Thursday, 22 October 2015

Nymphomation - Jeff Noon

Nymphomation is Jeff Noon's fourth novel, and acts as a prequel to Vurt and then Pollen.

Set in 1999 Manchester, it offers a futuristic alternative view of a familiar unglamorous city, in which a trial lottery game called Domino Bones is being held. Along with the weekly domino draws, in which only one person can win the grand prize, AnnoDomino have created flying advertisements which buzz around the city, interbreeding and multiplying. As the city's obsession with with Domino Bones grows, a group of rogue mathematicians suspect that the game is not what it seems and try to break into the system.

Noon tells the story in quick scenes, sometimes no more than snapshots, that tell us almost enough but never too much, and keep you reading as you try to discover more. The characters and setting are drawn briefly but effectively, often using random-seeming and exaggerated language that lends the novel a lurid, unreal quality. Mathematics and the science of chance are blurred with fantasy to form an intriguing universe in which anything is possible.

This novel is a very human experience of something inhuman, while also managing to be extremely thought-provoking and at times sinister and unnerving. At first I didn't realise it linked up to the other books in the series, and by the end it had set the scene for the development into Vurt and made me want to reread that with fresh eyes again.

There's only one I haven't yet read in the series, Automated Alice, and I'll definitely be asking for that for Christmas.

Next up: The Rose Rent by Ellis Peters

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Thank You, Jeeves - PG Wodehouse

This is the first of Wodehouse's novels to feature the wonderful Jeeves, and the first that I've read, although I have watched the Jeeves and Wooster TV series many many times. Usually I'd say that watching an adaptation before reading the book spoiled it for me a little, but Steven Fry, Hugh Laurie and the mood of the production as a whole captured the feel of the characters and the story so perfectly that I didn't mind seeing them play it out in my head as I read.

Bertie Wooster's new musical instrument, the banjolele, drives him by popular complaint from his London flat to a country cottage on his friend Chuffy's seaside estate, and also forces Jeeves to give notice, who is promptly rehired by Chuffy himself. Bertie's peaceful country retirement is shattered by the arrival of his beautiful, charming and unregretted American ex-fiancée Pauline Stoker and her disapproving father, and an amusing sequence of evasions, misunderstandings and reconciliations follows.

Bertie's amiable but vaguely bemused viewpoint gives humour to every scene, for instance one in which he and Pauline are (through a completely innocent if highly unfeasible set of circumstances) about to be discovered alone together in his bedroom, she wearing his pyjamas, begin to argue about the niceties of grammar rather than the problem at hand.

Some of the events in the novel were moved around or taken out to shorten it a little for the adaptation, so even having seen the episode I wasn't sure what was going to happen next. Unusually, I don't feel as though the changes necessarily made the story worse, or better for that matter – it was just a case of reaching the same conclusion through slightly fewer stages. There were a few very funny scenes which sadly weren't kept in, though. One confusing factor, given that this is the first Jeeves novel written, was the casual references to other characters and amusing anecdotes that I'd already seen in the TV series but obviously hadn't in the books.

I laughed frequently throughout the novel, and sometimes worried about waking people up in the next room when I was reading in bed. Having read this I'm definitely going to look out for the rest of the series.

Next up: Nymphomation by Jeff Noon

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Bridget Jones' Diary - Helen Fielding

I've read Bridget Jones' Diary several times before, but that was many years ago, so when I found the French translation in a bookshop in Brittany I had to pick it up. It made for much more relaxing holiday reading than the rather heavier L'Allée du Roi I'd brought with me, and I can actually claim it was vaguely educational, teaching me words for everyday things like types of modern clothing, cigarettes (ok, that one's the same) and minor swearwords, all things not often featured in more classic novels.

The translation felt pretty spot-on, keeping the tone of the original novel very well in spite of its cultural Zeitgeists, although it did have resort to footnotes to explain things such as Eastenders or Michael Howard.

One of the things I love most about this novel (as well as the plot, which as everyone knows is based on Pride and Prejudice, so not totally original to Fielding), is the down-to-earth narrator. Published nearly 10 years ago (and how old does that make me feel!), I have yet to come across another novel that feels quite as real. Nothing about Bridget is romanticised – she's no more glamorous, successful, strong or determined that your average woman, but Fielding doesn't use Stephanie Meyer's irritating wish-fulfilment trick of having the whole world fall in love with her supposedly 'average' heroine. Instead Bridget struggles vaguely through life without things falling into her lap, and not only do we as readers see the external parts of her experience - her conversations with others, dramatic scenes and so on - but we are also privy to the general grime and disorder of everyday life. For me this makes it so much more personal and relatable than reading about protagonists who never have to go to the bathroom or wash their clothes.

Of course Bridget Jones' Diary is, at heart, a romantic story, but the focus is very much on a humorous retelling of the problems and anxieties of romance rather than being swept off your feet by a prince charming. The film is a little different from the book, having switched events round and cut a few characters out to streamline the story, and I do have a friend who said this put her off reading the book afterwards, but I really recommend it personally if you're a fan of the film but haven't yet read the book.

Next up: Thank You, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse

Friday, 9 October 2015

Austen vs Pope

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

What two authors (dead or alive) would you love to get in a room together, just so you could listen to the conversation?
And what made you put those two together? Are they going to be entertainingly contentious or bosom buddies at first sight?

For me it would have to be Alexander Pope and Jane Austen. Alexander Pope's serious, self-satisfied attitude and pretentiously over-educated poetry would be a fantastic subject for Austen's quick wit, and the fact that a woman had the gall to make fun of him would (I like to think) throw Pope into an extremely entertaining tantrum.

Who would you put together?

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Bonus review: The Shepherd's Crown - Terry Pratchett

This afternoon I took Terry Pratchett's last novel, The Shepherd's Crown, to a café (accidentally buying 3 more books on my way into town), and finished it in 3 hours.

This novel follows Tiffany Aching as she comes into her own as a professional witch and has to face up to the increase in responsibility that entails, as well as another threat of elven invasion.

I don't want to give spoilers to anyone who hasn't read it, but I will say there's a major character death, which feels so autobiographical, almost as though it's Pratchett's own goodbye to the world, that it really was very moving above and beyond its implications for the character within the novel.

The Shepherd's Crown is full of a joy of life and an optimism about human nature, with laugh-out-loud moments and some truly wonderful awful puns. It feels much better put-together than a few of his later works, which for me felt as though they were lacking in structure, whereas this one feels like one complete story in its own right. There are a few loose ends, which is unsurprising for a posthumous publication, but overall it was a fantastic read, a good balance of plot, humour and pathos.

Now that I've finished it it's occurred to me that I'll never again be able to read a new Pratchett novel, and that makes me very sad indeed.

Next up: Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding