Category Archives: Novels

The Changeling

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The Changeling
By Victor Lavalle
Canongate – £8.99

Lee Harper’s To Kill A Mockingbird is referred to on a number of occasions throughout this book, perhaps, as if to assemble some sort of connection – regardless of how tenuous. But where Harper’s characters seemed so effortlessly believable and easy to relate to, Victor Lavalle’s appear a little disjointed

To be sure, most of The Changeling’s characters, although relatively convincing on occasion, come across as having to try too hard. Even the name of the prime protagonist, Apollo Kagwa, sounds kind of…well, just wrong.

And the fact that the name is itself, regularly mentioned just a little too often, becomes a little jarring after a while: ”[…] Apollo placed the copy of To Kill A Mockingbird inside. What better place for a find like that than in a magic box? Apollo closed the lid, climbed back up on the footstool, and hid Improbabilia inside.”

Were the character(s) hinted at, or referred to just little more (rather than being constantly pronounced) would have wholeheartedly added to the whole reading experience. If not enjoyment.

Furthermore, having already mentioned the fact that the characters in this book come across as being disjointed, isn’t in any way helped by the fact that The Changeling is inexorably broken up and numbered – no less than every three or four pages.
Thus amounting to one hundred and three sections!
What on earth is all that about?

This may well be ”an epic novel for our anxiety-ridden times,” but unlike the Harper classic, it is severely lacking in both humility and continuity.

David Marx

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That’s How Whales Are Born

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That’s How Whales Are Born
By Anxos Sumai
Small Stations Press – £8.99

[…] precisely because she didn’t hit me, I cried on account of the tenderness I felt, and the tears rolled down my cheeks like streams of caustic soda. They hurt. They hurt and left marks I am still able to see and feel when I look at myself in a mirror or when I place my fingertips, all ten of them, on my face.

That’s How Whales Are Born is a book of such immense depth and literary persuasion, such beauty of life’s veritable clarification; it’s a wonder how authoress Anxos Sumai reached its shimmering and most thought provoking end. Just one of the many reasons being that from the very opening page, one instinctively knows one is in for a roller-coaster ride of the most implicit, yet exquisite emotion:

”Mother looks elated in these photographs, with a bright smile and a joyful look in her eye. Father, handsome but serious, seems distant, aware of something that was not actually taking place at that moment. I think I remember the day when Mother tore up the rest of the photos. I was still very young and lacked the exact words to ask her why she was ripping herself up like that. I was also unable to intuit the meaning of the wrath and misery they held for her.”

Without wanting to give too much away, these 272 pages traipse the exceedingly thin line betwixt familial loyalty (which in this case, just happens to be laced with a profound sadness), and that of the need to follow ones’ own, resolute path of independence.

In other words, a tough dilemma; but, which in the most delicate words of Sumai, ends up bequeathing some sort of inspired beauty – where in truth, only struggle ought to surely prevail:

”She knew too well the sounds of her son’s most intimate ceremony, and knew it barely lasted a minute. She recalled that when Ramon was younger, he’d thought to do it in front of Natalia, who screamed, outraged, that the boy was a damned ape in heat. Immaculate, exquisite, and elegant, Natalia didn’t consider Ramon a human being. At most he was a baby in a man’s body, and babies were asexual beings to her. Sexless angels, innocent souls dancing in limbo like dust motes cavorting in a sunbeam. Mother had to teach him that satisfying desire was a personal thing […]. She even allowed him – on more than one occasion – to lie beside her and touch her. But that was an unutterable secret, something that tormented her every time it happened […].”

I’m hard pressed to think of a recent novel so emotionally fraught with anywhere near as much subliminal hubris, combined with harrowing heartbreak. As such, That’s How Whales Are Born is unquestionably up there with the likes of Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things. No mean feat.

David Marx

I Love You Leo A

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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

 

Treason’s Spring

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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

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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

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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

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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