Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins

I was delighted to be sent an advance readers copy of this book of short stories. Some are very short indeed too! Most of the stories revolve around young men, whose attitudes and characters wouldn't necessarily normally appeal to me. But it's a sign of the quality of both the writing and storytelling that I was drawn right into every story. The voices in the stories are very convincing, I was particularly impressed with the way a male writer could inhabit the world of a girl on the cusp of womanhood - Rachel, who spends most of No Retreat waiting for her first period to start while on a Catholc girls' retreat that she doesn't want to be on.

The back cover of the book claims that these vignettes are 'refreshingly void of clear meaning' but at the same time the reader can't help but grasp some sense of what life and relationships are really about in almost every one of these stories. I Am and Always Will Be for example is a small but perfectly formed tale of how a young man reconsiders his judgement of the 'morbidly obese middle-aged lady' who lives near him.

The writing is consistently tight and infused with humour. To take an example from The Dog in Me, in which the narrator adopts a dog from the rescue to help him win over his attractive neighbour:

The plan was simple enough. Next time I saw my neighbor out watering her flowers in her short shorts and bikin top, I'd put Otto into action. Parade him casulally by. Let him work the cute. Nudge him to flutter those big brown eyes and give that floppy tongued smile. To make sure he truly understood what was at stake, I even showed him my view of things inching my bedroom curtain aside to reveal her sunbathing in her back yard. Otto licked his nose, gave a toothy yawn and went right on panting in appreciation. He was on board. All we needed now was an opportunity.

The best story in the collection though is the title one, Three Ways of the Saw, which offers the viewpoints of three people around the felling of a damaged tree. It's such a lovely story, I'll be giving it its own blogpost over on Crafty Green Poet in a few weeks time.

Three Ways of the Saw by Matt Mullins is published today by Atticus Books (whose website seems to be down at the moment!)

Reviewed for Brighton Blogger's Reading Challenge 2012.

To read my latest guest post on Brighton Blogger's Book after Book blog, click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas R Hofstadter

This is a huge and brilliant book about poetry, translation, understanding and artificial intelligence that I can't begin to do justice to in my typical short review!

The main chapters of the book look at ideas around translation, particularly the essential untranslateability of certain words and phrases and with a large section on humour. Hofstadter also examines the history and development of artificial intelligence and mechanical translation programmes.

These main chapters are interwoven with multiple translations, by multiple writers of Ma Mignonne a poem by the old French poet Clement Marot. It could feel that this element of the book is overdone, but I found the comparisons between translations to be fascinating (it was also particularly instructive to see translations here made by mechanical translation programmes!). Many of the translations are really 'versions of' Ma Mignonne, or even 'poems inspired by' Ma Mignonne, which leads into discussions about how faithful a translation needs to be.

The penultimate chapter annoyed me. Hofstadter rants against modern poetry, and although I agreed with much of what he says he seems to entirely forget that rhyme wasn't often found in English language poetry before it was introduced from Italy!

The whole book is thought provoking, entertaining and insightful, recommended reading for anyone interested in poetry or translation. (And despite the title, it is in English (except for a few poems and phrases!).

Le Ton beau de Marot by Douglas Hofstadter published by Bloomsbury

I reviewed this for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge.