Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 6

A summary of my latest attempts to actually read the things before the Lost Book Library goes on its Christmas break.

Alton Douglas's Celebrity Recipes

Status: Flicked

Obviously, I'm not going to read a recipe book all the way through.  I'm not a mental.  I will, however, be shortly beginning a spin-off blog where I cook each of the recipes and rate them for tastiness, nutritional value and aroma.




The Landsbird by Colin Dunne

Status: Completed

This is exactly the sort of book the Lost Book Library exists for, even though it nearly didn't make it in due to its truly dreadful cover, and only a recommendation from the Nivenator himself saved it.  Too much of a soapy melodrama to be 'literary', too loaded with a vivid sense social reality to be a straight romance, this tale of doomed love between a couple brought together, and driven apart by the Sexual Revolution's slow crawl into England's remote areas falls between the cracks beautifully.  Although featuring such seventies stock characters as the businessman with the mistress in the city, and the nagging housewife, as well as those Lost Book Library stalwarts, the troublesome bikers, it also has a fantastic realness to it when it's attention turns to the fishing folk whose livelihoods are slowly, inexorably winding down to nothing.  There are some plot twists towards the end which are so unexpected, bizarre and problematic my brain refuses to process them, but overall, a very enjoyable and surprising read.

A New History of Torments by Zulfikar Ghose

Status: Abandoned, p. 99

This novel from B.S. Johnson's former writing partner comes with the most impressive list of recommenders - John Fowles, Edna O'Brien, Michael Moorcock, and it is indeed sporadically dazzling, with characters being flung on their own individual adventures in a manner that is positively Tarantino-esque.  It is also, unfortunately, irredeemably silly.  Beginning with a wealthy middle-aged man's affair with a younger woman (as all novels set in Latin America are - no exceptions), its attention soon turns to his children, who have very short memories, and think nothing of doing things like spending several days on a stranger's farm in order to see if there are any agricultural techniques they can apply to their own business, in spite of the fact their sibling has mysteriously disappeared after being knocked unconscious in a car crash.  I suppose this might be some magical realist device, but I couldn't be bothered with it, and after three characters in a row experienced such amnesia, I gave up, annoyed at such a potentially brilliant novel being capsized in this manner.

A True Romance by Jacky Gillott

Status: Abandoned, p. 19

A story about a romance writer getting over her mother's death that was simply too dreary to bother with, but as promised, here is another shot of the amazing fur-and-knitwear combo featured on the cover.


Kick Turn by Anthony Glyn

Status: Completed

This coming-of-age tale from the early sixties turned out to be an unexpected delight.  A young man is torn between following in the footsteps of his pretentious uncle into the fruit import trade or returning to the bosom of the family of his godfather, a truly terrifying bunch of outdoorsy religious nuts.  Along the way, he is irritated to have to stop listening to opera in order to lose his virginity to an older woman, and meets a free spirit who shows him a possible way out of his dilemma.  As ever in the Lost Book Library, the ending is a mess, and fan though I am of rambling, near-plotless post-war novels, the elements aren't ever set in motion in the way they should, and so a potential lost classic is instead an enjoyable curio.  Still, well a worth a read.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Dangler

Title: Dangler

Author: Charles Gaines

Year of publication: 1980

Inner cover blurb: 'In Dangler Charles Gaines has created a character as emblematic of America as Jay Gatsby.  On one level is is a carefully orchestrated - and often extremely funny - novel of manners and a cautionary tale of the dangers of male pride.  On another it is a superbly gripping adventure.
   A wealthy, boundlessly energetic autocrat who is unable to resist the most demanding tests of his physique and his courage, Kenneth Dangler builds a luxurious sporting centre in the wilderness of northern New Hampshire, through which he hopes to revive the lost spirit of frontier America in an age of cultural and physical decadence.  To the accompaniment of gourmet meals and daily stock exchange quotations, his clients pay exorbitant fees to take part in realistically staged outdoor adventures - shooting fearsome rapids in canoes mounted on rails, or grappling in the woods with a bear whose claws have been conveniently drawn.
   Dangler's effect on people is hypnotic.  His patrons are mesmerized by his enthusiasm, and flattered by his attentions.  His beautiful wife, Erica, has a craving for the dramatic and the terrifying, and together the Danglers form a magnificent, troubling image of all-American confidence and recklessness.
   As Dangler's obsession with the camp grows and his visions take shape, the simulated adventures become frighteningly real.  Play escalates into reality, until finally he leads his group into a climactic confrontation - a final test of manhood he has willed himself to face.'

