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What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

Re-reading the classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Corsair, 2015, 477 p.

 What Makes This Book So Great cover

This is a collection of Walton’s contributions to a blog on Tor.com, appearing between 15/6/2008 and 25/2/2011, in which she discussed the works of SF and fantasy she had been re-reading during that time. Her claim to be able to read up to six books in a day astonished me. If she’s doing that how does she fit in everyday life – food shopping, cooking, eating, family life, putting out the bins? Where on Earth can she find time to write fiction, or a blog post? Yes she says she sometimes spends all day in bed (I assume through illness or some debilitation) but even so. Admittedly that six was a maximum and she says she starts another book as soon as finishing the previous one. There was also the odd, to me, observation that she feels she hasn’t read a book if she hasn’t re-read it at least once; that first impressions of a book are suspect. I differ here, certainly from a later in life perspective. If a book does it for me the first time that’s fine; with perhaps a very few exceptions, if it doesn’t, a re-read is unlikely to help. My tbr pile is too high for much re-reading anyway. I also cannot read at Walton’s pace. Perhaps I pay too close an attention to the minutiae of a text; vide Pedant’s corner.

Many of Walton’s enthusiasms I doubt I would share. She spends 14 posts and over 60 pages here on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series which has far too many volumes for me to embark upon now, and in any case I have a disrecommendation from another source. Similarly 17 posts and 53 pages on Steven Brust’s Dragaera series. Not going to happen.

Walton always writes interestingly about the subject at hand; even of books I have no desire to read (whatever her eloquence.) And “IWantToReadItosity” is a great coinage. “It’s hard to explain, is utterly subjective and is entirely separate from whether a book is actually good.” We all have such guilty pleasures.

She occasionally digresses from the SF/Fantasy remit, for example enthusing about Iain Banks’s The Crow Road and of Middlemarch opines that George Eliot would have been a great writer of Science Fiction if only she’d had the idea to invent the form.

A puff on the back cover quotes Publishers Weekly, ‘For readers unschooled in the history of SF/F, this book is a treasure trove.’ I wouldn’t disagree.

Pedant’s corner:- Various instances of “there are a number” or “there are a lot” – too many to note individually. “I admire it to no end” (if anything this means “there is no purpose to my admiration of it”. I assume Walton meant “I admire it no end.”) a missing comma before a quote (x 2,) Achilles’ (Achilles’s,) visit with (visit,) “Every culture has their own naming custom” (its own naming custom,) “and right go on into” (and go right on into,) for goodness’ sake (goodness’s.) “The Mazianni are a company fleet” (is a fleet,) “the rest of the worlsd … look on jealously” (looks on,) “The weight of significance of things … sometimes need” (needs,) “when it gets us information” (gives us,) Marilac – but two lines later Marilican Embassy (which is it; Marilac or Marilic, Marilacan or Marilican?) “global warming has deteriorated” (“the climate has deteriorated because of global warming,”) “and is decided” (either “has decided” or “is tasked with” the context isn’t entirely clear,) Katan (Katin on next page,) “‘going I know not whence’” (in a quote from Dunsany; whence means “from where” – you can’t go “from where”,) “‘to be a part of the forest. (from ‘The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for the Sacnoth’)” (no full stop after forest; or else a capital F at “from” and a full stop after Sacnoth.) “There are the sort of situations,” (the sorts of situations,) “who’s presented a great poet” (as a great poet,) elegaic (it’s spelled elegiac.) “There were a host (there was a host,) “that the British population shrink” (shrinks,) “Shute’s Britain …., indeed their ability” (its ability,) “to get away with Nicholas’s guesses to be more often right than wrong” (being more often,) to whit (to wit,) the PTA are considering (the PTA is considering,) vaccuum (vacuum,) “These are the kind of” (kinds of,) Marcus Aurelius’ (Marcus Aurelius’s,) “so that she has learned to thank people, and realise how nice” (realised,) Jesus’ (Jesus’s,) “Small Beer are definitely my favourite small press” (is definitely,) vapourised (vaporised, this is a curious error in a book full of USianisms,) ascendency (ascendancy,) philo-sophical (no hyphen) even moreso (more so.)

