Recommended Reading (September 2016)

I’ve been toying with some new ideas for different types of content (watch this space), and have been meaning to try to put out some more reviews, but have been a bit busy. Here’s another small collection of other books I’ve been reading recently (and should have read a while back!).

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Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was – Sjón
Release Date: 02/06/16 (UK)
Publisher (UK): Sceptre
Pages: 160pp RRP: £14.99 (Hardback)
Kindle edition available here (£9.99)

Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson, or as he’s better known by his pen name of ‘Sjón’, has been a key figure in the Icelandic literary scene for decades. In the story of the ‘boy who never was’, Sjón examines the relationship between fantasy and reality, and how one bleeds into the other.

‘The boy’ in question is Máni Steinn Karlsson, who has sex with men for money, and who’s perception of reality is infused with his love for cinema – a cheerful sexual rebel of sorts. He has a particular fondness for the seven-hour epic, Les Vampires, and its anti-heroine, Irma Vep. Máni eventually develops a friendship with his own real-life Irma in the form of Sóla G, a black-leather clad motorbike-riding girl who stirs his imagination yet further. When the global scarlet fever pandemic reaches Iceland, the city is gradually emptied, becoming a blank canvas for Máni’s imagination to run wild – especially as he is employed as a doctor’s assistant and ferried between scenes of devastation. The pandemic soon reaches his beloved cinema however, culminating in a sequence where Sóla and Máni, donning black uniforms and gas masks, fumigate the cinema with chlorine gas, partially mimicking a pivotal scene from the aforementioned Les Vampires.

Sjón’s gradual introduction of the horrors of the outside world (gripped in the latter stages of the First World War, making the presence of the chlorine gas a potent allegory) into Máni’s life slowly shape the story into something very personal, something which the reader might not be aware of until the very end. I’ve seen this book described as an elegy, and I more or less agree with that – the image of the happy Máni surrounded by the horror of disease has its modern equivalent. Overall, if you’re unfamiliar with the works of Sjón, this is a good starting point; if you’re a fan, this will certainly ensure you remain one.

 

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The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney
Release Date: 09/04/15 (UK)
Publisher (UK): John Murray
Pages: 384pp RRP: £8.99 (Paperback)
Kindle edition available here (£3.99)

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliot Prize, The Glorious Heresies is a foul-mouthed beast of a debut novel from the ‘Sweary Lady’, Lisa McInerney – and I get the feeling it’s going to be digested by a lot of readers for some time.

The Glorious Heresies has a significant cast of characters who live on a Galway estate, but primarily follows 15-year-old drug dealer Ryan, and his relationship with girlfriend Karine. At the start of the novel, the couple are on the verge of having sex for the first time, and afraid of what should happen if Ryan’s abusive alcoholic father, Tony, should come home and catch them. Ryan’s story becomes a fascinating one, and his relationship with Karine has its touching moments. However, it’s interwoven with a plot line focusing on the use of Tony as a ‘cleaner’ for a feared local gangster, Jimmy. Jimmy’s long-lost mother Maureen has recently inadvertently killed an intruder (by hitting him over the head with a religious artefact) in the house that Jimmy put her up in. The chain of events sparked by this makes for a somewhat disjointed story that at times feels like it’s been bolted on to Ryan’s story. It was still worth reading, but the shifts between perspective and points in time felt a bit jarring.

McInerney takes aim at a great many targets over the course of the novel – be it the corruption of politicians, the psychological abuses associated with Irish Catholicism (of which Maureen’s ‘confessional’ about her years of fear of the faith and its followers is a particularly memorable example), or the moral vacuum of many found with the receding of the Church from contemporary life. Many of the barbs she directs at these targets can be seen as having been sharpened by her blog, The Arse End of Ireland, where she wrote about working-class life in Galway.

McInerney’s prose has an almost kinetic quality to it – which can undermine it at times. Whilst her sharp wit is constantly on display, certain passages can be confusing with the choices she makes with her language (one example being when she’s describing  a messy kitchen sink). The energy of her prose begins to slow somewhat in the final third of the book – where she wrote with more concise focus earlier in the novel, it begins to feel like she’s repeating herself towards the end. That said, I actually quite enjoyed the book, and I can see that McInerney has a real fire in her writing that will become something really quite formidable in her future works.

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