Booker 2014: The Dog by Joseph O’Neil

‘The Dog’ is the tale of an American lawyer who, following the break-up of his long term relationship, and a chance encounter with an old college friend, re-locates to Dubai to manage the wealth of a rich Lebanese family – The Batros’s.

His job the newly created role of “family officer”. Its purpose to stop them from getting ripped off by anybody. In practice it means watching various family members shifting their wealth about and overseeing the ever growing number of companies within the family empire, ok-ing payments on their behalf, and also becoming treasurer of a charitable foundation he suggest the Batros’ set up. In reality the job mostly involves shuffling paper, monitoring emails, and frustration at various family members ignoring of his own emails to them.

So his life becomes ever more distracted by the minutia of daily life and custom in Dubai – both for exPats, locals, the one up-manship of Apartment block improvements, the building on ever larger apartment blocks, the plight and treatment of foreign workers.

There isn’t really much of a plot.

His chief pastimes seem to be diving (although this hobby seems to have stopped when diving buddy Ollie decides to stop) getting pedicures (from Ollie and his ever expanding employee base), using his massage chair, and visiting prostitutes. These and engaging in various forms of self justifying arguments for his lifestyle and job, and the lifestyle and jobs of others too. These take the form of imaginary emails not sent and lengthy passages philosophising, often in the form of legal argument, often about his ex Jenn and the reasons for the breakdown of their relationship.

He is a man who when he runs out of things to analyse, starts to analyses whether he is analysing too much.

Into this we also get a few events to hang these rambling around – the disappearance of a well know local diver (The man from Atlantis), and some bay-sitting duties for the 15 year old son of the Eddie’s brother Sandros.

This is a fun read. Working for an international law firm for many years and knowing many lawyers who have moved or spent time in Dubai, a lot of the experiences and views of life in the UAE rang true, as did description of various type of people to be found in the nouveau riche there. I’m sure the self obsessed and absorbed central character, who is never named (beyond being told his given name begins with X), and the sheer number of passages devoted to his endless (and perhaps pointless) powers of reasoning may not sit well with some readers, but for me it worked and also gives the book a nice undercurrent of humour. I smiled often reading this book.

“(The record! I’ve always found it a hoot, this mythic tabula on which our deeds are inscribed and preserved. Where is this record? Who is the recorder? Who are the readers of the record? Egocentricity! Superstition! Anthropocentricity! (One understands the metaphysical origins of the error, of course, it being an almost unacceptable and unbelievable proposition that we exist in an adjudicatory emptiness, and arguably a definition of the human must refer to our distinguishing if babyish sense of (and/or need for) being kept under observation or lorded over. (The fantasy of the record is closely preceded, surely, by the fantasy of the forum – the ideal if invisible fact-finding or listening body to which one mutters one’s arguments, sometimes audibly. I do it all the time. It’s consternating, really.))”

It also served to remind me that I’d always meant to read his previous novel Netherland, and that post booker I should probably, and belatedly, do so.

Music review podcast

So me and a friend do a album review podcast – you should listen and if you like subscribe

So in the latest podcast we discuss the following albums:

Meat maybe murder, but is listening to the new Morrissey album tasty or tasteless?

Morrissey – World Peace is None of your Business

5 Seconds of Summer – 5 Seconds of Summer

Yes – Heaven & Earth

La Roux – Trouble in Paradise

Cut/Copy – Free Your Mind

Jenny Lewis – The Voyager 

Check out this episode!

Booker 2014: Orfeo by Richard Powers

Given that he’s been nominated for the Pulizer Prize you’d have thought I’d have read more Powers’ books then I have , but my only previous experience of his work came with ‘Gain’, which whilst I found beautifully written in places, a bit of a chore to read.

If I’m honest there were times reading Orfeo where some of that feeling was coming back to me, but in the end it was a book I enjoyed.

On the face of it the story is loosely about a College music professor who ends up on the run when the government decides he’s become a biotech terrorist. What is actually about is the choices we make in life about our ‘calling’ and centrally about music , and classical music in particular. For a long time he refuses to see any merit in any other. And Power writes exquisitely about music. He write about the notes, the tones the rise and falls and of course the sounds. I could pick hundreds of examples from the book but, he also just write generally about it: –

“Music, he’ll tell anyone who asks over the next fifty years, doesn’t mean things. It is things.”

“Music wasn’t about learning how to love. It was about learning what to disown and when to disown it. Even the most magnificent piece would end up as collateral damage in the endless war over taste.”

“The way he’d remembered it, everything happened in that shared glance. On that downbeat, he left a wife who’d given him a decade of unearned patience, abandoned a daughter who wanted only to make things with him, and stepped out into free fall. For nothing, for music, for a chance to make a little noise in this world. A noise that no one needed to hear.”

“Music and viruses both trick their hosts into copying them.”

“All my life I thought I knew what music was. But I was like a kid who confuses his grandfather with God.”

