Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson (and other stuff)

I read it in a day.

Ok, it’s not the heaviest tome, and maybe it doesn’t have the smallest font.

But still.

Read it in a day. It is a lovely book.

Somebody on Twitter suggested recently that a book review should never be about the reviewer. It would somehow became less worthy and lacking in literary qualities. I get that, but I like writing my blog in such a way that it feels like I’m creating a memoir. Each tale of running adventure offering a peek through the curtains into moments of my life, I simply enjoy writing like this. When it comes to the books we read, they often hold a mirror up to our own stories. And a memoir like Anderson’s also points me back to a certain time in my life. So please forgive me the indulgence!

Besides, as author Zadie Smith puts it (in Intimations), writing is basically talking to yourself but then allowing yourself to be overheard.

Listen in if you fancy.

The founder and singer of the band Suede, Brett Anderson has always had a mysterious, almost aloof persona, especially if the music press are to be believed. Coal Black Mornings actually charts Anderson’s early life (taking us from childhood to the time when said music press started to really notice them), through adolescence as it drifted towards adulthood. I guess in today’s vernacular, Anderson and his fellow creatives and dreamers would be accused of being from the ‘metropolitan elite’. The truth is a tale of somewhat less privilege than we’d been led to believe.

I was in Bedford in those heady days of British music back in the early 90s and had the pleasure of writing for a naively ambitious music magazine, Splinter. I brought my rocking roots to the publication as others introduced me to more obscure underground music and we all had a love of finding original live acts who we could champion.

Obviously Suede were on our radar as we clung to the coat tales of the NME and Melody Maker, trying to promote the cause of bands from Bedfordshire and Northants who we reckoned could compete with this wave of guitar fuelled indie music filling the jukeboxes.

I hold my hand up to having made my impressions of Brett Anderson based around the press I consumed. But also, of course, through the extraordinary music they made. That first album still gets a regular airing in the van as I drive around South Devon doing my ‘day job’. I guess I always imagined his androgynous stage presence (a bit like how I consumed Jarvis Cocker from Pulp) to be derived from a spoiled home counties up bringing, the swagger having an arrogance to it.

In fact, Anderson’s upbringing was more like mine; straightforward with very defined household roles. This ordinariness combined with the bespoke quirks I’ve know doubt every family can boast, I recognise this only too well. The seemingly effortless poetic use of language in Coal Black Mornings paints this domestic scene so vividly and in such colour, it had me at the dinner table with the Andersons.

.. a sense that his mood could suddenly, capriciously sour and the house would be plunged into a strange, dark theatre of Pinteresque tension.

Anderson describing his father’s sometimes ominous presence.

It is hardly surprising that this book seems to only feature beautiful phrases. It is a feast of subtle yet somehow expansive descriptions of everything from clothes and their place in the author’s early life to the debris and the bric-a-brac the adventurous youth found on abandoned waste dumps.

The writing is mature and classy but certainly not daunting. There is humility and some darkly self depreciating passages. Despite this, Anderson accepts that some of lyrical creations were (and are) quite beyond anything his peers were achieving at the time. He presented us, then through his lyrics, and now in this book, with snippets of his world through his far from predictable word play. The book joins all of those dots, puts reason to the rhyme.

Claiming to be happy to avoid the “primary colours of party politics”, Anderson still manages to be wonderfully acerbic when the mood takes.

..John Major’s irrelevant, dreary, Tory world of unemployment and cut-price lager and crap boy bands.

For those of us who gave our own peers knowing looks when we first heard those extraordinary riffs on Suede’s eponymous debut, it is great to read that Anderson himself was initially in awe of Bernard Butler (Suede’s original lead guitarist). It must have been breath-taking to be in the room when songs like Animal Nitrate first riffed and rolled into existence.

The music was over-simplistic until Bernard wrote a breath-taking guitar – gnarled, twisted, winding and almost Eastern in flavour, it utterly transformed the song and turned it into a slinky, prowling beast that melted into a terrifying maelstrom of raging noise.

