Aside

TaraShea Nesbit – The Wives of Los Alamos It’s UK publication day!

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The Wives of Los AlamosIt’s publication day for this careful group consciousness account of what it was like to be part of the New Mexico Los Alamos Manhattan project community, during the Second World War, Here is my original review, written last month after receiving it as an ARC from NetGalley in digital form

The Wives Of Los Alamos Amazon UK
The Wives Of Los Alamos Amazon USA

Aside

Happy birthday and many thanks for years of pleasure!

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I can’t let 23rd April go by without raising a glass*** to Saint Immortal Bard on the occasion of his birth (and death) day.

*Whilst raising that glass a few Bardic glass quotes were trawled for (courtesy of Google)

Look in thy glass, and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another; (Sonnet 3)

My glass shall not persuade me I am old,
So long as youth and thou are of one date;
(Sonnet 22)

There was never yet fair woman but she made mouths in a glass. (King Lear)

I’m sure there are many more…??

Cheekily, I want to dredge up a couple of reviews from my back catalogue, wonderful fictions both, with Will as the central character, vibrant, subtle, entertaining and profound as his plays

The-Secret-Life-of-William-SFirstly, Jude Morgan’s The Secret Life Of William Shakespeare, which amongst its other delights creates a real, believable relationship between the young Will and Anne Hathaway, by giving Anne real substance and persona

And secondly, combining fantastic attention to the dark and Final Act coverand plot obsessed Jacobean society post-Gunpowder plot, with a mature Shakespeare brought out of retirement to write a new history play, and some wonderful ‘in the rehearsal rooms’ invention is Robert Winder’s The Final Act Of Mr Shakespeare

I supped both these up with delight, gusto and absorption, and both are placed firmly on the ‘keepers’ bookshelf, destined for re-reads

;

Georgina Harding – The Solitude of Thomas Cave

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The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

The Solitude of Thomas CaveHow would it be to choose solitude, with no certain hope of changing one’s mind? How would it be, in the end, to rely upon who you are, your skills and talents, and upon surrender to, and understanding, the implacability and indifference of the vastness of the natural world?

This is a fascinating subject to me. Most of us are so used to having our needs met by the interdependency of community; we never need to confront our deepest identity, who we are in relationship to ourselves. Only oneself as a measure of what it is to be human.

I’ve read a lot of books that are factual accounts of exploration of solitude, A Book of Silence and a relationship with the environment The Wild Places or an attempt to piece together a book about someone else’s solitude Into the Wild and there does seem to be something particularly challenging and revealing about the ‘extreme North’ both as idea and as reality. Something about the light and the unearthly clarity of deep snow, and the frozen brightness of that white and unforgiving landscape.

Arctic circle snowscape

Harding’s book, written with a sombre, bleak descriptiveness is a fictional account of one man’s experience of ‘North’. Set in the seventeenth century, it recounts the tale of a sailor choosing to spend nearly a year in an isolated whaling station, in the far Arctic. Lack of any technology makes this particularly risky, as there is of course no certainty that the whaling ship which leaves him will itself survive the journey back to civilisation or even the return the next year to collect him. Cave is left with himself, his thoughts, his history and his ingenuity, and the experience is of course burning and refining.

bloody muzzled polar

A wonderful and thought provoking read, even if I couldn’t go quite to 5 star, as the finalgeorgina_harding third of the book, where the wider historical perspective really kicked in, felt a little disconnected, and there was, at moments, a sensibility which felt a little ‘modern’ rather than of its time.

The Solitude Of Thomas Cave Amazon UK
The Solitude Of Thomas Cave Amazon USA

Christiane Ritter – A Woman In The Polar Night

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Now we are alone for a year

Woman in the polar nightI discovered after finishing this book that the author was a visual artist.  At which point the particular sensitivity and refinement of her descriptions of the far Arctic landscape, particularly detailed gradations of colour in sky, snow, ice and water made even more sense.

