Tag Archives: fiction

Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the BarbariansWaiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is tough, unremitting and depressing going but essential reading as we wind down to the end of empire. Mirrored in here are the actions of our own civilisation; just substitute terrorist for barbarian (as A Short History of Progress suggests). I do believe though that Coetzee is ambivalent about who are the true barbarians. Might they not be the enforcers of empire itself? The armies (and police forces)?

And are we at the end? Is there even an end? The author writes that: “Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end, of catastrophe.” Indeed so far all civilisations have fallen so it’s as well to have an allegory for the times – tough, unremitting and depressing though it may be.

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The Group Goes Digital

Ashton Walks

Ashton Walks is now on Kindle for the princely sum of £1.91. It’s gone global too ($3.08 in the United States of Americawl). I will get it out to Apple’s iBookstore but not before next year. This is a condition of signing up to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, for what it’s worth. I have no idea but “not very much” is the most likely value.

So, grab your soon-to-be-collectable first edition.

Ashton Walks

Ashton Walks

Our newest publication houses five loosely linked short stories inspired by a walk in the Somerset countryside to the west of Bristol. This work grew out of an idea of writing a set of connected stories. We wanted to do something new, having already published on the themes of Hair and, unsurprisingly, Hidden Bristol.

One of our members, Terry Stew, inspired us to take a walk in the country and use our experiences to create short stories. And as a bonus they will all get a performance at the 2012 Bristol Festival of Literature. Enter shop for price

From Dark Places, E.J. Newman

Love it! The most wonderful thing about this collection of short shorts is that you can’t outguess the stories. You may think you know where they’re going by convention but it ain’t necessarily so. For instance, The Art of Desire twists and turns so that the ending is always in doubt – masterful. Somerset-based Emma (the E in E.J.) also subverts the odd fairy tale: The Tenth Lord is one such.

My favourite, The Need to Create, has such a fertile premise that it could have gone in a million directions. I swear a novel is struggling to break out too. I also like its political slant and its potential for really bad taste. On a personal note the Winchester (Hampshire, I hope) setting also made me smile.

A treat.

Last Light, Alex Scarrow

This is a bloody good read in that it ticks all the thriller boxes. In particular it rattles on at pace, introduces twists and keeps you guessing to the end. On the downside the production of the book seems rather rushed (maybe to beat real life?) with some untidy writing but it’s all perfectly readable.

My focus is on whether it’s believable, especially in the light of my own researches into peak oil and collapse. For that is the “what if” here and my answer is a qualified yes, despite a touch of over-dramatisation. The violence card gets overplayed and too early. One of the characters mentions Lord of the Flies and it’s an apt yardstick. Golding’s classic racks up the menace until it spills over into violence – more effective than starting at high pitch.

One slight plot hole concerns Jenny’s journey, which doesn’t make much geographic sense. Having the M1 erroneously running past Birmingham probably shows some confusion in the author’s mind – good trainspotting by me though!

At the denouement I rather sided with the baddies: this poor old planet does needs a damn good cull of the human race – motivation for my own apocalyptic book really. It’s schadenfreude on a grand scale in revenge for mankind’s arrogance. Much better to get it out on the page than in real life, eh? Discuss.

Love in the Time of Cholera, Marquez

Because I’m attempting to write something along the lines of Love in the Time of Flu, why not see how the Master does it?

And he is a master of storytelling. This is a book to wave in the face of those who parrot, ‘Show, don’t tell’ when they critique your work. Marquez is an effective teller. He certainly kept me going for 346 big pages.

Having said which, I could happily have put the book down and not read another word at any stage. I wasn’t that interested in how it would turn out and I had no sympathy with any character. I do sympathise with that because it’s hard to write people in that fine line between sugar and acid. I tend too far toward acid myself.

My biggest gripe with the book – and here be plot spoiler so look away now – relates to my lack of sympathy for Florentino Ariza, the unrequited lover. In my world such a character loses most of his credibility the first time he shags another woman. When he becomes a serial offender, in fact an obsessive, I’ve lost the point of the story altogether.

Oh well, sit back and enjoy the prose.

Continent, Jim Crace

My American writer friend, Doug, put me on to this English novelist and I first read, and loved, Arcadia.

Continent, Crace’s first book, is different. I don’t think it’s a novel, for a start. It reads like seven short stories. And why did he have to invent a seventh continent as backdrop? I’ve never been to Africa or South America but have read enough from both to visualise them as the perfect settings for this book.

That apart, it is of course a good read and two of the pieces stand out – On Heat in the middle, with a very fine twist, and Electricity as a good example of prefiguring a final scene. A sense of menace suffuses all the stories; perhaps this disturbance casts the reader into Crace’s unknown world, an unknown continent of the imagination.

Frankenstein: Cause for Complaints

I’m revisiting this review in time for Bristol Book Club’s Meetup next week. Over two years ago 49p in one of those discount bookshops outside Bideford got me a copy of Mary Shelley’s classic and, to some folk, the first science fiction novel. I could have bought David Copperfield for the same price but felt that Frankenstein would be less challenging for a post-holiday read.

How wrong can you be? I can cope with the wordiness and convoluted sentences of that era, so I didn’t struggle at first. But Victor Frankenstein, he goes on and on about how miserable he is and what tedious company he must be for his friends and family; and when he’s done going on about it, he goes on some more. Well, yeah, you’re tedious to the reader too, buddy. Just get over yourself.

Pages and pages of it. One long, persistent complaint. Don’t we all know people like that? And don’t we all wish we could make our excuses and leave at the earliest opportunity? “Me, me, me, me, me.” They dominate the conversation; they dominate your life. Jesus, I don’t want to read about it as well.

And then that gives them another complaint: “you don’t care about me.” Oh, my God. The fact is: they’re gonna complain about something.

I dropped the book at the point where Frankenstein was about to create Mrs Monster. I was sure that’d turn out badly too.