Here is a central character – Richard Els – who believes music should be difficult and hard and that obvious melody are a failure. Or at least he does through passages of his life. He devotes his life to finding the perfect sounds that will change the world, but not in popularist way. He is a man with few loves and even fewer friends. He reminded me of a less likable Anne Tyler central character. And indeed it is these few other characters, Maddy, Clara, Sarah, Bonner who help to flesh out this man whose life’s priorities cause his undoing.

It is an engaging book, but one that I may have abandoned had it not been for my own love of music and my own fascination with the links between music and science and the regular quotable lines relating to music of all kinds:

“At his click, the room filled with a vivacious, pitchcorrected, and jaw-droppingly sunny little song. On Els’s screen, a thirteen-year-old singer woke up, went to the bus stop, joined her friends in a convertible, and visited a suburban house where an upper-middle-class teen party was in full swing”
“Air raid announcing the end of the world. A driving motor rhythm in the drums propelled virtuosic parallel passages in the guitars and bass. The song came on like a felon released from multiple life sentences. The melodic machete went straight through Els’s skin. The song was one long, joyous jackhammer assertion of tonic. Surprise was not its goal, and the pattern laid down in the first four measures drove the tune on in a storm surge. But after two minutes, it sprouted a hallucination in the relative minor floating above the thrash, and for several notes Els thought the band, in a fit of real anarchy, had thrown Chopin’s E Minor Prelude—the “Vision”—into the cement mixer …” describing an Anthrax song.

I ended this book marveling at some of the writing but ultimately not loving Els or the book.


Booker 2014: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This is the first novel by Karen Joy Fowler I have read. If I’m honest I’d never really been tempted by any of her previous works, which includes The Jane Austen Book Club. I also went into this one blind and read it not knowing what the book was about – one advantage of reading on my Kindle, rather than having the physical book – so I had the surprise at the ‘reveal’ that happened early on in the novel, if not early in the story.

As it is difficult to discuss the book without giving away that ‘reveal’, stop reading now if you don’t want to know.

Fowler’s book is the story of the Cooke family, as told by narrator, Rosemary. We start in the middle of the story and are introduced to Mom and Dad, brother Lowell, and sister Fern. Nothing seems out of the ordinary as we learn who loves whom more within the family set up and about events in the past, including Lowell going missing and Fern being taken away. It is then our preconceptions about the family unit at torn down as it is revealed that Rosemary’s sister Fern is, in fact, a chimpanzee. You see, Dad is a psychology professor , the type that “didn’t leave their work at the office. They brought it home.” And the family had become an experiment on raising a human and a chimpanzee at the same time as ‘sisters’.

What follows is a book about sibling love and kinship and establishing that bond of sistership. It highlights what commonalities are present in the family relations before stepping back to look at the differences. Mixed up in this it manages to address issues of nature v nurture, animal rights, sibling rivalry and jealousy and identity and perhaps most importantly, communication. More than anything this book seemed to be about communication, and how and why we choose to communicate. This is demonstrated most glaringly in the ways Rosemary communicates with those around her when Fern is living with them, and afterwards. Also Rosemary asks her long standing flat mate at one point if they are friends – because she is not sure how and if she’s made any. The fact that she ends up with a suitcase containing a ventriloquist’s dummy of Madame Defarge from Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, instead of her Mother’s journals at one point also seems like a communication joke.

There are also difficult and serious questions at the heart of the novel about animal rights and science and medical research. It is a book that – including as it does a lot of facts about Chimpanzee studies/experiments – makes you think about where we draw the lines. Indeed, Rosemary herself is conflicted about where that line should be, and conflicted about where the blame lies for Fern being taken away from the family and Lowell leaving home.

If all this sounds a bit too serious, I should add that due to the skill of Fowler’s writing, this is a surprisingly ‘light’ and fun read. Fowler has included a number of quirky fun characters for some comic relief who appear at just the right moments to lighten the load. An enjoyable read that would be a good gift to most book lovers.

Prediction: Shortlist

“Just one victory” by bank over todd rundgren in foreclosure fight

It’s not often [Ok, it's never] that i get to blog about the law AND Todd Rundgren, but yesterday I came across this legal update from Peter J. Gallagher of Porzio Bromberg & Newman PC on the US the Financial Institutions Reform, Recover, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (“FIRREA”). In it he looks at a lawsuit arising out of JPMorgan Chase Bank’s efforts to foreclose on his and Michelle’s home having decided the couple had defaulted on the loan for the property.

New Football Season

New football season is about to kick off so thought I’d do a bit of predicting in the only two leagues that matter. Listed in order of importance.