In 1934 Ritter, an Austrian woman, came to Svalbard (Spitsbergen) to join her husband, Hermann, a hunter trapper (the fur trade) who spent long periods of time in the Arctic plying this trade. Hermann had a deep and abiding love for the Arctic landscape and its isolation. Perhaps more modern sensibilities are rather more disturbed by the trade engaged in. I did have to take myself rather out of that distress, reading of the trapping of Arctic foxes for fur. The killing of seals and bears by hunters, for food, did not arouse the same feelings of repugnance in me.

As I am fascinated (and terrified!) by the idea of isolation in a harsh, indifferent landscape, where there is remarkably little possibility for communication with the outside world, this was always going to be an entrancing, absorbing read. The mere fact that getting close enough to these areas to continue on foot, sled, or ski must always depend on vessels being able to come close before the pack ice and freeze prevents the ship being trapped, once dropped, rescue (in earlier times) becomes an impossibility. A very isolated community of trappers and hunters, living around a day’s ski away from each other (if the weather is kindly) puts running out of supplies into a rather dangerous perspective.

Wiki Commons, topographic map of Svalbard from User:Mysid

Wiki Commons, topographic map of Svalbard from User:Mysid

Aspects of Christine Ritter’s story were not really touched on, but did leave me wondering – she and Hermann had a child who was left behind in Austria (age not mentioned) whilst she was away for the year.

Very little of a personal nature is revealed in this book, – for example, she discovered when she came, as arranged, to the Arctic, that she would be sharing the small and primitive hut for most of the year not just with her husband, but with a friend of his, another hunter trapper. My curiosity was aroused but not really satisfied, wanting to get some insight into the emotional connections between the 3. But Christiane makes no mention at all, even of the initial shock of finding she would not be on her own with her husband.

Christiane and Hermann Ritter, Arctic summer in Grahuken - photo from book

Christiane and Hermann Ritter, Arctic summer in Grahuken – photo from book

The outstanding relationship which develops in this book is that of Christiane with the land itself, her writing often becoming elegiac, transcendent, and devotional

The interesting introduction by Lawrence Millman points out that many books written about polar exploration or life, by male authors, often appear to have some sort of underlying theme about a sense of conflict with the landscape, about somehow mankind dominating, battling with and overcoming and subduing the environment. Christiane in many ways writes the language of a desire to be subsumed by, absorbed by, surrendered to. It is a lover’s language, not a warrior’s. And interestingly she does have anxieties and feelings for the animals being trapped, at one point even consciously befriending a young fox and trying to ensure it does not end up trapped by the hunters.

Photo of Northern Lights, Commons, from greenland__com

Photo of Northern Lights, Commons, from greenland__com

She even elects to stay behind in the main home hut, rather than travel on hunting with the men – in fact, all three of them are drawn to undertake further isolation for weeks or months.

 I myself stand forlornly by the water’s edge. The power of this worldwide peace takes hold of me, although my senses are unable to grasp it. And as though I were unsubstantial, no longer there, the infinite space penetrates through me and swells out, the surging of the sea passes through my being, and what was once a personal will dissolves like a small cloud against the inflexible cliffs.

 I am conscious of the immense solitude around me. There is nothing that is like me, no creature in whose aspect I might retain a consciousness of my own self, I feel that the limits of my being are being lost in this all-too-powerful nature, and for the first time I have a sense of the divine gift of companionship

I was steered towards this book by another reviewer on Amazon, who intrigued me by informing me that in some ways this book had clearly acted as a springboard for Michelle Paver, when she came to write her magnificent, chilly book, Dark Matter – there is a point where Ritter first comes to this landscape she later falls so in love with, where she hints at a brooding sense of menace and presence, which Paver works into, and works up, in her novel. She even ever so slightly changes the name of the Ritter Arctic home Grahuken, to make it into her fictitious Gruhuken.

Christiane Ritter was clearly a most remarkable, redoubtable woman. She has a mildChristiane Ritter obsession with vitamins – well who wouldn’t when you are snowbound without fresh vegetables for a year! – and it clearly served her well, she only died in 2000, at the age of 103!

