Dr Johnson published his first dictionary in 1746. That book detailed just over 40,000 words that were used in the English language. However, language doesn’t stay till. As time passes, language changes. A new word is invented, others are begged and borrowed from other languages. This is immediately evident when looking at a modern dictionary and discovering that there are over 600,000 words used in the English language nowadays. Edward Allhusen’s Codswallop, Crumpet and Caper takes a look at over 1300 English words in common use today and explains how they came to be added to the 40,000 words used back in 1746.
“He was going to be one of the select few — The Rolling Stones, U2, Bob Dylan, REM, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen — artists who remained credible but still had commercial success and who’s every album felt interwoven with itself, a cultural landmark.” It’s 2009 and John Barrett, former Killing Stars frontman is a has-been. In his heart he knows this, but he still has loyal fans so even if his latest album Godspace has sold a handful of copies, both his agent, Rupert Green and his second wife Esther are not even sure if he is worth it anymore. Where had it all gone wrong? What had happened to the ambitious punk wannabe who had been so full of integrity? How did he end up here?
Initially, Samantha Harvey’s debut novel The Wilderness is a confusing affair. Jake is 65, he has lost his wife and is starting to lose his mind. The latter being something his then alive wife has noted. Jake’s life has never been straight forward, therefore losing control of it is even less so. Jake has Alzheimer’s. This revelation appears early enough in the book to allow the reader time to digest what has gone before. That being a twisting a turning series of events, which without explanation would make no sense.
Modern art is questioned, assessed and given a brutal analysis in A Nasty Piece of Work which sees literary agent Jonathan Urich handed the opportunity of a lifetime to repair his rapidly deteriorating reputation and become rich at the same time. It’s the setting for a dip into the mind of a seedy man who fantasises about a work colleague he’ll never be close to while frantically crying out for a hit novel to help realise his dreams. This mystery thriller tosses morals aside as the art world does, as the title suggests, get nasty.
The Ladies of Grace Adieu is the second book of Clarke’s saga, a moment for the writer to catch her breath before another big effort: eight short stories that give readers more information about the state of magic before Norrell and Strange and introduce yet more characters who will surely come back in future works, such as the half-faerie Alessandro Simonelli, who narrates “Mr Simonelli or The Faerie Widower”, and adventure buddies David Montefiore, a Jewish physician, and Tom Brightwind, a Faerie prince — as well as Brightwind’s bastard son, Lucius Winstanley, who conveniently disappears on a horse at the end of “Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby”.
1982, Janine is deceivingly modest: in a cheap hotel room somewhere in Scotland a middle-aged everyman drinks his minibar dry and tries to escape his thoughts and memories through wicked fantasies of bondage and domination. But one human mind can be more complex and fascinating than a whole world — than two worlds, even — and 1982, Janine is good evidence for it.
Jonathan Lethem. He’s got everything right: the words, the rhythm, even that most elusive of substances, the humor. He doesn’t make it easy for the reader, doesn’t dumb his work down, and yet following his prose is so easy and pleasurable it often feels I could keep doing it forever. He is inventive without being showy, avoiding cliches as if they simply weren’t there.
“Paul Auster is getting old”, my wife wrote on the first page of Travels in the Scriptorium. She’s right, as always; I’d only add he’s also really scared of it. Mr. Blank, Travels’ protagonist, has trouble walking and bending down, shakes so much he can’t feed himself, pees his pants. Add to these problems the facts that they are not attributed to old age alone — the shaking is a side effect of Mr. Blank’s medication, the urinary incident comes about from muscle relaxation due to a fall — and that Blank is clearly a fictional Auster, and the author’s feelings about getting old become more pungent still.
In a post about a subject entirely alien to this review (if you must know, a critique of an article about Orthodox Jewish-American fiction written by Wendy Shalit for the New York Times Book Review), Ron Hogan passingly describes noir as “a genre in which idealism is often defined by its absence”. If we take this definition as standard, I think Death’s Dark Abyss by Italian author Massimo Carlotto is the noirest thing I’ve ever read.
Labels such as a love of the gothic, odd imaginings and a strange sense of humour have followed Tim Burton throughout his career. His drak take on Batman, the quirky death comedy Beetlejuice and a twisted version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) might leave the impression of a man who had a troubled childhood. Burton on Burton reveals that he simply sees life from a different perspective that may be not be not suit all tastes, but he does reveal many of life’s truths through his unique cinematic visions in this updated edition that takes us up to 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bridge.
To understand the works of Sartre and Beauvoir, one must understand what was happening in their lives at the time, and thus one must understand the role of the other in their respective lives.
I think it’s pretty safe to venture that anyone who opens an Irvine Welsh novel has a least the vaguest of notions of what to expect. In the decade since Trainspotting put him on the map (not to mention Babylon Heights, his recent play about the debauchery of Munchkins), drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll (in that order) have been expected from Scotland’s most famous contemporary author.
