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In 1993 Moray graduated with an honours degree in fine art from the Limerick School of Art and Design and later that year co-founded Bui ...
I read about 150 books a year, or thereabouts. This is not a boast, I should add, just a mere side-note to what follows. If anything, such a grossly high figure highlights the amount of time I waste throughout the year when I should, perhaps, be doing things of more importance: getting a job, for one. Or helping a withered old woman safely traverse across a busy street. Or writing a book of my own, as I keep promising myself. Instead, I've failed all standard expectations one can became crippled under - I'm unemployed, my neighbour had to be scraped from the street using a spatula, and, as of yet, the furthest I've travelled in the literary world is a scattering of published poems and short-stories. It's nothing I would recommend. However, if, in your own life, you have a spare few hours of time to yourself, spending them engorged in the worlds of the following books is recommend, if you can take my word after all the above. Those that follow are not my personal favourite 13 books, I want to make clear: just a few that came to my head as I sat and typed. Others were cruelly left out: Bellow, Amis, Fante, Auster, Murakami, Palahniuk, Wolfe, Orwell, and many, many others are not discussed, for reasons unknown. The number could have been 50, or even 100. For now, it's 14 - and I really don't know why.
The Drowned Word - J.G. Ballard
Perhaps the most palpable, wholly vivid, worlds of Ballard's fiction. Set in a lagoon-submerged London, The Drowned World draws on the inherent attraction of the post-Apocalypse, and ventures, quite wonderfully, into the darker chasms of the human psyche. Kerans, a doctor of Biology, and our protagonist, rather than seeking a get-out, instead chooses, bleakly, the more chaotic world of solitude in the form of the ever dissolving world around him. Ballard's vision is darkly unrestrained, and the writing - a cruel, vividly surreal, poetry - helps to create the confinements of claustrophobia other writers have attempted but to failed to portray. As London falls into further calamity, Kerans is entangled in the profoundest of predicaments - to seek refuge, or to conform to the heart's darker impulses by boring further into the seemingly catastrophic unknown. A deeply unsettling, challenging novel. Remarkable.
The Vanishing - Tim Krabbe
A compact novella, detailing, in minimalist ways, the turbulent recesses of human terror. A road-tripping couple pull over at a service-station for a toilet stop. Moments later, the woman has vanished and is never seen again. What follows is years of searching, a bizarre coming together, confession and an insight into the disturbed world of psychopath's mental-field. Obsession, and love's force, collide, with Krabbe's blunt, almost disinterested tone, expertly depicting the loneliness of death and the cruel fate borne out of longed-for love. I've purposely dodged any screenings of the film-adapted version; sometimes words have no equal - how could pictures, with their colour, have the same drearily cold effect as Krabbe's tone? Why can't some things lay untouched? Small, fleeting, yet unearthly deranged - a whispered, telling masterpiece. Not many are creepier. Bolt your doors, draw the curtains tight.
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway, in a 1920's salutation to Paris, lovingly wrote 'If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is A Moveable Feast'. He had lived there for a few tough years with his wife and child, shambling through its plethora of cafes, where, with the help of the impish Gertrude Stein and doomed Scott Fitzgerald, he honed the stylistics which shaped his now worldly-cherished fiction. The book offers little as a story, but details the most aesthetically engaging of cities vividly. The perfect prerequisite before a trip to Paris, Hemingway, in his short, snappy, style, takes the reader through the streets, the parks - where, in Jardin Du Luxembourg, he once pursued a live Pigeon for dinner - and the homes of the literary elite. Honest in the only way a Hemingway write can be, A Moveable Feast is nearly as enthralling as the places it describes. Read it, then go there. Walk the pathways he traipsed, peer your head through the windows of the elite. Chase a poor pigeon.
