Sunday 14 January 2024

Theirs not to reason what the fuck, Theirs but to shoot and duck.

The Sellout

I might have been half listening to one of those BBC Sounds programs whilst preparing lunch, or reading an end of year best books list in The Guardian. Whatever, someone recommended Paul Beatty's The Sellout and said it was about a black man who re-introduces slavery and segregation to the USA. What?!

Yes, it's true. The story begins with the protagonist, Bonbon, who claims he's never committed a crime, "in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America" waiting for his case to be heard.

Bonbon is an urban farmer renowned for the deliciousness of his fruit. Two things define him, the fictional Dickens, "a ghetto community on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles" where he lives, and his father, whose child-rearing methods were questionable at best. Unfortunately, when both these things disappear, Bonbon realises "suddenly I had no idea who I was, and no clue how to become myself."

There's a lot of humour in the book and two sections stand out. First, when one character, high on crack recites his own verse, "The Charge of the Light-Skinned Spade", a riff on Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade. Second, a whole chapter entitled City Lites: An Interlude, which relates Bonbon's attempt to find a suitable twin town for Dickens.

How to rate it tho'? If I were a professional reviewer, I'd give The Sellout 5 out of 5 stars. I picked up a rap-like rhythm in the language of the Prologue. The storyline is entertaining, and Paul Beatty plays around with our prejudices, questioning where the limits of our concern lie. What about the injustices suffered by "the Native Americans? What about the Chinese, the Japanese, the Mexicans, the poor, the forests, the water, the air, the fucking California condor". However, I'm not professional, so I can't quite give it top rating because sometimes I found the sentences so long that my thoughts meandered away from the story and onto the to-do list of my life.

Still, it's a genius book, unlike anything I've read before, certainly worth reading a first time, and maybe even a second too.

Wednesday 30 August 2023

Rose-tinted memories, mis-remembered by some, forgotten by others

The Old Devils A few years ago a university friend attempted to reunite our old gang. The response was somewhat unenthusiastic. Rose-tinted memories resurfaced, mis-remembered by some, forgotten by others. Thank goodness it didn't go ahead, unlike the reunion of The Old Devils in Kingsley Amis's novel.

Saturday 26 August 2023

How to enrich your life

How to Enjoy Poetry (Little Ways to Live a Big Life) I love libraries. Unlike the online world, they don't limit your horizons to something an algorithm suggests because you've taken an interest in it before. You can be looking for books about travelling in Europe, and before you get to the shelf, you see something far more interesting that you didn't even realise you wanted. Which is what happens to me today.

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Cheating at cards... it's about the only crime that can still finish you

Moonraker (James Bond, #3) Last year the screen persona of James Bond turned 60. He made his debut in 1962 with Dr. No. I must have seen all the movies. I groaned at the awful punned names of heroines like Pussy Galore and cringed when Sean Connery forcibly kissed her. I rolled my eyes at Roger Moore's cheesy humour and cheered when Piers Brosnan met his match with Onatop. But in all this time I've never, up to now, read a single one of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.

Friday 17 March 2023

It's Friday, it's Fontvieille, and it's fish and chips

We don't do too badly for fancy fare in Monaco. The 2023 Michelin Red Guide for France was published at the beginning of March, awarding a total of 9 stars to restaurants in the Principality. If something quick and simple is required the humble pissaladière and barbagiuan are delicious and can be bought for a few euros in my local boulangerie (or for a lot more in a starred restaurant in England, but that's another story). Sometimes tho', only a taste of home will satisfy, something from my native land: British ale, Tunnocks Tea Cakes, and of course, that staple of the working class, fish and chips.

Thursday 9 March 2023

Virginity: the sum of a girl's worth

In the early 1970s Mum's American pen friend and family paid us a visit on their way home from Iran; the husband was something in US diplomacy. We wore our best clothes and had to be on our best behaviour. Our visitors had straight teeth and spoke with movie-star accents. They brought with them a small souvenir for each of us from the faraway, fairytale country about which I knew nothing. I still have my gift, a little mirror mounted behind small doors in a hand-made, hand-painted frame. I'd never owned anything so exotic, and for many years this was my only image of Iran. So when I picked up Jasmin Darznik's Song Of A Captive Bird I thought it might give me some insight into the country.

Thursday 2 March 2023

Alice's Adventures in Blackpool - a poem for children that's best read aloud

Writing Magazine's recent competition was to write a poem inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice adventures. If you've been following my book reviews, you'll know that last year I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for the first time. The competition asked for "a poem on any aspect of the Alice stories, from a re-imagining of their contents to the facts and myths that surround their writing, illustration and publication." I imagined Alice transported to Blackpool to see her distant working class relatives, the Ramsbottoms. You might recall that Albert was swallowed by Wallace the lion after poking the big cat's ear with his stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle. The story was immortalised in verse by Marriott Edgar.

Well, I wrote and I wrote, and by the time I'd finished, my poem was too long for the competition. So here it is for you, dear reader. I hope you enjoy it.

Alice's Adventures in Blackpool

It'd been such a very long journey
to Blackpool, and right after tea
young Alice was feeling quite drowsy,
so declined to go paddling in t'sea.