Books I’ve Read in September 2014

Hello neglected website/blog. Here’s what I’ve been reading this month:

Kill Your Boss – Shane Kuhn

Not that I was projecting or anything when I bought this. It’s a coincidence that the purchase of this book neatly aligned when I was more than a little stressed out and overwhelmed at work. As a way of dealing with this, I decided I’d start reading again, so as to think about something that isn’t a website for an hour or so. It’s been awhile, probably since my holiday in April, that I’ve actually picked up a book that isn’t part of the fantastic ABA Library so I thought I’d get things kicked off again on easy mode.

Kill Your Boss was an enjoyable read, not particularly challenging or groundbreaking, but pitched at just the right level so as not to feel patronising. The tropes and twists are all well worn, but with a multitude of film references from it’s assassin lead character, there was a level of self awareness in the text that stopped it becoming too ridiculous.

Bottom Line: An passable one off, get it on Kindle if you fancy a quick, fairly funny and ultimately easy read about assassins, betrayals, and Wall Street psychopaths. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

This one was a little more challenging, and for a brief moment before I regained my composure,  the novel had me in tears while sat on the floor in the vestibule of a Transpennine Express to Sheffield. The book starts innocently enough with a coy, witty narrator ambling through her University education/early adulthood while hinting at a traumatic family secret. A secret which is, of course, revealed as you go deeper into the book. There are plenty of hints to this in the early pages (familiarity with a certain Kafka text, will almost certainly give the game away), but I missed them completely, and as such was left floored by the revelation.

Sometimes with plots that revolve around single twist, after the twist has happened the rest of the novel falls apart. In the case of WAACBO, the twist forces a revisit of the earlier plot and only strengthens as things push forward. The characters are all well drawn, the narrative is a fresh and exciting take on ‘Middle Class family, things deteriorate’ and the novel as a whole manages to have a strong, well defined message without being preachy or self righteous.

Bottom Line: Definitely worth checking out, would recommend to most people and considering a full re-read in the future to pick up on things missed first time around.

The Revolutions – Felix Gilman

The first half of this novel was incredible, and the cover is absolutes beautiful.  It was atmospheric, there was a real air of mystery and the steampunk Victorian London was  very well realised. The, relatively plain, protagonist Arthur Shaw, loses his job as a journalist and, along with his fiance Josephine, gets drawn deeper and deeper into the world of the Occult and warring secret societies. As the tension is mounting nicely, and ‘the war’ is starting to show some real conflict, things go wrong, both in the plot and in the plotting.

After a very promising start, quickly deteriorates into a real drag. The split narrative between Jo and Arthur kept the pace ticking along nicely, each chapter pushing the story onwards without sticking around for too long, as well as revealing another layer to the mystery. It was also very effective to read what each character thought the other was thinking, and they were hiding from each other. After ‘the accident’, with Jo and Arthur separated, both just plodded along to a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion.

Bottom Line: Buy it for the cover and the first half and leave it there, while the book is still mysterious and hasn’t spent all the good will the cracking opening earned.

Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon

Slight cheat here, as I haven’t finished this one yet, but I’ve got enough to say about it now and will probably have something completely different to say about it come the end of October. Set in New York in Spring 2001, the constant subtext to this novel is “How do these characters react/what happens to them during/after  September 11th?” Which if we’re indulging in amateur literary criticism (we are) and drawing crude parallels, you could argue has been the question in American culture ever since. This subtext becomes text right around the page one hundred, where the erstwhile ex husband of our lead, unlicensed fraud investigator Maxine, suddenly returns and sets himself up in an office in the World Trade Centre, uh oh. One of their children even goes so far as to say the building is “built like a battleship.”  From this harrowing chapter end, Pynchon swings the tone wildly in the opposite direction. An outright funny, bickering family scene, with almost no regard for the dire warning that came just a page earlier.

In the foreground to all of this Maxine takes on a new job from one of her more colourful clients, investigating a web security firm headed up by billionaire genius geek, and all round horrible person Gabriel Ice. We follow Maxine down the rabbit hole into the Deep Web, as she follows the trail through the dotcom boom and bust, argues about HTML tables or CSS for layouts, and encounters a varied cast of designers, venture capitalists, low life criminals, and con men. Without the darker undercurrents, the novel is a geek’s Jackie Brown, with hacked Furbies and contraband, insider traded Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards.

My only slight criticism is that occasionally, everything seems a little too convenient for Maxi, particularly with March and Tallis Telleher. At times it feels like Maxine knows everyone in the sprawling urban mass of New York, and can run into them at the most opportune moment every single time.

EDIT: Because it’s still technically September, and I have another paragraph or so to say about this novel.

The book has gotten a little strange. It’s a bit like Pynchon got to 200 pages and then said “right, let’s have a wank!” and started writing some erotica. First Maxi goes to a strip club – amusingly named Joie de Beavre – to find a recluse (Hmmm, I wonder who America’s most noteworthy recluse is?), and her method of investigation is to get up on a pole and perform. We’ve spent a good two hundred pages getting know Maxi, and then all of sudden she’s gone from sexy protagonist to sex object.

Things go from bad to worse, when said recluse has an extreme foot fetish (another recurring theme for Pynchon), with whom she gets stoned and then precedes, seemingly accidentally but also willingly, to give a footjob. After that uncomfortable episode, Maxine starts a sexual relationship with the all round unpleasant Neo-Con Terrorist, again where the male character physical dominates her. Perhaps I’m just being a prude, or perhaps I’m bitter and jealous of fictional characters having sex when I’m not getting any. But the last forty or so pages have really changed how I’m feeling about the book.

Bottom Line: Read this book, it is excellent.