Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review Round-Up

Review is a bit of a misnomer. Here is a list of books I've read this week:

Filth by Irvine Welsh
Union Street by Pat Barker
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
Last Days by Adam Nevill
La Brava by Elmore Leonard

I got back on the reading train, after spending a month not reading.

Filth is a re-read, as I originally read it back in 2000-2001, not sure. But the film adaptation is coming out, and I thought I'd give it another go. I remember quite liking it. The second time around? I liked it for wildly different reasons. Filth dares you to identify with its protagonist and the moment you do, it's cruel towards its audience. The little details, such as the execrable protagonist's taste in music, were clearly meant to mock, rather than imitate another famous sociopath's questionable taste in pop.

Union Street was Pat Barker's first novel, and it's surely a masterpiece. Utterly devastating, structurally compelling, gripping, and clearly didactic. This is gritty realism at its best.

Jack Glass was a sci-fi novel recommended by a couple critics I follow on Twitter. It's sort of a pastiche of both golden age science fiction and golden detective fiction. In reality, it's a tricksy novel that tells you everything upfront and then proceeds to challenge your expectations. It's the abandonment of narrative catharsis and the hysterical cleaving of genre. I liked it; I didn't love it.

Winter's Bone is probably not my favourite Woodrell novel, but it's probably his best. It's much more writerly than his other works, as if it took him ten novels to abandon the self-conscious noir approach and take on the Iowa Writers Workshop aesthetic. Woodrell does something rather complex with the idea of family, blood, kin, and bodies in this novel that was more impressive technically than his other books. Plus, I had no idea that protagonist was queer, so it was a pleasurable surprise.

Last Days is old school Hammer horror melded with a twenty-first century aesthetic of found footage. Nevill's prose was quite good, and his control of pacing and tone was masterful. I was able to read the 550 page novel in two sittings, so that says something about its affective qualities. However, just as with most horror being written for straight males, the whole thing lacks any nuanced or developed female characters. The only women in the novel are either grotesquely villainous or objects of the male gaze, literalized through the fact that the male protagonist films them! Plus there's a bit of gay panic about the mysterious film's benefactor who employs the protagonist. I could have done without that. However, I still quite liked the book as it takes up the idea of cults and links it to ancient rituals and demons.

La Brava was interesting to read as Leonard tries to conceptualize photography as a sort of cop's thing, trying to reduce a single person into a type for easy categorization. As for the novel itself, it is what it is: an enjoyable crime caper that has cracking dialogue and a narrative logic so tight that once it reaches its conclusion, there is nothing left to say. I used to be disappointed that Leonard novels always end in the predictable way, but now I realize, that the novels are always true to the characters, rather than to the puerile interests of the audience.