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Ink, by Hal Duncan (Books 2007, 3)

So, The Book of All Hours is finished. And fine, fine stuff it is, too. This volume seems somehow more polished than the first , but perhaps not as exciting, as startling.

The story is brought to a conclusion of sorts, but as you might expect, it’s ambiguous, open to interpretation. This is, of course, not a bad thing: in fact, I thoroughly approve.

I’m not, though, going to try to give any details of it, or to explain what it ls about; just read it: it’s great.

Twenty Years of Foolin’ and They Put You in the Pub

At the end of Potter Week we joined the queue in Borders in Islington at about twenty to eleven; we got served at about 1am (and bought a lot more than just two copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I might say, thereby justifying notions of the reduced prices as loss-leaders).

On the Saturday there was a picnic-party for some friends who are leaving Hackney, as well as much packing of the car. Then at stupid o’clock on the Sunday morning we headed off to Dover for a ferry to France, and two weeks camping in Brittany. My son finished the book on the journey; about 37 hours after its release. I took a couple of days more, and then read it again straight away. Which is something that I don’t think I’ve ever done before. This is not necessarily because it was so great, but more because I read it so fast the first time. Rowling is a great plotter, so sometimes the pages turn too fast.

Also, I’ll be honest, I kind of didn’t want it all to be over.

The holiday was great. Mixed weather, of course, but no worse than here, I think

Then after a week back at work I find myself hitting an important anniversary: Today I’ve have been in this job for twenty years. Twenty years! It’s hard to credit. I feel like a poster boy for the phrase, “Where did the time go?”

Not only is it the same job, it’s my first job. The company name has changed several times due to takeovers, but it’s the same place, and quite a lot of the same people. It’s been good, on the whole, or I wouldn’t have stayed. But I’m beginning to wonder whether it might be time for a change.

Tonight, though, I’ll be in the pub. On the roof terrace, if the weather holds.

We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver (Books 2007, 2)

Wow. This is an amazing piece of work. The mother of a high-school killer writes letters to her husband, describing Kevin’s life as she experienced it. I can’t write a lot about it without getting heavy on the spoilers, but I will just say this.

When I was a few pages in I was getting a strong sense of this absence of a voice: the husband was not to be heard. But then I thought two things. First, all epistolary novels are like that to some extent; though it is possible for the letter-writer to refer to things their correspondent has written in return.

Second, it occurred to me that Shriver, by excluding the man’s voice, might have been making a point about the relative exclusion of women’s voices in literature. In other words, the way I was feeling might be akin to how Jean Rhys must have felt when she read Jane Eyre.

I don’t, now, think that she was particularly trying to do that, though the effect of the early chapters is still there.

I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers, except: highly recommended.

Potter Week

OK, I declare this the start of Potter Week. I’m just on my way to Stratford, where we’ll eat at Pizza Express, before going to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Then this time next week we’ll be getting ready to head out to a bookshop for a midnight launch party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It is a time steeped in magic.

Son of a Preacher Man

So, Tony has gone, and now Gordon is with us. How will things change? We don’t know, of course; but we can hope.

And it’s only fair to pay tribute to Blair’s accomplishments; for they are many, and many of them are good. Unfortunately, there are many that are not.

Hmmm, have I said all this before? Yeah, well I guess I have.

Curiously (as you may think), it’s never been Iraq that really got to me. Iraq was a mistake: a big, very stupid one; but perhaps a genuine one. By which I mean that even Blair (as well as Parliament) may have been misled by the dodgy dossier; and certainly by the curious mystique or glamour that he seems to see around Bush.

But of course, it’s the assaults on civil liberties at home, and the support for the US’s torture regime, that really blew it for me.

Oh well, Northern Ireland turned out well, there’s still the Human Rights Act, the age of consent was equalised for gays (and Section 28 repealed), and so on.

Things got better; and worse as well. What’s next depends on the Son of a Preacher Man.

