Review: Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Henry Chinaski the anti-hero. He’s loveable and loathable in equal measures. Flawed, lonely, horny and drunk. He’s Jay Gatsby. He’s Dean Moriarty. Hell, Hank Chinaski is Hank Moody (for any Californication fans out there). It’s transgressive fiction at its best. … Continue reading

Armistice Day: MCMXIV by Philip Larkin

Today, 11/11/11, at 11am, most of the world will pause for two minutes to remember the ceasefire on the Western Front in 1918. Last year, I featured what could be considered as one of the best-loved and most moving war … Continue reading

Review: Queer – William Burroughs

Queer - William S. Burroughs (1985)

Queer by William S. Burroughs has been shelved on my bookcase for the best part of five years. I bought it along with other famed Beat Generation pieces: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Burroughs most famed novels, Junky and Naked Lunch. I read On the Road first; an arduous, albeit profoundly rewarding read. Due to On the Road’s unique style, I approach the Beat movement with trepidation. This time I opted for a decidedly slimmer volume: Queer.

A love story?

Written by Burroughs in 1952, and first published in 1985, Queer is the story of William Lee and his attempt to woo Eugene Allerton. The blurb describes Queer as ‘love story’, but describing it as a love story doesn’t quite sit right with me. Instead, it is a story about unrequited love: intense sexual desire and extreme desperation for human contact. Lee’s love interest, Allerton, is uninterested in his relentless advances. Eventually, he expresses curiosity in homosexuality, and succumbs to a physical relationship with Lee, but it becomes increasingly clear that they have differing agendas.

A feeling of deep tenderness flowed out from Lees body at the warm contact. He snuggled closer and stroked Allerton’s shoulder gently. Allerton moved irritably. pushing Lee’s arm away.

Although aware of, and extremely hurt by, Allerton’s disinterest, Lee continues to chase after him. Lee requires an audience and contact: he talks a lot (Allerton, on the other hand, has little to say), he tells fantastical stories and puts on over the top routines in an effort to attract Allerton’s attention. Continue reading

The Scottish Book Awards 2011: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay

The Scottish Book Awards 2011So let’s kick things off! In July I will be giving away the four titles that have been shortlisted for The Scottish Book Awards 2011 – find out how to enter the giveaway here! In the non-fiction category, Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road is one of these titles and I reviewed it a couple of months ago…

Jackie Kay‘s writing oozes ‘normality’, it’s unashamedly honest and at times unapologetically simple. But her personal life has been neither normal nor simple, and her identity has very much influenced her work; a Scottish poet and writer, Kay was born in Edinburgh to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother. She was adopted at birth by a communist white couple and was brought up in Glasgow.

In Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey, Kay tells us about the journey she took to trace her birth parents. Her journey is a metaphorical and physical one: from Glasgow to Milton Keynes to Aberdeen to Nigeria and back again, to the forked roads and the roads not taken and the long winding roads. Emotionally, the journey is a difficult one, and Kay doesn’t take the easy route. Continue reading

Review: Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

“you’ll either love it, or push it back in the science-fiction corner”, says the 1969 New York Times review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. When I purchased it on a whim, I wasn’t even aware that it possibly belonged in … Continue reading

Review: The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

I found Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea quite dull. Well, at least until page 57. I finished it almost two weeks ago, but I choose not to review it straight away, as I knew I couldn’t give it … Continue reading

Samuel Beckett – The Expelled & First Love

Samuel Beckett The ExpelledTo reflect the teeny-tiny stature of this Penguin Mini Modern Classic book I’ll keep this review as brief as possible. That’s not to say that I don’t have a lot to say, but something tells me that Beckett would have appreciated my slap-dash insight. After all, he did nickname his collection of short stories “texts for nothing”, and ‘nothingness’ is exactly what Beckett explores in the first of the two stories, The Expelled.

The Expelled

“There were not many steps”, reads the first line. The unnamed protagonist deliberates over the ways in which to count the steps that he is descending, “I did not know where to begin or where to end”, he says. We discover that this unnamed soul has been thrown out of the place where he stays, and as he rests on the sidewalk (after falling down the afore-mentioned stairs), he obsesses over his hat and how to describe it.

The story proceeds, and I try to deduce what I can about this character. On the following pages I noted in the margin that he walked oddly, was incontinent, and hated children. On seeing an elderly lady fall he hopes that “she has broken her femur” (I put a big asterisk next to this line!). In the end, after first leaving a banknote for the cab driver who has put him up for the night, and then retracting it, he walks off. To where? Who knows. But he leaves us with this:

I don’t know why I told this story. I could just as well have told another.

Genius. It’s a story about why we tell stories. That line might as well be straight from Continue reading

World Book Night Giveaway & Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

There’s something about Brodie! She is perhaps one of the most complex literary characters that I have come across; she is neither likeable (her admiration of Hitler and Mussolini assures this) nor unlikeable, both heroine and villain, controlling, and “held in great suspicion”. But she is also a woman celebrating her “prime”; she’s enchanting, glamorous, obsessed with romantic love and yet aware that “the age of chivalry is past”. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life”, says Brodie early on in the novel. It is this far-reaching and manipulative influence on her selected pupils, the Brodie set, the ‘creme de la creme’, which forms the basis for the story.

Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie focuses on schoolmistress Jean Brodie and her Brodie set: Monica Douglas, “famous mostly for mathematics… and for her anger”; Rose Stanley, “famous for sex”; Eunice Gardiner, “famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamorous swimming”; Sandy Stranger, “notorious for her small, almost non-existent, eyes, but she was famous for her vowel sounds”; Jenny Gray, the “most graceful girl of the set”; and Mary Macgregor, “whose fame rested on her being a silent lump, a nobody whom everybody could blame”. World Boko Night

Admittedly, I didn’t fall in love with any of these characters, yet they all enthralled me. Their comic naivety is their redeeming feature (“Mr Lloyd had a baby last week. He must have committed sex with his wife.”), but they become increasingly more selfish, shrewd and cliquey under the tutelage of Miss Jean Brodie at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Continue reading