The Sense Of A Beginning

They say writing is a muscle which needs to be exercised in order to get stronger, and although I’m in the best physical shape I’ve been in for a long time (yay!), my writing muscles feel like slabs of lard. But it’s been silent here too long, and as always, the thing that’s been holding me back from just sitting down and writing a goddamn post is that peculiar inertia of perfectionism which renders the idea of watching all the Grumpy Cat videos an infinitely preferable prospect to the awful possibility of writing something that sucks.

But if you will forgive me for just embracing the suck and getting on with things, I would like to tell you about Julian Barnes’ The Sense Of An Ending. This won the Booker Prize in 2011 and the Guardian review will give you a decent idea of whether it’s the type of novel you’re in the mood for, but I’d caution against expecting too much from it. There is a plot twist so infuriating that I cast the book aside the moment I finished it and stormed out of the room to see if the Internet’s disgruntlement matched my own. Alec (who had read the book just before me and was asleep in bed next to me as I read) later said that even in the mists of sleep, when he heard my angry huff and little stomps, he knew exactly why.

So you’re probably wondering whether, given that Grumpy Cat’s Worst Monday Ever will only take up a few minutes of your crowded life and fill you with immediate joy, this imperfect book is worth bothering with. It is. The writing is fantastic and gave me one of those “How have I spent all these years not reading this author?!” moments, which I haven’t had since discovering Graham Greene many years ago. Even just the first few pages will give you a taste of Barnes’ craft – his descriptions of the protagonist’s boarding school environment include a teacher “whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom”, “a cautious know-nothing [schoolmate] who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance” and this, which strikes me as an appropriate quote with which to end one year and start another:

We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

Canon Falls

Fired From The Canon is a list of ten allegedly classic books which contributors to online literary journal The Second Pass suggest you refrain from reading. I enjoyed reading the list, partly because I like snark but more because I think their reasons against reading each book, whether or not I agree, are thoughtfully yet succinctly expressed. Out of the list, I have read:

  • White Noise (Don Delillo): THANK YOU JESUS. You know that thing about judging other people based on their literary/musical tastes? I rarely do that since I adore plenty of people with tastes I detest, but after reading this book I remember thinking that I could probably never be on the same wavelength as someone who loved it, and their writeup is spot on as to why.
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): I disagree. The book does feel as if it takes ages to get through, but Garcia Marquez books usually give me some of the most immersive and atmospheric reading experiences I’ve had, so I don’t like to rush through them anyway. I’m hardly an expert in the genre of magical realism and perhaps it is, as they assert, “now thoroughly clapped out”, but out of the various other magical realist books I’ve read, none has delighted me and sustained my reading attention as much as One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy): I gave this five stars in my 2008 reading rundown, so clearly I disagree. They may be right that it pales in comparison to Cormac McCarthy’s other books (I haven’t read any others yet, so don’t know) but as compared to the larger literary universe it more than holds its own.
  • The Rainbow (D.H. Lawrence): Read this while I was supposed to be studying for first year law exams. I found it interesting enough at the time, perhaps because the alternative was reading about property law, but now I can’t remember anything about it at all.
  • On The Road (Jack Kerouac): Yes, most of this was tedious for me. I dimly recall one bit of writing I liked, something about being in a jazz club.
  • The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen): I liked some of the writing, as I commented at the time, but their criticisms are fair too. It felt laboured and inconsistent.

2008 Reading Rundown

I was horrified at the tiny number of books I read in 2007 (wedding stress plus, okay, the addition of a large amount of X-rated X-Files fanfic to my PDA) so decided to keep a log of the books I read in 2008. I didn’t bother to record any of the cookbooks I read and probably missed out one or two photography books too but am happy enough with the 26 I did record, it seems a decent number for a working adult with a life and various other addictions.

Here’s an executive summary for anyone who might find it useful.

