Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

January 4, 2015

Dirk Gently UK front cover.jpg

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a funny book, both in the ha ha and peculiar sense. It introduces a lot of loosely connected plots about a computer programmer, an Electric Monk (which, for those that don’t know, is a kind of labour saving android that believes things on behalf of its owner), a dotty old Oxford Professor of Chronology, a millionaire philanthropist, his cellist sister, and a spoiled wannabe intellectual with a grudge. The titular character and antagonist doesn’t even enter the story proper until over a hundred pages in.

The first time I read this book about six years ago, I put it down half finished. Each plot seemed to amble along while the characters encountering complications ranging from mild to ridiculous, with only a vague promise that it would all tie together somehow to engage the reader.  During my recent reading, I found the same problem with the first half of the book, but I persisted. Read the rest of this entry »


Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

July 27, 2014

Despite apparently being Australia’s most popular book, I put off reading Pride and Prejudice for a long time.  I imagined it to be about dreary, terribly proper English people gossiping about how some lady exposed her ankle at a ball, and engaging in chaste, bloodless courtships while having their boots polished by peasants. Since I’d seen The Bridget Jones Diary, I also thought I pretty much knew the whole plot.

Now that I finally picked it off the shelf, I know that I wasn’t really wrong on either of these counts. The only thing is that it’s all so well written that I couldn’t help enjoying Pride and Prejudice from beginning to end. Read the rest of this entry »

Various Pets Alive and Dead – Marina Lewycka

April 6, 2012

This review was originally published on the excellent LiteraryMinded.  Thanks to Angela Meyer for the opportunity, and the free book.

The title of Various Pets Alive and Dead might make you think it involves lots of cute animal stories and some kind of furry genocide. Instead, it’s a very political novel about the global financial crisis and the failure of the leftist ideals, played out through the intergenerational conflict of a family of hippy-commune escapees. This probably doesn’t sound like the most fertile ground for a comic novel, but its author, Marina Lewycka, milks the politics for as many laughs as possible, and even manages to throw in the odd ill-fated hamster or doomed family of rabbits.

Lewycka’s fourth novel, Various Pets Alive and Dead tells the story of Serge and Clara, and their mother Dora, who, along with her partner Marcus and the other quirky members of their collective, raised her children in an old country house on a healthy diet of free love, socialism and lentils. Read the rest of this entry »

About a Boy – Nick Hornby

October 16, 2011

image courtesy of LibraryThing

I tore through About a Boy in a couple of days, even staying up late into the night to finish it, which I haven’t done in ages.  This isn’t to say that it’s the best book I’ve read in the past year, but it is the most readable, largely thanks to its very British sense of humour.  I haven’t read a lot of books whose priority is to be funny, but those that I have, such as The Finkler Question, seem to use the same kind of humour, full of understatement, overstatement and comically frank descriptions.  And like The Finkler Question, About A Boy isn’t just aiming to make you laugh: it also has something to say about some pretty dark themes, and late 20th Century England.

It does this by focusing on the unlikely friendship between Marcus, a socially awkward twelve year old burdened with a chronically depressed mother, and Will, a thirty-six year old man-child who lives a care-free life on the royalties of a Christmas pop-song written by his father.  The two meet at a picnic for single parents: Marcus is there with one of his mum’s friends; Will is there because he has fabricated a son to pick-up single mothers. Read the rest of this entry »

Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad

July 9, 2011

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Like all great classic literature, Lord Jim embodies the era in which it was written, while maintaining a timeless, human element.  Some things about it seem outdated: its initially slow pace, its paragraph structure, its debatable racism and colonialism.  But its main theme of romanticism, in all its undeniable attraction and destructiveness, is as relatable today as it would have been when the novel was first serialised over one hundred years ago.

From the novel’s opening chapter, all the major plot points are alluded to.  This establishes the novel’s tendency to tease the reader with the consequences before delving into the causes, an effective technique from both a narrative and thematic point of view.

When we meet him, the titular Jim, a young Englishman, is working as a water clerk, fleeing some ignominy, and destined for some ambiguous glory.  We are given some details of his background: he is the son of a parson whose head was filled with notions of adventure and distinction on the high seas following “a course of light holiday literature”.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

February 22, 2011

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question won the 2010 Man Booker Prize, and received glowing reviews from in The Guardian and The New York Times, but if the luke-warm response from my book club and the three star rating on Amazon.com is anything to go by, this book typifies the chasm between critics and the everyday literature reader.

This is not to say that Howard Jacobson’s novel is terrible.  It is funny and well written with some fantastic, witty similes.  But it also self-conscious and trying, and has a central theme which many readers will not engage with. Read the rest of this entry »

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

February 2, 2011

Frankenstein (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism) by Mary Shelley

My favourite part of my copy of Frankenstein, a Wordsworth Classics edition, is the Introduction.  Written by Doctor Siv Jansson, it succinctly explains some of the key themes of the novel and how they explore the social anxieties of early 19th Century Europe.  According to Jansson, Frankenstein’s monster (who is never named in the novel, but who I’ll just refer to by his most common pop culture name for ease) represents: the fear of science perverting the natural order; the terrible consequences of defying the Christian God by creating life; and paranoia about a British revolution (this last one was a bit of a reach).  Jansson also explains how Shelley was concerned with “the essential ‘masculinity’ of scientific thought, and the responsibility of the scientist in the aftermath of his experiments”, and how the Monster becomes brutalised because Frankenstein fails to nurture him.

All of which sounds really interesting.  But it’s not.  In fact, just like her protagonist, Shelley has unleashed upon the world a hideous, shambling creation that causes only pain, although in the novel’s case it is the pain of boredom, and overwrought writing. Read the rest of this entry »