Saturday, 30 June 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 3

More books from the Lost Book Library I have now read, or failed to read.

The Sioux by Irene Handl

Status: Completed

One I read before I started the library.  I found this novel about a freaky French family by Metal Mickey's Gran to be intriguing, but ultimately a bit stagey.  David Quantick was raving about it on Twitter the other week though, so what do I know?

Glitterball by Rochelle Larkin

Status: Abandoned, p. 98

I was initially impressed by this disco-themed novel clearly inspired by the story of Studio 54.  Despite being satisfyingly racy with assorted seventies pill-popping rock stars, disco divas and general beautiful people descending on the latest New York nightspot, it also matter-of-factly explored what it involved to actually set up and run the place.  It had it's own weird integrity, which is exactly what I'm looking for here.  About a third of the way in, however, the whole book was sunk by an improbable and gynecologically detailed sex scene that smashed through the protagonist's character arc like a donger-shaped wrecking ball.  It felt sellotaped in to keep the publisher happy, and, the illusion broken, suddenly the whole thing just seemed rather silly.  My initial fear was that this book wouldn't be sexy enough for its subject matter.  Turns out it was just too sexy for it.

Thumb Tripping by Don Mitchell

Status: Completed

This hippy-hitchhiking novel was a delight, all in all.  Telling the story of counter-cultural couple Gary and Chay, and of their adventures hitching rides across California, it follows a basic story pattern of 'hitch ride/find something to disapprove of in attitude to life of driver/escape from car when driver reveals themselves to be total mentalist'.  Nevertheless, there are some enjoyably strange situations, such as a suburban housewife stealing a watch from the corpse of a crash victim, and it's subtle enough to expose the limitations of both straight and hippy life choices.  This is a book that asks the question 'Where do we go from here?', and shrugs its shoulders.

Cuckoo by Wendy Perriam

Status: Completed

A well-off couple can't conceive.  Meanwhile the husband's illegitimate daughter crashes into their lives, forcing the wife into an affair with a Polytechnic lecturer in Icelandic Studies.  Although there are a lot of good things going on here, and Perriam's eye for telling detail is astonishingly strong, this doesn't quite hang together.  Starting off like Carla Lane, before veering towards Neil LaBute before settling somewhere around Mike Leigh, it feels like the ideas for two different novels are living unhappily together in the same paperback body.  The protagonist is sometimes the most uptight prude on the planet, sometimes happy to slum it with the aforementioned lecturer in his filthy flat, and improbably getting a job as a cab driver for a few chapters.  The husband is essentially nasty, with no insight provided into why he is, or whether there's anything else going on in there.  Nevertheless, there are lots of enjoyable scenes, including what sounds like the house party from Hell and a fantastic early 80s polytechnic end-of-term ball.  More a novel made up of good bits than a good novel.

The Upstart by Piers Paul Read

Status: Abandoned, p. 65

A bit of a frustrating one, this.  This tale of a vicar's son who turns on his aristocratic childhood friends when they humiliate him and starts on a path of revenge-filled debauchery begins very well.  The description of post-war village life and the relations between the landowners and common-folk is impressively vivid, but the actual humiliation that spurs on the rest of the story, involving a dinner jacket, just feels too small for the momentous significance awarded to it.  Consequently, everything that followed felt false, and I couldn't be doing with it.  Oh well.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Fun House

Title: The Fun House

Author: William Brinkley

Year of publication: 1961, NEL edition 1968

Back cover blurb: 'William Brinkley is recognised as one of America's leading satirists.
   THE FUN HOUSE is the the office of Vital, an American weekly picture magazine.  The staff are the biggest collection of odd-balls, eccentrics and geniuses ever to appear between the covers of one book.  Their lives and loves - above board and behind locked doors - make this one of the most uproarious stories you'll ever read.'

Quick flick reveals: Mad Men-era satire.  A brisk thumbing didn't make me laugh, but then neither did Catch-22.

Random paragraph: 'In short: No one whose real interest in life is women (and besides the arts and the fully, truly spiritual life it is the only really worthwhile one, the only other productive of real joy) should ever even consider going into any profession other than photographer.  That is our advice to all young men.'


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Confessions of a Spent Youth

Title: Confessions of a Spent Youth

Author: Vance Bourjaily

Year of publication: 1961, Corgi edition 1968

Back cover blurb: 'Never before has the sexual life of an American male been so completely revealed.  New York, Africa, Naples, Japan... four continents, seven countries, twelve women... a girl named Jeannie, one named Moomie, and Chizuko...

