Saturday, September 20, 2014

Men Will F*ck Young Mud

Dataclysm. Not as rude as it sounds.
It was the British comedian Richard Herring who first proved - with science - that men will fuck mud. This was in his excellent, supremely and sublimely funny 2003 book Talking Cock which is all about penises and what we do with them.

In a new book, Dataclysm, Christian Rudder updates the picture, using Big Data. If you don't know what I mean by Big Data, then let me demonstrate.


That looks like Big Data, but it isn't.

However, imagine if you had access to every thought, purchase, statement or comment ever made by everyone ever? That would be pretty big, wouldn't it?

Via the internet, and the twenty-or-so years of really rich data it can now provide, this Big Data is growing. It's out there and it's being used by big businesses to target you in their advertising spend, by potential employers to predict your suitability for jobs, and by governments to work out who you are and if they need to be monitoring your activities.

This is an aggressively fascinating book which you won't put down until you're finished. Rudder is one of the founders of US dating website OKCupid which explains his starting point, and where he came by a huge chunk of the data he's exploring here.

And it gives us what is, for me, the single most fascinating piece of data in the book, which, like the worst kind of bastard, I'm about to SPOILER for you.

OKCupid asked hundreds of thousands of people to specify the approximate age of partner they were looking for when they joined the dating site.

Then Rudder looked at the answers provided. Women basically are looking for a partner a few years younger or older than themselves, so a woman of 20 might be seeking a man between the ages of 20-22. A woman of 30 might be looking for a man 29-32. By 40, a woman might edge down to seek males of 37-40. By 50 she's back on board with a man 45-55. But it's generally consistent, and holds true as a formula.

It is however, nowhere near as consistent as the replies given by men. The ideal average age for a prospective female partner, for men of any age from 20-70, was given as...


Thus we can conclude that a 23 year old woman is already over the hill in terms of her peak attractiveness to the vile assessments of the cold gimlet male gaze. We can also conclude that most men over the age of, say, 30, are despicably filthy and deluded old beasts. We already knew men would fuck mud - but know we know that ideally the mud won't be older than 22.

Rudder, by the way, writes in an extremely approachable and chatty fashion. If you're interested in the applications of social media metadata, or just really fascinated by the space between what people say and what they actually do, this book has a heck of a lot to interest you.

Go forth and read it. We'll know if you do.

Those of us in publishing are counting down to the Frankfurt Book Fair which is hurtling towards us like a massive grey sojourn to Europe. If you've never been, it's essentially a week in a huge hall, meeting with booksellers from all around the world, eating nothing but complex carbohydrates,  and talking about books. A lot. I generally enjoy it, but this year I'm taking the gym kit. What it does mean is that over the next few weeks I'm going to be pretty rammed, but I'll get the oft-promised review of Martin Amis's The Zone of Interest online before I go, if it kills me.

Also, if you're reading this because you arrived at this book blog via the excellent website of The Diddly Dum Podcast and are currently wondering just what the hell is going on, let me place a friendly arm around your shoulder and lead you in this direction.

Until next time, gentle reader, look after yourself, read something brilliant, and think carefully about the Big Data you're giving "the man" with each mouse-click...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Leetle Grey Cells....

Bookface would like to apologise for not being ready to review the new novel by Martin Amis. There is of course nothing Bookface would prefer than to lie in the sun reading a book (any book) by Martin Amis, but sometimes in this job you have to review stuff to deadline and your personal reading gets sidelined. Temporarily.

So what have I been reading this week? Two new books, a non-fiction title, Dataclysm, and in a radical departure for the 'Face (as I'm now styling myself) a crime novel.

I don't really do crime novels, as I find they are books you only read once, for the plot, and the twist, and there's little to them beyond that. I appreciate that for many people this is the whole point, but as a rule I like things a bit more wordy, thought-provoking, and capable of sustaining repeated reading. (Says the boy who grew up on Terrance Dicks' Doctor Who novels.)

HP in the new AC,
 from the pen of SH
Published by HC
Sophie Hannah has, as you can't help having noticed, just published a new Hercule Poirot novel, The Monogram Murders. In an era of numerous franchise reviving novels from big-name writers (Bond; Jeeves and Wooster; and that's just Sebastian Faulks) it's astonishing, when you think about it, that this hasn't occurred sooner: but Agatha Christie is such a big name and has left such colossal shoes to fill, that we've had to wait for a writer who can do a decent enough job of emulating the Queen of Crime (well, I'm a Margery Allingham man myself, but...) not just in terms of plotting, but of style too.

