Saturday, July 12, 2014

How to Build A Girl (Again)

This week I was able to enjoy that increasingly uncommon treat, reading a whole book, from cover to cover, in one sitting. The only way I have found to make this work, in this age of easy distractions, is to book yourself into a business-class flight to New York and make sure that B.A. aren't showing a single bloody film that appeals to you in the slightest. Nevertheless, and not wishing to go off on one about B.A. (they destroyed my luggage too, the bastards) I was able to recline in my eery podule and enjoy the debut novel from everyone's favourite-journalist-apart-from-Charlie-Brooker, Caitlin Moran.

Green. It's a theme, you see.
How to Build A Girl reminds me very much of Stephen Fry's The Liar. In both cases we are reading a slightly fictionalised autobiography with a mere wisp of plot draped over the narrative to satisfy the demands of a "novel", and in both cases the author has already presented us with their autobiography anyway. (Attention, pedants - yes, I do know that The Liar predated Moab is My Washpot by around a decade.)

What you get here is not so much a novel as a names-are-changed-to-protect-the-family retelling of Caitlin's origin story (which we've already had most of in How To Be A Woman) where a spunky, overweight and self-loathing young heroine from the Midlands gets a job on a music magazine, sleeps around a bit, and moves to London. In my mind, this is to How to Be a Woman as Batman Begins is to Tim Burton's Batman; same story, different emphasis, different flavour. (Of course there's no Jack Nicholson in either, but still). As an added slice of fiction (I hope) is a subplot regarding her father's lingering hopes of pop stardom and his attempts to coerce the heroine to give his awful demo a glowing review in the mag she writes for.

It's fair to say it really doesn't deviate from what we've already been told about Caitlin Moran's life, so if you've already read How to Be A Woman then there's little new content for you here.

With that caveat out of the way, though, I should turn my focus to HTBAG's  merits, and chief among them is the sheer effing brilliance of the writing, and of this latest iteration of the story, for truly the tale improves with each telling. As this is a novel the tale can also be told in slightly more detail with less discretion - because the names have been changed. You see the genius of the system? Moran can make her heroine, Daisy Wilde, much ruder and liberated than she may have wished to portray herself previously, and who knows, perhaps this character is Wildely different from the novelist she's based upon, her experiences unimaginably different, exaggerated and extrapolated from their real-life originals. But I doubt it.

She's funny, she's loveable, she's like most of us - adrift and struggling to find her way in a big scary world we do not remotely comprehend - and like everyone she occasionally fucks up. Good. We need characters like that in books. I fear that Moran's readership is increasingly a female one, despite many wives and girlfriends buying her first book for their bemused partners. It would be a shame for men not to read this. I really wish it had been around when a teenage me had the idea of reading books by women to try to a) understand them and b) enjoy more luck getting off with them. Who did I end up reading to try to reach these vital ends? Carrie Fisher and Freya bloody North.


This, however, is a useful little book for everyone, about men, women, adolescence and reinvention of the self. I found only two errors within these pages, she got the original UK transmission year of the first series of Twin Peaks wrong, and also confused Han Solo for Luke Skywalker in the snog-Leia-and-swing-over-the-chasm-in-the-Death-Star scene in Star Wars. Both, ironically, mistakes no boy would ever make. The resolution of the sub-plot involving Daisy's father's demo is noteable by its absence, but apart from these tiny faults, this is a great read. A hugely enjoyable novel. A perfect holiday book. Recommended, my people.

Now, I have much to do, and you all need to go and read something brilliant, so let's meet back here in a week. Be well, my dears, and do try to behave yourselves.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A Modern Way to Eat

A Lovely Way to Cook
A more-than-usually gorgeous food book has arrived at Bookface Towers from Jamie Oliver "protege" Anna Jones, entitled A Modern Way to Eat. Initially I was fearful that Jones would be advocating an entirely new system of ingesting, possibly involving using an app in place of the traditional, time-honoured insertion of comestibles into the standard face-mouth, or digesting remotely via the Cloud. But rest assured; she's not here to shake up the established order of this to that extent, she just wants more people to cook lovely veggie food.

I'm quite at home with that idea, and the first recipe I stumbled upon in the book (well, OK, in the ten-page sampler I picked up at London Book Fair) was for a date hummus. I have made this around seven or eight times now for friends and family and people genuinely seem to love it. It's revolutionised my hummus appreciation and given me a reason to unpack the food processor every week or so. My god, it's moreish.

