Review of “Ablutions” by Patrick de Witt

“Discuss the regulars.”

So begins “Ablutions”, the first novel by Patrick de Witt. Reviewers have said that it is not as good as the two subsequent books – but it is.

It is written in the second person which isn’t always appealing but in this case it suits perfectly. The blurb on the back cover describes the book as “Hilariously gloomy”; neither word is correct. Certainly there is plenty of black humour in the book but it is not hilarious, and gloomy is too slight a word to describe the terrible sadness which runs throughout.

The prose is wonderful:

” . . . before settling into a life of wealth and flashbulbs.

” . . . the desire to celebrate the rhythm of your own beating heart.”

The premise is this: a barman, in a bar off Hollywood, is making notes for a novel so there is no narrative as such – each episode takes place in the present – but now and then the reader becomes aware of time passing with the deterioration of the barman’s health. He studies the failed actors and writers who people the bar every day and the characters are wonderful, (if people so bereft of hope and joy could be described as wonderful), the ageing child actor, the crack addict, the unhappy doorman, among them. A temporary bar manager is the only one to escape into glamorous Hollywood, a flash of light in the dim room.

The amount of alcohol and drugs consumed is staggering – causing terrible hangovers and punishing the poor, malnourished bodies. And sex: there’s plenty of sex in the backroom, and there’s a scene where a sort of orgy takes place, not like a penthouse orgy with champagne and nibbles and beautiful bodies; no, it’s a sad, woeful, cold occasion, not even lively enough to be called sordid.

Throughout the book there are snatches of empathy and snatches of vicious, casual violence, but loneliness pervades all. The barman, afraid to give in to tears in case he could never stop, hurts himself to deflect the feeling:

“Once this starts you believe you will not be able to stop, or will soon reach a point from which you will not return without damaging your mind . . . you draw back your hand and punch the brick wall as hard as you can.”

There is very little direct dialogue but this is not noticeable as the barman is always addressing himself so it reads like conversation. The pace and shape of the book is perfect in the way that “Of Mice and Men” is perfect, no part too long, none too short, the last line as important as the first.

 

 

REVIEWING INDIE BOOKS

I have been reviewing Indie books for almost a year now and various things occur to me. Writers make the same mistakes all the time but there are two in particular which stand out.

The first one is straightforward – editing and proof reading. A lot of books are full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, incorrect use of words, clumsy syntax – and the blizzard of apostrophes in all the wrong places; these mistakes are easily fixed with a professional edit so it’s amazing that so many writers fail to have it done. And it doesn’t matter how wonderful or exciting the story is – these things really matter.

The second thing is – organising material. Many authors have no technical problems – the manuscript has been well edited and proofed, the narrative runs easily forward, the characters are believable, the dialogue is realistic – and this is all terrific. But, and it’s a big but – the author is not sure what the book is about. There are sub-plots which never tie in, there are long sections about one aspect of the main plot and very little about another so the pacing and shape of the book is all wrong and the reader is never sure who the main character is, or what thread holds the book together.

Being an Indie writer myself I know how hard it is to get a review at all, never mind a good one, so writers should be wholly, totally and completely satisfied with a finished manuscript before sending it off for review. Many indie authors cannot afford a professional edit but they can ask friends and family – as many as possible – to read through the manuscript with a red pen in their hands. The book/manuscript should be put away then for a couple of weeks before the author goes through it again one more time.

If writers believe in their stories, in their characters, they owe it to themselves to shape and polish to the nth degree before sending out their work; the world is crammed full of books, wonderful and otherwise.

 

 

REVIEWING INDIE BOOKS

I have been reviewing Indie books for almost a year now and various things occur to me. Writers make the same mistakes all the time but there are two in particular which stand out.

The first one is straightforward – editing and proof reading. A lot of books are full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, incorrect use of words, clumsy syntax – and the blizzard of apostrophes in all the wrong places; these mistakes are easily fixed with a professional edit so it’s amazing that so many writers fail to have it done. And it doesn’t matter how wonderful or exciting the story is – these things really matter.

The second thing is – organising material. Many authors have no technical problems – the manuscript has been well edited and proofed, the narrative runs easily forward, the characters are believable, the dialogue is realistic – and this is all terrific. But, and it’s a big but – the author is not sure what the book is about. There are sub-plots which never tie in, there are long sections about one aspect of the main plot and very little about another so the pacing and shape of the book is all wrong and the reader is never sure who the main character is, or what thread holds the book together.

