Undermajordomo Minor

umdmTitle: Undermajordomo Minor

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: Lucien (Lucy) Minor is the resident odd duck in the bucolic hamlet of Bury. Friendless and loveless, young and aimless, he is a compulsive liar and a melancholy weakling. When Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, forbidding castle of the Baron Von Aux he meets thieves, madmen, aristocrats, and a puppy. He also meets Klara, a delicate beauty who is, unfortunately, already involved with an exceptionally handsome partisan soldier. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery and cold-blooded murder in which every aspect of human behaviour is laid bare for our hero to observe. But Lucy must be cautious and lock his bedroom door, because someone, or something, is roaming the corridors of the castle late at night.

Undermajordomo Minor is a riotous blend of Gothic romance and macabre European fairy tale. It is a triumphant ink-black comedy of manners and a timeless account of that violent thing: love.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This is deWitt’s third novel. I adored the other two, which left me with high expectations for this one. Thankfully, i was not disappointed. If i had to choose one word to describe this book, i think i’d pick ‘weird’, but oh what a wonderful weird it is!

Without a doubt my favourite thing about this book are the conversations Lucy has with his boss, the majordomo, Mr Olderglough. They were just so… concise. Questions were asked, answers were given, and no judgements were ever made. They just seemed to click, but in a way where they never truly bonded, as that would require more words and expression than was necessary. Their dialogue stretched pages, and i spent the entirety of it smiling.

In each of his books deWitt has had a different, distinct and immersive narrative voice. This book’s, i think, is the most innocent. Lucy is young, starved of love and affection, but does not feel sorry for himself. He’s always looking forward and striving for better things, but without being obnoxious. He’s just… such a straightforward character and i kind of adore him.

All the characters were likeable, in their own ways. Even the ones i wasn’t supposed to like, i sort of did. I think it helped that there was no real tension in the book; even when something went badly, things were generally still okay. There were no heart-in-mouth moments, just a gentle bobbing of emotion. It made the book such a joy to read.

I really did feel the fairy tale vibe to the book, with the castle, the very large hole, the armies fighting over nothing they could articulate, and the general easy going flow of the narrative. Of course there were bits that wouldn’t belong in a children’s fairy tale, but those were the bits that added an eerie, dark and comedic aspect to the story. Love and death were the two big themes of the story, and despite the generally light and tension-free narrative, i think it dealt with them wonderfully. Mirroring and contrasting points within three different love triangles and rivalries, it all unfolds by the end.

And the end is perfect. For Lucy it is neither happy nor sad; it is the kind of ending i love. The kind of ending where i can imagine several ways things play out past the last words in the book, and i love all the options.

I’m already pining for the next book by deWitt. My expectations are only getting higher, but my fear of disappointment is cheerfully low.

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Dead Girl Walking

dgwTitle: Dead Girl Walking

Author: Christopher Brookmyre

Summary: Famous, beautiful and talented, Heike has the world at her feet. Then she simply vanishes.

Jack Parlabane has lost everything: his journalism career, his marriage, his self-respect. A call for help from an old friend offers a chance of redemption – but only if he can find our what happened to missing singer Heike.

Each member of her band has secrets, not least newest recruit Monica Halcrow. Fixated on Heike from day one, she is driven by paranoia, jealousy and fear.

Pursued across Europe by those who would punish him for past crimes, Parlabane must find out what Monica is hiding before it’s too late.

Rating: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

Review: Well, first of all that blurb is misleading and inaccurate. Finding out what happened to Heike isn’t a chance at redemption–it’s a job. None of the band really has secrets, and Monica was not fixated or paranoid. Parlabane isn’t pursued by people wanting to punish him for past crimes and he only even knows Monica is hiding something in the last 75 pages or so.

Despite the poor summary, the book is good. I had missed Parlabane, and so had a lot of his friends, it turns out, because the man we meet at the start of this book is certainly not the Parlabane we know from previous books. Along with Brookmyre’s writing, Parlabane’s grown up a wee bit. I’d say he’s having a midlife crisis, but as his life is usually so full of comedy, adventure and danger, a midlife crisis for him is having no job, no wife and no hope.

When he gets a call from the sister of an old friend with a job offer, things begin to change. I saw the love-interest angle here from the get go, and from the get-go i did not like it. It seemed forced, and she seems like not at all the kind of partner Parlabane needs; she might be able to corral rock stars, but if she can’t make a sharp exit down a rope or keep her head in a crisis, what good is she to Parlabane? I would be much more interested if Parlabane and McLeod ended up dating. Journalist and copper. They’d disagree on a hell of a lot, but in a fiery wild way, and they’re both able to handle themselves in dangerous situations.