Shoreline of Infinity 2: Winter 2015/16

Science Fiction Magazine from Scotland, The New Curiosity Shop, 106 p.

Shoreline of Infinity 2 cover

This issue is larger than the first. Each story (bar one) still has its own piece of artwork and title page but the story text now starts about one-sixth down the page instead of at the top, with the first paragraph in a larger font size than the rest. The Interview1 is with Duncan Lunan whose work also features in SF Caledonia. Steve Green’s Border Crossings rues the modern tendency for excessive strip-mining of previous creative endeavours, in both fiction and film. Reviews2 looks at Poems by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod plus five other books, one of which I have marked for reading another of which I have read and liked much less than the reviewer and one I saw in embryo when it was workshopped by the East Coast Writer’s Group. The poetry theme is maintained with a new dedicated section, MultiVerse,3 edited by Russell Jones, which here takes the form of 2 poems apiece by Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod.
In the fiction “We Sell Seashells”4 by Ryan L Daly has a prospector for mind-altering seashells finding her biggest one yet. It isn’t what she expects.
In Citizen Erased5 by Bethany Ruth Anderson, a married couple agree to take part in a process of memory extraction.
Megan Neumann’s Charlie, A Projecting Prestidigitator is an android who gives performances akin to the circus except with holographic projections. He/it finds sanctuary/fulfilment among children on a scrapheap.
Purgatory6 by Michael Fontana circles back on itself a trifle too predictably as two men roll the bones and confront each other in an
In Death Do Us Part7 by Tyler Petty the resurrection technology of the Wilton Foundation means risky endeavours are survivable Our married couple take it in turns to die – or kill each other.
Reliquaries8 by Steve Simpson. The Superior War has degraded civilisation. A spaceship has landed in South America and is compulsively attracting the remains of the population.
The very short Vanity by Kathy Steinemann has its artwork and title on the one page and its text barely fills one other. It is narrated by the purveyor of a rejuvenation treatment which is partly a con.
Anton Rose’s The Republic of David features a malfunctioning matter transmitter which keeps churning out copies of David at the colony on the receiving end.
A Season of Want by Ken Poyner is set in the cybernetic afterlife of the very rich who can afford such procedures.
In The Child With Wings9 by Ann Craig people on an underground train are enchanted by a young girl, with wings, who is also making the journey and may be a ghost or an angel,
In Last Days in the Nanotech War10 by Duncan Lunan nanotech biological implants have gone haywire, forcing updates voraciously on their hosts.

1the the (one “the”,) “That seem to me” (seems,) 2Banks’ (Banks’s,) a missing full stop, “and are all invoked” (the “and” should be before the last of the list of names given earlier,) “Ward Moore Bring the Jubilee” (Ward Moore’s,) to questions the ways (question,) 3and In “Sobieski’s Shield” (either in; or “In Sobieski’s Shield”,) “I first men” (met,) Banks’ (Banks’s,) “there’s a verge of danger and bout of war about them” (no, sorry. Can’t parse that at all.) 4Written in USian, rarified (rarefied,) spectrums (spectra,) “a trail of mucous” (mucous is an adjective; the noun is mucus.) 5in hopes that (in the hope that,) scrapping (scraping,) “than the songs lasts” (song; or, last) sat (seated; or, sitting,) “Naomi gathered up her back” (???? Context suggests bag.) 6Written in USian, “He had took” (taken,) pablum (pabulum,) “‘Why’d you let me up?’ He asked.” (‘Why’d you let me up?’ he asked,) a missing paragraph indent. 7Written in USian. Mills (Mills’s – which had appeared a few lines before.) 8Written in USian, or perhaps Aussie given the author’s address, ”shattered moonlets shone down on the tideless Atlantic” (even without the Moon there would still be tides, the Sun would still pull the Earth’s water towards it,) serra??? (sierra made more sense) callouses (calluses,) a missing end quotation mark. 9Every dialogue quote -barring two which end their respective sentences – is without the comma before the end quote mark, its (x 2, it’s.) 10insured (ensured,) “over the top” (not at Mons. The trench system hadn’t developed by then.)

Immortality by Milan Kundera

faber and faber, 1991, 391 p. Translated from the Czech Nesmrtelnost by Peter Kussi.