5 stars:

  • On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan): Perfect distillation of McEwan’s best abilities unmarred by any of his failings. [My entry]
  • Epileptic (David B): Interesting plot, but it’s the complex, surreal drawings which elevate this to extraordinary. [My entry]
  • Stuart: A Life Backwards (Alexander Masters): Funny, illuminating and really sad. The choice of a “backwards” narrative (Stuart’s idea) is spot on. [My entry]
  • Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro): Elegantly unfolded plot, wonderfully perceptive writing. [My entry]
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy): Literary triumph, real life downer – it’s transporting, but be warned that it transports you to a meticulously imagined post-apocalyptic world of almost unremitting bleakness.
  • Nine Parts Of Desire: The Hidden World Of Islamic Women (Geraldine Brooks): Engaging, often surprising, and (came across as) mostly balanced. It made me want to read further into the topic.
  • Understanding Exposure (Bryan Peterson): A really accessible and useful introduction to the topic for this photography noob.

4 stars:

  • Memoirs Of My Melancholy Whores (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): Much of what is wonderful about Garcia Marquez’s writing, in a shorter and more accessible package. [My entry]
  • In The Bedroom (Andre Dubus): Even if you’re not much of a short story person (neither am I), these are some of the most masterfully written short stories I’ve ever read. I’d never heard of Dubus or this book until Karen pressed it into my hands, and am grateful for the recommendation.
  • What Is The What (Dave Eggers): The story of the Lost Boys of Sudan is worth reading in itself, but Eggers also does a great job of telling it.
  • An Artist Of The Floating World (Kazuo Ishiguro): Last read this as a teenager and still find its particular insights into Japanese society interesting.

3.5 stars:

  • Northern Lights (Philip Pullman): Rather too dull to unseat C.S. Lewis’s Narnian chronicles, but its ambition is impressive.
  • Black Swan Green (David Mitchell): Pleasant and well-written, but while I can’t think of any flaws I can’t remember much of the book at all.
  • What The Dead Know (Laura Lippman): I haven’t read many crime novels, but if they’re all this riveting I should read more of them.

3 stars:

  • When You Are Engulfed In Flames (David Sedaris): Fine if you’ve never read him, but disappointing compared to any of his previous books.
  • Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys): Impressive if you think of it as ambitious fanfic, otherwise it’s rather unsatisfying despite the good writing.
  • The Wasp Factory (Iain Banks): Passably diverting account of a disturbed teen and his freaky little universe. Might gross out the squeamish.
  • The Shadow Of The Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon): Enjoyable enough as an escapist romp through a fantasy Barcelona, but a tad overlong and predictable.
  • The Harmony Silk Factory (Tash Aw): Its ambition somewhat exceeds its execution, but am glad a Malaysian-born author got famous with a book steeped in Malaysia and I’ll keep an eye out for what Tash Aw comes up with next.
  • Water For Elephants (Sara Gruen): Unmemorable writing but the story’s great fun, especially if you counted Mr Galliano’s Circus among your favourite childhood books too.
  • Magic For Beginners (Kelly Link): Whimsical, dark short stories. Good while you’re reading them, but forgettable afterwards.
  • The Somnambulist (Jonathan Barnes): A “fantasy London” book. Promising first half, but second half lost steam and went a bit nuts.
  • Learning To See Creatively (Bryan Peterson): Good reminders and examples of things you probably already know.
  • Understanding Shutter Speed (Bryan Peterson): Not as immediately inspiring as Understanding Exposure, but perhaps I’ll think differently when I experiment more with shutter speed.

2 stars:

Reading Notes (Whores, Virgins, Epileptics, Psychotics)

I’ve had a run of great reading lately, and thought I’d share. As is usual for all my commute books, all of these are notable for their ability to keep a very sleepy Michelle awake on the way to work and all but the graphic novel come in handbag-friendly sizes.

Memories Of My Melancholy Whores (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): I’ve read 100 Years Of Solitude and Love In The Time Of Cholera twice each, and with each reread I was amused to find that I’d remembered so little of the plot that it was almost like reading a whole new book. This isn’t a diss, it’s more that his books are so dense with atmosphere and observation that I find myself just living from moment to moment, thoroughly immersed, until I reach the end and wake up from a beautiful, fragrant dream which then fades away as quickly as dreams always do. I think this is the reason some people find it difficult to get through his books, because sometimes you’re just not in the right mental mood for that sort of commitment. Anyway, Whores has a lot of what is wonderful about his writing within a much shorter and more accessible package (assuming you don’t find stories about a 90 year old man engaging a 14 year old prostitute to be inherently inaccessible, that is) so I recommend it to Garcia Marquez fans and newbies alike.

