Archive for trainspotting

a journal of the plague year [lazy August reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 22, 2020 by xi'an

Read Blood of Empire, the final volume in the Gods of Blood and Powder trilogy. By Brian McClellan. Which I enjoyed reasonably well as bedside literature, although its weight meant it would fall at the slightest hint of sleep… It took me longer than expected to connect to the story, given I had read the previous volume a few months ago. This series is classified as “flintrock fantasy”, a category I had never heard of previous, meaning a limited amount of gunpower is used in weapons, along with the aid of magical abilities (for the happy few). The style is a wee bit heavy and repetitive, but the characters are definitely engaging if over-prone to inner dialogues… The only annoying part in the plot is the presence of a super-evil character about to be become a god, which ruins most of the balance in the story.

Had a long-pending due watch at Trainspotting T2. (Loved the NYT label as “Rated R for a bagful of vomit, mouthfuls of bigotry and nosefuls of cocaine”, obviously in the same regressive spirit as the film.) This is definitely a sequel to the first film. And hence hardly comprehensible on its own. Except for a few locations like a run-down pub on the edge of nowhere, a flat overlooking a car part dump and Spud’s high-rise welfare housing, T2 lacks the gritty vision of Edinburgh found in its forbear. And the characters have lost their toxic edge, except maybe very much maybe for the psychopath Franck. Even the de rigueur final swindle has a rosy and predictable justification. Fun nonetheless! On the (tourist) side, I enjoyed a mostly superfluous scene where Renton takes Spud running up Arthur’s Seat along its most scenic route, with an iconic end image of Edinburgh gradually fading into fog. There is also a surreal (short) scene on Rannoch Mor, with the Oban train stopping at the hikers’ stop. (I never managed to start Welsh’s books, due to their phonetic rendering of Edniburghian Scots that make reading unbearable..! By comparison, most dialogues are understandable. A funny line when the hostess welcoming tourists at Edinburgh Airport with a mock Scottish accent acknowledges she is from Slovakia.) Camera tricks like fast backward and colour filters a wee bit old-fashioned and heavy-handed, in the spirit of the first movie as if nothing had ever happened since. Maybe the moral of the story. Not looking for a potential T3, though.

Read a forgotten volume in the Bernhard Günther series of Philip Kerr, A man without breath. As usual building on historical events from Nazi Germany to set this ambivalent character at the centre of the action, which is this time the discovery and exploitation of the Katyǹ massacres by the Nazi propaganda to drive an edge between the Soviet Union and the other Allies. The book is rather uneven, with too many plots, subplots, and characters, and open criticisms of the Nazi regime between complete strangers do not ring particularly realistic. And draw attention away from their own massacres, like Babi Yar (celebrated in Dmitri Shostakovitch’s Symphony No. 13). Interestingly, given that I read the book at the time of the JSM round-table, a thread in the story links to the Spanish Civil War and the attempt by fascist doctors like Vallejo Nágera to picture left-wing Spaniards as psychiatrically degenerates, fantasying the existence of a “red” gene… (It took me a while to trace the reference in the title to Goebbels’ quote “A nation with no religion is like a man without breath.” )

Laidlaw [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 21, 2020 by xi'an

I read William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw [in planes last week] after I saw it recommended as a pre-Rankin novel. Which inspired the whole tartan noir literature. Including Rankin’s books, most obviously. The book is set in 1970’s Glasgow, which sounds rougher and grittier than when I was visiting the West End two decades later. The city is described as dominated by thugs, at least in the popular areas, with ultra-violent men running the criminal world, while still maintaining some Calvinist principles. Especially about the place of women and their abhorrence of homosexuality. Besides the very dark atmosphere of the novel, Laidlaw is one of the least conventional crime novels I have read, with more inner dialogues than conversations (an issue with some Rebus novels!) and a strong dose of metaphysics on the nature of crime and justice, guilt and punishment. The style is also much more elaborated, to the point I often had to re-read sentences (some of which eventually escaped my understanding) and not only for the phonetic rendering of the Glaswegian accents (which is much more readable than Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting). The intellectual detective, Laidlaw, is sometimes drawn in heavy traits (like, why should he keep books by Kierkegaard or Camus and Unamuno in his drawer of his desk), prone to bouts of depression and migraine, and, like Rebus, facing a disintegrating marriage and an addiction to alcohol. Not to mention smoking as most characters are chain-smoking. (This aspect as well as the need to resort to phone booths sets the novel back in time.) His relations with the force are even worse than Rebus’, as his provocations of more traditional colleagues leave him mostly isolated and poorly appreciated by his superiors.

The central character may actually be Glasgow itself, so much do the characters move around it and add permanent descriptions of the feeling of the place(s). Far from pretty, it oozes fear and poverty, desperation and bigotry, but also some form of social link, strongly separated between sexes. The appalling status of women (at least of the women appearing in the novel) is subtly denounced by the novel, even though in an ambiguous way. All in all, an impressive book (and not “just” a crime novel).