About bookemstevo

I am a bookish young man who would like to share his literary likes and dislikes with any sympathetic souls who will listen.

NEVERHOME by Laird Hunt

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neverhomepicSet during the American civil war Neverhome tells the story of gallant Ash Thomson, a married farmer who joins the Union Army in search of adventure. What makes Ash’s story stand out from the thousands of young men who followed a similar path is the fact that Ash is a woman.

Referring to her husband, Ash reasons: “I was strong and he was not, so it was me went to war to defend the Republic,” Leaving him behind to tend their farm, Ash is driven to fight by the memory of her formidable mother and a wanderlust which taunts her like an itch that can’t be scratched.

Passing as a man isn’t too difficult for Ash given her fondness for arm-wrestling and facility with a firearm. She soon enlists and undergoes training.

On the way to battle Ash earns the nickname “Gallant Ash” by giving her coat away to an overexposed young lady who has suffered a wardrobe malfunction whilst cheering on the troops. This exploit is made into a ballad which follows Ash throughout her travails.

Over the course of the novel Ash experiences the horrors of soldiering first-hand and finds the possibility of switching between genders strategically useful. Her dual gender roles also give her more access to female perspectives and what their wartime experiences entails.

Along the way she encounters a heroic former agoraphobic, a professor of classics who is a reluctant colonel, a village where the soon to be dead bear witness to each others indiscretions in a public forum, and a widow who keeps an outdoor bed beneath the stars.

The story is told from Ash’s perspective so we have to take her word for truth in regards to the veracity of what transpires, although at times we are left to wonder whether our narrator is embroidering certain aspects of her tale.

As a result of experiencing the story through Ash’s eyes we are party to what may be hallucinations as war takes its inevitable toll on her psyche. A memorable moonlit bath with confederate soldiers ending with asphyxiation is one of the events of uncertain provenance.

Throughout the novel allusions are made to different tales about war, most obvious are the references to Odysseus. Similar to the Odyssey, the plot of Neverhome is as much about Ash’s homecoming as it is about her going to war.

Ash’s post-war encounter with Bartholomew, an inconstant Penelope as it transpires, is as important as her decision to go to war in the first place.

Neverhome is a very enjoyable novel. This is due, in a large part to the character Ash who is a well realised and genuinely interesting character. She is a pragmatist who does what she must to get by. While her actions are radical in terms of women’s expected roles at the time, Ash proceeds without an ideology, preferring actions over words. She doesn’t politely insist on equality but instead takes it using her cunning and her pistol.

Interestingly the physical aspect of Ash’s transformation is not dwelt on by the author. An occasional reference is made to certain precaution Ash must take to avoid discovery but it is not a central preoccupation of the novel. We are spared over-long depictions of breast binding and “gosh darn yer a girl!!!!” moments.

For the most part other characters accept Ash for what she presents herself as, her superiors perhaps willing to turn a blind eye to details like gender in the case of such a capable soldier.

By avoiding the temptation of stock gender switching clichés the author is free to create a genuinely original and engaging character who breathes new life into an almost  worn out old trope.

I have not read any novels by Laird Hunt prior to Neverhome but I intend to rectify that in the near future.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguru

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GIANTThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguru features themes of memory and forgetting playing out against the type of vague backdrop so beloved of the author.

A great mist has descended on the populace of ancient Britain obscuring the memories of the indigenous Britons and their Saxon neighbours alike.

The novel follows the fortunes of a pair of pilgrims, Beatrice and Axl. Both native Britons are haunted by their lack of memories.

They inhabit a dreamlike post-Roman Britain which is populated by half-imagined monsters such as ogres, pixies and an amnesia inducing dragon.

Determined to regain their past, the pair resolve to undertake a journey to their son’s village where they hope they will be welcomed and find refuge from the mist.

Along the way the couple cross paths with some fellow wayfarers, an exiled Saxon boy who carries a terrible wound, a warrior whose skilful swordplay is matched only by his impeccable politeness, and an aged knight in rusting armour accompanied by his clapped out steed.

These characters, seemingly drawn together by chance, are niggled by a sense that they may know each other. As is often the case with quests, the journey soon evolves into something beyond the characters’ original intentions.

