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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. The First Day

    The First Day is a really well crafted novel exploring love, loyalty, forgiveness and revenge. Samuel Orr is a pastor in East Belfast. He is married and has children. One day, inexplicably, he meets Anna, a literature PhD student from across the divide. They fall for each other and Samuel Junior is the result. The first half of the novel is told in third person by a very present narrator, throwing in editorial comment. It is heavily laden with biblical references - perhaps also Samuel Beckett references that I wouldn't recognise - telling the sorry tale of Samuel and Anna. Samuel wrestles with conflicting loyalties to Anna and his wife; to God and to his congregation. He tries to do the right thing, but sometimes there is no right thing to be done. This part of the novel is not a new plot but it is told in such a distinctive way, and the spirit of Belfast is evoked with brilliance. The second half of the novel is set thirty years later - some distance in the future - where we meet Sam Jr in New York where he works in the Met art gallery. He is haunted both psychologically and literally by Philip, his half brother who has never forgiven the two Samuels for the infidelity. Sam Jr narrates this in first person but, ironically, it loses some of the immediacy and feeling of the first half of the novel. The time and place never seems to be fully created and the plotting becomes somewhat more obscure. The chronology gets really hazy and it is not always clear what is driving the characters, what is motivating them to do what they do. It's still a good read, but just not as captivating as the earlier sections. Overall this is an impressive novel that captures some of the nuances of Northern Ireland society without being captured by the obvious divisions of sectarianism and politics. It demonstrates real innovation in narrative voice and structure, and leaves the reader wanting more. That's pretty good for a debut novel. ****0
  2. All The Galaxies

    All The Galaxies is a strange and hypnotic blend of four stories that cross and merge and unmerge again.First, there is Scotland in the near future. Following a second independence referendum (which we presume Scotland lost), law and order has broken down in The Horrors, but strong city state governments have emerged from the remnants of local councils. Within Greater Glasgow, control is being reasserted, the internet has been restored and the leader of the sinister Wardens movement, Wee Lawrence, is in Barlinnie. Oh, and Rangers FC (or should that be Sevco) is no more – so it’s not all doom and gloom.Second, there is the story of John Fallon, a news editor in the fictional Mercury newspaper. Originally from England, he has landed up in Glasgow, his wife long gone and contact with his adult son Roland about to evaporate. He and his crew try to provide objectivity and sense from the chaos, all the while lurching from bar to bar, extending one night stands for as long as they will go, living in debauched squalor.Thirdly, there is the story of Fallon’s son Roland, remembering life in Tyrdale as a child, holidays to the Scottish islands and drunken student parties.And finally, there is a boy, Tarka, travelling the heavens with his spirit-guide dog Kim.The novel is really well constructed, balancing the elements carefully – no mean feat considering the multiple points of view and the strangeness of some of the subject matter. And the fourth narrative in the heavens is very strange indeed – no longer bound by the laws of physics, time, location or society. No dog lover could read this section without falling for Kim, the wise, kind, loyal and talkative border terrier (though whoever thought a cover picture of a dead dog would sell a book needs professional help).My favourite story, though, is the Scottish dystopia. Knowing Glasgow helps – particularly the immediate environs of George Square and Kelvingrove. But knowing Scottish politics – and Northern Ireland’s recent history from which so many of the novel’s scenes have been borrowed – probably helps even more. And the great thing is that unlike typical fictional dystopias, we are not on the verge of the end of the world; we haven’t seen the collapse of the system; we haven’t descended into savage people roaming through smouldering embers in search of canned food. It is a plausible situation where commerce continues, communications remain in place, people travel and work and socialise, and Glasgow City Council officials seize the power they have spent their entire careers envying. And goodness me, Philip Miller must have spent some time in the “cube” of City Chambers to have been able to evoke it so accurately.If there is a criticism, it is that the plot does not always live up to the stellar settings and descriptions. Only Tarka is allowed a personality that develops; the other characters have to be taken as found. Fallon’s life, in particular, is not always fascinating and the intrigue involving the journalists and the council was perhaps a little too murky and ended up a little too unresolved. In fact, the ending as a whole felt a bit of a let-down after much promise.But these are minor criticisms of an otherwise excellent novel that will make the reader think about the ephemerality of life, the importance of love and friendship, the machinery of government, and astral dogs. ****0
  3. The Restorer