Quick flick reveals: Cross between the Great American Novel and Westworld, as written by the inventor of Paintball (true fact).

Random paragraph: '"Have to see a fella about a dog," said Bigelow after another silence.  "You guys want to join me?  It's a beautiful night out there, and there won't be mnay more when we can walk outside together and take a leak."'

Purchase

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A Chemical Romance

Title: A Chemical Romance

Author: Jenny Fabian

Year of publication: 1971, Corgi edition 1973

Back cover blurb: '"I think Jenny Fabian should be taken for what she is - a very clever girl who can actually write quite clever books about rather self-indulgent young people.  I hope this book is very successful.  I hope it shocks lots of people and sets the whole of the middle classes revolving in their tasteful graves."
   Jilly Cooper

"Fabian's portraits are lightning silhouettes cut by a master with a very sharp pair of scissors... everything is captured accurately in the black comedic outline."
   Time Out

"The new book is as revolting as the last one.  I didn't get beyond the first three pages but that probably means it's bound to be a best-seller."
   Over 21

"It permits a look into a world most of us don't know and feel secretly fascinated and horrified by.  We enjoy, through Jenny, illicit pleasure we would not dare enjoy ourselves."
   Liverpool Daily Post'

Quick flick reveals: Fabian is renowned for her first novel Groupie, a work that will always draw attention to itself as one of the characters is clearly based on Syd Barrett and offers a fictionalised, informed account of his breakdown.  Less well known are Fabian's follow-up novels.  I suspect this one might be a bit about taking drugs.  And sex with rock stars.

Random paragraph: '"I can't stand chicks with smelly cunts", he continued, "too many chicks have smelly cunts.  I like to go down on a chick, but I've got a very sensitive nose and can't stand the slightest odour.  You'd be surprised how many chicks have smelly cunts."'


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Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Actress

Title: The Actress

Author: Henry Denker

Year of publication: 1978, WH Allen edition 1979

Inner cover blurb: Henry Denkler, author of The Physicians, The Experiment and The Scofield Diagnosis, has now written a new and irresistibly exciting novel, The Actress.

The actress is Kit Lawrence - one of the most talented stars the theatre has known.  She is beautiful, sensitive and possesses a magnetism and sexuality which drive men crazy.  But she is a patient in an expensive psychiatric hospital having suffered a mental breakdown after several suicide attempts and a self-inflicted abortion.  Kit, we learn, is the victim of an unhappy childhood and she is crying out for help.

The Actress is a gripping psychological drama of the attempt to bring Kit back to life by starring her in a play about her own life and problems - a play that will allow her to act out the innermost secrets and passions that have driven her to the brink of madness.  Rehearsals are going well, and Kit's performance is going to be brilliant, but why is she unable and unwilling to act out the last scene?

As the tension mounts, the reader will become absorbed in the characters as a real-life drama is acted out on-stage.  The ending is bound to touch the heart, too, as Henry Denkler skilfully portrays one woman's struggle to overcome emotional strife.

Quick flick reveals: Some serious melodramatic shlock.  There's a very particular craziness you get from male authors writing primarily for the women's fiction market, and this book looks like it has it in spades.

Random paragraph: 'Winging that whole scene, from the moment we caught her bare-breasted.  Covering up only when she saw me.  Making up so beautifully just to walk back to the hotel and go to bed alone.  If that's sick, I'd like to be sick."'

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Saturday, 10 November 2012

Man In White

Title: Man In White

Author: Johnny Cash

Year of publication: 1986, Hodder and Staughton edition 1987

Back cover blurb: 'Once notorious for his wild living and then his dependence on drugs as he tried to cope with his rise to fame in the American music scene, Johnny Cash, the 'Man in Black', discovered he was persecuting his own body.
   Saul the Pharisee, expert in Jewish Law and bitter opponent of the 'followers of the Nazarene' discovered he was persecuting the body of Christ when he met the 'Man in White' on the Damascus Road.
  Cash sees himself mirrored in the apostle Paul: when he came off drugs, 'it was like a new birth, a new lease of life.  My mind was renewed... I was transformed and identified with the Apostle.'
   A decade's research into ancient Judaism and the New Testament resulted in this powerful novel - a testimony to Christ's changing power in St. Paul, and in Cash himself.'

