Saturday, 31 March 2012

Kick Turn

Title: Kick Turn

Author: Anthony Glyn

Year of publication: 1963, Arrow edition 1969

Back cover blurb: 'Kick Turn is a witty and penetrating look at many modern attitudes and obsessions.  Its hero, Roger North, is a young man without a family, equipped with little to help him make his way in the world except over-confidence and a wish to please.  But whilst his uncle and his godfather compete with the other in their attempts to steer his life into channels of their own choosing, Roger, encountering women for the first time, tries in different ways to please four of them...'

Quick flick reveals: Picaresque tale of a randy sixties-person, some of which appears to be set in the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank.  Another one for the 'Greatest Film Robin Askwith Never Made' file.

Random paragraph: 'She unbuttoned the coat and helped me take it off.  I was gangling and awkward, with a half-naked woman pulling at my clothes and telling me they fitted.'


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A True Romance

Title: A True Romance

Author: Jacky Gillott

Year of publication: 1975, Coronet edition 1976

Back cover blurb: 'Olivia Bennet has everything.  A stable marriage, a comfortable country house, a highly successful career as a romantic novelist and the looks and figure of a woman half her age.
   But two things threaten this shell of content: the death of her mother and the behaviour of her children as they develop beyond the limits of her understanding and sympathy.  As an uncomfortable and sometimes violent reality forces its way into her romantic fiction life, Olivia discovers the true romance.'

Quick flick reveals: I was attracted to this book because of the magnificent knitwear/fur combo being sported on the front. (Just how cold was it that day?) On the back cover is a photo of the same woman, this time on a bike.  Scan available on request.  Anyway, after giving the book a little skim, the knitwear is still the most appealing thing about it for me, as the contents just seem a bit grim.  A proper reading, however, may well reveal riches.
   Author Gillott sadly killed herself in 1980.  On a lighter note, she did once throw Bernard Levin to the floor after he boasted that he could whirl her above his head.

Random paragraph: 'So she was truly dead, then.  Buried,  The earth had been cast and the words intoned.  Like a winter plantation thay had grouped around the grave, the breeze lifting webs of black veil and the snowy garments of the priest.  As in a dream.'


Saturday, 24 March 2012

A New History of Torments

Title: A New History of Torments

Author: Zulfikar Ghose

Year of publication: 1982, Black Swan edition 1984

Back cover blurb: 'Erotic, fantastic, sardonic, A New History of Torments is a work of extraordinary imaginative scope by a writer at the very height of his powers - a novel which blends allegory and thrilling action, illusion and disillusion, passion and suspense into a rich adventure set in the South American jungle.'

Quick flick reveals: It's a fickle fate, being a respected author of literary fiction.  One day you're earning praise as a master of magical realism, admired by such diverse figures as Paul Theroux, Edna O'Brien and Michael Moorcock, and then a mere thirty years later, none of your books are in print, and you are at no. 2,171,781 in the Amazon chart.
   The front cover quote of A New History of Torments is from the Telegraph, which says that it 'may well be one of the great novels' and I am interested to find out if it is.  The cover and blurb give little away as to what it's actually about, but the writing seems far more direct than, say, that of Marquez, and mercifully the paragraphs are a lot shorter.  There are details that make me think of Paul Bowles, Malcolm Lowry and Werner Herzog.  I feel like I may have stumbled across a writer who is ripe for rediscovery.

Random paragraph: 'Raphael did not know what he had expected, but he would certainly never have imagined this huge fortress in the middle of the jungle.  By now, since leaving his own house, he had taken so many turns, driven at high altitudes and then in valleys, that he had lost all sense of direction and did not know where he was or how far had come.'


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Landsbird

Title: The Landsbird

Author: Colin Dunne

Year of publication: 1979, Fontana edition 1981

Back cover blurb: 'The family had always lived in the village, and controlled the lives of the fishermen.  Now Paul was the last of the family - and perhaps the best of them all.  Maggie was a modern girl, a rich girl from the big cities, a world so far from Paul's that he could not see the danger tha his love for her would bring, not only to him, but to the whole village.'

Quick flick reveals: In all honesty, I didn't find this novel's cover, subject or story premise that attractive, and I only acquired it because of the recommendation from David Niven on the front ('A splendid story, splendidly told').  After all David Niven didn't go round singing the praises of just any book.  Not Nivers.  Nivs.  The Nivmeister.  Nivardo.  Niva Demus & Pliars.  Actually, he might have done.  I haven't really looked into it.
   Anyway, this novel by journalist Dunne all seems a bit soapy, and ITV might want to look at it for one of those dreadful two-part miniseries they do, but there are a few quirky things going on in the details, such as the rather judgemental description of a studenty folk group below, which suggest there might be a bit more to it than that.

