Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Hard Luck

Title: Hard Luck

Author: James Maw

Year of publication: 1986, Grafton edition 1988

Back cover blurb: '"Hard Luck by James Maw is the extremely funny and touching, sentimental history of two boys growing up on a new town council estate called Prospect in post-war Britain; class, poverty, domestic violence, well-meaning idiocy and welfare bureaucracy are accurately flayed through the experiences of the endearing and astonishingly well sustained voice of one of their child victims... Dickensian satire and genuine affection... pure pleasure... take it on holiday and be grateful for mercies given"

For Tom and Richard, the Prospect estate is a territory to be explored and taken over.  For their parents - doting Ellen and not-so-doting Frank - the estate is a brave new world (even if the underground pipes and valves don't work as smoothly as anticipated).  Yes, times are changing; there's cuddly blue Winceyette instead of linen, and brightly coloured modern things instead of old fashioned junk.  There's television, with fascinating programmes like "Criss Cross Quiz" and the "Dickie Henderson Show" (and Kennedy's assassination).  But while nearly everyone is supposed to be having it good like never before, life for Tom and Richard isn't so easy.  Their parents divorce and the twins go into the Crab Apple Home when Ellen ends up in hospital.  Then there's the 11-plus...
   Hard Luck is a brilliantly evocative novel - as colourful and unique as Oliver Twist and Huckleberry Finn.

'The kind of detail that evokes an era'

Status: Abandoned p. 102

Reading reveals: Here in my final entry before I hand over this blog to the masses, I am looking at a book from the inner borders of lostness.  Hard Luck was well-reviewed when it came out in 1986, as attested above, and even won an award and shit, so why has it already slipped away from the collective book-reading memory?
  On one level, it seems an injustice.  The book is funny and well-observed. Detailing the experiences of growing up in a New Town in the late '50s, early '60s, it consists of a series of working class set-pieces, in which Christmas trees are stolen and pubs are waited outside of and that sort of thing,  And yet, I stopped reading.  I suppose the lack of a strong narrative thread wore me down.  There are only so many tales of poverty line-level cheekiness you can absorb before you want something more.
  Also, there's an assuredness to the book's belief in its own loveability that jars now.  It's all a bit too cosy, even when detailing child neglect and domestic violence.  That and the fact it makes so little use of its main characters being twins they may as well have just be one character most of the time.
  For all that, the fact that someone in their late-twenties would write a book so nostalgic for the era of their own childhood, presenting it as a distant world gone forever, is quite fascinating, You couldn't imagine someone wanting to do quite the same thing now. (Although I sort of did in my second novel Flying Saucer Rock & Roll, but moving swiftly on...)  It seems to be the thing to do here because of the series of fractures between the early '60s and the mid '80s (the Sexual Revolution, punk, Thatcherism) that made the recent past feel a very long time ago back then. I remember being dazzled by old episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), and they were only fifteen years old back then.  Late '90s A Touch of Frost doesn't have quite the same disconnect.
  So, Hard Luck, possibly over-praised at the time, but still worth a look.

Random paragraph: 'But after a few weeks Frank tired of the scotch eggs.  "Oh no, not another blinkin' scotch egg," he'd yell as he sat down at the table.'


Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Jack in the Box

Title: Jack in the Box

Author: William Kotzwinkle

Date of publication: 1980, Abacus edition 1981

Back cover blurb: 'Can a young man from a small mining town find happiness as a human being? Can Jack Twiller, his mind warped by Masked Man, Tailspin, Tommy and Secret Agent X-9, ever abandon the comic book heroes of his youth and find true maturity?  Does he even want to?
   A hilarious odyssey through American comic-book culture of the 40s, Jack's story is witty, nostalgic and real.  In this brilliant and original novel William Kotzwinkle confirms his reputation as one of the most exciting of the younger generation of American writers.'