A Lovely Thing to Eat
And today, in my first experiment with a recipe from the book proper, I attempted her 'Full of Greens Fritters'. Her writing is laid-back and easy to follow (although food writers are not known for their impenetrable sesquipedalian circumlocution, thank heavens) and her recipe translates alchemically even through the hands of someone like me, who in five years of Middle Eastern living has forgotten virtually all I ever knew about cooking. In short, once I'd grated my courgettes, zested my lemon, crumbled my cheese and shredded my spinach, I ended up the proud chef of these beauties, very light, citrusy and bursting with goodness.

The book is simply full of tempting recipes brought to vivid life by some of the best food photography I can remember seeing. I for one hope this title does really well in the market, since surely we're all tired of Sweary Gordon, Fat-tongued Jamie and Nigella "You've still got some on your upper lip, dear" Lawson. The plan now is to work my way through the book trying out whatever takes my fancy on any given day. It's a Lovely Way to Live and will hopefully produce untold delights. So, if anyone asks you, my tip for foodie writer of 2014 is Anna Jones. Watch her closely.

Bookface is struggling, right now. The urge to write is stronger than the urge to read. I've finished five of the six stories for series three of Winterhill (check out the amazing and rather humbling reviews for series one here) and this is eating up all of my free time. So I still haven't finished A Game of Thrones, and I've a novel from Caitlin Moran called How to Build A Girl waiting to be read. It's been likened to Portnoy's Complaint in the twittersphere. Either this means early readers think Moran is as good a writer as Philip Roth, or they think it's basically a book about wanking. So, pretty compelling either way.

I'll let you know next time after this little trip I have to make to New York, if British Airways manage not to kill me in the meantime. Be well, stay strong, read something brilliant, and check out Anna Jones.

Peace out.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Frothy and Disposable

James Patterson
This week that most august man of letters James Patterson has established a massive cash fund to support independent bookshops in the UK. I'm sure it's not a tax-dodge and I firmly believe he's acting entirely altruistically, but the reality is that to succeed, these businesses need customers, and they need people to buy books. They need the major publishers to turn their backs on Amazon, and re-establish fair prices for books. Luckily, even as we speak, Amazon are doing their level best to destroy the relationships they've built up with the big publishers by demanding ever-larger discounts and unsupportably generous terms. It only needs one huge publisher to tell them to get lost and suddenly Amazon's USP - "we stock everything you could possibly want" - stops being true.  The customer's mouse could then hover over the buy buttons on the much more deserving, or who knows, they might return to their local high street shop to buy their books. Even if they are by James Patterson. Oh if only there was now a monolithically huge global publishing house who could realistically be the first to say "no" to Amazon... Yes, PenguinRandomPenguinHouse, I'm looking at you.

Of course, if you are buying something to read from Amazon today, I can heartily, and hypocritically, recommend my own science fiction series Winterhill. It doesn't matter if you don't have a Kindle, you can get the Kindle App for your Apple devices too! Lucky day. Get to it. Winterhill is really quite good, I promise.

There's been an amazing quote this week from Freya North who has slammed the term "chick-lit" saying it implies such books are "frothy and disposable". This shows a hitherto unexpected lack of self awareness from North, writer of the most frothy, insubstantial and disposable novel Bookface has ever read. It's called Polly, if you want to read it and take issue with me. Does North fondly imagine she's writing meaningful, meta-textual literature suffused with rich prose and deft use of literary devices? Because...well, she's really not.

Remember Tom Perrotta? My favourite read of 2006 was the movie tie-in edition of Little Children. Perrotta struck me then as an American Nick Hornby, if you imagine a Nick Hornby had never written the meisterworks Fever Pitch or High Fidelity. Well, Perrotta's work is back before the cameras, this time the can-do-no-wrong cameras of HBO no less! The tie-in edition of The Leftovers is available, too. And it all looks very encouraging for life after Orange is the New Black, 24: Live Another Day, Penny Dreadful and Orphan Black.

So, yes, Bookface is mainly watching TV for the summer now, when I'm not working, writing or running. It's a bit of a golden age of TV right now. If you're hungry for a more book-review heavy book blog, I can point you towards my new twitter friend BookishDubai's blog here.

