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About MisterHobgoblin

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    many cultures : one world
  • Birthday May 29


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  • How did you hear about this site?
    Calliope introduced me

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    Bouncing Australiana

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  1. If you mean the private messages, open the message and it will have a box marked options - you can click on Delete Conversation.
  2. Scarlett Thomas

    Scarlett Thomas is a fun writer who often manages to weave maths or science into her work. This is no exception; we have forays into thought experiments and the theory of homeopathy.The basic idea is that a young PhD student, Ariel Manto, finds a copy of a rare work by the subject of her thesis, Thomas Lumas. Not much is known of the book; only one copy is known to exist, stored in a bank vault in Germany, and there is a rumour that anyone who reads the book will die. Her supervisor has suggested she ignore the text in her doctorate, but the supervisor disappeared about a year ago… The book itself – a 19th century work called The End of Mr Y – finds the eponymous Mr Y visiting a circus sideshow and being intrigued by a clairvoyant.This all sounds like the plot of a very bad self-published work, just waiting for the zombies to appear. Fortunately they don’t, and Thomas is a skilful enough writer to bring this potential implausibility into something coherent. But instead of zombies, we have a chase across international borders by some very dodgy American spooks, refuge being sought in monasteries and mind-reading.At times the text feels over-long and some of the pseudo-science does get a bit hard to follow at times. But this is balanced by a genuinely intriguing plot whose direction is not always as obvious as it seems. There are multiple timelines and backstories all shepherded well and there are moments of sheer inventive brilliance. By the end, it all gets very surreal in a way that some people are not going to like, but I think it worked.This is a novel that is a lot of fun. It’s ideal holiday reading; enough to think about and the pages keep turning without the need to take notes. ****0
  3. Laura McVeigh

    Under the Almond Tree is a really brave novel. Laura McVeigh writes from the perspective of a teenage Afghan refugee - Samar - remembering a past life in Afghanistan before landing up shuttling backwards and forwards on the Trans-Siberian railway. Self-evidently, this is not autobiography and McVeigh may have opened herself up to accusations of cultural appropriation. The novel is also brave in the way it runs two parallel narrative streams - the present day set on the train and the past set (mostly) in Afghanistan - and rather than the usual bringing the threads together at the end, pretty much lets one overwrite the other. The execution of the novel, though, is pretty much flawless and fully justifies the huge risk. That does not mean that this is an easy book. It is intense, which makes it hard to read in long bursts and tends to make it quite hard to pick the book up again. For the first half, I wondered where it was all going and thought it might be another standard piece of refugee misery fiction. But something clicked at the half way point; the back story started to become gripping; the characters started to coalesce into three dimensions; and the train narrative started to intrigue. That was the point the novel stopped being hard to pick up and became hard to put down. Samar's voice becomes really haunting. At times she is sad, at times she is hopeful. She is never self-pitying yet still comes across as young and deeply vulnerable. She has seen the worst of humanity, yet she spends her time writing about her family playing games along the length of the train, stepping off at stations to buy food from the platform vendors, forming dangerous liaisons with the western tourists... There is a sense of purpose and direction, even if the purpose itself is not always clear. The story itself is illuminating; we see a once proud nation descend into chaos, first through the encroachment of Soviet troops and later through the encroachment of religious fundamentalism. This is handled well, and kept in proportion. We see people trying to go about their normal lives in spite of the incursions; we see them trying to normalise the situation in their own minds. When tragedies come, they are as likely to be caused by natural disaster as by war; yet when war does change the course it does so in truly devastating ways. Under the Almond Tree also conveys a great sense of place. I know the Trans-Siberian railway and the detail is spot on. I don't know Afghanistan or the Central Asian republics, but the novel is convincing and conveys, in particular, a sense of scale and barrenness. The people all feel real; whether it is Samar and her immediate family - her sister Are, her brothers Javed and Omar, her parents and grandparents - or whether it is the minor characters - the truck drivers, the refugee camp medics, the teacher, the Taliban commander, the provodnitsya on the train. Every one if them feels solid, genuine and complex. This is a really terrific novel and as it unfolds, it becomes clear just how delicate a feat of narration it pulls off. This is not quite like any other novel I can think of. *****
  4. Magnus Mills

    Magnus Mills was Booker shortlisted many years ago for The Restraint of Beasts.
  5. Magnus Mills writes short, quirky books about ordinary people in rule-bound situations. In this case, we have a number of blokes – all with blokey names: Dave, Peter, Kevin, Keith, Barry, Mike, etc. – who form a club in the backroom of their regular pub, The Half Moon, where they listen to each others’ records. And that’s all they do, listen. They mustn’t comment or judge. As the weeks go on, the rules get added to – a new rule every time someone tries to do anything that slightly deviates from the norm. And understandably, the rules don’t please everyone and rival record clubs are formed, each meeting on a different night of the week, but always in the backroom of The Half Moon. This does not amuse the true believers in the original Forensic Records Society who set out on missions of subterfuge, espionage and ultimately diplomacy.Like other Magnus Mills novls, this is a stripped down work. There is little superfluous detail; there is minimal scene setting and no depth of characterisation, no backstory and not a great deal of logic underpinning the basic premise of the story. Instead, it is a parody of officious bureaucracy with the occasional side-foray into punishment, personal freedom and the nature of social compliance. There are occasional points of intrigue – the mysteriously disappearing hours whilst the society meets; the mysterious record with the white label; and what, precisely, goes on in the Confessions hosted by a rival group. These are not explained and this will not surprise Magnus Mills fans. Oddity is expected and simply accepted.There is some humour derived from how seriously the participants take their records when many of them (those the reader will have heard of) and really quite average. And there is humour derived from these sad little men with sad little lives whose sole interest seems to be an obsolete form of musical recording. But it is quiet humour – nothing terribly sidesplitting. This is a short read, not dazzlingly different from other Magnus Mills novels, but a welcome addition to the canon. ****0
  6. Tony Birch