A Woman In The Polar Night Amazon UK
A Woman In The Polar Night Amazon USA

The Great Beauty

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Flowers of Beautiful Emptiness

The Great BeautyPaolo Sorrentino’s much lauded, multi award winning film about La Dolce Vita, the hedonistic, excessive, stylish – but ultimately exhausted ennui of Roman high-life is itself a feast of beautiful, empty, melancholic ‘so what’ exhaustion.

The conundrum at the heart of this, is: how can you make a film about a group of sophisticated, pretentious, self-indulgent excessive artists or, more properly, for the majority, pseudo-artists, without your own art-work being subsumed into the gorgeous soft porn, sated, over-indulged luscious skin and vision-fest you are portraying.

I was not completely certain, despite the wit in the script, the gorgeousness of the vistas and especially the stunning, stylish women, which the camera lingers lovingly over, in their often naked voluptuousness, whether what I was watching was art, or merely another excuse to show beautiful women naked, and a parade of ageing powerful men clustered like vampires in a feeding frenzy round succulent female flesh.

The central character, through whose eyes we ingest Rome’s beauty, fiddling whilst – not necessarily Rome, but life itself, burns and is destroyed, is Jep Gambardella, a 65 year old journalist, of acerbic, mordant pen. Jep is lionised by his society, he is, as he always wanted to be, a mover and a shaker, and delights in being the sort of man who attends the best and wildest and excessive gatherings, but is not only the man who attends those parties – but the man whose dismissive words can make those parties FAIL. Once, many years ago he wrote a novel which was praised high, now he makes and unmakes reputations.

The unseen presence which stalks through the film is the grim reaper; death. Although it is hearing of the death of his first love which brings existential despair up close and personal for Jep, we see through his eyes, as he plunges into the swings and roundabouts of parties, sex, and spectacle that he (and all around) are doing this to stop awareness of the knowledge that we are all on that journey to the grave.

The film swings constantly between the overindulgence of spectacle, movement, noise and distraction, and silence, emptiness, spaciousness, some kind of surrendering acceptance, as exemplified by the presence of a 103 year old nun, soon to be canonised. However, the spectacle of the lizard-faced, decrepit nun crawling in suffering penance on hands and knees up a flight of stairs as part of her spiritual, saintly journey, is no particular solace either.

thegreatbeauty.hero_

The performances, (especially Toni Servillo as Gambardella) are all impeccable, the whole filmic quality of the piece is lush, wonderful, artful, but at the end I was left looking for something which I’m not certain I found – something to value, some quality of heart. In some ways, though the characters in this piece have a sophistication and finesse, and a stylish wit and brio, which makes them at least knowingly witty company, I was left with the same feeling of distaste for humankind which reading Bret Easton Ellis’s The Laws of Attraction gave me. And the point of that comparison, is that this is as partial and incomplete a view of humankind (very little that is kind, in this) as the other side unreal saccharine view of traditional Hollywood. This was a world peopled pretty well by only the stunningly beautiful or the Fellini-esque grotesque. It missed the extraordinary of ordinary itself.

As filmic spectacle, it is indeed splendid, but is it more than just a very finely lacquered mind-game to be dissected and debated. And is that enough?

The Great Beauty Amazon UK
The Great Beauty Amazon USA

James Lee Burke – The Tin Roof Blowdown

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Bleak, dark, suffused with simmering and often righteous anger: never a comfortable read.

tinroofblowdownJames Lee Burke is far from my usual reading fare, out of self-preservation really. A too deep and often immersion in this world of constant perfidy and violence, where the oppressed are for the most part so savagely handled that becoming the oppressor seems the only way out, leaves this reader too closely believing that the brutality of our species is all there is, and that the survival of kindness and compassion is an impossibility.

Yet, from rare time to time I do foray into Burke’s books, lured by the power of his writing, and the complex multifaceted layers of his characters.

Dave Robicheaux, Lee Burke’s central and continuing character across a series of Louisiana set books, presently works as a sheriff’s deputy. He is a Vietnam vet, whose experiences in that war and his own early family history have taken him into some very dark places. He is an alcoholic in recovery. His best friend, a former cop, now working for a bail bondsman, is a still-suffering alcoholic, Clete Purcell.