The best part of Parlabane stayed the course, though: his humour. His dry, cynical, straight talking makes me crack a grin every time, with more than a few chuckles.

He had recently heard some chinless Tory fuckpuddle say that London was a world-class city being held back by the rest of the UK. Parlabane had reckoned that if he poured all his money and efforts into fitting out his toilet he could almost certainly have himself a truly world class shite-house. Obviously there would be little in the way of cash or other physical resources for the development and upkeep of the living room and the kitchen, etc… but if anyone asked, he could tell them he had a world-class bog and it was just a shame the rest of the house was holding it back.

Parlabane is only half the book, though. The other half is Monica and Heike. I was ambivalent on the pair of them, to be honest. Throughout I seemed to dislike one or the other of them. I think they were supposed to be in their early 20s, but they often read like teenagers. They were moody and fickle and never properly talked to each other, which lead to many misunderstandings. I just really like it when two female lead characters are mature and get on with each other, so it’s a shame these two couldn’t manage it. I liked that Brookmyre included a lesbian character and a bi-curious character, but i couldn’t buy their relationship because it never seemed consistent enough

The story was fine–typical crime/mystery thriller type with a sex-traffic angle, though the missing rock star and band-on-tour blog added an interesting shade to it all. I looooved the start, in that the only thing revealed was that someone was murdered and someone witnessed it, but you don’t know who these people are. It had me interested and analysing everything right from the first chapter. Unfortunately the twists in the reveal weren’t a shock to me–i’d called most of them.

Ultimately what makes this book, like any other Brookmyre, is the writing. It is witty, relevant, concise and addictive. It might not be quite as crude and immature as his early books, but it’s miles better than your average crime fiction. I’m looking forward to more Parlabane soon!

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The BFG

bfgTitle: The BFG

Author: Roald Dahl

Summary: The BFG is a nice and jumbly giant. In fact, he is the only big friendly giant in Giant Country. All the other giants are big bonecrunching brutes, and now the BFG and his friend Sophie must stop them guzzling up little human beans–with some help from Her Majesty the Queen.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: This was, undoubtedly, my favourite book as a child. I remember my mum reading it to me at night. I remember when i had learnt to read, reading it myself. This is the book of my childhood. And one of the films of my childhood, the only real ‘kid’s film’ i remember watching. So many childhood memories wrapped up in this book for me.

And it stands up to the test of adulthood. I still love it. In some ways, i love it even more, in other ways, slightly less. Overall, though, just as much love.

The BFG is fabulous. His way with words is wonderful and hilarious, and i would never get sick of it. I could read his switchfiddling the English language around all day. I also want to introduce the word ‘whizzpop’ into my everyday vocabulary. But aside from the language, the BFG is so effortlessly wise, and despite the communication difficulties, makes himself perfectly and easily understood. The lessons he teaches Sophie–and the reader, if they’re paying attention–about the world are relevant and important beyond the pages of the book. There was one section of several pages that made me stop and smile with how simply he demonstrates the hypocrisy and arrogance of the human race.

“You is a human bean and you is saying it is grizzling and horrigust for giants to be eating human beans. Right or left?”
“Right,” Sophie said.
“But human beans is squishing each other all the time,” the BFG said. “They is shooting guns and and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”

“I think it’s rotten that those foul giants should go off every night to eat humans. Humans have never done them any harm.”
“That is what the little piggy-wig is saying every day,” the BFG answered. “He is saying, ‘I has never done any harm to the human bean so why should he be eating me?'”

I missed these wise words as a child, or, at least i didn’t consciously recognise them for what they are. It could have had more of an affect that i realised, because i did grow up to be a vegan who holds strong anti-war opinions…

The thing that unfortunately didn’t hold up to an adult reading was the nature of the heroic conclusion. A queen who holds authority over the army and the air force, who takes the revelation that giants exist in her stride and invites one to breakfast, who commands so absolutely that no politicians are involved and no one else bats an eyelid at the giant because if they queen’s cool with it then it’s fine. I hold little respect or regard for the royals, and am just unable to stomach the queen being a realistic go-to figure to help save the day. And okay, yes, fiction, but in that case, magic up an evil-giant zapping machine or make Jack and his beanstalk a reality. Don’t base the solution in fact, but have it be so unrealistic. …Turns out, if i let myself, i feel quite strongly about that aspect. Oops?

