Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tokyo Station by Martin Cruz Smith

A masterclass in how to write an historical thriller without resorting to cheap plot devices or 500 bloody pages.

It's set in Japan on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbour and follows an American called Harry - the son of a missionary who's grown up running wild in Tokyo. He's the cynical club owner with a heart of gold, - a fixer, a conman and a part time spy. A real Humphrey Bogart type, but always comes across as a real character rather than a cliche. He's also got a really interesting and ambiguous relationship to his adopted country.

The plot concerns his plan to get out of Dodge before things get too hot for the gaijin. He's also busy playing one side off against the other - the Japanese army and navy, the thought police, big business zaibatsu and the yakuza. Things are revealed slowly and subtly. And, of course, there's more than one woman in his life.

There's also a crazy old school samuari who wants to chop Harry's head off. His eventual appearance is worth waiting for.

Very well written, and the historical details seem part of the fabric, rather than "the setting for a thriller" if that makes sense.

The only downside is that it's possibly a little too short for all the great characters Cruz Smith is trying to bring in. It feels like I'm getting snapshots of fascinating relationships, but I suppose leaving the reader hungry for more is no bad thing.

Thanks to Bryce for his constant nagging for me to read this - it was worth it. And finish your Mao! Turns out he's a rotter (spoiler.)

I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but I've just got my internet set up here. Inspired by Tokyo Station I'm now a few hundred pages through Embracing Defeat - an absurdly big chunk of Japanese postwar social history. It's really good, and I'll write a review even if I don't finish it.

I've abandoned a couple of books on tape - Peter Ackroyd's biography of Poe (turns out he was a whiny wee prick) and the other David Mitchell's book about the Dutch and Japanese in the 18th century. Alright, but not brilliant. Instead I've been listening to dozens of old Russell Brand radio shows. Genius, but not for everyone I'd imagine.
I have just got hold of the audiobook of Al's recommendation - Full Dark, No Stars. More Stephen King short stories but now with 0% haunted paintings.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

I owe this blog a couple of reviews. They do say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do, alongside accidently killing a prostitute and World of Warcraft.

First off, we've got some bittersweet campery from the humorist David Sedaris - a book on tape read by the author. If anyone's a listener of the excellent This American Life podcast, you'll know his stuff, in particular his very distinctive voice. In fact, these memoirs start with his experiences with speech therapy at school to try and rid him of his effeminate lisp. Instead he becomes expert and not using any words with an "s" in them. It did make me think about the way some gay fellas speak - is it affected or involuntary? A mixture? And does it still happen as much these days when we're all a bit more chilled? Anyway, David's sorted out his "s" now, though you're never going to confuse his voice with Lee Marvin's.

The best bit of the book is when he gets into crystal meth and conceptual art ("either one of these things is dangerous, but in combination they have the potential to destroy civilisations.") His father heckles him at one of his interminable and pretentious one man shows, and finally gets a good review for the masterstroke of using his dad in the piece.

There are also musings on parents, siblings, family pets and the joy of smoking, as well as a section on living in France and learning the language. This, along with the speech therapy, gives the book its title.

Very funny and very frank about himself and his family. It's also inspired me to dig out some of my old Truman Capote books - presumably a big influence on Sedaris.

Coming up soon - Tokyo Station by Martin Cruz Smith. And possibly Russell Brand's second book.