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Inside the safe she took out his recent will and tore it to small pieces and replaced it with the one they had both done on return from their honeymoon in Hayman Island, before all that angst with the trial separation, before he found out about her spending patterns, and long before he decided he would divide the money between the children.

‘After all, we both will have enough to live on,’ she remembered him saying in that pleading tone, as he looked with his doe eyes at a photo of the children. They thought they had him in their headlights, but now they will really have something to cry about, she thought, as she watched, mesmerized by the dance the shredded fragments performed while burning in the fireplace.

Today was a rough day. I woke up with a start in the middle of the night and did not really get to sleep again. Left to slouch across Sydney’s Bondi Junction this morning, much in the manner of a hipster zombie, let us say I was not in good form. I had an interview scheduled with an Australian musician at my magazine intern gig and had to brainstorm some further questions for an internet fandom-god. Frankly I am astonished that I still have two brain cells to rub together.

So it was with great relief that I had a light read to look forward to. Dr Joseph Reich has switched his eye-surgery practice for professional writing and I have to say I am very grateful. This was exactly what I needed to read today.

I Know Precious Little is a wry and witty novel, chock full of puns, that was apparently inspired by an early short story by Reich. The story is concerned with two women with some things in common, both having husbands with the same name – but possessing entirely opposite temperaments. Katherine is a demure suburban housewife, whereas Pree is a sharp-tongued harridan. The novel contrasts their perspectives on the indignities and frustrations of old age, each chapter presenting a different point of view, with several other characters stepping up to the plate to reveal more about the events described.

Death, physical infirmities and marital discord run through the lives of each of these characters – perhaps that sounds like a series of fiction truisms, but Reich invests so much incisive wit into his descriptions of these tired lives that reading this book passed the time as easily as a hot knife through butter. Pree is of course an absolute delight, a wicked and callous terror. Katherine on the other hand patiently tolerates such nonsense as entrenched book club politics.

This is a slyly humourous book that earns the reader’s affection through a clever line in observational comedy – enough that I was willing to forgive the age-old ‘Dr. Spock is a Vulcan’, quip! At times the tone feels like a combination of Philip Roth‘s upended epics of old age and the entertaining solipsism of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run. Strangely though the novel I was most reminded of was Tsiolkas’ The Slap. Reich also describes a tapestry of interwoven lives straining against one another, but thankfully without a trace of that other novel’s oppressive nihilism

I Know Precious Little manages to achieve that rare balance, being a quick read that has a lot to say about how people live their lives. Funny, entertaining and for a first-time novel, surprisingly quick on its feet.

With thanks to the author for my review copy.

Things will get better. In fifteen years’ time and that’s such a little space – 90 per cent of the people living in Britain will be over eighty. There won’t be the energy from evil any more than there will be the energy for good.

I have got to stop reviewing books that have been adapted to film. I waste most of the review commenting on the differences between the film and the text. Plus this blog is dedicated to books and yet my love of cinema insists on creeping back in.

Still I was astonished at how much the screenplay based on P.D. James‘ novel diverged from the text. In his commentary on the dvd for Children of Men philosopher Slavoj Zizek comments on how the religious subtext of the book is dropped for more cinematic themes such as terrorism and a breakdown in multicultural society.

Both stories come from the same root, however. By 2021 the human race is doomed by a worldwide epidemic of childlessness that has lasted twenty five years. Theo Faron a fifty-year-old Oxford historian has begun a diary that provides us with an insight into how the quiet extinction of the human race has changed Britain. A new system of governance has taken over in the wake of global panic, ruled by his cousin Xan Lyppiatt, the Warden of England. Under his rule order has been restored to the country due to his wide-ranging policy changes and of course the increasing depopulation. Cities are quiet and safe. Criminals are deported to the Isle of Man. Immigrants from other countries are invited to England to do menial jobs, referred to as Sojourners, but are returned to their countries of origin once they become elderly.

The infertility event is designated Omega, with the last generation of humans born in 1995 known as Omegas. Theo describes them as being over-entitled, spoiled brats, who regard their elders with undisguised contempt. There are even rumours that there are roaming gangs of Omegas in the abandoned English countryside. Their youth is something incomprehensible and threatening to the dispassionate and increasingly listless older population. Some women who were of child-bearing at the time of Omega have never recovered from the psychological trauma. Dolls are wheeled about in prams in imitation of real children. There are even christenings of newborn pets. Animals it appears were spared divine punishment.

Theo’s diary also describes his relationship with Xan and  their time spent together as children, which allows him to believe he is untouchable even as his concerns about the nature of his cousin’s power over Britain grows. He is contacted by a small group of dissidents, the Five Fishes, who contact him in the hope that he can use his influence with Xan to repeal some of his policies. Initially dismissive of their utopian plans,Theo is an unwilling co-conspirator, until he is given a reason to hope for a possible future for the human race. It takes nothing less than a genuine miracle to wipe away his privileged sceptism.

