Virus reading. An excellent novel about the aftermath of a global pandemic in animals. Tender is the Flesh: by Agustina Bazterrica. My review.


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Clearly this will not appeal to everyone.

As we ride out the early stages of a global viral pandemic it struck me as a good time to read a novel about a global viral pandemic.

This one infected animals so that their meat became poisonus.  Consequently a global order was put out to kill ALL animals.

Then there was ‘The Transition.’

In a carnivorous world what meat will carnivores then eat when there is no ‘meat’?

Well, obviously they eat human meat, but not wanting to sound like cannibals the authorities do not allow the citizens to call human meat, ‘human meat’ – that’s punishable by death,  and the sale of the resulting cadaver as ‘meat’.

So they are called ‘Heads’, have their vocal chords surgically removed just after birth so that they can’t talk/scream, and are raised to a variety of quality standards.

The hero of our novel is a slaughterhouse manager who is responsible for the buying of Heads and their processing, by way of slaughter.

But his life is complicated.

His beloved Dad is dying, his sister is horrible and leaves him to manage the care of their father, his wife has left him and his young son has died.

He’s lonely, he hates his job, his life and his family.

Then, one day, as a thank you for doing good business with a Head-seller he is given his own young, living, prime-grade female to take home and butcher.

This is an Argentinian novel and is quite heavily stylised, with little or no emotion – that’s left to the reader to take their own views on the proceedings, much of which describes this new, very odd and strangely acceptant society, in dispassionate terms.

It’s short, sharp and to the point and much of it is an allegory for how we consider the meat we consume today.  In that respect it’s a great book for vegetarians/vegans to enjoy triumphantly.

The way Bazterrica describes the slaughtering and butchering process is exactly how our animal meat is processed today.  Her trick is to anthropomorphize the process and, in so doing, begs the question as to whether this is morally acceptable.  “You wouldn’t do it to humans…’ is the central tenet here, if not actually stated.

It’s clever.  It’s interestingly, if a little coldly, written and it’s page turning.

It’s a really good political polemic and I found it engrossing.  Much is made of societal mores – class, privelege, behaviour, tradition, sexual politics.  It’s actually a pretty complex and multi-layered read.

I recommend it.  (But only for those of a stout literary constitution.)

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan: Book Review


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I’m a lifelong McEwan fan, but he has been infuriating me in the last decade with his inconsistency.

I have previously reviewed and lamented Sweet Tooth and Solar – both stinkers, but sandwiched between them was The Children Act, a book of great beauty and provocation.

I’m glad to say that Machines Like Me finds McEwan right back at the top of his game and it’s clear to me that what is making him write his best work these days is moral ambiguity and his adeptness at turning that ambiguity into superb storytelling.  It’s at the heart of  what makes this book, and The Children Act, so great.

The moral conundrum here is truth.

Humanity allows us to decide the difference between ‘white lies’ and despicable self- serving perjury.  But can Artificial Intelligence be expected to compete?

This novel works on many levels.  It’s essentially a sci0fi book about Artificial Intelligence yet it’s set in the past.

A fake past.

1982 to be precise.

A 1982, in which Thatcher has just lost the Falklands War, Alan Turing is alive and kicking, Britain is contemplating a form of Brexit, the poll tax disputes are raging and many of today’s political challenges are being reframed as 1982’s.  Most notably the rise of an elderly Labour leader (Tony Benn) has swept to power on the back of an adoring youth.

It’s playful and brilliant.

McEwan plays with the value of things like money.  Everything seem so cheap: cheaper than the reality of 1982 prices. (The effect of a global recalibration of worth?  It’s unexplained.)

Into a 32 year old dropout’s life (Charlie) arrive, almost simultaneously, a stunningly beautiful but enigmatic 21 year old neighbour (Miranda) and a ‘robot’ of almost perfect physical attributes (Adam – one of 25 AI humanoids – 13 male, 12 female).

Charlie’s bought Adam thanks to an inheritance from his mother and the book explores the relationship between the three main protagonists, but throws in a secondary moral dilemma in the form of a four year old abused boy, Mark, who inveigles himself into their lives.

In Miranda’s past an event of monumental emotional significance has consumed her and the repercussions of this form a significant strand of the moral backbone of the story.

So we have fun (made up history) sci-fi (lite but fascinating in the form of a humanoid robot, whom it turns out is capable of great knowledge – Google, before Google existed- but also a form of moral judgement) relationships (tangled) and simply brilliant storytelling.

The science is interesting, the philosophy just light enough to engage dullards like me and the story so compelling as to turn pages lightning fast.

The whole premise throws up so many genuinely interesting questions that it’s like manna to McEwan who feasts on the riches that his great invention feeds him.

I adored this book.  One of McEwan’s best ever and leaves only Nutshell, out of his 17 novels, for me to read.  It’s a noughties write, so who knows.

 

 

11pm, Friday January 31st 2020. The hour the music dies.