Anderson’s humble nod to Butler’s guitar on ‘He’s Dead’

Is the book for those who have no feeling for, or recollection of Suede? Is it for those who were either not yet born, or already middle aged in the early 90’s? Is this poignant memoir for those who are indifferent to music at all? The answer to all of these is yes, of course. At it’s simplest, Coal Black Mornings is a story, from birth to finding his calling, of an extraordinary yet believable young man.

Anderson doesn’t delve too much into the years that follow Suede’s initial impact, or the huge successes, the world tours, gold discs and high profile disintegration of relationships and departures. This keeps the story at ground level. The fears, the mistakes, the fumbling through adolescence and the atmosphere of childhood are all relatable. Except of course, unsaid but constantly present, is the knowledge that here was somebody who could achieve so much with his art.

I’ve read too many memoirs of the rich and famous where I find myself flicking pages as some overly self-important sports star or musician tells me how great and successful they are. Coal Black Mornings could not be further from those ghost written hardbacks which appear in WH Smiths in October ready for us to wrap up for our parents’ Christmas present.

It is a pocket rocket of a book. A rat-a-tat rhythm to the prose keeps the pages turning but not without savouring every word. Anderson is an artisan with words. He moulds and crafts. Sometimes phrases are so simply beautiful yet I know, as a wanna-be scribbler I’d be chuffed to create prose a tenth as good.

When I was playing a very average guitar, in Totnes band New Shapes, clinging on to the pace of songs I’d helped write, my fellow musicians delivering effortlessly perfect timing as I chased the chords around the fretboard, it was enough to see one punter tap their foot as they supped their beer and regarded us as the curiosities we probably were.

Similarly, as I talk out loud, I’m humbled if any of you are still listening.

Onwards.

Book Review – The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers

Myer’s award winning work of historical fiction (collecting both The Walter Scott Prize and The Roger Deakin Award) has been on the radar for a while. Despite this, we just haven’t got around to buying it.

We do buy plenty books. Lots of books. Piles of books. We always read these books of course. But there’s no denying, we do buy a lot of books.

‘We’ being my wonderful lady wife of course. My partner in life, my soul mate, my (literal) running buddy and, naturally, the other member of our two person book club.

So why hasn’t Benjamin Myers featured before now?

Well, it has come to my attention that there are some very organised book lovers who keep meticulous lists of books they intend to read. We’re not like that. We often start these lists but then forget where. Then we start the lists again but forget what was on the first list. Better still, the one place we definitely don’t take the lists is to the book shop when we have a buying spree.

Despite The Gallows Pole regularly appearing on my list, it had never quite made it into the basket. We do get distracted when we’re buying books.

This spring we saw the error of our ways and The Gallows Pole duly arrived in a lockdown book bundle. We both devoured it in rapid succession.

And here’s why.

It is a brutal, forceful telling of the story of the Crag Valley Coiners. On the Yorkshire moors, this 18th century gang were involved in the escalation of ‘coining’. Coins of the realm were clipped and these clippings melted down before being formed into new coins.

The gang were led by their self acclaimed king, David Hartley, and his family. They oversaw the ‘coining’ operation and had a ring of protection which demanded respect from the men who followed him and were happy to use whatever means necessary to keep their highly illegal and secretive work secure.

Settle your nerves before tucking into this. I found myself wincing and occasionally having to look away from the page as Hartley and his henchmen meter out punishment for disloyalty and violence towards any outsiders who might try to puncture the inner circle. Or on one occasion, an innocent bodger who stumbled into their territory and had too much to say whilst enjoying the wares of the ale house.

The bodger fell as the fists and clogs came. A hail of them. He was stamped and kicked down into the trees. Down and out of sight into the crisp dead leaves. Absolum Butts and Brian Dempsey and Paul Taylor said nothing as they thumped and pounded and worked and grunted and clumped and punched and slugged and sweated

(a ‘bodger’ was not an unskilled tradesmen, more someone who could turn and create with wood)

The industrial revolution was coming and the families found their moorland way of life threatened by the automation of their skills, particularly weaving. These truths, alongside the constant threat of the gallows if a coiner they to be caught, drive the pace of this bitter and desperate tale.