Quick flick reveals: A novel by Cash is an exciting prospect, but this very much comes from the Bible-bashing, Holy Land-visiting, Billy Graham rally-attending side of the man that fans tend to keep quiet about.  Like Cash's lyrics, the prose is stripped down and to-the-point.  Just hoping it's closer to I Walk the Line than it is to Chicken in Black.

Random paragraph: 'He moved among the people with a loving, gentle grace.  He was followed by many little children, some of whom pulled at his robe.  He reached down and, smiling, picked up a boy in one arm and a girl in the other.  He held them close against his face, rubbing his coarse beard against them and leaving them laughing with merriment.'


Purchase

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Punish Me With Kisses

Title: Punish Me With Kisses

Author: William Bayer

Year of publication: 1980, Severn House edition 1981

Inner cover blurb: '"Someone rushed from the poolhouse, then paused just in front.  Penny blinked and in that moment the figure disappeared into the shadows of the trees..."
   For Penny Berring that was also the moment that would change her life forever.  Obsessed by Suzie, her elder sister by three years, by Suzie's beauty and by her flamboyant sexuality, she had been an envious onlooker on her sister's insatiable love-life.  Now suddenly all that was over, for Suzie had gone - murdered, almost certainly by that dimly-seen figure at the pool side.
   But who had that been?  Who was the killer?  Jared Evans, dark-haired, sensitive, loved by Penny and by Suzie?  The dour gardener, Tucker, whose shears had been the instrument of death?  Or... someone else?
   As the novel draws us closer and closer to the truth, so it develops an increasingly profound insight into Penny's mind.  Fascinated, we watch her delve further into the mystery of her sister's death to find the murderer.  In doing so, she encounters a multitude of unsavoury scandals involving herself, her parents and her boyfriend.  Penny appears to crack under the strain, and seeks comfort from a sinister psychiatrist with a passion for cats.
   William Bayer's is an astonishing achievement - at one level dazzling entertainment, at another an illumination of the darker places of the soul.  A major success in the USA, this novel is stimulating and passionate.  Its descriptions of New York and its life are vivid and exciting; its conclusions eye-opening and convincing.'

Quick flick reveals: You had me at 'sinister psychiatrist with a passion for cats'.

Random paragraph: 'After Penny read this passage she felt filled with sadness and shame.  There were many pages like it, tales of orgies and self-debasements, scornful references to inadequate lovers, shrieks of discontent.  The diary upset her, but not because of sex.  It was the pathos of it, Suzie's misery, that filled with despair.'


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Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Killing Gift

Title: The Killing Gift

Author: Bari Wood

Year of publication: 1975, Heinemann edition 1976

Inner cover blurb: 'This is more than a novel about a lonely woman with a deadly power who becomes the quarry of an obsessed detective.  It is more than a gripping psychic suspense story that holds the reader right down to the last sentence.  THE KILLING GIFT reaches into one of the most telling areas of the subconscious: the core of violence and aggression in all of us.  It explores the question that sooner or later most civilized people ask themselves: What would I do if I had the power to kill just by thinking about it?
   A man dies violently.  Stavitsky, the police chief in charge of the investigation, finds himself face to face with a real mystery - an 'impossible' killing.  All the evidence points to the quietly withdrawn research physician Dr Jennifer List Gilbert, yet how could this fragile woman kill a heavily armed man without leaving a mark on his body?
   Stavitsky pursues Jennifer, his initial curiosity turning into an obsession.  Nothing can stop him from finding out everything he can about her.  And everything he uncovers deepens his confusion.  Jennifer has almost no friends.  Although she is married her husband seems remote, and despite her vast wealth, she lives modestly - somehow unreached and unreachable.  But Stavitsky begins to sense her aloneness, and he finds himself beginning to love this strange woman almost as much as he fears her.  Ultimately Stavitsky's compulsion to unravel her dangerous secret leads to a final confrontation in which hunter and hunted meet as lover-antagonists in a harrowing struggle for survival.  THE KILLING GIFT is a bizarre love story with a unique psychic twist.

