CATEGORY: Literary POLEMICS

The Steep Approach to Garbadale, by Iain Banks, RIP

Just finished reading ‘The Steep Approach to Garbadale’ by Iain Banks. Like most of his novels and sci-fi works, it was highly competent and engaging. None of the stuff I’ve read by Banks I would consider a true literary classic, but each in their turn throws clear light on the human condition, and each one leaves the reader with a sense that they have been embraced by a true craftsman. If no one novel stands out as truly great, then taken as a whole, Iain Banks work is to be greatly admired and take collectively, Iain Banks is certainly amongst the great British writers of the contemporary era. Read More…

Fatherland by Robert Harris

I’ve got a remote impression that I’ve have read this one before, maybe past twenty years ago, but even so, Fatherland makes for fairly absorbing reading. Admittedly, the plot is a little implausible; a cynical and disillusioned police investigator in the German SS pairing up with an American female Journalist and together, outwitting the entire Nazi State. Still, Roberts is clever enough to allow his readers to suspend their disbelief long enough for the plot to successfully unfold. But the plot is, in many ways, simply the means by which Harris takes his readers into a dark and unnerving place.

Read More…

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I made a mistake a few weeks ago, one I intend not to repeat. I was about a hundred pages through Shantaram when I had the urge to Google some background info on the book. I started reading some reviews, many of which were persuasively negative. So rather than plough through another eight-hundred pages, I thought I would follow their advice and dump the thing and move on to greener pastures. I’d been somewhat sceptical about the book from the very outset anyway, having read that the author had fought for the wholly reactionary Afghan Mujahedeen. But the stubborn fact of the matter, contrary to the reviews and my own reservations, was that I had thoroughly enjoyed the first hundred pages and was instinctively inclined to ignore the reviews and carry on regardless.

Read More…

The Dark Road by Ma Jian

This is a tricky one. For the most part Ma Jian produces a compelling narrative on the brutal implementation of China’s, One Child Policy, but on occasion Ma allows his dialogue to lapse into crude propaganda against the Chinese Communist Party. It’s not that his criticisms are not merited they probably are. It’s more that he fails to develop the dialectic between the modernising policies of the Chinese Communist Party and the often inhuman implementation of those policies. Too often Ma sets up contrived situations where his characters launch into an unconvincing polemic against all things communist without taking the time to unravel the complexities of China’s breath-taking journey out of rural Asiatic feudalism and into an urban, industrialised modernity.

Read More…

Brazil’s Decade of Sport – Bus 174

I sat down, along with millions of other football enthusiasts, to enjoy/suffer while England’s finest took on the Brazilians, who invariable boast some of the world’s finest footballers. On this occasion the Anglo-Saxons put up a half decent performance in the second half and came within a stone’s throw of stealing a rare victory. As it turned out, the perennial English underperformers will be more than happy with their two-all draw. The match was also a timely reminder that the Brazilian World Cup is a mere twelve months away and judging by the well-fed faces in the beautifully revamped Maracana stadium, it promises to be a welcome diversion from all the political and economic doom and gloom currently sweeping the planet. But not for all Brazilians. Read More…

The Wall by William Sutcliffe

It’s probably fair to say that every nation has its dirty little secrets, and the more powerful the country, the bigger and more plentiful those secrets tend to be. Successive governments in Australia, for example, have long hidden the truth about the near extermination of its indigenous people and the on-going humiliation of those descendants that have survived. Spain and Portugal have a similar secret in that they have never really come to public terms with their attempted genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas during the creation of their respective South American empires. Britain has perhaps the biggest back-catalogue of dirty secrets of all, most dating back to their colonial empire; the dirtiest secret being the one closest to home; that of its six hundred year subjugation of the Irish peoples. Read More…

A Delicate Truth by John le Carre

First the confession. I have never read a single le Carre novel before this, his latest offering. The best I can boast is having seen the remake of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and probably the original if I care to remember that far back. I’ve also watched the Constant Gardener a few years back without being aware it was based on a John le Carre novel. That’s probably quite a surprising admission given the near ubiquitous nature of John le Carre novels in English popular literature. I have tended to steer clear fearing that Le Carre was profitably buying into all the usual Cold War cliches without offering much of a serious critique. Based on his latest novel, I might well have done the man an injustice. I intend to correct that injustice in the near future but for now here are a few thoughts on A Delicate Truth. Read More…

