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And more. It is all a little too much, and it never really hangs fully together, and is sometimes weighed down by long expositions of the nature of morality and existence and happiness and the like. The last few chapters are a desperate attempt to thread it all together and to tie an elegant knot, but alas. And yet. This is McEwan. There is so much intellect and thought and knowledge and gorgeous language and provocative setups and breakdowns that I must recommend this novel, even though it finally flails somewhat.

No, not the first snort of cocaine then. So rest assured he will occasionally get you high along the way to the final page. Then in later years, more attempts, borne out of guilt and curiosity and masochism. I never made it past more than a few chapters, getting lost in the dense jungle of words and paragraphs, endless, rambling, chaotic, a steamy thicket of impenetrable literary flora.

And then, a couple of years ago, I went to see the inimitable Jenny Steyn acting solo ; 90 minutes of explosively performed Molly Bloom from Ulysses. And she did it, unsurprisingly, in Irish. With that accent reeking of history and famine and whiskey and poetry. And James Joyce suddenly came to life. You have to read Joyce in Irish! Not English.

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Irish the accent! And I will read it in Irish I am no good at speaking accents, but I can hear them, the song and cadence in every sentence. On the rare occasions where I lost concentration switched to English it indeed became, um, leaden, opaque. So this is like nothing else you will ever read, if you decide to uncrate your old Irish sword and fearlessly wade in to battle.

And the deep, black, screaming hilarity of the most unfunny of situations. And then one part Kafka. Or maybe four parts Kafka. She walks with her head down, reading books, reading more books and not talking to anyone. We soon find out why. These are deep in the times of the troubles.

Everyone is suspect. Or could be suspect. Or should be suspect Or is made to be suspect. Traitors are a rumour away, a wrong smile, a misplaced glance, a wrong address. There are bombs and beatings and tar-and-featherings and kneecappings and death and disappearance. One day you are just living a small life and the next you are branded a traitor.

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By people who are perhaps, maybe also maybe-traitors. Or could be. Or could be made to be. So bewildered is our heroine by this illogical and Bedlamic world into which she is forced to inhabit that all she can do is read and walk and talk to no one and look at no one. Not a milkman although there is a milkman in the book, an important one.

No, Milkman is a renouncer-of-state, a big shot paramilitary. And old and scary and slimy. And he wants her, because if you are a big shot in the renouncers-of-state, you take what you want, including pretty eccentric and vulnerable 18 year-olds who finally have no other choice. And so the book takes wings of a sort, with our heroine stopping at every thought and conundrum and possibility, turning it this way and that, her head a jumble of maybes and surely-nots and what-ifs. So, like my first attempts at reading James Joyce I am giving up on this review. But if you choose to read it, read it in Irish.

It is exhausting, astonishing, beautiful and you will leave it in a numbance. One of the great good fortunes of my life is that I have never been visited by great loss or grief, but having been a proximal observer many times and increasingly often as the years progress it often seems to me that my rope must soon run out.

This slim memoir pages , published in , takes on the subject of grief and mourning with such surgical precision and from the vantage point of the closest of personal circumstance that I will surely return to this book as a guide and hip flask if and when I am similarly struck down. Julian Barnes married the literary agent Pat Kavanagh originally South African in and remained happily and deeply committed to her for 32 years until she died very suddenly in He does not get into the details of her death; we find out only that there were mere weeks between the discovery of her medical pathology to her final moment.

The book is not about the process of her dying, it is about the overwhelming and impossible task of accepting, wrestling and understanding the grief that accompanies a loss of a loved one. First two thirds of this books are about other matters — ballooning in the late 18th century, early photography, Sarah Bernhardt and a specific love affair with one English gentlemen named Thomas Burnaby.

It is described in finely-grained intellectual and emotional minutiae, and carried by the sort of language mastery for which Barnes is acclaimed. This is naked microscopic introspection at its most brutal, its pain hard to witness, its eloquence soaring and melancholic. I can really only recommend this book for anyone who has encountered loss and grief, or like myself, has escaped it and wishes some to archive some wisdom for when it arrives. The other challenge is to read through the hyperbolic shouts that adorn the cover, most from writers who command a large acreage of my literary mindscape, and to try and maintain objectivity in the face of them.

And then there are the hundreds of reviews, which I would prefer not to read before I do my own. Which strikes me a tad ascetic, now that I think about it. The title takes its etymology from the last name of Arthur Less, and double entendres abound, the surname nestling in warmly with Mr. Arthur Less is introduced as a minor novelist, about to turn 50, and feeling a battered by a a betrayal of love in particular, and life in general.

The reader tags along, and finds out about his life and loves lost along the way.

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Arthur Less — lovelorn twice over. Existentially crushed. Such a character should sink under the weight of his own disappointments and frailties, but a strange thing happened in this book. First I found him bland. Then I felt sorry for him. Then I started to like him and root for hm. And then I really, really cared what happened to him.