Status: Completed

Reading reveals: Last entry I made an attempt to read the irredeemably awful E.T. The Book of the Green Planet.  Despite the book's startling lack of merit, I was nevertheless curious as to how established author Kotzwinkle got the E.T. gig, and so read one of his earlier works.  Although he is generally a fantasy/sci-fi writer, Jack in the Box is a coming-of-age tale, and weirdly enough it's very good indeed.
   Each chapter moving on the narrative with a jump of months or years, the passing time unacknowledged in the text, Kotzwinkle manages to convincingly capture the various states of mind from child to adolescent, as his young protagonist Jack Twiller grows from playing cowboy games in the street on to drunken house parties as a rock 'n' roll greaser.  There's one particular moment that captures the first stage in the death of childhood, where Twiller finds he can no longer play, that is one of the truest things I have read in fiction for a very long time.  There's also a scout camp from Hell, and confusion about the manliness of vomiting that pre-dates Alan Partridge,
   You can see why Spielberg sought him out.  Both have an intense understanding of childhood and its joys and fears.  Shame that the meeting of minds didn't work out better.

Random paragraph: 'They went straight to the place where Spider had been going up and down on Nancy. Crutch stared at the sandy grass. "I thought you had to do it on a flat rock."'


Monday, 1 September 2014

E.T. The Book of the Green Planet

Title: E.T. The Book of the Green Planet

Author: William Kotzwinkle

Year of publication: 1985

   E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in his adventure on Earth captured the hearts of tens of millions, becoming a cult classic.  This new story begins where the film ended, as E.T.'s ships is rising into the heavens.
   In his wonderful new adventure, E.T. goes home to his beloved Green Planet, filled with strange and fascinating creatures.  But he's lonely.  E.T. misses Elliott and the good days on Earth... living in a closet, drinking beer, and wearing a wig.
   Here is the story of how E.T. solves his problem...'

Status: Abandoned p. 34

Reading reveals: Hard to imagine now, but established author William Kotzwinkle's novelization of Steven Spielberg's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was the biggest-selling novel of 1982 in the US.  Spielberg was so impressed by Kotzwinkle's take on the story, complete with the dubious addition of E.T. falling in love and lust with Elliott's mom, he gave him the task of puffing out his own vague ideas for a sequel into an original novel.
  I actually purchased this when about nine years old.  I don't think I ever finished it.  I remember being overwhelmed by the task of trying to picture what was described, as E.T. returns to his home planet and encounters all sorts of strange life-forms in mind-blowing environments.
   Still, the book haunted me.  Would reading as an adult be a more fruitful experience, my mature mind more up to the challenge laid down by the text?
   The answer is no.  It is dreadful.  The human characters, whose day-to-day lives E.T. clumsily interrupts with telepathic messages, bear virtually no relation to their movie counterparts, while the alien creatures E.T. hangs out with, actually giant sentient plants, are called things like Jumpums, Flopglopples and Beeperbeans and are as irritating as their names suggest.
  My nine year-old self was right to give up on this.  You should listen to him.  But please first purchase the book via the link provided below as I get a percentage.

Random paragraph: 'The youthful creature was tending a crop of legumes called Igios Atra, or as they were more affectionately known - Beeperbeans, which gave off a sharp beeping sound when their blossoms opened.  As it was springtime, there was considerable beeping going on, and the worker had corks in his ears.'


Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Title: (George)

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Date of publication: 1970, Macmillan edition 1971

Status: Completed

Inner cover blurb: 'George is a little man who lives inside Ben, but his is no still small voice.  George speaks out loud and clear and his opinions quite frequently fail to coincide with Ben's.  For instance about William.  Ben thinks William is great.  He admires everything he does, and William is not only four years older but conspicuously successful.  George thinks William is a phoney.
   The only other person who knows about George is Howard.  Ben's kid brother, and he knows because, except for Ben, he is the only person George has ever spoken outloud to.  George finds Howard a comfortable friend.  They look at the world in the same way, except Howard can see it.
   That was how it stood the year that Ben was twelve and Mr Berkowitz announced that the seniors in the Organic Chemistry class were going to be allowed to do research.  This meant that William and Ben could no longer be lab partners.  Ben was sore but George was glad.  He felt Ben was getting too absorbed in science and he felt it would lead to no good.  He was right, but it took some pretty sensational happenings and an alarming period of non-communication before they (and Howard) were on speaking terms again.  In fact things might have made headlines and changed a lot of lives for the worse if it hadn't been for George.