Thankfully, the disappointing resolve of the story doesn’t do enough to take away from the BFG himself and his perfectly splendiferousness. If only human beans could be as wise, insightful, eloquent and… friendly.

This knocks the final(!!) square off my Bookish Bingo: A book from my childhood.

The Paper Men

tpmTitle: The Paper Men

Author: William Golding

Summary: Fame, success, fortune; a drink problem slipping over the borderline into alcoholism, a dead marriage, the incurable itches of middle-aged lust. For Wilfred Barclay, novelist, the final, unbearable irritation is Professor Rick L. Tucker, implacable in his determination to become The Barclay Man.

Locked in a lethal relationship they stumble half-blindly across Europe, shedding wives, self-respect, illusions. They confront terrifying abysses – physical, emotional, spiritual – continually change roles, change themselves, change the worlds about them. The climax, when it comes, is as inevitable as it is unexpected.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Golding is an author who’s work i am making my way through at a sedate pace. I haven’t loved every book i’ve read so far, but i have liked, appreciated and admired them all. He’s an author who doesn’t stick to the same genre, format or message. Each of his books is unique, and i love that. The Paper Men was, gladly, another score for the ‘love’ list.

I was apprehensive at first, as i had read some pretty damning reviews. The only thing those bad reviews liked was the ending; they adored the last line. Unfortunately, as i am wont to do, i had already flipped to the last page and read the last line. So i knew going in exactly how this book ended. (Therefore it was not at all as unexpected as the synopsis claimed–they never take into account people skipping ahead!) But screw all the bad reviews–this book was brilliant!

There is humour–oh, so much humour, i laughed loud and often. There is meaningfulness, introspection, commentary. How people can gloss over or miss that and complain that not enough happened makes their taste and intelligence poor, if i’m being honest in my own opinion.

I adored Wilf. I’m not sure i was supposed to, but there we have it. He isn’t perfect, by any means, but he is unapologetically himself, and hurts almost no one but himself. Almost, except those closest to him (though whether he is close to them is debatable), and of course Rick L. Tucker. Wilf travels the world on no whim but his own, drinking, sleeping and writing. He makes no demands on people, letting the wind take him wherever it decides to blow. Rick L. Tucker, on the other hand, goes exactly where Wilf does. His obsessive, stalker, relentless behaviour really, really bothered me. He just wouldn’t give up chasing Wilf around, trying to convince him to let him be his official biographer. How many times can Wilf say, “No,” and disappear to another country before Rick gets the message? Never enough, apparently. Sorry, but harassment is not an endearing quality, and for all Wilf’s faults, i’ll take him over Tucker any day.

That covers the plot, really. The rest of the interest of the book is more Wilf’s mind and thoughts, so i supposed having a soft spot for Wilf makes me more inclined to enjoy his words and the book itself. He is very much a writer, often comparing the world to how things would be done in one of his novels, and offering insight into the mind of a writer. He tos and fros between thought processes, opinions on himself, and choices and reasons. He’s an intellectual and literary man, and he’s also one of the most unreliable narrators i have ever read. His words were a joy, his drinking problem worrisome but occasionally controlled, his paranoia palpable but relatively harmless. He was, ultimately, fascinating.

There is, really, only one point of criticism i have of The Paper Men. As much as i loved reading it when i was reading, when i wasn’t reading, i had no drive to get back to it. I didn’t think about the book when i wasn’t reading it. When i picked it up again i often had to re-read the last paragraph of the previous chapter to remind myself of the exact circumstances it had left of on. And while this didn’t impede my enjoyment of the book when i was reading it, i did miss that burn–that desire to still be reading and to know what happens. I missed it enough to be distinctly aware that it wasn’t there.

But still, the book itself, regardless of my emotions towards it when i put it down, is thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and such a hoot. I loved some sections so much that when i did have a pencil to mark passages i… i used a pen! And i don’t regret a single inked line.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Published in my birth year.

Much Ado About Nothing

much adoTitle: Much Ado About Nothing

Author: William Shakespeare

Summary: Set in a courtly world of masked revels and dances, this play turns on the archetypal story if a lady falsely accused of unfaithfulness, spurned by her bridegroom, and finally vindicated and reunited with him. Villainy, schemes, and deceit threatens to darken the brilliant humour and sparkling wordplay–but the hilarious counter plot of a warring couple, Beatrice and Benedick, steals the scene as the two are finally tricked into admitting their love for each other in Shakespeare’s superb comedy of manners.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: Like most people, i read and studied a bit of Shakespeare at school. I never hated his work as vehemently as some, though i didn’t love it either (excepting A Midsummer Night’s Dream–that play is a hoot!). However, in my maturity (ha!) i have wanted to read the plays i didn’t get a change to at school. I’ve finally started that task by reading Much Ado About Nothing.

At first it was hard to get into, the language is awkward and difficult to get your head around, but it was only that way for a few pages. I realised quickly that i was reading as i would have at school; slowly and meticulously in order to pick apart the words and figure out how they’re put together and decipher their meaning. As soon as i was conscious of what i was doing, i stopped doing it. The moment i stopped trying to analyse the language, it all started to make much more sense. I didn’t have to know exactly how something was being said to understand what was being said.

Beatrice and Benedick certainly do steal the show, despite the main plot being Claudio and Hero’s engagement and drama surrounding it. For me, it was because they were the characters i liked the most. They were witty and intelligent and, despite the verbal sparring, they were respectful of each other. The other characters, with their preoccupation with marriage, interference and lies, were much more difficult to sympathise with.

The plot was simple enough, but then the play isn’t long. I can’t say i enjoyed the conclusion, with Claudio and Hero marrying despite the accusations that were so easy thrown around. But what this story had plenty of was humour. I genuinely laughed out loud on several occasions. While each character had a moment or two to shine, and Beatrice and Benedick shine throughout, the funniest characters by far were Dogberry and the watchmen. Every ‘deformed’ with a capital D gave me a little chuckle.

I would urge anyone with the slightest inclination to give ol’ Shakespeare a go. He’s more awesome than you think, and basically invented half the words we all use today… not to mention the insults! This book also left me thinking in Shakespeare for a few hours after i’d finished. And now, i can finally get around to watching Joss Whedon’s adaptation!

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: A play.

The Colour of Magic

tcomTitle: The Colour of Magic

Author: Terry Pratchett

Summary: On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle (sex unknown), a gleeful, explosive, wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There’s an avaricious but inept wizard, a naive tourist whose luggage moves on hundreds of dear little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course THE EDGE of the planet…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: I’ve never had the inclination to pick up a Terry Pratchett book. I picked this one up because it has dragons in it, and i wanted to tick that off my bookish bingo. To be quite honest, i wish i hadn’t bothered. I still have no inclination to pick up a(nother) Terry Pratchett book.

I had issues with the book almost immediately. To put a positive twist on it, i’ll say the book wasn’t boring; there was always plenty going on, lots of think about, imagine and keep track of. The book did, however, have too much happening. Pratchett has one hell of a vivid imagination, but that doesn’t mean he has to include every detail he thinks of in the bloody book. There were side characters whose history, present and future were thrown in over a few pages and then never heard of again, while adding nothing to the actual story.

Talking of the story, this book didn’t have one. What was the plot, exactly? Because i must have missed it. There was nothing driving the main characters. They hopped from one tricky situation to the next, never actually striving or aiming for anything, which in turn left me not rooting for anything. There was also nothing resembling a satisfying ending. Now, i love open and ambiguous endings, but there has to be some kind of conclusion; something has to be wrapped up, even if not everything. The problem here was there there was nothing to wrap up!

The main characters, Rincewind and Twoflower, i did rather like. They make an interesting duo, the inept cowardly wizard and the joyful naive tourist. It was funny seeing them repeatedly get themselves into sticky situations and fumble their way out of them. The luggage stole the show though. Other characters came and went, and i was mostly unconcerned with them; there were far too many passing characters to get attached to any. There was one specific set of characters i was highly disappointed with and, to be frank, pissed off about…

The female characters. For the number of characters in this book (a lot), the fact that i can count the females on one hand is bad enough, but then we get down to the characters themselves. The first two mentions of women were simply as whores. The second two mentions of women introduced them with the specific fact that they were beautiful and naked. The third mention was of a female hanging upside down and only talked about how odd her breasts looked that way around. The fourth, and marginally the least offensive of the lot, was simply “The Lady” who was also simply described as being “beautiful and that she had green eyes”. The fact that she is the character that outwits all the others can’t make up for the rest of her representation. Honestly, the general representation (and lack thereof) of women in this book and the fact that i have been told the later books get no better, is the main reason i will never pick up another book by Terry Pratchett.

It’s a pity, really, because at times Pratchett has an excellent way with words, being very witty, clever and generally amusing. But then, when it seems he’s trying so hard to be those things, he’s has to succeed a few times, right? And it’s not worth trawling through all the problems i had to find a few great passages.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: Dragons.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

cocoaTitle: Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis

Author: Wendy Cope

Summary: Already well known for her hilarious send-ups of contemporary writers, Wendy Cope is perhaps the most accomplished parodist since Beerbohm. This first full-length collection includes work by Jason Strugnell, the subject of the Radio Three programme, Shall I Call Thee Bard?, as well as other parodies and literary jokes. There are, in addition, telling lyrics and a number of remarkable love poems–candid, sometimes erotic, and very funny indeed.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

Review: I’ll admit straight away that i only read this book to tick off a couple of boxes on my Bookish Bingo. I can’t recall having heard of Wendy Cope before and I’m not a connoisseur of poetry… so it was highly unlikely this endeavour was going to end in anything above three stars.

I’m particular when it comes to poetry and verse. I like either dramatic and epic, like Shakespeare and Poe, or silly and rhyming, like limericks. Some of the poems in this book, on the whole, are walking a line somewhere close to silly and rhyming, but while still being meaningful. Others were just silly enough for me. Others still just baffled me, to be honest… i didn’t “get” a lot of them.

My favourites were definitely the nursery rhyme parodies. Baa Baa Black Sheep in the style of William Wordsworth and Hickory Dickory Dock in the style of T.S. Eliot. They were clever and funny and perfect. I could happily have a read an entire book of those. (Still craving an E.E. Cummings nursery rhyme, not going to lie.) I also really enjoyed the love poems, ‘From June to December’ and ‘My Lover’. These are the poems i can see myself wanting to go back and re-read.

The rest… the rest i was pretty unimpressed with. None of them were bad, per se; i didn’t dislike any of them. I just didn’t like them, either. I’m sure a factor in this is that i’m not too familiar with the some of the work, writers and themes Cope was toying with. So, while the poems read fine to me, they failed to interest me because i was missing their depth.

I’m unlikely to buy more of Cope’s work, but i will certainly remember and re-read the few poems i genuinely loved.

This knocks two squares off my Bookish Bingo: Author with your first name and author with your initials.

Radiator Days

rdTitle: Radiator Days

Author: Lucy Knisley

Summary: I used to live in a small apartment in Chicago, where the radiator hummed noisily while I drew comics. The comics in this book were made over a two-year period that seems to consist of constant winter. They were drawn to the tune of the radiator’s hum.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I enjoy comics and i enjoy short stories. This book is a collection of short story comics, so going in there was a high chance of me loving it. This was a random purchase from my local comic book shop, and it did not disappoint. It’s a fun lighthearted read, with a decent splattering of meaningful honesty and thoughtfulness.

Part journal, part fiction the stories have a nice mix. On the whole i think i preferred the journal-type comics, because they gave me more of a sense of the author, why she drew these comics and what she herself was getting out of it. I particularly liked the comics covering one day, with two panels per hour, as well as the ‘Summer Journals’ which covered a couple of months, a one-page comic a day. The fictitious comics ranged from sweet and serious to bizarre and funny. The ones that stick with me being the tomboy bridesmaid stuck in a lift and the skeleton/bear fight.

Knisley’s drawing style is simple, but never lacking. On the whole she uses plain line drawings, but manages to put a lot of life into them. It’s accessible; it seems to invite the reader into the story, to be a part of it and share in its delights, rather than solely to be admired. It’s the kind of art that inspires me because it’s wonderful, but also looks like something even i could manage if i practised enough.

comic01

I have another Knisley book, bought on the same day as this random purchase, and i’m very much looking forward to reading it. Knisley draws smart, funny and perceptive comics, but also random, poignant and relateable stories. Plus, the references to Jeffrey Lewis make me happy.

This knocks three squares off my Bookish Bingo: Self-published, based on true stories and written by someone under 30.

Breakfast of Champions

breakfast-of-championsTitle: Breakfast of Champions

Author: Kurt Vonnegut

Summary: In a frolic of cartoon and comic outbursts against rule and reason, a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce, Kurt Vonnegut attacks the whole spectrum of American society, releasing some of his best-loved literary creations on the scene.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: This book is… i’m not sure ‘weird’ covers it, to be honest. But it’s not just weird. It’s funny and insightful and astute and 100% on point. This book is brilliant.