Meanwhile I have to pack for a trip to New York, so I'll thank you to leave me alone while I search for that missing running sock. Books a plenty when I return, I promise. Now scram.

Go and read something brilliant.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Bookface Prize

A Vision of Lovely
Am I the only one speechlessly excited by the prospect of Gillian Anderson's forthcoming fiction debut? A Vision of Fire arrives in October from Simon and Schuster. Normally Bookface is highly cynical when it comes to celebrities turning their hands to fiction (anyone remember Naomi Campbell's The Swan? No? Precisely) but I'll make an exception for Gillian Anderson because, essentially, I have fancied her since the autumn of 1993 when she first exploded onto my TV screen as Agent Scully in The X-Files. As yet there is very little info about the book but it's certainly on the radar here at Bookface Towers.

There's lots of booky fun to be had by joining the conversation on Twitter for #bookadayuk, which runs until the end of June. Each day they want you to share your book which befits that particular day's category. Join in. It's very revealing...

JK Rowling is returning with second "Robert Galbraith" crime novel entitled Silkworm. This makes it her first novel to share a title with a Guns N' Roses song, after the aborted Harry Potter and the Welcome to the Jungle. What else has hit the shops recently? The paperback of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which notably didn't win the Bailey's Prize.

Look at Gillian. Look at her. Lovely. Also, distracting. No wonder I can't think of much to say. In my defence there was supposed to be a huge review of George Ronald Reuel Martin's A Game of Thrones here, but I haven't finished it yet. It's a big boy, that one. Maybe there's room in the world for another serious literary award, one called The Bookface Prize which goes, each year, to the author I most fancy? The long-list would, off the top of my head, include Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie, JK Rowling,  Gillian Anderson (OBVS) and Marisha Pessl too. Yes, actually this is a great idea. I shall run with it. Stay tuned.

We're also only a month or two away from late August which sees the announcement of the Booker Prize long-list (ah, how quickly they roll around) and the return of Doctor Who. Which is off-topic, especially as it kept creeping into last year's columns. For which I apologise. Still, though, it was the 50th anniversary.

Sad news this week - genuinely sad news - Rik Mayall died. Apart from his recent autobiography (which wasn't all that good if we're being honest) he was the author of the seminal 80's comedy tie-in book How to be a Complete Bastard which my mum and dad wouldn't let me buy. Still, I'm over it now*. As a TV actor I loved him in both The New Statesman and Bottom, and back when I bought those most pointless examples of publishing, TV script books, I bought these both. Given how most of Rik's comedy contemporaries have turned to fiction - Ade Edmondson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Dawn French, Ben Elton etc. -  it's a surprise he never did.

Now I suggest you all run along as there's really nothing to see here this week. I'm just going to sit here and stare at Gillian until my legs go numb.

*I'm clearly not.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Twelve Days of Kelly Christmas

Eimear McBride. Ten years rejected. 
Baileys Prize. 
Half-formed Thing. Stream of consciousness. Hard work. 
Fascinating story of how it got backing by a small indy publisher. 
Challenging. Unreadable? 
You judge. My brain. Hurts. 
Maybe ten years ago, I might have tried. 
Congratulations, Galley Beggar Press.

Hope Floats
I have just finished reading The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick Age 81, by J.B. Morrisson, who I was once lucky enough to be able to interview. He's probably too busy to return my calls these days, now he's switched publishers and gone and got a proper surname. His literary ambition is naked. However, Frank Derrick is the third novel from Jim Bob, and is probably the first you could call mainstream.

His debut, Storage Stories, is like a Graham Linehan Channel Four sitcom, and his follow-up Driving Jarvis Ham is like a modern, celebrity-obsessed take on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces (which I'm actually quoted as saying in the paperback edition. Which is nice.)

Frank celebrates his eighty-first birthday by being run over by a milk float. A widower with a daughter who lives abroad, Frank lives alone and has thus far been enjoying an old age spent buying rubbish from charity shops, ignoring the bills, hanging out with his friend Smelly John at the nursing home down the road, and looking after his cat Bill, who clearly dislikes him. But now, injured and far less able to cope with life, it is arranged that he will get weekly visits from a carer for a few months to help him out, and from the first meeting with Kelly Christmas, something is reborn inside Frank...