Being an Indie writer myself I know how hard it is to get a review at all, never mind a good one, so writers should be wholly, totally and completely satisfied with a finished manuscript before sending it off for review. Many indie authors cannot afford a professional edit but they can ask friends and family – as many as possible – to read through the manuscript with a red pen in their hands. The book/manuscript should be put away then for a couple of weeks before the author goes through it again one more time.

If writers believe in their stories, in their characters, they owe it to themselves to shape and polish to the nth degree before sending out their work; the world is crammed full of books, wonderful and otherwise.

 

 

The beginning of “Adam and Eve” from “Woman with Doll & Other Stories”

My name is Jemima Flynn. When I first read the story of Cinderella the ugly sisters were called Jemima and Belinda. This, as you can imagine, has affected me all my life. Am I ugly? I don’t know. I contemplate my reflection but I can only see myself. Eyes? Well it seems to me that one is bigger than the other, only slightly of course, but enough. Nose? It works well as a drainage pipe and doubles as an air-duct. Lips? Hardly a Bardot pout there. And yes, I know that comment dates me. Sometimes I wonder if other people find me ugly but the truth is that until I met Jimmy I didn’t care very much.

I was an only child – I think my parents tried it once and didn’t like it – an old joke but it always amuses me. They were fond of religion and I was their little saint. When I was very small, about six or seven, I read books about Maria Goretti and the Little Flower and Jacinta who died at Fatima and I would pose in front of the mirror with a flower in my hand and a look of piety on my face. My parents thought I would be a nun; when other girls got ribbons and hair-clips I got holy pictures and relics.

My job in the library required little in the way of conversation but all the same I began to watch how people reacted to me. Am I ugly, I wanted to ask them. They didn’t scream or throw up their hands in horror when I spoke but they didn’t smile at me either. I had seen people smile at pretty women; stand up, sit down, smile and nod at them. I wondered if I was having a mid-life crisis. It wasn’t the change; I had dealt with that briskly and efficiently at the age of forty-three.

Perhaps I should have been a nun as was expected of me. They’d have found me out though – I had given up religion for good when I was eleven.

My teacher at Primary School was Sr Anne. She would open the door in the morning and stand there, silent, surveying us, the only sound the gentle slap of the black ruler against the folds of her habit. And there I was one day, sitting sideways at my desk – even then I was taller than everyone else.

“Come on now.” Sr Anne beamed ferociously at me. “What do you think? If you and I and your friend, Rosie there, were in the middle of the jungle, about to be eaten by cannibals, could I hear your confessions in the absence of a priest?”

She lunged forward, leaning her bony fists on my desk, her face in its white frame breathing all over me. I stared at her hands, at the tiny hairs on her fingers. I had seen a film on telly where a ship’s captain had married Humphrey Bogart to Katherine Hepburn. They were in the middle of the ocean, not a priest in sight. The question began to make sense. I looked up at Sr Anne and noticed face powder in the creases round her eyes. She leaned nearer.

“Well?”

“Yes, you could,” I said.

“No!” She shot up, triumphant. “No, I could not. I could not, Jemima Flynn. I’m surprised at you. Only a priest can hear confessions. Do you hear that, class? Only a priest can hear confessions.”

“But . . .  ” I started to interrupt.

But I couldn’t tell her about Humphrey Bogart.

 

A Review of “S is for Serial” by D K Greene

The premise of this book is credible and engaging. A serial killer, Ollie Roberts, promises to lead the authorities to where bodies are buried if his son, Peter Wilson, (an assumed name on the witness programme) is allowed to work with him. Inspector Douglas, (Dougy) who arrested the killer and knows him well, talks Peter into engaging with his father again – for the sake of the families who want to find their loved ones. Peter, whose life is quiet and settled now, is reluctant but eventually agrees to do this.

The day comes when he accompanies his father and Dougy, (and several other policemen) to the woods where there might be several bodies. Ollie tells Peter he should murder someone himself so they could better understand each other.

There is a lot of black humour in this book which makes the reader laugh even though the subject matter is horrible and not funny at all. When Peter tells Ollie he has never wanted to kill anyone, Ollie says:

“Good Lord, son. Maybe you ought to talk to someone about that . . . “

And some parts are just plain funny:

” . . . a swooping haircut that makes me wonder where his hair actually begins and ends. He flips his head to the side as if he’s about to have a seizure but then I realise he’s just trying to get the wild hair out of his eyes . . . “

We realise very quickly that Peter is a strange man; he has an odd relationship with his girlfriend, Elsie; it’s never clear whether she really is his girfriend or not. And although he has a home and a job he is not as settled as you might think. He goes to Jeanne for psychotherapy but rarely tells her the truth; he likes going to see her because he fancies her and thinks that she fancies him.