I found I tuned in quickly to the clipped and percussive pace of the dialogue. Myers creates a mercenary streak in the coiners but the violence he portrays, the dominant force with which the Hartleys keep their gang in line, appear to be justified by the carnage which is coming the way of the moors. The exciseman, Deighton, is the government’s envoy, tasked with hunting down, and catching in the act, the coiners. The book delves into the psyche of both Deighton and Hartley as they seem as hell bent on destroying each other as they do achieving whatever their version of ‘right’ is.

The book is absolutely a page turner. Sometimes the narrative bullies you from page to page. I found, even when dosing off reading, I would rush to splash water on my face in order to come back and have just one more page.

The research appears to have been extensive, the life that the lower classes in rural England lived was hard. So why wouldn’t they have pursued their illicit skills in an attempt to protect their families’ futures from the onrushing changes of the 18th century?

By creating (David) Hartley’s fictional prison memoirs, produced sporadically throughout the story, Myer’s has produced something which resonates on a deeply personal level. These memoirs are written as they might have been spoken, full of inconsistencies and Yorkshire slang. They add welcome pauses to the frenetic pace of the novel. There are subtle moments of dark humour, such as David reflecting on how he winds up his fellow prisoners with his singing and shouting.

An so I showts out I shout Get a wash yer blacc Lancastreen bustuds becors even tho the most of them is Jórvíkshire men lyke myself its bestst way to get theyr blud and piss boilin

Like much of my reading in these strange times, the bitter divisions, societal changes and personal tragedies resonate with all that is ill in the world today. Changes come and those that resist might have their moment of standing strong or delaying the inevitable, but at the coiners’ level, society was fragile and constantly in danger breaking.

I’d normally baulk at historical fiction but was enthralled, obsessed and appalled by this and regularly found myself reading it while cooking, on the ‘phone, walking to the compost bin…….

I’d heartily recommend you let this book muscle its way into your psyche and challenge you. And I’d be interested to know if you too found the words giving you shivers worthy of the cold damp Yorkshire moors and the dark secrets they harbour.

To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair

book review

to obama: with love, joy, hate and despair

by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Remember when politics was motivated by hope and empathy? I challenge anyone, even the most hardened Republicans, to not feel a pang of loss when reading this fabulous book.

Obama received 10,000 letters a day. Having earned the reputation for corresponding personally wherever possible whilst on the campaign trail, Americans wanted to write to Barack Obama. They wanted him to know their story. They felt he would want to know. They were right.

Obama assembled a dedicated and committed team to sift this volume down to the 10 he would take home to read every single day. This team of staff and interns would settle on the 10 as the letters were categorised and sampled through the hierarchy of the mail office.

Laskas’ book contains many, many of these letters, reproduced in the form in which they arrived, and also the replies they received from Obama himself. My tired eyes took a while on some of the smaller print but it is well worth the effort.

The 10lads (letters of the day), as they became known were intended to give a flavour, a refelection of the mood of America. Ranging from simple thank you notes to heart rending pleas from desperate veterans, victims of the economic crisis that marked the early Obama years, migrants and so minorities.

I finished this book as the current incumbent is shouting at anyone daring to question his increasingly worrying moves to bypass democracy. On folding the beautiful, simple, hardback cover closed, I was too emotional to speak. The passage describing the mood in the mail room team (“team little people” as they referred to themselves) after election night 2016 is numbing and humbling.

To Obama isn’t just about the letters though. There are chapters devoted to a selection of those who received replies. A window into America through the eyes and words of the people that live there.

And then there’s the staff, the interns, people that grew up with the Obama years. The tales of having to walk away from letters, letters pinned to walls (including the President’s), letters being walked around and around the building.

An operation which deals with pushing 4 million pieces of correspondence a year is delicately crafted into a tale of people through the guile and sensitivity of Laskas.

Wonderful

As Barack Obama put it himself:

“It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing was not about me, it wasn’t about the Washington calculus … It was about the people who were out there living their lives, who were either looking for some help or angry about how I was screwing something up.”

I received this book as a gift from my wonderful wife – go and buy it for someone you love too x

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

dsc_06474258139930410043374.jpgThis incredible book has been devoured. You know a book has you when you are drying yourself after a shower one handed in order to grab a quick page. At emotionally vulnerable times it could easily have felt corny to seize on a book with a torrid, heart breaking tale, put your favourite sad songs on repeat simply weep.

This book, though, about a journey on our very own South West Coast Path, told by Raynor Winn, but also about the incredible journey of a time in life with her beloved husband Moth, hits that sweet spot emotionally. Stomach twistingly heart breaking, yet so beautiful it paints rainbows across your tears. Winn crafts this deeply personal, brutally honest wander through the roughest tracks of life with such poise, it seems outrageous to think she hasn’t been previously published.

Thrown into the void of life after being evicted from their home, their life’s work gone, the follow up punch comes instantly when Moth is given a terminal diagnosis. What to do? They head for Minehead.

And from there, learning the errors of their preparation, or lack of it, as they go, they set off for Lands End (and beyond?) on foot. Camping wild and surviving on £40 a week, their wits, their humour and the spark they’ve carried together through their entire adult lives, they battle on.

Progress can be slow, painful or simply non-existent and Winn describes, sometimes agonisingly, often hilariously, the people they meet, the towns and villages they pass through, or linger in, and their encounters with the elements.

So life size is the narration, I found myself smelling their clothes, feeling the drying of their skin, hearing the sounds of the Atlantic, the call of the sea birds and shifting uncomfortably with the book as she describes some of the ground they slept on.

I can’t pretend that the books proximity to home (both in geography, emotion and ambition) doesn’t add an extra personality to its appeal to me personally, but please, please believe me, it is a wonderful thing.

Winn echos the message so delicately reinforced by my very own wondrous adventurer, soul mate and partner for life in reassuring me that hope is actually a GOOD thing. Why not hope, dream, dare or just ****ing DO IT!

If you want your spirits lifted, your emotions exposed, your adventurous bones ignited then this is surely the book for you. It has already become one of our most treasured possessions.

Check out what else I’ve read so far this year HERE.

 

 

 

Serious Sweet

SERIOUS SWEET by A.L. Kennedy – A Review
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Regular readers (should there still be any!?), will know that Alison Kennedy is one of my favourite ever authors. I was sure to delve into this rather hefty novel on the front foot, although rest assured if I hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

Nicky (my rather splendid, completely beautiful and awe inspiring lady wife) always claims I have a leaning towards, as she says, ‘high brow’ books. I think the industry calls it ‘literary fiction’, although I couldn’t give a shit what it’s called, I either enjoy a book or I don’t. And, Nicky, i do believe you’re currently reading the vintage autobiographical novel, Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. High brow indeed!

This heartbreaking, yet heart warming, tale is told without any suggestion of formula. The prose combines a personal third person narration with soul searching internal dialogue. And the same method is applied to both the main characters.

Powerful it is. Floyd’s ‘Two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl’ lyric would surely be on the soundtrack to the movie this book DEMANDS to be made into.

A flawed love story of flawed love as our two main characters battle their way through 24 London hours. There’s a darkness to Jon and Meg, our hopes for them never soar too ambitiously as we fear for their fate. Jon, in late middle age, working within the inner reaches of the civil service and privy to the hideous secrets that come with that, finds a unusual outlet for his feelings and emotions. Meg, a recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant, lost and alone in a crowded city, takes the bait and seeks refuge in Jon’s words.

Will destiny allow this unlikely pair to find romance? Told by the two protagonists in short bursts, the day starts and finishes in darkness, but will there be light?

The attention to detail, the imagery, the complex plot and history, together with the deeply personal voices make this a compelling read. It has to be read, there’s no room for skimming or presumption. Falling asleep with this book in my hands was always a frustration, I would grab it on awaking and even read a page whilst the kettle boiled for morning coffee.

Not a small book and it demands the readers’ involvement, but boy it’s good.

you CAN do it

I don’t know if at any point I consciously set out to believe in myself, to believe myself to be a writer. But with each baby step I am delving a tad deeper into the world of ‘us’ writers. That took some time, to get myself to admit that, hell Kevin, you write…. You are a writer!

