Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday 20 July 2024

"The Time Out Book of London Short Stories" by Maria Lexton (ed) (Penguin, 1993)

  • Clive Barker - No
  • Nicola Barker - Better. Parts are ok.
  • Ronan Bennett - OK. Set in a prison. The self-sabotage isn't well enough motivated.
  • Anne Billson - Yes. Charlie "saves" women. 12 lived with him in Croydon, far enough from the dangers of London - there you could stand "on the edge, and peer into it without falling in". They do tasks for him (cheering up Tube users, etc) competing for his affection, until there's a little rebellion.
  • Glyn Brown - No
  • Julie Burchill - No. Some good one-liners but some bad ones too.
  • Gordon Burn - Ok. A bit too long. Interesting ending
  • Jonathan Carroll - No
  • Christopher Fowler - Nearly. The "woman = London" idea saves it
  • Neil Gaiman - No
  • Steve Grant – Yes. Anecdote and observation ok. Would have liked more in Beryl’s voice
  • Robert Grossmith - Yes. Frida and Desmond have ops to become hermaphrodites (Frida's idea. Desmond's not keen). Other people have ops so they can have sex with themselves. A drug lets babies be hermaphrodites from birth. Frida added more penises. Then society decides enough is enough - people aren't having kids any more because sex is too interesting. They revert and Frida suggests they start a family - he using an exo-womb.
  • Charles Higson - Ok. Multi-PoV. Starts well.
  • Nick Hornby - Yes.
  • John McVicar - No. I don't like the proportions of the info/story mix
  • Hilary Mantel - Yes, as a character study
  • John Milne - Yes. A private investigator has a job
  • Kim Newman - Best so far. A Blitz Spirit craze has taken over London, so much so that reality seems to be changing.
  • Lawrence Norfolk - Ok. Clever.
  • Christopher Petit - Ok. A spoof bio of a Soho writer/drunker
  • Will Self - Yes. I've read this before. In LA, cafe staff are wannabe actors. In London they're novelists.
  • Adam Thorpe - Don't think I understood it
  • Mark Timlin - No twist?
  • Lisa Tuttle - Twist doesn't work for me
  • Nigel Watts - The ending isn't enough to save the piece

Wednesday 17 July 2024

"The couple at table six" by Daniel Hurst

An audio book.

Hannah (her PoV) is a waitress, about 40. She's seen the Murphys at table 6 for 6 months each Friday. They're about 45.

Nadine (her PoV) is Mrs Murphy. They have a girl, 21 and a boy, Adam. 18. Max (Mr Murphy) is a self-made millionnaire. He doesn't know it but Adam isn't his son. Nadine had a short fling with Kieran. Out of the blue Kieran contacts Adam. Nadine tries to negotiate with him, offering a million pounds for his silence.

Hannah doesn't have much of a life. A decade before she was engaged, but her boyfriend was unfaithful. She likes talking to clients. She had an affair with one (a married man) 2 years before, and hoped to elope with him. She ended up killing both of the Spinners. She's been secretly living in their house ever since.

Nadine is home alone when Keiran visits. He's changed his terms. She knifes him, phoning Max to say that she's killed an intruder. He's at Hannah's cafe. She follows him home in a taxi and sees him take the body away. She blackmails Nadine so she can have Max. She feels sorry for Max because she's been betrayed too. They offer her £1 million but she wants Max. Max arranges to come to her house in the night. They have sex. She tells him about Nadine's affair. The house-owner arrives, so they have to leave.

When Hannah visits Nadine and Max's house, she discovers that Nadine's been killed and Max is hanged. There's a suicide message explaining that Max had an affair with Mrs Spinner, killed them, and used their house as a love-nest.

In the epilogue we learn that a lonely regular customer who likes Hannah has killed Nadine and Max, writing the letter. He asks Hannah out.

The characters aren't affected by becoming murderers. It's crazy (though it suits the plot) for Hannah to stay at the Spinner's house. The vocabulary doesn't always match the characters and situation - "I struggled to discern anything"; "The first hint of sunlight was cresting on the horizon"; "residual paranoia", etc.