Now I'm no Christie aficionado, but I've read enough of her books to recognise that Hannah has done a really marvellous job here, capturing the deceptively simple style of the late Agatha C. The prose is peppered with laughs, mostly at the expense of arrogant, preposterous and undeniably obsessive-compulsive Hercule Poirot (who I can never think of without recalling Hugh Dennis's caustic appraisal "fat little Belgian bastard"). It's not as funny as, say, the TV detective show Monk, but this sort of book definitely needs something more to it than the relentless fact-slaps of clues and sleuthing.

Both are in plentiful supply as both Poirot and his new sidekick Catchpool (of the Yard) set about solving the baffling mystery of the Bloxham Hotel Murders. The more baffling mystery, namely "where's that simpering twit Hastings?" is not addressed. There's no Japp either, which is a shame as his eye for a crime is second to none. Indeed ITV are still planning the Poirot spin-off, Japp's Eye. But I digress...)  By setting the adventure during a gap in Christie's canon, Hannah has created a lacuna she could hypothetically return to in any subsequent Poiroutings. And if she's game, she really should consider it.

I can't talk about the story without spoiling the puzzle; I'm not going to do that. Suffice it to say the mystery is a gorgeously elaborate construction, red herrings emerge if not quite "abound", and two detectives working different areas of the case make for an exciting tandemic read. Catchpool narrates, so once he's done recounting his efforts, we then get chapters of him telling us what his Belgian chum has been up to at the same time. Needless to say, it is Poirot who stays one step ahead of Catchpool, and of course the readers, and the insufferably smug little chump gets there first. Beyond these obvious points, you'll just have to read it for yourself.

If you love the Poirot novels, you're going to feel the series is in very safe hands with Hannah, and I await Sebastian Faulks's inevitable Miss Marple book with a certain sense of sang-froid. If you like a crime novel, then The Monogram Murders is for you.

In other news this week, both good books on the Man Booker Prize longlist failed to make the shortlist, but Joshua Ferris lives to fight another day. Now that Messrs Mitchell and O'Neill have been dropped I feel faintly angry this has been allowed to occur. But it must mean the six books on the shortlist (the ones you've never heard of) must be excellent. Even the Howard Jacobson, which is odd because the 'Face found his last book to be slightly woeful.

What to recommend from the shortlist? Well, I've always been meaning to try Ali Smith. That's about all I can say. You no doubt will be different and have other thoughts. Do please comment below. If you'd be so kind.

Also, this has happened: Go and look at it. Marvel at what a brilliant site it is. (I didn't build it, naturally. All credit goes to my friends at Ghost.) If you feel like clicking the buy button and making a small purchase, then you must give in to these urges. At once. Why fight it?

And so. I have to rest my little grey cells. They are BOTH frazzled.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Workmanlike Prose

I'm very lucky in that, thus far, no-one has given Winterhill a bad review, or even a ho-hum review.

I'm not sure how I'd react; I'd no doubt aim for genial magnanimity blended with deep acid belches of fury. But these would pass. And you'd have to keep them to yourself, correct?

The first rule of being a writer in 2014 is: you don't get into a social media pissfight with anyone who criticises your book because you might come off looking something of an insane maniac.

It's a common theme with the self-published, of course, but every now and then comes a truly, truly epic online meltdown as an extremely bad writer reacts to the indifferent realities reflected by the cold mirror of truth by going well and truly batshit-mental.

On which note, ladies and gentlemen, it only remains for me to say: take it away, Stephen J. Harper!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Bone Clocks (Part Two)

Best book of the year? Time will tell...
Last time around I reviewed the first three episodes of David Mitchell's new, Booker-longlisted novel The Bone Clocks, and you'll recall me saying that we could have found the best novel of 2014 right here. High stakes, then, and all to play for as we examine the second half of the book... Beware spoilers...