Windows on the Word - Frederic Beigbreder
Post 9/11 guaranteed many things, among them illimitable ashen ingredients to be interspersed into the arts - most prominently in fiction, as it does. De Lillo, with Falling Man, surprisingly failed miserably. Jay Mcinerney's The Good Life was a wrenching tour-de-force, but focused primarily on its after-affect, and the rendering of truth in the lives of those broken forever after that cruel, sunny morning. Windows on the World took on the most unbearable - and, perhaps the bravest of tasks - by placing itself into the terror of the atrocity's present, as well as offering a unique voice of anguish from a truly startling writer. The book itself is an oddity; subdivided into fiction and autobiography, we fleet, as each chapter passes, into the two voices which broke out so eerily that day: the panicked, and, as a result, the new hopeless. In the fictional story, we pass the final hours with a father and his two sons, caught in the desperation of entrapment, as time trickles by, and life fades. Elsewhere, Beigbreder traverses Paris, the eternal wearied, asking the most profound of questions. Who were the people in the towers that day? Why were we never subjected to its starkness - why didn't the papers report the sight of? a full displaced human heart stuck to a foyer window? Further musings on love's dissolution, fatherhood, Paris' architecture and humanity follow. No flimsy titles are affixed to each chapter, just a hours and minutes - the tragic reality of what all human life is always reduced to. One of the few I've read numerous times. The lasting effect is discomforting, as it rightly should be given the theme of the book. A superb achievement.
Brighton Rock - Graham Greene
Greene's seminal work, penned in 1938, will see its second screen adaptation this coming year, more than 60 years after the original - a masterpiece - hit the theatres. It comes as no surprise that Pinkie - the novel's sinister young gang-leader - shall be entered into the modern psyche; bold, an already practised killer, and a wholly disturbed young chap, his foothold over his elders, as well as the menace he purveys, marked him down early as one of the fiction world's most cunning villains. Green's prose - a rarefied, packed style - is like no other. Capable of loading a mere sentence with cruelty, compassion, love and hate, with Brighton Rock, he riddled the seaside resort with mayhem, offering the reader a unique delve into the shadow-lands of gang-fare. Caught up in the struggle is the unfortunate Fred Hale, a hapless worker sent to distribute cards for a newspaper competition. It has been suggested, by numerous sources, that its underlying message is a critique of Catholicism's view on morality and sin. For the enthralled reader, it is everything and more. A riveting jaunt through the darker side of the seaside and beyond.
How The Dead Live - Will Self
To comment at large on the abnormal is no mean feat; to transcend it is a more ridiculous achievement - something which Will Self, the tongue-tangling satirist, does like no other. The title itself bares light to the novel's premise - how do the eternally condemned carry on? For the faithful, there appears no need to worry. For the rest, the terror of annihilation is supplanted further after burial, when our sorry leftovers are gorged on by all types of critters. Self's picture of things is somewhat more blurred, and blends both arrival-bays together. Lilly Bloom, 66, Londoner, perishing to cancer, succumbs to an afterlife of a London subdivided into a population severed by life and death. What follows is a devilish satire on the concept of death, reflection, and the wilderness of life lived in death. Self's verbal cannon is amply packed as ever, as we saunter through the otherworldly hinterland of his mind's eye. A sometimes tough read, How The Dead Live, from its Damian Hirst inspired cover, to its societal afterlife, is an oddity of which only Self could produce, and which no other writer would even dare lead their pen to.
The Commitments - Roddy Doyle
Often classified as deeply lewd - and rightly so - it would be lazy to suggest that Roddy Doyle's writing is that of sheer comedy and little more. For behind the sordidness, the relentless squalor and infinite arse, fecks and bollixes, is the heart of the truest cataloguer of the Irish character. He is, I'm not reluctant to opine, the greatest writer to emanate from these shores in contemporary times. With this novel - later turned into a much loved film - we were presented with the first of the hilarious Barrytown Trilogy, which later gave us the irrepressible The Snapper and The Van. Once again, as with the majority of Doyle's writings, we are flung into 80's Dublin, with all its concrete, decaying flat-blocks, and dead dreams. From unemployment, to notoriety, to dissolution, we are introduced to a collection of unemployed aspirators teeming with dreams of becoming a world-famous soul group. Vacuous Dublin's grime is portrayed honestly, with Doyle's preeminent comedic dialogue slashing the bleakness with moments of sheer hilarity. As ever, the conclusion is a shambolic ending, riddled with farce and the frustration of a country's economic decline. But Doyle's humanism shimmers throughout, with great swathes of flowing dialogue - brimming with the unique gutter-slang of Dublin's working class - making the novel at once deeply comical, humane, and utterly true to life. Fecking brilliant ol' shoite.
