Finished reading: The Crow Road by Iain Banks πŸ“š

You will, I think, be far from surprised to learn that this is a reread. At least the third read, in fact. I suggested it as a possibility for my book club, and when it wasn’t chosen I decided it was time anyway.

There are still books that should be in The Great Banksie Reread that I’ve only read once: Stonemouth and The Quarry. But I’ll get to those eventually.

One oddity about The Crow Road is that I’ve never blogged about it before. Yet I’ve loved it since I first read the opening line, at a convention in Glasgow in 1992, if memory serves.

‘Just read the opening line and you’ll buy it,’ my friend Steve said, when I was hesitant about shelling out the huge Β£10 price for the hardback. I had already read all of Banks’s earlier books, so I was definitely planning on getting it, but waiting for the paperback was the norm.

‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’ Steve was right. I bought it, and all he subsequent books, in hardback.

Memory does serve, but not all that well: I’ve written all that before, it turns out, after Banksie died. Though it remains slightly unclear which convention it was that year.

A book is more than its opening line, though. The Crow Road is a family drama, set mostly in a fictional Scottish town not far from where I grew up. Also in Glasgow, a non-fictional city where the titular road exists. The metaphorical one is everywhere, of course: it means death, in the vernacular of that exploding grandmother.

I read it with more of a writerly eye this time, I think, and I wondered whether the structural games really add anything to the whole. I don’t mean the parts that are effectively speculative: the main character, Prentice McHoan, trying to work out what might have happened to his missing uncle. Nor the flashbacks in third-person, when the main narrative is in first. That makes sense, as they’re showing us Prentice’s childhood, or things that happened to other family members when Prentice wasn’t there.

I’m more thinking about a couple of flashes forward, that hint about where the many narrative is going to go. They aren’t enough to really make the reader speculate, and they happen when we’re already well into the story, so they aren’t needed to make us keep going.

They do no harm, though, and maybe Banksie needed to use them to keep his own interest up. And there’s nothing wrong with them, or that.

I do find it hard to explain why this book is so compelling. I think it’s probably his best non-SF book. It’s probably my favourite, though it’s up there. I’ve long thought it was partly cultural for me, in that the characters and locations feel like people and places I knew growing up. But that can’t explain its broader appeal.

I guess Banksie was just a great writer.

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Great sense of relief this morning. Starmer’s speech makes me feel like it’s the early days of a better nation.

Well, let’s hope this exit poll is something close to accurate. Labour landslide, as the whole country was hoping for. (What do you mean, not the whole country?) Me, I’m not counting any chickens. At all. I have no chickens.

Andy and Jamie walking out to Centre Court, and the BBC are treating like a final. Quite rightly.

As we settle in for the long night ahead, John O’Farrell’s piece from last weekend is worth a read: Are you suffering from symptoms of hope? Here’s how to cope with the prospect of a Labour victory.

To the Polls!

And don’t forget your photo ID.

It feels like 97, but I have a niggling fear that we’ve been played and it could still go all 92 on us. Articles like this one: Tories concede defeat with 24 hours until general election polls open, from The Independent yesterday, feel like tactics, more than news.

The intent being, of course, to reduce the anti-Tory turnout (and the overall turnout).

So go and vote. Please. Don’t let these fuckers do any more harm to our country.

One More Week to Hang On

I seem to have largely stopped blogging. Certainly, as a general election approaches, I’ve written nothing publicly about politics.

Consider: in just over a week we could be rid of this appalling Tory government. The Labour one we get in its place (or, just possibly, a coalition) will probably not be much to write home about, but even if its policies are far from perfect, its plans to tax the rich and invest in the country’s infrastructure far weaker than I’d like: things can hardly be worse.

Indeed, they can only get better, right?

I saw Keir Starmer speak at the Fabian Society a few years back. 2020, surprisingly, but January, before the pandemic really got going. He came across there as a thoroughly good and decent, left-wing, progressive guy. I can’t remember anything he said specifically, but it was positive, you know?

Now, he’s generally seen as timid, scared of appearing to be too left-wing, that sort of thing, or worse. While at the same time seemingly fierce at purging the left of the party. And poor on women’s rights, to say nothing of his dealings with women MPs and candidates.

Still, after the shitshow of the last few years, I’ll accept competence, as long as it’s not right-wing competence.