Crispin Hershey's Lonely Planet
We arrive in 2015 for a story featuring the novelist Crispin Hershey. Crispin Hershey, I should point out, is based in no small way, upon actual British novelist Martin Amis. Both Crispin and Marty are hung up on their linguistically pedantic fathers, both are well known for an early work (Amis's Dead Babies is transposed into Hershey's Dessicated Embyros) and both have been crucified by a notoriously bad review. In 2003, Amis's (really very good) novel Yellow Dog was effectively pissed all over by where-is-he-now wannabe Tibor Fischer, who likened the feeling he got while reading the book to that of "spotting a favourite uncle flashing in a playground". In The Bone Clocks, Hershey's novel Echo Must Die has earned a bully-ramming from an old friend of Hugo Lamb, one Richard Cheeseman (or, obvs, Dick Cheese) who has become a reviewer and writer in his own right. Borrowing the plot from perhaps my all-time favourite novel, Amis's The Information, the story explores the attempts of the one writer to fuck up the life of the second, with a modest, if slightly risky prank accidentally working rather too well leaving Hershey with a moral dilemma as Cheeseman is left to rot in a foreign jail. As Hershey skirts the issue for a number of years, he has an encounter with our old, ailing friend Holly Sykes, and gets a psychic warning from the Anchorites. He knows he has to do the right thing, once he can find a way to do it at no cost to himself, but he is also given a clear indication of the circumstances that will surround his own death. 
While delightful in many ways, I felt the comedic potential of using an Amis avatar went under-utilised. Could he not have spent more time coughing, spluttering, emerging blinking into the charged horrortrocity of the world, his rug needing a rethink, a Rothman's detonating his lungs? 

An Horologist's Labyrinth
No, it's not a Kate Bush album. This is the chunk of the novel designed to tie everything together and explain the SF goings-on which shape the book. It does this by, essentially, all going a bit Harry Potter (think Voldemort and the Horcruxes). When reviewers or critics tell you this book is divisive, this is the section they are referring to. Some readers will buy into it, others won't. I didn't. And, once you've already shaken your head and said "nah", it really drags. If you like Neil Gaiman, however,  you'll absolutely blow your load. Which, dear readers, can get you barred from Waterstones. It can even get you barred from WHSmiths.

Sheep's Head
The final part of The Bone Clocks takes us to the Sheep's Head peninsula in 2043, where the end of oil has ushered in a new era for humanity, the Endarkenment. Food and supplies are scarce and rationed, if you want to be full you grow your own produce, electricity is scarce and the net is as fragile and flimsy a thing as television was in 1953. Holly and her extended, adopted family are eking out an existence in an Ireland about to revert to militant Christianity, where gangs roam the countryside looting, and where life hangs by a thread. A horrifying, thought-provoking and depressingly plausible final section ends the book in a way that may feel like mere afterthought after the events of the previous episode, but hope is offered and a future is carved out, with all the Harry Potter stuff firmly out of the limelight and Holly's twilight years given centre-stage. The ending sucks the air from your lungs, and leaves you feeling that little bit gloomier about life. It's ferociously powerful and palpably sombre stuff.

So what do we have, when viewing The Bone Clocks as a whole? It's a work that acts as a greatest-hits package for Mitchell's career to date, linking explicitly with key characters, locations or events from his other novels. It's a work containing three episodes which could have been novels in their own right (the story of Hugo Lamb, the story of Crispin Hershey's revenge, and the visceral afterlife of the Endarkenment could all sustain more detailed attention). As a novel about the immortal, reincarnatovores the Atemporals and their involvement in the life of Holly Sykes, I think it falls down for the same reason Amis's Yellow Dog fell down for satirising The Sunday Sport: Just as Uncle Marty surely has better targets to attack than the semi-legal newspaper designed to monetise masturbation for the enrichment of the then-publisher, you can't help feeling that Mitchell is too good a writer to be devoting his time to convoluted timey-wimey SF adventures. That's the job of people like me, not big, serious and clever Booker prize nominees.

Let me finish by saying: this is a really, really good novel. It contains so much that is brilliant, captivating, addictive, much that will make the reader squee with giddy bliss. It is without doubt one of the better novels of 2014. 

But will the Booker judges be bold enough to award it the winner's cheque? I'll be a little surprised and a lot impressed if they do.

So in my continuing quest to read something brilliant, next week I'll be giving the once-over to the new novel from, I kid you not, Martin Amis. It has already earned some very, very bad reviews...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Bone Clocks (Part One)

Even the cover is mysterious and beautiful...
Well hi. Come in. Fancy a cuppa? 'Course you do. Take the weight off. I have much reading to tell you about. Much. Well some. Okay, half a book. But it's a big book, in at least two senses.

Steaming through the Booker long-list can sometimes be a lot of work.

Some books are too huge to be read and reviewed swiftly, yet some are structured in such a way as to conveniently let you review their constituent parts.

Thus, in the manner of Den of Geek reviewing a few episodes of a TV series, I am going to give you my first impressions of the first three "episodes" of David Mitchell's forth-coming Booker-longlisted novel The Bone Clocks.