League Two:

1. Plymouth Argyle
2. Bury
3. Southend United
4. Portsmouth
5. Carlisle United
6. Luton Town
7. Shrewsbury Town
8. Cambridge United
9. Northampton Town
10. Stevenage
11. Burton Albion
12. Cheltenham Town
13. Hartlepool United
14. Tranmere Rovers
15. York City
16. Oxford United
17. Dagenham & Redbridge
18. Wycombe Wanderers
19. Mansfield Town
20. AFC Wimbledon
21. Accrington Stanley
22. Morecambe
23. Newport County
24. Exeter City

FA Premier League:

1. Chelsea
2. Manchester City
3. Liverpool
4. Manchester United
5. Arsenal
6. Everton
7. Newcastle
8. Spurs
9. Stoke
11.Crystal Palace
12. West Ham
13. Hull
14. Aston Villa
15. Southampton.
16. QPR
17. Swansea
18. Leicester
19. WBA
20. Burnley

Booker 2014: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

Ok, let’s get this out of the way straight away: The Wake is written throughout entirely in its own language – a shadow version of Old English which Kingsnorth created to make it intelligible for the modern reader.

“we all is feohtan to lif I seas to this hraga all wihts men and others all is feohtan to lif in this deorc world. And now I moste stric”

Right, that should have put most people off.

Kingwood is of the view that once you get your eye in it’s not a difficult book to read/follow. We’ll get to that in a moment.


The genus of The Wake, began when the author read a book called The English Resistance, documenting the guerrilla resistance movement that sprung up after 1066. According to the author: ” I ran through any number of possible ways of constructing the book. One early approach was an attempt to tell the story of the same period in history from varying perspectives: that of a man involved; that of a nineteenth century historical novel; that of a contemporary historian; and some other perspective I’ve already forgotten. Nicely post-modern, I’m sure you’ll agree. Perhaps I should have stuck with it; it sounds more potentially award-winning.”

Funny, although oddly enough my first thought when I started this book was just how much it was – in this form – award and critic bait. Just describing this book to people makes it sounds as literarily up its own arse as you could wish to get – you almost expect an accompanying soundtrack album from Damon Albarn and Sting played entirely on Recorder and Lute. Of course this is going to be nominated and no doubt win awards. By the same token it will not be read by most people. Indeed, even if it wins the Booker it will be one of those that sits atop many a book shelf unread as readers give up a few pages in.

Should this be the case? Is The Wake a good book?

The answer to the second of these is undoubtedly yes.

There is an argument that great art – be it music, film, art, or literature, shouldn’t be ‘easy’. As arguments go it is, quite frankly, bollocks. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that just because it is not easy it can’t be great. It is all about truth and that old chestnut authenticity (and I don’t here mean that you have to write in old English to be authentic for an 11th century novel) They say in writing fiction you should be true to your characters, and there is no doubt that Kingsnorth firmly believes that this is what he has done here for his lead character, Buccmaster of Holland, and those around him.

And Buccmaster of Holland is a terrific character – whether he would equally have been good without the ‘shadow old English’ – is open for debate, I think he would have been. I think a plain English translation would read perfectly fine.

But, that is not the author’s vision. Instead we get the story of Buccmaster of Holland, a free tenant farmer living his live with wife and two children in the Lincolnshire Fens, at a time when Britain was changed for all time – the invasion by “ingenga” (foreigners) and Duke Guillaume of Normandy and his men. It is a story of patriotism, religion, fear. In fact it read a bit like a Clint Eastwood western in some ways. Burned villages, outlaws, fighting for your home. it’s all here. And very good it is too.

I liked The Wake a lot. I admired its construction and the author’s attempt to convey the fact that this was a different time and place with language. That said he does seem to want to have his cake and eat it too, by trying to use language to add an authenticity whilst at the same time creating a language for the book that has never been spoken and with a set of rules that he admits to freely breaking when it suited his needs.

Most people will not get past this block to reading this. It is all very well (and true) to say that if you give it time, following the basic guide OE ….daeg (day) cg = dg sound as in bricg (bridge) etc you do start to relax into reading it without READING it – a bit like watching a subtitled film where you reach the point when you no longer feel like your reading the words, just immersed in the film. But, and it’s a big but, I think this only works if you read the book quite quickly and not in a pick it up , put it down, over a few weeks kind of way. In that instance you are likely to find yourself trying to ‘learn’ it again each time and never really get inside the book.

In the end I’m glad Kingsnorth wrote it and I think it is an impressive feat which does convey the alien-ness of Old England. However, it also puts up an intentional barrier to a wide audience reading it – in an are you clever enough to read this kind of way, which is a shame. I should add, I am also sure this was not his intention, as a visit to his website – very entertaining ( I like him a lot -read ‘about me’ section) – would attest. Indeed, the fact that it was crowd funded lends weight to the argument that he didn’t really expect many people to want to read it, he just needed to write it.

Set aside some time, remove all distractions, pour yourself a glass or several of something nice and struggle through those first pages . Hang on in there, it is worth it in the end. Or, just decide that life is too short to have to work on something that is meant to be the relaxing/enjoyment part of your life and maybe go for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler instead as your entry point into Booker 2014

Prediction: Shortlist