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Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh

‘Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth. Choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.’

So. I watched Trainspotting, the 1996 film, a couple of weeks ago and fully enjoyed it. So much so, that I went out and bought the book. Obviously, it is one of those things that has been everywhere at the moment, what with T2 Trainspotting coming out at the beginning of this year (might I add that the book sequel is actually called Porno). I have read an Irvine Welsh novel before, Filth, and found it thoroughly enjoyable – aside from the graphic violence, twisted narrative and phonetic Scottish writing.

Trainspotting is set in Leith, Edinburgh, following Mark Renton and his friends in their social interactions and encounters with heroin. The book documents Renton’s attempts to quit the drug, and all of those who cross his path, often being sucked into his orbit. It is made up of various monologues, not only those of Renton, yet also those surrounding him – giving insight into all aspects of Leith’s drug crowd. The book was begun from several short stories Welsh wrote, giving Trainspotting a more bizarre feeling in its non-linear approach. As Renton tries to rise above his friends, many of them spiral into the lives addiction has chosen for them. It is all very powerful stuff.

Again, obviously the writing style, being a mixture of Scottish, Scotch English and just plain English can make the reading a little difficult, yet it is definitely worth sticking to. If you are somebody who has watched the film, I would definitely recommend reading this – they are both complimentary but very different entities. Some great characters are missing from the film. Most of all, Trainspotting offers an intriguing perspective on addicting and its effects on character. Renton is the classic anti-hero, but the potential of him and his friends, wasted in their situations – making him someone the reader can emphasise with.

This is a definite recommend to a friend, especially if they have only seen the film.

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Atomic: Jim Baggott

The First War of Physics and the Secret History of the Atom Bomb, 1939-49

I know this seems like slightly a bizarre choice of book. Honestly, I am always on the lookout for a good history book – especially since I have now finished that old degree! This is another one of those £3 bargains I love so much, a lot of book for your money. If anything I feel like I chose rather well, especially as to what has been happening in the news lately. Nuclear energy is a constantly prominent issue, something that I feel Baggott is incredibly good at addressing.

This book provides a comprehensive cover of the journey of nuclear energy – from its theoretical discovery to the Berlin Blockade in 1949. Espionage and international relations play a prominent role, as the connections between British, American, Soviet Russian and Nazi development were driven by fears of each other’s capabilities or a desire to settle the score. Baggott has included images (the best bit of historical books), a well laid out timeline, a list of key characters and a bibliography. I particularly liked his epilogue, in which he provides a brief overview of nuclear history after 1949, then attempts to create discussion on the morality of the scientists, technologists and politicians involved, in relation to the amorality of science itself. He questions whether the development of the hydrogen bomb was necessary or inevitable, in the light of the destruction already achievable by the fission bomb. He ends with a warning for continued vigilance. For anyone who laughs at this (dangerous move, what with North Korea), check out the Doomsday Clock run by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists – in 2017 it has been changed to two and a half minutes to midnight, the closest it has been to man-made global destruction.

I really enjoyed this book. It has to be one of the better written and researched popular history books I have encountered in a long while. I learnt a hell of a lot from Atomic – Baggott strikes a great line between science and history, all wrapped up in an eloquent and measured tone. This is certainly not a light read, I ended up taking it to a music festival a week or so ago – gripping, but not really fitting whilst enjoying a midday cider in a muddy field.

If you are looking to discover a bit of new knowledge in a field you know little about check it out! If you do know bits and pieces though, this could be a great gap-filler in your knowledge.

American Gods: Neil Gaiman

Morning folks. It has been a long weekend, but I felt it was the right time for another book review!

No matter how exciting you find the Waterstones or Barnes & Nobles of this world, you should always hunt for great deals on books. Especially if you are like me, who due to the ever increasing amount of literary material feels too time pressured to go back and reread. This book I managed to find for a bargain in my local The Works, and having read Gaiman’s Good Omens collaboration with Terry Pratchett a few years ago (one of my all-time faves) I kind of knew this would be a cracker. Plus I had heard good things about the Amazon Prime series based on the book and thought I should check it out.