    The Restorer is a fantastic story of a family living under psychological terror. Roy and Maryanne have relocated to Newcastle, an unfashionable coastal town in New South Wales, from the bright lights of Sydney. Roy has bought a derelict old cottage near the seafront that was last occupied by druggy squatters who burnt through the floor of the main room into the creepy basement. Their children, Freya - an awkward teenager - and Daniel - still in primary school - are terrified of what might lurk in the dark depths...Although the move was claimed to be for Roy's work, it seems that they are running away from something in Sydney. There is a dark past that drip feeds into the narrative. This is done with perfect pacing, alternating points of view from Freya to Maryanne and back, we see a complex set of relationships unfolding, and Roy sits with brooding menace over everything. Newcastle, a place I don't know, is depicted convincingly as a dead-end town populated by dead-beat dropkicks. Those who show any spark of life seem to be shunned by their peers until they buckle to the pressure to under-achieve. Its not going work wonders for the Novocastrian tourist agency. The novel builds the tension very well until it reaches a heartbreaking denouement that, unusually in a novel, evokes a feeling of strong anger. I look forward to reading more of Michael Sala. ****0
  4. Giving birth grammar

    That can sometimes mean something different entirely!
  5. Dunbar

    Dunbar is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series – a series of commissioned novels to re-interpret Shakespeare plays in the modern world. Dunbar is King Lear. The novel is set in the twilight days of Henry Dunbar, a Canadian media mogul. His two elder daughters, Megan and Abigail, have committed him to a secure nursing home in the Lake District having bribed a doctor to declare him insane. Their goal is to seize control of his multi-billion dollar business empire. Meanwhile, his third daughter, Florence, has fallen out with the family and lives in gilded seclusion on a ranch in Wyoming, cut out of the family business but seemingly still able to access the untold wealth. Florence decides to rescue Dunbar, but is thwarted as Dunbar has already made his escape from the nursing home… King Lear works, as a play, because it uses the medium of theatre, the viewer accepts the difference in cultural values, and because at heart it was about language rather than plot. Retelling the story as a 21st century novel is problematic on a number of fronts. Firstly, the plot feels worn out; we know what happens. Secondly, Elizabethans may have felt sympathy towards an old king, abused by his ambitious daughters – but in today’s society it is hard to feel sympathy for a global media plutocrat. Thirdly, whereas on the stage we accept the immediacy of the action, by moving to a novel we feel more need of backstories that are simply not there in Dunbar; without them the characters’ motives are unknown and it just feels like a lot of running around furiously. And finally, no harm to Edward St Aubyn, but the language in Dunbar is ordinary. Overall, this feels like an unnecessary work that was commissioned by a patron rather than being led by the writer’s own heart. It re-tells a story that didn’t need retelling, through the wrong medium and focussing on the things in the original that mattered least. I didn’t believe in the story, the characters or the world they lived in. It has its moments – some of the scenes out in the Cumbrian wilderness were effective and the drip-feeding of Peter Walker’s fate was very well done, but not enough to really come together as a work in its own right. Two and a half stars.
  6. Giving birth grammar

    Language is about communicating ideas. Things that help to get the idea across are welcome. So. We have an idea of a baby. It's small and screams. We have an idea of a boy. It is medium height, has scabby knees and goes to school. We have an idea of a baby boy. It is small, screams and wears blue. We have an idea of a hamster. It is small and furry. If we say that Mrs X gave birth to a baby, we have an accurate image but we don't know the sex. If we say that Mrs X gave birth to a boy, we might have a mismatch between our idea of giving birth and our idea of a boy. If we say that Mrs X gave birth to a hamster, the mismatch becomes obviously comical and we can't process the information to create an idea. So to help the idea along, we say Mrs X gave birth to a baby boy and it conveys the idea of the baby and the idea of maleness. Strictly speaking, we can infer the babyness, but we find it much easier to process the information and develop the idea if the baby and boy are both expressed. And I guess because everyone says it independently of one another, it demonstrates that we must find it useful at some level.
  7. 150 yrs of The Shipping Forecast

    I remember my brother and I driving our mother crazy by trying to sing along with the flute part.
  8. His Bloody Project

    Wrong language Clavain. :sad face: Though worth asking why we are all speaking Beurla if Scotland and England are equal partners in the Union.
  9. His Bloody Project

    B 'urrainn dhuibh Gàidhlig ionnsachadh!
  10. Problems with posting

    You must be the last person on Earth who still signs out of websites.
  11. C*******s is Coming

    We have mince pies in Coles. And Christmas puddings.
  12. Riot Days

    Way back in 2012, Pussy Riot hit the headlines. Doubtless assisted by their memorable name, this group of masked women interrupted a church service in Moscow to protest against Vladimir Putin. Three of the group were caught and put on trial, two of them were jailed. This is the story of Maria Alyokhina, one of the jailed women. Riot Days is a short book, covering the lead up to the protest, the protest itself, a brief spell on the run, the trial and the prison colonies. Alyokhina narrates in a somewhat clipped, jerky fashion. Especially at the start, there is a real lack of any sense of why she and her colleagues are doing what they are doing, They don't like Putin, but there is no hint of why they don't like him. It is an almost childlike push back against authority for no reason. This continues through the trial and prison. Alyokhina rebels against everything. She argues and pushes back in a system in which to do so has always been counter-productive. And always it seems to be without particular reason. A battle fought over a padlock that has been imposed because of a refusal to follow an instruction. Although this defies explanation, it lifts an otherwise ordinary retelling of the Gulag Archipelago to a new level. We see how a system manages to both live by an unbending framework of rules and make things up as it goes along. It is Kafkaesque, but very real. And there is a fascinating portrait of someone who is contrary regardless of consequence - and what happens when she takes on the monolithic system. In honesty, this is not a great piece of writing. It is clunky, linear and ends abruptly. But it is so compelling it is hard to turn away. ****0
  13. Tin Man

    Tin Man bills itself as "the most moving book I have ever read". It was good, but I wouldn't go that far. Tin Man is a short novel that gives us two sides of a triangle - one told by Ellis, a middle aged panel beater at the Cowley car works, told in the 1990s and one told by Michael, a gay journalist whose life turns upside down in the 1980s as those around him fall victim to AIDS. Ellis and Michael had been childhood friends who welcomed Annie into their lives to form the third side of the triangle. Much of the novel is told in memories, so although there is a "current" story told in the moment, the back story some decades before is what matters. That back story was about childhood and youth, love and discovery. It was about forming a tight trio who could take on a hostile world dominated by stern parents and privileged students. This meandering back and forth over time can be quite tricky to navigate. It is not always well signposted and further complicated by the fragmented and non-linear nature of the "current" narrative. But at the same time, it's not a cryptic crossword and you can work it out. There are great evocations of place - Oxford, London and France - from the 1980s and 1990s when I knew them well. And it is great to see East Oxford getting featured; most Oxford novels never venture far from ivy-clad quadrangles so the mention of the Leys, South Park, Divinity Road and Headington is very refreshing. The town perspective on the university is not heard sufficiently often and Sarah Winman presented it convincingly. By the same token, I thought Michael's portrayal of the London scene in the 1980s in the grip of AIDS was really convincing. Michael, for me, was the most realised character. Even above this, the real gem was the opening sequence where Ellis's mother wins a painting (a replica of Van Gogh's sunflowers) at a raffle. This managed to convey hope and freedom from an oppressive marriage and the drudgery of poverty. The sunflower theme and colours come up as a leitmotif throughout the novel and, like the reproduction painting, are always somehow tainted or compromised. But where the novel fell short, I felt, was in its portrayal of the relationships. I never quite believed in the triangle, and never quite believed in Ellis. The other relationships seem to be well done, it is just this central one that isn't quite right. And that is a pity, because that is very much what the novel was supposed to be about and it lessened the impact of what was otherwise a really rather lovely book. ****0
  14. Smile

