Sunday, 2 December 2012

10 Books

10. Three – Ann Quin

Originally published in 1966, this was the third Ann Quin book I have read after Berg and Tripticks. Three’s got a poetic sexual eeriness throughout. Where  the book lacks the drive that Berg had, it replaces with the tragic beauty of a young voice chasing something out of reach and knowing nothing will change. The last paragraph delivers the inevitable but five pages from the end is the most spine-chilling narration. ‘How easy for a body to drift out, caught up in a current, and never be discovered, or for anyone to ever be certain.’ That was Ann Quin writing about her own death in 1973 seven years before it happened. She had clearly always decided that her end was predetermined. Heartbreaking.  

  9. Judas Pig – Horace Silver
This brutal and absorbing book of East End gangster life is a long out of print Do-Not Press publication from 1994. Was one of a few superb charity bookshop finds of mine this year and a gruesome read. Horace Silver’s writing gets you sucked in so far you get blown out the other side. Not a massive fan of gangster books and always thought The Long Firm by Jake Arnott was Charlie Richardson’s My Manor meets The Orton Diaries. Which it was. Judas Pig is the real deal, well written, uncompromising. Been told could get good money for this book as much sought after. Not surprised. But I don’t care too much for money…the book’s now mine and not going on Ebay.

 8.  Tales from the Two Puddings – Eddie Johnson

Tales is an East End contrast on so many levels to Judas Pig even though Eddie Johnson did know the Kray's and many other dark personalities in the 1960s. This piece of non fiction is by the father of Matt Johnson from The The. Eddie Johnson ran the Two Puddings pub in Stratford. It is a social document, a one way conversation from a man reminiscing about a past that was both violent and full of loving. Eddie’s real passion was entertaining and looking after people, to have fun. A most important gift. He claims to have put on the first ever disco and certainly the pub was a major live venue in the early 60s. The Who, Van Morrison, The Small Faces all played there. Eddie Johnson is a socialist and a humanist. What’s there not to like? Was gutted when I heard he had been book signing in Newham Bookshop on the Barking Road before West Ham/Sunderland and I had missed out on meeting him.  
7.  The Buddha Bar – Joseph Ridgwell

 A third writer on the spin from the East End. What I liked so much about this book was that it sounded like the voice of a family member. All my brothers and sisters have travelled far and wide while I have maintained a package holiday existence at a cost. Each chapter is like a postcard home, honest, warm but mocking me in how much I really have missed out on being young and exploring beyond the end of the road. The narrator puts what money he has as well as all of his dreams, love and energy into running a bar in Thailand. A joint venture. But does trusting in someone  you love  (in this case a wildcat called Mindi) make you blind and is trust a weak trait to maintain? I don’t think so. ‘Domestic or international?’ is the question at the end of the book. I, of course would only answer, domestic. Ridgwell would never settle for such a word.  

6.  Skagboys – Irvine Welsh
This brilliant prequel to Trainspotting is a big book. As published this year only in hardback, not a great travel companion. Like carrying around a brick, a literary breeze block. When I say ‘travel’ I am of course referring to local transport. I remember Kindle idiots sniggering to each other on the bus as I split my brick open and broke into a read. But these moments did have me wondering if Renton’s handwritten journals were displayed like that on a Kindle. Soon found out the answer. Just regular italic font. Hardly the same impact as reading the actual book. Suckers. I always have the last laugh.
5.  Dark Corners of the Land – Adelle Stripe

I was never into poetry until I read Sky Ray Lolly by Fiona Pitt-Kethley back in the 1990s. The poems French Connection, Sky Ray Lolly, Wankers and A Sunday Afternoon – all a kick in the bollocks new territory for me. I think some of those poems shaped the way I began to think and then write. I have memories of friends who when I began to try and write suddenly became non friends, a elitist crew of self-indulgent readers of Penguin Classics who, to quote Siouxsie Sioux were ‘condescending from on high’. And I would think to myself ‘go and read the poem Wankers, Joe and feel the joy’. The best poetry I have read since Sky Ray was recent. Last month. Dark Corners of the Land. The poems Murmur, Last Utero, Self Burial and Penny Dreadful stand out for me as the Champions League qualifiers who would easily be a match against the four Pitt-Kethley’s I mentioned. Adelle Stripe’s book was also my first taste of Blackheath Books. The tea card in mine is of an Artic Skua in flight. It flies into my mind warning of what is to come when I turn the page –  much rural death. Sounds depressing but it’s proper good.

 4.  Last Days of the Cross – Joseph Ridgwell

 The only author to have two books in the Top Ten. Too right. I have never met Joseph Ridgwell but in this crazy world of meeting strangers when on the piss and down a dark alley of social networking it’s been a real pleasure. And his full of life passion via a few email exchanges is finely replicated in this book. I used ‘full of life’ deliberately of course. Heavily influenced by John Fante’s alter ego Arturo Bandini, here we find Joe in Sydney, up against the world and struggling for money, love and the ability to write one word. Painful familiar territory. Unsentimental and often very funny, Ridgwell makes you turn the page like a maniac while also encouraging a constant return to the fridge for another cold beer. Genius.  

 3. Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr

 Have read a long time ago and when I saw the film thought it had delivered, matched the book, emotionally and violently. But in June I got a pre-trail John Calder hardback with intact dustcover for £3.50 in a charity bookstore in Devon (a serious result) and read again. The book versus film wins 5-1 having been 4-0 up at half time, confirming to me how the page will always be more powerful than the screen. To illustrate this point, what happened to Tralala and even Harry Black gets you round the throat more in Selby’s words than watching the same acts portrayed on the big screen. Brutal and beautiful. If you haven’t read the book recently or since seeing the film years ago, return.

 2.  The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

Young Anais Hendricks knows they watch her as she outstares the moon. Right from the beginning this damaged wonderful creation marks her territory. You are either with her or you put the book down and forget she exists. The latter’s what Anais  would be expecting. This is a spectacular debut, a triumph out of damage. This book should be cemented in top place because of the cool self awareness and self determination of this important voice. A voice that no matter what she may or may not have done, screams fuck it, I am not caving in here. And any narrator that raises a fat smile for wanting a two-headed pickled baby in a jar was always going to be hard to beat. But Anais knows this world just isn’t fair and her awareness of this truth must prevail. That’s the reason why I cannae put her top.

 1.  The Voyeur – Alain Robbe-Grillet

Read this mesmerised on a beach in Crete in October; a seaweed strewn beach that resembled the bottom of a hamster cage. A lesson in descriptive writing and how to confuse the reader but not irritate. That is the gift of this book. The Voyeur was my first experience of Alain Robbe-Grillett. Mathias, a watch salesman, arrives on a island with a mission to sell a suitcase of watches to the locals, but while he is there a girl is found at the base of a rock face, she had been raped and murdered, but the questions pile on top of one another thick and fast until at the end I am asking – did Mathias even go to the island at all, hire a bike, leave cigarettes butts at the scene that could implicate him to the murder, did he really kill the girl, did a girl even die, exist, did he even smoke, wake up that morning etc or was Mathias a young imaginative Mathias in a room all along struggling to draw a gull while his mind roamed wild?  The answer is none of this matters. Looking forward to reading again.

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