Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Catch-up reviews

The pile of books which deserve a mention on this blog is getting worryingly large, so let's try to reduce it a bit.

Rupert Everett: Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins

Rupert Everett, act-or of this parish, has written a couple of novels (at least one of which, he tells us, was a roman a clef) but Red Carpets is his autobiography. So far, one might add, since he is not that old (born 1959).

I call him an act-or because to my mind he belongs firmly within that group of theatrical personalities (theatrical even if they never appear in the theatre) who are known in some English circles as luvvies. Luvvy is a slightly unkind term, implying an excessive friendly and self-obsessed, pretentious approach to life. Every so often Private Eye runs a column giving quotes from such slebs.

My memory tells me, and a Google search confirms, that the UK publisher (Little, Brown) paid an awful lot of money for this book (£1 million, reportedly), and succeeded in selling only a modest number of copies (15,000, according to BookInfo.Net).

All of that being so, I wasn't expecting a great deal from Red Carpets, and it therefore came as a pleasant surprise. My first note says: 'Why did this not sell? It's a bit too good really, isn't it? Actually it is a lot too good. Classy in the extreme.'

You can see very easily how some editor might fall in love with this book, and bet the farm on it. Unfortunately, sales don't depend upon what editors and I think about things: it's all down to the punters, who, by and large, prefer Jordan (think big knockers).

Everett takes us through most major stages of his life. He was brought up as a Catholic (or Roman Catholic, as John Betjeman used to insist on it being phrased), and educated at Ampleforth, a well known English school. Thereafter he went into acting, and in his time has co-starred with the likes of Sharon Stone and Julia Roberts.

All in all, Mr Everett has had a fascinating life. Though essentially gay (he describes himself as queer, which is an old-fashioned English version of gay), he has had affairs with some beautiful women. His deepest love, however, seems to have been reserved for his dog, Mo. His account of Mo's death is carefully observed: he has the true writer's disease of being highly observant, even when distressed, high, or drunk.

The key to the whole thing is that Everett can write. No hint of a ghost writer here, take my word for it. [Later note. Actually, don't do any such thing. Madame Arcati tells me that the book was ghosted by Justine Picardie. Well, someone can sure as hell write, and the ghost has done one hell of a job.] His portraits of the likes of Paula Yates and Fred Hughes are full of insights, and movingly written.

Overall, Red Carpets is thoroughly recommended, but it helps if you're (a) English, (b) deeply interested in show business, and (c) tolerant of the gay world and luvvies in general.

Thanks to Martin Rundkvist for recommending this book. I should have had more faith in his judgement.

By the way, before I forget. Rupert E will shortly be seen in the new film version of St Trinians. He plays -- oh, but you've guessed -- the headmistress. Now this, I have to see. My guess is that the ghost of Alastair Sim is stirring uneasily.

Judith Martin: No Vulgar Hotel

Judith Martin is much better known as Miss Manners, under which name she advises Americans on how to behave. In her private life, however, she is more than a little taken with the city of Venice. This book is subtitled 'The desire and pursuit of Venice', and it is both a valuable guide for visitors and for those who want to go several steps further and actually live in the city.

And, er, that's about it really. The book will make an ideal present for anyone who is about to go to Venice, or, having been there, talks longingly about going back one day soon. Though not encyoplaedic in format, No Vulgar Hotel certainly constitutes an encyclopaedia of information about what is perhaps the most glamorous, romantic and compelling of all cities.

It's worth noting, in passing, that, in the Renaissance, Venice was the publishing capital of the world, with some 1,500 presses. The greatest of Venetian publishers was Aldus Manutius, who not only invented italic type but also pocket editions and -- best of all -- the rejection letter.

Venice can also lay claim, I think, to having invented the concept of Intellectual Property. The patent system originated there in the fourteenth century, and Marcus Antonius Coccius received the first known copyright in 1486.

The publisher, W.W. Norton, clearly didn't expect this book to sell in significant numbers, because it is not particularly well presented and the illustrations are not well reproduced.

Hugleikur Dagsson: Is This Supposed To Be Funny?

Yes, is the answer. And is it? Yes, in places.

HD is the most famous cartoonist in Iceland, though on the evidence given here he can barely draw more than stick figures. What he can do is think up utterly outrageous, shocking, and sometimes disgusting things for his stick men and women to do and say.

Is This is HD's second book, and his first led the UK's downmarket Sun newspaper to declare firmly: 'Ban this sick book'. Which should constitute a warning to anyone. The Sun points out that the first book has become a cult classic in Iceland, 'where during the winter there are only three hours of sunlight each day'. As if that explains the phenomenon.

