Category: Pinnock Jonathan

A round-up of recent reading

A few notes on some of the books I’ve read lately…

EclipticBenjamin Wood, The Ecliptic (2015)

Benjamin Wood’s first novel, The Bellwether Revivals, explored themes of creativity and obsession. He returns to those themes, and takes them further, in The Ecliptic. We first meet Elspeth Conroy in the 1970s at Portmantle, an invitation-only refuge for artists who have become creatively blocked. The arrival of a mysterious teenage musician leads Elspeth’s past to catch up with her – a past we delve into, learning of her development as a painter, and how she ended up going to Portmantle. There’s a running theme of creativity becoming an all-consuming force in artists’ lives, a theme which gains its most powerful expression late in the novel, in quite an unexpected way. I’ll let you find out the rest for yourself…

Irenosen Okojie, Butterfly Fish (2015)

Published by Jacaranda, Irenosen Okojie’s debut is a kaleidoscopic novel which focuses primarily on Joy, who is trying to cope with the death of her mother Queenie. The figure of a mysterious woman appears in Joy’s life and photographs, and Joy finds herself fascinated by a bronze warrior’s head that belonged to her mother. Okojie weaves in other narrative strands, including one set in 19th century Benin, Nigeria (from where the bronze bust originates), and one examining Queenie’s arrival in London from Nigeria in the 1960s. Parallels and connections emerge, forming Butterfly Fish into an intriguing whole.

Raymond Jean, Reader for Hire (1986)
Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter (2015)

The second in Periene’s Chance Encounter series, and rather different in tone from White Hunger. At a friend’s suggestion, Marie-Constance places an advert in the paper, offering to read aloud to others in their own home. Her first client is a disabled boy named Eric; after she reads him a rather macabre section of a Maupassant short story, Eric is disproportionately affected, scared out of his wits. Marie-Constance has this ability, to evoke the deep effect of what she reads in her listeners – as she and others increasingly discover. The prose of Reader for Hire reflects this: the viewpoint stays close to Marie-Constance, so the book begins and ends with her life as a reader; and it feels quite sharply episodic, each chapter its own little story. All in all, a charming celebration of reading.


Melissa Harrison, At Hawthorn Time (2015)

At Hawthorn Time is, first and foremost, a novel of the modern English countryside: its chapters are headed with field notes, and images of the rural landscape run through its pages. Though the eye of narrative may be focused upon human characters, there is always the sense that they are defined by their interactions with the countryside. Melissa Harrison’s four main characters have different relationships with the country: Jack, a former radical protester, wanders across the land, both in close connection to it and yet somehow apart. Young Jamie is the rural native struggling with the realities of trying to make a living. Howard and Kitty are the urban incomers, whose marriage frays at the seams as they try to find their place. Their lives intertwine with each other and the landscape, heading towards the tragedy that, from the beginning, we know has been coming.

Jonathan Pinnock, Take It Cool (2014)

The last book I read by Jonathan Pinnock was a story collection, Dot Dash. This one is different – a non-fiction account of the author’s search for a reggae singer named Dennis Pinnock. The chapters rotate through three strands: Jonathan’s attempts to contact Dennis and the people who knew him; reviews of Dennis’s singles; and the author’s research into his own family history. Reading this book felt rather like eavesdropping, particularly as I don’t know much about reggae (I didn’t listen to any of the mentioned while I was reading, as I found it interesting to maintain that distance – I guess I can rectify that now). But Take It Cool tells an intriguing story, whatever your immediate interest in its subject matter. Published by Two Ravens Press.

Books in brief: early March

Lloyd Shepherd, The Poisoned Island (2013). Another Regency mystery for magistrate John Harriott and constable Charles Horton of the Thames river police, last seen in The English Monster. This time they’re investigating the strange deaths of crewmembers the Solander, recently returned from Tahiti, while an unidentified tree brought back on the ship grows rampant at Kew. As in the previous novel, there is an engaging subtext of transition and the tensions it brings – East London becoming a hub for trade; ideas of evidence-gathering changing the way crimes are investigated. The Poisoned Island is particularly alive to the fact that expeditions such as the Solander’s had a complex range of consequences, both positive and negative. Shepherd’s series is becoming something quite distinctive.

Birgit Vanderbeke, The Mussel Feast (1990/2013). Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch. The new Peirene Press novella depicts a revolution in microcosm. Shortly before the fall of the Berlin wall, a family sits down to welcome the father home from his business trip with a large pot of mussels for dinner. But the preparation is a lot of work for the mother, considering that she doesn’t like mussels herself – and especially considering that the father doesn’t even come home. Especially in the beginning, Vanderbeke uses repetition to emphasise how the family have become trapped in the same thought patterns. As the book progresses, we learn more of the father’s hypocrisy and the hold he has over the rest of his household – then we start to see them break away. It’s a wonderfully controlled piece of writing.

Chris Paling, A Town by the Sea (2005). A man wakes up on the beach, and wanders through a strange town whose inhabitants he can barely understand, as we gradually piece together something of his history. The set-up is intriguing, but it becomes frustratingly difficult to arrive at a satisfactory interpretation (even an uncertain one) of what’s happening. My best guess is that our man is a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and his journey in the book is an externalised working-through of his feelings of dislocation from life. The novel can be nicely atmospheric, but ultimately I think it’s rather too nebulous.

Jonathan Pinnock, Dot Dash (2012). This is a collection of flash fiction (‘dots’) and longer stories (‘dashes’). What brings them together so well is Pinnock’s wry wit, his knack for sharp twists and rueful endings. The dots are marvellously concentrated bursts of language – not just punchlines, but stories reduced to their essence in a few sentences. Among the dashes, we find a harrowing tale of memory loss told in reverse; a street artist taking poetic revenge on a corporate boss; a girl who tries to bring Cairo to her dying grandmother’s bedroom; and more. Lovely stuff.

James Wheatley, Magnificent Joe (2013). In north-east England, Jim works as a labourer, his plans for university having been cut short when he was arrested as a teenager after a fight went too far. Now he’s working with his old school friends and living in his old village, with no apparent prospect of change. But Jim has also become friends with Joe, a fifty-year-old learning- disabled man – Jim gives Joe a helping hand, and Joe reminds Jim that there’s more to life than his immediate circle. The events of the novel will disrupt both of their lives profoundly: seeing events from Jim’s viewpoint perhaps dilutes some of the impact of what happens to Joe, but Wheatley paints an interesting portrait of a stable situation disintegrating despite the best attempts to hold it together. Magnificent Joe is its author’s first novel, and leaves me wondering where he might go next.

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