Much controversy, and of course publicity, has greeted Ishiguru’s disavowal of the fantasy genre, with heavy-weights like Ursula Le Guin giving their two cents about the author’s perceived sniffiness towards fantasy.

While I do find more ‘literary writers’ resistance to being identified as having produced genre fiction amusing and somewhat precious, this time I feel myself siding with Ishiguru.

The Buried Giant is not a fantasy novel. Readers of the novel can, and will, argue the toss endlessly, but one particular point disqualified The Buried Giant as fantasy for me. That was the seemingly intentional unreality of its supernatural beings.

To my mind, fantasy seeks to convince us of the literal reality of its monsters. Not that monsters in fantasy are necessarily without a metaphorical dimension, but that the metaphorical dimension functions alongside a sense of the reality of the monster within the text.

When the Nazgûl were hunting Frodo in The Lord of The Rings I could feel them breathing, if ring-wraiths do indeed breathe, down the back of my neck as they mercilessly sought their quarry. The danger they represented in and of themselves seemed very real to me as a reader. In The Buried Giant the fantastical beings are more hallucinatory and less consequential than in fantasy novels.

Some readers have reacted with frustration at the marginal role which Ishiguru has granted the supernatural creatures, perhaps agreeing with Chekhov’s maxim regarding guns:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” The rifles being ogres in this instance.

I for one found these creatures all the more intriguing for their elusiveness and lack of consequence in the story.The monsters in the novel act as beautiful scenery which helps to construct a pleasing  phantasmagoria for the characters to inhabit. I found it liberating to walk by ogres, admiring them in passing, without dwelling too much on them.

The Buried Giant borrows some of the clothing of the fantasy genre but underneath its surface lies a very different beast.

The fantasy elements are a backdrop for the human drama central to the story. Of course fantasy can feature human drama, but in The Buried Giant the novel is almost exclusively concerned with its themes of collective memory, psychic repression and the nature of love and forgiveness. The dragons and sword fights really don’t matter much at all, whereas in fantasy proper, for better or worse, they do.

Literary references ranging from The Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Greek myth are interspersed throughout the tale. These references and fragments contribute to building the novel’s peculiar  kaleidoscopic atmosphere.

I am a big fan of Kazuo Ishiguru’s work and enjoyed The Buried Giant. Perhaps my familiarity with his previous work inoculated me against the disappointment others may have felt with the book.

I never expected balls to the wall fantasy from Mr.Ishiguru, but rather restrained melancholic prose and bitter-sweet musings on memory and forgetting. All of which I found present in abundance.

While The Buried Giant is certainly not the author’s strongest novel, it still has enough going on in it to warrant a reader’s attention. It seems to be a novel which pushed the writer outside of his comfort zone.  The result is this wilfully odd genre bender which is hard to pigeon-hole, and as such worth a look.

I’ve included the link to the original article which sparked the fantasy/not fantasy furore below: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/20/books/for-kazuo-ishiguro-the-buried-giant-is-a-departure.html?_r=0

STALIN, PARADOXES OF POWER 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin

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STALINTrotsky lived on his armor-plated train, which had been thrown together in August 1918… It required two engines and was stocked with weapons, uniforms, felt boots, and rewards for valiant soldiers. The train acquired a printing press (whose equipment occupied two carriages), telegraph station, radio station, electric power station, library, team of agitators, garage with trucks, cars, and petrol tank, track repair unit, bathhouse and secretariat. It also had a twelve-person body-guard detail… Trotsky’s living quarters… had previously belonged to the imperial railroad minister. Conferences were held in the dining car. The men were clad in black leather, head to toe. Trotsky then with jet black hair to go with his blue eyes, wore a collarless military style tunic… While on board, he would issue more than 12,000 orders and write countless articles, many for the train’s newspaper (En Route)… Trotsky’s train would log 65,000 miles, mobilizing, imposing discipline, and boosting morale. It also evolved into an independent military unit (taking part in combat thirteen times) and took on mythic status.

The above chunk of text is taken from Stephen Kotkin’s recently published biography of Stalin. I have quoted it because I am gobsmacked that I have lived to this point in time having never heard tell of Trotsky’s battle train.  His own bloody battle train!

Why a Hollywood style CGI extravaganza directed by Micheal Bay hasn’t been made about Trotsky’s locomotive exploits, is beyond me.

