“Forget all your fears now. Have a fling this night”

March roundup

This is my March roundup. Again, a pretty solid reading month. I may do a similar post for April and then try to start doing individual posts again (it’s a bit daunting when you have a multi-book backlog to go back and start writing them all up individually – better to start afresh with a new month).

White Hunger, by Aki Ollikainen


This one’s had a lot of reviews across the blogosphere. It’s a Finnish novel about a famine, told from the viewpoint of those reduced to starving refugees and those sitting comfortably in the capital talking about how awful it all is.

It’s a bleak tale featuring desperation and terrible suffering. It’s also very powerful and worth reading even if the description here makes it sound a bit grim. Jacqui of JacquiWine’s Journal did a good review here and Grant of 1stReading’s Blog here.

The Apocalypse Codex, by Charles Stross


Book four in the Laundry Files series by Charles Stross – basically comic novels which combine spy fiction, Lovecraftian horror and British government bureaucracy to form a particularly unholy mixture.

For some reason Stross never seems to assume you’ve read previous novels in the sequence (but who starts at number four?). That makes for a bit of repetition and he does sometimes reuse the same jokes and references even within the same book, but even so these are light and fun reads. Beach and transport books to borrow Emma’s rather marvellous category.

The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle


This is a horror novel which again draws on Lovecraft, but here more by way of a mixture of homage and critique rather than simply by reference. LaValle takes the famous Lovecraft short story The Horror at Red Hook and retells it from the perspective of a new character not mentioned in the original.

Red Hook is one of HPL’s more racially iffy stories and while LaValle is clearly a fan he’s aware of the issues in HPL’s work. Here he uses an African-American protagonist to contrast real world brutalities with HPL’s more fantastical ones.

I thought this clever and affectionately respectful of the original while doing something new with the material. If you’re not already an HPL fan though you’ll miss a lot of what’s going on.

Transmission, by Hari Kunzru


I’ve yet to read a Kunzru I didn’t love. This is his second novel and tells the story of a young Indian programmer brought to the US on promises of a chance to make his fortune, but who discovers instead that the American dream is often built on cheap third world labour.

At the same time it’s also the story of a computer virus that sweeps the world and the lives caught in its wake, one of them an up-and-coming Bollywood star. All that and above all else it’s a novel about the difficulties of human contact and how our personal signals can get lost in the noise around us.

If I get a chance (but I probably won’t), it deserves a full write-up. It has a shot at my end of year list.

The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson

Great cover for this one. It’s a lovely little gothic tale of a psychic researcher who brings a motley group to a famously haunted house, among them a very troubled young woman who shouldn’t be anywhere near the place.

It has a bit of an odd tonal shift three quarters of the way through, but otherwise it’s well done and justifiably famous. I’m already planning to read more Jackson.

Glittering City, by Cyprian Ekwensi

This was one of Penguin’s recent Penguin Modern short releases. It’s a short story/novella about Fussy Joe, a Lagos charmer and waster who likes to hang out at the station picking up young women fresh in from the country who don’t yet know to avoid men like him.

It’s a quick read and Ekwensi manages the balancing act of making Fussy Joe likeable while at the same time making it quite clear why he deserves to get his comeuppance. It does exactly what Penguin hope for from this series – introduces you (me anyway) to a new writer and gives a sense of their style.

From ancient Rome, to ‘60s Lagos to modern Rio or Tokyo the place and time may change but wherever you go there’s a Fussy Joe and there’s fresh innocents to be fleeced, or at least there are as long as Fussy Joe can keep ahead of all the people he’s borrowed money from or taken advantage of… Lots of fun.

Ghachar Ghochar, by Vivek Shanbhag

This was a good book to finish the month on. It’s an Indian novel told from the point of view of a rich young man who is notionally heir to a successful business but who spends his days sitting in a café as he’s a bit lazy and doesn’t have any actually useful skills.

As the story unpacks you get a sense of the underlying family dynamics, their route from poverty to their current wealth and the compromises they all made along the way. What starts as a fairly gentle comedy becomes a moral enquiry, an examination of the culpability of those willing to turn a blind eye for a comfortable life.

There’s lots of reviews of this one including from Stu here and this one from Grant at 1stReading’s Blog which pushed me over the line to giving this a try.


Filed under Ekwensi, Cyprian, Horror, Indian fiction, Jackson, Shirley, Kunzru, Hari, Lovecraft, H.P., Nigerian fiction, SF, Stross, Charles

19 responses to ““Forget all your fears now. Have a fling this night”

  1. 7 novels is a great achievement in a month. I haven’t heard of most of these, though I’ve heard of Hard Kunzru and Shirley Jackson.

  2. Hari! Darned autocorrect.

  3. Many thanks for the link to my review, Max. I’m glad you found the book of interest (like or enjoy probably aren’t the right sentiments for this one). It’s a very affecting little story, isn’t it? One that packs quite a punch for such a slim novella. Very Peirene.

    The Haunting of Hill House sounds great – it’s on the shelves so maybe later this year. I’m intrigued by your comment on the odd tonal shift towards the end. Can you say a little more about that without giving too much away?

  4. It’s a good intro to Kunzru WG. I think it’s Jackson’s most famous but that may be because of the movie adaptations rather than by being her best. Jacqui reviewed We Have Always Lived in the Castle which I suspect may be slightly stronger (though Haunting is still good).

    Autocorrect is a regular boon of my existence.

    Jacqui, the parapsychologist’s wife shows up with an assistant and is much more of a comic relief character. That jarred with me slightly as a rather gothic mood had been built up and I found the tones didn’t quite match. That said, I can see some of what was being done there so I’ll be interested in your thoughts once you read it.

