Saturday, December 01, 2018

800 Words SE3EP6

George in crowded house, dreaming of solitude, like jellyfish. Wants Woodie to fix Monty’s roof - who says "yeah nah". George wants to work - why can’t Monty go to his office? Because he knows what he does annoys people. Even at work, there’s no peace - Shaun interrupts with his problems. George calls a family meeting - time for guests to leave.

Since all the guests are there because Arlo or Shay invited them, they have to send them packing. Things do not quite go as planned, which leads George to ponder just how empty he wants his nest to be. He’s a bit discombobulated at Arlo moving into Big Mac’s with Lindsay. Then it turns out Shay is moving out too, with Siouxsie, to house sit. Shay all independence, George not quite ready. Mind you, Shay might be ready either: her plan for food is to raid George's pantry.

One way of getting Woodie out is to reunite him with Tracey. Both are heart-broken: Tracey says Poppy is lovely, just like her dad, sob sob, then Katie finds her crying in toilet. Woodie no better, has trouble moving. George tries to convince Tracey, “this is Woodie” and his unique way of looking at world. Does not want to talk with him. Another plan - Woodie has to talk to Tracey to get Poppy into school. Does Woodie get the point of the meeting with Tracey? Poppy does, obviously. He does try as he leaves, Tracey cuts him off. But eventually, all ends well - George and Poppy get Woodie up on his feet and ready to talk to to Tracey - clearing out whole book club in process. Say something Woodie! Can't - George does the honours.

Hannah gets Monty out of the house. George now all by himself, family all gone, but it turns out he has mates so is not really alone.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

800 Words S3E5

This episode is full of recaps of Woodie’s trip to Australia (along with George and Smiler). It starts with Woodie on George’s couch, and it is not looking good. Flashback to their departure - Jan thinks it is bonkers.Driving through outback - Smiler all worried about the venomous animals, including jellyfish. They hit the pub - can’t get distracted, straight in, straight out like a robber’s dog. Smiler - she’s a woman, has mysterious powers of distraction. And there she is - Woodie seems transfixed, runs away! Memories flooding back, good times, she is beautiful. Can George talk him down? They look too young to have been married 17 years ago. Rose wants to look at papers when less busy, Smiler and Woodie distracted by roo burgers, don’t want to be rude. Then a girl turns up - his daughter! Poppy. More stunned mullet and running away from Woodie.

Rose says tried to find Woodie, not asking for anything, telling him how things are, Woodie freaking out about Poppy, not knowing, life-changing moment, having trouble with saying anything to her but tries - it is kind of sweet - he has to do another runner before he’s ready.

Back in Weld, it is a wet weekend. It turns out Katie needs Police check to take the teaching job - why is she worried? Hannah does the police check for Katie, has a few fines, actually assaulted Hannah (with a salad!). Hannah lends Katie  money to pay fine but spills beans about fake conference, Katie worried can’t keep a secret. Tom suggests an alternative truth, not a lie. Photo comes in from Woodie all dressed up as if going to cocktail party - part of their cover - - Katie has to run away to avoid telling.
Shay and Ollie - he insists on running with her in rain,is a bit creepy, comes in for shower when they are done, Arlo is gone, Ollie is naked looking for towel. Monty and Siouzsie are there when Ollie comes out of shower. Monty has problem - Woodie drilled holes for battens for solar panels, went to Oz, then the rain. Siouxsie quite protective of dad - his dad bullies him. They stay with Shay. Monty is kind of nice to Siouxsie, who has a warning for Shay about Ollie, who doesn’t get the right messages when it comes to girls.

Rose - driven crazy by Woodie’s over-thinking, wanted Poppy to know he is real. G “Do you still love him?” “Everybody loves Woodie”. He’s out there having one-side conversations with Poppy, seems to realise weird for her, can go and talk with her. She has builder tools, knows what she is doing - they bond over building together. Woodie and Poppy - both discard stuff from memory (even that he is married!), she gets that he forgot to mention wedding, thinks Tracey is lucky, all the trouble he’s going to, its romantic, likes that she met him. Really sweet, Woodie is doing the proud dad thing, we’re kindred spirits. Can’t keep Poppy a secret and have a relationship with her. Might have found a few tears in my eyes at about this point.