There are deep and sometimes potentially dangerous bonds of friendship between the two, as their shared history of violence and addiction simmers below the surface for both, erupting most often for Purcell, whilst consciously struggled with through his recovery programme, for Robicheaux, who also is supported by a strong relationship with his wife and adopted daughter. Purcell particularly strays often outside the strict letter of the law, yet there is always some basic honour in him.

The Tin Roof Blowdown has a complicated plot involving a psychopath and sexual predator, a horrific gang rape, and a burglary from someone with Mob connections. This is all played out in New Orleans whilst Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastate the area, and much of the unleashed violence and lawbreaking happens against a backdrop of aid coming too little, too late, and the poor and powerless are left defenceless.

Katrina, New Orleans, Wiki Commons

Katrina, New Orleans, Wiki Commons

Much of the anger expressed in the book is righteous, with Robicheaux expressing his understanding that systems of governance which favour the haves, and deprive the have-nots, sow the seeds of criminality, that deprivation and lack of justice and opportunity, dysfunction in society, covert and overt racism, will only breed more of the same.

This is a strongly written, apocalyptic book and does not hold out much hope, other thanJames Lee Burke the small, local bonds of kindness and understanding individuals may be lucky to find with each other, whilst outside, in the world at large, hell seems to be up and running.

The Tin Roof Blowdown Amazon UK
The Tin Roof Blowdown Amazon USA

Inside Llewyn Davis

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Uncomfortable, hilarious, poignant and musical is the brew

Inside Llewyn DavisThis Coen Brothers film, about the burgeoning folk scene in the early 60s had me wincing, laughing, and absorbed for its 90 minutes. The film opens in Greenwich Village in 1961 at a precise time just BEFORE Dylan burst onto the scene.

Llewyn Davis (an excellent performance by Oscar Isaac) is an utterly self-obsessed, careless, narcissistic musician. He is however a man of talent, self-belief, and creativity. And also laziness, prickliness and melancholy.

So the nub of the film is the self-obsession and belief which the artist MUST have, if they are to be putting their creative vision out there – married with the fact that the person themselves may not be particularly likeable. We (the consuming public) half forgive the often careless and badly behaved artist if their WORK touches us.

The Coens present us with this – in many ways Davis is a rather unlikeable human being, careless of everyone else’s feelings, tender of his own. At yet, there is a curious vulnerability about him which is attractive enough to allow him to use people, because they see something in that vulnerability which they want to protect, not to mention a sense that what the artist creates may be much finer than the artist himself. So, as that fineness of creation is IN the artist, this means they must, surely, be a better person than they appear to be. Well, that I think is the theory that has artists forgiven for what would be unindulged behaviour in non-artists.

Maybe we do believe, unlike what Orwell says, that an artist IS a special kind of man!

Davis stumbles through, journeying from New York to Chicago and back, in pursuit of fame and fortune, insulting people wittingly and unwittingly, coercing his way into places to stay, meals to be fed – and making at one point a terribly wrong decision around a recording session which the audience knows will sting. Davis is careless and selfish, sure, but he is also gauche and possessed of a certain gullible innocence – he both exploits and IS exploited.

inside-llewyn-davis-oscar-isaac3

I’m sure I’m not alone is also rooting for the parallel ginger cat story, one of those wonderfully real Coenesque eccentricities, which left me, as a cat fancier, wondering and worrying about one development. (can’t say more, spoiler avoider)

Llewyn Davis’ has a Dylanesque musical style and voice, and indeed Oscar Isaac has some of that intense street-waif sexiness of the young Dylan, as in the album cover of the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and there is almost a sub-text of ‘could this be a version of Dylan’. There is a neat barbed moment around this in the film, which had me wincing and laughing in equal measure.