    I am going to hear Tony Birch speak later this month and am pretty excited.
  7. Stuart MacBride

    In which case Stuart MacBride is really not going to work for you.
  8. Stuart MacBride

    If swearing is bad then he has not improved. Personally I don't mind it and it's not what I use to judge a book.
  9. PC Callum McGregor stuffed up the crime scene in his last investigation - so he finds himself shunted off to a "Misfit Mob" in Oldcastle, a bleak (and fictional) city on the east coast of Scotland. Nothing ever happens there; it is a sheltered posting for the war-wounded, incompetent and untouchable police from across Scotland. So imagine their surprise when some grisly remains turn up and they get the job of investigating. A Dark So Deadly is a long book - the guts of 200,000 words as Stuart MacBride manages to drop into the text in a spot of metafiction. This allows space for plot and character to develop; for red herrings to work their way through; for constant deferral of the final act. All this is very satisfying. But on the other hand, it does take an awfully long time to work out what is actually happening. Some 20% of the way in - that's 120 pages in old money - and it still isn't clear exactly where the focus is going to lie; what the crime might be that they are all investigating. As well as the murders, PC McGregor has a backstory that requires exploration. This is sort of intriguing, but it does also interrupt the flow of the story - presumably intentionally so. And it sort of makes sense by the end, but for much of the novel, it feels a bit like two different books, chopped and spliced together in random order like Lanark. Stuart MacBride always writes with mordant wit and clever wordplay. For example, one of the characters is called Watt. This allows a chapter to start with"So, Watt... So what?". There are references to cultural icons both Scottish and of the 1970s and 1980s in which Mr MacBride presumably grew up - e.g. repeated references to The Meaning of Life and Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex... It is all good fun. And like previous Stuart MacBride books, crimes are gruesome and grisly. You can tell he really enjoys creating the crimes far more than he enjoys solving them. Of course, the side effect of this is that the book does depart from plausibility on occasions. Callum`s own back story, in particular, could never really have happened as described. But I guess this is unlikely to trouble a reader who is going to accept the disappearance and mummification of the city's good people. Basically, this is a bit of fun. Well written and pacy - gripping towards the end. Recommended for holiday reading. ****0
  10. Tony Birch

    I'm so pleased you enjoyed this Binker. I always wonder how well a novel will transfer to other people when it is based on a place I know and can visualise and I get so nervous whenever anyone says they have bought a book based on what I have said. Some of the images from Ghost River still haunt me even two years later, long after I have forgotten every single detail of some other books. The image of the rising water in the room in the pumping station in particular. Also the way the boys interacted with the homeless men as being in awe of them rather than sneering at them. This is a powerful image. Tony Birch is an Aboriginal writer and I guess he would see parallels between the homeless men and his own people - ignored and avoided by most people but with interesting stories, culture and history if anyone actually chooses to listen.
  11. Hanif Kureishi

    The Nothing is a short work, but it feels a whole lot longer. Waldo is an aging film director, famous and rich, living out his last years in London. He is unable to walk; his younger Pakistani wife Zenab (or Zee) has become his carer and the handful of visitors - famous actresses, reviewers and socialites - seem to circle with a mixture of pity and greed. Also is helpless and can only watch as they treat him as though he were already dead. The tragedy is in Waldo's resignation to the machinations of these circling vultures. He has money, but limited time or opportunity to spend it. So why should he mind subsidizing Zee and Eddie (a film critic) on their wild nights out provided Zee comes home and makes Waldo a pot of Lapsang Souchong tea? You cant take it with you... The drama in the piece is the inner conflict as Waldo struggles to reconcile this magnanimity with the passions that still run through his heart. He seems to recognize that his continued life is an inconvenience to those around him, but still he clings to his dignities. This is a claustrophobic and intriguing novel - it is not totally clear to the reader where it is heading even up until the last pages. It is a bit twisty, a bit tricksy. There is a good insight into the vanities of fame and fortune; Waldo never even threatens to be likeable. There is also a really convincing portrayal of the futility of the end of a long life, just waiting for the inevitable. But if there is a criticism it is that like life, the novel gets a bit samey and dull in the middle. The tension dissipates and it doesn't really feel as though the novel is going anywhere. Even though this is a short work, it feels a bit long. Overall, The Nothing is nicely done, the characters are delightfully grotesque and their predicament is well drawn. It does come together at the end, and that does make up for the middle. ****0
  12. It is 1987. Will Marvin is 14, lives in a poor neighbourhood of Wetbridge, New Jersey, and he has never had a girlfriend. Nor have his friends Alf and Clark. So when they hear that Playboy has just published pictures of Vanna White, the co-host of Wheel of Fortune (and the most beautiful woman in the world) he and his friends know that they have to own a copy. But the only shop that sells Playboy in Wetbridge is Zelinskys Stationery Shop - and Zelkinsky is a crabby old man who doesn't even let kids into the shop - let alone sell then top grade porn. Will and his friends embark on a farcical plan to get their hands on this precious, forbidden fruit. Every snag makes the plan more complicated, playing for ever higher stakes. But as Project Playboy escalates, Will starts to grow up and find that his true interests lie elsewhere. In particular, he lives for computer programming and trying to perfect The Impossible Fortress - a game he has written for the Commodore 64. Every chapter starts with some code from this program - apparently they add up to a workable game that is available online - whose contents seem to reflect the theme of the chapter. Thus, when Will starts to despair in real life, we get the procedure for Game Over. It sounds cheesy but it is actually really clever. Will also gets to ask himself whether the pursuit of real girls might be worth more than the pursuit of girlie magazines. Its a coming of age story with a good dose of questioning what matters in life - is it better to chase school grades or chase a dream; is it better to work for solid money or to spend time with family and friends; to keep his word to his friends or to those he trusts. This is an emotional roller coaster of a novel made great by the real and vulnerable characters - particularly Will and Mary, his co-author of The Impossible Fortress. They are both young, immature and prone to make bad choices, but both have enough love in them to have the reader rooting for them. And the novel also captures a particular moment in time - before the digital revolution but when the seeds of change were starting to become visible. Those of us who were there at the time can vouch for the authenticity of the atmosphere in The Impossible Fortress. Overall, this is a quick, light read. There is a lot of humour and even a few pictures (one of which is definitely NSFW, as the young people say (and also not suitable for public transport :-/). But there is enough substance in this to give the reader something to think about when ther last page has turned. I look forward to seeing Jason Rekulaks future work. ****0
  13. Christopher Wilson

    The Zoo is a farcical romp through the last days of Stalin’s reign of terror in the Soviet Union. Yuri is a twelve year old boy who claims to have suffered some form of brain damage as a child, leaving him a functional idiot. He can see everything that goes on around him, he can learn facts, but he hasn’t the guile to understand people. Yuri takes everyone at face value, all the time. By a quirk of fate, he ends up meeting Stalin who likes having a confidant he can trust completely. So he immediately appoints Yuri to be his food taster, thereby necessitating Yuri’s witnessing of the last days of the Great Leader’s life. And this is not a glamorous end to a glorious life. Basically, Stalin is holed up in his dacha with this inner circle (Beria, Khrushchev, Bulganin and Malenkov), all of whom want to usurp the crown. These five do not like each other, they do not trust each other, but they end up spending all their time together watching films and playing drinking games. The plotting, aside from the crazy drunken antics, the stunt doubles follows Harrison E. Salisbury’s 1983 account of Stalin’s last days faithfully. It is a surprise – indeed a frustration – then that Christopher Wilson insists on using near approximations of the protagonists real names. Stalin (man of steel) becomes Iron-Man; Beria becomes Bruhah; Molotov especially irritatingly becomes Motolov, etc. It feels like it is cheapening what could otherwise have felt like a satire to take seriously. Because, underneath all the drunken japes, this is a pretty good study of the paranoia of a brutal regime waiting for its leader to die. As a kitchen cabinet, the regime has the power of life and death over anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path, but yet remains powerless to bring about any meaningful social or economic change. Stalin himself is portrayed as a tired, sick and unsatisfied man, troubled about the legacy he would leave. He was lonely and desperate for unguarded, non-judgemental company, yet he had created a world in which only an idiot boy could fulfil that function. If anything, Yuri’s role was that of the mediaeval court fool, speaking truth to a king by dressing it up as wit. In a neat story arc, we see Yuri come from ordinary society to mix with the elite; and then we see him return to ordinary society. It feels like completing a circle, albeit a rather sad circle because, as Khrushchev says to Yuri: “Poor child… You see it all. Yet you understand nothing”. But in a way Yuri inhabits a fool’s paradise. Right up to the end, as his world disintegrates around him, Yuri still remains optimistic.This really is a great read. Short, lively, humorous but thoughtful. Yuri’s narrative voice is fabulous and his perpetual innocence is captivating. Stalin’s inner circle is well drawn and Beria, in particular, is a standout character – vain, foppish, ambitious and sadistic. He is a well-rounded psychopath. Given the way history played out, it might have been interesting to dwell just a little more on the character of Khrushchev whom history has treated with affection – it would have been nice to explore his role in the purges, his role in the Ukraine and his personal relationship with Stalin a little more closely. But this is a minor complaint in a tight and entertaining novel. *****
  14. Luna's name seems to be one letter too long for the new display.