J. K. Barlow’s CBR-III Reviews #13, #14 and #15

The Butt by Will Self

I confess, I didn’t much care for Heart of Darkness.  I thought it was a great waste of premise.  So much suspense, so much tension, leading up to… what?  Nice try, Conrad.  Write a novel in your own language, okay?

I hereby make the controversial statement that Heart of Darkness has nothing on The Butt.  The strange wildernesses, sinister people and incomprehensible laws of this story are far more unsettling than anything Conrad came up with.  On holiday in a fictional land, Tom Brodzinski flicks a cigarette butt off the balcony of his luxury apartment, which then lands on the scalp of his elderly neighbour, an old man who, inconveniently, is married to a desert tribeswoman.  Tom is soon caught up in a bureaucratic nightmare of reparations and tribal custom, culminating in an epic journey across that impossible desert, a glimpse of true evil, and the nagging feeling he is being watched.  It blew me away.

Starting Over by Tony Parsons

Starting Over is a novel.  A novel about a man.  It is a novel about a man and it is written.  Like this.  No sentences or subclauses.  No correct grammatical structures.  Just fragments.


George is a policeman.  A policeman with a bad heart.  He has a heart attack and someone — a young man — an organ donor — dies.  And George gets his heart.

Soon his life falls apart.  He acts like a younger man.  His kids love it.  But his wife.  Kicks him out.  And George.  George must figure out what it all means, and how to get his life.  Back.

Pap for unimaginative middle-aged men who are wondering what it all means.

He Lover of Death by Boris Akunin

Carrying on with grand pronouncements, I declare that Akunin does the street urchin like no writer since Dickens.  I might have this impression because the translator has made Senka, the Khitrovkan orphan, speak in Cockney slang, but I choose to believe this is representative of the original.

I enjoyed this a lot more than She Lover of Death, which I reviewed here.  The mystery is more compelling and the lead characters less irritating.  The plots of the two novels are meant to take place at the same time, which kind of makes me want to go back and read the other one again, to figure out what happened when, but I probably won’t.  You can read my thoughts on the Erast Fandorin series of mysteries in the earlier review.  If you liked any of those books, you’ll like this.

J. K. Barlow blogs here and here.


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