I’m sorry I’m late. If you know me, you will know this is my catchphrase. My tiny dictator has decided to spurn sleep in the evenings which means I have no time to read, type, or do anything that does not involve me staring lovingly at him for hours on end. It’s just too precious. It’s making me read at a glacial pace. So for the last few weeks I’ve had nothing to type about. But- I am back! Breathe a sigh of relief, stop rending the garments, and there really is no need for the heartfelt eulogies (however flattering) for my blog just yet. And – I have read something! So settle in and …
….Oh no. Tom has put on Fast and Furious. Car films are my achilles heel and I live my life at a quarter mile at a time. Back in a tick.
I don’t know if you will remember but last time I had started reading The Pleasures Of Men by Kate Williams. Its a Victorian thriller obviously very influenced by Jack the Ripper and the birth of the mythology of the serial killer. I think that’s why I didn’t finish it.
I watched a fantastic TV programme about the killing of prostitutes in Ipswich several years ago. Unfortunately I’ve completely forgotten the name but it stood out because the serial killer was almost incidental to the plot. The programme focussed on the lives of the women rather than their deaths. Women are usually the victims in fiction and they are usually a MacGuffin – it’s the serial killer who is endlessly analysed. To me there is a difference between books that explore why men kill women and books that explore why women are killed. I prefer the second variety because that is where the real tragedy lies. Serial killer fiction sometimes objectifies female victims in order to turn the killer into a kind of mythic hero. The more I’ve read about the horrific banality of violence against women every day in real life, for example in ‘Counting Dead Women’, the more of a bad taste that type of serial killer fiction leaves in my mouth. There are a few notable exceptions to this. Top of the list is ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ which originally was going to be called ‘Men Who Hate Women’. I think that the alternative title, while less catchy, sheds much more light on what Stieg Larsson was trying to say.
I’m on a tangent here. Anyway, I’m not suggesting that The Pleasures of Men is one of those serial killer porn books – it’s not. But it’s trying to talk about why people began to be more and more attracted to serial killers and what it is that draws people to those sort of stories. I suppose it’s an interesting question but not necessarily one I want to answer in my down time. To me the answer will always boil down to the fact that some men hate women and get their kicks from hurting them. The more it delved into it the less inclined I was to pick it up again after I put it down. So, I didn’t.
Two final criticisms:
1. I’m pretty sure I knew who the killer was at about 20 pages in. I obviously don’t know because I didn’t finish it, but if I’m right, crime novels are whodunnits and generally speaking I like to keep guessing till the end.
2. This is not the author’s fault but more a general moan. Everyone who writes historical fiction with a lesbian in it is immediately called the new Sarah Waters by over excitable publicists. Sarah Waters books are amazing and they do look at gay history but to simply lump other authors into her mould because they happen to have a gay character is lazy and patronising all round.
I’m maybe being harsh with Kate Williams or even crime in general. Am I writing off serial killer fiction without really understanding what it’s trying to do? Are there any other books I’ve missed which successfully humanise the victim and demonise the violence? Any suggestions?
If Quentin Tarantino Was A Librarian
If you like your high concept literary outings with a dose of ultra violence The Librarian by Mikhail Elizarov is the book for you. And, not withstanding my above pontifications, I loved it.
How to describe it? Well, the main character is left an apartment in the middle of nowhere by a mysterious uncle. When he visits he discovers that his uncle is a ‘Librarian’ in an alternative universe of people who are engaged in mortal combat over the possession of original copies of books written by a forgotten soviet writer. Whoever reads the books is imbued with superhuman powers- endurance, strength, or given the perfect childhood memory. Sounds mad? Throw into the mix a team of old ladies suffering from dementia who read one of them and are tranformed into a lethal fighting machine wreaking holy hell on the staff of care home they have been dumped in. It is mad.
I have to be honest. There is a lot of subtext in this book which I did not get at all. I don’t really think I got the ending. I think Elizarov is saying a lot about what is happening to Russia and it’s people after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At several points during the reading process I started to think, smugly, ‘I see what you’re doing here’, but it kept slipping out of my reach because I don’t know enough about Russia. If you were looking for a book to really dissect and discuss with fellow Russian book group members this would give you endless material. You could also spend a lot of time looking at where this sits in the wider pantheon of Russian literature and culture. If Natasha’s Dance was written after The Librarian was published I’ve no doubt Orlando Figes would have included it.
Or, you could read it as a book where people open a can of truly medieval whuppass like a kind of Soviet From Dusk til Dawn (but no Russian vampires though – I think that that’s been done). Either way it’s weird, wonderful, and immensely readable and I really do urge you to give it a go however much out of your comfort zone it seems.
Is This A Kissing Book?
I find it hard to do a list of my favourite books. It really does depend on the day. Having said that, The Princess Bride is a consistent contender. It’s definitely one of my favorite films. How could it not be? I’ll save all the reasons for a different post, but suffice it to say if you have not read The Princess Bride, what are you doing wasting your eyes on my blog? Go and get a copy! Read it!
Right – are you back? Amirite? Yeah, I know. But this is not about The Princess Bride. My lovely sister lent me her copy of ‘As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of the Princess Bride’ by Cary Ewles. I’m halfway through and it’s like relaxing in a warm bath of lovely.
I have to say that this book is not exactly a fire swamp of controversy. Cary Ewles is lovely and a fairly engaging narrator although I doubt the Nobel people are going to call any time soon. Robin Wright is lovely. Fezzick, Vizzini, and Inigo Montoya are all lovely. Rob Reiner, Universal Studios, the Peak District, Sheffield in the mid 80’s – also lovely. Even the baddies are just so lovely. I’m usually a cynical old boot, and this amount of lovely in one book would have me reaching for the puke bags, but no. I seriously do not think I could have handled it if my Westley had said that filming the Princess Bride was a total ‘mare. There are some things in this tarnished old world that should remain pure and thank you Cary for perpetuating that for me.
Do you think I’ve got it wrong? Is my judgement of The Princess Bride way off the mark? Is it actually pretty forgettable? If you think so, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. You can burn my house, steal my car, even slander my name all over the place, but please don’t step on my Princess Bride.
As I was trawling around for pictures I found the original cover art for the book and felt the need to share it. It’s delightfully odd in a retro sort of way. I’m now considering basing my next post on best and worst book cover art.
Thank you for my Trash suggestions! I’m going to start off with a little bit of Penny Vincenzi I think. I’ve been thinking about books I missed out of my list and have subsequently feel bad about – if you think my taste in trash is good, you could also try Mario Puzo, Martina Cole, and Jodi Picoult. I have a real soft spot for Jodi Piccoult – I wish she would take a break from the twist at the end thing though. We have M. Night Shaymalan for that.