  5. I’ve read four of the Penguin Moderns so far – no authors new to me yet but I’m enjoying them so far and looking forward to reading my way through the lot. A lovely manageable size between big books!

  6. Sendra

    Never heard of Black Tom. Is it written in the style of HP or does it just use the plot? Always a bit wary of these kind of things but your thumbs up made me curious.
    Just finished and enjoyed my first Iain M. Banks. The Player of Games. A lot better than most space opera. Not deluged with spectacle and it had characters with personalities rather than traits. All sorts of science voodoo but I don’t mind that in that sub-genre. If you could crack the causality nut you wouldn’t be writing novels.
    Tried Marco Polo. A bit dull. Ever been interested?
    Now I’m re-reading Gatsby. A favorite novel, very much of its time, very much of most times. Money and how it affects. Not as romantic as some might think.

  7. A wide range of reading there, Max. I haven’t read any of them but I’ve been meaning to try Kunzru

  8. It’s a lovely little collection Kaggsy and a great idea too – a very low risk way of trying out new authors.

    Sendra, Marco Polo never tempted. It seems to me more a historical document than something to read for pleasure today. Player of Games I recall being pretty good – I reviewed Consider Phlebas here but haven’t yet gone back to Banks. If I do it would probably be with a return to Player.

    Gatsby is brilliant – I wrote a bit about it here: https://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2013/07/15/the-great-gatsby-by-f-scott-fitzgerald/ I’ve seen in the past few years a fashion for knocking it, but I think it’s an absolute tried and tested classic.

    More on the LaValle in a bit.

    Guy, this isn’t a bad Kunzru to start out with. I think you might find it interesting. If I get the chance to do a proper write-up I shall.

  9. The LaValle doesn’t use the style, which is for the best. Lovecraft is easy to imitate badly, very hard to do well (and anyway, why would you?). It uses the plot and some of the concepts so it’s more a jumping-off really.

    I liked it because it does something more than mere pastiche. I’m not a huge fan of Lovecraftian fiction that isn’t by HPL (well, save maybe some of the Robert Bloch stuff from back in the day). It can be too derivative, and also too respectful. Bloch had a blatant HPL stand-in eaten by a creature from beyond. HLP then had a Bloch stand-in devoured by a tri-lobed monster from another dimension. They had fun. That’s what’s lacking from many of those who followed them. LaValle at least uses the material to do something new.

  10. Sendra

    I don’t think Marco Polo is even a historical document. It serves more as a route guide for traders with a bit of silliness thrown in for color. The only take-aways I got from it was that Buddhists routinely levitated the Khan’s cups to his table (er, why?) and that Polo gently broke it to medieval Europe that the unicorn was actually a rhinoceros.
    I just read your piece on Gatsby and I think it’s spot on. The prose is so well-judged you don’t even think of it. There’s a light airiness at times that is so delicate when Fitzgerald punctures it with masterly effect. It’s a beautiful read but with a very hard surface if you understand me.
    I’ll have a think on Black Tom. It’s funny reading the above. I always slightly resented Bloch when he entered that particular chaos. On reflection, he wasn’t so bad. Alan Moore actually wrote a rather good HPL graphic novel called Providence. Not perfect, slightly leery but a return to his higher standards. Perhaps it is easier to forgive a comic when it borrows other people’s imaginations. That, more or less, is what a comic book writer is expected to do.

  11. Thanks for the links. I was pleased to see Ghachar Ghochar on the BTBA list. I think Glittering City is from the novel Jagua Nana which might therefore be worth reading. (Worth checking out Ekwensi’s books for some of the worst covers ever).

  12. I do love Shirley Jackson, although I enjoyed We Have Always Lived at the Castle more than Hill House. The Vivek Shanbhag has been on my radar for a while now, thanks for the links to the other reviews.

  13. Sorry Sendra, I meant it’s of interest now primarily to historians and academics, not that it’s historically accurate. Most of Thucydides isn’t historically accurate, but it’s still interesting to historians (and actually quite a fun read in places).

    Beautiful with a very hard surface is spot on for Gatsby. I illustrated my end of year post for that year (2013) with a Tamara de Lempicka painting I think probably in part for that reason (not that I made the connection at the time quite).

    Grant, it deserves to be on the list but perhaps not to win? The Ekwense seems to be from a short story collection rather than Jagua Nana (though I could be wrong). Jagua is available with one of the less garish covers so I may try that next by him.

    Cathy, which would you recommend? Castle was going to be my next.

  14. Pingback: Certainty backslides into probability. Information transmission, it emerges, is about doing the best you can. | Pechorin's Journal

  15. Eric P.

    “Glittering City” is in the collection Lokotown and Other Stories, though likely in other collections as well. My local library has quite a few books by Ekwensi but most of them are reference copies, which doesn’t do me much good. Fortunately, the university library also has them, and those do circulate, so I will try to look into his work more deeply.

    I’ve just been tipped off to the first English translation of Ondjaki’s Transparent City, though it is a bit longer (400 pages), so I’ll hold off for now, but perhaps look for it in the fall.

  16. Pingback: Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once. | Pechorin's Journal

  17. Sorry for the slow reply – I saw your comment after I’d headed off on holiday.

    Thanks for the info. What’s Transparent City? I have now picked up a copy of Jagua Nana so I’ll be exploring more Ekwensi hopefully before too long.

  18. Pingback: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson | JacquiWine's Journal

  19. Pingback: 2018 round up | Pechorin's Journal

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