In Short – some capsule reviews

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

5 thoughts on “In Short – some capsule reviews

  1. I read and loved the first Mortdecai novel but was rather put off reading later ones (particularly the third one) because of the content. This *does* sound good though – if only he’d toned down the sexism a bit….

  2. AnnaBookBel says:

    The only women in this are his wife (who definitely has the upper hand) and the dead Don – fewer targets for Charlie.

  3. I keep wavering over these Mortdecai novels, mainly on account of the mixed reviews of the later books in the series. Can the first be read as a standalone? In other words, does it work in isolation of the others?

  4. Claire says:

    I agree re cover of “Grief”, very pleased I have the hardback. It’s such an arresting image, someone at F & F should have noticed how that was being lost on the paperback version.

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