If you can look past the strangeness–the odd, round the houses tale of the two main characters and the chain of events that lead them to meeting… the multiple random asides that go on for several pages that are then referenced several chapters later… the interweaving details and history of the characters, the characters’ family, and things that happened to them many years ago… the author-insertion into his own book… If you can look past all that, or, perhaps more accurately, look deeper into that, Vonnegut is making some relevant, sharp and witty comments on life.

My personal favourite was when he started giving the length and girth of the penis of every male character he introduces, and the bust/waist/hip measurements of every female. Oh, and the average number of orgasms each character has in a month. Because this is the real information people care about, right? How big your dick is and how much sex you have. Of course, this information allows you to draw zero conclusions about these characters. Another example of the same thing would be the way he introduces characters by telling you whether they are black or white–because far too many people think this is relevant when it isn’t–it adds nothing to the characters…

…Except of course when Vonnegut has a point to make about racist and class divides, then things become very relevant. And Vonnegut has a lot to say–a lot of points to make–about a lot of things. By framing them slightly off, by showing them from a slightly odd character’s point of view, he points out the slightly odd things about society, about humans, about life. Those points could be missed if all you’re thinking about is how weird the story is. In a way, the story itself is lost without the astute details Vonnegut is slipping in.

I think this is the kind of book you either get, or you don’t. And while i’m sure there was plenty of things i missed (and do believe a re-read would be in the book’s favour), there was so much i loved and took away with me from this book. So many smiles and laughs and wry nods of the head.

This knocks one square off my Bookish Bingo: A memoir (okay, maybe not exactly, but the blurb does say: ‘a miraculous weaving of science fiction, memoir, parable, fairy tale and farce’ so i’m totally having it).

Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

ablutionsTitle: Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Author: Patrick deWitt

Summary: A brilliant portrait of addiction and its consequences, featuring a watchful, whiskey-loving barman, sociopathic clientele – daring, funny and surprisingly tender.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4.5/5

Review: Discuss how much you enjoyed the book you recently finished reading. It so quickly immerses you into the story by making you a part of the story. With its second person narrative executed perfectly, the short chapters that manage to get you reading more than you intend to and the simple language used to efficiently yet evocatively describe these people and their surroundings. You sum up your review in its first paragraph and wonder if you should bother continuing.

Yeah, i was hooked on this book within the first few pages. A couple of years ago i read deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers on a recommendation from a friend and loved it. Ablutions has been on my to-read list ever since. Last weekend i found it a library book sale for 0.25p. Needless to say, i snapped it up and started reading it almost immediately. Possibly the best 0.25p i’ve ever spent.

Set in a bar in Los Angeles, the book explores alcoholism, drug addition and self-abuse in general. At no point does it romanticise these things–trust me. In fact it goes out of its way to specifically to show them as debasing, depraving and life-ruining.

I don’t know, i really did sum it up in that first paragraph. About half of the short sections start with “Discuss [something]” and, as the title suggests, the entire book reads like notes on people and incidents in the narrators life, and with the second person it’s as if he is writing notes to himself. Or, as if the reader has written notes to themselves. Second person narration is so hard to do well, but deWitt nails it in this book. The narrator, and every character described in the book, is hateful, selfish and self-destructive; none of them are likable, but the second person narrative had me rooting for the protagonist hard by the end, even as he steal and lies and causes harm.

The nature of the note-taking-like storytelling utilises a very simple writing style, lots of “you do [this]” and “you say [that]” etc, but it is its simplicity and clarity that so easily–so casually–creates this vivid world and characters. I’m not a fan of over-description, so of course i favour this style, but it really adds to this novel and its style overall. The simplistic writing offers as much insight into the narrator as any description of himself he may offer, and i often found myself consciously recognising the minimalistic writing style for that reason.

Again, in fitting with the “notes for a novel” title, a lot of the book reads like a character study of all the people the narrator encounters, and i found that fascinating. Getting to know characters and forming opinions on them is something i love about books, and this one manages it perfectly. I hate and/or pity everyone in the book, but they are also so obviously human and vulnerable and have something that could be likable about them–they’re real.

Humour is also a huge part of this novel. I laughed a lot, and wanted to tweet quotes every time i picked up the book. A lot of the humour is crude and gross, but that personally doesn’t offend me or put me off at all. I love it when amusement comes with a side of disgusted face-pulling; life isn’t all free shots and parties, sometimes it’s blueberries-and-blood shitting yourself.

Patrick deWitt’s writing style has so much of what i love. He is fast becoming one of my very favourite authors, and i eagerly await the release of his next novel in September.

I’m using this book to knock off the free space in my Bookish Bingo!