This entertaining book, by the young British novelist Ned Beauman, struck me as a v bold, energetic bit of writing, & the similes/descriptions are firework-esque. The story itself, which careers from Berlin to Paris to the Los Angeles of the 1930s is winningly free of constraints, which is fun but which makes it a somewhat messy read, a triumph of style over structure. That said, I ended up racing enthusiastically through it & laughing loads, as often as not at the sheer abandon of it. But the 1st half was much stronger for me than the second, where I started to feel that I was losing the central character’s voice – and, essentially, for all that at times it recalls the delightful barminess of Wodehouse or the mischief of early Martin Amis, it’s not quite my type of thing. Clever, witty, self-indulgent, free-wheeling, often a bit tiresome, but often sparking. Definitely worth a read, but insubstantial in the long run.
Wednesday, June 05, 2013
Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Read an interview with Danny Baker today. That’s something I do every now and again and, when I do, I always think, “oh yes, Danny Baker is a good guy, isn’t he?”, with some degree of surprise. I think this, in this surprised way, because for a time when I was a younger I had characterised Danny Baker as a bit of an arsehole – or at least someone who was friends with someone I considered an arsehole (Chris Evans) and who seemed to me to represent a very dreary 90s male stereotype.
I’ve heard lots over the years about how his radio shows are micro-masterpieces and I’ve read a few articles by him or about him which have backed up the notion that I was mistaken about him, but on the occasions when I’ve tried to engage with him as a result, I’ve not got very far. The zoo format and music bed on his radio show I find not only aggravating but quite stressful; over the years I’ve appreciated quiet and considered TV and radio more and more, and the constant noise and frequent interjections set my teeth on edge.
But having read today’s interview (here) I again decided to tune in, and downloaded a recent episode of his show to my mobile phone to listen to at lunch. Almost immediately, walking out through Chichester on a sunny afternoon, I felt the urge to snap the podcast off – those aforementioned characteristics of the show turning me right off. But I stuck with it and, to some extent, tuned out of the backing music and the matey patter, and began to rather enjoy it. It was more bucolic than I expected, with Baker absolutely delighted to hear a tale from a caller of an overgrown football pitch where the weeds stood as high as the goalposts. He shrieked with pleasure when the same caller described a moment’s pause at a nearby river, when a kingfisher landed on the end of his fishing rod. It’s hard to dislike someone who takes pleasure in such an event.
Might listen to a bit more of the show and see if I can become a fan.
Monday, June 03, 2013
A day of finishing books today; recently started two short novels which are both pockmarked by European war, and which both begin with escapes. In Schroder, by Amity Gaige, the central character, who is both Eric and Erik, has escaped from East Berlin and remade himself in America, and in Andreï Makine’s excellent A Life’s Music, set nearly 50 years earlier, a young Russian pianist, Alexeï Berg, tries to flee the Soviet Union but succeeds only in getting to the Eastern front. Both novels are scarred by regret and longing, and both are exceptionally beautiful, in very different ways.
Schroder in particular is really wonderful; it’s the story of a man who absconds which his daughter – a love letter to the idea of love itself, and a mea-culpa of many decisive faults. “You liked the feeling of love”, Schroder tells himself, “but you weren’t interested in the work, so you let go of it”.
The obvious comparison is to Nabakov and Humbert Humbert, but most of all Gaige, who writes a male narrator as convincing, frightening & believable as any I can remember, summons up a tone which reminds me of the nervous, constant, intellectual intensity of Europa/Destiny era Tim Parks. Which is a very good thing.
Might be the best book I’ve read so far this year. And A Life’s Music contains some pretty lovely sentences, too – at one point two men dismount from a crowded train: “After days and nights of immobility our feet plant themselves in the snow with the suppleness of a dance”.