Quick flick reveals: An efficient-looking supernatural thriller from the editor of Drug Therapy Magazine.  Answers the questions most civilized people ask themselves about killing someone just by thinking about it.

Random paragraph: 'Kate jumped out of bed and almost ran to Jennifer's room.  She was still asleep, not heavily, but peacefully, her breathing light and easy.  But today in the morning light her face looked ghastly.'


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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 5

Another update on my attempts to actually read these damn things.  Not a bumper crop this time round, unfortunately.

The Fate of Mary Rose by Caroline Blackwood

Status: Completed

Another book that I read before I started the library.  How this book initially pleased, but ultimately failed me has already been documented.





The Girls by John Bowen

Status: Completed

This tale of a lesbian couple who engage in a spot of murder has a number of things in common with The Fate of Mary Rose.  They both are set in a genteel English village.  They both are initially driven by a quiet control that draws the reader in and directs them towards their inexorable conclusion.  And they both dodge their inexorable conclusions at the last minute, and instead deliver piss-poor endings that seem like the author has just given up.  This is a shame, because The Girls was full of nice touches, such as a conversation between the main characters where they debate whether they have been visited by the Greek god Pan or just a bloke on a horse, and a flash-forward where a supporting figure's life after the story's end is documented.  Come on, authors of short, quiet, novels set in genteel English villages written in the mid-eighties with pastel-shaded Modigliani-influenced covers, buck your ideas up!

Prehistoric Germ Warfare by Robin Collyns

Status: Abandoned, p. 40

Author Collyns is convinced that humanity originated in outer space, and absolutely anything appears to him to be proof of this.  What a human hair looks like under a microscope, alleged Bigfoot prints, satsumas, anything.  It all points to his central thesis that we were part of some extraterrestrial genetically-manipulated breeding programme.  I think I read enough to get the gist, and while I could have gone all the way through looking for LULZ, the ultimate point of this blog is not to make fun of bad books (that's what Robin Ince is for), but to dig up good books that have been forgotten.  So I moved on to...

The Searing by John Coyne

Status: Abandoned, p. 59

I was hoping this would turn out to be an enjoyable slice of second division horror, but it wasn't quite good enough to be good, or trashy enough to be trash.  There was a clue that Coyne wasn't exactly pushing the imaginative boat out in the first few pages when an old Indian burial ground makes a menacing appearance.  That and the fact he uses my least favourite phrase in the English language, 'fetal position', over and over again (what's wrong with saying someone's legs are tucked up under their chin?) turned me off.  The story seemed to be firing into all sorts of different directions involving mysterious orgasms and baby killing, none of which interested me greatly, so I bailed.

The Injured Party by Elaine Dundy

Status: Abandoned, p. 122

Dundy hit big with her first novel The Dud Avocado, but this final one is obscure, and in all honesty it's not hard to see why.  It starts off well enough with a screwball comedy feel as two magazine employees attempt to uncover a conspiracy in their own office, but then gets derailed by a bad marriage storyline that feels suspiciously like the author unloading baggage.  By the time I gave up the protagonist was a faux-naive caricature of the person we started off with and it felt like pretty much anything could happen.  Which means, of course, that it didn't matter what did happen.  A case of a good author losing control of their story.

Disappointing, but I have a feeling the next batch will contain some gems, so stay tuned!


Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker

Title: The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker

Author: Charles Webb

Year of publication: 1970, Penguin edition 1972

Back cover blurb: 'The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker is much like other young American marriages.  After eighteen months of it, Lisa leaves Bill during their summer holiday by the sea.  Not that both parties wouldn't like to make their marriage work according to the ideal American formula.  But what is that formula?  If they could only discover why they got together in the first place, they might make a start, though Lisa's sister, Nan, would be determined to foil them...'

Quick flick reveals: I'm not a fan of Webb's The Graduate.  To me it reads like the treatment for a film, which is perhaps why the film based on it is so good.  Having said that, I am more than happy to give this a go because it has Richard Benjamin's face on the cover, and I like looking at Richard Benjamin's face.  Depressingly, in the author biog, written five years after The Graduate movie was a hit, can be found the line 'he is employed as a stockroom help at a department store in California.'  What has a writer got to do to actually make some money round here?