Saturday 13 July 2024

"The Kings of New York" by Michael Weinreb (Gotham Books, 2007)

Murrow school, a public school in New York, had the best school chess team in the country for a year or so, ahead of many rich schools. Fischer used to live nearby. This book is about that team - bios of the teachers and team members, and the role of chess in schools.

I went to Southern Grammar school, Portsmouth, UK. I was in the chess team and we won the Sunday Times national chess competition for schools. Like Murrow, we had a maths teacher to run the club. Their teacher used publicity to benefit the school (a White House photo-opportunity with George W Bush!) and went to local chess events to head-hunt (Russian immigrants, etc). Money from benefactors was available to run school-age tournaments. In Portsmouth we had the Sir William Dupree tournament offering big prize money.

Murrow school, which promoted independent learning, was indulgent to their best players. I think it was the same at my school. Their best player one year was 48th in the U-16 World Youth Championship - at 15 he was graded 2419. He was 19th in the US championship. We had a special player too, Glenn Lambert, who wasn't very interested in school work.

Alex and Sal were their top two players, with USCF ratings of 2436 and 2453, often 500 points better then their school opponents. Meanwhile they played on the world stage - Alex won the U-16 world championships, improving on Sal's result.

In New York there was a chess-in-the-schools charity encouraging chess in the Bronx, Harlem, etc. In 2003 it gave $3.5m. It had a grass-roots philosophy, not wanting to fund highly rated players.

Some of Murrow's best players were more into online poker than chess. There's a chapter on women in chess. Irina Krush was one of their players - graded 2400+ at 14, winning the US women's championship. There's a section on open-air chess - one of the team members gets $300/week at Washington Square. There's a section about on-line chess.

I think p.189 has a typo - in reply to 1.b4 it says that Black replies "by moving his knight to f7". On p.228 it says "the kids opens with a pawn to d5, and Oscar ... knows he should play pawn to b5.. but .. he plays his knight to f6." which I don't get.

Wednesday 10 July 2024

"One August night" by Victoria Hislop

An audio book, the events spread over many years.

Anna, a fisherman's daughter, and Andrea own a farm in Crete, employing 100 people. An heir hasn't appeared. Anna's been having an affair with Andrea's jollier cousin, Minolis. She becomes pregnant, gives birth, Minolis becoming the godfather. Anna's sister Maria is on the leprosy island nearby. She'd been engaged to Minolis and was still a virgin.

A cure for leprosy is found. On the day that Maria returns, Andrea shoots and kills Anna, getting a life sentence. Maria marries Nikos, a doctor, and adopts Sofia, her sister's child. Minolis has fled to the mainland. At Perodas, a port, he finds work in a shipyard. His old landlady find out about his back story. His colleague finds out that the landlady was a singer he fancied. The colleague's married but it's the landlady he wants.

Maria visits Andrea in jail, despite the prison officers touching her up. She delivers Andrea a letter from his father saying he's forgiven. His father dies. The money is split among the daughters. Andrea's in solitary confinement, fasting, finding god.

When the landlady and her partner leave for Australia, Minolis goes too. He drops Anna' earring into the sea.

Maria's attitude to Andrea is unconvincing. There are few surprises and little depth.

I don't like "She sighed audibly" or "a playful smile creeps across her lips"

Other reviews

Saturday 6 July 2024

"Other household toxins" by Christopher Allen (Matter Press, 2018)

Flash from Pure Slush, Flash Frontier, Spelk Fiction, Indiana Review, Smokelong, Every day fiction, Cease Cows, JMWW, Reflex Fiction, Bath Flash fiction, etc.

Books of Flash are a relatively recent idea. The market's still settling down, expectations still being established. I often feel that authors have been published too early - that there aren't enough knock-out pieces in a book, that the ordinary pieces don't compensate by adding variety. I've begun to think that I might be setting the standard unreasonably high. This book shows it's possible to take risks and still succeed. All but 2 of the pieces have been previously published, which is a good start.

