Girls Who Read

What do you look for in a girl? Are you a chest man? An ass man? Or are you a book-in-her-hands man?

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Book Review: The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei

By his own admission Eric Nye is an asshole, ‘and not loyal to anyone, not even [him]self.’ He’s what you’d get if American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman and Mad Men‘s Don Draper gave birth to a man-child. “Chief Idea Officer” at Tate, a New York City ad agency, the bonus on top of Eric’s already six figure salary is dependent on him firing 50% of his staff – a task that he carries out with “HR Lady”, relishes and draws out for his own entertainment.

‘We pretend with each other in big, long sighs that it was difficult work, very hard, we would go out afterwards and have a nice meal and get shitfaced and take limos home and expense it because of how difficult it was.’

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SO; all appears to have been going as well as could be expected in the life of Eric Nye until “Intern” entered his life. After an almost one night stand, Eric finds that despite the fact he can’t remember her name, she’s now interning at his agency. Intern soon begins to stalk him, turning up wherever he may be to the point where Eric starts to question who’s stalking whom. For no logical reason, he can’t seem to get her out of his head, leading to his slow unravelling… Another chance encounter leads to a complaint against him being filed with HR, but there’s something about Eric that makes it very difficult to believe everything he’s telling you.  Is the intern to have a cathartic effect on him?

Eric is a darkly fascinating character. A guy who says things like ‘For no reason I consider hitting on birch-like juice girl but I fear there is too high a chance she will say yes‘, and ‘I sit in a deck chair and face away from the beach; something about the ceaseless idiocy of one wave after another strikes me as profoundly imaginative‘, and who dismisses a beautiful view of the New York skyline as it’s ‘trying too hard.’ That he’s a jackass is no question, but he’s a hilarious jackass. Or at least I thought so. Even when he’s making certain staff members jump hoops, knowing full well he’s about to fire them, you can’t help but laugh because his cruel indifference knows no bounds (especially because at the office, when he’s not firing people, he does absolutely nothing).

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Living in a false world devoid of any real interactions, Eric struggles with his ‘unalterable inability to deal with [his] unreality.’ It doesn’t appear like he’s able to stay still; restless, deeply jaded and dissatisfied with what life has to offer:

‘Waiting, I realise, isn’t the time between things, it’s the thing itself.’

There are deep echoes of American Psycho here, but if you find the endless listing of material possessions to be boring, you’re missing the point entirely. That listing is what makes American Psycho a classic. The essential difference between Nye and Bateman is that Nye is mocking himself when he reels off his material possessions, aware of some of the absurdities, whereas Bateman loved himself (interestingly, Nye experiences self-loathing) and his possessions; full stop. What struck me as being quite amusing is that Eric neither desires or needs any of these ridiculously expensive items he owns, but he buys them because he can, and often bespoke so he can prove a point.

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For all that Eric lacks in character, he makes up for with the precision of his societal observations. He mocks the Brooklyn hipsters in a way that is so scathing, so sharp; I could not have articulated it better myself:

‘Never before have I seen so many people in one place who are exactly the same: the same age, the same race, the same wardrobe, the same facial hair, the same taste in music, socioeconomic background, college experience, shoes, political beliefs, and hair; but I suppose what really unites them is the shared fantasy that they are rebels.’

He goes to an art show called “Show Us Your Tits!” which features ‘lots of photos (taken, it seems, by anyone who can push the button on a camera) of girls flashing their breasts…I can’t decide if I like this show because it’s not really art at all, it’s just stupid, or if maybe I hate this shit because it’s trying so hard not to be art and there’s nothing more arty than that.’ Haha. Every major city has these hubs; in London the equivalent is Shoreditch/ Hackney.

Underneath the layers of dark wit and narcissism is an intelligent commentary on corporate America where we are told that ‘Advertising is how corporations outsource their lies.’

‘You see, what I think is interesting about what I do is that I personally don’t believe in what I do, or should I say that I believe very strongly that technology is actually destroying us as human beings, it’s taking away the fundamental truths about our humanity and making us pay to get them back: it’s called Creating Value.’

Without spoiling too much, the example he uses was quite an eye opener for me, showing how we have learned to buy back what was fundamentally ours to begin with.

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This is a highly entertaining read that is, in parts, hilarious, and although Eric is indeed an asshole of the highest degree (as it says on the spine of the novel, he’s ‘a character you’ll either love or hate. Probably hate.’) I couldn’t help but be taken in by his unashamed self-centredness.  And what, exactly, is the Deep Whatsis? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out.

I received my copy of The Deep Whatsis from the publisher (Other Press) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Peculiar Love: Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

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101 short ‘stories’ (or paragraphs, really) each 101 words long, each one more bizarre than the last. I’ve had this book for years and find myself dipping into it whenever I feel like laughing. Each story is narrated by an unnamed man who is experiencing one difficulty or another with a girlfriend. The stories are disturbingly hilarious and undeniably dark with a common thread of absurdity running through them. Here’s a little taster; enjoy!

TRICK

My girlfriend told me she had been the victim
of nature’s cruellest trick, that although born
male she had always felt female. She said she
had started dressing in women’s clothes at
the age of seventeen, and three years later
had undergone the necessary surgery. I was
stunned, but told her that I loved her first and
foremost as a person, and that I would give her
all the emotional support she needed. She
looked horrified. She had only been joking.
She left me. She said she was going to find a
real man, not some queer little gayboy like me.

BINDING

I found my girlfriend smashing our two-year-
old’s toes with a rock. I told her to stop. ‘What
are you doing?’ I cried, above the baby’s
agonised wails.
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ she said,
winding a bandage tightly around the crushed
digits. ‘It’s a woman thing. It’ll help her get a
boyfriend.’
‘But darling, don’t you remember what the
doctor told us? It’s a boy baby.’
‘Really?’ She looked surprised. ‘Oh well.
Men look nice with small feet too. I expect
he’ll be gay, anyway. He’s got that look about
him. See?’ I had to agree that she had a point.

CHARGING

My girlfriend started charging me for sex. She
said she had to think of her future, and
anyway her friends did it so why shouldn’t
she? I didn’t mind too much because her basic
rates were very reasonable, although she
always expected tips for extras. Once, as she
was holding the banknotes I’d given her up to
the light to make sure they were real, I asked
her if she ever went with anyone else for
money. She was furious, and asked what kind
of girl I thought she was. I said one with
laughing eyes, and lovely long dark hair.

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The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright: An Ambiguous Review

If it hadn’t been for the child then none of this might have happened.

She saw me kissing her father.

She saw her father kissing me.

The fact that a child got mixed up in it all made us feel that it mattered, that there was no going back.

I’m not sure how I feel about Anne Enright. This is the second of her books that I’ve read (technically 1.5 as I couldn’t quite finish the first) and although this book is miles better than her Booker prize winning The Gathering and has given me a glimpse into the reason why she’s rated so highly, there is still something that’s holding me back a little.

The Forgotten Waltz

The Forgotten Waltz is about adultery; about an affair between two married people, Gina and Sean. Set in Ireland, the entire story is told with hindsight and from Gina’s perspective, so we know from the beginning how this ends. But the story is still charged with us wanting to know how they got there, how this affair started, and how it developed.

Anne Enright writes well, there’s no doubt about that. Some of the passages in here really did take my breath away. She says things that are completely unexpected, but upon reflection, are things so true:

‘…I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like bird-song; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness.’

How beautiful is that? Her depiction of the middle classes is also infuriatingly accurate and brought a smile to my face several times. For example, ‘The room where they slept was white…it was done in horribly similar, crucially different shades of f*cking white.’, and also ‘it was the kind of party where no one ate the chicken skin.’ I laughed at the obscurity of such a remark, but then instantly understood what she meant. These are self-consciously middle class people with middle class concerns, and in truly capturing the nuances of this world, Enright has succeeded.

Gina is very matter of fact, almost dispassionate when speaking of Sean and of the affair, an affair confined to the space of a hotel room, ‘we were only normal for the twelve foot by fourteen of a hotel room. Outside, in the open air, we would evaporate.’ She speaks as though Sean and the affair were these giant forces that were beyond her control:

But once we begun, how were we supposed to stop? This sounds like a simple question, but I still don’t know the answer to it. I mean that we had started something that could not be ended, except by happening. It could not be stopped, but only finished.