On Chesil Beach (Ian McEwan): I routinely read any new Ian McEwan book, but due to various dissatisfactions I’ve felt with his other books, he’s always been an admired-but-not-favourite writer for me. He’s amazing at taking an incident (usually narrated in vivid, heart-in-mouth detail) and building on it, fleshing out causes and consequences and the inner lives of the people involved with incredible depth and perspicacity, but in my view something else often lets him down – pacing for Black Dogs and Saturday, plot for Enduring Love and Atonement, and just too much obviousness for Amsterdam. I’m undecided on how believable I find the “incident” here – a disastrous wedding night for the virginal protagonists – but its awkward, cringeworthy moments, and how McEwan uses them to elaborate on the lives of Edward and Florence, their love and its sad aftermath, are masterfully done, like a perfect distillation of his best abilities unmarred by any of his previous failings. My favourite McEwan book yet.

Epileptic (David B.): I don’t always get graphic novels, in that I often find the writing decent but don’t feel the drawings have added much to my appreciation of the whole. (Blankets, Jimmy Corrigan, I’m looking at you.) Epileptic is different. The plot is interesting on its own – the author’s brother develops epilepsy in childhood, and his family life becomes dominated by his parents’ efforts to find a cure and the increasingly disruptive manifestations of his brother’s illness – but it’s the complex, surreal drawings which make this extraordinary, and elevate it to my personal graphic novel pantheon formerly inhabited only by Sandman and Watchmen. I can’t describe the richness of artistry that unfolds in these small black-and-white pictures in a way that you can appreciate without experiencing the book for yourself, it would be like trying to describe Guernica to someone who’s never seen a Picasso painting. Just read it.

Stuart: A Life Backwards (Alexander Masters): Masters was working for a homeless charity (not for altruistic reasons, because it paid well) when its directors got convicted for permitting the trafficking of drugs on the premises, even though they had made concerted efforts to prevent this and the same problem afflicted almost any other homeless charity facility. In the course of the campaign against their convictions, Masters met alcoholic, polydrug-addicted, violently psychotic, frequently suicidal Stuart, who was also actually quite a success story of rehabilitation, relatively speaking. The book is the story of Stuart’s life and of the friendship between the two very different men. It’s funny, illuminating, and really sad, and I think it will interest anyone who has ever given a moment’s thought to the problem of homelessness.

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)

I picked up Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go in the library simply because it was a nice handbag-friendly size for my commute, but if (like me) you’ve lost track of Ishiguro’s work since An Artist Of The Floating World or The Remains Of The Day, this one’s worth a read.

NLMG reminded me how wonderful Ishiguro is at illuminating the silences between people, the myriad things that may come to your mind during a conversation but which, for all sorts of reasons, you decide to leave unsaid. I don’t think I noticed this in his other books that I’ve read, but in NLMG he’s particularly adept at bringing this to life in the interactions between women, or at least it’s very true to my interactions with women anyway. I think he really skewers the things that can render even conversations between fairly close, caring and not particularly immature girl friends a mire of unvoiced resentments. Kathy is able to be annoyed with Ruth’s various facades and disingenuities, while understanding (and sometimes appreciating) why Ruth puts on the acts she does. Ruth is able to engage in genuine and close friendship with Kathy while she continues, through knowing inaction, to deny Kathy a precious and irreplaceable happiness. Tommy, the third major character in the book, is also quite accurately characterised (as far as my interactions with guys go, anyway) as being more straightforward, less calculative, not completely oblivious to all that’s going on between his two close girl friends but simply not wired to view things through the convoluted web of surface-vs-imputed-meanings that girl interactions have to be filtered through.