STALIN, PARADOXES OF POWER is part one in a three-part biography of Stalin, the original “man of steel”. It seeks to situate Stalin and his apparently inexorable rise from Georgian peasant to Soviet dictator in its proper context.

On completion, the trilogy’s trajectory will span the collapse of Czarist Russia through to the end of World War Two. One certainly can’t fault Mr.Kotkin on the scale of his ambition.

PARADOXES OF POWER covers Stalin’s youth and rise to pre-eminence. In it, Kotkin gives us a portrait of the dictator as a young man. We are told about his childhood, his education in a Tiflis seminary and his gradual emergence as a Bolshevik big shot.

Rather than presenting Stalin’s rise to power as a pre-determined inevitability, as is often the problem in biographies, the author gives us a pan global picture of the broad historical forces at play.

As Kotkin notes, “For a Georgian from small-town Gori… to rise anywhere near the summit of power, and seek to implement Marxist ideas, the whole world had to be brought crashing down. And it was.”

Throughout the book Kotkin efficiently uses information to illustrate global realities; “New production processes boosted world steel production from half a million tons in 1870 to twenty-eight million by 1900. But the United States accounted for ten million; Germany, eight; and Britain, five.”

Telling facts such as the above are lucidly deployed to illustrate the global state of play and provide context to the broader world which Stalin inhabited. Kotkin comprehensively explains the inherent flaws and failing of the Czarist autocratic system which preceded the Bolsheviks rise to power.

Due to its broad perspective the book is useful to those who are new to the subject of Stalin and the emergence of the Soviet Union.

For veterans of the subject, Kotkin’s incisive debunking of some long-held myths will be of interest. A particular bug bear of the author is the notion that Stalin somehow usurped Lenin’s revolution, a claim which he thoroughly refutes.  Kotkin tells  us Beyond the fact that Stalin’s ascendancy inside the regime owed a great deal to Lenin’s actions, the Communist regime had come into being as a result of a coup,and, while claiming to rule in the name of the proletariat, executed those who dared to question the party’s self-assigned monopoly. It was the party that had usurped power.”

Readers who enjoy a spot of historical rubber necking will also be engaged by the parade of eccentrics who appear throughout the book, each worthy of biographies in their own right.

When Rasputin is one the more restrained personalities present you know you’re about to meet some interesting characters.

Take the Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg. Descended from German aristocracy who included crusaders in their lineage, and raised on imperial Russia’s Baltic littoral, the baron also held a Manchurian title due to his marriage to a Manchu princess. He boasted that he would one day become emperor of China.

The Baron was “A staunch monarchist and hater of Bolshevism’s sacrileges.” He was also a sadistic opium fiend who commanded a “so-called savage Division of East Siberian Cossacks”.

Using his Cossacks alongside Mongol and Tibetan troops, Sternberg liberated Mongolia from the Chinese and reinstated the Bogd Gegen, “a Living Buddha, third after the Dalai Lama… and the Panchen Lama in the Lamaist Buddhist hierarchy” as Khan of Mongolia.

Hunted by the Red Army, who used his exploits as a pretext to invade Mongolia, Sternberg cut a singular figure, as described  by an eyewitness of his final march,”  The baron, with his head dropped to his chest, silently rode in front of his troops. He had lost his hat and most of his clothes. On his naked chest numerous Mongolian talismans and charms were hanging on a bright yellow cord. He looked like a reincarnation of a prehistoric ape-man”.

On his capture by the Red Army he was tried and pronounced guilty of “working in the interests of the Japanese to create a Central Asian state, trying to restore the Romanovs, torture, anti-Semitism, and atrocities. He denied only the connection with Japanese.”

I have to confess to having become rather obsessed with the monstrous grandiosity of the eccentric baron, a Baltic colonel Kurtz. It seems a definitive biography of him is yet to be written so if any passing biographers stumble upon my blog I beg them to take a moment to consider the Baron as a subject.

The scope of STALIN, PARADOXES OF POWER is breath-taking. The work is evidently a labour of love. I found it to be a exemplary piece of  panoramic scholarship and eagerly await part two.

From The Fatherland,With Love by Ryu Murakami

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fatherlandThe other Murakami

Ryu Murakami’s novel From The Fatherland, With Love tells the story of a covert invasion of Japan by North Korea.

