David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

Well, that wouldn’t get through the slush pile, would it?

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2018 at 6:05 pm

Julian Barnes’ review in The Guardian of William Trevor’s final collection really inspires me to get it now and read it, despite the toppling pile of books my puritan-self (who the hell is that? I’ll fight him!) says I have to read before I can buy any more. Here I steal, not from the stories of course, which I have not read, but from the review, which I have:

There are also slippages of identity and function to be endured.

And there are doubts and ambiguities at every turn.

Trevor’s fiction is full of precise evasions – and evasive precisions.

And:

But it is the reader’s pity too, as we go back over her story and better understand …

Hmmm…

Trevor does not make a point of being demanding or obscure; but he is very subtle.

This relates to an incident whose significance escaped me for two readings.

Mr Trevor certainly was not writing for any slush pile! Thank goodness. And how generous a reader is Mr Barnes.

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The Passage

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2018 at 5:46 pm

Justin Cronin’s The Passage was an excellent book. You should definitely read it. A great thrilling scary read, one of my favourite vampire books, which means one of my favourite books.

Never had I looked forward to a sequel more. My excitement increased when I picked up a more recent paperback edition, with a special preview of the The Twelve. Woo-hoo, the sniper we were briefly introduced to in The Passage has his story told – shooting vampires, escaping soldiers, a nightmare journey through an underground car park. This is great, I thought, just like the fat guy in Animal House before the horse dies. Oh, but it wasn’t. It was shit, except for bits, and boring, and annoying. And then came The City of Mirrors, which was also shit, except for bits. (And part of that shit was that after having been teased about the role of Australia in the future, only to find out everyone died and Australia was colonised by Americans who lost their knowledge of everything but still had the University of NSW – I may be slightly wrong on the detail, my copy is in another continent.) Two fat shit books that I have probably read more than many good skinny books, I think because I kept telling myself I must have remembered wrong, they cannot be that bad, BUT THEY WERE. So you should definitely read The Passage, and then mourn the fact that Justin Cronin made so much money from it that he never bothered to write the sequels.

Any way,  so much for 8 year old books.

So, we live in a golden age of television. Its a fact, I should know, I watch enough. You know, all the shows, with their modern approaches to story telling, their realistic setting, their ARTFULNESS. And in this modern age, someone makes this …

As I said, shit. They took the good book and made a crappy cheap looking generic … well, ok its just a trailer, but why is it so clean, and where is the darkness, and the monsters, and the ATMOSPHERE? Has nobody learned anything? And is it just me, or are they actually remaking I Am Legend? – the Will Smith thing, not the excellent book, which again, is one of my favourite vampire books. Where is the creepiness? What, no murdered nuns? No Virals ripping cities apart? Oh, go to buggery …

I enjoyed this book so, so much!

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2018 at 2:31 pm

Heart on my sleeve when it comes to this book review …

Just read this on Tor.com, and I get it completely:

Lately, it’s really difficult to be enthusiastic about books. Perhaps I’ve read too many of them. Perhaps—though less likely—I haven’t read enough, and if I read a few more, the enthusiasm will come back.

I have been like this numerous times in my reading life, reading in all sorts of genres (including that genre called literary fiction). My mate Stephen and I would swap books and lists of writers, trying to find that special something that makes that great experience known as reading, exceptional.

The recommendation I am about to give originally came, I think, from my wife’s octogenarian uncle, who never leads me astray. Still, I do not trust enough. It starts in the First World War, and I have read so many so serious so earnest books about the Great War.

But dear friend, how fortunate that I did doubt, for a pleasure deferred is a … something. Of course, you could say that about anything, but then, how much pleasure is left to me? I may never enjoy another book.

Now I worry that you have read it already, and after this build up, that you will be cross with me. It is no obscure tome I refer to, it is a prize winner and something of a best seller.

“The Great Swindle” (Au revoir la-haut) by Pierre Lemaitre was a pure delight. It grabbed me and dragged me in, and I was off on an adventure that I did not want to finish. I cared about everybody so much, and the trick is, the novel made me think that this came from some quality of my own, some inner sympathy indicative of my nature as a sensitive being, when of course, it is a result of pure craft.

