Category Archives: Novels

I Love You Leo A

leo

I Love You Leo A
By Rosa Aneiros
Small Stations Press

     And stay close to groups of women unless you want to spend the whole journey being          ogled like a piece of merchandise! Discretion has never been their strong point!

Part travelogue, part resolute reflection on the human condition, I Love You Leo A is a harmless and enjoyable enough read; but once you’ve reached the end, that’s essentially it. You’ve reached the end.

There’s no literary after thought. Nothing that fundamentally lingers in the mind. Nothing that compels one to re-visit the varying travels and thoughts our protagonist Leo has embarked on; which is okay, although I personally rather enjoy being touched or moved by what I’ve just read.

To be sure, the two main things I came away with having read these 263 pages, was: who was responsible for daubing ”I love You Leo A” on the various walls and flyovers amid Leo’s travels, and, perhaps more interestingly, a brave and altogether vivid portrayal of Istanbul towards the latter part of the book:

”This is the real Istanbul. The Istanbul of contradictions. A combination, sometimes tense, sometimes so natural it’s strange, of modern and ancient. Decadence and technology meet and sometimes give way to conflict[…]. They can’t help feeling nostalgic for their sultans and their leadership of the Eastern Mediterranean, and yet they want to be a real bridge between Asia and Europe. Tradition weighs down too heavily for them to advance, and yet they don’t want to do away with their own history and customs so they can be accepted as another group of Europeans.”

Having lived in a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood of Berlin, I can honestly vouch that all of the above is resoundingly true. Turks do not ”want to do away with their own history and customs.” As such – well in Berlin at least – they’re absolutely not ”accepted as another group of Europeans.”

That said, what truly jumped out of this book, was authoress, Rosa Aneiros, coming totally clean with the following (with regards to Istanbul): ”The black market is too lucrative a business for policemen and officials to pass up. Blackmail and corruption are an everyday occurrence.”

So there you have it: only read this book if you (really) want to know what makes Istanbul tick. Other than that, you’ll probably find I Love You Leo A somewhat forgettable.

David Marx

 

Advertisements

Treason’s Spring

wilton

Treason’s Spring
By Robert Wilton
Corvus/Atlantic £18.99

The Place du Carrousel is a pool of mud, swirled with the shit of horses and dogs and humans under thousands of feet, as they shift and try to shuffle forwards. Towards the centre of the square the bodies are packed tight. Hands clench and un-clench in reaction to the spectacle, clutch at arms, hover over mouths as if to stifle vomit or a scream, grope, or reach for a pocket. The faces bob and strain for the view, exultant – and alarmed by what their exultation has conjured. There’s only a memory of light in the evening sky, and the windows of the buildings around the square twinkle orange in the blaze of the torches.

                                                                                                             (Prologue)

It’s interesting to think that the former advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo in the lead up to the country’s inevitable independence, Robert Wilton, could and would, feel compelled to write such a fine, literary historical narrative as Treason’s Spring.

Suave, smart and in a way, enchantingly beguiling, these 404 pages regale a time in French/European history that is as seemingly fraught with just as much horror as it is political turmoil.

As such, some might ask: so what’s changed?

All I can say is, read this book for yourself; as in so doing, you might well stumble upon something of an (un)surprising answer.

Reason being, this occasionally thrilling, albeit meticulous panorama of Paris during the French Revolution, will take one a learned and most informed journey – not exactly a hundred miles removed from that of the likes of Hilary Mantel and perhaps Bernard Cornwell.

David Marx

A Glasgow Trilogy

a-glasgow-trilogy-ebook-cover-9781847675002.600x0

A Glasgow Trilogy
By George Friel
Canongate – £18.00

‘I’m their referee. They rely on me for to see justice done. I’m the lawman. I’m the judge. Cause I stand above it so I can see it. Boys are like Jews, they’re different from the people round about them. And where would the Jews have been if they hadn’t had Moses to give them the Law?’
‘Ach!’ his mother derided him. ‘Playing we’ a lot o’ weans and ye call yourself Moses!’
‘They’re not weans,’ he shouted. ‘They’re innocent children. And Christ has said unless ye become as little children ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’
‘Oh, it’s Christ now, is it? Cried his baffled mother. ‘You’d gar anybody grue so you would the way you talk. Moses! Christ!’
She returned to the dishes in the basin in the sink.

                                                                   (The Boy Who Wanted Peace)

With a poignant procrastination from the premise of social induced turmoil, loneliness, nigh Dickensian living standards, unemployment and occasional religiosity, A Glasgow Trilogy is without any shadow of a doubt, an acute reflection of today’s (increasingly broken) Britain.