The novel, originally published in 2005, is set in the near future. It depicts a vulnerable economically stagnant Japan where unemployment and homelessness are rife.

An advance invasion party composed of crack North Korean commandos are tasked with infiltrating and taking over a strategic Japanese peninsula, Fukuoka.

To avoid bringing the wrath of the American military, Japan’s allies, down on their heads, the commandos masquerade as an independent faction who are looking to break away from North Korea and annexe the vulnerable peninsula, taking its inhabitants hostage.

When this ploy succeeds the Japanese government struggles to find an adequate response. Fukuoka is cordoned off from the mainland as the Government dithers about the correct way to proceed.

It’s up to a colourful band of misfits, who inhabit unofficial outcast colony on the peninsula to fight for Japan. The question is should they fight for the very society which shunned them in the first place?

From The Fatherland, With Love features a huge cast of characters, none of which are fleshed out very deeply. Most of the assembled sociopaths, due to their outlandish nature, resemble cartoon characters.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, and allows for a lot of gung-ho fun and some tongue in cheek stylised ultraviolence. This is done without overburdening the reader too much with ethics or consequences.

My favourite parts of the book involved the North Korean Commandos. I especially enjoyed when they were passing themselves off as South Korean tourists as part of the initial invasion plan.

The North Korean’s are consistently bamboozled by capitalist decadence. A particularly funny scene involved two of the female commandos puzzling over the impracticality of first-world women’s underwear.

The fish out of water scenario worked very well, and I felt a full novel could have been spun out of such a premise

My gripes with the novel derived mainly  from not fully understanding the cultural context in which the novel was produced, which I can hardly blame the author for.

I assume aspects of it are allegorical critiques of modern Japan, which in the author’s eyes has become too soft.

The novel seems to be a call for a more hawkish approach to Japanese military and less dependence on its military allies although I could be wrong.

From The Fatherland, With Love is a fun-filled romp, although it is perhaps a little over long. It is also a tad bogged down by the author’s over reliance on exposition as a narrative tool.

Despite these flaws I had enough of a good time reading this book to warrant taking a chance on reading more of Murakami’s novels.

The GoldFinch by Donna Tartt

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Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is reputedly the most unfinished novel of 2014 with only 44% of readers making it past the finishing line. This fascinating figure comes courtesy of e-booksellers Kobo and raises the interesting question of which books would qualify for this dubious accolade were the data available down through the ages. But that’s a topic for another post with suggestions welcome.

 

The Goldfinch is staunchly traditional in its structure. It tells the story of Theo Decker, a young man who is violently de-mothered when a bomb explodes while they are visiting New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

In the aftermath of the explosion the disoriented Theo has a package pressed on him by a dying old man, which he accepts out of deference to the old man’s imminent demise. It transpires the package contains the 1654 Carel Fabritius masterpiece, The Goldfinch.

The story opens with the adult Theo in a state of disarray in an Amsterdam hotel room.   From here he recounts the previous 17 years of his life following the fateful  explosion which, unsurprisingly given the physical heft of the novel, are quite eventful.

After a brief stay with alpha-WASP’s the Barbour family following the explosion, he is uprooted from his native New York by his dissolute estranged father who has an obligatory brassy blonde girlfriend in tow, and is taken to the plastic fantastic world of Los Angeles.

The painting, which accompanies him wherever he travels, has become both a burden and a consolation for Theo. On the one hand it is a sort of Telltale Heart which may reveal him as crook at any moment. On the other it was once his mother’s favourite painting, and as such it feels it connects him to her and bathes him in a special aura.

In Los Angeles he pairs up with another semi-orphaned individual, the world weary Russian teenager called Boris. Together they embark on a series of misadventures which eventually bring Theo back to New York where he becomes a ward of the kindly Hobie who teaches him the antiques trade.

This leads to Theo’s involvement in counterfeiting antique furniture and brings the reader full circle to his eventual arrival in the Amsterdam hotel where we find him at the novels opening.

So does the Goldfinch deserve its status as the most incompletely read novel of 2014? The answer is yes. In its favour the novel is cinematic in its scope and moves along at a breezy pace. Unfortunately a breezy pace can only propel a reader for so long, and over the course of 771 pages it’s a matter of time until a reader hits the doldrums.

