The wonderful Ruth Scott and I have known each other on and off for the last 14 years.
At one stage we even (briefly) presented a show together.
A couple of days ago we had a shot taken to promote both of us reading at this year’s Words On The Street event tonight on Dublin (you should go – here’s the LINK) and I commented that the last time that happened was probably when we were doing that show.
So, us on 2005 and us in 2015. I don’t really have any words shy of wanting to thank my deal with the devil and ensuring both of our portraits in the attic remain locked away…
Part of my reading habits over the last couple of years has been to make small piles of older books that I feel I should have read a long time ago. Christopher Priest falls squarely in that category, where better to start than with his book in the Gollancz’s SF Masterworks series?
The premise is beautifully, brilliantly bizarre – Helward Mann lives in an enormous city called Earth on an alien planet colonised by humans. The city must constantly move on tracks across a vast desert being laid as fast as possible by teams of citizens or else it will be crushed by a slow-moving gravity field that follows it. The humans are desperately awaiting rescue.
I’m not telling you any more. You don’t need to know. JUST READ THE BLOODY THING! It is not what you think, it was not what I thought, it is an impossibly elegant narrative of human struggle, particle physics, just sheer bonkers reality and a brilliant coup de théâtre for a finish.
Even though the book itself is almost as old as I am, I have rarely come across SF this brilliant, involving, head-twisting, original or thought-provoking. Few people even try.
I urge you to read it – it is a thing of incredible originality and one of the best novels in the genre that I have ever come across.
Sadly this didn’t end up being what I had wanted it to be.
The initial premise is one I’m all about (that the human race has become obsessed with stuff, things, money and the like hugely to the overall detriment of our mental health). However while it starts by laying out the thesis well (the section on the birth of advertising is particularly good) it gets bogged down.
After a while and quickly descends into chapters of complexity even my brain wasn’t equipped to handle interspersed with what seems to be the blindingly obvious (the billionaire in New York who has everything but is addicted to heroin, the miserable trophy wife).
To be fair, the book is 8 years old at this stage and I’ve read much better in the interim on the same subject (Alain DeBotton’s Status Anxiety for instance).
Worth your time for some of the ride, but I ended up skimming by the end.
If you ever read here regularly you’ll know how much I hate summarising books, so I won’t, save to say it’s set in modern-day Cork in a world of crime bosses, teenage drug-dealers, drug pushers, prostitutes, accidental murderers and long-term love and family all wrapped up in incredibly real, fallible, rare human characters. Love/Hate it’s far from though. Think more along the lines of Goodfellas or The Godfather on the Lee.
This is, joyously, in that tiny sliver of books I read every year that I press on to people and insist they read. It fizzes, it crackles, it kicks you in the balls on a fairly regular basis, peels away the layers of what could have been dull stereotypes and it stuffs you to the gills with the most edible prose of the “read it again and again just to savour it” variety. Stylistically, even though they’re two different books, I kept being reminded of Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane (a comparison I hope she won’t mind, it’s a huge compliment). I hope I read a better Irish novel this year but I’m not sure I will.
I was ever so slightly reticent in reading the book to be honest. Lisa has written a hugely acclaimed blog in the past and even wrote a post or two for a group blog I used to run back in the Jurassic age. The talent of one frequently doesn’t transfer into the talent of the other. Now I’m just wondering why she wasn’t writing brilliant, brutal, cruel monsters like this for years instead of faffing around on the internet 😉
It’s been a genuinely brilliant couple of years for first-time Irish women authors and this one sits right alongside the first novels of Sara Baume, Audrey Magee, Louise O’Neill, Liz Nugent. However, make no mistake, The Glorious Heresies would take every last Irish book written for years in a scrap down a dark dirty laneway.
Inspired by YA Book Prize here are the April reads over on my FB book club. Want to join us?
I’m a smidge ashamed to admit I’m new to Denis Johnson and that a huge part in my decision to read this was the glorious cover photo from Richard Mosse’s The Enclave exhibition. Glad I did.
Ronald Nair is a shady Scandinavian obviously ex-intelligence services operative drawn back to Freetown by an African former friend/colleague/associate Michael Adriko. Michael has a plan for a heist and a new fiancée. I don;t want to reveal any more as usual.
I’ve read a fair few reviews online of people taking this far too seriously or presuming Johnson should be writing far more seriously. Read it on the top and it’s a swift, occasionally vicious sometimes nonsensical trawl across half of Africa in what feels like the dying days of an empire.
As someone who’s never been to West Africa it nonetheless feels impossibly evocative of time, place, people, resources. It’s was worth it for me ever just for that. There’s more than a hint of a far more extreme version of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American here. Still well worth your time, though.
I’ve read George Monbiot before, both in book form and in newspaper columns, so what I expected before I started the book and what I got were surprisingly different.
It’s a very human and personal story leading to the much larger idea and movement based around the concept of allowing tracts of the countryside around the world to rewild themselves or be rewilded with bison, bears and wolves amongst other species (there are very good reasons for this, far too longform for a short review) and the oceans too.
I ended up slightly depressed actually at how little time I spend interacting with “nature” of any kind and my almost complete lack of knowledge of anything that happens there. He fishes from a kayak off the coast of Wales, spends time living with people in the Masai, walks the hills of Scotland, all beautifully evocative and thought provoking in the end.
Look, I know I’m not doing a proper sell on this – it’s a vast, sweeping book about the very nature (no pun intended) of what the planet will look like for generations to come and about how sometimes, (again no pun intended) we can’t see the wood for the trees.
A head-turner of a book. I’ll never look at the countryside in the same way again.
It was one of the most surreal days I’ve ever spent working for RTE. Me, David McCullagh, Keelin Shanley, Seán Rocks and Miriam O’Callaghan in Wynn’s Hotel dressing up as we would have a century ago.
You should come along and bring the family, it’ll be a brilliant free day out.
I’ll be there as The Poetry Programme, my other little baby over on Radio 1, will be recording a live show in the Peacock.
EDIT – Seems a few of the papers took up on it
EDIT 2 – And how could I forget the behind the scenes photos…?
So, how was it for you?
Unlike last time I lasted 4 hours (I am a complete lightweight!) by taking it very easy and eating well. Met some lovely people, spent a great evening, was at home at a sensible hour…
Among other things I liked on the night included:
And then there’s this baby. It’s a top-notch beer in bottles, on tap it comes very, very close to being as good as I’ve ever had for my palette.
You should try Polar Vortex…