Set in the lands of Inner Horner, Outer Horner, and Greater Keller, Phil satirizes democracy, war, and the media, drawing from Saunders’ previous themes of longing and loss. The prose is hard, clear, and proximal — by which I mean that it creates within its 130 pages a world as approximate to ours as is possible — the same but other.
Finishing the book I’m reading and placing it on the white plastic seat of my white porcelain toilet, I exhale loudly. I run my fingers through my damp hair, shake my face free of water, touch the sore on my lip, and stare at the book as if it were a fast-paddling and panicked beetle sharing my bath or a clutch of hairs left on the blue and white tiles by my girlfriend after her shower a few weeks ago.
Towelling myself dry, my skin flakes and spirals to the bathroom floor, I think of the slight shift in emphasis from Bounty, the last story in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, to the title story of Pastoralia, Saunders’ second collection. This time, the theme/amusement park is caveman-based, disgruntled employees scrabbling and scratching for food and meaning. The paranoia here is gentle, the comedy an admixture of Freud and Benny Hill.
What I definitely will not be doing… What I definitely definitely will not be doing, not if I can help it, not if you tied me to a tree and propped open my eyelids using cocktail sticks and barbed wire, not if you kept me awake by playing Abba at ear-splitting eye-socket-gouging volume, not if you stroked my cock while whispering the words of the text in my pink and waxy shell-like. What I mean is, what I will not be doing is reading George Saunders’ new collection of short stories In Persuasion Nation. I won’t be reading it in the Riverhead Books edition nor the Bloomsbury edition, both of which I own. No, sir. No, ma’am. No, Mr Blunderbuss and Mrs Milquetoast. Nuh-uh. Ain’t gonna happen. No way. Not in a month of sorbets, not in a blue noon. You wanna know why? Huh? Well, I’ll tell you why. Here goes. Are you ready? My confession.
My friends give me bookmarks as gifts. I have a small collection: op-art cards with swirling hallucinogenic 3-D designs, portraits of authors (for some reason Virginia Woolf is a big hit with my female friends, who seem to think I’m a fan. I’m not really. I like To The Lighthouse, The Waves, and A Room of One’s Own, but that’s about it. Orlando is insufferable twaddle. So, if you want to buy me a postcard of a woman writer, make it Kathy Acker, Gertrude Stein, or Joan Didion). I have tens of bookmarks from bookshops. I find it impossible to go to an art gallery and not buy postcards to use as bookmarks, these appear between pages of unread or not-read-for-a-long-time-and-gathering-dust-and-insects books. Recently, I found a postcard of Francis Bacon holding beef carcasses in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, one of Samuel Beckett looking like a crack-addicted heron in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, and a trilogy of Warhol car-crash prints in Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey.
Like Jean Baudrillard, the late Roland Barthes viewed the proliferation of news media in Western society, with its overloaded and misunderstood signs, as a symptom of late-stage capitalism. Like Baudrillard, Barthes was interested in seduction and in consciousness and value. And like Baudrillard, Barthes’ philosophy attracts and does battle with duality. Barthes’ writing, grounded in language theory, almost consumes itself as it is written; The Neutral is full of side notes, references, tables, graphs and quotes. In this, he is unlike Baudrillard, who writes the present as is; Barthes writes the past as if it will be, as if it were still being created, using anecdote and reference to advance his theory.
Baudrillard has never been as willfully abstruse as Gilles Deleuze or Felix Guattari; he has never been as playful as Jacques Derrida; he has never been as rib-ticklingly laugh out loud as Michel Foucault, or as technologically perceptive as Paul Virilio. In Intelligence, he has decided to attempt a synthesis of his theories while challenging, incorporating, and having fun with those of his contemporaries.
Bruce Campbell, probably so often referred to as ‘That Ash guy from the Evil Dead films’, may be expected to have few life experiences that would spice up an autobiography. Could he really have more to tell beyond tales of endless appearances at cult movie conventions and a few guest spots acting? Thankfully, Campbell has been avoiding the dull and mundane track through life, even before setting out to make no-budget shocker Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1982) with his chums. If Chins Could Kill offers an amusing anecdotal approach to Campbell’s life story with enough insights into filmmaking, particularly from a decidedly never-in-demand-actor point of view, that it never fails to be an entertaining read. Old Bruce has never had it easy, but he sure seems to have enjoyed the ride so far.
Red Mars is a wonderfully detailed account of the human effort to terraform Mars in the hope that one day man may freely populate its surface. It is the first book of a trilogy that has directly benefited from seventeen years of research by the author, Kim Stanley Robinson, coupled with a well thought out story line.
Bret Easton Ellis realized the apex of his writing genius within his third book, American Psycho, a truly bold attempt at a violent and shocking creation: a young American yuppie Patrick Bateman, whose solipsistic affliction cleverly exposes the putrid underbelly of consumerism.
Life of Pi
The Life of Pi is a fictional recollection of a young boys’ trans-oceanic venture in a boat with a bizarre collection of animals and a religious zeal to survive. Piscine Molitor Patel (named after a famous French swimming pool) is recounting the days when he was a thirteen year old Indian lad from a zoo in Pondicherry, India.