With a great musical trawl through, in terms of live performance and soundtrack music, this was a thoroughly enjoyable film

Inside-Llewyn-Davis-trailer-1877774

Other performances of note in the film are the sweet faced, sweet voiced, foul mouthed and angry character played by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman as a fairly obnoxious jazz musician and Garrett Hedlund as Johnny Five, a beat poet, in the road/Chicago section of the film.

The 40 odd minute ‘extras’ have a certain rough-cut charm, probably particularly to musicians.

I have one small criticism of the sound quality of the spoken material, which seemed unusually quiet and muttery from some of the performers, so I had to have the volume turned up beyond normal levels to properly hear much of the dialogue.

I received this DVD as a copy for review purposes from Amazon Vine UK

Inside Llewyn Davis Amazon UK
Inside Llewyn Davis Amazon USA

Olivia Laing – To The River

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Walking the river flow

to the riverJust as some people have perfect pitch, which they can then learn to tune even more finely, and some have eyes which are attuned to see ever finer gradations of tone, colour and shade, and can then further train and refine this gift, some, I believe, resonate with a precision and refinement towards words, language itself, and are capable of conceptualising and describing the world new-minted, fresh, present. And will also then further refine this resonance.

Such a one is Olivia Laing, as this marvellous book effortlessly demonstrates. When I say ‘effortlessly’ I don’t mean that its construction necessarily came trippingly and fully formed for the writer – maybe it did, I don’t know – but that the reader has no sense of affect being striven for, no sense of ‘my, what beautiful writing’ in terms of showy flashness in description. It isn’t that I read with a sense of ‘what a beautiful description of a sunset’ – more, I read without effort, slowly, presently, observantly. Sentence followed sentence, and both the parts and the whole just WERE. This is authentic writing, and from first to last I just had the sense, which might often come with music which is balanced, and somehow winds the listener more deeply into itself, that ‘this is the moment; and this; and this’

Stream of consciousness … Olivia Laing's To the River is a love letter to the Ouse in Sussex.

Laing has written a walking journey the length of the River Ouse, which effortlessly weaves the long history of the planet, of geological time and evolution, with recorded historical fact, with the industry of place, with social history – and with the short lives of individuals, and how they connect to place. She renders all fascination, and the powerful presence of her writing had me reading with a kind of breathlessness, heart and lungs almost afraid to move on, so much did I want to ingest and inhabit each step of the journey, each sentence of the book.

Virginia Woolf

Presiding over all, for Laing, and moving through the feel of the book, is Virginia Woolf, who, as we know, on a day in 1941 walked out into the Ouse with a pocket full of stones. Woolf was a woman perhaps too finely calibrated for the world, sharing with some other writers with an exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, a feeling too attuned to unsheathed nerve endings, unmyelinated. But what such writers can do is perhaps to waken and unwrap those of us who are too tightly sheathed AGAINST perception.

Laing solidly walks the journey, feet well on the ground, noticing, noticing.

I could have taken virtually any and every sentence from her book to illustrate the harmony, perception, reflection of her writing. I did start underlining, but quickly abandoned, as the book itself needs underlining.

The path spilled on down a long lion-coloured meadow into a valley lined with ashes. There the river ran in riffles over the gravel beds that the sea trout need to breed. I crossed it at Hammerhill Bridge, running milky in the sun, and climbed east again into Hammerhill Copse.The land had lain open to the morning and now it seemed to close up like a clam. There was a woman’s coat hanging over the gate to the wood, the chain padlocked about it like a belt. Who drops a coat in a wood? The label had been cut out, and the pink satin lining was stippled by mould

Reading this book, I feel invited, constantly, by the writer, to both inhabit the presence ofOlivia Laing the time and place of her journey, and, in an echo of Robert Frost’s poem, stay aware of the other paths and possibilities that might have been taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other,

I too am left wondering the story of that coat…….and other snags to possibilities she uncovers and suggests, on the journey. She is being compared to W.G. Sebald in her writing and her subject matter, winding the reader in, still further in, worlds within worlds, to the source. I don’t think this is mere marketers puff.