So what is Frank Derrick 'like', if I were to try, in my limited, and feeble way, to compare it to something? Well, there are touches of Samuel Beckett's bleak wit in elderly Frank's fruitless attempts to cope with the cyclical madness of modern life - call centres, charity shops, the NHS, all of which Frank is helpless in the face of, and utterly unable to effect meaningful engagement with. There's also a great joke involving his new glasses and how they arrive which is pure Beckett. It's a book of tiny things, everyday ordinariness, and gentle bleakness mixed with moments that depress you utterly and others which give you hope that old age might not, after all, be the worst thing that can ever happen to you.

But I guess I'm more reminded of Ricky Gervais' sitcom Derek, which is also concerned with showing the reality of nursing homes, healthcare, lovely people struggling with bills, with real life, in an unconcerned world where you're of no use if you're not making money. As with that show, there is much in Frank Derrick to warm the cockles of your heart, although there are certain scenes with Bill the cat which moved me to cold fury (Bookface is a bit of a cat person, you see).

Jim Bob is a naturally funny writer, but in Frank Derrick he's toning it down (there's very little of his usual swearing or stuff about wee or poo) partly because the characters he's working with require a different tone (apart from Smelly John) and possibly partly because he's aiming to build a more dignified literary presence you don't get by simply pelting the reader with swearing or childish jokes. (But, Ian McEwan, it is big and clever and you should definitely try it). So it is a sadder, more despairing humour that suffuses the book, but it's very funny, and I'd have to say The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick Age 81 is one of the better reads I've had lately. Add it to your holiday reading pile, please.

Now, not being the sort of reader to find himself behind the curve, I'm about to start one of these popular Game of Thrones novels by George R R Martin because I'm told they're quite good and I shouldn't be an old snootypants about the fantasy genre because, as a Sci-Fi author it all gets a bit "pot and kettle". In an inversion of the usual relationship between book reviewer and reader, I'll therefore be the last man on the planet to have read it instead of one of the first, and you can all bombard me with angry comments about how wrong my opinions may be.

I'll look forward to that.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

On sale now!

Six new stories continuing the adventures of
Rebecca Winterhill, Madagascar Talifero
and Tareku as they travel in time and space.
The Complete Second Series of Winterhill is available now from Amazon's Kindle Store.

It features six new tales of travel, danger, excitement, monsters, flirting and invasive cranial surgery.

The episodes are:

  • Shellshock
  • A Cold Day in Hell
  • First Contact
  • The Never Mind
  • Talifero Paradise
  • The Quantum of Justice
I'm biased, of course, but I think the second book is even better than the first.

So if you're in the market for some SF stories and you can spare two pounds forty nine, I'd be delighted if you gave Winterhill a try... 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Adorable Illusion

Thin pickings recently, book review fans, because I'm spending all my free time writing, not reading. However, last week I managed to hunker down with something lightweight but fun.

I never thought i'd read another book by Gary Russell, but I have, and what's more I might (after 22 years) just have read my last Bernice Summerfield novel too. 

I randomly checked in with Big Finish after a year or so since being distinctly underwhelmed by their previous printed effort (and please, let's not even discuss the audio range any more.) It emerged there was a new novel, Adorable Illusion, by Russell, and these days, he's quite an author of some cachet for Big Finish. 

Having written for Virgin's Doctor Who New Adventures, as well as for the same range in its Benny-centric, post-who era, i figured he at least must be capable of turning in a half-decent sci-fi novel with a good strong portrayal of Benny at its heart.

What I wasn't expecting was for the book to be turning back the clock to the good old days, or maybe it's quietly wrapping things up. Whatever, long-forgotten and much-missed characters from the Collection era are mentioned early on, making this far more than just another Benny book. The tedious Peter isn't in it, the tedious Jack is dealt with quite swiftly, and the adventure seems to indicate that Benny is on her way back to her old friends after three or so years lost in a plot cul de sac in some sort of dull, inadequately planned parallel universe or other.

But this is only for devotees of the range. Does the book stand on its own two feet for the casual genre reader? No. Is the central plot of the adventure adequately engaging? Yeah, kinda, albeit one needlessly overcomplicated, over populated and unnecessarily protracted. The titular ship, the Adorable Illusion, and its crew read like Douglas Adams divided by Dave Stone. The central SF idea is great, though, and Russell can still turn out workmanlike prose. His Benny is definitely the same character he was writing for twenty-odd years ago for Virgin, though older.