Redemption Song: the Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer, by Chris Salewicz (Books 2007, 1)

Ah, Joe. I can hardly believe that it’s already four years since we lost him. I started reading this on Christmas day, and finished at about two in the morning on the 14th of January: exactly three weeks later. If I read a book every three weeks that would be seventeen in a year, which isn’t very many. Anyway, during that time I completely immersed myself in Strummeriana; as well as reading the book I listened to little music other than The Clash or Joe’s solo stuff, and I also put my bit in on the various Wikipedia articles.

And none if it can make up for the fact that he’s gone.

In fact, reading the book only makes it worse: it reinforces the sense of what we’ve lost. He was on a great creative upswing when he died, as the the posthumous Streetcore album showed. Its opening track, ‘Coma Girl’ (which, we learn, is about his daughter Lola) was the single best song he wrote since ‘Trash City’, at least.

Alas, we’ll never hear anything new from him again.

Or at least, not truly new: it seems from reading the book that there might be quite a few unreleased recordings out there, and he worked on more film soundtracks than I knew about.

Most interestingly of all, perhaps, is this piece of information. Around the time that Joe and the Mescaleros were writing and recording Global A Go-Go, the second of the comeback albums after the wilderness years, he also sent a set of lyrics to Mick Jones. He seemed to be suggesting that he was considering an alternative to the Mescaleros album. Mick wrote tunes for them and sent them back, but heard no more about it. Some time later, after Global A Go-Go had been released, Mick asked what had happened to the songs. Joe said, “Those weren’t for Global A Go-Go; those were the next Clash album.”

There’s no suggestion that he ever recorded any of them; but you never know: one day Mick might, when he’s not too busy with Carbon/Silicon.

What of the book itself, though? Well, it’s certainly compelling reading (at least if you’re a fan like me). It is flawed in some ways, of course. It can be hard to follow the early sections about Joe’s family, without an actual family tree to clarify things, thought that’s not a big problem.

Despite its size and comprehensive nature, there are parts that come across as too anecdotal and perhaps incomplete. Certainly there are places where I would have liked to have a lot more detail. But a book this size could be written about The Clash alone (several have, of course, but perhaps none quite the size of this one).

Still, it’s totally a must-have for any Clash fan, or solo Joe fan (can you be the latter but not the former?)

I wonder what it would have been like if The Clash had kept going and had become like U2 (who were heavily inspired by them)? In a good sense: I listened to an interview with Salewicz, where he pointed out that, though Joe didn’t like the distance from the audience at stadium gigs, he was very good at handling them. So imagine them doing something like the Zoo TV tour (indeed, when I saw footage of that, all the TVs as backdrop reminded me instantly of the Clash Mk II ‘Out of Control’ tour).

The Last of the 2006 “Book Notes” Posts

Nearly halfway through the year and I haven’t finished posting last year’s Book Notes? Shocking. Oh well, here are the last few in one bunch.

26: The Terminal Zone, by Andrew J Wilson

My friend Andrew wrote this play back in 1993 or so, and produced it at the Edinburgh Fringe. It has now been published as a chapbook by Writers’ Bloc, the spoken-word performance group that grew out of the East Coast SF Writers’ group.

In it, Rod Serling, the writer and presenter of The Twilight Zone, appears; or rather, two sides of his personality appear, performed by two actors, and indulge in a dialogue. This is the story, you might say, of Rod Serling talking to himself.

27: Dicks and Deedees, by Jaime Hernandez

A collection of Love and Rockets stories by Jaime. I haven’t read any of these for years, but all our favourites are here: Maggie and Hopey, of course, and Penny Century, and HR Costigan, whose story reaches a conclusion of sorts.

His storytelling technique can make it hard sometimes, to tell where we are chronologically: he’ll tell the history of years in a character’s life in the space of half a dozen or a dozen panels, with nothing other than the pictures and dialogue to indicate that the time has changed. And yet somehow you can work out what is happening, and over what period.

The artwork is gorgeous in its simplicity, of course, and he always has moving stories to tell.

28: Tamara Drewe, by Posy Simmonds

This graphic novel was published in weekly installments in the Saturday issue of The Guardian over a year or so. Actually, most weeks there were two episodes.