Quick flick reveals: Some guy crosses the planet having sex, as well as doing some army stuff.  Seems to be a proper novel, influenced by Hemingway and everything, and not a wank book, despite some very suspicious vibes being sent out by the packaging.  It's also weirdly long for a book which doesn't seem to have a plot.  Bourjaily looks like he could well be a serious author of quality whose work has slipped out of view with time.  Which is exactly the sort of thing we're looking for here, so that's good.

Random paragraph: '''Pretty, isn't it?"  She said, almost bitterly, covering the place with her hand, and stood up, turning her back to me and to the other bed.  "I've got to take care now," she muttered, supporting herself on the bedside table.  "Where's the john?"'


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Virgin Planet

Title: Virgin Planet

Author: Poul Anderson

Year of publication: 1959, Warner Books edition 1977

Back cover blurb: 'For 300 Year The Planet of Women Awaited The Coming of Man.  Then One Arrives...
   He is Davis Bertram, a space-explorer.  Buth how can he convince them he really is a man?  Their legends have built Men into gods.
   Trying to be worthy of hte Coming, the women imitate masculine virtues.  They are warlike, ambitious, ruthless.  Unless Davis can convince them he is a man, they will kill him for blasphemy.  But if he does convince them, the Doctor-Priests will kill him to protect their own iron control of the planet...'

Quick flick reveals:  Like nearly all the sci-fi that makes its way here, this isn't really a Lost Book.  Although no longer generally in print, Anderson's books circulate widely and sci-fi fans know who he is.  I just included it here though, because of the way the cover image (what is this strange planet where women feel compelled to wear bras but not pants?) and the accompanying blurb, along with THAT title, very strongly suggest that this astronaut is going to be having lots and lots of lovely sex without actually promising it.   (On an unrelated matter, this is by far the best-smelling book in the Lost Book Library.)

Random paragraph: 'Several mature women sprawled in the big chairs near the hearth.  They rose and stared at Davis.  He grew uncomfortable after a minute. "Hello," he said.'


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Gorgonzola, Won't You Please Come Home?

Title: Gorgonzola, Won't You Please Come Home?

Author: Clyde Ames

Year of publication: 1967

Back cover blurb: 'CALL AL FRESCO!
   Lost, Strayed or Stolen:
   One H-bomb.
   One 400-foot-long prehistoric monster.
   Both last seen in the vicinity of Cannes, France.
   Both recently reported roaring around the real estate near Los Angeles, U.S.A.
   Both being sought desperately by every force the U.S.A. can muster, from the Campfire Girls on up.
   Somewhere in the chase:
   Eva de Struction and her organization of hell-raising female hellions.
   Al Fresco, Agent 99/44 from P.U.R.E. (but a recent trnasfer from Fish and Wildlife).  This is a secret agent?
   Three prize poodles and Albert, the thinking gorilla...
   At stake:
   The fate of the world - of course.

Quick flick reveals: Swinging 60s spy spoof by Clyde Ames, also known as Clyde Allison, also known as William Knowles, author of the highly-prized pulp '008' novels, and a suicide victim in 1972.  I'm hoping this is more James Coburn in In Like Flint, and less David Niven in Casino Royale.

Random paragraph: '"The Navy," she chuckled to herself with evil glee, "is using a device they call CURV to brung up lost H-bombs.  I seem to have done as well with my own, heh, heh, curves..."'


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Passage

Title: The Passage

Author: Victor Wartofsky

Year of publication: 1980

Back cover blurb: 'A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
   The Psychical Research Institute needs a volunteer to penetrate the veil of death, bringing back first-hand confirmation of the existence of an afterlife.  Wayne Farley has his own personal, tragic reason for participating in the experiment.  But whether it succeeds or fails, Farley's involvement will mean the loss of his life, and possibly his immortal soul as well!

Quick flick reveals: A pulpy, fun-looking novel with a premise remarkably similar to that of the film Flatliners.  Coincidence?  (For legal reasons, the answer to that question is a definite 'yes'.)

Random paragraph: 'He closed his eyes and opened them again, approaching closer to the gravestone and grasping it on either side.  "Make me die, damn it!"'


Monday, 11 June 2012

Death of the Hind Legs and Other Stories

Title: Death of the Hind Legs and Other Stories

Author: John Wain

Year of publication: 1966, Penguin edition 1970

Back cover blurb: 'In John Wain's stories the characters inhabit worlds of sadness, loss and disappointment.  Sometimes they win.  They always get wiser.
   What would they have thought if they'd seen Williams talking out loud to a tree that wasn't there?  But there was now something else in that garden even more compelling than the tree that was planted the day he was born.
   Dannie couldn't start looking for a new pair of hind legs at this stage of the game.  They were demolishing the theatre straight after the last performance, so the fact that the back end of the pantomime horse had a heart attack in the middle of the show didn't add all that much to his worries.
   Fred was strong but dim.  If he set himself up as an all-in wrestler fighting in rigged bouts he could get eighty quid a week to stop Doreen nagging him.  So enter King Caliban and a new Fred who stopped everyone in their tracks.'