Having given up on the audios I've no idea who Jack is or how Ruth died (she'll not, in truth, be missed much, which is no reflection on Ayesha Antoine but on the feeble, half-arsed story-arc that came along after the Deindum war) or what happened to the dull planet Legion where Peter had implausibly become a feared security chief despite having the voice of a feeble weakling. No-one likes the character, Big Finish, so don't rush to bring him back.

Big Finish seem to be moving forwards by going backwards, the next run of Benny releases feature her while still travelling with the Seventh Doctor and Ace in a series of all-new New Adventures. So is this, in fact, intended to be the end of the Bernice Summerfield continuity? 

Well. Who knows? But if they return to this continuity....yeah, ok, I'm back on board. Thanks, Gary.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Dog

If you've ever wondered what
it's like to live in Dubai... 
I had many, many great things to say this week about British writers, but it's no good, Alan Bennett has punctured the meniscus of the bubble of my self-deception. He's right. All British writers are rubbish, and have nothing to say.

Only joking! Ignore Bennett, he's just a confused old irrelevance, and if we wanted his opinion of Thora Hird or Macaroons we'd ask. Until then, kindly shut it, Alan.

This week we journey into the future, and to a book not published until September 2014. Joseph O'Neill, author of 2009's Booker-longlisted Netherlands, returns with his new novel, The Dog.

It's a novel of special interest here at my Arabian office, because The Dog is the first (great) novel set in Dubai. Like Martin Harbottle's Appreciation of Time, it's a novel I read in one sitting on a flight. Unlike Martin Harbottle's Appreciation of Time, it's truly and properly brilliant.

It's also, if I'm being honest, much like reading the story of my own life. Which helps anchor one to a novel. I understand if less of you choose to follow me with this one, although you should. O'Neill is a masterly writer and has produced a sort of literary mash-up of Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho and Will Self's The Butt. Basically, you get a monstrously vain and materialistic young man at large in an opaque, arbitrary and nebulous country.

After a romantic disappointment, our narrator is tempted to quit his New York legal practice and relocate to Dubai to work as executor for the Lebanese Batros family - captured with panache here. The worst ones are Sandro and his spherical son Alain. They are both comic grotesques but, it has to be said, entirely plausible. The strands of the story include a post-mortem on the dead relationship, the search for enigmatic missing diver Ted Wilson, the status of our unnamed hero's property investment in Dubai Marine, the wholly realistic and immensely funny saga of young Alain's work experience in the Batros office, ruminations on the escort business, and there are some great comic riffs on the subject of impenetrable legalese too.

It is a bleak but very funny book, and the bleakness centres around Dubai, and the essential emptiness at the heart of ex-pat life spent out here. I would rush to point out that O'Neill is extremely honest, fair and even-handed in his treatment and depiction of life in the Emirate, painting a picture which will meet and develop the expectations of those who've never visited, while reaffirming the convictions of those of us who've lived here. He captures the broad spectrum of nuance extremely well.

This is a thoroughly modern, funny, accurate and ghoulishly compelling novel and it comes with Bookface's recommendation: it's the best book of the year thus far, my friends. When it's released, you must make a point of reading The Dog.

What now for Bookface? Well, it's time to leaven the fiction with a dose of popular psychology so I am as we speak, wrestling with Daniel Goleman. I'll let you know what I make of his new book Focus. Things here will be a little slower than usual while I'm finishing my next Kindle book, series two of Winterhill, which will be available in June from any Amazon store you happen to be a customer of. You can already buy Winterhill: The Complete Series One and I really can't imagine why you wouldn't, if you want six exciting and funny short stories featuring Rebecca Winterhill and her friends as they travel through space five hundred years from now, fighting monsters and drinking cocktails. It's been compared to Doctor Who and Orphan Black. Which is nice. Series two is something I'm really proud of.

Still, I hope there'll be book reviews a-plenty too, so keep checking in, reading lots of great brilliance, and adding to the gaiety of nations too. See you next time!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Northangerer Abbey.