The bones of a good novel are present but are obscured under layers of flabby improbability. The unlikely scenarios required to keep its narrative engine running eventually exasperate. The Goldfinch could really do with some ruthless editing, perhaps by Stalin.

On top or this the novel is a tonally strange read, and not in a good way. At times it feels like it belongs in the young adult section of the bookshop. Some of the characters veer dangerously close to caricature. Specifically Hobie the twinkly eyed kindly antique storeowner is hard to swallow. He seems like a refugee from a fairy tale where he was perhaps employed as a saintly toy maker.

Tartt’s description of the Fabritius’ painting are also uninspiring, her interpretation being as conventional the structure of her novel. This is particularly apparent when compared to other books which include discussions of art such as Ali Smith’s sublime ‘How To Be Both’.

All in all I found The Goldfinch to be an unsatisfying read and after persevering to the end found myself envying the 56% of readers who had the good sense to put the novel aside at an earlier stage.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

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To Rise Again At A Decent Hour cover - Copy“Life changing” is a phrase we often use to describe a work of literature which strikes a chord deep within us perhaps altering our world view. But can we palpably quantify the extent of that change?

And how long will it be before the effect of whatever we have read wears off and we revert to our familiar way of looking at the world?

Well I had my life changed by a novel three weeks ago and this monumental shift shows no sign of abating. What was this life changing book I hear you ask? Well the book in question was Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.

What changes has it wrought? I hear you ask eagerly. Well I, previously an unbeliever, am now a confirmed devotee of dental floss.

Okay, this may seem modest when compared to the metaphysical insights sometimes offered by reading the right book at the right moment, but in reality the effects of frequent flossing are probably far more enduring.

Anyway enough about my dental Damascus, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour tells the story of neurotic insomniac dentist Paul O’ Rourke and his struggle to find meaning in an absurd universe.

A curmudgeon and instinctive technophobe O’Rourke is at odds with the modern world and haunted by a gnawing sense of emptiness. He seeks something beyond himself but is persistently eluded. He is an atheist with an itch.

Unlike sneering, snarling, triumphalist Dawkins devotees this doubt filled dentist views his inability to believe as something of a tragedy, an amputation of sorts. Worst of all it makes him feel a bit left out.

He tries to fill the hole in his life with hobbies such as golf, walking tours, or learning Spanish but inevitably finds that “Everything was always something, but something – and here was the rub – could never be everything.”

Relationships are impossible for the self-involved O’Rourke and are little more than ballast for the void he feels.

His two significant romances, The first with a Catholic and the second with his Jewish secretary are little more than attempts to buy himself front row tickets into their respective faiths.

There are only two constants in O’Rourke’s life. The first is his devotion to his favourite baseball team the Red Sox. Although even his devotion to the Red Sox is waning. Since they have found success the Quixotic romance of being one of their fans has diminished.

The second is dental floss. Flossing is of the utmost importance to O’Rourke who cannot comprehend the minds of those who neglect this vital regimen.

For O’Rourke flossing is a heroic Beckettian act. One flosses in spite of ones inevitable expiration and the inherent futility of fighting decay, It’s the closest thing he has to faith.

O’Rourke’s world is turned upside down when after a bizarre encounter with a patient of a spiritual persuasion, his online identity is hi-jacked.

Suddenly a twitter account appears in his name spouting esoteric mysticism and claiming to represent the Amalekites, a Biblical tribe long believed to have been wiped out by the Israelites.

What’s worse is the public interest which this persona receives. O’Rourke soon becomes obsessed with the mysterious impostor and begins a quest to track him down and hold him to account.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour addresses interesting ideas about religion and the ownership of sacred texts. Ferris is well versed in the Abrahamic faiths and puts this knowledge to good use.

The book wears its learning lightly but contains worthwhile observations about the nature of religious faith.

It is also laugh out loud on public transport hilarious, so be prepared to irritate your fellow commuters if you pick it up.

It runs out of steam a little in its final quarter when the mystery of the Amalekites is resolved, but this is forgiveable in light of the fact that it is a genuinely funny novel.

I really enjoyed this To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. and found Paul O’Rourke to be an excellent comic creation.

On top of this my dentist will no doubt be delighted with the unexpected consequences of me having read this novel.