Reading reveals: EL Konigsberg was a treasured American children's author, but (George) is one of her less-treasured books.  The premise of a boy with another personality living inside him is great, but George never reveals himself to be that interesting.  Then the plot gets bogged down in some tedium about talented high-school kids doing university-level research and some missing lab equipment that you can't imagine any young reader getting that excited about.  Maddeningly, the story sparks into life when enquiries are made into the protagonist's mental health, and there's a timely LSD scene, but nothing leads anywhere of consequence.  A frustrating book that has the capacity to be a classic, but just skims the surface of its material.  Oh well.  At least it's got pictures.


Monday, 18 August 2014

My Merry Mornings

Title: My Merry Mornings

Author: Ivan Klíma

Date of publication: 1983, Readers International Edition 1985

Status: Completed

Back cover blurb: 'A popular young writer during the Prague Spring, Ivan Klíma was banned from publishing in the aftermath of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  He has continued to write, however, and his works circulate in hand-typed, lovingly bound "padlock editions", along with other banned writers like Kafka, Orwell, Kundera and Škvorecký.' 

Reading reveals: A collection of stories, one for each day of the week, detailing the life of an intellectual forced to work a series of menial jobs under the Czech communist regime.  How purely autobiographical they are are is open to question (the author's wife and family zip in and out of existence throughout the book, while any woman who meets him immediately wants to sleep with him, despite his looking like a hobbit in a Beatle-wig on the back cover), but nevertheless the stories are sprightly and joyful, as the title states, despite the underlying grimness of the situation.  An engaging and surprisingly sexy tour of Communist-era hospitals, building sites and live carp street sellers.

Random paragraph: 'I think she worked as a shop assistant.  Whenever I saw her she was giggling at something, no doubt under the impression that laughing made her look sexy.  In bed, or so Mr Mixa maintained, she demanded it three times - first with him on top, then from the left and thirdly from the right.  Mr Mixa related all this in order to show how virile he was despite his age and his bulk.'


Saturday, 2 August 2014

The Revolt of Gunner Asch

Title: The Revolt of Gunner Asch

Author: H.H. Kirst

Date of publication: 1954, Fontana edition 1971

Status: Abandoned, p. 16

Back cover blurb: 'The "Catch 22" of the German armed forces
   Gunner Asch is fed up with his brutal barrack-room companions, with his Nazi bosses, and with the horror and stupidity of the coming war.  Also, he is seeing far too little of his girl.  But what can one man do against the mightiest army in the world?  It is a known fact that every army has its weak spot.  So Asch finds the Wehrmacht's - and strikes hard!'

Reading reveals: Former Nazi Party member H.H. Kirst's 'Gunner Asch' series was a huge success, selling millions of copies across Europe, and re-published regularly in the UK from the mid-50s to the early-80s.  The writing (or at least, that of the translation) was too perfunctory to engage me, and anyway, I hate books about soldiers because I never know who outranks whom.
  What is more of interest to me is the sheer wrongness of the covers they ended up with in the UK.  Generally, they were a photographic/cartoon combo featuring German military/Nazi uniforms and women's breasts, neatly encapsulating the weird relationship with WWII some sections of the British public somehow developed in the following decades.  Here is a prime example:

Why would you publish that?  Why would you buy it, unless you were into that stuff that Max Mosley definitely wasn't?  I've actually seen even worse covers on books by Kirst wannabes (you could see nips, and swastikas), but couldn't bring myself to acquire them for the library.  There are limits.  Even here, there are limits.