Do you know what I mean, or does none of this strike a chord with you? I mean the insecurities and disingenuities of your girl friends which chronically and acutely infuriate you, yet because you figure that they wouldn’t be like this if they weren’t fragile, you decide to be the bigger person and not crush them by letting on that you see right through them. But because you’re not perfect yourself, you can’t totally let go of your annoyance either, and it ends up colouring your interactions with them anyway, anything from throwaway comments which indirectly target an insecurity, to deliberate obtuseness when they’re fishing for affirmation, to finally just limiting the quantity/method of your interactions. (I have girl friends who I like in person, but I don’t like how they come across on their blogs, or vice versa, and other girl friends who are lovely alone but put on facades in certain social settings, so I sometimes try to pick how and where I interact with them accordingly.) Perhaps the dispassionate observer might wonder why you don’t just cut off these dysfunctional relationships, but there’s the rub – underneath all this bullshit you still like these people, you know they have good hearts, and you want to believe others will ultimately give you, too, the dignity of the holistic analysis, rather than write you off for your own annoying faults. And so we hold on to these relationships, and everything left unsaid represents the good and bad we can’t let go of.

That was a bit of a tangent, wasn’t it? Anyway, the point is that the major strength of Never Let Me Go, for me, is how consummately Ishiguro gets all of the above. Another of its strengths is how elegantly he unfolds the story, but it’s a little tough to discuss this without introducing spoilers. If you pick this book up cold as I did without knowing much about it, I daresay you will be a little surprised initially at the opening chapter’s hints about the central premise of its plot, and you might even be dubious about whether it’s your sort of story – I was. But I soon found that this didn’t matter, and (with apologies for being so cryptic, really) the third major strength of the book is how he uses the first strength to illustrate how little it matters.

King Rat: Needs A Remix

Oh dear, my naffness premonition about King Rat turned out to be right. Check out these lines:

  • “Saul’s heart was beating like a Jungle bassline.” [This is after Saul had been running for ages. Fuck saving the metropolis, dude has some serious irregular heartbeat issues to worry about! You want to exaggerate like this, say his heart was beating like Moby’s Thousand, but a jungle bassline is just…medically wrong.]
  • “The rats and Saul left the relative safety of London’s nightlands and entered the warehouse, the frenzied jaws of Drum and Bass, the domain of smoke and strobe lights and Hardcore, the Piper’s lair, the heart of Darkness, deep in the Jungle.” [Again with the unnecessary capitalisations. Are we in Brixton or the Hundred Acre Wood?]
  • “The Drum and Bass felt as if it would lift the hatch out of the floor, off into the sky. It was unforgiving, a punishing assault of original Hardcore beats.” [It feels a bit off to use that usual MC patois of “original hardcore” in a description like this. Is it just me?]
  • “She pulled the record back, let it forward again a little, pulled it back, scratching playfully like an old school rapper, finally releasing her hand and switching off the first tune in a smooth movement, unleashing the new bassline.” [Scratching like a rapper? Also, reading about how someone DJs is like watching paint dry.]

Apart from the drum’n’bass cringeworthiness, some other things about the book’s plot seem a bit misconceived, sort of like what you might come up with if you went out to a massive jungle night with your mates back in the day, took a lot of E, brought everyone back to yours to come down on some spliffs, and while lounging wrecked on your plonk-stained student flat carpet, started brainstorming ideas for a book. For example (some spoilers to follow, but I think they’re so damn obvious long before they happen that there’s no harm giving them away now):

King Rat (China Mieville)

I decided it was about time I read some China Mieville (although he’s a notable writer in his own right, I must admit the main draw for me was that he’s said the Borribles trilogy is one of his biggest influences) so I went looking in the library shelves. I know Perdido Street Station is his most celebrated work, but when I read the blurb on the back of King Rat it was clear I had to start with that instead:

Something is stirring in London’s dark, stamping out its territory in brickdust and blood. Something has murdered Saul’s father, and left Saul to pay for the crime.

But a shadow from the urban waste breaks into his prison cell and leads him to freedom. A shadow called King Rat.

In the night-land behind London’s facade, in sewers and slums and rotting dead spaces, Saul must learn his true nature.

Grotesque murders rock the city like a curse. Mysterious forces prepare for a showdown. With Drum and Bass pounding the backstreets, Saul confronts his bizarre inheritance – in the badlands of South London, in the heart of darkness, at the gathering of the Junglist Massive.

Like the DJ says: ‘Time for the Badman.

Potentially a bit naff, I know (who capitalizes dance music genre names like that? It’s like a Winnie the Pooh book), but how can I resist? I’m hoping it’ll be like Neverwhere…with riddim.

Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)

Alec recently enjoyed Brideshead Revisited so I read it too in a fit of foppery. Waugh’s prose was masterful but I thought the book’s comic moments were far more successfully realized than its theme (described by Waugh in his foreword as “the operation of divine grace” on the book’s main characters).

The Catholics in this book struggle with the outward moral strictures of being Catholic but are indifferent to the internal. We aren’t privy to any thoughtful exploration of their faiths, just an inexplicable attachment to following some rules (eg. not divorcing your husband even though you have a loveless marriage and have fallen in love with someone else) but not others (eg. not cheating on your husband in the first place). I honestly don’t understand why they continue to feel any residual attachment to Catholicism when they have long ceased to practise it; it feels more like an explanation of the power of superstition rather than divine grace. I guess Graham Greene has just spoiled me in this regard, because I really think Waugh’s attempts here don’t hold a candle to anything Greene has accomplished in a similar vein.

But in case anyone reading the previous paragraph has immediately decided that Brideshead Revisited doesn’t sound like their kind of book, let me discourage you from that – it has many inimitably funny moments and it always feels wonderfully luxurious after I overdose on modern fiction to plunge into the vintage elan of a writer like Waugh. Here’s a passage I enjoyed – Anthony Blanche, my favourite character in the book because he’s just totally fabulous, describes the fumbling attempts of some fellow students at Oxford to dunk him in a fountain (due to his excessive fabulousness):

About six of them came into my room, the rest stood mouthing outside. My dear, they looked too extraordinary. They had been having one of their ridiculous club dinners, and they were all wearing coloured tail-coats – a sort of livery. “My dears,” I said to them, “you look like a lot of most disorderly footmen.” Then one of them, rather a juicy little piece, accused me of unnatural vices. “My dear,” I said, “I may be inverted but I am not insatiable. Come back when you are alone.” Then they began to blaspheme in a very shocking manner, and suddenly I, too, began to be annoyed. “Really,” I thought, “when I think of all the hullabaloo there was when I was seventeen, and the Duc de Vincennes (old Armand, of course, not Philippe) challenged me to a duel for an affair of the heart, and very much more than the heart, I assure you, with the duchess (Stefanie, of course, not old Poppy) – now, to submit to impertinence from these pimply, tipsy virgins…” Well, I gave up the light, bantering tone and let myself be just a little offensive.

Then they began saying, “Get hold of him. Put him in Mercury.” Now as you know I have two sculptures by Brancusi and several pretty things and I did not want them to start getting rough, so I said, pacifically, “Dear sweet clodhoppers, if you knew anything of sexual psychology you would know that nothing could give me keener pleasure than to be manhandled by you meaty boys. It would be an ecstacy of the very naughtiest kind. So if any of you wishes to be my partner in joy come and seize me. If, on the other hand, you simply wish to satisfy some obscure and less easily classified libido and see me bath, come with me quietly, dear louts, to the fountain.

Do you know, they all looked a little foolish at that? I walked down with them and no one came within a yard of me. Then I got into the fountain and, you know, it was really most refreshing, so I sported there a little and struck some attitudes, until they turned about and walked sulkily home, and I heard Boy Mulcaster saying, “Anyway, we did put him in Mercury.” You know, Charles, that is just what they’ll be saying in thirty years’ time. When they’re all married to scraggy little women like hens and have cretinous porcine sons like themselves getting drunk at the same club dinner in the same coloured coats, they’ll still say, when my name is mentioned, “We put him in Mercury one night,” and their barnyard daughters will snigger and think their father was quite a dog in his day, and what a pity he’s grown so dull. Oh, la fatigue du Nord!

Virginia Tech Tangent And Talking About Kevin

I won’t bore you with more of the banality already permeating the blogosphere’s attempts at gun control discussions in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, neither will I bother with some empty words about my heart going out to the bereaved families. Words like “sympathy” and “empathy” get misused all over the place when stuff like this happens, but frankly I’ve always felt what the English language actually needs is a word where you acknowledge your complete inability to imagine or fathom what a suddenly bereaved family is going through, because you simply haven’t experienced anything even remotely analogous. I think it’s more respectful.

