Almost moved to Germany from Spain but it was not to be. Thank you Andalucia, for being a great adventure.

"The Barbarians Aren’t at the Gate Any More, Alan"

I’ve just returned to a favourite book of the early-ish 90s from which the title above is taken : Jonathan Coe’s “What A Carve Up!”. One of the many joys of the book is his invention of Katie Hopkins, avant-le-cauchemar, in the form of Hilary Winshaw. The quote above is from Hilary when she ousts the man who gave her her introduction to the media world.

There are other sweet and sour joys too, which reflect how – despite the intervention of The Blair Rich Project – almost 25 years later the political class and the few still have as much power as they ever did. One of the first truly post-modern books I read (I am a late developer), the 2nd time around is even better than the first. Oh, and the Kenneth Connor, Sid James and Shirley Eaton film which gives the novel its title and significant plot device is a gem of its kind, too.

There are many pleasures in this book, and not a little sadness at how little has changed.

The Backstreets of Purgatory :"A Braw Book Aboot the Paintin, an’ ‘At…" (Yet Another "Kind of" Book Review)

Still BAB, ONFA*. Therefore I’m still reading e-book versions of books bought from Unbound. How I wish I could hold the books (particularly this one). Buy it and you’ll probably spend half-an-hour looking at the cover with a magnifying glass (I will, when I get my hands on it).

What an assured and fascinating debut novel this is from Helen Taylor. The ‘an ‘At (= and that) in the title of this post might be how one of the characters, Maurice, would describe it: any Weegie (Glaswegian) would know that the book is about so much more than that… Because it is.

TBOP touches on homelessness, drug addiction, obsession, mental health issues and even has Caravaggio, perhaps the first and most famous creative to prove that genius does not always/often/more than rarely** grow among the nicest people, as a key character in the story. I don’t intend to reveal much of the plot here, but can assure you that you will want to turn the pages to find out the fate of all the characters. They range from middle-class professionals and their offspring to Polish immigrants and homeless drug addicts all trying to cope with their lives and choices.

Helen Taylor creates modern “Glesgae” on the page, I could smell both the fish suppers in Maryhill and the patchouli oil from the downstairs loo in the Victorian Terraces of Kelvinside. I wanted a can of Irn Bru every five pages. This book is funny, tragic, thought-provoking and a real feat of writing. Buy a copy of the book, a real one, and you’ll see what I mean about the cover.  Strongly recommended.

*    See previous blog post
**  Delete as applicable

Madison Hip Gardens (Another "Kind of" Book Review)

I am betwixt and between. Still of no fixed abode, it’s a long story which I may tell one day. However that means back at Unbound, my pile of undelivered books grows ever higher. Thank goodness one gets a free E-book too. I picked up Heart of Glass by Ivy Ngeow yesterday and finished it this morning. Fast, eh? More of that later. Ivy braved blizzards and travelling north of the river in London one January evening to attend my (disappointing) book launch. This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a book written by someone I’ve met in person.

Heart of Glass has one of the most distinctive narrative voices of any novel I have ever read. It’s natural since “Madison”, or Li-An as it says on her documentation, is of mixed Asian/Caucasian-American parentage. Madison rattles off her story in a quick-fire combination of hard-boiled simile and musical metaphor. Amid the double-crossing amorality of the music biz- and “family business” milieux, HOG explores what it means to be an immigrant, an emigrant and someone with a foot for ever in two camps.

The settings – from seedy night-time Chicago to the glitter and grime of Macau (or Macao if you’re a fan of the Bob Mitchum/Jane Russell film- as no doubt Johnny/Giovanni, Madison’s not quite sugar daddy is) – are extremely convincingly depicted through Madison’s somewhat jaundiced eye.

Some won’t care for Madison/Li-An’s moral standpoint, I feel it’s irrelevant. Sometimes naive, at others, deeply cynical, her self-deprecating schtick (as she would almost certainly put it) won me over from very early on.

Thoroughly recommended, more fun than an 80’s night in Manchester: so I couldn’t put it down. Go read it.