John le Carre's last, posthumous novel, SILVERVIEW. This is really that old Bond-hater Cornwell's THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN--it's a complete novel, but it's still at early draft stage. The characters are very sketchy (and, I have to admit, I kept confusing the two men who seemed to alternate as lead); there are pages of nothing but dialogue; and often the narrative reads like a film script, with bare details to explain how B follows A. On top of it all, the great Le Carre theme--of how secret agency can destroy the individual and the promise of a normal life--comes off as completely flat. The novel ends with an afterword by Le Carre's son, who explains that his dad had often worked on it, and who speculates why his father would have withheld publishing the novel, which he considers pretty well as good as anything else Dad wrote. Hate to disagree with Cornwell fils--the book is a disappointment. A sad one.
A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway (1964)
Published after his death, A Moveable Feast is a series of short stories in which revisit Hemingway revisits his Parisian sojourn and reflects on the characters and behaviours he discovered during his time there. Most of the stories are unimaginative and lack his usual insight and flamboyance, buoyed by the occasional breath of consciousness. The unflattering descriptions of Ford Maddox Ford and Scott Fitzgerald contradict Hemingway’s obvious admiration for their talent. His friendship with the closet fascist Nazi Ezra Pound just feels ill-advised. Gertrude Stein comes across and bitter and twisted. Hem even bemoans his own addictions, like gambling on the horses and a writer’s self-absorption. Like all unfinished works, these nineteen stories share an unrefined nature; the odd revelatory line doesn’t quell a growing disinterest. There isn’t very much to be cheerful about either; most of the tales revolve around getting drunk and arsing about. The collection closes with a horrifically nuanced conversation between Hem and Fitzgerald about the size of their respective manhood’s. It raised my eyebrows because it feels like an imposition on the reader. I don’t learn anything about either man – except that Fitzgerald was insecure and Hem had already told us that in the earlier stints. The most well observed and perceptive passage comes in Evan Shipman at the Lilas when Hem notices the waiter in his local restaurant has been ordered to shave off his moustache and how this might affect the proud old dragoon who works there, his whiskers a badge of identification of the old Parisian regimes.
My edition is the revised edition from 2011 and it removes some clumsy revisions, restoring the prose almost to its Hemingway-entirety. The extra ten stories don’t add anything more to the original text; if anything they lower it. One confusing diatribe has Hemingway reflecting an adulterous affair. His attempt to compare it to an avalanche clunks with the finality of the heavyweight boxing punches thrown by the protagonist of another cryptic vignette. His attempt to explain writing in the first-person as “not easy” is derivative.
Overall, minor Hemingway.
LIVE AND LET DIE (1954)
I’m rereading the Bond series and this second novel is a definite upgrade on the opener. It is very descriptive and draws the reader into the powerful world of Mr Big. Much has been said about the racist tones of the book and there is a lot of stuff that makes me feel uncomfortable when I read it. I think that’s a good thing, it shows how far we have come as a society and how much more we need to do to eradicate it completely. The n-word is prolifically used, especially by Solitaire, and if this is how things were in 1954 then it really is a sad state of affairs. The phonetic spelling of the speech was critically praised at the time but lies uneasy on the eye now, I think each reader can inflect their own dialect as they want, it’s strange because when I’m reading, everyone has a British accent whatever nationality they are, is this normal or do you actually give Leiter an American accent in your head when you read his lines?
Fleming is a powerful writer and his descriptions are evocative, the strip club scene is exceptional in the way tension is built to a crescendo. Bond once again ignores a woman who has a feeling of danger, this time even worse because she is supposedly a psychic, and henceforth creates situations which will change a life forever. I enjoyed this immensely and liked seeing what went into the movie versions of LALD, FYEO and LTK.
Should LALD be edited to exclude the racist parts - no - it’s a period piece and should reflect the attitudes of the time - airbrushing history does no one any favours. I was reading that there is now a version available which incorporates the revised American edition with the original British version, has anyone read this and what is edited - I know the original American novel was edited from the British version at the time of release.
