Tagged: American literature

re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf
April: The World of Edith Wharton

My reading progress this year continues to be irritatingly slow, but I’ve been working loads as well as making major life changes, so there just wasn’t enough time. And as always in difficult times, I turned to the comfort of Edith Wharton’s brilliant, beautiful writing.


The Reckoning by Edith Wharton
This is a little Penguin Little Black Classic that includes two of Wharton’s short stories on the topic of marriage. Mrs Manstey’s View is a short but deeply moving glimpse into the life of a lonely widow that shines with vivid descriptions of New York as seen through the lady’s window. I honestly believe nobody has even described the flowering of a magnolia tree more beautifully than Wharton does in this story. The Reckoning is a moral tale – I would argue – about an unconventional marriage and the dangers of double standards. I found this one a bit uncharacteristic for Wharton, given that she always took a very liberal view on marriage – certainly for her time – and in this story almost seems to backtrack on her ideals. However, as always, she looks deep into the human heart and writes with captivating urgency about the emotional stages we go through when a relationship falls apart.
Pens: 3 out of 5

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re:View – The 2014 Bookshelf V

This summer I went on a bit of an Edith Wharton binge after being stuck on a journey without a book and finding a collection of her complete works on Kindle. I think by now I’ve made my way through all the novels and most of the novellas, but I’ve still got thousands of pages of stories, poetry and non-fiction ahead of me. This is my favourite author after all. Which means I will read EVERYTHING by her. Eventually.

So here’s the 2014 addition to the Wharton bookshelf. Now somebody just needs to go and publish shiny editions of all her books. Folio Society, I’m looking at you.


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re:View – Going back to the future with James Ellroy’s Perfidia

So James Ellroy is writing a new L.A. Quartet and this is a BIG FUCKING DEAL because the original L.A. Quartet is easily the best thing that ever happened to noir crime.

After covering the brutal, corrupt world of the L.A. Police Department from the late 1940s to late 1950s in The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz, and then going on an international scale with the political history of the 1960s and 1970s – from JFK to the Cuban Revolution and Vietnam – in the Underworld USA trilogy, the master of noir has circled back to 1941 in the first of four L.A. Quartet prequels.

The place is, of course, L.A. and the time is Pearl Harbour. Ellroy’s new 740-page monster Perfidia follows four characters through the chaos of early-days war in December 1941 as they converge, collide and set in motion the relationships and conspiracies that create a densely intriguing back story to the four existing novels. We have Hideo Ashida, the only Japanese-American on the LAPD’s payroll, a brilliant and obsessive forensic who finds his identity turned inside out by the new ‘anti-Jap’ hysteria. And we have Kay Lake, megalomaniac dilettante and police world hanger-on, as well as Ellroy’s most infamously corrupt and charismatic character, Dudley Smith, and the real-life police caption William H. Parker – who will all go on to play central roles in the original L.A. Quartet.

What starts as a routine investigation of the slaughter of a Japanese family on the eve of Pearl Harbour soon pans out into a mind-blowing tangle of narratives which reach from the very heart of the L.A.’s underworld all the way to the federal government, and where coercion, betrayal, mass internment, eugenics and cold-blooded murder serve as means for personal or political advancement for individuals and the agencies that run the nation. And while your mind still struggles to keep up with the whodunnit of the quadruple homicide of the early chapters, you find yourself in the middle of an epic tale of international espionage, the birth of the Red Scare of the 1950s and the formation of a host of police-underworld alliances that will come to dominate the city throughout the later books.

Perfidia is pure Ellroy skill, refined over the years and condensed into the essence of what makes his writing so utterly breathtaking: it’s tough; it’s fast; it hits you with a constant crossfire of names, facts and connections that leave your mind screaming and desperately clawing its way through this barrage of information to get a grip on the truth before you are dragged under by the immensity of this man’s dark and twisted imagination.

I’ve said recently that I would quite like to be inside James Ellroy’s mind when he writes one of his novels, to figure out how he can stay on top of this overwhelming, interconnected narrative he has created over the past two and a half decades. But, to be very honest, I think that after five minutes inside James Ellroy’s mind, my brain would melt out of my ears.

Pens: 5 out of 5

…plus gold stars to Waterstones for publishing this gorgeous beast of an edition:


re:View – The 2014 Bookshelf II

It’s Bookshelf time! I haven’t reviewed any books for ages, so let’s do a quick round before I forget all about them. It’s been a good year for reading so far – even though I’ve been spending a lot of time on my new workout routine, I’ve managed to set lots of time aside for books. Happiness all around.

Adventures, weirdos, tattoos, gods, satanic cats and potential spoilers after the break.


PS: I’m ditching the Amazon links. Explore your local bookshop!

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re:View – The 2014 Bookshelf I

Once again we’re months into the year and I’m just catching up on the Bookshelf! In my defence I’ll say I’ve had a very busy spring with lots of things happening that kept me away from both my books and the blog. But books have been read and are now in the process of being reviewed. This year’s Bookshelf, so far, has been a weird mix of classics and random books I picked up in bookshops or got as presents, some of which took me quite a bit off my planned reading path for the year. Here’s the first lot, with more on the way.


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re:View – The 2013 Bookshelf IV

I’m finally making progress on last year’s bookshelf! Although, considering that I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, we’ll see how well I do attempting to review books I read almost a year ago…

This episode of Bookshelf contains some mind-blowing reads, some disappointment and at least a couple of books that deserve a special spot on my favourite books of all time shelf.

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re:view – The 2013 Bookshelf II

Blimey. Ages since I’ve done a Bookshelf. I can’t even remember half the books I read six months ago. But I’ll try.

This time, we have funny feminists, scandalous classics, a wizard who would totally make Harry Potter cry, the new George Saunders, epic American history, and assorted randomness.

The usual health and spoilers warning applies.

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