Random paragraph: 'Johannes was now standing in front of the entrance to the barrack block.  He looked up.  He could just make out the shape of a woman leaning out of a window.  It was Lore Schulz, the sergeant-major's wife.'


The Fall of Valour

Title: The Fall of Valour

Author: Charles Jackson

Date of publication: 1948, Ace edition 1960

Status: Completed:

   Mr. Jackson has handled this difficult painful them with skill and sensitivity.
   There is an undoubted earnestness and care in his sketch of the university professor whose marriage is coming to grief and finds himself in new deep waters with his love for a young soldier.
   The Fall of Valour is a work of great competence.
   I... was thrilled by the exact understanding of the problems that beset every overworked husband and underloved wife.
   by the author of The Lost Weekend'

Reading reveals: In The Lost Weekend, Jackson dealt with the thorny subject of alcoholism.  In this follow-up, he dealt with the still thornier subject (for 1948) of a male university professor falling in love with a sailor.  This is the sort of story that Far From Heaven intimated would have been untellable at the time actually being told.  True, much of the detail is hidden in delicate phrases, but squint and there are periods, contraceptives and erections all over the shop.  It speaks of a time when sexual categories were so crudely defined, people could be left utterly out of touch with their desires, not knowing who or what it was they wanted.  Of course, we've fixed all that now and everything's fine.
   Swimming in a fog of interiority, there'a Death in Venice languor from which the inevitable unwanted erection emerges.  Although the characters see homosexuality as a shameful state one step above child molesting in the pervy scheme of things, the book doesn't, and is ultimately humane in its treatment of the issue, and its exploration of a time when some men went to war and some didn't, and some men were thought of as men, and some were not.

Random paragraph: 'Cliff gazed moodily into the surf, his forehead troubled and frowning.  "Gee, sometimes I even think-"  He broke off suddenly, as if disgusted with himself."


Tuesday, 8 July 2014


Title: Buddwing

Author: Evan Hunter

Date of publication: 1964, Mayflower-Dell edition 1965.

   Evan Hunter's magnificent new novel is the story of a journey of discovery.  Its nameless protagonist wakes up in Central Park, faced with a terrifying riddle: who am I?  His quest takes him into the myriad city: Chinatown and the wild spree with a sailor; the Italian all-night wedding feast: the scavenger hunt with the glossy rich woman on an emotional bender; Harlem... and at the last shift of the kaleidoscope, the final revelation.

Status: Completed

Reading reveals: Evan Hunter is, of course, better known as the crime writer Ed McBain, although neither was his real name.  The Hunter pseudonym, one of many, was mainly used for serious literary efforts that tended to not hang about for long despite making an immediate splash, such as Blackboard Jungle and Last Summer, the latter a personal favourite of mine and big influence on my second novel Flying Saucer Rock & Roll with its presentation of adolescence as a conduit for evil.
  Despite separating out his 'serious' and genre efforts in this way, Hunter nevertheless tended to employ a snappy, noir-ish style, which lends everything a veneer of brutal kitsch, not unlike that found in Sam Fuller films such as Shock Corridor.
   Buddwing (quickly turned into the '60s Hollywood curio Mister Buddwing) tells of a man who wakes up with no memory of who he is.  This is slowly revealed to him as he wanders New York, getting himself into various scrapes and having a ridiculous amount of sex before lunchtime.  Past and present, fantasy and reality intermingle, building up to a big reveal which isn't as exciting as you'd hope for.
   Not quite the momentous insight into the human condition than it seems to think it is, and therefore a bit pretentious, and at times weirdly naive (characters say 'I love you' about twenty minutes after meeting), it nevertheless contains a fair number of good bits, with Hunter's skill with dialogue keeping things afloat.  A middling book from a fascinating author.

