Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Tomas – James Palumbo

July 17, 2009

Tomas - James PalumboI finished Tomas 2 days ago and I’m still digesting what I think. I spotted the book advertised on a billboard on London Bridge station and it immediately stood out.

The book’s cover was striking, simple and the poster came with some quotes that made it sound intriguing. Stephen Fry gave it a recommendation, plus I recognised James Palumbo’s name as the man behind the Ministry Of Sound – the centre of clubbing culture in the 90s.

So what’s Tomas about? Well, it’s basically a sharp satire of the rampant consumerism of the early 21st century: highly-paid professional footballers; money-grabbing merchant bankers; desire for plastic surgery; celebrity culture – many of the things that are currently being blamed for the onset of the recession.

Palumbo serves up surreal images and a kind of black comedy that is at turns extraordinarily funny, but also very difficult to read. Tomas is actually quite disturbing and shocking and the humour isn’t often strong enough to save it from becoming simply gruesome.

Many of Palumbo’s images and characters are cleverly drawn – representing Russia as a Great Bear is hardly new, but it works here – but the increasingly bizarre nature of the plot as the novel continues means that the characters become secondary.

By the time the book drew to a close, I was thoroughly confused and had less and less idea what was going on. The twist at the end simply served to baffle me even more.

On the plus side, Palumbo’s writing style is sharp and incisive at times and he has a turn of phrase is, at times, delightful. It will also be interesting to see how accurate a satire Tomas really is once history has its say on the first recession of the 21st century.

But overall, my feeling was that Tomas is a novel that is far too much like the flashy, insubstantial culture it sets out to debunk. Too much artifice and not enough delivery.

Automated Alice – Jeff Noon

June 23, 2008

Automated AliceWhen you see a slightly deranged image of Alice in Wonderland, it’s tough not to be seduced. Thus it was that I snapped up my copy of Automated Alice back in 1998, not really knowing what to expect.

Basically Automated Alice is a sequel to Lewis Carroll’s two Alice novels, set in modern-day Manchester, where Alice Liddell finds herself at the centre of the ‘Jigsaw Murders’.

Jeff Noon manages to recreate the writing style of Carroll, full of wordplay, puns, nonsense and a general lightness of touch, but give it a 20-century twist.

In fact, my initial take on the book was to be slightly disconcerted. What was this? A homage? A sci-fi novel? A comedy played purely for laughs? In fact, it’s probably all those and more.

At that time, I’d never heard of Noon, the author of cult novel Vurt, which I have since read. Now I realise that Noon was also writing a sequel to this novel as well, referencing the infamous feathers.

But Automated Alice doesn’t need to be read as one of a series – it stands up on its own merits like all good books should and doesn’t lose any of its joy if read as a standalone book.

It is, in fact, a book I have passed onto or bought for other friends and, although I have been met by quizzical looks from some, most have been bowled over by something they would never have bought for themselves.

By all means check out Vurt and Pollen, Noon’s earlier two novels, first but for an instant hit of feelgood fantasy give Automated Alice a go. I hope you won’t regret it.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susannah Clarke

June 14, 2008

I was seduced by the cover of this book. If memory serves me correctly I was in a branch of Waterstones just off Oxford Street and spotted the jet monochrome dustcover – jet black with one white image and writing.

I don’t think I even noticed that Mr Norrell was part of the title for ages – it was the name Jonathan Strange that stood out.

So what’s it about? Well, it’s basically a story about the revival of magic in Britain, led by Mr Norrell and then his companion Jonathan Strange.

It’s a pretty hefty tome and full of incredibly detailed description and entertaining footnotes that all go to building up an imaginary England where magic is key to making things happen.

There have been many glowing reviews of the book, but I am not quite as enamoured with the book. Sure, it’s an impressive achievement, especially as a debut novel, but it’s quite a laboured read at times and demands considerable stamina in the reader.

I’m not suggesting that reading shouldn’t be taxing at times, but sometimes Jonathan Strange feels just a bit too much like hard work. I stopped and started the book a couple of times before I finished – never a good sign in my opinion – and sometimes the story just failed to engage.

I also found Mr Norrell a slightly un-endearing character which made the segments with him less interested to read.

However, if you like fantasy literature and something far more rigorous than the likes of Harry Potter, then maybe Jonathan Strange will suit you. As for me – well, 6.5 out of 10.