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My beautiful new notebook – I’m hoping my words will do it justice

Talking of belief. I may be the trumpet blowing, flag waving, bag carrying, shouting believer in my beautiful wife’s amazing challenges and adventures (check out my blog of her amazing 70.3 triathlon HERE), but she is more circumspect in her support. A simple text message, whilst I was at work this week, said “you CAN do it” about my writing. Sometimes it’s not grand speeches that are needed, it’s simply genuine belief. Not only that but I came home to a beautiful new notebook as a surprise present too. Anybody else who writes will know what a great and inspiring surprise that is.

Another day this week I came home to a gingerbread man. Mmm mmmm

Yup. My wife is ace ❤️

Well, here I am, writing. And how I’ve embraced the pen and keyboard this week. My membership of Writers’ HQ is up and running, giving me access to all of their fabulous courses, their members only online groups and a world of motivation and drive.

Poor Nicky was exhausted when she asked “What are you writing?” “Well,” I enthused “Writers HQ suggested I take an every day situation and then come up with five ways of interpreting them, then find the best one and then find the character within that and and and and and……..” and, and, and on I went! Childish excitement? Damn right.

So, my novel is back on track, a poetry theme in my head has started forming on paper, I’ve got two firm short story ideas already being fleshed out and a piece of flash fiction I’m rather proud of.

So, whilst Nicky is delicately picking out some Beethoven, devouring some Ross Raisin, performing miracles with the jigsaw and plotting her next set of fantastic challenges (including the BIG one…. watch this space), I’m writing, reading, writing and reading.

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Whilst I was enjoying reading some blogs and social media posts from the more independent side of the writing and publishing world, I came across a Twitter campaign started by Salt Publishing (#justonebook) who were in need of a financial lift. It had a tremendous response and a quick glance through their titles soon had me ordering Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness by Simon Kinch.

What an absolute treat. It arrived within a week with a lovely hand written post card.

Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness is a debut novel by Kinch, a Spanish resident hailing from the UK. The book promised an experimental feel, an exploration of choices and consequences, of reflection and regret.

It doesn’t disappoint. Within a page I found myself hurriedly devouring the words, so many questions to be answered by the next page, and the next and the next. I started the (admittedly shortish) offering immediately upon opening and finished it the following lunchtime.

A young man, Granville, an American travelling in Europe, receives a message as he prepares for the final legs of his journey home. The mystery of the message’s detail is never truly revealed, but this news and Granville’s subsequent actions, combined with a piece of misfortune, leave him pondering a massive decision. To reverse his direction and choose a Spanish destination or to plough on towards his flight home.

I turned page after page, absolutely engrossed as one choice was apparently taken over the other. A study of young adult, of isolation, of timid suggestions of romance, all with the heavy weight of the relationship back home hanging over the story.

A gradual introduction of the imagined consequence of taking the other direction slowly blurs the boundaries between truth and hypothesis. This blurring left me, the reader, reeling, grasping to make to make my own choice as to which reality to believe.

The attempted romances are so delicate and nervous, I almost cringed for Granville. As with the direction he might have chosen, the reader gets to decide if he is shy, timidly coy and sensitive or maybe aloof and a little arrogant with little regard for the consequence for others of his actions.

I don’t wish to spoil the book for anybody wishing to tackle it but I do, thoroughly recommend it. With advice coming my way to read, read and read some more, to expand my reading net, to step out of my comfort zone, I feel Simon Kinch has handed me a gift. A book which dissolves into the reader’s mind is a prized possession and Two Sketches is firmly in that category for me….

I had just finished On Writing by Stephen King when Kinch’s cracking debut arrived. I have a very treasured possession, also entitled On Writing by AL Kennedy, a beautiful study of the craft of the pen. King’s book is more ‘manly’, more raaaahhhh if you like, but no less inspiring for it. It shames me to admit that I’ve never read a single novel of his, something I shall be correcting in the very near future.

All of this reading has me itching to grab the pen. Nicky, as she embarks on her piano journey, is finding that she hears music differently now, appreciating more of the subtleties, just as I now do with my reading.