American Gods follows the bizarre life of ‘Shadow’, a man whose real name is considered irrelevant from the entire story. Shadow is a recently released one-time criminal, still dealing with the death of his beloved wife. Gripping stuff thus far. Somehow, on his journey back home Shadow encounters ‘Wednesday’, a grizzled old guy who convinces him to work as a driver and bodyguard. By using a bar fight with a leprechaun. Confused yet? Basically this book takes the concept of gods as something that comes into being through belief and applies this to the Untied States, a godless place by all accounts.

I really loved this book. It has everything I need – dry wit, a voyage into the fantasy genre and an ability to use past learned knowledge (stuff I learnt about the ‘Voodoo Queen’ Marie Laveau in New Orleans). Admittedly it did take me a little while to get through this book, but on my defence it is 600 pages long. Which was actually the perfect amount. I was not a fan of the short story, ‘Monarch of the Glen’, that was included though – that felt a little rushed. It had good potential, I could see how it could be expanded upon in the TV series, but it was missing something. I thoroughly enjoyed the sort of “origins” bits in the story itself – providing context for different gods and their situations in America.

I have already recommended this book to several people so I am ahead on that point. But, I feel I need to add a little encouragement. I know a lot of people who just do not get the whole fantasy genre. They can make the leap for Harry Potter, but other than that their interests are limited. I propose that this book makes a great starter book for newbies to the sci-fi/fantasy novel. Through its setting in the present day (well, late nineties) it adds a certain realism to the story. Plus the mix of gods from all over the world and different time periods make excellent reading. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you may have seen before on the old blog, I am a big fan of Terry

Death in Disguise: Caroline Graham

I do not know if any of you have ever been sat flicking through the TV channels of a Sunday evening, found nothing on, and so resorted to Midsomer Murders? Well this is one of the series of books that the programme is based on. I found this in a bargain bath (yes it was an actual bath filled with books) in San Francisco, being sold at the great price of three books for $5. I am quite partial to a bit of Midsomer Murders now and again, so felt like I had to give it a try.

Ways that the book is similar to the TV series: It features a detective inspector called Barnaby and his sergeant Troy, at least one person gets murdered, Barnaby’s family are all popping in and out of the narrative, you have to get at least a third of the way through before someone is murdered or we meet the crime-fighting duo.

Ways that the book differs from the TV series: the characters of Barnaby and Troy.

I just cannot get over especially how different Troy is in the book compared to the ITV series. True, he keeps being replaced by generically named assistants, but the original was definitely different. Book Troy has a bit more depth to him, and that depth entails misogyny, an authority complex and general hatred of the affluent or intelligent classes. This may not have made such light viewing for TV audiences. Barnaby too is more refined and slightly more ‘Morse-esque’ in his work, but I cannot help but picture him as the grumpy John Nettles character so this was not as much of an abrupt change.

Regardless of TV comparisons this book has a sort of dry humour that I often see in long running British authors (see Terry Pratchett). As we are introduced to each of the starring characters of this particular murder, an observational and ironical description is attached to each. Death in Disguise is chiefly set in a commune in a traditionally-minded sleepy village in Midsomer, and features a whole host of zany and selfish inhabitants, as well as a fair amount of unrequited love.

I recommend this chiefly as a holiday read, being relatively light and easy to read but gripping enough to make it hard to put down at times.

Happy reading!

 

Lord of the Rings: The a Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien 

I know, I know. It is a miracle that I have got to the ripe old age of 21 without having read the LOTR trilogy. A poor effort on my part. I have however, seen all of the films – in a gruelling 10+hour marathon on a hungover Saturday. To be honest this has not ruined the first book for me much, as I cannot really remember what happened when anyway. 

Before I continue, I must say this: in the film it is a big deal when Gandalf is all like ‘YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!’ To the point that I know people that will repeat the quote whenever possible. Yet, in the book, Gandalf actually says ‘you cannot pass’. What is the deal Hollywood? Why change it?

Most people know the basic story so I am not going to go into too much detail here. The bare bones of it are thus; Frodo Baggins (a hobbit, small person) inherits a magic ring from his uncle. Turns out it is the ultimate ring and evil guy Sauron wants it back so he can rule over Middle Earth. Instead, Frodo and co. decide to ride off on a quest to destroy it. Calamity ensues, as you can imagine. This is the first of three books, with the others describing more of what occurs – this is more of a preparatory book, as the ‘fellowship of the ring’ forms for their quest to destroy aforementioned ring.

