A pair of shorter reviews for you today – both books are short and begin with G. That’s where their similarity ends though, they couldn’t be further apart in their style!
Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
This prize-winning book from 2015 is hard to categorise, other than short – it’s as much a long prose poem as novella.
Two young boys and their Ted Hughes scholar father are suffering after the sudden death of their mother. Crow sees their despair and visits them, teasing and irreverent, nurturing, caring, helping them until they no longer need him. The author uses the three voices of boys, Dad and Crow to tell the story in short vignettes of text that include poems and prose-poem form as well as dialogue and more straight-forward description.
I particularly enjoyed the character of Crow – but couldn’t help but see him as an edgier Nanny McPhee, as she says: ‘When you need me but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me but no longer need me, then I have to go.’ – but mixed in with some Crow mythology and full of resonance with Hughes’ Crow poems.
This is an emotionally involving little book that will reward re-reading. I just wish Faber had kept the paperback reprint cover a little less busy. (9/10)
The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery by Kyril Bonfiglioli
finished by Craig Brown
I am a big fan of the first two Mortdecai novels (see here and here), less so the third whose humour is too distasteful (see here), but I did feel the need to read the fourth, which was left unfinished – and finally completed by satirist Craig Brown and published in 1999. This one, despite a thin plot, is more of a return to form.
The Hon. Charlie Mortdecai decides to cultivate a lip garden while his wife is away, but on her return, Johanna refuses to go near him until he shaves it off. Charlie refuses and is in the doghouse, so when a call comes to help his old Oxford college he doesn’t take much persuasion to go to the rescue. He summons his ‘thug’, Jock:
‘…call me a cab.’
‘Awright, Mr Charlie: you’re a taxi.’
‘How d’you mean?’
‘Well, I couldn’t hardly call you ‘ansom with that bleeding moustache, could I?’ With that he started to stagger about the room, helpless with guffaws and cannoning into pieces of fragile furniture as antique as his jest.
So Charlie arrives in Oxford to investigate the death of Scone College fellow Bronwen Fellworthy, who ran her car into a bus. The college thinks there was something fishy about her death and Charlie finds himself deputised by the police as a special investigator – the police having been warned off taking it further by those higher up the food chain. She’d thought she was being followed before her death…
There follows much hilarity as Charlie investigates in his own special way, there are thugs, opticians, a mad scientist, a young detective called Holmes and plenty of non-PC fun, not to mention the ongoing saga of Charlie’s increasingly luxuriant moustache – and all in 175 pages.
There is one more Mortdecai novel – All the Tea in China – which follows one of Charlie’s ancestors on a trip to the Orient on an opium-clipper. I shall look forward to reading that too. The joy of these books, which Bonfiglioli wrote in the 1970s is their unashamed homage to Jeeves and Wooster by way of James Bond and many other references. You can’t help but warm to Charlie and Jock (who actually reminds me a lot of Allingham’s Lug). They’re also fast-moving and short – all being sub-200 pages which for comedy thrillers is perfect to read in one sitting. I recommend that you get to know Charlie by starting at the beginning with Don’t Point That Thing at Me, (8/10)
Source: Publisher and own copy respectively.
Max Porter, Grief is the Thing With Feathers (Faber, 2015) paperback, 128 pages. BUY from Amazon UK
Kyril Bonfiglioli, The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery (Penguin 2014) 175 pages . BUY from Amazon UK