Ollie is a bully, manipulative but charming and Peter finds it hard not to fall under his spell again. Dougy, the policeman, seems to be a warm, loving person, perhaps too fond of his prisoner but believable and real all the same.

This is a very well written book; the narrative is compelling and moves along swiftly  and the dialogue is terrific.

However, the entire book is marred by the unrealistic ending. It is so puzzling that it seems to make a nonsense of the premise, and indeed, of the whole story.

First published in booksandpals.com, amazon.com and goodreads.com.

Yet another six forgotten authors . . .

Who remembers Harold Robbins? Everyone was reading – and talking – about him when I was a girl. He was considered “unsuitable”.

“His first book was Never Love a Stranger (1948). The Dream Merchants (1949) was a novel about the American film industry, from its beginning to the sound era. Again, Robbins blended his own experiences with historical facts, melodrama, sex and action, into a fast-moving story.[citation needed] His 1952 novel, A Stone for Danny Fisher, was adapted into a 1958 motion picture King Creole, which starred Elvis Presley.[3]

Among his best-known books is The Carpetbaggers – featuring a loose composite of Howard Hughes, Bill Lear, Harry Cohn, and Louis B. Mayer.[4] The Carpetbaggers takes the reader from New York to California, from the prosperity of the aeronautical industry to the glamor of Hollywood. Its sequel, The Raiders, was released in 1995.

After The Carpetbaggers and Where Love Has Gone (1962) came The Adventurers (1966), based on Robbins’s experiences living in South America, including three months spent in the mountains of Colombia with a group of bandits. He created the ABC television series The Survivors (1969-1970), starring Ralph Bellamy and Lana Turner.” From Wikipedia.

And then there was Denise Robbins! A prolific romantic novelist. You’d have to be as old as I am to remember her. When I was a teenager at boarding school, her books were passed around at night time, the more romantic passages read aloud.

“Denise Robins (née Denise Naomi Klein; 1 February 1897 – 1 May 1985)[1] was a prolific English romantic novelist and the first President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (1960–1966). She wrote under her first married name and under the pen-names: Denise Chesterton, Eve Vaill, ‘Anne Llewellyn’, Hervey Hamilton, Francesca Wright, Ashley French, Harriet Gray and Julia Kane, producing short stories, plays, and about 170 Gothic romance novels. In 1965, Robins published her autobiography, Stranger Than Fiction. At the time of her death in 1985, Robins’s books had been translated into fifteen languages and had sold more than one hundred million copies. In 1984, they were borrowed more than one and a half million times from British libraries.” From Wikipedia. [2]

From one extreme to another – C P Snow – unreadable without a dictionary, although I did enjoy “The Masters”.

“Snow’s first novel was a whodunit, Death under Sail (1932). In 1975 he wrote a biography of Anthony Trollope. But he is better known as the author of a sequence of novels entitled Strangers and Brothers in which he depicts intellectuals in academic and government settings in the modern era. The best-known of the sequence is The Masters. It deals with the internal politics of a Cambridge college as it prepares to elect a new master. Having all the appeal of an insider’s view, the novel depicts concerns other than the strictly academic that influence the decisions of supposedly objective scholars. The Masters and The New Men were jointly awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1954.[16] Corridors of Power added a phrase to the language of the day. In 1974, Snow’s novel In Their Wisdom was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.”! From Wikipedia.

My beloved John Galsworthy. The Forsyte Saga – I can’t say it’s my favourite book as there are nine of them – but Galsworthy is surely one of my favourite authors. I was sixteen the first time I read this family saga and I have read it all, and loved it all, at least twice since.

“From the Four Winds, a collection of short stories, was Galsworthy’s first published work in 1897. These and several subsequent works were published under the pen name of John Sinjohn, and it was not until The Island Pharisees (1904) that he began publishing under his own name, probably owing to the recent death of his father . . .  He is now far better known for his novels, particularly The Forsyte Saga, his trilogy about the eponymous family and connected lives. These books, as with many of his other works, deal with social class, and upper-middle class lives in particular. Although sympathetic to his characters, he highlights their insular, snobbish, and acquisitive attitudes and their suffocating moral codes. He is viewed as one of the first writers of the Edwardian era who challenged some of the ideals of society depicted in the preceding literature of Victorian England.” From Wikipedia.