I actually really enjoyed this book. I was not expecting to – having once attempted to read The Hobbit at the age of eight and not getting along with it. Also, I was warned of the sheer level of descriptive writing, and being someone who dislikes Dickens for this exact reason was not sure. But I pressed on, and found this book incredibly hard to put down. It is no quick read, being largely 500-odd pages of description, yet it is pretty easy to engage with the plight of the hobbits and  wish to discover more. 

It is admittedly a very fantasy heavy book, so if you enjoy that kind of thing I would urge you to press on and give it a read, but if not I am pretty sure you will hate it. People like what they like, no judgement!

Bridget Jones’ Diary: Helen Fielding 

This is one of those books I am always surprised that I have not read. It has been on the list for ages, especially when the film is on TV around Christmas (why is it a Christmas type film?!). Anyway, I came across Bridget Jones’ Diary in a thrift store in Philadelphia for the grand total of 29 cents so really had no excuse not to buy it.

It is a pretty famous story. Bridget, 30 something career-type-girl with a disasterous love life, aims to keep a diary to record her transformation into a goddess. She generally screws it up by being the embarrassing human being we all know we are, whilst somehow netting hunky bad boy Daniel Cleaver and charming but bumbling Mark Darcy. That is about as far as the similarities between the book and the film goes. There is so much more to Bridget’s life in the book – not to mention her crazy friends and the antics of her late-life-crisis mother. If you have only seen the film, you will find this very different.

Bridget Jones’ Diary is an incredibly quick and easy read. It is light and hilarious and an incredibly small book. A most excellent holiday essential, you could read this anywhere – whether it is by the beach or in Philadelphia City hall. 

The Mandibles: Lionel Shriver

I have been meaning to read this book for ages. It’s been on the must read list for so long, I just have not seen it anywhere. So when I found it in the Waterstones in Exeter I had to have it. Plus, you know, it would make interesting reading material for my trip to the U.S.

The Mandibles is a sort of economic disaster novel. It follows the Mandible family, a typical group waiting upon their inevitable inheritance windfall from the incumbent patriarch in the year 2029. In an echo of the 1929 Wall Street crash the dollar plummets. Queue inflation, unemployment, homelessness and starvation. The only survivors are the increasingly affluent Asian nations. Shriver imagines this reality by documenting the decline of the four generations of Mandibles from 2029 to 2047, as they attempt to survive by pulling together as a family. 

This is such an interesting book. The concept is terrifyingly plausible, which makes it all the more fascinating. In his construction of this future world (not even fifteen years away), Shriver has created a not unrealistic image – the developments in technology and stagnating employment markets are not far off our own. I think reading this book in New York, where a lot of it is set, really helped to create a certain ambiance. It was unsettling, but intriguing. The ending is a little twee, yet true to the rest the last sentence does maintain the inevitability of such financial collapse.

I would really recommend this book to anyone who wants something to stimulate the brain cells. I would tell everyone to read it, just because I would be interested in the debates that would develop, just from its concept. 

Dalton Trumbo: Bruce Cook

As I write this, I am in the process of watching this book’s 2015 film adaptation. It stars Bryan Cranston as the titular Trumbo and is actually pretty good. To be honest, I had never heard of Dalton Trumbo, nor did I know much about the Hollywood blacklist. I picked up this book mainly because it was 50 pence and sounded pretty interesting. I do love a good biography.

Dalton Trumbo is actually a pretty interesting book about a pretty interesting guy. Trumbo was one of the highest paid screenwriters of the 1940s-1960s. This book was researched and written within the last years of his life with his permission, as he was facing a lung cancer diagnosis. It starts with his difficult upbringing in Colorado, and the eight years he spent working in a bakery, supporting his family. In 1947 Trumbo was brought before the committee of unAmerican activities for his membership of the Communist Party, along with nine others – the Hollywood Ten. All were sentenced to jail time and blacklisted from ever working in Hollywood. Trumbo aimed to break this, continuing to write screenplays, sold under aliases or in the name of others. You may have heard of one, Roman holiday? The film that made Audrey Hepburn’s name. He in fact won an Academy Award for it whilst on the blacklist. His  role as writer was only reinstated fully in 2011. 

As a period I knew little about, and as a historian, I found this book intriguing. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn something new about such an interesting man. Despite the book being written without Trumbo having approved any of it, you can tell that author Bruce Cook is in awe of the man-he writes with such love. If anything, now I really want to read Trumbo’s key anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun