Friday, 7 August 2015

Quick trawl through the recent woodpulp (August 2015)

...and woodpulp it has been, largely, as I've grown somewhat fed up with the inability to gauge my progress through a book by thumb and forefinger. Still, the Paperwhite continues to lurk, and there have been some entertaining downloads.

My son Sandy recommended the George RR Martin anthology Rogues, which contains some great stuff as well as the occasional piece of impenetrable sword-and-sorcery. Worth the price of admission for stories by Neil Gaiman and Gillian (Gone Girl) Flynn.  Sandy also pushed me in the direction of Christopher Brookmyre, whose arch-Caledonian sarkiness I've found hard to handle since Quite Ugly One Morning. I enjoyed Dead Girl Walking, though, for its deft rock'n'roll tourbus background.

Big re-reading and rediscovery has been Daniel Woodrell, fuelled by my daughter picking up my copy of Winter's Bone and loving it, then a re-viewing of the movie version (Jennifer Lawrence's first). I remember reading the novel and immediately thinking it would make a great film (same feeling as with Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men....and by the way, how could the Coens get a 'best script' Oscar when the novel basically WAS the script?).

Since then I've worked or re-worked my way through most of the Woodrell oeuvre, including the wonderful early 'crime' novels in The Bayou Trilogy, all featuring detective Rene Shade (Under The Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing and the Ones You Do), all set in 'St Bruno' on the Mississippi, a fictionalised St Charles.

They're  longer and more florid than his later, Ozark-set work, which owes something to Faulkner at his most lurid, Hemingway, Jim Harrison and - oddly, two Scottish writers I think, William McIlvanney and ( 'Greenvoe' reference noted). George Mackay Brown. The Maid's Version draws on Woodrell's own family history in the area, and may be his least successful novel. Give Us a Kiss is the most explicit of his books, a brilliantly vicious exploration of family, history, revenge and lust, with a weird tacked-on happy ending which is probably meant as a literary joke. The Outlaw Album is probably his masterpiece - a collection of short stories which read a bit like McCarthy with a sense of humour. They are superb. Tomato Red has just arrived (0.01p via Amazon).

Along with all this southern USA rurality, I've been unable to get Ben Myers' astonishing novel Beastings out of my head. Lauded as part of the uber-fashionable Caught by the River school of 'cool nature' writing, it's far more visceral than that label implies. Gruelling, in fact, but not so much haunting as utterly unforgettable.It concerns a runaway girl and child in a Lake District rendered brutally oppressive, pursued by a psychopath who makes McCarthy's Anton Chigurh seem like Santa Claus. Every terrifying scene remains with me in detail.

Having no idea who Ben Myers was, I was surprised to delve into his back catalogue and find he is an ex-rock journalist, specialising in the extremes of heavy metal, whose early literary efforts bookwise were band biographies. I decided to avoid most of that, but couldn't resist The Book of Fuck, allegedly written in just six days and all about a rock hack's pursuit of legendary reclusive satanic rock proponent The God of Fuck (clearly based on Marilyn Manson).  It is fantastic, one of the best rock'n'roll books since Nik Cohn's I Am Still  The Greatest Says Johnny Angelo and very, very funny. Difficult to get as it was printed in small quantities. Not be left casually lying about the house when elderly folk are visiting. Or missionaries.

Anyway, I have Myers'  much-lauded Pig Iron unread on the Kindle, but I got hold of a secondhand copy of Richard, which I regarded with some suspicion. It is a fictional look at the life and mysterious disappearance of the Manic Street Preachers' Richey Edwards, and has had what one might safely say are mixed reviews. Some Manics fans have apparently been outraged.

Not an easy read, written in the first person from Edwards' point of view, its portrayal of depression and despair in the rock context is, I would say, carefully and compassionately realised. The detail of 80s and 90s music biz indulgence is accurate and compelling. The last harrowing scenes have both a dreadful inevitability and a hallucinatory power as nature, in the form of the Welsh Marches, imposes itself. Another 0.01p worth spending.

So, onwards we go, via  a borrowed copy  of Edzard Ernst's A Scientist in Wonderland ('a Memoir of Searching for Truth and finding Trouble') which is already (only a few pages in) much lighter and more accessible than the much-praised On the Move by Oliver Sacks, another medical memoir but one I found oddly leaden.

Right. Back to reading.