There is no hiding the horror of the Great War, it is simply that the horror is not unrelieved. But then, even when it is relieved, when it is covered to protect us, the mask (and I use the term deliberately) is always ready to fall, to remind us of the horrors within us all, we who are used to our flesh covering up all sorts of monstrosities. The plumage is extravagant indeed, as wondrous as that of any peacock, a pleasure to behold.

I worried for these characters, I urged them on in their cynical exploits. I wanted them to succeed at

Lemaitre makes it all personal. When a character dies, we die with them, we are taken to the point of final darkness. We are shown that no act of heroism goes unpunished. We go into the hell of the battlefield, we descend into the grave, we are there with individuals and their own personal wounds, each suffering in their own way. Only after that are we taken on a tour that lasts the whole book of the industrial nature of the war, the huge machine that swallows men and lives and chews them up. A machine designed to produce a crop – corpses – that need transplanting. And if reading my words you think too dark, too dark, then I have failed, because of course it is, but it is also very, very funny. The extravagance is wonderful. There are plots and escapades and villains and at least one genuine (if stinking and misanthropic) hero, and lots of failures. The tension experienced by one of our main protagonists made me put the book down for a while, only to pick it up again almost instantly, because I needed to know what happened next. The great relief I felt at his small pleasures, the little release he found in his life of scurrying and caring and keeping just ahead of the … not wolves, but sabre toothed tigers at his door.

If you want to read a proper review, look here, and also here. I like how the reviewers pick up on M. Lemaitre’s experience as a crime writer, and his use of pace and craft and great readable works of the 19th century. I also like very much that M. Lemaitre’s first novel was published when he was 55 – he spent his life teaching and sharing his love of literature, and then went on to do another thing, something that he is good at and loves. (Great news for those of us terrified by a line from Stephen King, “And of course I’d lie to myself, telling myself there was still time, it wasn’t too late, there were novelists who didn’t get started until they were fifty, hell, even sixty”.)

Dear reader, I am at rubbish at reviews. But perhaps a little of my enthusiasm for this book comes through, and perhaps you will trust me more than I trusted Uncle Terry (with far less reason, I add and admit immediately). I can only hope and pray, for I had a wonderful time.

My joy only rose when I found (hinted at late in the book) that there are two volumes to follow, perhaps with none of the main characters, but if they are full of the same spirit and demonstrate such ability with craft, then dear reader, I am in. A film is now in release, but I shall wait a little while before seeing it. Of course a film cannot convey the main sense of the novel – smell; no, stench. And if you think a book cannot convey it either, you are very wrong.

Read it for sex, and not the other thing

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2017 at 12:16 am

There’s sex and too much religion. This one is hard to judge as it’s hard to “get”.

Thank you ABC Australia for your ever so incisive assessment of Emily Fridlund’s “History of Wolves”*. There’s “sex”, is there? That’s unusual. Some “sex” in a modern novel, hmmm. But not too much, apparently. Nor not enough. Just “sex”. Unlike “religion”. What are some of those things we might look for in literary fiction? Taking us out of our comfort zone? Showing us lives that are not ours, and different world views too? Some challenge? Perhaps not.

Haven’t read the book, so I suppose I should not comment. I might read it now, though. Just for “sex”, mind you – the exact right amount.

*Full disclosure – I lie. I am terribly unfair. I admit it. The piece is an assessment of chances of winning the Booker, it is not a book review. And it concludes its comments on this novel with “it has all the edges that suggest it’s worth tussling with”. So my remarks regarding “comfort zone” and “challenge” are dishonest. Very. Despite the fact that I had a good breakfast. Bad dog, David. Does it make it all ok if I confess down here in the fine print? Does it matter that the fine print is longer than the not so fine print? Perhaps I should just say nothing. Still though – language and all that. (How’s that for a sentence?) It struck a nerve of incongruity with me, especially compared to the assessments of the other shortlisted books, and the concluding sentence has a taste of “I might be wrong, and what if it wins?”. 

 

G is for gore

In Uncategorized on February 14, 2016 at 9:02 am

“the gory horror of … David Stevens” Hey, that’s me!