The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Tag Archives: book review

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Modern crime fiction is often cast off as being, for one reason or another, dross, it is the scummy underbelly of literature, read by lonely men on the train to work. Predictable for the first half, some ‘twists’ which aren’t as clever as they’d like to think, a moderately acceptable style of writing and usually based around around a Scottish police officer with a drinking problem, so unsurprisingly are never highly praised or generously given awards, because, well, they don’t deserve them. However, in my opinion, modern crime fiction is great, because it’s either really crap or exceptionally good, and usually all the latter takes is an ingenious, creative novelist willing to be striking and emigrate from the crime fiction mould. Yep, that’s all it takes. That shopping list of qualities is basically based on Cormac McCarthy, because, as evident from No Country For Old Men, he is one of the greatest modern American crime authors. He is, according to my incredibly irrelevant opinions, one of the best American Novelists ever in any context anyway, No Country … is now one of a number of his novels which I truly consider to be brilliant literature.

Men in great crime novels are always poor decision makers, and Llewellyn Moss is a prime example of this. I doubt I am not the only person who would avoid taking a large case of money I found in the centre of what was clearly a large drug deal gone drastically wrong, day old clots resting between the bundles of notes, burly Mexicans with holes through their foreheads laying next to it and a hell of a lot of evidence to suggest that someone who isn’t exactly Elmo would go a long way to retain his $2,000,000. This plot perfectly leads the book into becoming gritty and noir, somehow making Texas seem like even more of a dingy hellhole (apologies to all in Texas). The understated and integrated nature of the narrative, speech and imagery also further builds this brilliantly dark portrait of American rage and destruction, showing the chilling weakness and stupidity of man, and immense evil that lurks in the backdrop. If there is a character who has redeemable qualities then don’t expect them to live very long, because McCarthy makes it vigorously clear that in the society of this narrative, and a lot of societies generally, in America and elsewhere, brutality and lack of fear is what is ultimately victorious. A serious, dramatic, bloody book which is an utterly enthralling read, if not exactly a quick, lay back in your deckchair sort of book. Read it at home with plenty of time on your hands, because, for once this isn’t throw-away crime or western fiction but effortlessly deep and consuming. Please read and enjoy, regards 🙂

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne

Set in 1997, in Swansea, Submarine tells the story of ordinary teenager Oliver Tate. Any teenage boy, myself included, will relate to his comical and over-sexual narration, brilliantly sculpted by Dunthorne who makes Oliver a likeable and realistically awkward character and a superb narrator. His over complicated and ultra-descriptive narrative is itself at many times hilarious, his dairy entries a particular highlight in the book. The story itself is is rather normal and mundane, yet is still effortlessly entertaining through Oliver’s narration and the ridiculous conclusions which he jumps to; such as his theories that his mother’s Capoeira teacher indulges in equine sexual fantasies and his judgement that the man living at number 16 is a pansexual. Dunthorne however sidesteps the possibility of this purely being a teenager and some comic sexual actions, and he instead moves through an often bleak and always witty narrative without being as crass and crude as many teenage comedy novels are. Oliver is intelligent and self-assured however at times he is still incredibly human and, well, idiotic and incredulous.

This is, when push comes to shove, a coming-of-age story, although Oliver’s underlying innocence is prevalent throughout his well-meaning narrative. He often mistakes his knowledgeable nature for being experienced, constantly using verbose language yet not thinking enough to realise that it is best to be there for your girlfriend when her mum is diagnosed with a brain tumour. The narrative is perfectly pitched by Dunthorne and Oliver Tate is likeable even if he is precocious, Dunthorne mocking the manners and mindset of 15 year old boys trying to fit in, yet trying to be better than everyone-else simultaneously. Dunthorne extracts great comedy from Oliver’s over-analytical views, such as this paragraph. Some euphemisms make you sound like Martin Clove, a boy who, for psychological reasons, doesn’t have to use the communal showers after rugby. When we ask Martin what is wrong with his wang, he gets defensive and refers to it as his little man. This implies a kind of distant seemingly friendly relationship between him and his penis.

Last year Dunthorne’s book was turned into a film by Richard Ayoade, which is a great interpretation, although, as is often the case I prefer the book. This an excellent, incredibly easy read and a great one for this summer. Regards 🙂

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

It is rare that I would read a travelogue. For an 18 year old they are, for the most part, not that interesting. They are list of observations and facts rather than some elaborate, intense story which has the sole purpose in gaining and then keeping your attention for the entirety of the novel. Equally, when I read non-fiction it is far more likely to be with a specific purpose in mind rather than merely for a few hours entertainment; I am interested in History and enjoy History books but those books are read as much through educational purposes as through interest. It would also be rare for me read about a topic which I know well. The topic in question is the United Kingdom, the nation in which I live. I know it as well as most, well, at least that is what I like to think, but although I know lots of generalised information about the country, a country is not an entity in itself, but is instead a collection of places and people within specific boundaries. This is clearly Bryson’s point; a travelogue shouldn’t be a list or a simple account of what you can see where and lists of nice restaurants, but should be an experienced account of an ordinary person who could be doing whatever they want and chooses to explore.

Bryson, an already very successful writer and journalist, decided to explore this glorious and cynical nation before leaving it to voyage back to his American homeland. This anecdotal narrative highlights what is brilliant and what is dreadful about Britain, constantly entertaining the reader, making the story less of a travelogue and more of a journey of discovery, the British reader constantly empathising with his descriptions of the nations failings, and laughing at his witty, descriptive narrative. He summarises British culture and the British mindset easier than any biased Brit could possibly do, mocking our enjoyment in the dull, our witty humour and love of ridiculously named places, such as Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. “Before long I came to regard all kinds of activities – asking for more toast in a hotel, buying wool-rich socks in Marks & Spencer, getting two pairs of trousers when I only really needed one – as something daring, very nearly illicit. My life became immensely richer.” It is clear throughout the book that he is often taking the piss out Britain, but simultaneously is taking the piss out of himself and us Brits, but I don’t care because all of his observations and mockeries are completely true and justified. It makes me glad I’m not French. I am British and we have character and a sense of humour. The book, however, is not just an analysis of British convention but just as much of Bryson and his life in Britain and his connection with the country. This is a great, easy read, particularly as non-fiction goes, and is a particularly useful read for any wannabe writers. Bryson’s writing style is second-to-none, and since reading the book is something I have only idolised. Its a great book, an easy summer read, and is particularly witty when you are looking at it from the same British viewpoint as myself. I hope you enjoy it, regards 🙂