Back to book reviews soon, but for the bank holiday I decided to revisit some more of the capsule reviews I wrote for myself in my mega-spreadsheet which I started pre-blog and still keep going.
The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart
Feb 2008: The story of Merlin’s youth up to the birth of Arthur. I read this many years ago as a teenager and loved it then, re-reading it 30 years later brings back memories, and this is one of the books that started my fixation with all things Arthurian.
I love the way that Stewart’s Merlin is thoroughly grounded; he’s not a flashy sorcerer – he intuits, makes potions, uses his education and ability to read people, alongside his deep belief in a god and occasional flashes of second sight to mystify and confound. The way towards the end that he uses disguise and misdirection to get Uther in to Ygraine to beget Arthur makes me wonder whether one of the UK’s top thinking magicians, Derren Brown has used him as a model!
A delight from start to finish, and I’m looking forward to revisiting the rest of the trilogy.
Now: I still haven’t got around to finish re-reading the trilogy, but will one day.
* * * * *
Firmin by Sam Savage
Aug 2008: When you first see this book in this edition, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a children’s book jumping on the Disney PIxar ‘Ratatouille‘ bandwagon. It has a bedraggled but cute rat on the front, a nibbled chunk cut out of the cover and a quote from Philip Pullman. I’d read a review in The Times, so my radar was already primed that it was a book for adults. Indeed, there is a similarity in that both feature rats who want to be humans, but gladly I can report that it is anything but a children’s book, being very grown-up in places in its subject matter.
It’s the story of Firmin (Vermin + Fur-man?) the runt of a litter of rats born in the basement of a second-hand bookshop in a part of Boston scheduled for redevelopment. The young Firmin starts eating books before realising he can read them and thus explores the pantheon of great literature, loves the bookseller Norman from afar, and the ‘lovelies’ on screen at the porn-cinema down the road too. Then after a brush with death, he goes to live with ageing bohemian writer Jerry upstairs and they grow old together as the bulldozers move nearer.
The book is a powerful parable about life and love, literature and the spectre of progress at any cost. It’s ultimately very sad, but a lovely book.
Now: This makes me want to read it again – sadly, I sold my first edition hardback – grr! (but for a good price at the time. So I found an affordable near new replacement for it.)
* * * * *
My Ride With Gus by Charles Carillo
August 2007: This is an absolutely charming novel – mostly taking place over New Year’s Eve in New York.
Jimmy is ready to propose to Wendy in the restaurant on top of the Rockefeller Center, but they argue and he storms out. He gets drunk in a sleazy bar, and somehow takes a tart home to his loft. When she draws a knife, he pushes her and she hits her head on a lamp – dead just like that. What can he do? He calls Gus, whom he hasn’t seen for twenty years …
This novel all about family – blood is thicker than water as they say. Despite the setup with shades of The Sopranos, it is witty and charming, and Jimmy grows up overnight to accept what he ran away from twenty years previously. Loved it.
Now: Despite the dodgy cover I can remember enjoying this a lot, Sopranos fan that I am.
* * * * *
Source: All my own copies. To explore further on Amazon UK, follow the links below:
- Mary Stewart – The Crystal Cave (1970)
- Sam Savage – Firmin (2008)
- Charles Carillo – My Ride with Gus (1997)