Sunday, 29 January 2012


Title: Glitterball

Author: Rochelle Larkin

Year of publication: 1980, NEL edition 1982

Back cover blurb: GLITTERBALL brought their lives into collision.
   Once upon a time Lacey had been a small-town, Mid-West girl: pretty, natural, bright and ambitious.  And ambition had led her to the big city, New York, and a blossoming career in modelling.
   Now she was beautiful, groomed and successful; poised ready for the decisive move from cover girl to media personality.
   But was she Lacey any more?  Or was she just the programmed creation of Glover Montgomery who lived with her, directed her, promoted her, had taught her everything?
   Bobby Gerace, who had his own dreams, was the man who put all in doubt.  A violent chemistry, a passion barely controlled, wrenched both their lives from the single-minded channels of ambition into dangerously deep and stormy waters.

Quick flick reveals: It's a disco novel.  A disco novel.  Think about that for a second.  Seems to be less sexy than it could be, and perhaps overly concerned with entertainment venue business plans.  Opens with a quote from Pride and Prejudice.

Random paragraph: 'If the dancers were indeed the sea, the music was the wind.  Its rhythm carried over, around, and seemingly through them, spurring the dancers to follow in charging, surging, hypnotic motions, whipping them finally into a trancelike state.'


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Sioux

Title: The Sioux

Author: Irene Handl

Year of publication: 1965, Flamingo edition 1986

Back cover blurb: 'Strange and unforgettable... Highly original and oddly haunting'
French, feudal, fabulously rich and fiercely tribal, the Benoirs call themselves The Sioux.  The latest addition to the tribe is Vincent Castleton, a genial, short-tempered Englishman, and now third husband to the elegant, autocratic Marguerite, still in her twenties and very much née Benoir.  The impending arrival of Marguerite's son George is making Castleton very nervous.
   When the boy does arrive, his trappings - servants, two Rolls Royces, a bodyguard - seem to confirm Castleton's worst fears.  Yet far from being the spoilt brat he expected, George turns out to be an intoxicating, delightful child who quickly wins Castleton over and who must be protected from his mother.  She is beginning to prove more than Castleton bargained for...

Reading reveals: Great British character actor Irene Handl, who can be found playing an assortment of landladies and grandmothers in such landmark films as I'm All Right, Jack, The Rebel, Morgan, A Suitable Case For Treatment and of course, TV's Metal Mickey, is possibly not the first person you would suspect of having written two works of slightly strange literary fiction, but nevertheless, in the mid-sixties, she did exactly that, winning over Daphne du Maurier and selling a few copies too.  When reissued twenty years later, her novels also garnered praise from Fay Weldon, Doris Lessing and Margaret Drabble.
   Although The Sioux is quite original, and cleverly shows how acts of abuse can be concealed under a facade of rationality, it suffers from a play-like quality with characters wandering on and off-set that gets unpleasantly claustrophobic after a while, and there's no sense that they actually are in New Orleans like they are meant to be.  That, coupled with the plot's dogged determination not to ever move forward to any significant degree makes me doubt that this book is going to rise from the grave again in a hurry.  Still, a great curio that's worth a look.

Random paragraph: 'O, no, they were not chouchou at all.  "They are serpents, papa."  The Dauphin says that every spring his brothers-in-law, the Davis boys, were severely discommoded by a huge writhing mass of water-moccasins monopolising their swim-hole.  "It wasn't anything you could do about it.  They were in love, those serpents."  The Dauphin adds simply: "C'était comme ça à Shiloh."'


Friday, 20 January 2012

Far Memory

Title: Far Memory

Author: Joan Grant

Year of publication: 1956 (as Time Out of Mind), Corgi edition 1975.

Back cover blurb: The astonishing Joan Grant became aware as a child of her uncanny gift of "far memory" - the ability to recall in detail previous incarnations in other centuries and other lands.  Her books, published and reviewed as historical novels, have been highly praised for their extraordinary vividness and detail.  They are, in fact, the author's memories of her earlier lives.
   FAR MEMORY is Joan Grant's autobiography, the story of a girl sometimes unaware, sometimes frightened of her strange gift, and of the final realisation of her many lifetimes...

Quick flick reveals: As well as being able to recall past lives (see Return to Elysium below), reincarnating novelist Grant also seems to see be able to see ghosts (which suggests that the progress of the soul after death is somewhat convoluted).  Her autobiography mixes rather flat descriptions of extraordinary experiences with more mundane details of her life that are quite beautiful in their banality.

Random paragraph: 'Not being able to offer this ghostly comfort I took him to Hayling, where he stayed until he had recovered.  The following year he paid me the great compliment of taking me with him to inspect the wicket at Lord's.  Never have I enjoyed a walk as the one across that hallowed turf under the furious glares of old gentlemen in the Pavilion.  I was secretly so tired of watching even Douglas play cricket that my cup was filled to overflowing when he decided the wicket was not fit for play and so was free to take me to a cinema.'


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Return to Elysium

Title: Return to Elysium

Author: Joan Grant

Year of publication: 1947, Corgi edition 1976

Back cover blurb: A Novel of Reincarnation
   "During the last twenty years, seven books of mine have been published as historical novels which to me are biographies of previous lives I have known."
   Joan Grant from her autobiography FAR MEMORY
   Lucina was the young ward of a Greek philosopher who called his estate near Athens "Elysium".  She was too human not to be a disturbing influence on the exclusively masculine society in which she was reared; too clear-sighted to accept the rigidity of her education; and too romantic to remain content with the power she gained as the founder of a mystic cult in the young and primitive city of Rome.  She is at last to find and cross the river Styx to discover an existence that transcends death, to live once again, and to RETURN TO ELYSIUM....