But it was hard for me to believe that someone so seemingly indifferent about something would sacrifice so much in order to attain it. She’s a walking contradiction; one minute repulsed by Sean and the next minute almost stalking him in true bunny-boiler fashion. She ultimately finds that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side: It’s pretty much the same colour, just a different type of blade. But I couldn’t reconcile this supposedly epiphanic realisation with someone as smart and cynical as Gina – surely a previously married woman would know that the romance and excitement of a new relationship soon slips into the ordinary?! All the more so if the other adulterer in question has a child. Come on. This is Adultery and Deciding to Leave Your Spouse 101.

A common thread in Enright’s work is the way in which her stories start off in a fascinating way and then they slowly begin to falter and stagnate. The momentum is not kept up, but the beauty of the actual writing (in this book anyway) keeps you going. And Gina is a very interesting narrator. You might call her unreliable, but she goes out of her way to remind you that what she’s telling you may not be what actually occurred, and that her recollections are doused in a self-interested subjectivity. And you can’t help but be grateful for the extent she goes to to prevent the oversimplification of the motivations behind this affair.

50 Shades of Nonsense – HILARIOUS REVIEW

For weeks now I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it is about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ that has caused all this fuss. I’m still at a complete and utter loss. I bought it on my kindle a few weeks ago (with every intention of returning it quickly for a refund, haha), read about 15% of it, couldn’t bear to carry on and then completely forgot to return the damned thing. So now this atrociously written nonsense still sits on my virtual shelf. Maybe I’ll continue reading it one day when True Boredom eats at my skull.

So when I stumbled across this review on Goodreads, I knew that I wasn’t alone. She is absolutely HILARIOUS! I actually burst out laughing on several occasions. I really urge you to read this, it will literally make your day. It’s the gifs (those moving image things) that really make it. Sooo funny.

And she has kindly gone on to review the other two books in the trilogy, saving us from having to read page after mind-numbing page of these poorly written books. Her review of Fifty Shades Darker is equally as funny.

But at the same time, we know that Fifty Shades isn’t meant to be literary fiction, and doesn’t try to be. So why am I so mad at its success?  In my defense, is it wrong to expect a little bit of writing ability in a best-selling novelist?

I’m not a literary snob, far from, but can someone please tell me what it is about this particular book that has captured the world’s attention?? What makes this book different from any of the thousands of the Mills and Boon books published before (which, can I say, I DO read on occasion and are definitely better in quality)?

The Opposite of Romance – David Szalay’s ‘Spring’: A Book Review

Understated, subtle, yet precise. That is how I’d describe David Szalay’s novel, Spring. This book will resonate with anyone who’s ever been uncertain about where they stand in a relationship.

‘This presumably being the fact that he was in love with her. Or thought he was. Or said he was. Or said he thought he was…’

Spring by David Szalay

Spring by David Szalay

Meet James – a many times failed entrepreneur, and meet Katherine – an interim receptionist working at a luxury hotel, recently separated from her husband. It’s 2006 and they meet at a wedding, swap numbers and start seeing each other. Straight forward enough. Except the relationship that ensues never quite makes it off the ground, yet we follow them through the painful repetitiveness of a new relationship, a repetition that many reviewers have said is captured in a beautifully mundane precision.

Szalay is very observant of the little nuances, the tiny details that make you smile because they are unique yet universal. He writes with a precision that elevates the ordinary into something more profound, whatever that ‘something’ may be. James spends most of his time wondering if things are ok with him and Katherine, ‘On that question he is insatiable’. He’s highly attuned to every one of Katherine’s slight shifts in mood and she appears to treat him with an indifference that is down-right embarrassing at times, blowing hot and cold in what I found to be a completely unattractive self-absorbed manner. Yet Szalay’s characters are not two dimensional; there are all these layers of thought and reasoning and experience that makes it difficult to judge them outright (as much as you want to, damn it!)