I've always felt an odd affinity with Mitchell because we both began our careers working in Waterstone's in Canterbury, though separated by a decade or so. Tim Waterstone once remarked that Mitchell "isn't as clever as he thinks he is", which may be true, but he remains infinitely cleverer, and a far better novelist, than our former CEO.

Anyway, that's enough 'inside baseball'. Beware spoilers, all ye who glance below this point...

A Hot Spell
The Bone Clocks begins in 1984, and schoolgirl Holly Sykes is about to have a very bad day. New boyfriend Vincent Costello lets her down in the worst - albeit the most obvious and leadenly signposted - way, and the only obvious course of action for young Holly is to run away from home. What follows is a 24-like real-time odyssey across Kent as Holly enjoys some increasingly weird encounters with school friend Ed Brubeck, the enigmatic Esther Little, stereotypical 80's lefties Heidi and Ian, and a mysterious killer, before finding gainful employment picking strawberries. Just when she's settling into a new identity her past catches up with her and drags her back to reality...

Expect Mitchell's typically muscular, captivating prose, pulling you through a narrative which reads like Black Swan Green having a violent fight with Cloud Atlas. If you want to know which genre we're in, it's vaguely SF or so it appears right now. This is occasionally jarring, especially coming so thick and fast in the opening episode. It's a bit like a Neil Gaiman story so far, if you can imagine a suddenly very heavily literary Neil Gaiman...As the episode finishes, you definitely need to know what the hell is going on here, and you're mercilessly hooked.

Myrrh Is Mine, Its Bitter Perfume
The second episode leaps us forward to 1991. Like Caitlyn Moran has just done in her novel How To Build A Girl, the 1991ness is established by characters listening to Nirvana and watching Twin Peaks. Lazy: I can't argue about the TV choice, but I think Use Your Illusion I and II were much more important records of the era. And so was 30-Something. But I digress.
We are now in the narrative company of Hugo Lamb, an irresistible little rogue, rich Cambridge undergraduate, sexual adventurer, cad, and bounder. Lamb's story begins with a baffling encounter with the enigmatic Immaculee Constantin, then we detour to his college get-rich-quick scams, his home life and family, there's an audacious link to Black Swan Green, we discover his criminal alter ego Marcus Anyder, before jetting off for a spot of skiing in Sainte-Agnes with a fairly repellent group of his appalling, loaded acolytes. They proceed to ski, drink and whore their way around the New Year break, but Hugo falls in love with the barmaid at their apres-ski watering hole, the spiky, aloof and somewhat damaged Holly Sykes. But when he's presented with a clear choice, Hugo must choose between Holly and the mysteries offered to him by our surreal friends from outside our reality, who are known as the Anchorites...
Hugo is one of Mitchell's very strongest characters to date and this episode is perhaps his finest chunk of prose, wholly engrossing and ferociously readable. The Anchorites (clearly the book's 'villains' and the architects of Holly's weird encounters in episode one) are suitably bizarre and menacing, and it's somewhere amid this section that you find yourself really falling in love with The Bone Clocks.  

The Wedding Bash
Episode three is set in 2004 at the wedding of Pete and Sharon, the younger sister of Holly Sykes, who is in attendance with her daughter Aoife (your guess is as good as mine) and the father, Holly's life partner, Ed Brubeck, who has somehow ended up as a war journalist, on leave from a stint covering the occupation of Iraq. Walking on the pier the morning of the big day, a chance encounter with Immaculee Constantin is soon forgotten, then Aoife is distraught when Ed refuses to let her visit the showman psychic Dwight Silverwind, who Ed rightly dismisses as a miserable fraud. As the day unfolds tension arises in the family: Holly wants Ed to leave the paper and leave war zones. Ed, with a fresh commission in his pocket wonders if it's actually something he can give up, especially as his own recent harrowing experiences in Baghdad have left him emotionally indebted to two heroic victims of terrorism. When Aoife goes missing, the Sykes family are devastated by a familiar dread, but it is forces from outside our reality who intercede to help Ed on his race-against-time search.
We're on slightly steadier ground in this episode, the Middle East scenes bristle with terrible authenticity and the Wedding-day scenes read like a domestic thriller. There seems to be very little SF or fantasy at work in this section, until we get to the point where it suddenly definitely is. And at the end of this section you're left wondering - will Holly keep Ed? And beyond that - what on Earth is going on?

Well, there are three episodes left for the story to unfold, three more leaps into the future (it does feel a little Cloud Atlas, all this leaping about, and it'll only feel more so as we go into the future I suspect) but it would appear we're following Holly, and these Anchorites who are always hovering on the periphery of her life.
The experience of reading this book is richer than the experience of reading your average novel, as you'll know if you've read any of Mitchell's stellar fiction. Though I'm dubious about the Booker judges ever awarding the prize to a work of urban fantasy, (which this damn well is) Mitchell seems to be pulling off something magnificent here.

If the second half of this book is as good as the first, then we can possibly call off the search for 2014's best novel...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Winterhill update

Hi folks. Hope you've all had a great week.

I am stuck into David Mitchell's forthcoming novel The Bone Clocks and a review of that is... some time away, I'm afraid. I did warn you this would happen.

Oh don't be like that. I'm trying my best, I really am. Truly. Here, let me...let me wipe away your tears and hug you a bit. Is that better? Is it? Eh? Oh fine. Sod you then.

In the meantime, Kindle owners, and indeed Kindle App for iOS owners can pick up not one but two volumes of my Sci-Fi series Winterhill. Each book or "series" contains six stories, so the idea is you can binge on it like a DVD boxset (older readers may remember those) or draw it out like Charlie Bucket making his birthday bar of chocolate last him a full year.

Did you, by the by, see the new cover for the Penguin Modern Classic edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? My, but it's a stinker. And has caused a modest furore. Twitter, it's fair to say, fair lost its shit over this one.

But yes, Winterhill. The Complete First Series has so far had some lovely reviews and has been compared to Douglas Adams, Doctor Who, Joss Whedon, Red Dwarf and Orphan Black. These are all STAGGERING things to be compared to, and it's fair to say I'm a quivering blush-face of shucks.

But at least it's better than the cover for
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The Complete Second Series (or at least the jacket) was, however, compared to an erotica novel so I have hastily changed the design while I'm working on a longer-term design for the range. However, it is even better than the first series, I promise, with all kinds of twists and turns. Yes, there is an over-arching story-arc, and yes it helps to read the stories in order, but you probably don't have to. Be different: start with season two, I dare you.

What is Winterhill about? It's a series of adventures set five hundred years in our future, featuring Rebecca Winterhill, who can't remember who she is, and begins with her meeting Madagascar Talifero, who won't talk about who she is, and swiftly finds them both under attack from some space vampires. And that's just the first story. In each book there are monsters, zinging one-liners, cocktails, space travel and new worlds to explore.

The plan is to publish the third volume at Christmas 2014, (not too long to wait, is it? I'm no George R R Martin, I promise you) so you have plenty of time to try the first two and become dangerously addicted. Series three, it pains me to say, is probably going to be even betterer than the first two. And more answers will be revealed about the identity of our amnesiac adventurer.

I hope you try one, or both.

Try both. That would be best.

I hope you'll forgive me for not having finished The Bone Clocks, and that you'll join me next week. (If you live in the UAE you can also hear me on the lunchtime Books section of the Andrew Hosie show on Monday at 12.30 on Abu Dhabi Classic FM).

Until next weekend, my friends. Until #Capal-day!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Hundred Best Pages of the Year

Hello! Come in. I'm sorry I'm not properly dressed; I'm home alone and I've been catching up on some of my reading. I am so far behind it's acutely upsetting. Excuse me if, on occasion, I gibber a little. Or deploy the Oxford comma. I'm told I'm prone to them.

We were going to talk about the 2014 Booker Long-list, correct? A glorious whittling of the year's fiction output into one glorious foot-high pile of volumes; albeit with the usual qualification that half of them haven't been published yet. On hearing that Joseph O'Neill's amazing The Dog had made the cut, HarperCollins brought forward the book's release so that the public could read it for themselves. Other publishers have been less nimble or concerned.

And, yes. This year we have some American writers joining the fun. Much fuss and bother was made that Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch didn't make the cut, but at the risk of upsetting people, I have to point out that, for me, it really wasn't good enough.

You don't have to be dental to work here,
but it helps!!!
But I'll tell you who did make the list: Joshua Ferris, a man described as "one of the sexiest men in fiction" by someone who has clearly forgotten how swoonsome yours truly is. In a certain light. From time to time. On radio.

His latest novel is To Rise Again At A Decent Hour, and last weekend, readers, I read it. It was the first of Ferris's writing that I've read, and for me at least this was a book of two halves.