Random paragraph: 'The old man leaned closer to him.  Buddwing saw his eyes for the first time.  They were clear and blue and staring at him brightly, reflecting the late afternoon sun.  They were the eyes of a lunatic.'


Monday, 16 June 2014


Title: Percy

Author: Raymond Hitchcock

Year of publication: 1969, Sphere edition 1971.

Back cover blurb: '"The first transplant of a human male genital organ took place at the Royal Bowchester Hospital, this afternoon.  The condition of the recipient, a 33 year old married man, is completely satisfactory..."
   ...Except for the fact that James Anthony Hislop had a burning urge to identify the previous owner of his new equipment, nicknamed Percy.  Armed with a list of possible donors, he set out to track down their wives and girl friends....
   ....To see if they would recognise Percy
   ....Or if Percy would recognise them.'

Status: Completed

Reading reveals: This sex farce about the world's first penis transplant by Syd Barrett-substitute Robyn Hitchcock's dad was made into an apparently dreadful film with a rather good soundtrack by the Kinks.  Indeed, the title of the main theme, 'God's Children' can be sourced back to a sentence in the novel.
  The book itself pulls in two directions, one interesting, the other less so.  The protagonist's efforts to hang on to his wife as his pious best friend tries to destroy their marriage through moral objections to the operation is a somewhat Pinter-esque power struggle.  Much of the story, however, is taken up with his efforts to identify his new member's former owner, which pretty much involves trying to have sex with various dead people's widows.  It's all a bit too Robin Askwith to be bothering with now.  Still, a quirky, relatively worthwhile novel.

Random paragraph: 'They just don't understand.  Only a year or two ago, he could stand in the shower in the changing rooms and be the envy of both teams.'


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ordinary People

Title: Ordinary People

Author: Judith Guest

Year of publication: 1977.  Fontana edition 1981.

Back cover blurb: 'AN ORDINARY FAMILY - Shaken by the tragic death of one teenage son - face new heartbreak.'

Status: Completed

Reading reveals: I've long been a fan of Robert Redford's film version of Ordinary People, in which Judd Hirsch plays the world's best psychiatrist (too bad he's fictional), and we find Hollywood taking a long, unsentimental gaze at the world of everyday mental health - a rarity indeed.  In it, and the novel on which it is based, a family recovering from the death of one son in a boating accident must now deal with the attempted suicide of his guilt-ridden brother.
   Perhaps even more so than the film, Guest's book captures the reality of grief - a constant scream in the background as life goes on.  It's dropped off the radar in the UK, but well worth tracking down.  A warm, humane book that asks us to go a bit easier on ourselves.

Random paragraph: 'A tiny seed opens slowly inside his mind.  In the hospital the seed would grow and begin to produce thick, shiny leaves with fibrous veins running through them.  More leaves to come.  Like tiny, curled up fists they will hit at him.  He tightens his grip on the arms of the chair.  The wood is sticky and wet under his hands.  He wets his lips nervously.  "What time is it?"'



Title: Futility

Author: William Gerhardie

Year of publication: 1922.  Penguin edition 1974.

Status: Completed

Back cover blurb: 'Written shortly after the First World War, and published in 1922, this novel made its young author an instant success.  Gerhardie uses his wartime experiences in Futility to throw into relief his main theme; this was perhaps the first work to strike the 'waiting' motif that was to become fashionable many years later with Beckett's Godot.  Against a tragically unchanging background is set the story of an Englishman brought up in Russia and the pathos of his growing love for Nina, the second of three bewitching daughters.  Their father gathers about him an army of wrangling dependants, but his hopes of a fortune rise while his actual fortune diminishes.  When asked at a crucial stage what he will do he decides, "I think I'll wait.  It can't be long now."'

Reading reveals: Not really a Lost Book, more a declared classic that not many people bother with and goes out of print quite a lot.  I was attracted to reading a novel with the most unappealing title imaginable, just for reasons of perversity.
   Set in Russia either side of the Revolution, the absurd story of Futility is as described above.  Although stylistically it's very much trad, the internal logic is quietly modernist.  It's sort of 'cosy Kafka', with all the characters somehow conspiring to ensure that nothing ever resolves for any of them.  Pleasingly odd.

