Discovered this book thanks to a recommendation in the back of Rory Maclean’s ‘Magic Bus’ [See Previous Post: The Hippie Trail], for which I eternally grateful. It describes a journey from Geneva to the Khyber Pass made in 1952/1953 by writer Nicolas Bouvier and artist Thierry Vernet in a tiny but sturdy Fiat Topolino, This one of the great travel books. Patrick Leigh Fermor describes it as ‘…nothing short of masterpiece’ with which I concur. Long a cult book in France and Switzerland, the first English translation was not published until 2007 by Eland Books, a fantastic imprint.
Bouvier’s stylistic and observational skills are extraordinary, describing what is now a lost world, a magic journey illustrated with Vernet’s striking artwork. Trundling at 20mph for the most part, through a sequence of stunning landscapes, surviving on scraps of money they earn along the way, they encounter gipsy musicians, mystics, fortune tellers, shepherds, merchants, imams and peoples of many tribes and beliefs, all of whom, by and large, take the young men into their hearts and homes. Vernet played the accordion with musicians they met en route and also recorded many of them on a trusty tape recorder. Bouvier, who authored several other travel books and novel died in 1998; Vernet, a multitalented artist, died in 1993. Their legacy is this priceless gem of a book.
‘Among the Irish,’says Anne Enright, ‘Dermot Healy is the writer’s writer. He is the man.’ This new novel, his first for 11 years, demonstrates why he is held in such high regard.
Set in modern-day Ireland, in a small coastal community, its central characters are a lad nicknamed Psyche, his granduncle Joejoe, his uncle’s friend Blackbird, plus Ma and Da, girlfriend Anna and a wealth of other finely-drawn characters. Its a novel of intense charm, beautifully realised dialogue, sensuous landscapes, eccentric humour and great tenderness. Healy’s immaculate style draws you into this world and magically brings it to life in such an engaging manner that you share and deeply feel the joys and sadness of this beautiful tale. It will touch your heart.
American gay novelist James Wilcox has written eight novels set in or featuring characters from the fictional town of Tula Springs, Louisiana, of which the finest and best known is ‘Modern Baptists’, first published in 1983.
Widely regarded as a comic genius by his many better-known literary admirers, his work has singularly failed to achieve mass-market recognition. As a result, according to a 1994 New Yorker profile (‘Moby Dick in Manhattan by James B. Stewart) he lives on the edge of penury, eking out three meals from a $4 chicken, determinedly devoted to his singular literary output.
In an informative introduction, novelist Jim Crace, tells us that Wilcox lived in New York for thirty years before brevisiting his home state in the 1980s. The novels are built on the tension between the reality he found there and his own nostalgic memories of how the Pelican State used to be. Crace writes: ‘Into this rich, nostalgic loam…James Wilcox has planted his shuffling conga line of ill-starred and unrequited lovers, with chunky Burma LaSteele, check-out girl at the Sonny Boy Bargain Store adoring her hopeless assistant manager Bobbie Pickens, while Bobby himself pursues the skinny counter assistant Toinette Quaid, who has set her heart on Bobby’s parasitic Catholic half-brother, the handsome coke-snorting FX…It is fertile ground for Wilcox’s comic eye, and the resulting novel is touching, hilarious and frenzied.’
The Generalist found it highly entertaining and can only hope that the Coen Brothers do a movie version that will bring wider acclaim and a generous dollop of lucre to this fine writer who so richly deserves it.
Let’s not mince words. This is one of weirdest and most disturbing novels I have ever read. It defies easy classification. I am reluctant to give much away because a huge part of the power of the book lies in the unfolding sense of surprise and dread that the novel gradually reveals. Lets just say the main character is Isserley who is obsessed by picking up well-muscled male hitch-hikers for a her own strange purposes. The unexpected nightmare begins.