The pizza comes in a box with the words, ‘Your fresh baked pizza!’ printed on top of the lid. He takes a felt tip pen and crosses out the ‘y’. Though this is still incorrect, being the plural. Whilst he eats, he watches whatever is on, which turns out to be a program about dinner parties. Once the pizza box is empty and he is full, he takes the felt tip pen again and decorates the grease-stained cardboard with the names of all his favourite naked women from the internet.
They tell each other all kinds of things. The function of this is not clear. They do not take notes, but then most of the telling they are doing is not the telling of facts – it is ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ or things that exist somewhere on a sliding scale between the two. But then, the act of telling is established as fact, a certain reality has been constructed. This needs writing down to make sense of it all – and afterwards it cannot be denied that it has been written, though all other details surely remain up for dispute.
We see each other, years later, after everything.
“How are you getting on, how are things?”
“Oh, you know. Everything seems to be going fine.”
The word ‘seems’ hangs there in the air.
On the street we see people who have lost their minds.
There is no standard unit for measuring difficulty.
On the back cover, Patience is given the subtitle, “a cosmic timewarp deahttop to the primordial of infinite love”.
To which, I might expand: an anxious, obsessive suicide mission splattered across time, vivid with elemental injustice, powered by gloriously unexplainable impossible-improbable technology and revenge, populated by fatally-flawed heroes, illustrated with raw conviction, oddly unputdownable trip towards a Hollywood happy ending that remains characteristically unsettling.
Revisiting books you read as a child / teenager is always strange. Mort is the fourth book in the Discworld series and I was probably about twelve when I read this for the first time. The idea of Death looking to employ an apprentice is a trademark Pratchett conceit and he sets it up and then sets off on an adventure. The ensuing story is not as rich as later Discworld novels – Pratchett definitely became a more ambitious and complex storyteller as time went on. But the playful tone, the patter of dialogue, the jokes and wry observations are all as artfully realised as ever, and throughout this surprisingly short book (surely it’s lost a hundred pages in the last 20 years – I remember it being longer) it is clear that the author is enjoying writing.
At times, I wasn’t sure whether this book was supposed to be a novel or a collection of short stories strung together by an ongoing narrative. But I think part of the point of it is that it doesn’t have to decide one way or the other.
The late-teen narrator Araceli and her neighbour, a writer named Alba Cambo, are the twin drivers of the narrative and perhaps the books flighty nature can be ascribed to the teenage protaganist. We hear stories told by various characters connected to these two, stories that would seem to function as standalone pieces. There is also a short story by Alba Cambo, and some tales from Araceli’s time attending a college for translators. These various stories are interconnected, but they certainly do not come together towards a cohesive ending. They also all share a sense of unease, a smidgen of macabre and comic despair.
Wolff delivers all this with enough charm and wit to carry it off, and it ends up being a great advert for work not being mangled in to a more acceptable shape, and just being allowed to be what it is supposed to be.
He sat on the sand to eat his ice-cream, despite the fact he was wearing office clothes, because… well, it didn’t matter anymore did it? He checked his phone but there was no news and he could only assume that his wife had not returned home yet, or that the neighbours had not raised the alarm – perhaps the fire had been contained inside the house? Admittedly he didn’t know as much as he could, or should, about exactly how a house fire spreads, though this was maybe something he could have researched during the day, as soon as he had realised his mistake. He cursed himself again, if only he had remembered to turn off the-
From along the beach, he heard children’s squeals and looked just in time to see a horse roaring out of the waves, and it took a moment to realise that the horse’s owner was in attendance and was now patting the animal and gently introducing it to the children. At this point he revised his initial reaction and accepted that the horse had not roared out of the sea at all, merely emerged, trotting – and the fact that he had not been expecting a horse to appear did not make this was a violent act.
Once he had finished his ice-cream, he headed for home. It was strange, he reflected, that everything seemed so normal – no black smoke in the sky, no conference of fire engines in the road. He felt tired, as he stood at the front door and slipped the key in to the lock, looking forward to lying down, even if it had to be on a charred black stump of a bed. His wife greeted him cheerfully, walking towards the door through their unburnt home. And now it felt like he had slipped off a burdensome coat, shed troubling realities and whatever had really happened here today, it had righted itself and realities had done what realities can do.
There was a crisis in the football tournament – all the games were finishing 0-0. No one was scoring any goals and no one was conceding any goals. There had been nine games so far, and so far there had been no goals.
The final scores in the games had been 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0 and 0-0.
At first, fans and pundits alike denounced the tournament as boring, but it soon became clear that now everyone was anticipating the first goal so much that they were rapt as never before, their eyes glued to the action so as not to miss it.
As far as the players were concerned, they were nervous wrecks.
The attackers had seen attackers on other teams fail to score and had lost all confidence in their ability – it now seemed impossible to imagine that anyone could ever score a goal again. They tried as hard as they could, but now they were trying so hard that they could barely function – when they received the ball they were so tense they could hardly move.
