Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Third Policeman

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien  200 pp.

I had a tough time getting into this novel at first and it's a tough one to explain/review since I'm pretty sure I didn't quite "get" all of it.  In rural Ireland, the narrator has committed robbery and murder with an accomplice. Then he encounters the odd policemen who at first seem inexplicably obsessed with bicycles. He is to be sent to the gallows without a trial but they have to be built first. Interspersed through the story are the theories of a scientist/philosopher De Selby who believes the earth is sausage-shaped instead of round.  Atomic theory, bicycles and the existence of eternity in a house down the road all play a part in this convoluted tale. The ending is surprising...or not.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Tigerman: a novel by Nick Harkaway 339 pgs.

I was a little slow getting into this book but I'm glad I stuck with it. Lester Ferris is a good soldier who is ready to retire.  He gets sent to the island of Mancreu to serve out the remainder of his time.  It is a lovely island that is so poisoned, the "authorities" have decided to blow it up soon.  People are leaving but there is still a stable population that is waiting for final evacuation.  Lester finds himself drawn to a super smart street kid with a comic book obsession.  He seems himself a father figure and starts thinking about how he and the kid can leave together and start a new life as a family.  In the meantime, Mancreu isn't a paradise.  There is an offshore fleet doing any of a number of crazy and illegal things, the population is close to rioting and the murder of a friend puts Lester on notice.  He and the kid cook up a ridiculous scheme for some revenge and Lester becomes the tigerman.  I won't say anything else to avoid spoilers.  A very interesting concept and a well done adventure for Lester and the reader.

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What's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life

What's So Funny?: My Hilarious Life by Tim Conway  245 pp.

Unless you have never seen a television in your life, you have probably seen Tim Conway perform all kinds of crazy antics, most notably on "The Carol Burnett Show" and (for us old geezers)  as Ensign Parker on "MacHale's Navy." (if you're older than that you might remember him from "The Garry Moore Show" and Steve Allen) In this book Conway talks about his life from the beginning with his somewhat odd parents, on through his school days, and his early work on Cleveland radio stations. Eventually he landed on television in New York and then Hollywood. He created many memorable characters, many of whom were based on people he actually knew like his Romanian mother. In this book he talks about the people he has known and been friends with in Hollywood, his family including his seven children and wife "Sharky" He also includes many anecdotes about silly things he has done both on and off the stage, including his expertise at tormenting Harvey Korman. This is a fun, light read that will have you laughing out loud. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Event in Autumn

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell  176 pp.

This short novel was originally published in The Netherlands for a special program to encourage reading. It was written in 2004 and only recently translated into English. There are many differences between this book and the PBS "Wallender" episode by the same name. Swedish homicide detective Kurt Wallender is looking for a home in the country where he can live out his approaching retirement. As he looks over a house that looks promising he literally stumbles over a skeletal hand sticking out of the ground. This begins a search for the identity of the dead woman and a fifty year old mystery. After many dead ends the truth is finally revealed. An interesting afterword by the author reveals how Wallender came to be and places this story chronologically before the last novel in the Wallender series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Dancing in the streets

Dancing in the streets: a history of collective joy / Barbara Ehrenreich 320 pgs.

A social history of collective joy, Ehrenreich traces the history of celebrations and collective joy including festivals, feasts, holidays and dancing...really revelry of all types.  The ancient Greeks worshiped Dionysus and today we display similar actions during sporting events.  This book covers the European influence in attempting to stamp out native rituals and celebrations and the church trying to limit "unseemly" practices that seemed a little too joyful.  Ehrenreich always does good work and this book is no exception.

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The liar’s wife: four novellas, by Mary Gordon

The title story stuck with me, and I enjoyed the rest but found them less memorable.  In The liar’s wife, a woman unexpectedly is visited by her former husband, a charming Irishman who carried her away against her parents’ wishes.  The brief marriage behind her, she marries a solid man, has children, wealth, and a lovely home.  Why then, does she find herself regretting her decision, despite the fact that Johnny Shaughnessy is still a liar fifty years later?  288 pp.

She matters: a life in friendships, by Susan Sonnenberg

More aptly titled I matter, this book made me wonder how the author survives in the relatively small town of Missoula MT where she must certainly be running of female friends to take up (overpoweringly) and then discard.  Although Sonnenberg had a miserable, if privileged, childhood (which she earlier chronicled in a memoir about her appalling mother called Her last death), and is obviously a damaged individual, that doesn’t seem to me to justify a book contract to produce this self-centered thing.  It isn’t about female friendships, it’s all about her.  For example, she seems shocked, shocked, that a friend, who is obviously struggling with being an adequate mother, would cut her off after the friend asks Susan, “You think I’m a bad mother, don’t you?” and Susan replies bluntly, “Yes.”  From someone who has been in endless therapy, of all kinds, this seems amazingly cruel.  Trust me, if she makes overtures to befriend you, run! 304 tedious pp.

A man called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

A charming novel by a Swedish blogger and columnist in the vein of Major Pettigrew’s last stand.  Both center on men who mourn the passing of traditional values, order, and respect for rules.  Both feature a protagonist who comes to understand those from other cultures and outlooks.  Ove is by far the grumpier of the two, but he’s also had a much harder life and a great deal less education to help him comprehend the societal changes of the present.  His beloved wife has died and he’s estranged from his one close friend.  Into his life crashes a young couple with two, soon to be three, irrepressible children.  As they attempt to back up their rented U-Haul to move in next door (and as Ove points out, “Motor vehicles are not allowed into the area. There’s a sign”), they take out his mailbox and are completely unable to back up the trailer.  He takes charge.  As he becomes unwillingly ever-more entangled in their affairs, and one after another of his attempts to end it all has to be set aside to deal with them, the book comes to a satisfying, if somewhat idealized, end.  A pleasure.  337 pp.