Set amid the tenements of Glasgow, the language is as loose as it is tough as it is inviting for all the right reasons – the quintessential one being: it tells the truth.

What’s more, it tells the truth without having to resort to the usual array of glamorized drug schtick appeal, sticky sex, or that of knee to the bollocks violence; uber liberal qualities of which are so often the case within the parameters of this genre of writing.

That’s not to say it’s only, purportedly reminiscent of Irvine Welsh – who readily subscribes to all of the above – although, as the opening quote does show, there is a fair bit of slightly perplexing Glaswegian patois, cunningly placed amid these three novels (The Boy Who Wanted Peace, Grace and Miss Partridge and Mr Alfred M.A.). Added no doubt, for grit infused, atmospheric sentiment.

Other than his sparkling wit and very evident compassion, what I particularly like about George Friel’s writing, is his most astute and assured way of interweaving social tragedy with comedy.

As such is most evident throughout the second novel, Grace and Miss Partridge, wherein the author takes us on a seemingly understated, albeit roller-coaster ride of literal, dour drama. The likes of which, were it not ever so (occasionally) pleasingly comedic, many might consider harks back to the likes of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Nell Dunn’s Up The Junction: ”[…] he was so busy talking trivia non-stop in his eagerness to keep her spirits up he never let her get a word in edgeways. If she could only have got him to listen, a confession of her love would have done her a lot more good than listening to him. For all his anxiety to help, Tommy was no use to her. She carried her absurd secret as a burden God had put on her for her salvation and found strength in silence. Yet still she longed to tell her love, love that never should be told. And to whom better than her beloved? […]. Grace had no complaints. She certainly scoffed at once most of the chips from the fish supper and made a spirited assault thereafter on the cakes and biscuits, but she had little conversation. And Shelley, who was meant to provide talk by his running commentary on the party in particular and life in general, was as silent as the backcourt after midnight. The great occasion lacked the atmosphere Miss Partridge had expected it to have; there was no intimacy, no communion, no tender preparation for her confession of love, only a wee girl eating bravely and a bird in his cage snuffling and sniffing, gasping and wheezing, watching them with a melancholy eye, bowing his head to peck at his breast, shivering and flapping to no purpose.”

That’s right, Shelley (as in the great poet) might well be a parrot, but said parrot plays host to a high-octane, highly organised confession in the making.
Or should I say breaking?

That a parrot could be deemed to be ”watching with a melancholy eye, bowing his head to peck at his breast, shivering and flapping to no purpose;” is either bordering on razor-sharp madness or genius.

Either way, it doesn’t really make too much difference, because as a writer, George Friel is as organic and original a writer as fundamental hip morality will surely allow.

Of which A Glasgow Trilogy is a compassionate testament.

David Marx

His Excellency

carlos

His Excellency
By Carlos Casares
Small Stations Press –

So far as novels go – which I admittedly don’t read that many of – one has to essentially relate to what’s being said. And of course, how it’s being said, which in far too many instances, is a near miss. The mind invariably wanders, the words don’t add up, and before you know it, there’s no connection.

I unfortunately found this being the case with Carlos Casares’ His Excellency; a book where religiosity and the semi-suppression of ”the new newfangled cinematograph to the city of Ourense” are the prime subjects of a rather dense and occasionally dark story of foreboding.

With the exception of a couple of intrinsically interesting lines:

”Passing in front of a bakery, the smell of octopus pasties reminded him of the tragedy of a faraway appetite which still hadn’t come back […].”
”The editor’s words flew around in front of his eyes like monstrous, headless birds.”

And the altogether delightful, following description:

”His Excellency’s laugh began under his breath as a prayer. Then he remained stuck in breathless respiration for a few moments, and finally exploded like a rowdy line of cannons. He had to hold his stomach with his hands, to throw back his head, and wasn’t at ease until a flood of sobs and tears dragged out a dark and murky river of many days, possibly of many years.”

I have to admit to this short novel having passed me by without having made much of an impression. Upon reflection, (perhaps) not so much the story being told, but rather, the way in which it’s being told.

Can’t win ’em all…

David Marx

Brother of the Wind

brother

Brother of the Wind
By Manuel Lourenzo Gonzalez
Small Stations Press 

[…] because now I must live out my existence with the shame of belonging to a civilisation and a country whose political representatives were capable of declaring a war of plunder to be just so they could continue to make the high costs of their  rhythm of life fall on the misery of others.

Equally powerful and poignant, Brother of the Wind is unremittingly charming; as if plucked from a long-forgotten well of all too good intentions. It’s a story of unbelievably, inspired bravery; set within the fraught and uncertain parameters of the initial Gulf War of 1991.

As succinctly regaled by a young teenage boy by the name of Khaled, these 172 pages are a shimmering combination of grit’n’guts and power’n’poetry. Each one follows on from the other in such a way that profound literature was always meant to be – but very rarely is.

As such, within the turning of the pages, one is quintessentially reminded of what was like to have once been young. And innocent. And in love.

And in love…
Now wasn’t that/isn’t that something to truly behold?
The sort of love that simply transcends; whether it’s love for one’s father, love for one’s partner, or indeed, love one’s country. All three of which are wonderfully combined and traversed herein:

Take me to the warmth of my beloved,
take me to my new home in the forest,
where everything can start again,
take me to where the wounds of the past heal
but don’t disappear

A wonderful eye-opener of a book that I absolutely cannot recommend highly enough.

David Marx

The Potato Eaters

rivas

The Potato Eaters
By Manuel Rivas
Small Stations Press – £7.99

When did her teeth start falling out? Has she always had the inklings of a moustache?

Having read most of Manuel Rivas’ books, I still have to say, if not fully maintain, that the brilliant Books Burn Badly is still my favourite. That’s not to say his books published since (The Low Voices, One Million Cows, From Unknown to Unknown) do not make for intrinsically interesting and occasionally captivating reading.

They absolutely do and The Potato Eaters is no exception.

From the opening gambit that evolves around drug addiction with a sense of humour – in which the protagonist is more than attracted to what sounds like a well-stacked nurse by the name of Miss Cowbutt (great name, somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Izzard’s Mrs Badcrumble) – the reader instinctively knows s/he is in for a quintessentially robust ride of a journey. The sort of which, one has come to expect from Rivas, of which the opening quote above is a most pristine example.

From a short piece simply entitled ‘The Umbrella,’ it is preceded by the altogether hooky, kooky summerisation of an endemically bonkers game show: ”Recordman today, it has been announced, is going to be more intellectual. It’s a question of using your head. The contestants, a couple of men who look like primates in their Sunday best, have to knock down a wall of breeze blocks with their heads. The first one to do so will get a million. The gong goes, and they all rush to the wall. From the initial impact, one them, the one who looked most hard-headed, falls flat on his face and is looked after by two recordwomen, who today are wearing tight, discreet dresses, though they do have a hole right over their nipples, The audience claps. Unbelievable! This is great.”

Indeed!

Blankety Blank it most clearly isn’t – which is what essentially accounts for The Potato Eaters being the sort of book it (most provocatively) is: witty, satirical, and like a lot of the Galician author’s writing, prone to going off on totally terrific tangents.

David Marx

Berlin Cantata

Berlin-Cantata-649x1024

Berlin Cantata
By Jeffrey Lewis
Haus Publishing – £12.99

We were up late that night in the inn, quietly with the lights out. Holly couldn’t sleep. Se felt, she said, like a stranger to herself. ”It started sometime in the carols. I though: listen, they singing to me with Christian love? Is this the reality Jews are blind to, that could convert a soul on the spot? I must be weak, I thought. I hear the lovely voices of children, and then.. all I could hear was a lot of my own voice, like static. Telling me to listen. All these words. The music! I wanted to live in the music. But just then I couldn’t.

Initially attracted by the book’s title, these 240 pages are a rather cyclonic read, which, to all intents and inherently jarring purposes, is intense and simultaneously intriguing.

Indeed, throughout, Berlin Cantata, Jeffrey Lewis bequeaths the reader with quite a bit to think about as well as dissect – by way of an array of heterogeneous voices. All of whom are fundamentally fraught and forthright in their own way. All of whom appear haunted by history; which partially explains their search for acute (subliminal) redemption.

For instance, Holly Anholt: ”Everything was stacked high as if you were getting something wholesale, empty suitcases, pairs of shoes, Zyklon B cans, hair. Now there would be a punishment, a just retribution, to have to spend your life counting up every single hair, and if you make one mistake, if you miss one hair, you have to start over. I thought such things. I was alone. And this too: if work can’t make you free, what can? Only God’s grace? Only love? Only luck? (‘Journey’).

There is so much psychologically gruesome information packed into the above few lines, it’s hard knowing where to begin, where to start assimilating. Let alone come to terms with.

It is this veritable coming to terms with which keeps the reader going, yet somewhat vexed. Curious, yet simultaneously perplexed – in an altogether good way might I add.

As the author of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-eyed Stranger, Lee Smith, has since said: ”Jeffrey Lewis has written a stunning novel, as deep and intriguing as the city itself. The varied cast of characters tell their own stories as they wind their tortured and tortuous way through the dark past toward some kind of understanding, if not atonement.”

David Marx