Oh oh, now Monty springs the news about Woodie’s shotgun divorce - new to Siouxsie . Then we have Tracey and Katie, T saying knows about the secret and doesn’t care, but are they talking about the same thing? No - the salad incident. Is there something else?

Rose signs the papers, you’re off the hook - Woodie wants engagement ring, it is his mum’s. He’s worried about how guys mistreat Poppy and Rose. Poppy “should I call you Dad?” Woodie - like that. They drive off, get 60 metres, stop the car, I have an idea, maybe not great, but maybe Poppy could come to Weld. Rose trusts him, Poppy can pack real fast. Woodie - reckon Tracey is ready for the truth, I’m not married, but have a daughter - she’ll be stoked.

But then he goes in to see Tracey, with George to help him be on his own. Yep - she knows, is last to know,.embarrassed and hurt. Doesn’t really buy that it slipped his mind, bringing out his mum’s ring doesn’t fix things - want you to leave.

Woodie then presents Poppy - really doesn’t help. Poor Tracey. How to weather the storm? Ends with Woodie and George standing side by side “things didn’t exactly go to plan.”

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Mark and the Void - Paul Murray

A few years ago, I read another of Murray's novels, Skippy Dies. The title describes exactly what happens in it - the book explores why. The title of The Mark and the Void is a bit harder to tease out. It is set in Dublin when the Celtic Tiger was in full roar, and is more specifically set in the International Financial Centre, which has been structured to allow financial deals to be made without much regulatory oversight. Claude Martingale works for the Bank of Torabundo, which has its offices here although its head office is nominally on a small south Pacific atoll, where the economy is primarily a gift economy. The bank has actually done quite well in the Global Financial Crisis, by employing good analysts like Claude and making conservative financial decisions while the other banks have gone wild and gone bust. 
One of the biggest failures was helmed by a bloke called Porter Blankly. Such is the logic of the out of control financial world that the people behind the Bank of Torabundo think that the best way forward is to employ this bloke to run the bank. His strategy is to make the bank too big to fail, so that if it does get in trouble, it will be bailed out. So there is a buying frenzy and increasingly improbable financial products dreamed up by a Russian physicist locked in a cupboard. So, one element of the book is the skewering of the moral void at the heart of these institutions (with the island of Torabundo providing a nice contrast).

But then there is Claude himself - who is he? Just a cypher, a void, or a real person? He has no family to speak of, no relationships, no real interests - he just comes in to work and goes home. It is a tough job to make him the hero of a novel - so Murray makes a joke of it. He has an author - called Paul, with no last name - come in to follow Claude around so he can write a novel about an Everyman of today. Yes - the point is made that The Mark and the Void would be the result of such an exercise. But Paul gets bored with the nothingness of Claude's life, tries to suggest plotlines for him to follow - such as robbing the bank (even though it is the sort of bank that has no money). He brings in an accomplice, someone obviously an east European gangster type who is really annoying.
Another plotline Paul suggests is more fruitful - he notices that Claude is taken with a waitress at a cafe they frequent, Ariadne, and says that a love story would provide a plot. She is beautiful, interesting, an artist (of dubious quality) but he doesn't really bring much to the table. Nonetheless, after the suggestion is made, he finds that he longs for her and, well, there are developments.

