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review 2017-07-14 20:48
Kit's Law (Morrissey)
Kit's Law - Donna Morrissey

This is a small-town Newfoundland novel by a small-town Newfoundlander, and I found the first-person narrative both believable and entirely comprehensible, which is a fine combination.


Our narrator-protagonist is Kit, a teenager (fourteen at the beginning) with an old head on her shoulders. This is partly because she has to deal with an intellectually challenged mother, Josie. After her grandmother Lizzie dies (a woman for whom "feisty" is an entirely inadequate description), Kit digs in her heels and, with the advocacy of the local doctor and the grudging consent of rest of the nearby small community, stays put in her remote house upon the gully. A young man, Sid, son of the minister, comes around regularly to help with the heavy chores like wood-chopping. It sounds like a story of isolation but actually one of other joys of this book is the sharp, unsentimental delineation of a host of minor characters, most of whom are well-intentioned, and some of whom are genuinely good for Kit and her mother.


One character who is neither good nor well-intentioned is Shine, a figure of menace who takes advantage of Josie's adult sexuality, which is not controlled by an adult intellect. His death comes at the hands of one of the major characters, as he is in the process of terrorizing all three of Josie, Kit and Sid. The fallout from that incident deepens Kit's isolation and accelerates her growing up.


I won't disclose the twist that derails Kit's happy-ever-after with Sid, her first romantic interest. It was unexpected (to me) but entirely defensible from a plot point of view, especially in a setting where the characters are few and heavily interconnected.

I liked the writing in this novel: it was vivid in its sensory imagery, and there was a very strong sense of place, which had elements meaningful to the characters (Lizzie's partridgeberry patch, for instance, a secret place where the secrets of Kit's birth are - partially - told). And the unsentimental, but also unjudgmental, transcription of Josie's loud, repetitive, moody and often uncomprehending speech struck me as being probably born from real observation.


I would recommend this one.

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review 2017-01-08 22:56
Books of 1916: Part One
Uneasy Money - P.G. Wodehouse
These Twain - Arnold Bennett
The Roll-Call - Arnold Bennett
Bird of Paradise (Dodo Press) - Ada Leverson
Tenterhooks - Ada Leverson
Love at Second Sight - Ada Leverson Love at Second Sight - Ada Leverson
Inclinations - Ronald Firbank
List of the Lost - Morrissey
Pride And Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Swimming-Pool Library - Diana Klein,Alan Hollinghurst

Books of 1916: Part One


2016 was a tough year in many ways, so may I introduce you to 1916? I think you’re going to love 1916.


I was struck by something I read in a (very nice) review of one of the books of 1916: —“because anything first published in 1916 that does not contain a word or thought about the First World War has got to be interesting.” Yes, you’d think so. But actually most of these novels make no mention of the war whatsoever. They tend to be historical, or escapist, or completely surreal.


You may notice that I’ve only reviewed about half as many books as I did last year for 1915. But last year I wasn’t done until March! So what you are losing in volume you are gaining in punctuality. Basically I began to feel this project was affecting my brain perhaps a little too much. My brother pointed out that I said in casual conversation, “I read that book in 1911.” I needed to dial it down just a bit.


Uneasy Money by PG Wodehouse


PG Wodehouse is always a delightful treat. I’m so happy there are more than fifty books still to come! I went by the US publication date in order to include this book, which some may consider cheating.


Lord Dawlish has a title but no money, so he is delighted when an eccentric millionaire leaves him all his money just because Lord Dawlish (aka Bill) gave him a few golf pointers once. But when Bill discovers that the eccentric millionaire has stiffed poor but deserving relatives, he sets out for Long Island to try to set things right. There is beekeeping, romance, people pretending to be other people, and lots of hilarity. The only sad part is something that happens to a monkey. In the end, everyone ends up engaged to the right person. On the final page we are at the train station in Islip, Long Island, which today is a gross and unappealing town, but apparently 100 years ago was a bucolic spot where the rich built mansions. If this book doesn’t make you smile, your soul is in mortal danger.

These Twain by Arnold Bennett


This is the third book in the Clayhanger series, and my favorite. In These Twain, the somewhat-starcrossed lovers from the first two books, Edwin and Hilda Clayhanger, embark on married life. They fight a lot. I read this book in the 1990s and haven’t re-read it, but what I remember most vividly are the descriptions of how angry they get at each other. Edwin Clayhanger thinks how he’d like to strangle Hilda, but then he goes for a walk and after a while he calms down, and when he comes home, he loves her again. At that time I was dating someone who made me really angry fairly often, and I thought These Twain was incredibly realistic. Bennett’s World-War-I-themed book (The Roll-Call) will come up in 1918, and is the last in the Clayhanger series.