Ham on Rye - Charles Bukowski
Here's a forewarning: I'm being a tad cheeky here, considering what's above is all fiction, and what will roll after will be, too; for whilst Buk's terrible tales fall under the required bracket, his whole back-catalogue, he was never reluctant to admit, was chiefly autobiographical. Just 99%, or thereabouts, so I'll hop on board the minuscule leftover, if I may. Tapped out in '82, Ham on Rye introduces us to the early years of Henry Chinaski - his chief protagonist, and lightly-veiled, alcoholic, sex-addicted alter-ego. It is, perhaps, the most telling of his novels - we meet the other Chinaskis, view the strangeness of growing up through young Henry's impressionable, always trailing, eyes, and endure the suffering of youth: acne onslaughts, violent parental beatings, love. The prose is classic Buk - wholly unpretentious, heavy usage of dialogue, snappy lines = and flows quicker than any of his other works. The toil of Henry's later character - found enclosed within the covers of the dingier Post Office, Women and Factotum - is to be found rooted firmly within his young self, as he plunders through L.A., a clumsy loner, amiss and entangled in the unrelenting torture of adolescence. Though not its first work, it should be noted that the series would be best read chronologically, for no other reason than Henry needing a pal as he descends - perhaps ascends, even - into one of the fiction world's most horribly astray down 'n outs.
Child of God - Cormac McCarthy
Championed not only for his stories, Cormac McCarthy's style - simplistic, phonetic, always captive - is a unique force, and just as impressive as the tales which finally, at the age of 77, he has garnered world-over credit for. Without the other, one falls away, of course, but his is a rare blend. His narrations do not speak aloud, as many do, but whisper, softly but not always pleasantly. Trained into the mainstream via a booker and screen-adaptations of The Road and No Country for Old Men, McCarthy's recent notoriety, though deserved, has come wickedly late. It would be wrong to not entertain the notion that Chigurh, No Country for Old Men's sadistic madman, was not influenced, or even born, in Child of God, McCarthy's 3rd and most disturbing work. Bordered by mental disturbance and isolation, Lester Ballard roams the bushed foothills of a small Tennessee county, delusional and fuelled by random acts of extreme violence. Murderous escapades follow, amounting to raged skulduggery and eventual prolonged necrophilia. It is a first glimpse into the disturbed, American darklands which McCarthy appears best primed to unleash. A goose-pimple inducing last scene ends our foray - ghastly, yet beautifully clinical. One of America's finest.
Portnoy's Complaint - Phillip Roth
Roth's output is nothing short of mechanical n its fluency. This year's release of Nemesis is his 29th, and fourth in the Nemeses collection, which gave us Everyman, Indignation and The Humbling. It is back to 1969, and Portnoy's Complaint, however, that we go for his comical masterpiece and early signpost directed towards what was to eventually come. It was his fourth - and, as it turned out, groundbreaking - novel, penned when Roth was style honing his style aged 27. It introduced us to the wonderfully troubled Alex Portnoy, who, in a conversation with his psychoanalyst, recounts his early, much eventful, years. For its time, the heavily explicit content enraged and had censors salivating, leading to a banning in Australia and across American library collections. Depictions of Masturbation - in this case into a piece of butchered liver - run throughout, as Alex struggles to release an insoluble love harboured for his mother. We fleet between the here and now, to child Alex man-child Portnoy, a bachelor crumbling under the past's permanence. Though perhaps not Roth's finest work, it should be first on any prospective reader's itinerary. Within the comedy, lies pain; from the torture, hilarity sprouts. You'll give up liver, mind.
Bright Shiny Morning - James Frey
Given the intense scrutiny he received following an investigation into his controversial first book, it wouldn't have come as a surprise had Frey, a former drug-addict, descended into total obscurity. The debut, A Million Little Pieces, was introduced to the world under the guise of memoir, brutally detailing a young man's drink and alcohol addiction and the struggle of rehabilitation which followed. Its release was promptly championed throughout the literary world. Even Oprah created tremors by hopping aboard the Frey-train. And then everything crashed. A reporter's analysis, and subsequent investigation, of the text and story led to hefty stack of established half-truths, myth and exaggerations. Frey was dropped from his publishing house. Outrage erupted in America and Oprah heaved herself off the bandwagon in indignation. Frey, rather than retreat into the literary wilderness, stayed put, writing its follow up, My Friend Leonard, and, in 2008, Bright Shiny Morning - his best of a highly impressive trio. It was a bold, telling move - and, above all, ultimately brave. High praise followed. The media declared Frey's brilliance once more. What of the book itself? Frey, thankfully, stuck to his core roots: L.A., basic prose, and an observance of humanity that few writers have ever come close to. We follow the lives of a flurry of characters rooted in Los Angeles:? a famous married couple, a young average couple on the run, a Mexican maid, and a homeless man, Old Joe. We are not spared the ruination that swallows many. Frey's writing is refreshingly devoid of clich?, and always remains unflinching, even when it's unsettling. His initial deception was a mistake, albeit minuscule; he has made up for it since = spectacularly.
