It’s not often that Planet Elldrew can claim to have reached such a lofty cultural status that we are invited to a book launch, but that’s exactly what happened during a recent visit to Edinburgh (for the sake of poetic license we won’t highlight that we were actually just the plus-one of a work colleague). As a result, we were privileged to be at the official launch of Doug Johnstone’s new book ‘The Dead Beat’ where we not only got to meet Doug, we also listened to him read an extract from his novel whilst he strummed away on his guitar (that last bit will make more sense shortly).
So we can’t quite work out what the cover image has to do with this book by Hakan Lindquist (it’s bordering on homoerotic) but it may have something to do with the plot, which looks at the life of Paul, a 16 year old boy killed in a train accident, narrated through the eyes of his brother Jonas (who was unborn at the time but is now 18).
Well written and a interestingly light read, this book is a bit of a detective novel that reveals twists and clues for Jonas to unravel, all on a journey of discovery about his brothers life; Paul’s private thoughts and feelings discovered in a hidden diary, the revelation that Paul had a male lover (confirmed through ongoing interigation of the boys uncle), yet a life totally unknown by his parents with whom Paul seemed so close (let’s not forget he was only 16). These discoveries all lead to the fatal day and whilst they raise questions around the train ‘accident’, the reader is left with no concise ending, the writer allows the reader to conclude the story on their own terms (it definitely left us with a few niggling questions).
Originally published in Swedish and translated to English, the novel felt very Americanized, apart from a few random words here and there that made you realise this was not taking place in America. A pleasant coming of age story that also examines the bond of brotherhood and family (made more interesting as both brothers did not grow up together yet we are exposed to how one brother feels living in the shadows of the other). Well written with many layers, don’t be surprised if you find it a little hard to put down once you get into it. But like most good things, it finishes too quickly and leaves you wanting more – is there room for a sequel, maybe looking more at Jonas and his new found knowledge?
It’s interesting writing a review for a blog about a book that in its opening chapters includes the comment:
“It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a sh*t. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they’re all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart.”
Nao, A Tale for the Time Being.
And perhaps that’s the reason this particular review has taken so long to write? More likely is that in recent weeks Elldrew have found themselves wrapped up in 3 novels, all of which coincidentally are a blighting condemnation of the virtual world and the extent to which the internet is rapidly dominating our lives.
Take two lovers, from seemingly different backgrounds, add a disapproving parent, follow the struggles as both lovers not only come to terms with their blossoming relationship, but the hardships of trying to live up to expectation and gain approval for what just seems so natural and right…
Now take one of Greek mythologies most famous sons – Achilles – the great warrior and hero of the Trojan War, immortalised by the Greek poet Homer in the Iliad, but instead of a beautiful maiden, introduce the well speculated affair with his male lover Patroclus, and you have an interesting read in the novel The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.
“The idea had barely taken hold in the old man’s head before he opened the window of his room on the ground floor of the Old People’s Home in the town of Malmkoping and stepped out – into the flowerbed. This manoeuvre required a bit of effort, since Allan was one hundred years old. On this very day in fact.”
And so begins the rip rollicking adventure of ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’. What an adventure it is; jumping between past and present, the story of Allan Karlsson’s life before and after he climbed out the window is a hysterical tale of coincidence, calamity and vodka set against a backdrop of the changing global political arena of the 20th century. As a holiday read Elldrew struggled to put the book down, only occasionally surfacing from its covers for a refreshing dip in the pool or to whip up a batch of croissants or banana cake.
With one thing and another Planet Elldrew have had a busy few weeks so have not really had time to comment and critique the selection of books we have devoured during the smidgens of downtime we’ve managed to sneak in. Taking the opportunity to correct that, here’s Elldrew’s reviews of some great (and not so great) summer reads…hopefully getting this out there so you have time to pick up one or two of our recommendations at the departure lounge. The 3 books in question: Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson; The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.
I’ve been a fan of Scarlett Thomas since I first read The End of Mr Y, so was rather excited when I came across a new book of hers whilst seeking out a new read. Alas, once I was sitting comfortably in Planet Elldrew and peeled back the cover my excitement faded to disappointment as I realised it was a new edition of an old book I had read back in 2002 when first published. Fortunately I couldn’t quite recall the detail of the story so figured that now the spine was bent I ought to persevere.
At our last villa stay the previous guests had generously left behind a copy of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a book I had long wanted to read. Over the course of a week two of us read, giggled and grimaced our way through the amusing political satire about a naïve fish expert and his government cajoled attempt to encourage salmon to run the wadi’s of the Yemen.