Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Memory Room

By Christopher Koch

The first sentences of the blurb read:
'What is a spy? Are they born, or are they made?' With these words, Vincent Austin analyses his future occupation. Some spies are made, he says, but his kind is born. He is devoted to secrecy for its own sake.

It sounds like an exciting spy-novel. However, this is by no means a conventional espionage thriller. It's not an espionage novel at all really, except for maybe a chapter in China where a fantastic picture is painted of Chinese politics before, and during, the rule of Deng Xiaoping.

The novel follows two best friends, Vincent Austin and Derek Bradley, on their separate journeys from a sleepy Hobart up through the ranks of ASIS - the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The Memory Room reeks of great thriller potential from the very first page but is largely unfufilling and disappointing. There is also something unnerving about a meeting in a coffee shop in Canberra's "Civic centre" and trenchcoats by Lake Burley Griffin. To me, this suggest more of porn-trading politicians than top spies at the height of the Cold War.

To me, the best thing about reading this novel was the difference and changes in Hobart between the 1950's and the 1990's. Other than that pretty picture, I was left wanting a lot more from such an acclaimed author.

Monday, August 4, 2008

August's Book!

What? An actual book to be read and reviewed???


Eh, we all have busy busy lives and whatnot, but I've had this book, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak sitting Unopened and Unread on my bedside table for a couple of months now... so lets read it together...

RV back here on Aug 15!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Charlie Novelettes

As told by Vince Noir

The Charlie Novelettes focus on the central character, Charlie and his journey from the rock-and-roll era of the 70s through to the mass-consumerism era of the 90s / 00s.

This collection of stories deals with all the trials and tribulations that are faced by the youth of today. The relevance is frightening.

Overall, I'd say that the Charlie Novelettes are a great light read. The crayon drawings really add to the general feeling of calm that is generated just by holding Charlie.

A must read / am surprised this is not in Angus & Robertson's "100 books you must read before you die"

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tokyo Station

This book follows the story of Harry Niles; son of American Missionaries that has grown up on the streets of Tokyo.

Harry is an undesirable type who owns a bar in Asakusa and regularly cheats people for money and business.
The book focuses on Harry's life and his plans to leave Japan before the inevitable break out of WWII. However it isn't so simple as he is hunted by a Samurai and several dealings from his shady past have come back to haunt him.

All in all, it's a very disappointing book from an author i thought would have offered a lot more.

This review isn't useful unless it stops you from reading this book. Unlike other Cruz Smith books, I can't paint such a great picture of Tokyo (as opposed to really feeling like being in the Soviet Union in the Gorky Park Series) and the character of Harry Niles just isn't believable.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook.

Firstly, my apologies for forgetting to write this up earlier. Its 10:30 on Anzac Day and I have nothing better to do than write a book review. How sad.

Moving on.

The book I chose for this month was The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook by Matt Dunn. From picking up the book and a quick perusal of the blurb I surmised it would be something like Bridget Jones' Diary, from a male perspective. I wasn't wrong.

Edward has been happy in his rut of a life. Until his girlfriend (a bitch, by any definition) leaves him. In an attempt to win her back he overhauls his whole life. And in the space of three months goes from dud to STUD, overhauling the a to z of his life with the aid of his friends.

A variety of his adventures show us different aspects of Ed. And the characters contrast and promote his personality. Best mate Dan, is a player so shallow that he would make a mouse fart seem deep. He provides insight into what women want, how to read them and how not to be to keep one. Wendy the barmaid keeps Dan's rediculous ego in check, and provides insightful but witty one liners. And Sam is the glimmer of hope that keeps him going and gets to know Ed during his transformation, providing gentle encouragement along the way. And Natasha is a man eater. She allows Ed to see the vulnerable positions a woman puts herself in when she's in a relationship. And then she shags Dan. Which is pretty much a full circle of characters. Except for Billy the homeless guy who's too smelly or drunk to care if he's in the list.

One thing I would have liked out of this book would have been a little more closure with Jane. Yes, there was some but I wanted her to see him and talk to him, and realise that while she has gained in her life, she has also lost.

Overall I found it a nice book, good for a holiday read. Something you can sit at for a few hours on end or not pick up for a few days if you're busy. It was easy to read and very entertaining. I know I'll be looking for more of this authors work.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Polar Star

I should start by saying that i'm normally not a detective / crime novel kind of guy, but Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park Series has me totally hooked

Polar Star follows our hero, Arkady Renko, after he has essentially been exiled from Moscow by the KGB. He is working on the slime-line of a Soviet Factory ship which is buying fish from smaller, more skilled, American trawlers.