Quick flick reveals: A short story collection from the lost man of Twentieth Century British fiction.  They sound rather intriguing and don't see any reason why they wouldn't be good.

Random paragraph: 'Playfully now, I reached out and knocked on the car.  Tinny beast.  It had bruised my flesh and threatened to break my bones, but it could not hurt the steel and whale-bone of the umbrella.  Mastery!'


Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Smaller Sky

Title: The Smaller Sky

Author: John Wain

Year of publication: 1967, Penguin edition 1969

Back cover blurb: 'The man now living on platform one is Arthur Geary and he is not a mad scientist.
   Arthur Geary left his wife and two children and went to live on Paddington Station.  It was the only place he could get away from the sounds of the terrible drums; where he could feel comfortably anonymous, safe and calm under a smaller sky.  But they had to hound him out.  They had to know why.  They had to prove him mad: friends, family, psychiatrist, even a TV journalist after the ultimate tragic scoop.'

Quick flick reveals: Another from my John Wain haul.  A man decides to live on Paddington Station.  Everyone wants to know why.  Sounds a bit like that Radiohead video.

Random paragraph: '"Well, since we talk of padded cells," said Robinson, still driven by anger, "I might as well say what's in my mind.  If you stay here you'll go mad.  The crowds, the discomfort, the sense of homelessness, will unhinge you.  Go on, laugh at me, but you'll be raving mad inside three months."'


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Hurry on Down

Title: Hurry on Down

Author: John Wain

Year of publication: 1953, Penguin edition 1973

Back cover blurb: 'The book that was the pioneer of the new kind of English novel which appeared in the fifties, linking the names of John Wain, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch, and later John Braine.'

Quick flick reveals: This is the first of three books I have acquired by John Wain (who, to my knowledge, was not 'big-leggy').  Despite being seen as a link between the naturalism of earlier writers such as Arnold Bennett and that of the Kitchen Sink School, and having a place in history as part of CS Lewis's Oxford circle, John Wain's early novels have now been out of print for over twenty years.  There aren't that many clues as to what this one is actually about, but it seems to come out of the tradition of what I call British soft-realism (stories about ordinary people just sort of getting on with things in which no one becomes a crack-addicted prostitute) that I gravitate towards and include myself in, some of the time, so I look forward to reading.

Random paragraph: 'All the time he knew it was true.  He had seen the complacent pride of possession written across Tharkles's face.  It was that knowledge that was driving him mad; for, of course, it is madness pure and simple to race wildly on a bicycle down a country road, chasing a motor-car.'


Friday, 1 June 2012


Title: Lamia

Author: Tristan Travis

Year of publication: 1983

Back cover blurb: '"I have set out to resurrect Lamia from the obscurity of ancient legend.  A classic persona, archetypal rape victim, once ravished by Zeus, cursed by Hera, driven deeply strange by her own guilt, this beautiful, beguiling spirit slithers dwon through all literature, her motif as rich in metaphor as it is universal and haunting.... she is fiercely herself, a true demon of the distaff, embodying perhaps that which lurks in all women, the sorrow of the sexually repressed.  And the rage."
   Tristan Travis

"Ol' Tristan Travis or whatever that name is he's signing his stuff with has been an irritating success ever since I met him twenty years ago... at everything from basketball to bongos to boxing, at which he was a national champ.  So it's no surprise to me that his first novel is a bloody knockout."
   Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion

"I can think of no way in which I could prepare our readers for this."
   Australian Book Club executive'

Quick flick reveals: This strange supernatural detective story seemingly involving an ancient spirit of sexual frustration manifesting itself is notable for carrying a quote from Ken Kesey on the back, something you don't see on that many other books, to my knowledge.  This, allied with the fact that no one knows who Tristan Travis is, and no other sign of his existence has ever come to light, means that it is wondered whether Lamia is actually by Kesey himself. I'm pretty sure there's some software that could analyse the prose style and give a definite answer one way or the other, but no one's thought to enter it yet.  Anyway, the book looks pretty fucking crazy.

Random paragraph: 'He slipped the arms back under the sheet and then tied the ID tag with its wire to the big toe of her right foot.  Before rolling the drawer back into the locker, he ran his hands under the sheet again, felt her breasts.  Not a half-bad pair.  He pulled at them roughly, poked and slapped them about.  Suddenly he felt a twitching in his pants.'