Anyway………

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Running – feeling good and enjoyed a terrific Parkrun battle with my visiting brother last weekend, just squeezing in front of him as we both snuck under 20 minutes.

Then on Sunday I embarked on an epic (well it felt epic!) 23 mile off road trek, taking in lots of beautiful countryside and coastline (Check it out HERE). We truly are lucky to have this wonderful coastline to go and play on so close to home, and it is perfect training for the upcoming Plague (which is 64 miles long and starts at midnight), Nicky and I have completed the 32 mile Black Rat version in each of the last three years and it really is my favourite ever event.

Nicky spent all 32 miles last year telling anybody who’d listen, and everybody else in fact, that this was her last EVER ultra marathon.

What’s she doing this year, I hear you ask, yup, you’ve guessed it, the 32 mile Black Rat. It is a complete sell out again (there are 4 distances on offer), read about last year’s shenanigans HERE.

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Oh and we went OUT…..

I know! We scrubbed up alright!

Thank you, as ever, for taking the time to read my words, I can be found on Facebook, Twitter and very rarely Instagram

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

After three wonderful, exhilarating, life affirming years of marriage to Nicky, my world, my reason, my soul mate, I find myself reflecting on just why she has transformed my life, my whole being.

There are reasons by the bucket load.

Just one example: Books. At various times during my life I’ve been a keen reader. But, it has taken sharing a space with someone who KNOWS how to live in the pages of whatever is in your hands, someone who isn’t afraid to say “I can’t wait to get back to my book”, someone who will happily share two hours in a book shop.

One of our most prized possessions is our Waterstones loyalty card, eagerly watching the stamping at the till as we approach yet another £10 discount.

Wonderfully, also, we don’t do genres, we aren’t confined to fiction or non-fiction. Believe it or not we don’t just read about running, cycling and swimming!

As our ‘to be read’ pile starts to diminish we both start mentally preparing our justifications to unleash another armful of tomes onto the counter on our next pilgrimage.

Books. Yup. We like them.

Anyway, I’m waffling……

I’ve finished a couple of books in the last two weeks, and as I declared on ‘the other blog’ I intend to only write reviews of those I’ve thourougly enjoyed.

I picked up White Tears by Hari Kunzru after having seen off a more standard thriller Don’t Let Go by Michel Bussi. Bussi’s latest work was a great, pacey, page turning who-dunnit-and-why thriller. Enjoyable but perhaps I was ready for something which challenged me further, explored a bit of me.

Well White Tears has certainly done that. A tale of friendship, of hurt, of obsession of darkness which explores its characters to their core.

The geeky lad, playing with technology, exploring sound, forms an unlikely alliance with the cool student. Popular and confident, from an extraordinarily wealthy family, Carter sees Seth to be the curve that closes the circle of his craving.

Carter collects and is absorbed by old blues and rare black music, chasing those rare catalogue numbers on fragile 78s.

Seth’s gathering of obscure sounds using his own obscure technological creations, combined with the scratchy tones of obscure blues recordings becomes an art form in itself.

A chance collision of old and new from their increasingly fractious teamwork sends both their worlds into chaos.

And the story too.

As tragedy and mayhem crowd in on him, Seth’s life becomes a search for the reason behind the cursed recording.

Hooking up with old blues collectors, Carter’s sister, crazy chess players and the characters living in the home of the poor man’s blues, in the deep south.

It is a tale of a young man barely clinging to sanity, told in an increasingly anxious tone as Kunzru dares the reader to turn each page.

Tragedies of old play throughout the challenge of today as Seth is increasingly sucked into the characters behind the torture that created the ‘cursed’ recording.

An exploration into the extremities of the power of music, its role in racial divisions, class conflict and the souls of us all, White Tears is a broken record of a tortured tale. I read it in less than a week, fighting sleep in my urgency to go with Seth to the next town, the next chapter.

Wonderfully following no formula or fitting with any agenda or genre, I would unreservedly recommend it. I do think it will polarise, like Marmite, but I do love a bit of Marmite…….

No body told me it would be like this

A BOOK REVIEW – DIARY OF A BODY by DANIEL PENNAC

I’ve read a couple of translated books recently. Having elected to only review books that have given me pleasure, I’m only mentioning one of them here. Quite possibly my problem with the other one is actually, well, MY problem, and not the book’s.

So that leaves us with this, Diary Of A Body. Written as a diary over the life span of French author, Daniel Pennac, and translated into an adorable, quirky, compelling English language read by Alyson Waters.

The unusual cover, the teasing title, the little English Pen Award sticker, they all contributed to me thinking “mmmm?” as my hand tentatively slid the lightweight paperback from the shelf. (We took several books on holiday, between my wonderful wife and I, only one of us took a hearty hard back……that suitcase was slightly overweight.)

I was right to take a chance. Pennac was a French author who kept an occasional, rather quirky diary. Having been humiliated, by his own mother, in front of a mirror as a child, he set about charting his body’s sensations. Tearing a muscular – skeletal diagram from an encyclopaedia,  he pinned this ‘perfect’ physique next to the offending mirror. A quest to attain similar had begun.

Told with a light touch, but exhibiting cringe worthy honesty, the book delivers a friend. Through adolescence, all those moments we never discuss, are, erm, DISCUSSED – yes there’s not a lot left to the imagination as Pennac narrates his body being dumped into adulthood.

Pennac left instructions for his daughter, who only became aware of the diary’s existence upon the death of her father, to do with the documents as she saw fit.

That these posthumous communications are included here only adds to the homely feel of the overall prose. There are gaps (mostly due to active resistance servitude) but somehow, they feel to be correctly placed.

Into retirement, and beyond to old age, frailty and terminal illness, there can only ever be one outcome. Taken right up to his dying days, it would be a truly cold heart that didn’t openly weep (both with sadness and joy) as the last few, bleary eyed pages are softly consumed.

So, if you’re looking for a not-too-hefty, genre defying, heartfelt, cosy read and want to, like  Idid, delve a little deeper into the literary world, this could well be for you.

 

Anyway.

 

Don’t forget, I’ve got other writings over at the OTHER BLOG (when time has permitted). If anybody would like to keep in more regular touch, they can in the comments box here, via kbonfield@live.com, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and by waving to me enthusiastically in the street.

I’m always looking for opportunities to write, and have a regular column in the lovely online running magazine RUN DEEP.

Right, I’m publishing this at 7.15pm on Christmas Eve…… I’m not expecting a massive readership but to those who are reading it ‘live’…. MERRY CHRISTMAS

 

Never be the same again….

Sat not three feet from the gently rippling Caribbean sea, I turned the last of the 415 pages of Preparation For The Next Life by Atticus Lish. As a few beads of sweat from the wonderful, sweltering heat dripped onto the cover as I gazed at it in awe, I’m sure there was a tear or two amongst it. I would never quite be the same again. Heart-warming, heart-wrenching, heart-breaking, this brutal modern romance consumed me, amazed me, horrified me and illuminated me.

Desperate for more, yet exhausted from having my emotion squeezed to the end.

Set in post Iraq war New York, an unlikely couple emerge from the wreckage of their lives. Zou Lei is a Muslim illegal immigrant from the east, sucked into, spat out from, hidden from, persecuted by and constantly in fear of the authorities. Brad Skinner is a veteran of three active tours of Iraq and has been physically, emotionally and psychologically butchered in his few adult years to date.

A chance encounter in the maze of New York’s mess of an underground world, where a hidden (mostly illegal) immigrant community lives in a desperate economy all of its own, leads to comparing of muscles and rare laughter.

Zou Lei’s strength is her work ethic and single minded determination to make the most of her, apparently destitute, existence. Brad hitch-hikes into town, with the remainder of his forces pay out withering in his bank.

They, with their ragged clothes and lives, somehow find their souls alive.

His desperation, her devotion, their private battles, their joint journey and the unlikely chaotic romance which ensues are dealt with in a style who’s prose is honest, clipped and, like the characters, on the verge of breaking. It’s like having a window into this couple’s world through filthy and cracked glass.

Wonderful.

Commentators, far more informed than I, have suggested that this tale of how the hopes of the hopeless are crushed by the inequality and heartlessness of a fast and selfish world is important in its belief that these tales need to be told. Fiction it may be, shockingly real it definitely is.

You’ll get no plot spoilers from me, but if you’re looking for a twee love story I’d perhaps recommend you avert you eyes.

It is a rare thing for a book to bring tears to my eyes, yet on this wonderful holiday we have just enjoyed, two books have managed to achieve just that. (Expect a review of the other soon)

A heartily recommended read.

Perfume River

Autumn is about 3/4 of the way through the year. Whilst the brightest and longest days of the year may be behind us, we’re right in the middle of the BEST days.

 

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Autumn – good, init?

The best colours, the best shadows, sunrises, sunsets. Fast changing weather and the challenges of wintry conditions start showing their faces.

 

(Appallingly cliched analagy alert) A bit like my life. Whilst being young was great, the first couple of decades of adulthood were full of, you know, STUFF. So, my bright, silky skinned, jet black barnet days are long behind me.

Phew!

Because THIS, this is the life I’ve been waiting for……

Utopia. Pure and simple.

I guess one man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia.

Clean. Healthy. Loving. Truthful.

What on earth has this all got to do with a book review?

 

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Busy here on the injury bench, although, I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with Charlie!

Well, here I am on the injury bench, Charlie for company, feeling all, er, all wordy……

 

THE LAST DOG ON EARTH by Adrian J Walker.

Yet another holiday read. The main protagonist, Reg (and his dog Linekar) have ended up living in a post-apocolyptic dystopia. Only that’s not how it feels to them.

One man’s…… oh I’ve said that.

I see, going off subject a bit here, that White Star’s Andy Palmer wrote another piece for The Guardian. Nice. Run Deep Magazine got a plug too. I’ve got a column in Run Deep. Tenuous link to fame there…..

Interesting that people I follow in the media and sporting world tend NOT to be columnists for The Daily Mail (no link inserted there, naturally).

By way of example, Kate Carter, Adharanand Finnish, Rob Deering…… and, er, Andy Palmer!

Anyway, one man’s dystopia…..

the last dog on earthSo, THE LAST DOG ON EARTH

On a the face of it, a quirky, light hearted romp, told through the voice of a foul-mouthed mutt, around a make believe world where barely anyone has survived a civil war led apocalypse.

Linekar (the dog) and Reg (his owner) have remained in London, creating their own power and scavenging for food. Living a simple, simple existence in isolation. Dependent on each other for company and the routine they both enjoy.

The sparse pattern of lights that remain on view are the only suggestion that a hint of life in the city goes on. There are barely enough (of these lights) for a football team (which is sort of the point), and we learn that gruesome deaths and a hurried exodus has accounted for nearly all of the city’s population.

Gradually, we encounter those that rule the deserted streets and others who have remained. Belief doesn’t have to be suspended too much.

The rhetoric and undercurrent of hatred which we seem to have cultivated in Britain is enough for me to join the dots from today’s realities to Walker’s imagined future. Scary.

It’s a fabulous, moody yet pacey, look at relationships, at how we interact and, yes, how our dogs become part of our personality (as well as suggesting what THEY might be thinking).

Reg and Linekar have their crude but effective existence blown apart after a mission to find fuel for their generator.

Inadvertently, and unwillingly, they become guardians to a lost child.

Their journey, their bonds, their fights and fears as they venture further out into the world now run by extremists, are all grippingly delivered.

With echoes of one of my favourite ever books, Station 11, this band of misfits grows, makes allies, encounters relics from the past (everyday life items which we don’t even notice).

The battle to avoid the ultimate test to determine whether they still have a use in the world (I’m avoiding too many spoilers) is terrifying, absorbing and quite humbling.

 

charlie angry
Charlie’s best ‘DID SOMEONE SAY SQUIRRELS!?’ face

A book which tackles extremists controlling the future, mass murder, the destruction of what we call ‘civilization’ and yet can open a chapter with the line “Squirrels are c***s” is a rare trick I reckon.

 

From this book, I look closer at the things that frighten me in the world more and more, perhaps ask myself questions, and definitely look at Charlie and wonder what HE’S thinking!

Keep on keeping people……..