Finished reading: Beyond the Light Horizon by Ken MacLeod πŸ“š

Ken finishes his wonderful Lightspeed Trilogy with a flourish. Not all the problems are solved or mysteries explained, but that’s life. All the main characters get good conclusions. And a yellow submarine in space is still an astonishingly cool idea.

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I keep thinking I should write about the current state of what we are calling AI. Trouble is, I still can’t quite decide what I think about it. Or why it makes me feel the way it does. Or even what, exactly, that way is.

Currently reading: Beyond the Light Horizon by Ken MacLeod πŸ“š

Not so much currently reading as nearly finished. The final volume in Ken’s excellent trilogy, and looking forward to seeing him at Worldcon in Glasgow in August.

Finished reading: Trust by Hernan Diaz πŸ“š

Forget I hadn’t posted about this. I finished it almost two weeks ago. The latest book-club book, and not the sort of thing I’d choose normally. It’s the story of a financier around the time of the Wall Street Crash in the 1920s, told from four different points of view. Which one do we trust? (See what he did with the title?)

It’s pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the praise heaped upon it by reviewers, as quoted all over the cover, would suggest.

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Doctor Who discussions are going to get confusing. Seems Disney are calling the Christmas special episode 1, ‘Space Babies’ episode 2, and so on; while the BBC call ‘Space Babies’ episode 1.

1 & 2 have their moments, but it doesn’t really get going till 3, ‘Boom!’, when Moffat takes over.

The Man with Two Brains, 1983 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

I like Steve Martin movies a lot. Or I did like them back when I watched them years ago. It's been a while.

This doesn't stand up as well as I might have hoped, and there are some downright shocking moments, with one casual use of several racial slurs.

But it still has its moments, still has the pointy bird and the scum queen, so I'll give it that.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical, 2022 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

We've seen the stage version, seen the older film, read the book to the kids, and this is probably the maddest of the lot.

Tim Minchin's songs are excellent, of course, and the young lead, Alisha Weir, carries the whole thing so well. And Emma Thompson has come such a long way from Suzi Kettles. whom I still always think of her as.


Spotlight, 2015 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…

We saw this maybe back when it came out, or not long after. It's really good, stands up incredibly well. The story of how an investigative team at the Boston Globe, the titular Spotlight, broke the story of the vast web of child abuse by Catholic priests, and the long-standing coverup by the church hierarchy.

Finished reading: Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh πŸ“š

Actually finished this a few weeks ago, and forgot to write about it. I don’t know why, because it’s absolutely fantastic. Space opera of the biggest scope, yet a tightly-focused character-driven story, and a bildungsroman.

The Earth has already been destroyed when we start reading. Our heroine, Valkyr, or Kyr for short, lives on humanity’s last outpost (or is it?), where they train for revenge.

But there’s so much more to it than that.

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One of those times when someone is trending on Twitter and it is what you fear. Sad to hear about the death of Steve Albini.

Beverly Hills Cop, 1984 - β˜…β˜…β˜…

Stands up well after all these years. I saw it in the cinema when it first came out. Eddie Murphy is great as the titular cop, Axel Foley.

It's number 18 on this list of fifty best comedy films we've been using lately. I don't think it deserves to be quite that high, but it certainly deserves to be on it.

Perfect Days, 2023 - β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

Wim Wenders's strangely compelling, meditative piece about a man who cleans public toilets in Tokyo. Sounds like it shouldn't be anything, but is the best thing I've seen all year so far.

Good use of music, with our hero listening to the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, and others, as Hirayama plays cassettes in his car.

It's far deeper and more complex than all this would suggest.

Finished reading: My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid πŸ“š

The latest bookclub book. Kincaid’s brother died in 1996 of AIDS. Kincaid herself was estranged from her family for 20 years, so she saw her brother when he was three, and then again when he was 33, and dying.

Unsurprisingly this is more about her than about him. She looks at feelings towards her birth family: does she love her brother? Does she love her mother? ‘No’ is her conclusion for both. But she examines different kinds of love, different ways of loving.

Parts of it are kind of like cubist art in a way: examining the same place, person, or event, at different times, in the way the cubists would try to show a subject from different angles at the same time.

The writing flows very smoothly despite some impressively- if not excessively-long sentences.

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