THE SEDUCTION AGENT by Bernard Glemser (1966)
Originally entitled My Dear Hungarian Friend, Bernard Glemser’s The Seduction Agent is a speculative espionage thriller with exactly zero thrills and that includes the extended seduction and sex scene which occurs midway through the 200-odd pages.
Kate Emory is an acclaimed New York philosophical writer about to embark on a state funded lecture tour of Japan, which in reality is a front for her translator to spy on the neo-Marxist associations gaining political ground in the Far East. This brings her to the attention of the Soviets, and unwittingly she falls in love with Stefan Gerhardi, a Hungarian attaché whose reputation with the ladies sweeps all before him. Initially Kate rebuffs his approaches. He’d be considered a stalker by today’s standards and his manner and persistence lacks subtlety and grace. The heroine’s loneliness is the only excuse Glemser can concoct as to why these two ill-matched individuals should end up bed mates. The speed of the unfolding relationship takes one’s breath away. I wasn’t so much involving as completely detached from any reality I’ve experienced. Perhaps the world of New York in the mid-sixties really was a whirl wind of well-mannered parties, but frankly I doubt it. The longer the story went on and the more atrocious Gerhardi’s selfish behaviour became, the less I believed in anything. The lack of any excitement didn’t help. I finished it at a canter simply to get the thing dealt with, not sure throughout what sort of book I was reading. The worst offence was the dialogue, torturously long winded and lacking any nuances in tone or texture. Gerhardi’s over effusive manner didn’t feel real; most people would consider him a jerk – even in the sixties – and I doubt he’d ever pull a woman by being so obnoxious.
A drab little affair.
CARRASCO ’67: THE HARROWING TALE OF AN IMPERIALIST PIG by Elaine Broun (2021)
Elaine Broun is a well-travelled debut author who has uncovered a little known story and circumstance from late sixties Uruguay which she has developed into a thriller of some interest but little substance.
Peter Grey has the perfect job heading up a Montevideo based team of auditors for a world wide finance firm. During a recruitment drive, Peter employs Miguel de Luna, a member of the terrorist group the Tupamaros who is posing as a genuine auditor. When Miguel’s financial fleecing is uncovered, Peter decides to dismiss him – opening the door to a series of escalating reprisals from the Tupamaros. The author has done her research [one of the characters is preparing for a terrorist takeover of a rural town that actually occurred; another is Dan Mitrione, a real CIA agent, kidnapped and murdered by the terror group] and the presentation of the rebel faction as a small, secretive, sinister cell-by-cell organisation was very good. Early on, our bad guy Miguel is revealed to be a psychopath; this rather takes the edge off the scenes which follow as we already anticipate his behaviour. It’s bemusing he never gets do anything remarkable except shout threats down a phone line. By the end of the novel, he’s relegated to the subs bench and others do his dirty work for him, which – given his prime role as the antagonist – is mightily disappointing.
Peter Grey is your everyman in a crisis. More dependable than he should be under intense pressure, he corrals his family expertly and manages to dodge kidnappers and slovenly policemen with equal dexterity. I didn’t for one moment believe his situation. As it spiralled beyond his control, I constantly felt he was being given too much attention by the Uruguayan police – why didn’t they simply put him and his family on a plane? The police themselves seemed dense. The comic, untidy bodyguard was an awful addition, neither funny nor necessary. The Grey family were stereotypical, both for the era and for this kind of novel, a mouthy son, a cute daughter, a beautiful wife, everyone loves them, etc.