Immortality cover

In the first chapter the narrator tells of seeing a gesture by a woman who was just leaving a swimming pool and which inspired him to write the novel. I was struck by the ageist perspective with which Kundera treats this incident. Be that as it may, gestures and their meanings, their particularity or otherwise, are a feature of the book.

Set mainly in Paris (where Kundera settled after leaving Czechoslovakia) the meat of the book lies in the relationships between Agnes, her husband Paul, and her sister Laura. There are similarities here to the writing of Irène Némirovsky, also an exile in Paris, but at an earlier time. Unlike Némirovsky though, Kundera delves into the deeper past in order to interrogate the means of achieving immortality, in the sense of remaining famous after death, by examining the relationship between Bettina Brentano (later von Arnim) and Goethe, which has mostly been seen through the lens of Brentano’s accounts. Ernest Hemingway too makes appearances – notably in discussions with Goethe in the afterlife – as does Beethoven, and there is a disquisition on Don Quixote. The author himself also features as a character. (Perhaps it was this book which gave Orhan Pamuk that idea.)

The narration comments on itself at various points, and at times does not so much foreshadow as give the later game away. We are told of the death of one character and explore its consequences long before being shown it and that in Part Six a new character will appear and then vanish without trace – as indeed he does; but only to present us with a connection to another that had hitherto not been mentioned (or deliberately hidden.)

The narrator/Kundera notes a historical transition in the toppling of Richard Nixon not by arms nor intrigues but the mere force of questioning, the power of the Eleventh Commandment “Tell the truth.” (Sadly that power no longer seems to work.) He also tells us that nineteenth century writers ended their novels with a marriage not to protect their readers from marital boredom but to save them from intercourse. “All the great European love stories take place in an extra-coital setting…. there was no great love after pre-coital love, and there couldn’t be…. Extra-coital love: a pot on the fire, in which feeling boils to a passion, and makes the lid shake and dance like a soul possessed.” How much of this is an echo of Kundera’s own attitude to intercourse is a matter for conjecture. (Compare “The Unbelievable Prevalence of Bonking” as Iain Banks, in The Crow Road, characterised another of Kundera’s works.)

In amongst all the narrator’s philosophising are sprinkled some bons mots, “A person is nothing but his image” and “I think therefore I am is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches. I feel therefore I am is a truth much more universally valid.”

While at times the prose had the feel of a history book and of the literary work in general – one incident in particular reminded me of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the ScriptwriterImmortality was never difficult to read – a tribute to the translator, Peter Kussi, perhaps.

Pedant’s corner:- Saint Vitus’ dance (Vitus’s,) Agnes’ (Agnes’s,) assininity (asininity,) Avenarius’ (Avenarius’s,) Hals’ (Hals’s.)

Scotland’s Favourite Book

In a programme on BBC 1 Scotland last night the results of a poll to discover Scotland’s favourite book were announced.

These were apparently voted on from a long list of thirty books.

As usual the titles marked in bold I have read; italics are on my tbr pile.The ones marked by a strike-through I may get round to sometime.

An Oidhche Mus Do Sheol Sinn (The Night Before We Sailed) by Angus Peter Campbell
Garnethill by Denise Mina
Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman
Imagined Corners by Willa Muir
Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin
Laidlaw by William McIlvanney
Lanark by Alasdair Gray
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Morvern Callar by Alan Warner
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
So I Am Glad by A.L. Kennedy
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins
The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh
The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson

The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Trumpet by Jackie Kay
Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Thanks to my working through of the 100 best Scottish Books and the Herald’s “100” best Scottish Fiction Books I have read nineteen of these, with two on the tbr and others maybe to consider.

I suspect that in the fullness of time some of the more modern of them will fall away from public affection.

My strike rate for the final top ten was 7/10. The list (in descending order) was:-

10. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg
9. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
8. Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin
7. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
6. Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling
5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
4. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
3. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
2. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
1. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

I am particularly pleased that James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner made it here and the strong showing of Alasdair Gray was also welcome. Personally I don’t think The Wasp Factory is Iain Banks’s best book but only one from each author was on the long list.