To The River : A Journey Beneath The Surface Amazon UK
To The River : A Journey Beneath The Surface Amazon USA

Elizabeth Gilbert – The Signature Of All Things

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“A Violet by a mossy stone, half hidden from the eye” – Passion, sexuality and botanical obsessions

signature_page_01Elizabeth Gilbert’s book title, The Signature of All Things, relates to the ancient, metaphysical herbal theory of The Doctrine of Signatures, originally espoused by Jacob Boehme, which found its way into the Renaissance Herbals like Nicholas Culpeper.

This is a wonderful, historical novel which will particularly delight anyone with an interest in botany, the development of ideas which led to the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, trail-blazing self-taught female scientists, and the dichotomy and struggle between mysticism and pragmatism.

The central character of this book is Alma Whittaker, born at the very beginning of the nineteenth century. She is the daughter of a couple of very plain speaking, wonderfully forthright people for whom plants are a passion and a livelihood. Daughter of an English under-gardener and a Dutch horticulturalist, Alma is brought up in Pennsylvania. Possessed of no beauty but fierce intelligence and spirit she is raised as a freethinking intellectual. Her family circumstances are odd, quirky, eccentric and then some. She is spirited, has dry wit, strong sexual drives which unfortunately are a torment rather than a delight since she does not possess either sexual allure, nor does she fit the mould expected, as the mores of the early nineteenth century look for cultivation, rather than plain-speaking, and modest, flirtatious, male-ego bolstering whims, frills and furbelows rather than a willingness to argue, debate, question and ridicule stupidity.

Alma is an utter delight however for a reader, as it is her feisty, intelligent, curious nature, her very delight in the processes of life itself, and her insatiable thirst to know about the workings of things which is captivating.

bryophytes

During the first hundred or so pages I was absolutely convinced this was a novelised biography, so deep and detailed and involved is all the botanical information, delivered with such delight and passion. Particularly as various naturalists, plant specialists, explorers and scientists make tangential appearance in these pages – Joseph Banks, Darwin, Alfred Wallace, Captain Cook. So I searched for the papers published by our bryologist Alma Whittaker and found………….well what I found made me admire Gilbert’s work even more!

This is a novel which touches on big ideas – which globe trots England, Holland, Pennsylvania, Tahiti, which is quite forthright about female sexual desires, but is not written to titillate, which is at times enormously funny as well as incredibly sad and suffering, and overall, because of Alma’s nature, overflows with delight in the messy stuff of life itself, its anguish and its excitement.

Tahiti

If you only want the page turn of story, there might be frustrations, because our heroine has to linger at the page turn of thought, debate, analysis – it is why does this happen which is the driver, rather more than `and what happens next’ – though much DOES.

The vibrant sprawl of the book IS its delight

Orchid

My only cavil (as someone who loves botanical plates) I wanted MORE of those lovely black and white line drawings, to pore over and savour.

How could a reader fail to be entranced by the story of Alma Whittaker, from her sturdy babyhood to her 80s, when her nature is to tender and so practical, so stroppy and so adventurous, so bruised and so resilient:

dbf 980511 moss sporophytes

“She adopted a handsome little caterpillar (handsome by caterpillar standards), and rolled him into a leaf to take home as a friend, though she later accidentally murdered him by sitting on him. That was a severe blow, but one carried on.”

Plain Alma appreciates beauty in others, but is raised to accept she is not, and never will be, beautiful, but her pragmatic parents also consider beauty is not so important

“Alma enjoyed the act of sketching……….Her first successes were some quite good renderings of umbels – those hollow-stemmed, flat-flowered members of the carrot family. Her umbels were accurate, though she wished they were more than accurate; she wished they were beautiful. She said as much to her mother, who corrected her: “Beauty is not required. Beauty is accuracy’s distraction.” “

There are a lot of oppositional tensions in this book, which get explored both in intellectual argument between characters, and in the friction and oppositions between characters themselves, and what is playing out in the wider world, both scientifically and politically.Elizabeth Gilbert

I thoroughly recommend this big rambunctious book and its unrefined, forthright heroine whose presence is an affront to prissy refinement!