I’m told that it’s based on, or at least strongly inspired by, Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy; he is one of my unfortunate missing authors, so I can’t comment on that myself. I can say, however, that it’s a great story, very moving, and a fine way of bringing graphic fiction to the mainstream reader (not that this is the first time The Guardian has done this: they published Posy’s Gemma Bovary a few years ago).

If you missed it, you can probably still read (at least some of) it on the website (though personally I find that unsatisfying because of the image quality). But I expect it’ll be out in paperback by now (in fact, I was surprised they didn’t get it out in time for Christmas).

29: Spin, by Robert Charles Wilson

This is an absolute stormer of a book. A family drama, of sorts, set across thirty years and three billion years simultaneously.

The time is about now, and one night (in North America, at least), the stars go out. And the planets and the moon. But not the sun.

The Earth has been enclosed, by an entity or entities unknown (or is it a natural phenomenon?) in a membrane that closes off the outside universe, while allowing enough sunlight through for the ecosystem to function normally. Inside the membrane, time is slowed down, so that outside it the universe appears to spin on at a vastly accelerated rate.

But it’s really all about relationships. Highly recommended.

Guardian: “Straw signals rethink on ID cards”

Well, well, well. Maybe things will get better after all:

Jack Straw, widely expected to replace John Reid as the home secretary, today clearly signalled that the future of the national identity card scheme would be in the melting pot when Gordon Brown becomes prime minister next month.

Mr Straw - who is Mr Brown’s leadership campaign manager and has a long record of cabinet opposition to a compulsory ID card system - indicated that the future of the £5.75bn project would be under review in the new government

The future’s bright; the future’s Brown, maybe?

New Dawn Fades

So there we have it: Tony will soon be gone. I had forgotten some of the good things: the minimum wage; civil partnerships (though why not for het couples?); the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly; the London Mayor and Assembly; Northern Ireland, of course. Even the hunting and smoking bans.

But Iraq; the dodgy dossier; detention without trial; ID cards; ASBOs; and so on and on.

You’re a well-respected man, but bullshit! You could’ve been great,” as The Waterboys once put it. Actually I wouldn’t describe Blair as “well-respected”, so that doesn’t really work.

Should the government go to the country when the party leader steps down? Many think so, but actually, I largely don’t. In theory we live in a representative democracy. Citizens vote for a representative for their local area, and the party with the most seats forms a government. If the leader retires - or even is kicked out, though that does put a different complexion on things - that doesn’t change the position in parliament. And changing the leader does not necessarily mean a change of government.

On the other hand, calling an election wouldn’t be a bad thing for the country, except for one problem: we’d probably end up with a Tory government.

Though it shows how bad things have got when I find myself thinking that maybe a Tory government, if they would scrap ID cards, wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Now that’s a worrying thought.

Ten Years in an Open-necked Shirt

He could have been great, you know.

We could be sitting here now, raising a glass to the end of the reign of Britain’s greatest Prime Minister of the (loosely-bounded) century, if not ever. It wouldn’t have been hard. Look at the two before him: after they had finished their slash-and-burn attack on the economy and the welfare state, all he’d have had to do was put it back together, and things would have got better

And they did do some good; some things did get better. I’ve spoken before about my approval of the Human Rights Act, and despite its current problems, the NHS is, on the whole, in a better state than it was. And the economy has seen a kind and duration of stability that you just don’t get under the Tories (never trust a right-winger with your economy: they’re all about “invisible hands”, and they just don’t know how to run it properly; just look at the way Bush threw away the trillions that Clinton left him).

And the Africa thing. A real attempt at ending poverty in Africa. Now that would have been a legacy worth having.

But here we are, now. He’s squandered all the goodwill he had ten years ago, taken the country into an illegal war, and taken massively Orwellian steps towards the reduction of civil liberties. In years to come, when you search the net for the phrase “power corrupts”, you’ll find a picture of Tony Blair.

Don’t bang the door on your way out, Tony, and goodbye.

[tags]politics, tony blair, legacy, irag illegal war, id cards, power corrupts, new labour, things can only get better, 1997[/tags]