Random paragraph: 'They had been sitting silently for a time.  Nina seemed sad; Sonia and Vera sulky.  It was twilight, but no one had thought of switching on the light.  No one would dance.  I played the piano for a while, and then stopped.'


Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Title: MacBird!

Author: Barbara Garson

Year of publication: 1966.  Penguin edition 1967

Back cover blurb: '"MacBird! is one of the best and most-needed political parodies of the post-war period."
   Robert Brustein
"I have nothing to say about the political truth of this play, but I am sure a kind of genius has gone into the writing."
   Robert Lowell
"To the artists of the stage, who give us all mankind in all its disguises and so give us ourselves as we truly are, I pay tribute..."
   Lyndon B Johnson
   27 March 1966
   (a statement for World Theater Day)'

Status: Completed

Reading reveals: Do you like Shakespeare?  Do you like satirical plays about Lyndon B Johnson?  Then Macbird! may as well have been written especially for you.  A product of the sixties underground theatre (originally published by the Grassy Knoll Press), it's a pretty effective mash-up of Macbeth and the assassination of JFK and LBJ's subsequent presidency.  Alluding to the 'LBJ did it' school of thought, it's savage stuff, with Kennedy getting shot off-stage just a few years after the actual event.
   A Black Muslim, Marxist and Beatnik Witch set the tone, and although you'd need some hefty knowledge of the time to appreciate the details, the quality of the writing means its not a total period piece, even though it was presumably designed to auto-destruct soon after being written.  Doesn't appear to have been performed since 1968, which makes sense.

Random lines: 'REPORTER: Your majesty, how do you plan to deal
   With rebel groups which thrive in Viet Land?
   MACBIRD: What rebel groups?  Where is this Viet Land?
   Who gave them folks permission to rebel?'


Friday, 23 May 2014

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 15

The final Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up.  After this, new entries will adopt a whole new mutant form that will terrify and arouse in equal measure.

The Killing Gift by Bari Wood

Status: Completed

Very enjoyable supernatural police procedural. This is the book that 'Lamia' by Tristan Travis could have been.  An unforeseen side-effect of an early X-Ray machine used during pregnancy leads to the birth of a child that people can't help but dislike.  She turns out to have psychic powers she herself is unaware of, and anyone who crosses her ends up mysteriously and horribly dead.  Enter a curious policeman seeking to solve the mystery.  As ever, I wasn't totally convinced by the ending, but overall, a quirky, imaginative book that explores the instinctive distrust of those that seem other.  Its utter obscurity is undeserved.

Punish Me With Kisses by William Bayer

Status: Completed

Somewhat sordid sex thriller oddity.  A promiscuous young woman is murdered, leaving her dowdy younger sister to explore her kinky life and solve the crime.  Along the way there is much identity-shifting, and a crazy sub-plot involving a cat-centred form of psychotherapy that leads to a draw-dropping twist.  Grubby but engaging.

Man In White by Johnny Cash

Status: Abandoned p. 56

For a devil-may-care rockabilly with a take-no-prisoners attitude to life and a fuck-you mentality towards authority, Johnny Cash devoted a lot of his time to unquestioning subservience to the Higher Power of God.  The introduction to this novelised account of the life of Paul the Apostle is well worth reading, detailing as it does Cash's near-death encounter with an ostrich.  The book itself is pretty much the Bible with the gaps filled in with extensive historical research.  It's not bad, although everyone pretty much speaks exposition, but also not compelling enough to demand a full read.

The Actress by Henry Denker

Status: Abandoned p. 39

Joyously lurid story of a seductive actress and her mental health problems, populated entirely by characters incapable of sticking to the point during important conversations ('It made dark stains on her black leotard.  Dark stains....').  If it were a film I'd watch to the end, but a whole book of it would take up too much valuable Buzzfeed time.