Girlfriend in a Coma - Douglas Coupland
'I'm Jared, a Ghost.' And so begins Doug Coupland's most startling novel, his fifth and most accomplished. The Canadian-born Coupland streamed into the mainstream with his 1991 work Generation X, a seminal commentary on adolescence morphing into adulthood in late 80's America. It was the release of Girlfriend in a Coma, however, in 1998, which cemented his right of place amongst the fiction world's elite. With its title pulled from a Smiths song of the same name, it's a strange, often bewildering, narrative. Karen, one of the novel's 8 narrators, slips into a drug-induced 20-year coma, only to later awaken to a post-apocalyptic world which often leans into the darker realms of dystopia. The writing is always culturally precise, and, one could argue, almost prophetic in its envisioning of a vacuous world too dependable on culture, egotism and technology. Split in two, we begin in the world we know now, and, in part two, we foot our way into the chaos of a world falling into catastrophe. Each narrative solidifies the 8's unique bond, as Coupland not only brings us on a journey into a different world, but also delves us into a wrought, often cruel, critique of common bonds between us all, too. A truly unique piece of brilliance from our generation's most cunning commentator. Oh, and the song's quite lovely, too.
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Bradbury's most celebrated work - the rest of it is cruelly under-rated as a result - is a masterful display of dystopian fiction, primed comfortably in the middle of Orwell and Huxley's classics, 1984 and A Brave New World. It was initially penned as The Fireman, a much shorter story published in a Sci-fi anthology 2 years before its extended self jutted into the literary world, a brave, damning challenge to society's ever increasing dangers. Our protagonist, or fireman, is Montag - Guy Montag, a burner of books in America's present anti-intellectual world. That is until he meets his lovely neighbour, a free-thinking idealist, who offers Montag an alternative look at a world cruelly suppressed by its leaders. After witnessing the horror of a woman's choosing to die engulfed in flame rather than loose her beloved tomes, Montag begins to steal literature in order reveal its mystery. An old acquaintance, Faber, is sought, as Montag leads the charge as a revolutionary teeming with a hunger for education. As a lost canyon of a hidden society unfurls itself, to the backdrop of erupting warfare, Montag is pursued by Technologies loyal servants. What Bradbury offers in this thought-provoking, and - for its time - deeply shocking story, is a crystal ball into a world where education has been stifled to aid power - something which, though we should be thankful is not evident in our own lives, is a real, and occurring force of evil in societies elsewhere.
Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
There's a tag that follows Kurt Vonnegut about. Well, at least before he died there was. It's smeared across every one of his books, or at least the fair majority of them. It involves Dr. Cagliari, George Orwell and Flash Gordon, and ends, if one can recall correctly, the manifestation of Mr. Vonnegut. Oddly, it sounds like a blurb he could have contorted with a chuckle, but it was someone, someplace else, some time. His death, in his 84th year, in April 2007 stole the world of a collection of H's he always inspired: hilarity and, perhaps more prominently, humanism. He was the true humanist - and, as chance would have it, the greatest comical novelist to ever emerge from American shores. Everyone, in his eyes, was a prime target. - including, memorably, Kurt Vonnegut; a self-appraisal of his past works, graded in the guise of a school report, was once undertaken, refreshingly unbiased and suitably modest. Suitable, also, was his self-recognition, which writers often are as scornful of as heaped critiques. Cat's Cradle scored a cool A+, along with his much devoured other classic, Slaughterhouse Five. The premise is typically oddball, with oddball characters in odd scenarios chasing a very odd substance: Ice 9, a form of ice that freezes at room temperature. Our dimwit, would-be-writer protagonist, Jonah, meets Newt Hoenikken, an archetypal Vonnegut screwball, and a son of the Atomic bomb's inventor. We retreat to San Lorenzo and grab love, religion - in the form of Vonnegut's own Bokononism - and a newly-elected president - who, incidentally, is, um, Jonah. The rat-race for power ensues. Vonnegut's consistent targets are firmly torn apart, and, to top it off, the world's end begins to steer into view. Just your usual quiet affair, then.
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Article Submitted On: January 05, 2011