Sorry I haven't been around for a while. I've been on and off of Instagram too, doing various life admin things like organising ...

Sorry I haven't been around for a while. I've been on and off of Instagram too, doing various life admin things like organising our wedding and stuff. Also writing a new book, but more on that another time. For now, here's a picture of a cow and a roundup of short Instagram reviews I've written recently.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carré

"The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal."

There is a Russian mole in the British intelligence service, and George Smiley is asked to come out of retirement to find him. He must wade through the secrets and lies of all the people he used to work with, uncovering things about his past and the lives of his colleagues that he had never known before.

Somewhere between the excellent writing style and the subtle and complex story of espionage and intrigue, this book hooked me. I absolutely loved it. The relationships between the characters; our thoughtful, quiet protagonist; the interlacing of past and present... It was all just brilliant.

Something I really loved is the quaintness of it all. No mobile phones, no Internet, no complicated forensics or global spy networks; just people, and paper, and telephone calls, and manilla folders in hotel rooms. It made the story more human, which is hard to do now that technology has taken over.

Not that that was a conscious decision - it was written in the 70s and set in the 70s, so they were quainter times.

Anyway, the mystery was also good. And the film is good too. Can't recommend this story highly enough.


Joyland - Stephen King

"When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction."

Devin Jones is a twenty-something working at a theme park over the summer. There was a murder at the park a few years ago that remains unsolved, but really, most of the book is just about his love life.

I wanted to like this book. Apart from the fact that the cover is great, it was also bought for me by the love of my life, and I like it when I like the books she gives me. But King just wouldn't let me like it.

It's marketed as a crime novel. It is published by an imprint called Hard Case Crime. But it's no crime novel at all, and certainly not hard. The mystery is alluded to a couple of times, then you have to wade through a very tedious 200 pages (yes, 200!!) before he decides to start investigating it, then he forgets all about it, and it is instantly solved for him around page 250. I'm not even exaggerating, the crime is that irrelevant.

So if it's not a crime novel, then what is it? Boring, mostly. It's just a novel about working a summer job, making friends, living a normal life. Yawn. Honestly, what you learn in the first 200 pages could have been told in 30. And it's so wholesome and PG, even a few F-bombs and a couple of C-bombs can't make it any edgier.

It was also intensely irritating that every woman in the story seemed to fall in love with the protagonist. He's the most boring nice guy in the world, but every woman he walks past wants to strip off for him as soon as she meets him. Awful.

Should have been a short story, at the most.


And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie

"In the midst of life, we are in death."

10 people are invited onto an island owned by one very mysterious U N Owen, for a variety of reasons. But when they start dying and learn that they are being killed for past crimes, they just wish they could get off it again.

This is my second Agatha Christie book. And this one, just like Murder on the Orient Express, felt like it was written for kids. Or by someone who hasn't read much, or didn't have an editor. But this is Agatha Christie, so that can't be true. It's just her style, but I'm not a fan.

For example, sometimes there will be a paragraph with a few revelations in it! And every sentence will end with an exclamation mark! As if that will increase the impact! But it doesn't! And there are other annoying things too... Like overuse of the ellipsis...

Anyway, that aside, this is a very entertaining story. It's fun to try and work out who's next and who's doing this, and she did well to hide it till the end - it wasn't the bloke I guessed it would be.

Recommended for fun and murder. And yes, I am going to pretend that this book didn't have a very different original title.


I Love Dick - Chris Kraus

A woman stalks and harasses a man she barely knows, because she has convinced herself that she is in love with him. She writes him countless letters, and even sends an inappropriate fax to his work.

Sounds like the kind of creepy story I'd love. And I might have, if it wasn't true. This Dick is a real person, and the protagonist is Chris Kraus, the book's author. How minging is that?

But since it's apparently a novel, I don't know how much of it is fact and how much fiction. So let's pretend it's all fiction.

The protagonist of this book comes across as an obnoxiously pretentious intellectual who thinks that raiding the thesaurus and constructing all the most convoluted, overripe sentences she possibly can, each with as many obscure references as possible, will make her seem as intelligent as she keeps saying she is.

There doesn't seem to have been an editor. Whole paragraphs are begging to be cut, and the grammar is often questionable. Also, it's littered with this's. THIS'S. How is that better than "this is"?

Anyway. The book slaps itself on the back for saving feminism. But for the first half, you wonder what's feminist about it. Are you showing that women can be insane stalkers just as well as men? Well, I don't doubt that.

To be fair, in the latter half there are some good points about the injustice of how women are perceived compared to men. But they're hidden in such a flood of tangential, irrelevant crap that you wish a good book had made those points instead, so that they would be presented in a way that would be interesting instead of... this.

There is an afterword at the end of this edition, which says that the critics are wrong about this book, and then tries to explain why. What this told me was that they knew it was bad, and they felt the need to try to persuade us it isn't.


The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow

"Some people, if they didn't make it hard for themselves, might fall asleep."

Augie March is a likeable, normal American living in the 30s, growing up around people of all social standings and attitudes, trying to work out who he really is. And that's it really - this book is 500 pages of someone living a life.

In a way, it's like Stoner, which I loved. Nothing much happens - there is some action every now and then, but mostly it's just someone plodding along through life, doing stuff normal people in the real world might do. The problem is, where Stoner really got me, this one didn't.

I don't know why. It was well written, often amusing, and the "normal" things he did were actually often quite ridiculous so should have been more entertaining, but I just went through it feeling... Meh.

So it ended up being a struggle. But I must emphasise that it was well written and in places was quite fun. Just didn't do it for me, overall.


Spares - Michael Marshall Smith

"You have to accept gifts occasionally, because there are some things you can’t give yourself."

Spares tells the story of Jack Randall, drug addict and ex-cop living in a city which is a former flying shopping mall, trying to solve the mystery of who has kidnapped the clones be rescued from a life of slavery.

Except, it's not really. He forgets about the clones ("spares") pretty quickly, and really, for most of the book, I think he's just trying to work out who's shooting at him.

In my opinion, a good whodunnit should make the reader care about the result. They should want to know who did the crime, they should crave justice. But this book didn't achieve that for me - it changed its mind too much. One minute it was about the spares, then Randall's dead family, then a random bunch of murders in the city... Yes, it all comes together in the end, but on the way there were too many twists for me to care.

I also wasn't blown away by the writing. I saw a lot of my own style in there, from when I was just trying my hand at writing. And when I write like that, I hate myself. Clumsy sentences; paragraphs that are supposed to be funny and whimsical but end up missing the mark and being a bit embarrassing; poorly formed relationships between characters; bad dialogue...

BUT having said all that, when it worked, it worked. MMS came up with some great metaphors and some passages were very amusing. It was a mixed bag of ideas and half of them should have been cut, but the other half were good. It was also never slow or boring. It just wasn't a great whodunnit, I thought.