Love at Second Sight by Ada Leverson


My hardcore fans (yes, both of you!) may remember that two years ago I was unable to review Birds of Paradise because I mislaid it and therefore couldn’t read it. (It turned up in the end, in a knapsack I never use.) I was eager to rectify my mistake by reading Ada Leverson’s 1916 offering, especially as this was her last novel.


Love at Second Sight is the last book in the Little Ottleys trilogy. Although I didn’t read the first two, it was easy to see what must have happened in them—in book one, the main character Edith must have married her husband, and then in the second one both Edith and her husband fall in love with other people but remain together thanks to Edith’s bloody-minded loyalty.


As this novel opens, Edith’s family has a guest in the house, and it’s unclear who she is, why she’s come to stay, and how long she plans to be there. But Madame Frabelle exercises a strange fascination over all of them. This book is terribly amusing and I’m not even going to tell you what happens, other than it’s a scream. The protagonist is thinking funny things about other people all the time but since she’s kind and fairly quiet, people don’t realize that she’s amusing and smart. The husband seems like the most annoying person on earth, and he must be drawn from life because how could you invent a person that annoying?


This is one of the rare books that has a contemporary setting during World War I. The husband was not called up because of a “neurotic heart,” which seems to be like PTSD. Edith’s love interest from the previous book returns home from the war, wounded. This novel’s realism allowed me to see all kinds of period details. For example, when the characters need to look up train timetables, they use things called the ABC and Bradshaw, which must be the apps they had on their phones at that time. Edith also had an Italian composer best friend who I thought might be based on Puccini since (according to Wikipedia) he and Ada Leverson were great pals.


I really was on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen, and guess what? Everyone gets a happy ending!


Ada Leverson’s Wikipedia page says cattily that after this novel, she worked on ever-smaller projects. Just like me!


Inclinations by Ronald Firbank


Firbank is a riot! This book reminds me a bit of Morrissey’s List of the Lost. Of course, that should be no surprise really, since both of them are directly related to Oscar Wilde on the literary family tree. What sets them apart is Inclinations is unalloyed comedy and nearly all dialogue.


What kind of inclinations does this novel concern itself with, you may ask? Well, it’s about a middle-aged writer Miss Geraldine O’Brookmore, known as Gerald, who brings a fourteen year old girl (Miss Mabel Collins) on a trip to the Mediterranean. There’s basically no description of anything or explanation of what’s happening or who is speaking, so you have to be okay with feeling unsure about what’s going on. One of the characters is shot and killed and it was chapters later that I finally understood which one. Plot is not what this book is about. This book is about lines so funny and with such a nice ring to them that I will just give you a small sampling for your enjoyment:


Miss Collins clasped her hands. “I’d give almost anything to be blasé.”


“I don’t see Mrs Cowsend, do you?”

“Breakfast was laid for four covers in her room.”

“For four!”

“Or perhaps it was only three.”


“She writes curiously in the style of one of my unknown correspondents.”


[Talking about a costume ball]:

“Oh, Gerald, you could be a silver-tasselled Portia almost with what you have, and I a Maid of Orleans.”


“Don’t be tiresome, darling. It’s not as if we were going in boys’ clothes!”


“Once she bought a little calf for some special binding, but let it grow up...and now it’s a cow!”


“Gerald has a gold revolver. ‘Honour” she calls it.”


“Is your father tall?”

“As we drive I shall give you all his measurements.”


“I had a good time in Smyrna,” she drowsily declared.

“Only there?”

“Oh, my dears, I’m weary of streets; so weary!”


“I’m told she [Gerald] is a noted Vampire.”

“Who ever said so?”

“Some friend of hers—in Chelsea.”

“What do Vampires do?”

“What don’t they!”


If you find this sort of off-putting, these lines really do make more sense, somewhat more sense, in context. In a chapter that is eight words long (“Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel! Mabel!”), Miss Mabel Collins throws off the protectoress-ship of Gerald and elopes with a count. The final section of the book is different, slightly more conventional and somewhat Jane Austen-esque (“I’ve such news!” “What is it?” “The Chase is let at last.”) In this part, the Countess (Miss Collins-that-was) returns home to England with her toddler and there’s question in some minds about whether she is properly, legally married. I’m looking forward to Firbank’s next novel in 1917.


I’m only just now realizing that Firbank is the author that the main character keeps reading in The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst. I guess I thought Alan Hollinghurst just made him up. The thing is that his name sounds so made up, just “Fairbanks” with some of the letters taken out. Ugh, I learn everything backward.