Random paragraph: 'The group was composed of three young men.  They wore untrimmed beards which were intended to give an appearance of roaring virility.  Sadly, the thin growths on their city-pale faces suggested only that they had recently been released from a tuberculosis hospital and were still too weak to shave.  Two of them strummed guitar chords while the third, one hand cupped around his ear, sang in a peculiarly nasal manner that he imagined to be the sort of noise an old mariner would make.  They were very popular, and the sailing club members, particularly, applauded vigorously after each song, almost wiping the salt spray from their faces.'


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Alton Douglas's Celebrity Recipes

Title: Alton Douglas's Celebrity Recipes

Authors: Alton and Jo Douglas

Year of publication: 1984

Back cover blurb: 'Over 50 Famous Personalities - Their photographs and Favourite Dishes'

Quick flick reveals: Exactly what the blurb says.  Recipes from the great, good, Little and Large of 1984, including a surprising number of high-up politicians and world leaders.  George Bush Sr.'s 'Oatmeal Lace Cookies' precede Marti Caine's 'Sole with Prawns'.  Neil Kinnock commands that we 'don't forget the yoghurt' for his Roghan Gosh, while Margaret Thatcher warns us 'to be careful not to over-heat the icing when blending' when making her Orange & Walnut Cake.  Ronald Reagan supplies a rather basic 'Macaroni and Cheese' presumably dating back to his bachelor days, and Enoch Powell provides a delicious-sounding 'Rivers of Blood Pudding'.  Of course not.  His recipe is for 'Crème  Brûlée'.  George Melly gives us a mini-essay on offal he has enjoyed, and William Shatner, looking trim in his T.J. Hooker uniform (and certainly NOT because he's wearing a corset), offers a recipe for 'Low Cal Apple Pie'.  Wee Jimmy Krankie's Gingerbreads are, naturally, 'FANDABIDOZI'.

Random paragraph: 'Hello, missus.  I bet you didn't know that Doddy was a dab hand in the kitchen?  Yes - give me some self-raising flour and a couple of eggs and I'm a veritable Delia Smith.  My beans on toast is the talk of Knotty Ash.  People come from miles just to see the Diddymen tuck into a plate of tripe and onions.  They say things like "Doddy ought to be grilled for serving tripe to the Diddymen".  There's a lot of humour to be had from cooking.  I use laughing gas because it makes my sausages sizzle better - they chuckle in the pan!'


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 1

Here at the Lost Book Library, I endeavour to at least try and read all the books featured at some point.  This is of course a time-consuming exercise, so the fact that many of the books are quite obviously unreadable and can therefore be guiltlessly abandoned a couple of chapters in is fortunate.

Here I present a summary of my efforts to read the first five books featured.

The Father Figures by William Camp

Status: Abandoned, p. 35

This tale of infidelity in the suburbs of early seventies Britain failed to grab me.  In fact, the only thing I found to be of interest was the detail that one of the characters ran a cannery that employed students in the summer months, who failed to take the job seriously.  'Yes,' I thought, 'it is hard to get students to take their summer jobs seriously.  I have observed this in real life.'  Other than that, however, I couldn't bring myself to care less about what was going on, and when I realized I had lost all track of which character was which, and who was sleeping with who, I knew it was time to stop.  Having said that, I get regular search engine hits for this book, so it obviously still means something to somebody.

The Apparition by Ramona Stewart

Status: Abandoned, p. 32

I really wanted to like this story, containing as it does an experimental filmmaker with an entourage seemingly modelled on Andy Warhol's Factory, cursed archeological artifacts, and general Jungian weirdness, but Stewart's perfunctory prose style just isn't up to communicating her ideas.  I was worn down by the sense of a writer hopelessly overreaching, and so abandoned the book with gay abandon.  (Question: Why is Patsy Kensit on the cover?)

The Boy From Space by Friedrich Feld

Status: Completed

This Austrian children's sci-fi book from 1957 is something of a gem.  A giant child from space lands in a town, and the adults are afraid his headstrong manner will be a bad influence on their children.  The adults, meanwhile, are soon setting less than a good example themselves as they are taken over by greed, scientific curiousity and Cold War paranoia.  There are some beautiful touches, such as the child being afraid of the Moon (his planet not having one, presumably), and there's also a startlingly accurate description of a mobile phone ('When you want to call anyone, you just take it out of your pocket, get the number and speak.').  There are some superb illustrations by Derek Lucas, meanwhile (see below).

Status: Um...

This is really more for dipping into than reading from beginning to end.  Also, I seem to have lost it.

Muscle Beach Party by Elsie Lee

Status: Completed

I'd actually read this novelization of the sixties teen movie before I'd started the Library.  Not so much entertaining, more fascinating in the way Lee manages to produce a coherent piece of narrative prose, despite having a knockabout comedy filled with sight-gags and musical numbers as her source material.