Random paragraphs: '"Would you say I'm not fun to be with?  Would that express it?"
   Lisa nodded.  "That's as close as I could come to expressing it."  She walked past him and into the kitchen.'


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Sunday, 7 October 2012

Seventeen Part One

Title: Seventeen Part One

Author: Soya

Year of publication: 1953, Sphere edition 1969

Back cover blurb: 'Jacob wanted to learn about sex.
   He knew the theory all right but he wanted some practical experience.  Fortunately his attractive cousin, Vibeke, was only too willing to help him end his virginity.
   And once initiated in the mysteries  of sex, Jacob couldn't practice enough.  But Hansigne, the buxom maid, and Miss Rosegod, the housekeeper, were both eager to further the young man's education.
   With a Rabelaisian sense of humour and a wealth of erotic detail, SEVENTEEN describes the sexual awakening of a teenage boy, and his encounters with the women who teach him the delights of love.
   Anneliese Meineche's film SEVENTEEN is one of the most sensational box-office successes ever.  Granted an 'X' certificate by the Greater London Council, the film has been playing in London continuously for over 50 weeks.'

Quick flick reveals: Yet another perfectly sensible novel packaged as borderline porn, as was the fashion at the time.  Soya was an acclaimed Danish writer of the post-war period, although the film version kick-started the Danish sex comedy genre.  Originally published in three parts, part one is is a slim volume.  Why they couldn't have just put all of it in one volume for the English edition, I'm not sure.  I expect the spine would have just about taken it.

Random paragraph: ' Should you tickle the girl under the chin?  Should you put your hands on her cheeks and give her a kiss?  Or should you slide a hand under her dress and try to get it up between her legs?  What would Maupassant have done?'


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Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Bender

Title: The Bender

Author: Paul Scott

Year of publication: 1963, Panther edition 1975

Back cover blurb: 'Money and love
   George Spruce is suddenly faced with an urgent demand for the repayment of a debt which rocks his entire modest existence, especially since the claimant is his successful brother Tim.  But why is Tim so desperate for money?  Is it because his daughter Gillian, 17, is pregnant by a plumber's mate?  Will George's other brother, the dramatist, Guy, help?  Unlikely.  Guy is too busy satisfying the critics on the one hand and Anina, his houri in a sari, on the other.  In the resolution of George's dilemma, Paul Scott digs deep, intimately and unsparingly into the mind, manners and morals of the metropolis.'

Quick flick reveals:  Scott is best known, of course, for The Jewel in the Crown, but this is an earlier, much different type of novel.  The bender in question is an alcoholic one and not like Boy George or something.  Appears to be a kitchen sink novel revolving around a middle-class sink and drinks cabinet.

Random paragraph: '"I'm going to order more coffee," George said, "and then we can take all you've just said more slowly and point by point.  Would you like another cream bun?"'


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Saturday, 22 September 2012

Harris in Wonderland

Title: Harris in Wonderland

Author: Philip Reid

Year of publication: 1973, Penguin edition 1976

Back cover blurb: '"Harris is a chirpy freelance journalist who seems likely to dig up the dirt on a business swindle in which the probable future leader of the (Labour) Opposition was involved.
   Harris finds himself very nearly framed with a drug-smuggling charge, takes accidentally a fearsome acid trip and is nearly murdered before he realizes the kidn of plot that has been laid for him.  Very deft this.  As a bonus, many of the characters have teasing resemblances to 'You-know-who' and 'Whatshisname'" - Daily Telegraph'

Quick flick reveals:  This satirical detective novel is actually written by Andrew Osmond and Richard Ingrams under a pseudonym.  I'm hoping it isn't laced with that somewhat snearing small c conservatism that puts me off Private Eye so much.

Random paragraph: '"Well, you weren't going to look very good explaining to some Welsh copper what you were up to sniffing round a dead hippie on a Welsh mountain top.  Here, have some of this."  He took a quarter bottle of Scotch out of his pocket and passed it to me.  "Make you feel better."'