Dorothy L Sayers – I can’t remember when I first started reading her detective novels with Lord Peter Wimsey as the sleuth but I always enjoyed them. The novels can be downloaded to Kindle but it is many years since I saw even one of them in a bookshop.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (/ˈsɛərz/ ;[1] 13 June 1893 – 17 December 1957) was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator, and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages. She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between the First and Second World Wars that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, which remain popular to this day. However, Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante‘s Divine Comedy to be her best work. She is also known for her plays, literary criticism, and essays.” From Wikipedia.

And finally, for today, Zane Grey. My father had a collection of his books and I read them one after the other so that they all run together in my mind. And I am quite sure that I saw every movie (“the pictures”) based on these books as well.

“Zane Grey was an American dentist and author best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts; he idealized the American frontier. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his best-selling book. In addition to the commercial success of his printed works, they had second lives and continuing influence when adapted as films and television productions. His novels and short stories have been adapted into 112 films, two television episodes, and a television series, Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater.” From Wikipedia.

 

 

“WHEN YOU ARE OLD” by W B YEATS

I was reading through a short collection of Yeats; I had forgotten just how marvellous he was; this is one of my favourites:

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep:

 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

 

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.”

Title Poem from the Collection – “The Red Petticoat”

THE RED PETTICOAT

I remember the rustle /

Of the red, exotic petticoat /

The pick of a parcel /

From America /

Delight crackled in her hair /

Exploded in a sudden flush /

On her alabaster skin /

The lighthouse sweep and beam /

Of her glad eyes /

Lit us all, haloed the room  /

Where we stood in a row /

To admire.

 

Long left that room, that house /

The woman has gathered her years /

Carefully, tucked them primly away /

Scented and folded neatly /

Facing the rest /

With a lifted chin /

A grin and a new hat /

The glow of the red petticoat /

About her still.

 

 

Excerpt from “Happy Birthday” in Woman With Doll & Other Stories

“It’s only me.”

She sang out the words as she pushed the door open. James toddled in and she fluttered in behind him carrying the baby. She always says that when she arrives and I always want to say back – oh, it’s only you.

“Well,” she said, kicking the door shut. “I swear I lost half a stone on the way up. This fellow wouldn’t walk for me. I had to carry the two of – James – leave Auntie Susan alone. Matty, take him on your knee, will you?”

Such a flurry she causes every time, especially when she’s pregnant. Everybody hopping, even Paul, and Matty putting cushions behind her back. And that lisp of hers – calling me Shoosan!

“Shoosan,” she says. “I’ll just put this fellow upstairs for a snooze. OK? Any dinner left? I’d no time to cook today. Where would I get the time to cook – I ask you – where?”

She looked at the men and laughed and they both stood up. Matty moved the table out a bit and Paul pulled a chair over. She smiled all around her and then went upstairs with the baby. James was calling, Da, and pulling at Matty’s arm, waiting to be lifted. I put out a dinner for her, scraping my cabbage onto her plate. She’d eat anything she didn’t have to cook herself – even for the poor children, fed out of jars, they were.

“Thanks a mill, Shoosan,” she said when she came down again, settling her skirt about her on the chair and shaking back her long hair.

“Aren’t you great?” she said to me although she looked at the men. “What would we do without you? You’re a mother to the whole lot of us. James, put that down like a good child. Matty, would you look what he’s doing? Would you pay a bit of attention to your son? Isn’t he a holy terror?” she said as she ate the dinner.

I didn’t know was she talking about Matty or James. I leaned over and took the salt from James’ little fingers and I could feel the heat from Matty’s arm. I willed him to look at me. Please, Matty, I said in my head but I might as well have been invisible. It’s never any different, never a look, never a word. Even that night, my party night, he didn’t speak . . . Oh wait a minute, he did. Jesus, he said. One says, ah, the other, Jesus. Talkative, the pair of them!

I don’t know why I think of it as a party when it was just the four of us, me doing all the cooking as usual and Martina saying, isn’t Shoosan great? Duck and roast potatoes and lemon meringue. I can’t remember how anything tasted except the wine, red and strong. I go back to my birthday page sometimes and read it over but it seems like something I made up. I still only half believe it – yes, here it is, April the 8th . . .

April 8th 1.00 a.m.

Happy Birthday! Happy??? I’m delirious!! – I’m sick!! – I’m mad!! I don’t know how I feel . . . smart – yes, I feel smart, like I’ve fooled them all, like I’ve fixed Martina for pitying me. But I’m scared too. It was the drink of course, and my new green dress that Paul gave me the money for.

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