The establishing half-dozen chapters work well. There is good sense of location and people, but thereafter follows a further ten without urgency. Throughout, every-so-often, we are treated to long and immaterial glimpses of the ex-pat lifestyle. As the novel proceeded, the action repeats itself too often to maintain effective interest. Once one bottle is thrown it’s very dull to keep throwing them. The time frame drifted – at the end a sub title appears saying “Months later” which confused me no end. There is a whole series of chapters devoted to a bungled kidnapping which the reader knows has never succeeded because in the opening scene [a flash-forward] Paula Grey is at home with all her children: a huge oversight in the narrative. However, the eventual climax was well disguised and well thought out, with plenty of red herrings. A bit more of this might have made the interim chapters more appealing.
The usual problems that visit all self-published work are visited here, and I speak from experience: occasional punctuation errors, poor grammar, too many colloquialisms, the lack of the deft hand of an editor, I assume the geographical references were all verified as being correct for 1967 as I didn’t check, the Tupamaros’ plan needed better explanation – Peter Grey hardly seems worth the effort. The title is odd. I thought the novel might be satirical. It isn’t.
Carrasco 67 is a decent effort. It has ambition and purpose, what it needs is tension and strong characters.
I had to give up on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House half way through. Stephen King dubbed it about the most perfect haunted house novel ever done acc to the cover, but it got on my nerves rather than being nerve shredding. It's about two young women who are susceptible to ectoplasm or such experiences accepting an invitation to stay in the titular house as part of an experiment. The set up is enjoyable as the contenders are whittled down, but there's no suspense it seems - we know the place is haunted, everyone in it does.
Past page 100 and still no actual haunting yet, just a bit of macabre background history of the house which is said to be designed oddly to throw one off kilter, a bit like the sort of place Emma Peel ends up in in The Avengers.
Anyway, I had to give up, it was just too twee.
I liked Shirley Jackson's short story 'The Lottery' when I read it in a 1970s horror story anthology a few years ago. I've been meaning to track down and read more of her work and I've seen the new Penguin Classics cover for this one on social media. It's a pity you didn't like that one but maybe there are better things in her other work?
No idea. I'm not an authority on this genre while Stephen King is, still no ghosts up to half way through, or anything that terrible happening.
I'm sad you gave up on Shirley Jackson(!), but taste is taste.
Older novels often don't measure up, structurally, to modern sensibilities...but IMO they're no less worthy of our time. Perhaps I'm overly attuned to this issue because I've been told that my most recent project is rather old-fashioned, in that I basically spend the first half setting up dominoes, and the second half spilling them over (of course, I deliberately include humor, foreboding audio file transcripts, and other devices to spice up the first half). During the editing phase, I expressed concerns to my Beta readers about the pacing of the first half, and I got some good advice back from one of them. She told me (paraphrasing): "But the reader earns their investment in the character, and when things get weird, it's more meaningful."
Anyway; my two cents 🍸️
@Napoleon Plural: While I agree with @Loeffelholz above that just as football is a game of two halves sometimes reading a novel is a story of two halves with the main action and interest being in the second half. As such, there's a bit of a journey to get there and sometimes we as readers feel that its not worth the candle. Even Ian Fleming himself felt that Moonraker was badly split in half as a story as part of it had originally been conceived as a film idea. As @Loeffelholz says not all vintage books and authors exactly meet our modern reading sensibilities.
However, something I've just read from our own Kingsley Amis in the book Bookmarks: Writers on their Reading (1975) chimes with your disappointment with this book and its lack of ghosts thus far:
I will not name names, but the standard modern novel is a self-indulgent moan, a hunk of life neither well observed nor presented in any style, a glum ideological fantasy. Much of the time it reads like a crime novel with no crime, a ghost story with no ghost, a science-fiction story with no science fiction.
Or rather - like a bad example of one of these.
(Frederic Raphael, ed., Bookmarks, Quartet Books, London, 1975), p. 6.
Thanks @Silhouette Man - that's interesting. The author was a woman and in a lazy provocative and perhaps just dim way I sometimes distinguish between male and female writers in their tone, I'd like to read more women writers that I like - Agatha Christie is great but... this one, the blokes were thinly drawn, in an almost sexist way. It's a different voice when women write - any recommendations? Of course, the new Bond novel this year is by a woman.
Yes, I think there generally is a difference between the writing of male and female authors and each tends to have their own readership which matches their own sex. I too like Agatha Christie and have read a few of her Poirot novels but to be honest I've not really read a lot of other female authors outside of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the poetry of Sylvia Plath in the English part of my first degree. Perhaps this is because the books I tend to read for fun (rather than because I have to) are in the spy thriller/crime novel mould and the majority of the classic authors in these genres seem to be male, which is especially the case with the spy novel. I do agree that men tend to be better at writing male characters and women tend to be better at writing female characters simply because as a member of each respective sex they can get into their heads that bit better. Of course within that mass generalisation I've just made there are plenty of nuances too. Ian Fleming, for example, did a creditable enough job of getting inside the mind of his young heroine Vivienne Michel in the first person narrative of The Spy Who Loved Me (1962). If you'd like to try something else from Shirley Jackson that is in shorter form I'd highly recommend her short story 'The Lottery' which builds to a suitably macabre and savage denouement.
JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
THE SPIRIT OF SCIENCE FICTION by ROBERT BOLANO (1984 / 2016)
A writer understood, but unremarked, during much of his lifetime Bolano died young after a quixotic career as a poet, revolutionary, journalist and odd-job man. His life deserves a movie of its own.
Born in Chile in 1953, he emigrated to Mexico with his family and in his late teens dropped out of school and joined a group of poets and idealised left-wing rebels. He returned briefly to Chile in 1973, but never settled and was eventually imprisoned as a terrorist. A year later, rejected by the literary and political establishment, he returned to Mexico City and became a founder member of the Infrarealismo group of poets, a movement which he reinterpreted in several guises throughout his novels and which brought him some fame and notoriety, but no financial success. Eventually he settled in Spain where he funded his literary career with untaxing manual labour. While recognition arrived in the late 1990s, most of his early novels were only published after his death in 2003.
The Spirit of Science Fiction is one of these, originally laid down in 1984, the novel follows two young poets, Jan (Bolano’s alias for the novel) and Remo (his first person narrator) who escaped Pinochet’s regime in Chile and arrived in Mexico hoping to make a living as writers. As a sci-fi fan, Jan spends his spare time writing letters to famous genre authors to which he never receives a reply. Meanwhile, Remo falls in love with the sexually more experienced Laura and develops an intense relationship which culminates in a series of hallucinogenic exhibitions in the Mexican sauna scene, where the boundaries of love, trust and reality are fused and confused even further than they were during their unconventional courtship. Bolano follows his twin egos through a series of misadventures, confrontations with a band of unsuccessful, low-rent poets more interested in f***ing and getting high than any poetical achievement. Remo himself considers his associates mostly to be poor excuses for artists. They cannot fathom why they are unsuccessful when Mexico City has over 600 poetry pamphlets published every year: a learned lecturer suggests there is a paradox between the increase in these magazines and a general rise in wasteful profligacy, which seems completely backwards – much like the character’s lifestyle – “Here, as you might expect, we seek out the cheapest and most pathetic drug or hobby: poetry, poetry magazines.”
The novel is a series of snapshots. In fact the last section, where Remo and Laura visit a sex-club, was initially published separately and doesn’t seem to fit easily inside the conflicted, but mutually supportive lives of the characters Bolano has created. Dialogue driven, the action moves from street to café to apartment in a whirl of gossip and condescension. The words crackle with misunderstanding and the simplicity of the scenes, the people and places, the spare manner of the description hints at Bolano’s future writings. These people read like young tearaways, their lives stretching ahead of them. The unconventional behaviour of the group is a badly disguised reinterpretation of the Infrarealismo movement which Bolano inspired in the late ‘70s. Their freedom of expression and breaking of convention, the two notable requirements of Infrarealismo, encapsulate and underpin their own structured existence, one characterised by its very unorthodox approach to the everyday, the law and morality. Religion barely gets a look in.