Paul himself is an important character - he wrote a novel years ago but has had writer's block for 8 years. He is jealous of a prize winning author who also wrote about clowns, has a troubled relationship with his publisher, and his wife has lost her belief in him to the point that she has taken up dubious employment that she keeps a secret from him. He wants to redeem himself, but hs schemes are mad and bad - he actually wants to rob the bank, steal a painting, set up a dodgy website, myhotswaitress, which involves surveilling waitresses to extract all their personal information to be sold to whoever wants it.
Then there is Ireland - this novel is pointedly disconnected from any recognisable Ireland, being set in the Financial Centre, a cafe and a club which could be anywhere. There are virtually no Irish people in the novel - they are only seen in the distance, protesting the collapse and bail out of the Irish banks, starving in the streets as the empty housing crumbles. The only Irish person to feature is the Irish Minister of Finance, trying to prop up the financial system but on the verge of death himself, until he actually dies.  

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

This is a large and somewhat odd book which took me about a week to read over the course of some recent travels - about the same time it took for a million copies of the book to sell in Japan . Its genesis is a cold case, a kidnapping 14 years earlier. The title refers to the 64th year into the previous Emperor's (Hirohito) reign, despite the fact that it actually happened just inside the present incumbent's time. The kidnapper led the cops on a wild goose chase - the victim was instructed to stop at a cafe to make the handover, only to find get instructions to proceed somewhere else. This happens about a dozen times, until the victim is told to throw the ransom into a river - it is never seen again and the kidnapped girl turns up a few days later, dead.
Mikami was one of the cops, a rising star in the crime team of a prefectural police force - we are never told where. Recently, his own daughter has gone missing - some sort of communication breakdown (actually, she blames her dad for imprinting his "gargoyle" features on her face) leading her, at age 16 or so, to think she can do better on her own and walk out. Her mum is devastated - won't leave the house in fear Ayumi will ring when she's not there. Mikami is no longer in the criminal team; a couple of years ago, he was switched to the Administrative Branch, as its press director - a job for which he has no training. The point is that he is a man with divided loyalties, particularly as he hopes to get back to his former unit.

So, yes, solving this cold case is ostensibly what the novel is about, and it is, in a very impressive way, but it is very much in the background for most of the novel. Instead, we get to spend our time in the Administrative side of the police, viewing the world through our conflicted press director. He has a good team, but is bad at managing them, especially the female team member as he won't give her credit for being able to do the job. She, of course, turns out to be keen and fantastic at her job. A big dispute arises with the local press, over the level of communications they can expect from the police, and whether it is for the police or the press to decide to keep certain information private. There are very mixed messages from within the Police, making Mikami's position impossible at times. He is not particularly good at sticking to his job, gets involved in the kidnapping case and finds that the Police themselves could have done a much better job, something they have concealed.

There's another big dispute - between the two branches of the Police force, coming to a head when a bigwig is due to visit from Tokyo, possibly to replace local command. It gets so bad that when the criminal branch pretty much disappears, Mikami believes it is because of the dispute, not because they have a major crime, another kidnapping, to solve and have assembled at a command post. All of the tensions come to the fore with this second kidnapping, with the Police basically trolling the press by giving them a spokesperson who had no idea what was going on. At this point, the novel finally burst into action, as Mikami was able to get inside a mobile command unit and report directly back to the press conference.

I liked Mikami - he's not a very imaginative man, but he is a good man, wants to do right. For much of the novel, he has to struggle to work out what is right, and then work out how to act. But there's a lot of tenderness in his fractured relationship with his wife - they don't know how to connect, but he makes sure there is food delivered to her for lunch (because she would otherwise forget to eat) - and unlike many men, he gets and acts on suggestions from other women as to how to make things better.     

Thursday, December 21, 2017

On Such a Full Sea - Lee, Chang-rae

This is one of those novels that you have to piece together the type of world you're in as you read, rather than have things laid out. It takes place in a form of America, one in which the land is exhausted and its original inhabitants are hardly to be seen. At some stage, society has split into three levels - Charters, where life is much as it is in posh areas in early 21st century America; grow facilities (gated communities of workers producing foodstuffs and other items); and Counties - everywhere else, where it is every man or woman for themselves. Almost everyone is sick, with something called C: those in grow facilities eventually succumb to it; those in Charters are treated with various chemicals that prove fatal and those in the Counties have far more than C to worry about. 
B-More is a grow facility in what was known as Baltimore: it is not clear when or why, but it has been deserted by its original inhabitants and is occupied almost exclusively by New Chinese (what happened in China is barely mentioned, I think because it is so many generations ago that few actually know). There is a shadowy thing called the Directorate which makes decisions for this community but no suggestion of any central government. The main product created here appears to be fish, grown in sterilised tanks - but history has shown that there are still risks to be faced, that even in these "ideal" conditions, the entire stock has had to be destroyed in the past, making this an ever-present threat.