Another round-up soon, once I've read a few more books, or failed to.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Injured Party

Title: The Injured Party

Author: Elaine Dundy

Year of publication: 1974, Quartet edition 1976

   Rita's parents are snobs who don't want to know her.  Her best friend is gay, arrogant and mischevious.  Her husband is a smarmy, two-dimensional sadist.  Or was, until she killed him.
   And Rita?  She's naive, impetuous, well-meaning, fun-loving and good-looking: qualities which land her in big trouble every time - at work, at parties, in bed and in jail.
   That's where she is now, a women's reformatory where she's in bigger trouble than ever.  First there was the affair with the muscular lady dressed like a lumberjack, then with the schizophrenic junkie, and now she's flirting with the warden himself...'

Quick flick reveals: Elaine Dundy was the author of The Dud Avocado, a bestseller inspired by her time living in post-war Paris, and which is now considered something of a classic.  She was also the wife of Kenneth Tynan.  Wikipedia happily informs me of the role 'flagellation' played in their relationship (See below).
   The Injured Party is her third and last novel.  Seems to be a comic story set in that most hilarious of locations, a women's prison. I couldn't spot any actual jokes, however, and just a brief look at it took me to a dark chamber of the soul.

Random paragraph: '"Why don't you stop fooling around with words like 'icing' and face it that the only way you can get any pleasure from sex with me is to administer pain upon me; to see me being tortured; and to stare at the marks you made on me by my being tortured."'


Saturday, 10 March 2012

The Searing

Title: The Searing

Author: John Coyne

Year of publication: 1980, Fontana edition 1981.

Back cover blurb: 'The village was new, modern, an architect's dream.  The people were young, affluent and successful.  But the creeping horror that tore the community apart was as old as the hills around them.'

Quick flick reveals: John Coyne had a number of hit horror novels in the late 70s/early 80s, before turning his back on the genre and writing about golf instead.  His work is generally compared to Stephen King, but this seems to also have something of a John Wyndham/Ira Levin flavour to it.  I can't quite get my head around the concept but it seems to involve killer orgasms.

Random paragraph: 'The girl stopped, shocked by Cindy's behaviour, and shouted out, asked if Cindy was okay, and then she headed towards Cindy, saying she would get help.  She reached out, as if to touch Cindy, and then she was stuck.  Her head felt the crushing attack, the whacking across the back of her skull, and she fell into the thick leaves, her blond head ricocheting off the huge stones, her brains spilling out onto the forest floor.'


Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Prehistoric Germ Warfare

Title: Prehistoric Germ Warfare

Author: Robin Collyns

Year of publication: 1980

Back cover blurb: EARTH - The Test-Tube Planet
  'I believe that mankind did not evolve from ape-like creatures but that we were brought to this planet billions of years after our bodies had been altered by genetic engineering on other planets.'
   Were the dinosaurs annihilated by nuclear weapons?
   Is ginseng literally manna from heaven?
   Are we the descendants of clones from outer space, the offshoots of ancient interplanetary experiments?
   These are just some of the amazing questions posed by Robin Collyns in amassing evidence for his mind-bending thesis: that cholera, cancer, smallpox and human life itself are the results of prehistoric DNA manipulation and germ warfare.

Quick flick reveals: A fantastically wide-ranging bag of bonkers theories that sadly never caught on.  I am, however, willing to embrace all of Collyns's claims, and start a religion built around them.  Will cost $5,000 to join.

Random paragraph: From my own research I have concluded that 'Adam' was not the first man on Earth, divinely created by God.  But as the story of Adam is allegorical it appears to relate, at least in part, to the first race of spacemen to visit and being to 'seed' the Earth.  In other words, this first race to visit the Earth may have been the Titans.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Girls

Title: The Girls

Author: John Bowen

Year of publication: 1986, Grafton edition 1987

   Janet and Susan shared everything.  They stocked the rural Gift Shop they ran with hand-stitched smocks, goats' milk cheese, and their own celebrated elderflower wine. They slept in the same bed.  They were contented.
   But when an escaped boar wrecked their shop, the event was a harbinger of worse to come.  For some reason, the outside world seemed determined to undermine the delicate equilibirum of hteir unothordox domestic happiness.
   And when Susan showed signs of restlessness and Jan had it off in the back of a Transit with an early musical instrument salesman, the seeds of much future trouble were sown.  But just how far would hte Girls go in defence of their private world?

Quick flick reveals: There aren't many writing careers that can incorporate writing for Hetty Wainthrop Investigates and earning praise from Gore Vidal, but John Bowen has managed just that.  This looks like a highly readable, highly eccentric gem, full of quirky details and possibly the odd murder.

Random paragraph: '"I've brought a urine sample."  It was in a wine bottle, carefully corked.  Usually the girls recycled bottles for their own wine-making, but Jan was disposed to be generous.  "You can keep the bottle."