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a Film Review

An absorbing enough film and watchable in the same way that Homeland is able to hold the viewer’s attention. Admittedly all the leading characters are a little contrived as is the plot, but the film, like Homeland, grapples with issues that are as contemporary as they can be. Terror begets terror and it is left to the viewer to decide who is most culpable, western Imperialism or Islamic fundamentalism. In true Hollywood style, the film attempts to leave the audience with a very reasonable third way which is all right as far as it goes but ultimately whitewashes the economic and political crimes of Uncle Sam and its bloody precursor, British Imperialism. Read More…

The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone

The Global Occupy movement has a new weapon, and what a powerful, incendiary weapon it is. Oliver Stone, better known for his thought-provoking catalogue of films, has teamed up with historian Peter Kuznick to produce a genuine stick of literary dynamite entitled, The Untold History of the United States. Knowledge is power goes the old adage and Stone and Kuznick have done the world’s 99% a massive service in producing what is in effect a succinct and compelling history of US imperialism in the 20th century. OK, Noam Chomsky has already done much of the leg work over the past five decades but Stone, by adding his notoriety status to the project, has made this history that much more accessible. Committed anti-imperialists regularly read Chomsky but now it is hoped millions of main-street Americans will eventually get to read this untold history. Read More…

New Statesman: What Makes Us Human

Ah yes, now that is a question; what makes us human and what indeed separates from the wild beasts in the jungle? The New Statesman has taken a breather from its usual preoccupations and has asked itself, its readers and a few well known personalities to consider that very question and congratulations to it for doing so. The front cover caught my attention so, without hesitation I got myself a copy. It turns out it is to be an on-going series, starting with Jonathan Sacks Chief Rabbi and general purveyor of sickly-sweet home spun morality. Well, you have to start somewhere I suppose, and to be fair to the old Sacks, Judaism has been around for a fair old time so I guess he has as much right to go first as anyone. Read More…

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

It goes without saying that Mantel can do historical fiction as good as anyone currently on the circuit. Nobody does court intrigue as relentlessly gripping as Mantel. And by creating her epic Thomas Cromwell trilogy (the final part is still in production) she has, wittingly or otherwise, shone a spotlight on the embryonic development of English capitalism asserting itself at every opportunity, invariably at the expense of the ancient structure of Lords, Earls and Dukes in Medieval England. Cromwell unconsciously represents a new class of money men, growing rich off the proceeds of the rapidly expanding wool industry and of course, something more familiar and contemporary the loaning of money at high interest and the calling in of bad debts.

Read More…

The Fix by Damien Thompson

Damien Thompson’s ‘The Fix’ is an outstanding, and if he’ll excuse the pun, addictive account of how our everyday human preoccupations and obsessions are rapidly turning into destructive addictions, made all the more potent by the speed and availability afforded by the internet. When I first learned that Thompson worked for the Telegraph warning bells started to ring. I anticipated some dire reactionary diatribe against modernity and change. My fears proved totally unfounded. Thompson has produced a highly intelligent and thoughtful discussion that is anything but conservative.

Read More…

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

They’re definitely out there if you look hard enough. Amidst the mountains of commercial crap there are still literary gems to be found, and for me, Tash Aw’s ‘Five Star Billionaire’, is definitely one of them. It would seem another master story-teller has arrived on the scene with a highly compelling style of prose to match his absorbing narrative. I wanted the thing to go on and on, and when it did reach its bitter-sweet conclusion I immediately yearned for a sequel. If Mantel can conjure up an award winning trilogy, I’m damn certain that Tash Aw can do the same. In the meantime I think I’ll dig out his two previous novels in the hope of getting myself on a similar literary high. Read More…

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

I continue my Salman Rushdie journey, and for those that have not yet travelled that road, I can strongly recommend the effort. Much to the annoyance to Mr Rushdie, much of the commentary on his Satanic Verses has centred on the non-literary aspects, and I must apologise for now adding to that mountain of over-heated polemic. But before I get going, a few words on the story itself. It’s a cracker! And I would bet my last five quid that most of the religious fanatics that so damned the book have not even read the thing.