Reg is a young man of B-More, who may or may not be entirely free of C. When he seems to have left B-More for the Counties, Fan follows him. She is 16, a tank diver, pregnant to Reg (although no-one knows) and has a special quality - it is not so much that she is strong-willed or full of volition (although she is more of each than is typical) but that she is the kind of person that people want to see succeed, that people just help without hesitation or self-interest. This means that out in the Counties, where everyone is at risk and young women particularly so, she has a charmed existence. She is soon taken in by Quig, a former vet in a Charter town who fell from grace when people stopped keeping pets because of the health risks they pose. He offers a primitive form of medical practice, where people are treated according to what they have to give.

To help his community, they have to go to a Charter town some distance away: Fan gets to hear about a gruesome event in Quig's past and they have one of their own, when they are taken in by a group of vegetarians who just happen to have dogs which need feeding. Obviously they escape and get to the Charter Town - this is about half way through the novel, and the rest of what happens, happens there. Quig gets what he wants, leaves Fan behind - and it is here that the one bad thing that happens to her, happens, or maybe it is stopped before it happens. Anyway, things get a bit weird at this point as the lady of the house has a collection of living dolls, women she has somehow accumulated who live entirely separated from the world. They are both captive and lacking any will to leave. 

Things get even stranger, in that while Fan might not find Reg, she finds a brother, one who might have found a cure for C. He faces a moral choice: he has spent up large, exceedingly so, in anticipation of selling his cure but part of the deal is that he has to hand Fan over - she's carrying Reg's child, after all.

Probably the strangest thing for me was the narration of this tale: the narrators are some unidentified people of B-More who never leave town or hear from Fan again, yet they purport to not only provide her history but that of the people she meets, such as Quig. There were other strange elements to the story - there seemed to be no means of communication, people don't read, the fact that things seemed quite organised (at least between the Charter towns and those supplying them) without any apparent organisation and Fan's own existence. Of course, it is possible that nothing is known about her, and this story is really about appeasing the people of B-More. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

800 Words S3E4

George thinks that surfing might be the answer to Shay's problems but she's really not into it - that look she gives him tells the whole story.
George’s article this week is musing about how age is not to be equated with wisdom, which links nicely with Woody’s problem. He has to go to go to Australia to get the ex-wife Tracey knows nothing about to sign divorce papers, so hits on the idea of saying he is going to a symposium of Australasian Registered Solar Engineers, but Tracey doesn't buy ARSES as a proper organisation. So Woody’s way out is reverse psychology - talking it down so she says he must go. When she worries that she can't find a website, Woody enlists Sean to make a website of mind-boggling tedium; he then gets Ike to make it - he does such a good job that Tracey is proud of him for going to such a hard out conference. Of course this is not the end of it - she wants to go, he persuades her it will be boring but George is so much better at lying, can he please make her happy about not going. Poor old Woody has a seriously mangled metaphor. But Woody is such an innocent and Smiler is no better - so George has to go, to protect his investment. Smiler, George, Woody - the three arses. Tracey is so kind and proud, she makes cool business cards - this tips Woody over the edge - she's too good for me, I have to break up and move far away. George talks him down.