Just because I’ve shut up about Brexit recently doesn’t mean I feel any less saddened, deeply saddened, by the UK’s xenophobic attitude towards its island nation state.

We now have a fool, a dangerous one at that, at the helm, leading our country into a black hole, one that no right-minded economist recommended.  One where international trade deals are talked of in multiple-year time frames, some even in decades.

The fool continues to gainfully employ the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg – a man who in any other capacity would find himself on the dole queue for his outrageous sociopathic views and utter disregard for humanity, despite his fervour about the Roman Catholic faith – a faith that proclaims love of thy neighbour; ABOVE ALL ELSE.

As the bell tolls I will be contemplating what it means to live in Scotland – a nation that rejected this nonsense, OUT OF HAND – although that doesn’t mean I will be banging the drum for Scottish Independence.

One of its 2014 clarion calls was that Scottish independence was the only way to guarantee remaining in Europe (at best an optimistic call even then).  That prospect, (or at least the prospect of re-entry to the European family), if the last 36 months or so is anything to go by, seems an unlikely one now and a colossally difficult task.

For those bunting-waving leavers that will be popping their English sparkling wine and guzzling their John Smiths on Friday night, you were warned of the consequences of this before you voted for change ( I’m particularly looking at you Sunderland and South Wales).

I won’t be schadefreuding you in years to come.  I’m doing it now.

London didn’t vote for this nonsense, Northern Ireland didn’t vote for it and certainly Scotland didn’t vote for it.

Even Nigel Fargae didn’t vote for this outcome.

God bless Europe.

 

 

Succession Series 1 and 2. Review.


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And here they are.  All of the pigs in one big poke.

Stupidly I missed Season 1.  For some reason I didn’t zone in on its qualities on first airing and let it go by me.  But the early rave reviews in the national press for Season 2 made me reconsider it and I started again, binging the 20 episodes over the last month or so.

And what a treat it was.

Jesse Armstrong (the show runner) was previously responsible for Peep Show, The Thick of it and even, back in the day, contributed to the excellent Smack The Pony.  He wrote the hilarious Four Lions too.

What this means is that although Succession is essentially a drama it is, in fact, a full blown comic feast with one liners ricocheting across the screen with siege-like ferocity and quantity.

Chief gag thrower is the astounding Keiran Culkin, the weasel-faced runt of the Roy Litter who you’d never tire of punishing, but whose acerbic put downs are guaranteed to split your sides ten times an episode.  he takes particular fun in tormenting the, also excellent, Jeremy Strong who plays his inept, drug-consuming brother Kendall with doe-eyed misery as his privileged life gradually falls into greater and greater disrepair.  He’s a car crash of a human being.

The other comic character who never ceases to amuse with his rhinoceros-skin dimness is Matthew Macfadyen as Tom, the dipstick husband of the power hungry Shiv (daughter of the patriarch from hell Logan Roy – Brian Cox in his greatest ever role).

A good sport in this show is to decide which of these feckless fecks you hate the most.  For not a single one of them has any redeeming features.

That said, my wife had a soft spot for the manslaughterer Kendall and I could at least tolerate the inept (but surprisingly devious) Greig – the limpid cousin.  But that’s it, the rest are as hideous human beings as you could make up.

Or are they made up?

The reality is that this is just a great big mash up of the Trumps, Weinsteins and the Murdochs.

Everything in this cesspit is about power and success.  They are consumed with the need, as a media conglomerate, to acquire more and more businesses and with manslaughter and sexual misconduct (and subsequent cover-ups) thrown into the mix the result is a mosh pit of vanity and greed.

Supporting roles of note go to Helen Hunter who is delicious as the two timing competitor CEO who briefly joins the company.  And the outstanding Peter Freidman as Francis and Jean Smith-Cameron as Gerri – Roy’s Nick and Margaret.

The milf- (or gilf-) like attraction that Gerri has for Roman makes for some of the show’s highlights with truly hysterical moments aplenty.

But at its core, and the bedrock of all that is truly awful in the human race, is the commanding presence of bastard-in-chief, Brian Cox, as the patriarchal Logan who surely has never been gifted a role as meaty as this.  Despite over 200 roles on TV and cinema only once has Cox been recognised at the big ones, a lone nominee in the Golden Globes nearly 20 years ago.  This is surely about to change.  His presence is so all consuming that this has the look of certainty about it.

It’s utterly compelling TV with a cinematic quality and a soundtrack to rival the best that Hollywood has to0 offer.  And, oh, that theme music.  My tune of the year, bar none.

Enjoy!

 

Sir Vince Cable’s valedictory virtuosity.


It may have sported on T shirts for months so it’s not exactly original, but to make it your campaign slogan for a major election is, to my mind, quite the thing.

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Sir Vince has had a relatively short career in the spotlight, despite his years, but this has the campaigning chutzpah of a rebel, a challenger brand – which should be exactly what the Liberal Democrats always should have been.

Anyway Sir Vince I doff my cap to you for this.

I think you will be pleased with the outcome, come May 24th.