Samples? Oh, all right then. If you insist. Daddy figure to child figure: 'Put broken glass in Mummy's food and I'll give you a pony.' Also: female figure arising from bed, with male figure still in bed: 'Our sex life is like a box of chocolates -- my fingers are brown and sticky after we're done.'

This would possibly be a suitable present for a young person of a crude frame of mind. But take a look at the book before buying.

Terry Pratchett: Making Money

And finally, Mr Pratchett.

Mr P's new book didn't get much of a fanfare. But then it doesn't need a fanfare, does it? All it needs is to appear in the shops, and thousands of people buy it. In the most recent week for which there are figures, Making Money sold 37,425 copies, easily taking it into the number one slot.

Making Money is, as you would expect, a Discworld novel: either the 31st or the 35th, depending on who's counting and what you include. Anyway, the point is that, if you have never read a Discworld novel, this is not the best place to start. Start at the beginning and work your way through the lot.

Those who are already familiar with the Discworld will know what to expect, and will meet a whole host of old friends. Even before you get into the story, however, you will note, no doubt, that the book is handsomely printed and typeset (11.75 on 15 pt Minion, which is eminently readable; although there are those who say that the kerning is a bit tight, particularly after full stops, and I can see their point). You will also note that Mr P has taken to giving us old-fashioned chapter headings, in which the contents of the chapter are briefly encapsulated; as if one actually needed an incentive to read on.

As for plot -- well, Mr P must be psychic, or have a very good crystal ball. Why? Because the story is all about banking, and what it is that causes us to have faith in banks, and what causes runs on banks; and all like that. The timing could not be more apposite, because within the last few weeks the UK banking system has undergone precisely that kind of crisis of faith.

As usual, the book is very funny. But it is, of course, an English form of humour. We learn, for instance, that the ruler of Ankh-Morpork once had an ancestor who had people torn apart by wild tortoises; it was not a quick death.

The book is much more than funny, of course. It is, in places, touching and sad; and, in a note on page 334, I described it as beautiful.

Now that's a funny word to use about a Discworld novel isn't it? Beautiful. Do you think that after all these many decades of reading, and all these many thousands of books, do you think that I might be going... Well... you know... a little bit... peculiar?


Madame Arcati said...

Rupert Everett may be able to write - he certainly has a witty turn of phrase - but it was Justine Picardie who ghosted the book.

Gladys Hobson said...

Had to look up the 'Discworld'.
In my ignorance I thought it must be something to do with 'artists' usually associated with music discs or such! They look good fun although not my sort of thing. I love the "an ancestor who had people torn apart by wild tortoises; it was not a quick death."
Having once kept delightful vegetarian tortoises — gentle vulnerable creatures — I find it hilarious.

Comments slow coming in — GOB must have shattered his fans by being devoid of grumpiness today!

Gird up your loins GOB, you must have found something in your huge pile of books, newspapers and magazines that is against free speech, public decency, bad for one's health or that has moved you to seek a dose of liver salts, loperamide, an aspirin or a large gin!

Anonymous said...

Oh, thank you, thank you, and don't do that again, it hurts. Anyway luvvies I believe are called drama queens over here. And thank you for reminding me to think big knockers. Sometimes I forget. We are certainly blessed to have so many excellent reviews to plot our reading lists. Your children must be grateful for having such an estimable father.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to know there are a few books out there that don't leave you feeling as though you're being slowly torn apart by tortoises.

Simon Haynes said...

From a spec fic writers' perspective Pratchett is God (or an 800lb gorilla, or both, depending on your religious beliefs.)

So, when my own work was finally dragged into print, I happened to mention my publishing 'success' to a workmate.

'OOohh! You'll be rich and famous!' they trilled.

'Sure. Just like Terry Pratchett.'


(And they weren't kidding.)

Anyway, if HE'S not instantly recognisable worldwide, what chance do ordinary mortals have?

(And one other thing. My brother has been reading my books for years, since well before they were published. A few weeks back he announced he was about to read his first Pratchett, and he's been working his way through the series ever since. TP owes me! ZOMG!)

Unknown said...

Blimey, that stick men book sounds a bit near the mark. I'm sure there's the perfect recipient somewhere in my address book though...

ReadyReckoner said...

I found Rupert Everett's autobiography very entertaining too - I had actually read a very good review of it somewhere, saying that being such a bad actor made him a good observer of Hollywood. Not sure I agree with you about the way it's written though. Yes it is very good observationally, but the style is way over the top. I had to skim all the bits about rosy sunsets dipping their fingers into the Mediterranean. Since when can anyone describe a sunset which they saw 30 years ago?

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