At the end of the last episode, Ike's mum Ngahuia (Miriama Smith - haven't seen her for a while) arrives. Shay mentions it to Siouxsie while they are boxing. This causes a stir - Monty is also boxing but he loses attention and takes a punch to face. Sean apparently took to hiding from her, Hannah calls her a taniwha and Constable Tom obviously has bad memories of giving her parking ticket but Monty sees her as “an agent sent from heaven”, warns George to back off. So of course George and Ngahuia meet - wants him to consider Ike's experience was real, that Ike has something to say to him. Ike talks about his kaitiakis - he made promise if they would save him. Laura was one of his kaitiaki, which George naturally has trouble processing, more trouble with Laura's message “don’t be like dying fly on windowsill”.

 Shay knows what this means - something between her and her mum, Shay had been troublemaker when at school, the statement was made by the principal. Means - if she ever goofing around, mum was to use the phrase. Arlo says “that’s freaky” but underwhelming message from beyond the grave. There is much agonising over why Laura spoke to Ike and not George or Shay, but Arlo is the voice of reason: she might have been being mum, lending hand where most needed. We don’t need visit, doing OK.  

The other main story line was about Hannah, who wants to be cop, offers to be civillian support officer for Tom, but he is all "why - you have been a giant pain in my bum for years, you flirt with the wrong side of the law". She says too old for other choices, wants to be taken seriously - I think he was impressed, even more so when she gives a pretty accurate account of what Woody and co are up to.          

Spotless episode 7 - Say What You See

The episode starts with a tense Bastiere family dinner. Maddy is texting furiously, says it can't be rude as she's not interrupting anything, no-one has anything to say to anyone. Martin finished last episode being badly beaten - Julie stalks off - when did this become normal, Martin being badly beaten. She asks Jean, asks "You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” knowing full well her husband is. Despite the last episode, Maddy is still asking Martin for help - how do you get someone to like you? Him: "Become irresistible by being unavailable". Her "He looks right through me." Him: "Life hurts." Later, Maddy is educating Martin on what it is like to be a teen - they all judge my rack. His advice - "don’t be a sheep, be a knockout"

Julie really wants Maureen (Jean’s right-hand-woman) to spill the beans - she tells her of the second book, for clients who can’t go through normal channels. Jean has a double murder to clean up - turf war, send a message killing - Nelson has killed Veysal (the Turkish gang man Martin has been dealing with) and his wife to show who is boss. Jean looks permanently troubled, as well he might. The remnants of Veysal's gang find him and pull a gun on him. They want Martin to make good on promises he made about Nelson. They know better than to start a feud but want Jean to spy on Nelson, so they can go after him “you work for me now”.

Jean gets home and who is waiting? Nelson “I thought we were exclusive”. At least he understands it was Martin’s doing but says if you (Jean) even have a craving for a shish kebab “I will end you”. Then Jean confronts Martin who, of course, was “just trying to help”. Jean: “I have two phones, two bosses, no way out” but I have that film of Nelson, might be a way out. Please don’t tell Martin where it is, he's a weak link. Martin actually has what turns out to be good advice - don’t trust a cop, just go. Jean meets with DCI Squire. She cautions him, says trust no-one, get a lawyer. Jean tells lots to Squire, says "He watches me" she says "We watch him" as if that is supposed to make him feel safe. Jean then takes a break, goes outside, which worries me about his safety, but he has to break up with Claire - she says her mum is dying.

Meanwhile, Martin is back with the helping, goes looking for Nelson and finds Sunny instead, says Nelson has to back off. Back at the station, Nelson comes into the interview room - obviously DCI Squire was not to be trusted “corrupt doesn’t come into it”. Despite his disclosures, she suspects he has more, wants to know what else he has, why he saw Kendricks’ widow. Jean to Nelson: “You’re not a philosopher, just a thug, that read a book once”. Visiting with Kendrick's widow, she mentions Fallowfield, the place in the country which neither Nelson nor Squire knew about.