It was a sort of magic spun by Greer; an excellent literary trick. There was other literary magic too. It takes no small accomplishment to pull that off, and Greer does. The unusual voice of the narrator turns our to be the key which finally opens the door of the novel. There are few women in this book. Less is gay. His fiends are gay. His life is spent mainly among men. There are lovers, affairs, one-nighters. It was edifying to peer inside that world. So what is the book about? To literary festivals and award ceremonies and desert tents and teaching engagements and magazine assignments all over the world.

We perch inside his head, as his thoughts range chaotically from his youth to his present, the narrative darting between his failures and fealties, his old affections and new afflictions. And then there is the last chapter. An astonishing sleight of hand that takes this novel into a place that few others dare to go, and which certainly sealed the accolades that have come its way. There were many fine and surprising things about this thin novel. The slow revealing of the Less himself. The writing — new, fresh, uncluttered, wry, sometimes very funny. The shorts spurts of Fellini-esque experiences in the different continents, beautifully nuanced and understated, like Less himself.

Nuggets of wisdom and self-knowledge suddenly appearing briefly on the page as Less travels onwards. Was it is the best novel of the year? Probably not, at at least to my mind The Nix was far more worthy, although that may have been last year. Was it a fine and satisfying and pleasurable work of literature that I would recommend? One of the genres I generally avoid is the childhood memoir of trauma and pain. I have read enough of them to find them generally depressing and too drenched with loathing of many stripes.

But this book is truly astonishing, and heralds the arrival of one of th e most exciting new SA voices I have read in a long time. I read the first paragraph of the book by accident and it took my breath away, and so I continued over one long day and night to the end. My breath only returned much later. Her incomprehension at having to absorb the casual callousness and unkindness of those she loved and still loves is so well drawn, so literary, so profoundly expressed that I found myself partially hypnotised and partially sickened by as I watched her grow from scared and confused child to damaged adult.

It is also not the cast of characters barely hidden by pseudonym, fully formed, flawed and fucked up , some of them them explicitly cruel, and others merely broken on the rack their own weaknesses. It is more the style in which her chaotic life is splattered across the page, a sort of narrative Jackson Pollack. It is the way in which the reader staggers and cries and roots for the author, saying — your life will get better, it will get better, even though we know we are simply throwing optimistic sparkles into the air.

We, and Chilimigras have no idea whether her life will get any better, or whether she will ever fully heal. There is redemption in this book too. Her wild and drunken friends as she grows into a teenager. The extended Greek family cocooning her as best they can with concern and food.

This young author has just started, this is her debut. She can go anywhere with this talent. I hope she moves away from memoir and writes great fiction. CC writes about sex and relationships for Cosmopolitan and other SA magazines. Every year I try to read at least one door stop. It is sort of a toxic cure for me, who reads slowly.

It is a disciplined commitment of a month or more.

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A forced marathon of sorts, in a world were ever shorter amusements are endlessly on offer. So as usual, I am late to the game. There have been a number of local reviews. And so I toss my tardy hat into the ring. Before I review, a couple of factoids. Nathan Hill took ten years to write this, his first novel. After moving to New York in his late twenties he was swamped with rejection from agents and publishers. And then on moving out of tiny apartment in New York to move across town, everything was stolen from his car.

Including every word of he had ever written, and all of his backups. He had to get clothes donated by friends.

How To Embrace “Progress Not Perfection” This School Year

That story alone is worthy of its own fiction. A book of this length needs to sprawl. Breadth is the fuel of such a long tale, the sort of breadth that requires of the author the ability to leap and somersault and reach across time and character and location and pay attention to stitching and borders and tangential excursions and returns.

And so it is with this book, not perfect, a little rambly in parts, but overwhelmed by so much brilliance that lapses fade into only minor quibbles. Dickens, said John Irving. This writer is like Dickens. A writer who knew how to sprawl. And sprawl it does.

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Over 50 years, backwarding and forwarding, from the small town midwest to Chicago to New York to Norway. It sprawls across past tense and present tense and first person and third person and internal and external monologue. It sprawls across characters who never meet each other and whose lives are full and sad or angry or resigned or shocking or funny. It sprawls across the most poignant of tragedy and true milk-through-nose hilarity. It sprawls across politics and gender issues and sexuality and love and family and betrayal and video game addiction and rough sex and child abuse and a confused America.

It sprawls across the English language, acrobatic, virtuosic, at times controlled and assured and at times chaotic and undisciplined. There were times when I thought to myself, mouth agape, is there is anything this author cannot do? It was true that there were parts that went on a bit the original draft was pages. But by the time I got to the end with its truly face-slapping and a tad labyrinthine reveal and tie-up, I thought, this is is sorcery. It is so glorious and magical and overflowing with, well, the bewildering stuff of life, there was almost a relief when I reached the last page.