We begin in a Manhattan dental surgery, where the hero, Dr Paul C O'Rourke, a somewhat curmudgeonly dentist from Brooklyn, runs a small, happy practice, fixing sick mouths, ably assisted by Connie (his ex) and the redoubtable Betsy Convoy, the real power behind the throne. For a hundred or so pages this scenario unfolds, gently, gloriously, with dialogue which is so impressive and energetic and glorious that it basically medalled. Like the finest comic writing of Ted Heller, or vintage Martin Amis, this one hundred pages is so good I was ready there and then to call it the best book of the year.

...And then we come to the rest. After one hundred or so scene-setting pages, the plot begins. It's a plot which fails to convince, lacks resolution, and frankly it bored me quite a lot. Imagine one of Will Self's tales of paranoia and involuntary metamorphosis, but a much more plausible, down to earth idea. Throw in some soft identity-theft and an ancient religion, and you have a bubbling slurry of reedy, brackish broth rather than the meaty stew you'd ordered and thought you were in fact getting.
Rarely have I enjoyed a book so much to begin with, only for it to collapse into a frankly tedious spiral of doubt and confusion.

I think Ferris might be one of the finest comic novelists working today, but this is sadly not the book which lets him dazzle you. I'd be surprised if it makes the Booker shortlist.

My next Booker-nommed read is David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, which former Waterstones spokesface Jon Howells described as "Stephen King meets Neil Gaiman". Fifty pages in, I'd say no-one does an introductory section quite as well as Mitchell and it is indeed starting to feel predictably amazing. However, it's a big book, and I'm a busy man, so don't expect a full review in seven days' time. If I haven't got anything to review for you by then I'll probably give you an update on Winterhill or something. As you can see, it's getting some nice reviews...

Now be gone. I need to get dressed, you need to go and read something brilliant.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Game of Thrones

Let's be honest from what our transatlantic chums might call the "get-go": the world does not need another review of A Game of Thrones, it really doesn't. George R R Tolkien's sprawling fantasy epic has been a global bestseller for about twenty years, and the recent TV adaptation has helped nudge it into the mainstream. It's massive, isn't it?

Disproving the Pratchett hypothesis that
suggests all fantasy writers need to be
white-bearded crazies in hats
So massive, indeed, that suddenly just watching the show (on my legally purchased DVDs, guys) wasn't enough and I wanted to get back to the source material, mainly out of cynicism. "It's fantasy,"  I thought to myself, "it's not as if it's going to be literature, is it?"

Well, er, yes, it is. J. R. R. Martin can sure write. The book (I've just finished the first novel, seven more to go!) takes itself seriously without drifting up its own sphincter as so many of these things tend to do. The writing is intelligent, stylish and - thank god - really rather good. The world of Westeros is built effectively and without fanfare, and the characters all jostle for your attention and affection; though, let's be honest, as with the TV show it's all about Tyrion Lannister. (Ned Stark, just like on telly, is noble to the point of being a bit bloody stupid, Jon Snurrrr is all anger and so on, Danaerys's scenes crackle with the writer's obvious favouritism, and just sometimes, the arrival of another chapter featuring bloody Catelyn Stark can be a bit wearing.)

What intrigues me as a writer is how much George Ronald Reuel Martin knew of the size and scale of his tale before he started writing; and how he knew to finish this first book where he did (on page 780, which shows commitment if nothing else) and also how confident he must have been that he'd be continuing the series and didn't need to present his readers with a satisfying, closed ending. When the book finishes you know you've merely reached the end of what traditional book-binding can support rather than the end of a story.

But next time your hear HBO writers Benioff and Weiss giving it all that about how they've had to "start from the ground up" and "reinvent the wheel" when adapting the series of novels for the small screen, join me in a mild scoff. Certainly the first novel was written as if ready to go straight before the cameras. I struggle to think of anything significant that changed under the assiduous amendments of Benioff and Weiss. I understand they take greater liberties with subsequent volumes, and they'll be inventing the latter ones themselves as the TV show inevitably overtakes the series of books.

Next time you bump into GRRM at Dixie Fried Chicken, tell him to pull his ruddy finger out. I hear he loves that shit.

But; yes. I hugely enjoyed A Game of Thrones and I will totes be reading more in the series.

What's happened in the world of books? I don't know, I've been on holiday. The long-list for the Booker prize has been announced, and as ever it's caused a gnat's belch of controversy along usual lines ("half of them haven't even been published yet!") new lines ("half of them are by Americkeys!") and somewhat unexpected lines ("one of them's by David Nicholls! David Nicholls!")

I'll be getting to grips with the Booker list next week, as it deserves a bit of a look, I'm sure you'll agree. Until then I have work to do, and you, I'm sure, have brilliant things to read.

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.