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.'


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.'


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.'