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url 2015-12-02 16:01
‘Bad sex award’ for Morrissey debut novel
List of the Lost - Morrissey
The Martini Shot: A Novella and Stories - George Pelecanos
Book of Numbers: A Novel - Joshua Cohen
Before, During, After - Richard Bausch

And some more.

Interesting take on books with excessive sex in the book.


What's on  your list of bad sex award? 


Twilight should wins this year after year. 

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review 2015-10-02 20:39
List of the Lost by Morrissey
Tender Buttons - Gertrude Stein
I Know What You Did Last Summer - Lois Duncan
Maxine Wore Black - Nora Olsen
The Young Visiters - Daisy Ashford
List of the Lost - Morrissey

[This is a review of Morrissey's novel List of the Lost.
However I am unable to "connect" my post to the book as it is only available in the UK.

I also tried to "connect" this post to my own book because I mention it briefly, and I learned that booklikes has misspelled my name. Thanks so much, booklikes.]



I loved this novel. It was so strange and idiosyncratic, so different from anything else I’ve ever read. Morrissey writes like Daisy Ashford all grown up. Ostensibly set in Boston in the 1970s, the story actually took place in a surreal landscape that was not meant to have the verisimilitude of any particular time and place. I enjoyed the lyricism of the writing, and in particular I don’t think I have ever read any finer descriptions of death or awkward sex.


Usually in a book, you get a lot of warning when a character is going to die, but I was taken by surprise again and again and again here. And that’s what it’s actually like in real life. The random cruelty of death is put across very effectively in this story, and this is the realism created by the seeming unreality of the plot.


List of the Lost reminded me a lot of Gertrude Stein’s book of poetry Tender Buttons, which is also extremely unusual and non-conformist. Both of those books are so far from the mainstream that I struggle to explain/defend why I like them so much, because they’re indescribably lacking in point of reference. I think the key is that with these two books, I had to engage and grapple with them and so the experience is about me plus the book, rather than the usual experience where a book conforms to my expectations and plays a movie in my mind so I don’t really have to do any work.


I’m a writer, and in the publishing industry as a whole there’s incredible pressure to conform, conform, conform and please the gatekeepers and grab the reader by the throat in the opening paragraph. I really appreciate how Morrissey totally short circuited all that. It’s incredibly refreshing to see someone follow their own star and write whatever the hell they want and then get published by Penguin.


I was delighted or deeply moved from the first page to the last. One of the most affecting and true-to-life parts was the death of one of the character’s mothers. And something that just tickled me tremendously was an extended description of the TV show Bonanza. List of the Lost also surprisingly turned out to be something of a page turner. I started off reading it very slowly, wanting to savor it all and make sure I comprehended it, but by the end I was just racing through, wondering what would happen next.


As a big Morrissey fan, I enjoyed reading his time-honored themes (such as the perfidy of: the royal family, the police, the meat/murder industry, Margaret Thatcher, and child murderers) but this time through the medium of fiction. It was so his voice that I felt as though I was hearing him read aloud.


One of the most striking things was Morrissey’s iconoclastic disregard for what anyone thinks. It’s not just the evil people in power he’s unafraid to offend, it’s everyone. Does it seem backward and unhelpful to have the villain who’s a child molester and murderer also be a gay man who frequents drag clubs? Sure. Does Morrissey shrink from having one of his characters opine that some child victims are asking for it? No, he goes right ahead and includes this abhorrent idea. Although I’m usually so easily offended, none of this bothered me because I was just so taken with the irrepressible spirit of the story. (But trigger warning for these things!)


I can’t help but notice that a lot of people really don’t seem to like this book. I’m kind of baffled. Yes, it’s weird but it’s good. I do feel a special kinship with Morrissey’s unique sensibility, but so do a LOT of other people, and Morrissey fans are ten a penny. So...? I was wondering when I was reading it if part of the reason I loved it was just that I love Morrissey. But context can’t be escaped from, it’s always there, and if I like him wearing one hat why wouldn’t I like him wearing another hat, especially when he brings the same originality, passion, and elegiac quality to fiction as to songwriting. But I don’t think you need to bring some special knowledge to this novel in order to like it or “understand” it. In the opening, List of the Lost seemed plotless and it brought Balanchine’s plotless ballets to my mind. And I started thinking about what Balanchine said about watching ballet; you don’t have to know anything, you just open your eyes and look at it and think, Is this beautiful? Does this mean something to me? Do I like this? That was kind of what I was asking myself as I read this unusual book and the answer was always yes, yes, yes. But I am going to lend List of the Lost to my friend Rebecca who is one of the smartest people I know (and yet she does not listen to Morrissey and she teaches college English) to see what she makes of it. Obviously, as with any book, it’s a matter of taste, but where are the other folks who think this tastes delicious? Part of me wants to be this book’s champion because it isn’t being appreciated, but the rest of me realizes that this book can stand on its own two feet and does not need me of all people to be its champion. (Also, if Morrissey were unable to withstand bad reviews and mockery, then he could not be still alive today.)