But anyway, the reason I mentioned this at all was just to highly recommend We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver) to anyone who hasn’t already read it. I don’t think I managed to write about it here at the time I read it – strange that I did write about Vernon God Little since I don’t think that’s anywhere as good on the same topic – but it was one of the best books I read last year. Call me a philistine but good prose alone is never quite enough to secure my allegiance to a book if its plot or ideas don’t impress me. This one has everything – good writing and characterization (you might feel a bit irritated by the snottiness of the narrator at the start, but press on), ideas about motherhood that I’d never read much about before, and as for plot let me just ask you to do yourself a favour, trust me that this book is worth reading, and don’t read the Amazon reviews in case they’ve got spoilers.

Is it ridiculous of me to suggest you read a work of fiction at a time when more than enough horrifying details about a real crime are flooding the newswires? Perhaps, but if the topic does interest you, this book allows you a more contemplative take on things than finding yourself riveted, despite yourself and more out of rubbernecking curiosity than any higher motive, to online videos of Cho’s demented ramblings. Which is why I have closed those Firefox tabs and decided to reread the book instead. Your mileage may vary.

Reluctantly Executive Summary

Graaargh. Being away from a computer the whole day during this three-month induction/rotation period for my new job is killing me. I have time to work, live, love, and sleep (5 hours a night, max), but doing more than that has been beyond me this week and last. But since I’m off shift-work today, here’s my attempt at an executive summary from last weekend till this one, minus the bits where I am actually an executive.

Gigs:

  • Mizeryfree/Zhen/Concave Scream at Bar None (last Monday): The first two bands made little impression on me, I was there to see the third. Concave Scream did a passable gig, but nothing as memorable as their Baybeats performance. Also, although I haven’t got tired of any of their songs yet, their setlist doesn’t seem to have changed much these three times I’ve seen them play – same tracks, same introductory banter, same encore.

  • Localbarboy at Hideout (last Wednesday): I told Joe that since I hardly know any pre-2003 local music, the mark of this gig’s success was that I still thoroughly enjoyed it. The immensely likable band, great song choices (how hard does Singapore Cowboy ROCK?) and happy supportive crowd made for a good gig vibe. After the gig the DJ just played the same ol’ same ol’ Singapore indie clubbing staples (doesn’t anyone else get tired of dancing to the same songs every time?) so I left – but not before some muppet-dancing with Alec to Here Comes Your Man. That was fun.

Parties:


Are we hot or not?
  • Bad Taste (two Saturdays ago): At which Alec wore his famous spandex. Many other guests at the party were a little disappointing though, mostly because I feel they hadn’t made themselves look unattractive enough. For example, Ali Baba trousers shouldn’t have been paired with a flattering black top but rather something utterly hideous. Others fell into the trap I narrowly avoided while deciding on my outfit – accessorizing into hipness. The more I added belts, bracelets and necklaces, the more it looked like a cool outfit straight off the streets of Harajuku. So in the end I just stuck to the core items you see in the picture – black and white striped top, 70s retro dirty green skirt, bright green bag, grey trainers, black socks pulled up as high as they could go.
  • Dance Dance BBQolution (last Saturday): Kris’s birthday party cum sendoff to Trinidad. As can be expected for someone like him, the guests at his party reflected his diverse passions, from members of the Toa Payoh Community Centre Guitar Club to the multi-nationalitied denizens of the local tango scene. Later in his flat, I found myself dancing merengue, bhangra, my first ever tango, lots of madcap lindy to an awesome Indian swing track, and finally, the chicken dance.

Theatre:

  • Quills (last Friday): I attempted a review.

Books:

  • Morvern Callar (Alan Warner) is a very odd book, but perhaps you have to be an existentialist music geek with mild lesbian tendencies, a penchant for Southern Comfort and sufficient butchery skills to hack up your boyfriend’s corpse after he’s slit his own throat on your kitchen floor to really understand it properly. Unfortunately for me, I only identified with the music geek bit. Okay, and maybe the mild lesbian tendencies.

  • Love In a Blue Time (Hanif Kureishi) was rather disappointing compared to the effortless charm of The Buddha Of Suburbia. None of the stories really drew me in except perhaps for My Son The Fanatic, which took on fresh significance due to events transpiring in London since it was first published. A lacklustre read from a writer who previously delighted me.