Read More…

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

There is little doubt that Salman Rushdie is a master story-teller, and his recent 600 page memoir is further proof, if proof be needed. But unlike his magically imaginative novels, this one is his very own grim real-life story, focusing primarily on the ten years of living life under an Iranian inspired fatwa a criminal death sentence pronounced on Rudshdie for daring to write critically and creatively about Islam in his marvellously sardonic and satirical Satanic Verses. But the real central protagonist, as I’m sure Mr Rushdie would agree, is not Mr Rushdie himself, but that half completed, ill-defined, largely forgotten creature of the 18th century, The European Enlightenment. Read More…

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Here’s a story full of spirits and spooks, wizards and witches, demons and monsters, and just about every conceivable mystical, mythical and magical phenomena you could ever imagine. Not exactly the stuff you would expect Sporting Polemics to be bothering itself with. O contraire! This is a book firmly rooted in the reality of today. Employing the literary technique of magical realism, so brilliantly pioneered a decade earlier by a Mr Rushdie, Okri is able to shine a fierce spotlight on Africa’s rural poverty and thwarted dreams like no dry political text book could ever hope to do. In fact, the more fanciful the images that Okri summons up, the greater the impact of his prose when directed at the day to day impoverishment of Nigerian village life. Read More…

Homeland (Series 2) Channel 4

My first mistake was to watch this thing on terrestrial TV. Big mistake. Breaking my usual policy of waiting for the box sets to arrive, I was severely punished by Channel 4, who made their viewers suffer a commercial break what seemed to be every five minutes. It very nearly destroyed any of the pleasure the second series had to offer, but not quite. With just one final episode to go in this second series, I have to confess it was, despite the wall to wall advertising, worth the effort. This is the first attempt by mainstream US TV to explore, albeit very tentatively, the notion that the US ‘war on terror’ is a complex and multi-faceted beast, and that the terrorists might not all be from far away Muslim countries.

Read More…

Jessica Ennis: Unbelievable

I wasn’t expecting very much and my lowly expectations proved well founded. Someone should tell athletes, even highly impressive ones like Jessica Ennis, that they don’t automatically produce great autobiographies. This one was obviously rushed out post London Olympics in time for the Christmas market, and to be brutally honest, I don’t think they should have bothered. Autobiographies, I would have thought, are best left towards the end of a person’s career when they have had time to reflect on their life’s ups and downs, gain some perspective on events, and have the humility to allow for history to make some of its own judgements.

Read More…

The Secret Race by Tyler Hamilton

Let’s clear the decks first. I for one, along with countless millions, was largely seduced by the Lance Armstrong global propaganda machine, a machine it seems that incorporated some extremely powerful people, up to and including people near the Obama White House. Not necessarily Obama himself, but those charged with protecting his image and getting him re-elected. More of that presently. When I first blogged on Armstrong a few years back I was moved, naively it turns out, by his, ‘It’s Not About the Bike’ story, a story of human endurance against all the odds. I was wise enough to avoid coming out directly in Lance Armstrong’s corner, but deep down I believed no one could tell such a moving story while at the very same time being up to their neck in doping and lying.

Read More…

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie is back in the news and on two accounts. Firstly, he has just published his memoir of living life under a barbaric, jihadist, ten year fatwa. Secondly, a movie of his award winning 1980’s masterpiece, Midnight’s Children is just about to be released. And now the confession: I had never read a single line of Rushdie’s work despite all the global attention his notorious Satanic Verses has attracted. It was time to make amends, but where to start? Obviously with his Midnight’s Children, and then work my way forward from there. And what a supreme treat that turned out to be.

Read More…

Occupy by Noam Chomsky

This is a useful pamphlet sized book that reproduces a couple of speeches and interviews made by Noam Chomsky regarding the world-wide Occupy movement. There probably isn’t anything in it that hasn’t been said or thought before but Chomsky does give the whole movement a sense of gravitas, a sense of historical perspective. For someone as pre-eminent as Professor Chomsky to give his philosophical and spiritual blessing to this ill-defined but nevertheless cutting edge movement is no small thing. To most established journalists and commentators the Occupy movement is little more than a rag-bag army of middle class discontents who are having a bloody good time until such time as a job and a mortgage come along.

Read More…