Thursday, April 03, 2008

One For The Road

Tonight was a book group night and we were meeting in The Dollar Grill in Farringdon to discuss ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. This novel split us with three of us loving it, though one of us was scared by it and couldn’t read it at night, one of us who thought it was good but ‘apocalypse can be done so much better’ and one who thought it was one of the most depressing books that they had ever read. I personally was one of the people who loved it. I thought the writing was sparse and epic (like the setting and story) without being full of pretentious wording and all of that gubbins. The subject matter is harsh, no one likes thoughts of the world ending, I loved the ideas and the questions that McCarthy evoked, what would you do if you knew you were headed for nowhere other than death, suicide as some do or would you carry on and try to fight even if you knew death was inevitable?

One of the interesting topics brought up was, is there such a thing as a bad book? What are the criteria of a bad book or books? One of the previous books we have read came up in conversation ‘London Fields’ by Martin Amis which all of us bar one hated. My thoughts were that the characters were vile, the prose was stagnant and the blurb on the back was misleading. We will come back to blurbs shortly. The person who chose the book said ‘you can’t say it’s a bad book’. I can and I have, the whole point of fiction is that its different, different genres, topics, characters, prose etc. If everyone liked the same book there would be no variety out there. ‘But its one of the modern classics so it can’t be bad’ was the reply. I used Jane Austen as an example, some people myself included think her prose is stunning, some think that its trash, in fact in its day it was seen to be so by certain parties. People have differing ideas. Some people love Shakespeare, I am not one of them, and he’s classic that doesn’t mean he is liked by everyone or accessible. Look at ‘Ulysses’ by Joyce. I will try and read that one day. It became the second heated debate of the meal. The previous one was ‘neuro linguistic programming’ I am so not even going there, suffice to say I know it can be done but I think its bollocks.

Blurbs are a major factor though. I judge books on their covers and am not ashamed to say so; I also judge them on the blurb. We went to the bookshop after; we always do this to buy the next book (in this case I already have ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseni) and to grab a coffee. I was meandering and looking at blurbs and covers, I didn’t buy anything am on a ‘no book buying order’ by Mr B. I have recently decided (and been reminded by the London Fields discussion) that blurbs are designed to sell a book not to necessarily tell you exactly what you are getting, though they should. For example…

Joseph Vaughan's life has been dogged by tragedy. Growing up in the 1950s, he was at the centre of series of killings of young girls in his small rural community. The girls were taken, assaulted and left horribly mutilated. Barely a teenager himself, Joseph becomes determined to try to protect his community and classmates from the predations of the killer. Despite banding together with his friends as ' The Guardians', he was powerless to prevent more murders - and no one was ever caught. Only after a full ten years did the nightmare end when the one of his neighbours is found hanging from a rope, with articles from the dead girls around him. Thankfully, the killings finally ceased. But the past won't stay buried - for it seems that the real murderer still lives and is killing again. And the secret of his identity lies in Joseph's own history...

Now this sounds like a thrilling thriller and a ‘me’ book. Having gotten half way through it and completely being bored, depressed and uninspired by it I am thinking that blurbs can lie. The book is R. J. Ellroy’s ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’ and I thought I would love it, I hate to say on the whole Richard and Judy books are actually really good, I have not loved this book at all. I’m in the middle and its going nowhere, slowly. I also think that R. J. Ellroy thinks he is Steinbeck… I mean come on!

We couldn’t have a coffee in Borders it was shutting; we couldn’t have a coffee in Tinderbox for the same reason, however in the Tinderbox they were giving away free copies of Dan Rhodes’ ‘Gold’ which from the blurb and quotes sounds fabulous. I wanted to take one – I’m not allowed to buy but free ones are different – as I wasn’t getting a coffee I didn’t feel I could. The guys at the counter said ‘go for it, take one for the road’ well who am I to refuse such an offer?

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