Sunday, 5 March 2017

Book Review: Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Theroux’s Strange Bodies is an immensely readable literary thriller which actually works quite well.

It follows a strange but recognisable story—the quest for immortality whether through words, legacies, families, or more Mary Shelleyish means. Yes, Frankenstein has its huge, lumbering steps all over this novel, but in a very knowing way. Actually, it’s got a flavour of Dostoyevsky too with its doubles and copies and golems and Russian intrigue. 

Nicholas Slopen is a mediocre academic who writes about Samuel Johnston. But when he’s invited to authenticate some apparently ‘new’ letters of Johnston, he’d sucked into a science fiction world which harks back to the Soviet Union, populated by cultured sorts who want to discuss Shakespeare’s identity.

It sounds quite odd, but it does work, even if the end section feels rushed. Strange Bodies is fast paced and punchy, while holding its literariness firmly to the forefront and giving some melancholic, brooding philosophical discussions on identity. And whilst if you think about it, the plot is completely bonkers, you don’t really notice it at the time (which is definitely a David Mitchell type skill).

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Book Review: Mister B Gone by Clive Barker

‘Burn this book,’ our narrator orders at the start of Clive Barker’s 2007 novel (actually, it’s surely a novella). ‘Don’t look at another word.’

Part of me thinks I probably should have taken this advice.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy parts of Mister B. Gone. It follows minor demon, Jakabok Botch who escapes from the 9th circle of hell and ends up in fourteenth century Europe on a series of escapades, which culminate a century later at the birth of the Gutenberg printing press.

I have to be honest, I was quite worried at first. Botch narrates his tale in first person and spends an awful lot of time going on and on at the reader, persuading then threatening them to burn the book in their hands. Then he lets slip, ‘Yeah, I’m a demon.’ Hmmm.

Anyway, I clearly didn’t burn it. Instead I read on and was quite captivated by the scenes in hell (pissy demon parents and ‘parasite-infested wastelands’ of rubbish dumps) as well as glimpses into mediaeval Europe.

But that’s the problem—we only get glimpses. The central bromance between Jakabok and his demon pal Quitoon is barely developed. Their adventures, which cover 100 years, are paraphrased in a few pages.

It reminded me a lot of Marlow’s Dr Faustus—the buddy bromance between Mephastophilis and Faustus, their dastardly hi-jinks, the raging battle between supernatural forces of good and evil…even down to Faustus’ terrified offer to ‘burn [his] books’ if he might be spared damnation.

Mister B. Gone feels way too rushed, which is a shame. Barker is a skilled and intriguing writer, but this felt like a quirky concept which would have been served better as a short story (and in fact doesn’t it re-explore ideas from the title story from Books of Blood?).

Friday, 20 January 2017