Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Jonathan Cape

California in the Sixties?
Flowers in the hair, a joint between the fingers, a wave under your board and Hendrix’s Hey Joe floating through the air.
Not quite. In this - well, historical novel, really - the LA police are deep in the heroin trade and have a hit man rubbing out union organisers and illegal immigrants. The Manson Family have just been caught for the Tate murders. Our private eye hero’s old girlfriend’s new rich squeeze has his wife putting out a contract on him.
What? What?
Dope fiend shamus Doc Sportello uses his stoner ESP to probe complex interlocking mysteries. Surfie band the Boards may be haunted by zombies. The Golden Fang may be a ship, a smack-dealing cartel or a tax dodge. Billionaire Micky Wolfmann may not have been kidnapped.
There’s a story in there?
Kind of. But this really doesn’t stick to the thriller structure - it wanders around, kinda toking on this philosophy and that and playing with words and images and concepts and… what was I saying?
Does it work as a thriller?
Hell, no. Every now and again something nasty happens, but it’s all in such a haze that you don’t really notice.
What characters inhabit this dark world?
El Drano (acronym for Leonard), who sells heroin - cut, one surmises, with America’s favourite toilet cleaner. Dirty cop Bigfoot Bjornsen. A sweet young family fighting to recover from addiction. Sixties tropes: an English moptop band (wink, wink); TVs with those giant remotes like a brick that buzzes in your hands.
Should I buy it?
Oh, definitely - Pynchon is the core literato, his Gravity’s Rainbow, V, etc must-reads. Just carrying this around and leaving it on cafe tables gives you instant street cred. But you should be wearing shades when you’re reading it, and endangering your health by at least smoking a mentholated.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti

Short Books
Swedish sex god seduces librarian?
In a sense. Benny and Shrimp is the story of an unlikely love. It came out in Sweden in 1998 and became a mass seller, then when it was published in the US it took off there. Now it’s about to explode here.
A love fated to be?
Pretty unlikely, really. In the graveyard, Desirée is gazing sadly and resentfully at her husband’s starkly designed grave while Benny tends his parents’ over-the-top grave of frills and marble and plastic flowers, and they dislike each other on sight. Then they smile at each other, and Zowee!
Ah yes. Benny is a dairy farmer crushed by a 16-hour day tending cows, clearing manure, fixing tractors, doing accounts, paying the vet, working in the forest, with no one to help. Desirée, or Shrimp as he nicknames her, is a serious intellectual with a career in the library.
So he needs a different kind of woman?
And she needs a different kind of man. Benny needs a sonsy farmgirl who knows how to make meatballs with lingonberry sauce from berries she’s gathered herself, and keep the farmhouse trim, and back the tractor and baler while he’s loading. Desirée needs a Lacan-discussing cafe lizard.
But then how…?
One smile, and next thing she’s fondling his blond curls and they’re having wild experimental sex all over the place. He buys her birthday presents - butterfly-shaped soap, a mouth organ, silly earrings, mauve tights -
Wait! Wait! What was that about sex?
Oh, lots of sex. Funny sex too, better still. And the story! A real page-turner, with nice subplots as well - one of the librarians keeps files and photos on colleagues; a friend loves a bad man who does her wrong.
But a happy ending?
The weirdest ending you could imagine, and morally equivocal, to say the least. But I won’t spoil it for you. Go and buy it pronto. It’s wonderful.
Author page for Penguin (Mazetti's US publisher)

Friday, 7 August 2009

Civil & Strange by Cláir Ní Aonghusa

Penguin Ireland

Civil and strange? What’s that mean?
It’s a Munster saying, meaning you should be civil with your neighbours, but keep a distance so the gossips don’t ate you alive.
What’s the story?
Kind of an Irish Aga Saga - Ellen escapes her unhappy marriage and manipulative mother by going back to the country town where she spent happy summers as a child.
Shudder - peeling wallpaper, dank rooms?
Until she gets the builders in, then it’s bright paint, conservatory, sexy cherrywood and granite kitchen, sexy kitchen installer.
Whoah, say again?
Yup, Eugene, gorgeous, flirty carpenter, has a fine pair of hands on him, and wants to get them on our Ellen. But he’s 12 years younger than her - shock horror - and she’s now a teacher in the local school.
She’ll bring disgrace on the family
Aha, your roots are showing. The nearest thing Ellen has to local family is her uncle Matt, whose wife, Julia, is icy and distant and wouldn’t have Ellen to stay when she was a kid.
And for why, like?
Matt married Julia at his mother’s instigation when the woman of his heart left him for someone else. Or so they say….
It’s good, so?
Brilliant. Not a pageturner, but told in a very appealing dialogue-heavy, slangy style. You like these characters and want to know what’s going to happen to them.
Gonna be a country girl again, eh?
Small-town, really. The local shopkeeper who’s avid for gossip. The way everyone knows everyone else’s business. The sly power plays by parents who bully the teachers.
Who’s this Cláir?
Poet, short story writer, novelist - this is her second novel; the first, Four Houses & A Marriage, was published by Poolbeg in 1997. Civil & Strange came out last year in the US, to critical acclaim, before arriving here.
It’s a buy, then?
A gently funny book that’ll make you nostalgic for your old home town.
US publisher's site