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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Game in Heaven With Tussy Marx

Title: Game in Heaven With Tussy Marx

Author: Piers Paul Read

Year of publication: 1966, Panther edition 1968

Back cover blurb: 'ROLL UP!  ROLL UP!
   Stand alongside Karl's daughter TUSSY MARX and a Dowager Duchess and a Bright Young Man and Peep down on Earth from the Safety of Heaven
   Enjoy the REVOLUTIONARY Antics in London, South America, Iceland, Purgatory, on the Swiss ski-slopes
   See with your own eyes the PROVOCATIVE Behaviour of the Little-Rich Girl
   REVEL in the Hopes of Hereward the Idealist, and Lover of Other Men's Wives
   CHUCKLE at Watkinson the Marxist, Corrupting Capitalism with his own Dissoluteness
   RELISH the GAME IN HEAVEN WITH TUSSY MARX a bizarre, riotous, sexily serious Novel which points a Witty Finger at You and Your Revolution'

Quick flick reveals:  I couldn't get on with Read's later novel The Upstart, but this swingin' Marxism tale looks crazy enough to give him another go.

Random paragraph: 'Hereward might have saved himself at this point if he had said, then and there, "I am a revolutionary and your father is Europe's number one enemy of the peole, latest and I hope last in a long line of industrial barons of unequalled villainy," but the moment passed and the opportunity was lost.'


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Thursday, 6 September 2012

See the Kid Run

Title: See the Kid Run

Author: Bob Ottum

Year of publication: 1978, Arrow edition 1981

Back cover blurb: 'The Kid is a child of the city.  He never thinks about violence, cruelty or horror.  He just lives them.
   The Kid lives down there, in the metropolis rubbish heap.  The Kid and his friends - Cat Man, Angel, Jewel - are not just big city children.  They are parasites, hustlers, thieves and killers.  They have to run to survive, cutting down everything and anyone who gets in the way.
   SEE THE KID RUN...
   WATCH HIM NEARLY MAKE IT...'

Quick flick reveals: Author Bob Ottum (try saying that fast) seemed to specialize in novels about knife-wielding kids who lived in rubbish dumps, and this is the follow-up to the slightly better-remembered The Tuesday Blade.  Has a bit of a Warriors vibe, which is no bad thing.

Random paragraph: '"I broke your teeth?  I did?  I think you've got it all wrong, my boy.  What you mean to say is, you accidentally walked into the wall and broke your teeth.  Isn't that what you mean?"'


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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Revelations

Title: Revelations

Author: Phyllis Naylor

Year of publication: 1979, Sphere edition 1981

Back cover blurb:' MARY
   is unmarried, the secretary of the Faith Holiness congregation, and for thirty-four years has led a model life.  She has nursed her crippled mother, stood by her family when her wild, beloved brother defied the church and fled to California.  And she is resigned to the prospect that life has passed her by... forever.
   Until the sudden arrival of her free-thinking, young nephew throws her world into turmoil.  Bright, affectionate and vulnerable, thirteen-year-old Jake joins forces with Mary's outspoken girlfriend in opposing the gospel according to Faith Holiness.  And sets Mary on the path of deliciously sinful libearation that reveals a funny, feminine personality whose search for fulfilment is strewn with...
   REVELATIONS'

Quick flick reveals: Phyllis Naylor is best known as a children's author, notably for the 'Alice' series as novels, and neither her own website or Wikipedia mentions Revelations.  It's almost as if everyone were keeping deliberately quiet about it.  But I am here to tell you that Phyllis Naylor wrote a rude novel in which a man puts his thingy in a lady's thingy and no one can stop me!  Anyway, it all looks rather thoughtful and decent, and probably doesn't deserve being kept in a basement on a chain, living on slop from a bucket.

Random paragraph: 'For a man of Murray's size, she had expected a monstrous phallus.  But the penis was thick and short and stuck out at a perfect right angle to his body.  She could, she mused, hang her dress on it.'


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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 4

More books that have been read, or not.

Hunting Tigers Under Glass by Mordecai Richler

Status: Completed

When I skimmed this book, I wondered why a collection of essays on such an interesting range of subjects by an esteemed writer should have fallen into such obscurity.  Turns out that Richler's declared interest in seeing things through a Jewish-Canadian perspective makes it all a bit too culturally specific to appeal in the same way Tom Wolfe does, with issues of Jewishness, Canadianness, and Jewish-Canadianness very much to the fore.  Nevertheless, there are some fascinating essays contained within, particularly the travel pieces to the Catskills holiday resorts, Jerusalem in 1962, and accompanying the Canadian hockey team to Sweden.  Probably more Clive James than Wolfe, although he doesn't have the killer lines that James does.  He sometimes comes across as a bit of a condescending jerk when dealing with people younger than him, but they generally deserve it.

