The Mark and the Void is a big, important novel, but it doesn’t feel that way. Paul Murray has infused the book with a lightness of touch and a sense of humour that belies its significant themes. It follows a French banker named living in Dublin during the banking crisis, who meets a writer named Paul (an alter-ego of Murray). Paul is shadowing Claude looking for new material for a book; he wants an ‘everyman’ protagonist to show the humanity of the hated bankers. But Paul isn’t telling Claude everything, and as the fortunes of the country change, so do theirs.
To say that social media has become all-pervasive in our society doesn’t quite cover it. We know now that it can reduce attention spans, lower self-esteem, disseminate propaganda, distort our perception of reality, and radicalise ordinary people towards extremism. Not many people know, however, the source of the problem, which is detailed in Kyle Taylor’s The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy.
Anthony Bourdain was best known as a chef, but along with his books on food and cooking, he wrote two novels, Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, and Typhoid Mary. The latter book is a short history of the famous typhoid-carrying cook who unknowingly spread the disease all over New York. Bourdain brings a new angle to the story of Mary Mallon by writing about her as a fellow cook, bringing a personal dimension to a historical narrative. I thought it was an interesting and informative read about someone whose story has been distorted by history.
It’s safe to say that the sequels to the seminal sci-fi novel Dune are not as well-regarded as the original. There are five that Frank Herbert wrote: Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse Dune, as well as many others by his son Brian Herbert. Having recently finished Dune Messiah, I thought it was a good deal more interesting than it’s been made out to be. If you haven’t read Dune, or if you’ve only seen the film, I’d suggest you stop reading now.
I’m not a big reader of crime novels, but every so often there’s one that gets my attention. Red Harvest was one of those. I’d previously read and liked The Maltese Falcon, so I was curious to try some of Dashiell Hammett’s other novels. Red Harvest was his first, and is notable for launching the genre of hardboiled detective fiction. In the 1920s, when it was written, the type of crime writing that was popular was Agatha Christie-style ‘cosy crime’. Hammett drew from his own experience as a detective in the writing of Red Harvest, bringing in a hefty dose of violence, moral ambiguity, and realism to a genre that was often sentimental and sanitised. I liked it even more than The Maltese Falcon, and appreciated its unremitting depiction of corruption and brutality.
I’m a fan of Quentin Tarantino, and (as you might have guessed) a fan of books, so when I heard that he was writing a book – a novelisation of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – I was all kinds of intrigued. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood isn’t my favourite Tarantino film (that would be Django Unchained), but it’s one I like a lot, and I was looking forward to reading it when it came out. Of course, there’s always the risk that when a famous creative switches disciplines, it won’t be very good, and novelisations are notoriously known for being poor. But I’m happy to report that Once Upon a Time In Hollywood bucks the trend, and is a fine addition to Tarantino’s body of work.
Book Review: The Noble Warriors Trilogy (Seeker, Jango, Noman), by William Nicholson (2006-2007) (Teen Reads #1)
The Noble Warriors was William Nicholson’s second fantasy series. The Wind On Fire, comprised of The Wind Singer, Slaves of the Mastery, and Firesong, was his first, and it was successful enough that he wrote a second. The Noble Warriors was less popular, and unfortunately he’s yet to write another, but the two series stand as some of the most distinctive children’s fantasy of the 2000s. Having read them recently, I thought it made sense to review them as a whole.
Metal is a genre that’s always existed at my periphery. There’s a few bands I’ve been into at various points (Haste the Day, Deftones, Rage Against the Machine, and others), but it’s not something I listen to regularly. That’s not the case at all with Andrew O’Neill, as evidenced by their book, A History of Heavy Metal. O’Neill is an avowed metalhead, and the book shows the wide range of their taste, encompassing Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Slayer, and everything in between. It’s also very funny. O’Neill is a comedian first and foremost (the book originated as a show they’ve performed up and down the UK), and takes every opportunity they can to get a joke in there. The result is a musical history that’s passionate, comprehensive, and entertaining.
‘Everything the Communists told us about Communism was a lie. Unfortunately, everything they told us about capitalism was correct.’ – Russian joke from the 1990s
The country in which Victor Pelevin was born ceased to exist in 1991. For the best part of a century, the Soviet Union was a global superpower, but from 1988 it slid into a decline that culminated in its dissolution. At the time, Pelevin was 29, and it was only a year afterwards that his first novel, Omon Ra, was published. It was successful in the West as well as his home country, and was nominated for the Booker Prize.
Generation P – also known as Homo Zapiens or Babylon – was his third novel, published in 1999. It is about a graduate student named Babylen Tatarsky who decides to become an advertising executive after failing as a poet. His task is to create Russian versions of Western advertisements, adapting them for ‘the Russian mentality’. But once he begins, he senses that there is something more going on behind the scenes, and seeks to go deeper into the advertising industry to discover it.
The dark history of Ireland’s treatment of women runs through Sarah Maria Griffin’s Other Words for Smoke like a faultline, threatening to collapse it at any moment. The story concerns a pair of twins, Mae and Rossa, who are sent to stay with their Aunt Rita and her ward Bevan over the course of two summers. Mae quickly discovers that Aunt Rita is a witch, and is eager to learn more. She also falls in love with Bevan, but she doesn’t know that Bevan has contact with a dark, magical force called Sweet James.