J by Howard Jacobson

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jHoward Jacobson’s latest novel J, tells the story of two lovers Ailinn and Kevern, each unsure of their respective origins, who are thrown together by circumstance in a dystopic future Britain. Before I proceed I think it is only fair that I include a spoiler alert as it is very difficult to discuss this novel in a meaningful way without disclosing aspects of the plot which only become apparent as the story proceeds.

While I usually don’t ascribe to the notion of spoiler warnings feeling a plot should stand on its own two feet regardless of a readers prior knowledge of its outline, Jacobson has taken such care in ensuring the revelations occur gradually and has done so with such evident skill I’d feel a bad sport for ruining this experience for potential readers.

The dystopia presented in J, is of a particularly British flavour, an event of some magnitude has taken place, and is referred to as “What Happened If It Happened”. A kind of creepy super polite fascism is enforced throughout the land, performed through congenial evasion and denial.

Certain cultural artefacts are, if not outright banned, then certainly discouraged from being owned by a collective disapproval reinforced by Ofnow, the government body responsible for maintaining the collective amnesia. Ofnow are responsible for Operation Ishmael the initiative responsible for the cultural coyness.

Ofnow’s ideology is expressed through asinine injunctions such as, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, The Over Examined Life Is Not Worth Living”, and “ Yesterday Is A Lesson We Can Learn Only By Looking To Tomorrow”.

Obtaining information about “What Happened If It Happened” is discouraged through tactful deferment; “Buildings are not barred to you. Doors are not closed in your face. ‘Yes, of course’ will be the polite rejoinder to any request you make to inspect certificates of birth or death, or voter lists, or even newspapers dating too far back. But the forms you fill in are never read by anyone. Calls are not returned, applications are lost, the person you were talking to in the morning won’t be there in the afternoon.”

The effects of this collective repression has a deleterious effect on the general population who exhibit increased aggression and seem to be buckling under the strain of their lie. Domestic violence is on the increase and people seem restless, dissatisfied and ready to tear each other apart.

J is an interesting novel as it is a piece of genre fiction written by a writer who, by his own admission, turns his nose up at genre writing. Unsurprisingly it features some of the classic problems of the literary writer dabbling in genre writing.

The biggest of these problems are that he gives precedence to literary considerations, subjugating his plot to allegorical ends, rather than building a thoroughly convincing dystopic world. Jacobson’s dystopia makes no sense economically or socially. Also the plot contains logical problems.

So here’s the spoiler. “What Happened If It Happened ” turns out to have been a pogrom where the Jewish population were set upon by the general populace. Kevern and Ailinn are of interest to the government who wishes to re-establish a Jewish population through a breeding program. The reasons for this are far from benevolent.

The logic behind reintroducing a Jewish population lies in a government sociologist’s theory that society needs a scapegoat population to vent its anger on and stop it from tearing itself apart. The reason that this population needs to be specifically Semitic are given as follows:

You have to see a version of yourself, A reflection you cannot bear to see. An echo you cannot bear to hear. In other words, you must have chewed on the same bone of moral philosophy, subscribed to a similar spirituality and even, at some point in the not too distant past, have worshipped at the same shrines. It was difference where there was so much that was similar that accounted for the unique antipathy of which they were in search. And only one people with one set of prints fit that bill.

The above quote is a good observation of how sectarian hate operates, but ignores the specific history of British sectarianism, where the primary antagonism has been between Protestant and Catholic Christians, with anti-Jewish sentiment being little more than a grotesque sideshow.

It might seem like I am nit-picking but for me this was a major flaw, and showed a lack of historical understanding, again revealing the author’s willingness to steamroller over inconvenient realities in order to make a point.

The author’s take on Middle Eastern politics are also a little simplistic to say the least, one suspects a certain element of intentional provocation.

I am also wary of fictionalised Holocaust’s, and worry that an over-accumulation of them create a cultural context where the real historical tragedy is perhaps in danger of being trivialised.

Despite the above reservations I enjoyed reading J, The novel’s eventual revelation is expertly handled and creeps up on you gradually enveloping you in the novel’s genuinely unnerving landscape.

J is a prickly and problematic book which is no doubt the author’s intention, and one admires him for his willingness to step on toes, and for this alone he should be applauded. It is an atmospheric novel filled with jet black humour, and is best enjoyed on its own terms rather than being taken too seriously.