At times Theo Faron feels like a character from an Evelyn Waugh novel who somehow became lost and wandered into this listless dystopia. James herself draws attention to this, by having Xan utter the line “How too Brideshead, dear boy. I feel the need of a teddy bear.” The early half of Children of Men is a fantastic eulogy to a dying Britain, with Theo a curator for a culture that will soon vanish, singing the praises of emptying churches, libraries and museums. The violent Omegas are strangely alien to him, remiscent of  The Midwich Cuckoos and Burgess’ Droogs (much like Alex’s friends, some are even conscripted into the police). The abandoned villages and seaside holiday resorts transformed into destinations for assisted suicide are beautifully evoked.

However, as Theo becomes more and more involved with the Five Fishes the novel changes, becoming an unusual mixture of thriller and religious allegory. Incredibly P.D. James has fashioned a twenty-first century neo-Nativity. Xan makes for a charming Herod, a politician who acquired ideology to suit his passage to power and finds it difficult to relinquish, even in the face of the end of the world. There is an amusing aside when The Beatles classic All You Need is Love becomes a rallying cry for evangelists.

Children of Men is more a novel of ideas than a work of science fiction, questioning the meaning of life without purpose. Remarkable.

According to Harold Schechter in a New York Times editorial, father snorting is not such a far-fetched notion. It comes from a custom of funerary cannibalism, which “springs from a profound and very human impulse: the desire to incorporate the essence of a loved one into your own body…the belief that when someone close to us dies, the person lives on inside us – that he or she becomes an undying part of our own deepest selves.”

Maybe we should all partake of this form of inhalation. And often.

Breathe in what you love.

I was always a Rolling Stones man. It took me years to discover the Beatles‘ album Revolver, which finally convinced me that they weren’t all that bad, but give me the Stones every time. On a related note I always preferred Pearl Jam to Nirvana, Pulp to Oasis….I never go for the populist choice. At any rate the Stones were to my mind the quintessential rock band when I was growing up. They were so knitted to the grandeur and rock pomp of American music I had no idea they were English! Jagger’s mockney accent probably confused me.

Jessica Pallington West focuses on that other lead persona of the Stones, Keith Richards. Immortal junkie. Modern-day pirate. Self-appointed ambassador for the blues. With this book the author has collected a series of aphorisms from the mouth of ‘Keef’, assembled into a series of themed chapters.

The book begins with a series of Commandments, twenty-six to rival the paltry ten of Moses. West pitches Richards as being an indefatigable performer, street philosopher and practitioner of the Tao of Keith – living according to a hard-won set of moral principles. These Commandments are referred to consistently throughout the rest of the book, supported by selective Keithist quotes. This third chapter is followed up with a series of comparisons between Keith’s philosophy and classical thinkers from the Socratics all the way up to Nietzsche. In the fourth West considers the aesthetics of Keith, his sense of style and fashion. Then there is ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Keith Richards‘, a series of aphorisms on a series of topics, such as the afterlife, the blues and Mick.

Is this a must-read for Stones fans? Honestly, if you’re a fan most of this is familiar fare. Did you know Keith Richards used to be a heroin addict? And a doctor once told him he only had six months to live, only for Keith to find himself attended that same medic’s funeral some time later? Oh and he and Mick do not get along. Maybe this is a decent read for beginners, kids who are wondering what the fuss is about this old bloke in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I don’t really know.

On another level there is something ridiculous about pitching Richards as an urban philosopher, who has Plato as a ‘soul-brother’, and big hair like Schopenhauer. Who would have guessed that a heroin-addled guitar player from the projects would end up as a twenty-first-century philosopher and urban street guru? He is practically the reincarnation of St. Augustine according to West, returning to us from the realms of depravity with wisdom into the mysteries of life.

A series of incongruous comparisons are unleashed, with Keith the working class rock star – none of that embarrassing disguising of accents as with Mick – having survived heroin, women and general falling down, established as a sharp-edged pragmatist.

Keith has lived quite the interesting life, but what has made it so memorable is his refusal to think twice (and surely that is the disease of the philosopher). What this book has made me appreciate is just how funny Keith can be.  I also liked how many of the quotes reveal just how much of a grumpy old man he has become, dismissing MTV, hip hop and the Sex Pistols. “Get off my lawn!” Plus he really doesn’t like Elton John.

However, for yet another ‘unauthorised’, book on a major celebrity, West does not introduce much criticism into the proceedings. At all points he is lauded throughout the book as a rakish man of the world, who simply won’t be tolerated by ‘the Man’. Of course this is a man worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One who can afford to walk away from debacles like the disaster of Altamont “It was just another gig where I had to leave fast.

This book is a trite overview of an entertaining personality, weakened by its comparisons to philosophers.

It was along towards the end though that Grand achieved, in terms of public outrage, his succes d’estime, as some chose to call it, when he put out to sea in his big ship, the S.S. Magic Christian…the ship sometimes later referred to as “The Terrible Trick Ship of Captain Klaus.”

One of my favourite movies is the Peter Sellers/Ringo Starr spectacular The Magic Christian. It’s just as ridiculous as that sounds. Here’s Roman Polanski getting seduced by Yul Brynner in drag.

So I am delighted to finally have the opportunity to read something by Mr Terry Southern, even though it turns out the book itself is quite different.

Firstly of course the story is set in the United States and not the Pythonesque Britain of the Sellers film version. Secondly there is no ‘son’, role, played by Starr in the film (a Beatles connection that also unleashed Paul McCartney’s unremitting soundtrack). Finally Guy Grand in Southern’s novel is a large overweight, red-faced man, with a convincingly sincere smile and not the rakish eccentric played by Sellers.

In other respects, however, the book is quite similar. For one, there is no plot to speak of. Instead Southern introduces a series of anecdotes revolving around Guy Grand and his love ofmaking it hot for [people]. He enjoys pricking pomposity and taking advantage of the gullibility of mobs, mainly through bribing officials and hiring actors to create scenes of mass hysteria, or confusion.

In one adventure he offers a man several thousand dollars to eat a parking ticket. In another he bribes two prize fighters to act in an exaggeratedly effeminate manner when in the ring. His idea of safari is dragging bloodthirsty Westerners into the African veldt and then scaring off any animals in the area by randomly firing off a high-powered howitzer.

Guy Grand’s wealth is apparently limitless and his curious sense of humour allows him to amuse himself by exploiting the greed of his fellow man. Bigots, ignoramuses and the nouveau riche are his preferred targets. Southern introduces each chapter with an ongoing dialogue between Grand, his two elderly aunts and a shrieking socialite named Miss Ginger Horton. Unbeknownst to the fourth party, Grand and his aunts are engaged in an absurdist series of exchanges based on a very private sense of humour. Miss Horton, and her wailing dog, are much like everyone else Grand encounters victims of a unintelligible joke.

In a very real sense, Guy Grand has chosen to be living proof that everyone has their price and as the last of the ‘big spenders’, he is fully entitled to buy and sell people as he sees fit.

Southern’s satirical tone is both incisive and completely surreal. The degree of humiliation endured by the people Grand encounters is worryingly believable, even if his limitless wealth stretches credibility at times. Most chapters end with a variation on the same line – ‘it did cost him a good bit to keep his own name clear‘. The refrain becomes as casually absurdist as Kurt Vonnegut‘s ‘so it goes‘.

I imagine this book is not for everyone. For one it does read like a series of short sketches that happen to revolve around one figure. Still I personally found it very amusing, with the climax of the maiden voyage of his luxury liner the S.S. Magic Christian a fitting cap to his adventures investigating the extent of man’s inhumanity to man.

Satirical, humourous and very wicked, I look forward to reading more of Terry Southern’s work.

The Rock and Roll Reich had spent a decade using the music as a tool of social control, taming the beleaguered English with free concerts; selling Ax’s Utopian manifesto with stirring anthems and spectacular futuristic tech. They had forged rock and roll idealism into a national religion, a passion that made hard times sweet, and it had worked.

During the week it was revealed that Alan Moore completist Pádraig Ó Méalóid had published an article by the Northampton Magus on his livejournal in two parts. In short a typically verbose and associative rant by Moore on all matters magic(k)al and the effect of populism thereon. It includes this typical pithy comparison of Aleister Crowley to contemporary goth culture –

Or there’s Alex Crowley, tiresomely attempting to persuade his school-chums to refer to him as Shelley’s Alastor, like some self-conscious Goth from Nottingham called Dave insisting that his vampire name is Armand.

The figure of ‘The Beast’, came to symbolize the democratization of the occult, with the previously upper class fascination offered by the likes of Madame Blavatsky and The Golden Dawn suddenly impacting on popular culture with the advent of the 1960’s. There is Crowley on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band cover. Then we have The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request album (not to mention Sympathy for the Devil).

It just so happens Gwyneth Jones’ sf series is concerned with a twenty-first century Britain gripped by a revival of 1960’s occultism/ rock and roll cult of personality. Except revolution for these radicals is not tokenistic phrases and a tattered Che Guevara bedroom wall poster, but an actual political movement that changes the face of Europe.