    Roddy Doyle does gritty, real life Dublin life with a sense of humour and a great ear for dialogue. It's what he is famous for. Recently he published a series of short dialogues on current affairs, narrated over a pint of beer in a bar (Two Pints). These were previously published in newspapers and were, at best, ephemeral. So in Smile, where we meet Victor Forde down the pub, having a series of conversations over beer, it is difficult to disengage from Two Pints and see the conversation as something more deep and meaningful. But once this hurdle is overcome, we start to see the emergence of a complex story of love lost, unfulfilled promise and a brutal childhood in a Christian Brothers school. The narrative switches between the past and the conversation in the bar, initially with Eddie Fitzpatrick, a former school student, and latterly with a group of regulars. And Victor is something of the celebrity, having once been a journalist and a social commentator on the radio himself and married (and separated) from Rachel, a celebrity chef, TV host and founder of Meals on Heels. So as you would imagine, he has stories... As the novel progresses, the intrigue builds. Eddie has always been a bit creepy, but he starts to become more and more sinister. And it becomes more and more apparent that all is not well with Victor. But the end, when it comes, is weird. That is a surprise as Roddy Doyle has never really done weird before. To start with, you kinda feel WTF? This is not Roddy Doyle as we know him. But give it a day and it will start to fall into place and it is clear that it has been done with a very delicate hand. With hindsight, some of the weirdness was always there, and when it becomes apparent it does not detract in any way from what has gone before. It is so difficult to describe without spoilers, but please please please give it a go. This is poignant and deals sensitively with one of the most difficult aspects of recent Irish social history. The final result is that Victor feels like a real person who deserves our support. And there are many more Victors out there. *****
  15. Swing Time

    Unnamed narrator, a brown girl growing up in Brent, gets the dream job working as a general factotum for an international rock star called Aimee who is really Madonna wearing a Kylie mask. The story dips back and forth in our narrator's life. There was a friendly childhood rivalry with Tracey - who lived fun the flats on the wrong side of the road. There was the job working for a youth TV company. There was the mother's political career as she became MP for Brent West. There were romances. The really constant line, though, is Aimee. This is a good insight into the world of the super-rich; the superstars with retinues, with diaries chock-full of trivia, with a quest for new challenges when everything has already been achieved. So we follow our narrator, following Aimee to The Gambia where the plan is to set up a school for girls. Aimee has the big idea, her retinue have to make it happen. It is a classic case of imposing western values on a developing country; the school is not what the community needs but, by God, it is what they are going to get. But the Gambian line starts to get bogged down with personal relationships. As the Aimee party all seem to hook up with Gambians, it gets mighty dull. Do I care that A fancies B and B fancies C? I think not. And the Tracey line is also interesting, although it is not quite clear how friendly rivalry in teenage became hostility in adulthood. Tracey is a dancer and pursues her dream. Our narrator doesn't really have a dream but pursues it anyway. There was supposed to be a significant moment, but when it is revealed it carries too much weight. There is enough in the book to make the reader smile. There is pop culture, satire, race, class, politics. But there is also this saggy, baggy middle that goes on way too long and allows the interest to wane. I didn't buy the ending at all - which required our narrator to become a disgruntled employee and for her employer to discover that fact. Both these premises were implausible. But at least it brought a long novel to a somewhat belated end. This sounds negative, but on balance the good did outweigh the bad. But if only there had been a stronger editor... ***00