Morrissey’s novel also made me think a lot about my own so-called writing. As it happens, my most recently published book was also a gothic romance. My number one concern was the portrayal and representation of marginalized people, but beyond that literally my only aims were to make the book as accessible and entertaining as I could. And now I feel like, why? Okay, I write YA instead of literary fiction, but what is so great about trying to please people? (Which by the way does not work.) Isn’t there more to writing than trying to churn out a potboiler that adheres to certain conventions of how a story is supposed to be told? What do I really have to say? If I cast aside everything I think I know about my narrative identity, who or what am I as a writer? Or am I even a writer? I believe I have a lot to learn from the unabashed individuality of List of the Lost.


Now I am going to get specific about some things that happen in the story, so if you don’t want to know what happens, it’s time for you to stop reading. Spoiler alert, okay?...


List of the Lost is about a college men’s relay team on the cusp of incredible success in their sport. The four runners are physically at the peak of perfection and they have an easy and loving friendship. Then they are at some sort of runners’ retreat, and in the woods they unexpectedly encounter a repulsive old vagrant who however has a sympathetic backstory which he relates in a long soliloquy. At that point I had to stop reading, so my mind was spinning about what would happen next. In the hands of a hack (i.e. like myself), the old man would lay a curse on them and then one by one some terrible supernatural thing would befall each runner and they would certainly not win their big race and perhaps some or all of them would die. Well, in a way that’s not too far off, but my version would be very Lois Duncan/Final Destination. What Morrissey actually chose to do, though, is for the old man to try to sexually assault Ezra, one of the runners. Ezra hits him and the man falls down stone dead. (Let me say again, people die very abruptly in this novel!) The friends hide the body and run off. Then not long after, Harri’s mother dies and while Harri is at the very bottom of despair, a drug dealer who may be some sort of ghost or may be just an ordinary drug dealer, sells Harri everything he needs to end his pain and die by suicide. The remaining three are wracked with sadness and start to question the point of everything. Then a ghost appears to Ezra asking him to uncover the body of her child who was murdered decades ago. Actually, I’m going to leave it at that. List of the Lost turned out to be far from plotless; there were a lot of exciting things that happened and there was a very clear trajectory to the action. But the plot was not the main thing. And I can’t deliver the “main thing” to you in a book review. You’re going to have to find out for yourself.


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review 2015-03-21 13:26
Raffles: Annotated & Illustrated
The Complete Raffles - E.W. Hornung,Sarah Morrissey,Genevieve Morrissey

Gentleman thief and cricketer A.J. Raffles strikes up a criminal partnership with a down-and-out gentleman, Bunny Manders, who faithfully Watsons his criminal Holmes. Together they rob the rich and give to themselves, until it all comes crashing down. 


Written back before detective fiction and crime adventure hadn't parted ways, these stories are part adventure, part puzzle, with either dominating depending on the story. The emotional thread that runs through them is the precariousness of Raffles and Bunny's situation - every new risk means risk of exposure, but taking the risk in the first place is what sustains their illusion of respectability, i.e. wealth. As the chronology progresses, Bunny goes from agonies of guilt to stoic acceptance of his own criminality, and finally to grief that goes beyond the question of right and wrong. In the end, what began as morally grey adventure series becomes a love story between a charismatic, corrupt man and a weak, corruptible one.


In this edition, Sarah and Genevieve Morrissey provide a whopping 1,052 footnotes which give context to Raffles' world, pinpoint his references, expand on the setting, and contextualize the characters' words and actions. And, full disclosure, I copy-edited the notes myself. I promise I'm not getting a cut; I'm talking this up because I actually believe it's a great resource. They also include dozens of illustrations that appeared in the original magazines. There is a wealth of work and research here that's born out of genuine love of the stories and desire to understand the culture in which they were produced.


If it wasn't for the enormous and wonderful work of the Morrisseys, I would not give the work a full five stars, because as can be expected, the usual warnings for racism (Mr. Justice Raffles is particularly antisemitic) and classism apply to this as any other late Victorian English fiction. The emotional core, however, especially the sense of impending loss that is wholly deserved, gives these stories a unique and exciting flavour. It's why I'm a fan.


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