I did not realize this was actually the final book in a series of five novels concerned Jones’ ambitious vision of a future society wracked by war, global economic ruin and climate change. Concerning a ‘Triumvirate’, of rock gods – Ax, Sage and Fiorinda – who have survived years of revolution and war, only to now be facing surrender to an occupying Chinese army. Britain under their rule was transformed by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Reich, actualizing 1960’s utopian idealism and green values, as well as an entente cordiale with the British Islamic separatist movement. All of this despite the evil wrought by Fiorinda’s father Rufus O’Niall and his fascist movement, as well Sage’s defeat of the Pentagon’s plan to create a psychic weapon of immense power. Indeed it is only due to these incredible successes that the Chinese may have spared the lives of the Triumvirate.

If anything the conquerors of Britain want to make their own use of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Reich to win the hearts and minds of the shell-shocked English. The Celtic nations of Scotland and Ireland have managed to wrangle their own form of independence by accepting the Chinese. England shall be a test-case intended to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that domination by China is inevitable, perhaps even desirable. Meanwhile Ax attempts to be the statesman his career as a rock star somehow destined him to be and negotiate a peaceful future for the English. His followers are under house arrest, their every word is being recorded by spies and his boyfriend Sage will not agree to marry him. Plus Fiorinda is pregnant again. Charming the People’s Republic of China has become the biggest gig of his band’s career.

As this is the fifth book in a series there is a hell of a lot of exposition to get to grips with. Jones lays it out with aplomb, mostly thanks to the frankly endless stream of out and out crazy ideas. The title doubles as a Hendrix reference and a nod to Britain’s Viking cultural inheritance. Rufus O’Niall appears to have been a malevolent force to rival the Beast himself and the talk of a ‘Neurobomb’, and a pychic cold war seems like something out of The Invisibles.

This could all be so much 1960’s pretentious twaddle, but there is much of interest here.

Particularly the notion of rock stars in politics. One of the most recent examples is Bono’s cosying up to political elites in both Britain and America. I remember there were rumours at the Make Poverty History concert that the Irishman would perform on stage with the surviving Beatles and Tony Blair, rock star manqué. Michael Moorcock covered similar ground in King of the City.

Mad, sexy and very enjoyable. Great fun, need to read the rest now.

Books always tell me to find “solitude,” but I’ve Googled their authors, and they all have spouses and kids and grandkids, as well as fraternity and sorority memberships. The universally patronizing message of the authors is “Okay, I got lucky and found someone to be with, but if I’d hung in there just a wee bit longer, I’d have achieved the blissful solitude you find me writing about in this book.”

Ever since Liz Dunn was a child she knew she was the loneliest girl in the world. Having grown into a 42 year old office worker, she has found herself stuck in the role of a spinster, harangued by her disappointed mother and pitied by her older and more successful siblings. Liz has taken to writing a record of her life after seeing a meteor shower while standing in the carpark of a video store. We learn about her childhood discovery of a dead body, a fateful encounter in Rome when she was on a school trip aged sixteen and the arrival of a handsome and  bewitching young man named Jeremy seven years ago – her twenty year old son.

Liz gave her baby up for adoption when he was born. The first she hears of him is when she is a late night phone call from hospital admissions saying she is listed as his emergency contact. Jeremy is recovering from a drug overdose and Liz agrees to take him in. In a single evening she has become a mother to a child she never thought she would see again. Jeremy is a charismatic, funny young man, who has his own little eccentricities. Including convincing Liz to crawl along a freeway in the middle of the afternoon. Having been bounced around adoption services his whole life, she discovers her son is a capable and independent young man, with a wicked sense of humour. They both get along incredibly well and Liz for the first time in her life no longer feels lonely. She refuses to reveal who Jeremy’s father is though and through her journal we learn more about the circumstances of her son’s conception during the school trip to Rome. Unfortunately having spent her life alone obsessed with death, Liz’s happiness is tragically cut short.

All the lonely people/ Where do they all come from?

Coupland writes stories about real people who endure lives of fantastical extremes. All Families Are Psychotic begins as a story about a mother and son who have contracted HIV, yet evolves into a gentle comedy about dysfunction, with a miraculous third act. This book continues Coupland’s themes of feuding families, mortality, owing to his own childhood as an army brat whose parents came strong religious backgrounds. His writing contains a lot of dry wit and low-key eccentrics lost in life’s twists and turns. This is tragedy on novacane, a numbed, weary response to the pain of loss, that gives way to a bleary kind of hope.

Each of Coupland’s novels are self-contained meditations on life and death, a formula he has perfected since his trope defining debut Generation X (despite his objections to being seen as a kind of spokesperson for shiftless slackers and baby boomer offspring).

Oh and the title? It’s Liz’s email address.

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