Back at Nelson’s, Martin tells Sunny “I came here to invite your husband to kill me, in place of my brother”. They get into the medical marijuana, have a good chat. Sunny: "He’ll be home soon, you should leave but I could stay in town!" Digging Jean in even more deeply! At Fallowfield, Squire suggests Jean just go along with Nelson, have a good life.
Then things get rough - Squire just stands by while Nelson threatens to kill, does eventually walk away. Does she work it out? Yes, and Nelson’s goon has to go into the pond to find the film - there goes any leverage Jean might have had. All Squire can say is “that’s quite a selfie”. Don’t shoot him in front of me - there have to be boundaries. Then she gets worried about her own reputation - they left the station together, so if Jean turns up dead, she could be implicated.

Back home, the suspicion I had is confirmed - Martin is the bloke Maddy had in mind. At least he doesn’t go there. When Sunny calls, he’s off. “This can’t happen again - I don’t do this.” This is Nelson’s place! Will he find anything? An ear ring. Julie is home - luckily so is Jean. Ends with Jean back at the scene of Veysal's murder - cop says "they fucked the corpse of the wife". This looks like Victor's work.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Cauliflower® by Nicola Barker

Sri Ramakrishna was a 19th century mystic who spent most of his life in the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, near Calcutta, where he was devoted to the Goddess Kali. There is quite an extensive wikipedia page devoted to him and his teachings. There is also this book: Nicola Barker was given a pamphlet about him when she was 10 and says in an afterword that she has been obsessed with him  since reading a biography of him 30 years ago. The Temple was started by Rani - she catches the eye of a rich landowner (she was aged 9 at the time), inherits everything when he dies and escapes the clutches of all those who would advise her. Barker devotes a few passages to her: she was a devotee of Kali and stood up for the less powerful members of society. There's a story about an unfair tax imposed on fishermen, which caused her to take up a lease of the river: this somehow gave her the right to block shipping, which gave her the power to have the tax reversed. When a neighbour complained about the noise made by musicians she'd employed for a religious celebration, she doubled the musicians. Again, she could use property rights to get her own way: she owned a segment of an important road that she denied access to until the fines were reversed.
But the book (even Barker hesitates to call it a novel) is about Sri Ramakrishna. There are very few references to cauliflowers - I don't think he liked them (they make him fart too much!), but there is one very strange episode in which a tiny camera, brand-name Cauliflower®, is hung round the neck of a small bird as it flits around the temple in order to give the reader some sense of the physical environment. The bird comes to a sticky end: it is attacked by a larger bird and is ultimately engulfed by a fish ("Seventy-six per cent of the budget up in smoke. The Cauliflower® is now officially inruins. Seventy six per cent! And that's from a total budget of ... uh ... um ... nothing"). So - it isn't clear why the book has the title it does: maybe because it is told in the style of a cauliflower - little florets in no coherent order but always connected to the stem, the life of Sri Ramakrishna. One reviewer has suggested that a cauliflower is a bit like a brain, so the title is a sort of insistence on the intellect despite Sri Ramakrishna's blind focus on enlightenment. The author herself has said that it reflects Ramakrishna's own way of looking at the world - childlike in his playfulness, ecstatic, crazy, serious.

He was different from the very beginning - at his own birth, he essayed a disappearing act and was found under some sort of machine and then every story of his boyhood is "very curious" such as the day he became mysteriously and immensely heavy or the other day when his form was replaced by that of an older man. Those who knew regarded these as signs of his being "oddly blessed". At school he refused to learn to read (education is for "wage monkeys and "worldly fools") and (much later) says he erased an inclination to reason (although he cannot explain to the truth-seeker how this was done). Instead, he gave Kali his all - leaping around the temple a if he was an ape, believing (not pretending) he was one; dressing and acting as a woman as a form of devotional love. He is sometimes rewarded - has spiritual visions and long periods of bliss (he cannot perform even the most basic of tasks at times because of being "drunk on spiritual bliss") but is almost constantly concerned he is not doing enough, because Kali is elusive, does not reveal herself to him - he even attempts to take his own life to please her with the gift.  