There's variety along several dimensions -

  • Realism - The book starts with "The Birds in the Gate", where the first-person narrator is a boy, changes tone when we learn that his mother is dead. Some other pieces involve broken families, with boys having thoughts that they keep to themselves. But realism doesn't rule. In the 4th story, "The Number 4", a boy wants to be the number 4.
  • Logic - There are stories where people deal logically with illogical situations, and vice versa.
  • Time - There are stories where time crawls, where time jumps, where time repeats. In "When Chase plays chocolate", the main character changes age and is sometimes 2 ages (when feeling contrasting emotions, etc).
  • PoV - There are various approaches to point-of-view too. In "Fuk the police" the PoV switches without warning.
  • Empathy - some invite empathy, some are "cold"
  • Conventionality - some stories are mainstream. Others are odd - too odd for me.

I like most "The shoes, the girl and the waves that washed them away" and "A Practical Silence". "Providence", "Everything we had", "Green Graffiti", "Census", "Santa Caterina" didn't impress me so much. "A knack for dying" and "Falling man" have many ideas, though I'm not sure the stories works.

"Fred's Massive Sorrow" is 33 pages long, in several parts. The sorrow is a tree taking over an apartment block. I wasn't convinced.

The title story, which I liked, is about story-making and memory-making.

Other reviews

  • goodreads
  • story366 (the characters in these fictions seem most troubled, most bothered, and most hurt by the ones they love)

Wednesday 3 July 2024

"South Bank Poetry (issue 11)"

Poems from their 2011 competition. London themed. Some rhyming. p.39 has the shortest lines and is (but for the line-breaks) the piece that's most like prose - a vignette.

Saturday 29 June 2024

"The Peripheral" by William Gibson

An audio book

Flynn likes retro-tech. She uses a bicycle that charges up as she pedals. She does some work for her brother Burton, testing a computer game. But is it really a game? She sees a woman (Elita West) being murdered. While she's in the game she's being watched. Someone tries to kill Burton thinking he was the witness. A detective, Lobeer, questions her.

It's possible to access the future 70 years ahead. There are wind-walkers and patchers, augmented reality and avatars that are rentable like fancy dress. Flynn "visits" the future London using a full body haptic suit to control a life-like robot (a peripheral). It's one of many possible futures (stubs), so it's not a good predictor of Flynn's life, but it's possible to use the future's computers to do calculations and report the results back to the present. Ash and Netherton live in the future.

She's told that Jackpot killed 80% of the population over 40 years. No dramatic crises, but pressure of climate change and collapse of social structures. She wanders around new London - almost deserted. Speakers Corner is still there. So are historical re-creations.

There are ways to print food. Reality TV has merged into politics and performance art. Hobbyists enjoy going back in time. Lobeer seems more than a detective. She's old enough to have been around in flynn's world. Elita West was the sister of Wilf's ex, Daydra West, an artist who covers herself with auto-biographical tattoos, sells her skin and has a new skin put on. Flynn goes to a party hosted by Daydra to see if she can identify Elita's murderer there.

All of a sudden, loose ends are tidied up.

Gibson uses food, drink and brand names to help ground us in reality.

Other reviews

  • Sam Leith (One of the great pleasures of Gibson’s fiction – though he is canny enough to include periodic expository info-dumps to help the confused catch up – is that sense of not being spoon-fed: his futures convince because the reader arrives in them as a tourist and learns their languages by immersion. In this book, there are two futures to be deciphered ... The future containing Hefty Mart is just about shouting distance from our own. We are in a smallish town in the US ...The two worlds are linked because the later world contains a black-market technology, popular among hobbyists called “continua enthusiasts”, that allows people to reach into the past. ... Gibson is such a polished and propulsive writer that you nearly won’t notice that the plot is sort of a mess, that he’s peopled the novel with too many characters too sketchily delineated, that hinted-at arcs involving the macroeconomy of Flynne’s stub and a plot to assassinate the president are cursorily wrapped up, and that the ending – from the imagination that brought us Neuromancer – needs only a “Goonight, John-Boy” to be The Waltons.)
  • jenora vaswani (Gibson's use of a protagonist being introduced to a new world, her future, also eases the reader's transition into an unfamiliar technological setting. ... The resolution of the plot feels a little shaky. The bearded man symbolised Flynn's drive to learn more about this future world, yet he dies abruptly without providing the reader with much backstory. Considering the whole book has been about discovering the circumstances surrounding this mysterious man, a little more detail would have been appreciated.)