So what it is about? Samuel Andersen-Anderson, a bored and distracted assistant professor of English in Chicago. And then his mother Faye, who had abandoned the family in the sixties, when Samuel was The entire book is propelled by the story of why she left, and funnelled immutably and combustively into a single epiphanal event in — the Chicago Democratic National Convention, a fulcrum of American politics and culture, from which the country has never really recovered.

Jumping forward, a national incident occurs in the Chicago of — of a middle-aged woman throws rocks at a Trump-like presidential candidate, to be immediately arrested and charged with felonies of all stripe. This book is not for everyone; one has to truly love the US as I do to really love this book. This book is, for me, everything that fiction should be rash, risky, flawed, ugly, melancholy, enraged, funny, surprising, beautiful and transformative.

There is a long holiday coming up. You have a few weeks. You have no excuse. Run a marathon. And so it is with his latest, Machines Like Me. At this stage of this review you are likely thinking wha??? Book review — French Exit by Patrick de Witt. Like everyone else, I was intrigued to meet a Booker shortlister in the flesh.

He was friendly and odd and and a little bewildered and oddly magnetic, fixing people with big, blinking scary eyes. What ensued was an unintentional takeover of our carriage: chatter, champagne, international phone calls, wedding outfit discussion, the locking of one of the party in the toilet with a stranger. She did it all by herself.

It was the best journey I had ever taken. My sister fondly refers to it as her worst. It turned out that the plastic Tesco bags being carried by so many of the girls were actually rather posh: they contained bubbles and lots of them. Suffice to say that by the time I arrived at Westport I was having the somewhat elevated time of my life. We were brought by bus to the town where Dublin Duckeen and her co-conspirator for the day waited on the pavement to welcome us like royalty — overexcited, inappropriately violent-waving royalty.

We were brought straight into the restaurant behind them and served an awaiting banquet. The wine was definitely delicious. They were here! They were really here! They may have wished to sheepishly slink into their parking space and slide out of the vehicle without extra attention but I was beside myself with excitement, you see.

My older sister and older kind-of sister had already taken the piss out of my hen demeanour. Apparently, my enthusiasm brought on an involuntary skip and finger click as I moved, everywhere, for the whole weekend. Apparently, a few of the girls had asked if they could drive onto this latest transport. The answer was evident when we were provided with lifejackets and positioned on what can only be described as a banana boat. So, no, no drive on here ladies. Not true, apparently. Soon we were welcomed into a grown-up playground, Narnia for the adult set.

We got us a private darn mansion, folks. And, for me, a decision to take to my vast, inviting bed in a room with a view. I slept through the combined insistence of a return by a number of the party eager to bring me back to life at 5am. The next day began with sizzling bacon, a walk around the island the real-life variety , the best darn Bloody Marys I ever tasted, champagne and Guinness cocktails — a keg was brought in especially to ensure that I had access to my favourite hangover cure.

My body ached from laughing. In the name of relaxation, we took ourselves off to the pool in the basement. I think they may have gotten collectively poisoned from chlorine as their chins hit the tiles. When we left she stayed on to finish her article consumption. It was only when she took a lazy stretch sometime later that she noticed the lifeguard still in position, smiling at her from the end of the pool.

Mortified, she swiftly left. And the lovely lifeguard could finally finish her shift. The next hour was a haze of perfume, GHDs, makeup swapping and tunes blaring from the iPhones. What music? Oh, just the bespoke playlist created for my hen pleasure — all those songs that soundtracked my life so far. We preened like our lives depended on it; at the very least like we were actually going out. But no, we were going downstairs for another party — just us. Green, sparkly and fabulous — it fit the bill perfectly and was the lift my hungover little body required.

As I came down the stairs I found banners, sparkles and boas awaiting my arrival. The chef was finishing off her cooking did I mention we had a chef? She was there from early doors, creating all sorts of fabulousness and joining in the constant craic. The most hungover from the bunch had finally surfaced and suddenly we were all back on it again. I was actually pretty good; I think they were all rather disappointed in me. After dinner, I was escorted to the sitting room where we all sat around a screen and a little introduction was made by video producer, Canada Duckeen.

Or perhaps cry my eyes out as transpired — out of joy, overwhelmed gratitude, bubbling emotion, long-forgotten memories and from being blown away by the effort, thought and time that putting this together must have taken. We all had a little tipple to recover. Just as I was ready to get back up for a night-two boogie, a number of people started streaming in the door.

How did they get here? Who were they? And… and… who are all these kids?? A trad band just for us. I was gobsmacked. So were the girls apparently. There were whispers about child labour. When the band and unlikely entourage left, it was time for another night of kitchen banter. This time the oh-so-grown-up something island host had found her way back to us and, at our insistence, joined the party. Never come back!

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The video footage helps the memory. It also reminded us just how absolutely hilarious we all find each other to be — like funniest people ever. Strangers would have been allergic to us. Basically, it was riotous, ridiculous and bloody brilliant. Hell, pre-digital. And, although we deemed the images to be delightful, we also decided they were best kept socially-private.

A not-for-consumption by anyone but us novel, but a novel all the same.