I received this as a review copy from the Amazon Vine Programme UK

The Signature of All Things Amazon UK
The Signature of All Things Amazon USA

Nathan Penlington – The Boy In The Book

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The undoubted charm of the obsessed and the shy

Nathan Penlington is a poet, magician, writer, comedian  and performance artist. He also suffered prolonged ill-health as a child, and has an introspective nature prone to obsession. Perhaps, or perhaps not, caused as a reaction to months off school, away from normal peer socialisation

 “Depression could be understood as stemming from a feeling of lack of control and obsession as about regaining control over your environment. For me obsession was a preventative cure that has since become a personality trait”

Boy In The BookHe is also a compulsive collector – whether of facts or objects. As a child, he amassed, as children often do, various collections. One of these was a series of interactive books by Edward Packard called Choose Your Own Adventure Books, where the reader has the choice of a multiplicity of outcomes, leading to further choices and more.

As an adult in his late 20s, briefly living back at his parents home after a relationship break-up, Penlington buys a collection of 106 of these from eBay, revisiting his childhood. He discovers parts of a diary in the pages of one of the books, kept by the then owner, a boy called Terence Prendergast.

Some years pass, and Penlington becomes obsessed with tracking down the original owner of those books and the diary.

This book is about that search, and also about the performance piece he and others created about the search, and about the ‘Choose Your Own……’ making it an interactive piece for the audience, depending on their choices. This show won a Fringe First award, was highly praised, and Penlington has toured it more widely.

All the above is just the bare facts, but can’t begin to describe the hilarious, heart-catching, intelligent, compulsive, absorbing, tender, painful, enchanting mix of this book.

Questions and doubts occurred to me as I read, and may occur to other readers, but I can’t even voice them, because they would/might interfere with your own journey through this delightful mix-up, often darting down side-trails, journey of a book. Anyway, Penlington will answer your questions in the fullness of time.

Nathan-Penlington-720x480

Along the journey you will be exposed to never-sent love letters written by Nathan Penlington to a girl he had a hopeless crush on, when he was 11. Girls (and boys) might cry with a mix of laughter and Awwwwwwwwwwww at the letter. You will meet a chatty graphologist, psychologists specialising in children, the author of those books, a band of middle aged men who still play Dungeons and Dragons in a shop in Birmingham, presided over by the owner, who perches, cross legged and magus like, on his counter. You will get a blow by blow account of films you never wanted to watch but might now feel curious about. You will get to know some of Nathan’s other obsessions – including Uri Geller. Thrill to the emails of a German Heavy Metal band called Prendergast, contemplate booking a retreat in the Prendergast Caravan park, out of season, follow the trail to Kerrang! Radio DJ Johnny Doom, wonder about the curious disappearance of a photo of astrologer Russell Grant, and more…….

Penlington is quite odd, very charming and weirdly funny

He bares his tender heart, his inquiring mind, his sense of playfulness, self-mockery and his interest in EVERYTHING. You, like the author himself, will absolutely get caught up in the fascination of the quest to find Terence. Does he? Will he? What happens? Why does it take so long for Nathan to decide on the journey at all? Why did he do it? Would you? The book makes the reader ask the questions you might be burning to utter, if you knew Nathan. And Terence. As you will feel you do.

You will also be determined to go and see the show, which, if the book is anything to go by, will bring tears to your eyes as you howl with self-mocking laughter, recognising aspects of your own, weird, quirky, individual humanity.

The You Tube link is a trailer of the show before its Edinburgh dates last summer, but a visit to the website, below, will give you the 2014 dates which are to come

I now need to see if I can track down what the remarkably thrashy and ear-blasting Prendergast band sounded like. Maybe not, I can tell from the lyrics to one song this is not going to be my kind of music.

You can visit chooseyourowndocumentary.com website to find out more.

A lovely and life affirming, questy experience!Nathan and Terence

The book will be published on 22nd May – I gratefully received it as an ARC from the publishers via NetGalley. Early posting of the review means you can go and check if the show is coming to a venue near you between now and then!

The Boy In The Book Amazon UK
The Boy In The Book Amazon USA

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