Like all Renko novels; there is a murder which he is to investigate. Like all novels, there is an attempted cover-up by everybody else and like all Renko novels, he persists when everybody is trying to force him not to.

What I love about this series (from what i have read) is the picture that Cruz Smith paints of life in Soviet Russia. It's as if he has been there and experienced it. In Wolves Eat Dogs, i have never read a better description (whether it be entirely accurate or not) of Chernobyl and surrounding villages. I just can't get enough of it.

The Gorky Park / Arkady Renko Series

Gorky Park *
Polar Star *
Red Square
Havana Bay
Wolves Eat Dogs *
Stalin's Ghost

*I have read these, and plan on reading the rest very soon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Long Way Down

By Nick Hornby.

A Long Way Down is the sotry of four people who randomly meet after deciding to kill themselves, by throwing themselves from a building, on new years eve. Except they all choose the same place and a bond / pact is formed so that they can help each other.

The story is narrated by all four characters (Maureen, Martin, Jess and JJ) who have completely different reasons for trying to do what they all wanted to do. The group (or 'gang' as they put it) are sometimes led down a completely unbelievable path by Jess' antics.

I could not stand the character of Jess, not one bit. If you read it i am sure that you will agree too, the only problem is, she is essential to the story.

Maureen's character, for that matter, was rather boring.
The only real entertainment i received from reading this book was through JJ and Martin, which is just over half the book.

The book also doesn't achieve anything at the end. it just ends, like that. done. None of them are feeling any better (except Maureen), but at least none of them have committed suicide (i don't think that gives anything away).

Having said all this, i couldn't put this book down and read it in 3 days (i was a bit over it from about 3/4 of the way through though).

It's entertaining, it's easy and it is very well written.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Long Way Down

Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman.

This book follows on from their success from their Long Way Round adventure. It's more of a diary than anything else. Put together by the two of them, telling the almost day-to-day activities of their adventure.

There are two main things i picked up from this book.

1. They are selfish and
2. Charlie Boorman is a real dick (which was further highlighted to me after seeing some of Long Way Round on dvd).

There is no doubt about it. Riding what they rode is a phenomenol task. They tell us how hard it is and how awesome the two of them are for doing it.

But what about Claudio??

Claudio is one of the cameramen. He rides just as much as they do (in both adventures) but he films it all too.
Does he get any credit? No.
Does he get mentioned often? No.
It's almost like he is Tenzing Norgay or something and it really pissed me off.

This isn't as good as LWR as they have to complete it faster (and, boy, don't they let us know about it).
They are both constantly whingeing and complaining about things that, especially after LWR, they should have semi-factored in.

Don't bother reading this book. It's boring and painful and there is the obvious impression, for me, that Charlie Boorman is a real tosser.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Next book

Greetings all. Yes, I'm still alive and I'm back in the fray! I do, however, have a small problem. It's been so long since I've logged in with the admin login that I've either forgotten the password. That, or yahoo has killed the address. I'm not sure which. Soooo, I can't actually change the book to read on the sidebar at the moment. Phish has chosen one, though - The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, by Matt Dunn. So, go to and we'll reconvene on, say, Anzac Day for discussion?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Three Musketeers

Alexandre Dumas' other classic novel. The Three Musketeers is, by-and-large, completely different from the movies i had seen. It is set much earlier in the lives of the four heroes and begins with d'Artagnan's journey from his country life in Gascony to his, eventual, leadership role within the Musketeers.

Being a complete history nerd, I absolutely love the fact that Dumas uses historically accurate people and events throughout the novel that our heroes (d'Artagnan, who is a real historic figure, Athos, Porthos and Aramis who are all fictional) are faced with.

This is an extremely well written book that explores the topics of friendship, love, loyalty, honour, pride and revenge.

First published in English in 1846 this book also highlights the sexist nature of the time and the periods leading up to that (it is set in the early 17th Century). Many times a female narrator is often complaining how it is unfortunate she is a woman else she'd be able to undertake some task that she can otherwise not do.

Overall it's a light-hearted and entertaining read that I would say is no essential, but if there is nothing else on the bookshelf on a rainy day then don't hesitate to pick it up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Old School - Tobias Wolff

Every time I hear about a new Tobias Wolff book I have the same reaction. “Oh, Tobias Wolff,” I think to myself. “He gets a very good rap, but really he’s nothing special”. Then I receive a copy of said book (my Dad is a fan) and sit down to read it. Six hours later I notice that the house is dark and rather than wait for me to stop reading, Grizzlewick has learned how to drive, got a job and earned enough money to buy himself McDonalds for dinner.