A bold use of orange
Val McDermid. Not an author I'm too familiar with, because I don't read contemporary crime fiction and I can't abide that Robson Jerome fellow who starred in the TV version of her Wire in the Blood series.

But still. Her sales are astronomical and her reputation is immense so she's an excellent choice to tackle one of the titles in HarperCollins' Austen Project, in which Jane Austen's novels get contemporary remixes from the pens of four of today's biggest popular authors.

I didn't read Joanna Trollope's Sense and Sensibility; although the critical reaction seemed to be that it was a fairly conservative, risk-free modernisation of the original.

But I have just read Val McDermid's Northanger Abbey, and do you know what? I couldn't put it down. She's made it, if anything, Northangerer.

The story, if you've never read Austen's original (and again this doesn't deviate very wildly from that venerable template) involves a young, fairly sheltered and gothic-novel-addicted girl making her first real foray into the world. In Austen's book, Cat goes to Bath for the season, but McDermid transplants the action to the Edinburgh Fringe. Cat (here a home-schooled and desperately naive young lady) is on a trip with family friends, and meets some new friends. Some of these are very impressed with themselves at the start of careers in Law and Banking. Some of these, the enigmatic Tilney family, may or may not be vampires. To find out, Cat will have to get herself invited to their ancestral seat, the titular abbey.

What made it so enjoyable for me was the fairly improbable dialogue and the wildly entertaining characterisation. Cat, and most of her teenage friends, are bizarrely, nay preposterously well-spoken and polite teenagers, even allowing for their roots as Austenian archetypes.

Secondly, McDermid delights in the book's secret agenda - which is a sort of competition between two specific characters to be the Most Unbearable Shitbag in Literature. Step forward self-congratulatory, arrogant and pompous young public-school twat Johnny Thorpe, the sort of man who, if he was real, would have been brutally murdered by his colleagues after about three days of sharing an office with the conceiting, braying yahoo. How I itched to steal his beloved soft-top sports car and drive the thing squarely up his bottom at high speed.

And in the red corner, General Tilney, whose hatefulness is a background suggestion at best for most of the book, before erupting into an unspeakable shitcano of bumholery near the end. I won't tell you who I ultimately chose to hate more, but you have to congratulate McDermid for sculpting portrayals so unfailingly despicable that you have a real, visceral reaction to what could have remained a lukewarm, unengaging and faintly ludicrous tale.  

The major change from Austen's version comes at the end and hinges on the motivation for Cat's expulsion from Northanger. Austen's original conceit just wouldn't fly in 2014, so McDermid has found a vaguely plausible if risky alternative scenario. It just about works, but let's be clear: you aren't reading this for the story or to compare to Austen. You're reading this to witness two characters so utterly grotesque you'd be forgiven for thinking they were lifted from Charles Dickens...

What would be great is if this series leads not to a rediscovery of the classics, but to a spate of other writers reimagining the classics. Will Self demonstrated with 2003's Dorian that the classics can be updated and hugely improved in the retelling, and John Banville was surely channelling Virginia Woolf when he wrote The Sea.

So what do I want? I want Martin Amis to do Sons and Lovers. If you thought Miriam was a wet, infuriating drip in Lawrence's hands, imagine the fun Uncle Mart could have with her. I want someone to pay Clive Cussler or Tom Clancy to write Jude the Obscure and His Preposterous Arsenal. And then, while we're perilously far out on the bending limb of silliness, let's have the poetry of William Blake set to music by Axl Rose and liberally peppered with "yowsers" and "motherf*ckers". You think I'm being silly, but Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins just did something similar to Herman Hesse's Siddharta. Google it if you don't believe me.

But anyway. You're not getting any of this. You're getting Emma from Alexander McCall Smith and Curtis Sittenfield is doing the fourth and final one in 2015.

What else? Friend of Bookface JimBob (off of out of Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine) returns with his third novel in May, and it looks like another poignant yet potty-mouthed offering from this surprisingly great writer. My copy of The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick Age 81 is already en route. His previous novel Driving Jarvis Ham is still a set text around these parts.

Finally it's two weeks since the death of Sue Townsend and as yet Penguin still haven't contracted anyone to take over the Adrian Mole franchise. They are to be congratulated in this demonstration of decency and respect. HarperCollins, of course, waited two hundred years to revive the Austen brand.

Now, get lost. In a brilliant book, obviously.