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And yet I can’t stop reading

Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms – Terry Pratchett

Sweet sauerkraut stockings I like Mr Pratchett’s writing. After a fairly long-term dalliance with the audiobooks of the Discworld series (as read by the totes awesome Tony Robinson), I got into reading the books proper comparatively late in life. I have a clear memory of a schoolmate cackling uncontrollably reading Pratchett’s Bromeliad Trilogy in primary school. She read bits out to me and I cackled similarly and thought this Pratchett cove would be well worth investigating further. Being swift of mind and action, I got into reading my first Pratchett novel some 19 years later. Anyway, here we are: the first two of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch series, starring the fine Sam Vines, Carrot Ironfounderson, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobby Nobs (and others). The City Watch series is set in the Discworld’s capital city, Ankh-Morpork and the books lightly parody motifs from cop movies/tv shows/books. They’re fast, funny, clever, and the characters are likeable, believable and good to be around. In short, they’re on par with most of Pratchett’s excellent Discworld books. (High five, Terry!)

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl

I have had Special Topics in Calamity Physics on my shelf since — err, umm — 2007? A damned long time. I don’t know why, but I’ve started it three or four times and then stopped or been distracted or whatever. And then the other day I figured I’d give it another go and bowled it over in a weekend. Far out, brussels sprout! So it’s about Blue van Meer and her father Gareth van Meer: her mother died when she was a little girl, and her father is a wandering academic whose career shifts from academic post to academic post, leading them all over the country. For her final year of high school, he decides to settle in one town for the full twelve months: she becomes involved with a standoffish, talented clique under the friendship/mentorship of teacher Hannah Schneider. They’re a mysterious group, and Blue isn’t entirely sure why she’s been accepted so easily, but after a death at a party they shouldn’t have been at, followed by more frightening events, Blue is forced to start investigating some fundamental assumptions she’s always held about her life. The book turns from a slightly sinister high-school-brilliant-young-things vibe to a murder mystery/investigation of grief and meaning to an international thriller in fairly short order, and it kinda threw me when it happened. My expectations were pretty roundly shaken. But the writing style is a hoot: a result of her father’s approach to parenting, Blue’s narrative is rich with references, commentary, identification of types, and comparative analysis. It’s fun and engaging to read, although it gets a little thin during Blue’s deepest moments of crisis. Not a bad book at all, but God knows why I left it so long to get to.

Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis

Back on the Bret. Glamorama is Ellis’ 1998 black comedy thriller which is so crammed full of awesome there’s no wonder it clocks in at over 500 pages. You could have an eye out with this book. The characters follow on from The Rules of Attraction, but the plots of the two books aren’t really related (Patrick Bateman, the American Pyscho, also makes an appearance). Told by Victor Ward — model, club wheeler-dealer-type, glamourite and all-round fancypants — the book plays heavily on the celebrity-obsessed atmosphere of 1990’s New York clubland/fashion world. There are whole sentences that are nothing but strings of Names; Victor sometimes speaks in just song lines; the books groans with references. The sophisticated, sociopathic, internationally-influencing world of the supermodels, actors and musicians that Victor twirls through blends persuasively into the sophisticated, sociopathic, internationally-influencing world of terrorists and sadists that Victor finds himself tangled in. There’s issues of identity, value and image, and questions about reality, perception and control. The violence and sex scenes are classic Ellis, straight-up American Pyscho standard, which would probably be a bit rough if you weren’t used to it. I found Victor aggravatingly dumb and unobservant for the first part of the book: anything outside his sphere of modelling/clubland/etc. obviously baffles him. But once I accepted that, his narrative voice worked really well. As a reader, you’re sporadically thrown into the role of audience or viewer, music clues included, and then partway through the book, Victor starts dropping references to “the script”, “Makeup and Wardrobe” and talks openly with “the director” about “the set”. More film crews are introduced, until there’s conflict between the crews filming Victor’s actions, and Victor’s sense of reality seems anchored on the presence of these crews. As he undergoes crisis, the roles of the film crews change, and they gradually retreat. It’s exciting, bleak, funny and I liked it. Next up: Imperial Bedrooms.

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