The cultured teenager

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

Tag Archives: book reviews

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 🙂

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 🙂

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

Tom lives in a society which is virtually the same to our own, except for the significant population of superheroes within society. Tom isn’t a superhero, but, as you can guess from the title, all of his friends are superheroes. Apart from the notion of superheroes themselves, this isn’t a book about sci-fi or about newspaper journalists who jump into a phone-box and gain superhuman strength, but is about humanity and life in general. These superheroes are not hiding what makes them special; rather, they treat themselves and are often treated as though they are not special at all. Tom describes how in Toronto there are 249 superheroes, “none of whom have secret identities”, and it is through this manner that Kaufman tells a story about the human condition.

Not only is Tom friends with superheroes, but is in a relationship with one: The Perfectionist. She has the ability to put things into order with the power of the mind, which isn’t a stereotypical superpower, as are many of the powers within the novel, as they mostly seem to be extensions of human personality. The Perfectionist however is unaware of the existence of Tom, because on their wedding day, her ex-boyfriend, Hypno, used his power in order make Tom invisible to The Perfectionist. As you can tell, its slightly odd and complex, but the story involves Tom flying to Vancouver in order to make her see him before she finally moves on, 6 months after she was hypnotized.

Kaufman also brings up the question of whether or not superhuman powers are a gift or not. The Sloth, The Projectionist, The Battery and The Amphibian are some of the range of superheroes who are thrown in to add more quirk and laughs into the novel. The ‘heroes’ are shown as metaphors for ourselves and the human condition cleverly by Kaufman, with numerous of my friends mirroring The Sloth. Tom however is the real hero, and unsurprisingly triumphs in a world of superhuman talents, using the qualities many of us take for granted. Its an enjoyable book, and just an hours read, so there is no excuse not to read it. Regards 🙂