It would be easy to dismiss The Spirit of Science Fiction as an experimental work, but it touches deeper than that and in the relationship between Remo and Laura, there is a sense of the dread and power and subservice which inhabits all-consuming love affairs. Remo’s quest for a stolen motorcycle inscribed with the name ‘Aztec Princess’, his nickname for her, metaphorically represents his devotion – how he displays the bike, yet is embarrassed by it, how its faults are exactly what he adores, how Laura likes it [herself] as much as he likes her.
A fascinating, intense read.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
A bit late to the party on this one but I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I found it very simplistic and far fetched but maybe that's it's appeal. It's a very light read. I'm not sure how it's been so successful. However, I have downloaded the second one to read when I finish reading The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse.
LAST MAN STANDING - Tales From Tinseltown by Roger Moore
The great Roger Moore regales us with some lovely funny tales from the acting world. Most of it seems pretty much apocryphal but it’s none the less entertaining for that. I enjoyed his own stories more than the second hand versions he tells. Recommended.
I’ve read both of these…I quite enjoyed both and will read his third when that comes out…as you say, they aren’t taxing reads but I think it’s a combination of ‘something slightly different’ and the fact it’s Richard Osman that has lead to tremendous sales.
I only bought the first one because of Richard Osman. I think he just comes across as lovely, genuine guy.
It's amazing Spielberg bought the film rights.
Oh I didn’t buy them, I borrowed them 👀🤣
I wonder what Spielberg will do though…? Will he change location for instance? 🤔
I hope not as it is quintessentially British.
If he changes the location it will just turn into Murder She Wrote 😂
Since discovering the Joy of having a kindle, I've re-discovered my Love of reading. My last Book was
" Death on the Nile " as I've seen the films based on it, but hadn't read the Book, until now.
Have you read other Agathas, TP?
I've read a few, all the Miss Marple but none of the Poirot but they're nearly always of special offer so I'll pick them up
over time. Next on my list is " Halloween Party "
A few years ago I decided to dive into the Sherlock Holmes books and thoroughly enjoyed the ones I read - once you accept when they were written etc. I have been pondering going for Agatha next.
Both knives Out and Magpie Murders were celebrations of Agatha Christie. I enjoyed both a lot!
I've had some great time with the Agatha Christie novels although I've only read a small fraction of her output at this point. My recommendations are:
The ABC Murders
And Then There Were None
Ordeal by Innocence
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
I like all of Agatha Christie’s output apart from Poirot, the character has always irritated me for some reason.
COWBOY GRAVES by Robert Bolano (2021)
Robert Bolano’s novels tend to be fragmentary and Cowboy Graves is no exception. Basically two short stories and twenty vignettes linked vaguely together by the loose theme of cowboys or, if you like, the lonesome man, striving against the law of the Chilean dictators of the 1970s.
The novel starts with Bolano’s alter-ego, here called Arturo Belano, fleeing Chile with his mother and sister to live with his father in Mexico. He reminisces on this time of reunion and about the beautiful girl he romances before he leaves. The second story, the most surreal, is a telephone conversation between Arturo and a revolutionary in Paris, a discourse which raises the former’s political zeal, but results in disappointment, much like the happenings in Allende’s Chile of 1973. The last, subtitled Fatherland, investigates the death of a beautiful poetess, Patricia Arancibia, who disappears one day and whose fate remains unresolved. Here Bolano reuses one of the scenes from his earlier novel Distant Star as the pilot of a Messerschmitt writes Patricia’s verse in the sky. As the twenty tales progress, the author / narrator hints she has been kidnapped and her organs harvested for donors.
While all the stories have interest and are acutely readable, they don’t go anywhere, which might be the joy of Bolano, depending on how you feel about his disjointed, careless style of work. Fascinating and frustrating all at once, the sense of loss, of the cowboys, of the poets and the society they inhabit all being eroded is as inevitable as it is bleak.