A Chemical Romance by Jenny Fabian

Status: Abandoned p. 18

Glam-era scenester decadence.  Far too much astrology to be bothering with.

Dangler by Charles Gaines

Status: Completed

If asked to imagine a novel written by the inventor of Paintball, the average person in the street could be forgiven for imagining a bad one.  Dangler, however, is actually pretty decent.  A product of the seventies crisis of masculinity that brought you Deliverance and Straw Dogs, it tells of a outdoor activity park manager who attempts to make his elite clientele regain their sense of innate superiority over the lower orders through gruelling wilderness exercises.  Needless to say, it all goes wrong.  The novel sags in the middle when, just when you expect it to go full-on crazy, it instead descends into soapiness and some tedious sub-plot about tax.  By the end, however, it's all rather gripping.  Let us now enjoy Charles Gaines's author photo.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Lost Book Library Reading Round-Up no. 14

The penultimate round-up of the Great Lost Book Library Reading Backlog.

Game in Heaven With Tussy Marx by Piers Paul Read

Status: Abandoned p. 24

This opened with an intriguing premise of a conversation in the afterlife involving Karl Marx's daughter, but soon moved on to the class-obsessed seduction story material that bored me in the last novel by Read I tried to read.  I'm sure what he's doing is lovely, but it's not for me.

Harris in Wonderland by Philip Reid

Status: Completed

As you'd expect in a detective novel written under a pseudonym by two Private Eye staffers, here the establishment is corrupt, while those angry enough about it to get radical are figures of fun.  The moral ideal to be aimed for here is, naturally, that embodied by the socially conservative investigative journalist.  The story is sometimes engaging, sometimes not, but there's a good courtroom scene and a decent twist, as well as some enjoyable counter-cultural stuff if you like that sort of thing.

The Bender by Paul Scott

Status: Abandoned p. 26

Very well-written early work by The Jewel in the Crown-meister.  Nothing particularly wrong with it, but I'm getting weighed down by the sheer number of class angst post-war novels I'm having to wade through.  The plot hung on some gubbins about an inheritance and a debt I couldn't get my head round, and accountancy-based stories just aren't my thing.  You should definitely read it, though.  It's probably brilliant.

Seventeen Part One by Soya

Status: Completed

The Lost Book Library is amply stocked with recollections of teenage sexual encounters which are definitely those of a fictional character and not the author.  I was determined to finally get through one of these, despite the fact the psychological reaction they trigger is not dissimilar to that experienced by Springfield when Principal Skinner announced he was a virgin.  This one, by renowned Danish novelist Carl Erik Soya and set just before WWI, is actually good stuff.  It's more a novel about adolescence, despite the sexy packaging, and by the end of Part One, the protagonist still hasn't got his end away. (He doesn't even get to first base) It does, however, detail a boy on the verge of adulthood trying to make sense of the world he is about to enter very well.  It's also an example of the past being a foreign country, with everyone only having a bath once every fortnight and children playing with toys well into their teens.  Having said that, apparently blackheads were an issue even back then.

The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker by Charles Webb

Status: Completed

Despite being reissued as a classic every decade or so, I didn't think Webb's The Graduate was much cop.  The inarticulacy of its protagonist seemed unlikely and dishonest.  Here, in Webb's third novel, the young stockbroker of the title is refreshingly vocal, and we actually get to know what his problem is as his marriage disintegrates under the weight of his voyeurism and the tactics of his interfering sister-in-law.  Although his wife does irritatingly display some Benjamin-esque vagueness, this is overall a much more satisfying book than The Graduate, although less high-concept.  The dialogue crackles, and Webb's standard film treatment-style is juxtaposed with some fine interior monologues as the protagonist recalls a visit to a now very tame-sounding porn cinema.  A strong entry in the suburban ennui genre.