Book Review

Three Books, One Post

consistently reading more than i can blog (or do anything else)

Written: Monday 7th December boooooo

It’s just happening and happening and happening, that inability to do anything, that problem with connection and concentration and an ability to to to to do, y’know?

I’m struggling to do.

I had a poetry acceptance for the first time in fucking months a few days ago, which was lovely, but, y’know, what does it actually meeeeeean?

It means nothing nothing nothing as it’s for one of the like ten poems I’ve written all year then one of the many poems I wrote last year.

I’ve had lots of rejections for things too, and though I’ve had a few kind words about the pleasure of regret from friends and internet people and people on the scale between friend and internet person, there’s been no great I dunno revelation or anything, no great kinda wild kinda big response and i dunno i didn’t expect one and there isn’t even the potential for any kind of like big attention or anything from this as i am unaware of any competitions or prizes or anything it would even be eligible for lol because there are lots for novels and lots for poetry collections but there’s not really anything for weird fragmentary inconsistent tonally and formally varied memoir is there i mean i dunno maybe there is because i haven’t looked for any and i don’t feel like it because i don’t feel like doing any any anything any mooooooooooooooooore.

I’ve been drinking MUCH less the last few weeks and it is hammering my productivity. At least when I’m drinking I can sleep.

At least when I’m drinking the water retention and empty calories makes my body more disgusting and gives me something to write about.

The gyms are still closed, though, so there’s no chance of me exercising.

I walk and cycle everywhere but I just can’t can’t can’t bring myself to bring myself to bring myself to exercise without the distracting distraction of prestige TV. Christ, I miss The Affair. I want to go back to sweating buckets and weeping on a treadmill again so I don’t have to just sit indoors weeping over myself again and again and again.

Anyway, these are some MORE of the books I read this year and never got round to writing about. Two of the three were truly fucking excellent:

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

Kevin Barry is, I think, the only genuinely interesting and exciting white male novelist writing in English today. Don’t bother offering alternatives in the comments unless they’re people I definitely haven’t read before and likely haven’t heard of. I read a lot, I have read a lot, I will read a lot more (probably, unless by some sweet miracle/bittersweet irony I’ll manage to die during one of the few periods in the last decade and a half where I’ve been depressed without being actively suicidal).

This book, Barry’s fifth (I believe) is about a pair of middle-aged Irish gangsters (former smugglers who got rich thirty years ago off of drugs that don’t need to be smuggled any more) who used to be close and now no longer are, as they wait for – and try to intercept, to “rescue” – the hippieish adult daughter of one of theirs who is rumoured to have become involved in the human trafficking trade.

Barry’s novel explores guilt and consequence, regret and the effects of normalising organised crime and how an unwritten and unspoken code of honour is not something that passes generationally without effort. It’s a deeply moving – though fast-paced – novel of digression and memorialising, of action and reaction and the false promise of redemption.

One of the best novels I read this year: I’ll make my way through the rest of Barry’s oeuvre, I imagine, over the years to come. (I’ve already, of course, read Beatlebone.)

Bina by Anakana Schofield

Anakana Schofield is very close in age to Kevin Barry and there are several further similarities between them. They’re at a similar point, careerwise: i.e. reasonably well known, critically lauded and writing phenomenal, gently experimental novels. But where they differ strongly (at least in terms of the work of theirs I’ve personally read) is in the characters they choose to evoke.

While Barry’s novels are about the kind of people we find a lot in fiction and popular culture generally (once (or still) rich men who are clearly past their peak), Schofield’s writing is instead about outsiders, about people not ordinarily found in mainstream literary fiction. Though, tbf, Barry takes these trad tropes and builds from them something elevated, but Schofield is instead building something exemplary without being able to rely on literary familiarity.

The eponymous Bina – also the narrator – is an elderly woman warning her reader about the many risks and pitfalls of life. Bina (pronounced “Bye-na” fyi) has had the majority of her later life ruined by Eddie, a strange, though forceful, middle-aged man who installs himself as a permanent feature in her home after he crashes his motorbike into Bina’s garden wall, and stays to recover (as he has nowhere else to go) and then, well, never leaves. Until he does, which has just happened as the novel begins.

Bina becomes embroiled in a scandal that is partly the result of her own illicit charity work (helping to deliver assisted suicide kits to the terminally ill) and partly the result of Eddie’s online trolling, which is traced entirely back to Bina’s home, Bina’s IP address and Bina’s iPad. Bina must deal with the various lawyers and advocacy groups seeking to help and/or exploit her for their own ends (the pro-euthanasia hippies are not the same as the pro-free-speech types), I mean, at least that’s what I remember. I read this months and months and months ago.

It’s very good. Very moving. Very human.

Very funny in places, too. It’s about ageing and exploitation and about not being stupid and not being shy but knowing that physical force is a form of power than one cannot compete with in the twilight of life.

It’s very rare to see old age depicted in fiction, in experimental literature in particular. There’s the not-elderly B.S. Johnson’s House Mother Normal and there’s Christine Brooke-Rose’s absolutely incredible Life, End Of, but that’s all I have personally encountered. (Maybe I’ll think of another example later.) But, yeah, Bina is excellent, highly recommended.

I’ve gotta read Schofield’s first novel soon! (I read her second, Martin John, down in Marseille, just before I began my life-changing pilgrimage across Spain, which you can read about briefly in chapter two of the pleasure of regret.)

Nuclear Power by Walter C. Patterson

This cute 1976 Penguin non-fiction book is about nuclear power, and painfully out of date, for many reasons.

Not only in the geopolitical and scientific developments that have occurred in the last fifty years in the field of nuclear energy, but also in the expected knowledge and concentration of the casual reader.

Nuclear Power is often difficult to read – not because it’s about horrible, terrifying nuclear apocalypse-type scenarios, but because the detail about nuclear engineering and the raw physics explaining nuclear reactions and radioactive materials is fucking dense and fucking complex. I’m not stupid and I don’t avoid all discussion of science, but I stopped formal science education aged 16 and trying to read Walter C. Patterson’s Nuclear Power was the first time I ever became aware of that as a potential error.

I did learn that there is – or at least there was – a nuclear power plant relatively close to Toronto, which maybe once the world is vaccinated I should try and visit. Or not.

I also thought, while reading this, that a nice idea for a cod-literary podcast would be a discussion of a topic based entirely on the information contained in one of these old Penguin non-fiction books. If anyone is interested in recording an episode of a podcast on an old Penguin non-fiction book, email triumphofthenow@gmail.com and we’ll get something going, friend/fan!

ok bye bye bye

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