We spend as much time observing their dates as we do witnessing their attempts to actually try and arrange them and this is where Szalay’s gift for dialogue really comes through, because we have all had these awkward phone conversations in our time.

Pointless conversations

Pointless conversations

You can’t help but wonder what the point of the whole thing is. Why bother?

The ending is hideously ambiguous, but the novel resonates more as a result. I never fully understood whether or not they actually did love one another. My instinct would be to say of course not, but then maybe this is what love is about in a city like London. You trudge on through and grasp at little pockets of companionship that bring you out of the vapidity, the crowded solitude. I don’t know…Maybe this also touches on that feeling a lot of people have in their late twenties/early thirties where you’re a little bit jaded and happy to settle into something rather than aimlessly try and reach for that elusive something else: ‘No more magnificence. Now he just wants to be okay.’

Gosh, this is depressing. But then, this is not chick lit, it’s real. No tint of rose. And if you’re able to look beyond the cyclical nature of their relationship (James calling, Katherine not picking up) the writing is effortless.

But this book is not without its flaws. There are characters brought into the storyline for what feels like fairly weak reasons. The frequency with which these characters enter the plot is inconsistent and the subplot of betting and race horses (James’s most recent entrepreneurial endeavour) seems completely unnecessary, adding very little to the book.

If you like stories that are character rather than plot based, you’ll really enjoy this. Whereas if you like your books to have a distinct narrative arc, I probably wouldn’t bother.

If you’ve read this, what did you think of Katherine? Was I the only one who really didn’t like her? And though I liked James did anyone else hope he would eventually develop a backbone? Do you think there was any kind of genuine love in this relationship as opposed to simply wanting to feel? Or is Katherine simply just not that into James?

Spring by David Szalay

Spring by David Szalay

Is this the Average American Male??

If you’re the type who gets easily offended I’d stay clear of this book, you will only get mad. The cover warns you that this book has sexually explicit content, and indeed it does. Really does. There isn’t a single paragraph that deviates from the subject of sex. I, personally, don’t offend easily and can see humour in almost anything, but even I was tested at times.

Average?

Average?

Chad Kultgen is the guy who wrote this book, The Average American Male. In the ‘About the author’ section it says he studied at USC, that he lives in California and that this is his first book. We know nothing else about Chad before reading this book (unless of course you decide to Google him or something). Although after reading, I had come to the conclusion that this was a very sick and perverted man, albeit a very funny, sick and perverted man.

But then, if I’m to believe what he’s telling me, this is precisely how the average American male thinks and behaves, how their minds operate. And due to globalisation, the term ‘American’ can be extended to describe all men residing in the Western World.

The unnamed narrator has a girlfriend, Casey, whom he cannot stand; too clingy, physically not up to scratch and isn’t up for sex all the time. She manages to rope him into planning a wedding for a marriage that he doesn’t want and did not ask for and has no intention of going through with. After finding his way out of this situation he goes on to find every guy’s Dream Girl, Alyna, one with an insatiable appetite for sex and a love of video games. Naturally. And so we follow him through his sexual exploits in a world that revolves around him and the constant need to be sexually gratified.

It would be too obvious to say this book was written for guys. Although I might be trying to read too much into this narcissistic drivel and this is precisely what it is: bedtime reading for teenage boys.

*SPOILER* The closing scene describes the narrator resignedly asking Alyna to marry him: ‘Her lack of hesitation as she accepts disgusts me.’ I honestly burst out laughing when I read that. Though the message may be bleak, there is a sliver of truth here with regards to this notion of the purpose of human life and what it means. Kultgen appears to be touching on the idea that we search for meaning through these milestones borne of tradition. One cannot simply be and instead looks for meaning through the ‘next step’, whether that be further education, marriage, children; whatever. We’re all haunted by the question, ‘What more is there in life?’, and this unending search for the intangible continues.

Underneath the sex, the kink, and all the vulgarity, and maybe even despite of all this, you can’t deny that he’s darkly amusing. Ok, very darkly amusing. He may be one of the most narcissistic fictional (?) characters you’ll ever have the displeasure of meeting, but you certainly won’t forget him.

Maybe it’s just me.