Meanwhile, the defenders were more focussed on keeping the ball away from their goal than ever before. It was clear to them that to be part of the defence that finally conceded the first goal of this tournament would be a source of eternal embarrassment.
Three more games finished without a goal being scored. 0-0, 0-0, 0-0.
It was beginning to become something quite beautiful. When fans were filling out their wallcharts, they could see each little white box filled with a perfect round zero. They watched the games from the edges of their seats and now when the players contrived to come close to scoring, they did not pray for that elusive goal, instead they crossed their fingers and hoped that the ball would somehow stay out, that the run would be preserved.
And so, just when it seemed that there was nothing anybody could do to guarantee that a goal would be scored at some point, the realisation dawned that there was nothing anybody could do to guarantee that a goal would not be scored. In fact, it began to seem dully inevitable.
And then. In the fifteenth match of the tournament. A defender, perhaps now lackadaisical in the asumption that a goal could not be scored, let the ball run past him. It allowed an attacker to run through. He, perhaps now carefree having given up all hope of ever scoring, swung his foot at the ball. He struck it cleanly, it arced up in to the air, beat the keeper and hit the back of the net.
For a moment, none of this seemed real, but once everyone realised it was, the overriding feeling was one of disappointment. Even fans of the team who had just scored turned away in disgust, before turning back to hurl abuse at their players.
There were some minor riots in the streets.
Nobody paid any attention whatsoever to the rest of the tournament.
Problems in the morning,
cereal on trousers, duff lightbulb no time
drizzle, coat wet through.
This does not quite work, but then nor should it.
Analysis Of The Find
“You’re right that is an interesting thing.”
“Yeah! I told you, didn’t I? I knew you’d find it interesting.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“I think I’ll just write it down in words, and people can enjoy it that way.”
A slice of hot buttered toast
in a solid block of ice.
After the competition closes
they print the email addresses
pack them up in cardboard boxes
the boxes have a pleasant weight
they heft the boxes and stack them
they are pleased with what they see
they have worked hard and done well
they have a lot – enough email addresses
to keep them going all through the winter
I came to this book not because I was a particularly huge fan of Viv Albertine’s band The Slits (though I do like their album Cut) but because I had read some glowing reviews for this autobiography. It covers the guitarist’s childhood, time in and around the punk scene, motherhood, and is written with candour and energy.
For me, the most interesting part was following the disbanding of The Slits, i.e. the end of everything Viv had worked towards and dreamt of for a number of years. As a reader you suddenly realise that the main thing for which the autobiographer is known is over, and yet we are only halfway through the autobiography. Even just reading about it, there is a profound sense of emptiness, a worry that there is nothing that can happen next.
As a novelist and founding member of Belle & Sebastian, Stuart David is well placed to write the story of the band’s formation. It should be noted that this book only covers the very early years of the band – if you are looking for an account of their progression towards being the band they are now, try Paul Whitelaw’s Just A Modern Rock Story, though I found this to be far less personable, fun and evocative than In The All Night Café.
The basic plot is as follows: Stuart D moves to Glasgow to try and start a band, where he meets Stuart Murdoch (who you might recognise as the de-facto leader of B&S) who is also trying to start a band. Stuart D moves in to a shared flat and meets various characters, and they both enroll on a ramshackle government-sponsored course in music and nervously frequent open mic nights.
The only other book I have read by Stuart David is the fantastically sweary The Peacock Manifesto, and in comparison this has such a relaxed, easy reading tone.
Of course, the book ends with a triumphant B&S, Stuart M’s band, well on the road to international success times. As such, this is a memoir written by a man who did not get his band up and running, but did help another man get his band going. The victory is bittersweet, but Stuart D takes it all in his stride – he’s along for the adventure. He comes across as a man resolutely not cut out for fame, and partially explains why he left the band after their fourth album.
(I also commend it for it’s cheeky title, though I won’t give anything away about that).
I don’t know if there is a patron saint of curiosity (or possibly, for the curious?) but if there isn’t, Richard Feynman would make a good one. This book of anecdotes by the renowned Noble prize-winning physicist does feature some physics, but mainly it just features Feynman being curious about things and then finding ways to find things out about them. He is intelligent, mischevious, frequently funny. If Richard Feynman were writing this review he would probably have to go and find out more about patron saints, just to make sure that first line is correct. His approach is pretty inspirational, and I did try to find out if there was one, but I couldn’t find any relevant information, so maybe there isn’t one.
This is a decent introduction to various corners of the internet which are either completely hidden or ensconced in communities. I say ‘decent introduction’ because Bartlett does not offer in-depth technical explanations of things like TOR and Bitcoin, though he does do a good job of giving the reader sufficient information to be able to understand the difference they make to the world.
His real strength is in exploring the human stories behind the various online personas he encounters – trolls, camgirls, libertarians. He is an entertaining and personable writer capable of both getting his interviewees to open up, and then giving fair assessment and by the end of this book I felt I had slightly increased my understanding of why people do the things they do online.