‘Old School’ is no different. Semi-autobiographical (as much of Wolff’s work is), it relates the story of an exclusive boys’ school in the 1960s, and the competition between its senior English class to earn an audience with, among others, Ernest Hemingway. Following visits to the school by Robert Frost and Ayn Rand, the boys become feverish at the prospect of a meeting with Ernest Hemingway, a firm favourite and undisputed living national treasure.

Wolff, as anyone who has read ‘This Boy’s Life’ can attest, takes a curious attitude to his own life and that of his protagonists. He is unapologetic about his flaws and behaviour, viewing them with a detachment, but not egotism. His exploits, such as the forging of a report-card which earned him a place at the prestigious school, described in This Boy’s Life, are presented without apology, but also without bluster. It is clear that in his adult life, Wolff has had the introspection to understand that his actions were not exemplary, but acknowledges their contribution to the richness of his life.

This story is compelling not only for its tension and character, but also for its exposition of the craft of writing. The boys of the school are competitive, convinced of their own originality, and desperate to impress each other, their teachers, and visiting authors alike. I started reading it fascinated by the external intrigue, but I found I was compelled by another element – the presence of necessary lies and the diminution of uncomfortable truths. While this is a book about lies told and excuses made, the truth has a strange presence in this book – it’s not here to perform a liberating function, but rather something far more sinister. The truth, in this novel at least, does not have a liberating effect, it merely serves to frustrate.

With a frustrating realness of his characters, Wolff isn’t for everyone, but Old School is certainly worth pursuing if you’ve read and enjoyed other Wolff stories. If you’re new to Wolff, I suggest starting with ‘This Boy’s Life’, so long as it hasn’t been ruined for you as a VCE/HSC text.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Count Of Monte Cristo

is one of the two* most famous works by Alexandre Dumas

Most of you would/should know the story, either by reading the book or having seen one of the several movies that have been produced over the years (which, from recollection, are not as close to the book as hoped).

I am not going to go too much into the story itself, but more into the ideas and styles within it.

The two main themes throughout are the suffering of Edmond Dantés (later, the Count of Monte Cristo) and his revenge, which becomes the purpose of his life, on the three men that were responsible for his wrongful imprisonment.

The suffering and torment suffered by Dantés (he is imprisoned for 14 years) is immense, however what is portrayed by Dumas is not as bad as it could/should be for the reader to gain more of an insight into his later eccentricities. It is almost as if Dumas has glossed over a large part of it in order to get on with the rest of the story, the 'action' part. The only other story i could think of where such huge suffering was endured after wrongful imprisonment was For the Term Of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke.

This isn't to say that the reader does not sympathise with Dantes, you most certainly do. I just believe you could sympathise more...

Dumas' writing style is not common in novels either. This was first published in installments in a French newspaper by a writer who had previously been writing mostly plays.
This leads to all the characters revealing their thoughts in theatrical ways by each performing small soliloquies in each scene.

This is a fictional novel, but it is set in historically accurate times. This makes the story even more engaging as the intertwining story of Napoleon attempting to regain rule of France (and how this affects Dantés) and the subsequent rule of the Bourbons after this is beautifully accurate.

There is a reason that this book is described as a "literary classic". It really is. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, even though my review was pox.

*The three Musketeers being the other (which will probably be my next review)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Brontë Experiment

OK, I'm a girl who loves her Brontë (except Wuthering Heights, but let's not get into that here...) and I have just discovered that an old-but-new friend of mine has NEVER READ any Brontë!

Firstly, I am in utter astonishment that he has managed to survive so long without the exquisite prose of a Brontë running through his soul...

And secondly, I'm trying to work out what to start him on...

I adore and heart Jane Eyre to a degree that is possibly more than sane, but sometimes, if I whisper it quietly under my breath, I will admit to appreciating Agnes Grey and Tenant of Wildfell Hall just the teensiest bit more...

So, I'm asking you fellow drunkards... bearing in mind that he has actually asked for my recommendation, that he actually wants to read a Brontë... what would YOU suggest he read first?

Monday, January 28, 2008


Hi there Paper Drunkards - is there anything happening re December 07 and January 08?


Regards, MillyMoo