

This is the Proverse Spring Reception on 27 April 2017. The film is 53:09 minutes long. The section where they announce the prize winners is from 4:32 to 9:10.

However, you may wish to watch to the end. It is actually very entertaining, especially as new books are being launched, and there are readings by writers and poets from all over the world. It is an evening celebrating writing, writers and books and a special treat for book lovers everywhere.

The books being launched were:

Birgit Linder, “Bliss of Bewilderment”

Dragoş Ilca, “HK Hollow”

Laura Solomon, “Brain Graft”

Gillian Bickley, “Over The Years” 

Gillian and Verner Bickley (Editors), “The Proverse Poetry Prize Anthology 2016: Mingled Voices” 

BOOK LAUNCH: Ewan Lawrie’s “Gibbous House” Thursday 12 January 2017 1830H

I was very lucky to have been given an invitation to attend Ewan Lawrie’s book launch in Islington. This would be the first time I am meeting an Unbound author and in fact the first time I would be meeting an author that I had got to know first through social media.

Times have indeed changed. The first time I met an author was Catherine Lim, bestselling author of The Bondmaid, in Singapore, when I was a schoolgirl, a tweenie (this is somewhat anachronistic: there was no such word at the time, you were either a child or you weren’t). I was very impressed that she was not only leggy and slim, she wore killer stilettos and the traditional tight-fitting cheongsam with high slits. This was the 80s after all. Phwoar! I thought she was glamorous and that I probably should be a writer. Little did I realise. It is so totally not glamorous. It is 16:52 on Sunday and I am in my pajamas, typing this blog, sipping a moscow mule.

Gibbous House is about the adventures and misadventures of this thug called Moffat who has just inherited some assets and is making the journey up north to claim his goodies. It is very rich in atmosphere and detail. I have not got to the point why the book is named so, because gibbous means hunchbacked. I am on Chapter 5. Because of the florid Victorian lingo and voice, I have to slow down and take it all in.

I got to know Ewan through Unbound. I bought his book because I really love the Victorian gothic genre. I had read all of Sarah Waters’ books. I read up to page 12 of the book on the underground on my way to the launch, as I received it from Amazon that day itself. Ewan is also a supporter of my book Heart of Glass on Unbound. The evening was well-organised and very pleasant. Watch a couple of clips here: IMG_4671 IMG_4673 Ewan was there to greet all the guests. I got to meet Rachel his editor, who introduced him. I was disappointed he did not do a reading and there was no Q & A session as I had burning questions to ask. He was kind, friendly and soft-spoken with his twinkling blue eyes. We talked about Unbound, crowdfunding, books, reading and all the usual lark. I may even have gained some tips. The pub, aptly named The Blacksmith and Toffeemaker, is an old Victorian boozer, amped up to modern trendy standards that we are now accustomed to. I think the venue was well-chosen, spacious, bright, with a back area that could be cordoned off.

 

REVIEW: David Szalay’s “All that Man is” Man Booker 2016 shortlist

I started this book in 2016 and finished it in 2017.

That is because I did not want it to end. This book is on the Man Booker Prize 2016 shortlist. There are famously 9 parts to this novel. It has been heavily debated whether it should be a novel or nine short stories. I think it is a novel. It has the impact of a novel. Each is not self-contained. Each leads to the next character. Supposedly this is a novel about masculinity. I wonder if the majority of the readers are men or women. I would be surprised if it was men. The book has universal appeal because it is about the human condition (again) as all literary novels are, and secondly it is about ageing, and therefore the descent of the human over just a few decades.

I don’t know about you, but when I read I like to be taken to somewhere else.

Even if it is a mundane somewhere else, it is not in my own mundane world. All that Man is is nine different men of six nationalities in 13 different countries. I never thought I would be so interested in men. I am not, really. Yet I am fascinated by each of them as their stories unfold. It is the purity of the moment that Szalay excels at. Every moment, even and especially the mundane, is rich and evocative, and lived, in every sense of the word. Plot, grand themes, idea, character exposition is of secondary importance to the living the moment.

The first character is an artsy bookworm type 17-year-old inter-railing around Europe in the summer with his friend before going up to Oxford. The last character is a 73-year-old depressed, lonely and retired civil servant in his second home in the Italian town of Argenta infested by mice and poor central heating.

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SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this section if you don’t want to know the plot.

The civil servant reads an email from his daughter regarding his grandson who is inter-railing in Europe, who has just written a poem and has been published. Then only the reader finds out the twist, that life has come full cycle, as the novel has. The first character is the lasat character’s grandson after all. These are the only two characters connected to each other. The second character is a lazy unambitious Frenchman, probably in his early twenties, who has been sacked from his job and is now on the pull in Cyprus and manages to sleep with an obese girl AND her mother (because he doesn’t really care and just shags). Next up: a Hungarian working as bodyguard for an acquaintance who pimps his girlfriend in Park Lane hotels in London and he fancies the pants off this girl that he is supposedly bodyguarding. This is followed by a thirty-something Belgian scholar of medieval history who really fancies himself, like an academic would do, driving across Europe to meeting his ambitious and young Polish TV presenter girlfriend who is pregnant. He is totally against it, and reticent about fatherhood. My least favourite character comes next, and I had to speed read this section because I didn’t get it: a Danish journalist flies to Malaga to confront a minister about his affair. Next up: an English estate agent from Earlsfield, London, works with a developer trying to sell cheap Alpine chalets and he fancies the girl who is local Swiss agent but as he is middle-aged he can’t be bothered to make a move on her. Probably my second favourite is the miserable Scottish alcoholic in his fifties relocates to Croatia as it’s cheap, after he has sold his flat and is now drinking himself to death but encounters scams, punchups, mishap after mishap and bad luck; The second last character is a suicidal Russian oligarch in his sixties on his yacht in the Mediterranean, losing all his money to his third wife in some complicated divorce trial and having meetings with butler, cook, and lawyer and various staff. He has lost his verve and passion to live. He realises that he does not want any of his substantial assets and the wife can have it all.

SPOILER OVER. It’s OK to read this last paragraph now.

Therefore it is not quite true to say that plot is secondary. Plot comes from character. The characters make the plot and they become the story. The first thing that occurred to me was – how did he know all that? There is a lot of detail and all of it is relevant. It must have been thoroughly painstaking to write this book. The simpler to read, the more complicated the writing. He knows the minutiae about people, their jobs, their cultures, their countries. These are drawn into photographic detail. Everything rang true. Sadly I have now finished the book. I made it last as long as I could because it is a 9 course meal! Come on! I do not want to rush it as it is the most intense and endearing reading experience that David Szalay has given us. He is so talented and he writes in extremely simple language. It reads like it is a translation. There are no big words. There is nothing he would like to show off except how finely he writes. I really would like David Szalay to write The sequel: All that Woman is.