While the narrative generally starts at the beginning and ends just after his death, it certainly does not follow any sort of linear progression or have a single narrator. A fairly consistent voice is that of Sri Ramakrishna's nephew and helpmeet (although he married (a five year old) the marriage was never consummated - his mind was always on higher things), Hriday.Hriday is very human - he generally gets Sri Ramakrishna's devotion and selflessness, but sometimes gets annoyed because he misses out on the sort of attention he might expect from his uncle. He is especially pissed off when his uncle is towards the end of his life and after, and he is pushed aside by other family members. When Ramakrishna takes to wandering off alone at night, generally after not eating anything or sleeping and not wearing everything, Hriday's devotion to his uncle is sorely tested - concerned for his own reputation as the servant of a madman, concerned that he's not doing a good job, but sick with worry and anxiety and "tied to Uncle by the clinging vines of love".

There are many other sources - the occasional emergence of a clear narratorial voice, haikus, extracts from other texts such as the Bible and Bleak House, diary entries from an amateur anthropologist who visits in 1864, pages from a letter, references to a movie made about Ramakrishna in 1955 and so on. The narrator is present from the beginning: the first paragraph introduces Rani as the star of her own movie; the second starts off
How will it all end? we wonder. Temporarily disable that impatient index finger. We must strenuously resist the urge to fast-forward...
I used the word passages deliberately: there aren't really chapters. Instead, there are passages, running from a few lines through several pages, each headed with a temporal reference - sometimes a very precise date, others are more vague - just a year - and others simply say 40 years earlier (than what?) or 20 years later.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Forensic Records Society

Growing up, there was almost no music in my life. The radio was always tuned to one station that played almost zero music, nothing popular, and I didn't watch a whole lot of TV. The only live music was when there was a community gathering and someone would pull out the guitar and do the ever-popular ten guitars. I hit my twenties with maybe three records to my name (Dire Straights, Pink Floyd and the Motels). Going to University, I fell into a crew of people who listened to a lot of music - not because of any love of music but because there were competitions over which camp of high end stereo was the better (the Linn v Naim wars). I could never afford that level of kit but it did mean that I had to get a stereo, then acquire records - which I tended to buy cheaply and play alphabetically.

I think I would have fitted in quite well in those days with the six or seven blokes who comprise the Forensic Records Society, the latest by Magnus Mills. James and the never-named narrator are mates - when I think about it, absolutely no information is provided about either of them, such as how they met or their lines of work. Their only intersections are by way of the records they play to each other and the pints they drink in the Half Moon. They come up with the idea of creating a group of like-minded people - although it soon becomes James' gig. He puts up a poster inviting people to join and so for a few weeks, this handful of blokes go into the back room and play 2-3 records of their choice. The only rule is that there is to be no comment or judgement on anything played: when Chris quotes from records, an edict is eventually made that there are to be no quotes either. The idea is that they will simply play their 7" singles, (LP's are not specifically banned, not until someone brings one along) listen to them "forensically", have a pint or two and go home Alice is the only woman in the story: she is the bar maid and forms the view that these guys, particularly the narrator, do no not like music.

A fellow in a long leather coat tries to join but makes the mistake of being late to the session and is denied entry. Maybe this is why he starts a rival club - the Confessional Record Society. The details of how it works are obscure: James tries to have an infiltrator but his confession is not worthy and he is denied membership. The club is very popular: its membership is comprised of a horde of pink t-shirted young women. This and James' hard-line causes a splinter group to break away from the Forensic Record Society - the narrator kind of likes this group and that creates problems for his friendship with James - there is a distinct cooling. Clearly, James expects loyalty.

The novel could represent a tension between purist and populist approaches to a number of things, such as religion or politics but I was quite happy to read it as being about competing approaches to running record clubs, listening to music and the relationships that develop between the blokes - not just that between James and the narrator, but also how the other members form a kind of nucleus, one that doesn't include the narrator. For a while, he's left out in the cold, not that James seems to mind as he has formed an alliance with Alice.I really felt for him, as he didn't seem to have anyone else in his life. Of course, nothing is said - that's the nature of blokes, and ultimately, this book (like several of his other books) is about the nature of blokes and their relationships with each other.