The Harry Secombe Diet Book by Harry Secombe

Status: Abandoned p. 27

I didn't work my way through all of this for the simple reason I don't plan on following Sir Harry's diet, although I'm sure it's very good.  The introduction though, is quite fascinating as it explores the psychology of fatness, and is an example of a man's man talking to other men about things men don't normally talk about.  Rather touching, actually.



Eclipse by Margaret Tabor

Status: Abandoned p. 52

This story of a woman who goes home one day to find that every trace of her life no longer exists, including her house, had an intriguing premise, but almost immediately got bogged down in turgid back-story (Dissatisfied housewives are a recurring presence in the Lost Book Library, as feminism filtered its way into the suburbs in the 1970s and early 80s).  I stuck around to see if it got more interesting, and it did for a bit, but then the protagonist ends up convincing herself that her old life might be a false memory, and she's actually someone else.  Enter: new turgid back-story.  Exit: me.

Barometer Man by John Vaizey

Status: Abandoned p. 24

Cambridge University novel by noted economist. Starts off well with a description of people having sex in a toilet, but then gets tedious very quickly once it concerns itself with university politics.  Wants to be witty, but it all feels like a private joke, cementing my view that authors should never write a book about their day job.  Possibly of interest if you're into campus novels, which I'm not, really.


Term of Trial by James Barlow

Status: Completed

 I recently read Notes On a Scandal by Zoe Heller, an enjoyable but fundamentally silly novel about a female teacher who has an affair with one of her pupils.  It's gained the oxymoronic status of an 'instant classic', despite giving no real insight into its protagonists inner life, and papering over the cracks with a creaky 'unreliable narrator' device.  The book everyone should be reading, however, is Barlow's Term of Trial, a 60s kitchen-sink novel in which a male teacher commits the perhaps slightly less serious offense of slapping a girl's bottom.  Its exploration of his heavy-drinking, guilt-drenched life is marvelously grim and vivid, and captures that post-war moment where some working men would have fought, and others wouldn't have, and the tensions that arose.  Meanwhile he rails against the corrupting influence of the media on youth, and the false preparation it gives for adult life, with the phrase 'mediocre brilliance of comedians' standing out and reminding me of Newman and Baddiel for some reason.  Although the range of female characters are wearisomely of their time, and there are a couple of story threads more set-up than followed through, this is very much a novel and author in need of rediscovery.  The James Barlow revival starts here!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Downstairs at Ramsey's

Title: Downstairs at Ramsey's

Author: James Leigh

Year of publication: 1968, Panther edition 1970

Back cover blurb: 'What's up down stairs?
   Just a friendly little 'game' of emotional blackmail, hasty passions and statutory rape, played between
   Delilah Sampson
   (you read it right)
   The fourteen-year-old nymphet with a nineteen-year-old build - and what a build!
   Hardy Brewster
   Delilah's foster-father, struggling none too successfully with impulses that no-one could describe as paternal...
   Jim Long
   The emotionally screwed-up artist who isn't satisfied iwht having Delilah just pose for him - not even in the nude.
   Around these three characters, plus the endearing, eavesdropping H. Victor Ramsey from upstairs, James Leigh weaves a humorous, compassionate story of the generations in conflict - in and out of bed.'

Quick flick reveals: Wrongness.  Oddly for a book that is packaged as an exploitation version of Lolita, this book is censored for language.

Random paragraph: 'The thing looked half as long as a railway carriage.  It was low, and sleek, and even to my sceptical and conservative eye it had a certain undeniable beauty.  It was fit for a princess, though perhaps a princess from another planet, or from some future century.  And it was gold.'


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Sunday, 12 August 2012

Beat On a Damask Drum

Title: Beat On a Damask Drum

Author: Troy Kennedy Martin

Year of publication: 1959, Panther edition 1963

Back cover blurb: 'Into the nightmare gloom of a jungle war comes the beautiful Joey Castle desperately seeking the man who holds the key to her faith in herself - Adam Canning.  Isolated in an alien world of violence facing the last agonising hour before defeat, her involvement with a new Adam and the men who surround him sets a pattern for a struggle which can only be resolved through disaster.'

Quick flick reveals: Normally I'm not interested in war novels, but according to the Telegraph, this one by Z-Cars creator Kennedy Martin 'shocks like a cold douche'.  And if any book is like a douche, I want to read it.

Random paragraph: '"It's the girl in the hospital with the bayonet wound."  Joey eyed them.  She shouted defiantly, "She wants someone to come down to her - a man - and make love to her."  Her voice was incoherent, the demand unreal.  "Someone to make love to her," she said.  "Surely she means love her - not make love to her.  But love her?  How can anyone do that?"  They were silent, watching.'


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Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Season of the Witch

Title: The Season of the Witch

Author: James Leo Herlihy

Year of publication: 1971, Pan edition 1973

Back cover blurb: 'You call her Gloria.  She calls herself 'Witch'
   Looking for life in New York's East Village.
   And she finds it...
   In this major new bestseller, the author of Midnight Cowboy brings vividly to life the revolution of the permissive society - the world of youth, free love, drugs, and danger...'

Quick flick reveals: Rather fantastic-looking hippy-era period piece from an author who had already made history, written back in the days when you could get away with quoting a Beatles lyric without paying them.  Definitely the most beaten-up book in the Lost Book Library.

Random paragraph: 'The first really interesting event of the evening was meeting Sara the Ghost.  Sally and I had been up on the roof in Will's greenhouse trying to see gnomes in the flowerpots.  Sally's convinced each plant has a little invisible creature tending its roots and she was hoping with acid we'd be relaxed enough to see them.  We weren't.  But on the way back downstairs, just as we were coming to the first landing, Sally stopped and said, 'Far out!'  I said, 'What's happening?'  And she said, 'I'm getting extra strong ghost vibes.  Just stand still right here and see if you can pick them up.'


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Saturday, 28 July 2012

Such Good Friends


Title: Such Good Friends

Author: Lois Gould

Year of publication: 1970

Inner cover blurb: 'We were at least as happily married as anybody else, which maybe wasn't very, but it was all anybody could reasonably expect.  All I could, anyway...
   But now Julie Messinger, age 31, mother of two, is going through the kind of hell that may destroy her marriage, if not her life.  It starts when her husband Richard enters a hospital for a simple operation, which turns into a medical disaster that may cause his death.  While her fate, as well as his, hangs suspended in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, she is compelled to unlock all the doors behind which the unthinkable truths about her husband, her friends and herself have been carefully hidden.
   Suddenly Julie and the people she thought she knew best begin to betray themselves in way that shock them all, and for reasons none of them can explain.  The whole intricate fabric of their familiar world - loyalties, love, sex - is torn apart and rewoven in a strange and frightening new pattern.  Each is shattered by this one catastrophic experience, but only Julie is so changed by it that she will never again live by the same rules, or in the same way.
   This intensely revealing portrait of a dramatic marital crisis, through which people discover their unknown selves, could only have been written by a woman.  Yet perhaps no other woman writer, and certainly no man, has ever created a heroine with so acute a sense of her own sexual feelings and attitudes, so unclouded a vision of the feminine psyche in search of fulfilment.
   Such Good Friends compels both startled laughter and the pain of recognition.  At once erotic and anti-erotic, tough and heartrending, it is a book whose plot never detracts from its haunting statement about human behaviour.  Its strength lies in revealing what people do to each other in the name of friendship; how some use even love and death as masks or weapons; and how they may survive, scarred, yet in a way more whole than before.'

Quick flick reveals: Like the blurb, the book seems to go on a bit without really telling you much.  Has the tone of an American Bridget Jones on seventies prescription drugs.  What's not to like?

Random paragraph: 'Normally, I'm a fantastic shopper; I operate on a kind of radar which I must have developed as a reaction to all those years of suffering in clothes, or hiding under them.  Now that I was a perfect size 9 and could walk around impersonating a pretty girl, dressing was a sacred privilege, something entrusted to me.  Girls who have cried into their mirrors are never really sure what will happen if they smile now.  Won't the mirror send you right back to your old self?  You tremble in ecstatic stage fright every time you enter the try-on room with the curtain that doesn't quite close.  Don't be silly, you are pretty, see?  Oh, but that isn't me!


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