Quick flick reveals: Joan Grant's novels aren't so much lost, as severely marginalised (they were last reprinted just a couple of years ago).  This must at least be partly because there can only be so much room in the literary canon (that is to say, none) for novels based on alleged reminiscences of the author's past lives.

This book looks readable enough, and there is an interesting feminist slant by the look of it, although the prose isn't that inspiring.  Presumably something was lost when the actual remembered events were translated from the ancient Greek.  Although I had the opportunity to also acquire many other books by Joan Grant, all inspired presumably by other past lives, other than her autobiography (more of which in a bit), I didn't feel compelled to get the set.  If only she'd been a Bronte sister in a past life.

Random paragraph: 'I heard the noise again: it was human, and relief left my knees limp as asparagus.  It was a man crying, the sobs muffled as though he was trying to hide his head under the pillow.  Agamemnon, having one of his lonely defeats.  I was enormously grateful to him for making me feel strong and competent.  Dear Agamemnon!'

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Too Long a Sacrifice

Title: Too Long a Sacrifice

Author: Mildred Downey Broxon

Year of publication: 1981, Orbit paperback edition 1983

   Ancient Ireland. Tadgh the bard and Maire, his magical wife are spirited away by the Old Ones, counters in an age-long and inscrutable game.
   Today.  In modern Belfast, a resurrected Maire represents Summer, and the forces of peace; a materialised Tadgh leads the powers of Winter, the advocates of blood and terror.
   In the ensuing conflict, Life opposes Death, and the Hate Beast gibbers over all...

Quick flick reveals: I've never been a big fan of books even only partially set in ancient Celtic kingdoms, but the overall concept is pleasingly bonkers.  Also, how can you resist a book which has the words 'the Hate Beast gibbers over all' written on the back?  Will attempt to read at some point before I am dead, although I might not finish it.

Random paragraph: 'Rita scrutinized Maire.  "Didn't I see you in the museum, earlier this afternoon?  Have you been following me?"  She winced.  "Ah, my head holds two thousand hammers wielded by one thousand ambidextrous demons."'


Sunday, 8 January 2012


Title: Hers

Author: A. Alvarez

Year of publication: 1974, Penguin edition 1977

Back cover blurb: Hers, A. Alvarez's first novel, is a story of sexual jealousy and one woman's icy pursuit of self-knowledge.  Julie's affair with a young student brings her face-to-face with her own sensuality, and forces her to rediscover her war-torn childhood in Nazi Germany.  The ensuing drama is told with memorable force, written with all a poet's sensitivity and visual effect.

Quick flick reveals: Here we enter an exciting sub-genre of 'lost' books for the first time, this being 'heavy literary fiction made to look more fun by sticking a naked woman on the front'.  (I suspect the lady in the charity shop I bought this in did not approve.  She did not offer me a bag.  She was offering other people bags.) Although mainly a Seventies thing, Atomized by Michel Houellebecq sported a neat 21st Century upgrade of this trend on its British cover.

As you are all no doubt aware, Al Alvarez is an esteemed poet and critic, and was tied up in that whole Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes business, something that earned him the honour of being played in a film by someone who would then go on to be in Mad Men.  Hers is his first novel.  Flicking through it, it looks like one of those novels about the tormented inner lives of slightly posh people that made J.G. Ballard want to write about having sex with a blender in a tower block lift (or something).  Having said that, there's every possibility it might be good, albeit maybe a bit of a period piece, so on to the to-read pile it goes.

Random paragraph: Usually it was he who made the advances, she who held off in distaste or fatigue.  Now his dulled and obstinate passivity puzzled her and frightened her a little.  And that, in turn, was vaguely exciting.  She knelt down by the bed, pulled off his underpants and put his limp cock into her mouth, inhaling the musky, private smell.  He didn't move.  She worked deftly away on him, licking, sucking, fingering, until he gradually began to harden.


Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Moral Tales

Title: Moral Tales

Author: Giacomo Leopardi

Year of publication: 1827, English translation by Patrick Creagh 1983.

Inner cover blurb: Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837) is Italy's greatest writer after Dante - poet, scholar and essayist.  The Moral Tales (Operette Morali) is a series of twenty-four prose pieces, mostly dialogues, some comic, others poignant, and all highly polemical.  They embody Leopardi's views on many aspects of the human condition, and his metaphysical protest against the way things are.  The main theme is the impossibility of true happiness anywhere in the universe.  For all that, the book is anything but a depressing one.  Against the 'acid truth' Leopardi sets the real (although apparently illusory) values of 'cherished imagination - the two poles of all his thought and poetry.  The book is so subtle and complex that it is impossible to tell which of them wins.  Or rather, neither of them does, the paradox of life remains intact - though lucidly revealed - and the Moral Tales in spite of first appearances emerges as a poetical work, and not a philosophical one.

Reading reveals: Truly weird collection of stories by Nineteenth Century Italy's answer to Morrissey, featuring mummies, ghosts, imps, gnomes and Christopher Columbus.  Bloody hard work, but a literary masterpiece that virtually no one in the English-speaking world knows anything about.

Random paragraph: 'GNOME: My father has sent me to find out what the devil those rascally men are plotting; he's very suspicious about them, because it's quite a while since they last gave us trouble, and there's not one of them to be seen in all his kingdom.  He's afraid they may be hatching some big scheme to do him down: that it's come back into fashion to buy and sell in sheep instead of gold and silver; or that the civilized peoples are making do with scraps of paper instead of coins, as they have done several times in the past, or with glass beads, as the barbarians do; or even that the laws of Lycurgus have been re-imposed, which seems to him the least likely.'