Gibbon’s Sunset Song was the one I predicted to the good lady would come first. Since its publication it has been an enduring favourite with Scottish readers.

I’m on the Map!

Literally.

Despite me not having a piece of fiction published for a few years – and only ever one novel – I’ve been included on this map of British SF and Fantasy writers. (If you click on the map it will lead you to its creator’s website, where copies can be purchased):-

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literary Map

I’m humbled by this. Imagine me being on the same map as Alasdair Gray, Iain (M) Banks, Ken MacLeod, Ian McDonald, Eric Brown, Arthur C Clarke, J G Ballard, George Orwell et al. Not to mention J Leslie Mitchell (Lewis Grassic Gibbon.)

Reading Scotland 2015

A lot of my Scottish reading this year was prompted by the list of 100 best Scottish Books I discovered in February. Those marked below with an asterisk are in that 100 best list. (In the case of Andrew Greig’s Electric Brae I read it before I was aware of the list and for Robert Louis Stevenson his novella was in the book of his shorter fiction that I read.)

Electric Brae by Andrew Greig*
A Sparrow’s Flight by Margaret Elphinstone
The Guinea Stamp by Annie S Swan
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson*
Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks by Christopher Brookmyre
Buddha Da by Anne Donovan*
Flemington by Violet Jacob*
Tales From Angus by Violet Jacob
Annals of the Parish by John Galt
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Change and Decay in All Around I See by Allan Massie
The Hangman’s Song by James Oswald
Wish I Was Here by Jackie Kay
The Hope That Kills Us Edited by Adrian Searle
Other stories and other stories by Ali Smith
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi*
The Gowk Storm by Nancy Brysson Morrison*
No Mean City by H McArthur and H Kingsley Long*
Shorter Scottish Fiction by Robert Louis Stevenson*
The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett*
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith
Fair Helen by Andrew Greig
The Dear, Green Place by Archie Hind*
Fur Sadie by Archie Hind
Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown*
Stepping Out by Cynthia Rogerson
Open the Door! by Catherine Carswell*
The Silver Darlings by Neil M Gunn*
Scotia Nova edited by Alistair Findlay and Tessa Ransford
After the Dance: selected short stories of Iain Crichton Smith
John Macnab by John Buchan
Another Time, Another Place by Jessie Kesson
Consider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith*
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan*
Poems Iain Banks Ken MacLeod
Mistaken by Annie S Swan
Me and Ma Gal by Des Dillon*
Tea with the Taliban: poems by Owen Gallagher
A Choosing by Liz Lochhead
The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins*
Born Free by Laura Hird*
the first person and other stories by Ali Smith

That makes 42 books in all (plus 2 if the Violet Jacob and Archie Hind count double.) None were non-fiction, 3 were poetry, 2 SF/Fantasy, 19 + (4x½ + 3 doublers) by men, 13 + (3 doublers and 1 triple) by women, 2 had various authors/contributors.

Top Ten Space Operas

Another list.

According to Wikipedia “Space Opera is a subgenre of science fiction that often emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, usually involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, weapons, and other technology.”

Partly as a comment on the sub-genre and also as an attempt to subvert it I provided my own novel A Son of the Rock with the tagline “A Space Libretto” mainly because – while it roamed the spaceways and deployed technology – advanced abilities and weapons were largely, if not completely, absent.

As to Space Opera itself, Gareth Powell has posted a list of what he considers a Top Ten of Space Operas on his website. It leans heavily towards relatively recent works.

As you can see I’ve read all but three of them.

Nova by Samuel R. Delany
The Centauri Device by M. John Harrison
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks
A Fire Upon The Deep by Vernor Vinge
Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

The Reality Dysfunction By Peter F. Hamilton
Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey
Space by Stephen Baxter
Excession by Iain M. Banks

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

In search of the perfect dram

Century, 2003, 368 p.

I bought this mainly for completeness. I’ve read all of Banks’s fiction and so his only non-fiction book kind of rounds things off. It also qualifies for the Read Scotland Challenge.

Raw Spirit cover

It is strange to be writing about this in the wake of the referendum. While the book is ostensibly about whisky it is in reality a hymn to Scotland, in particular its landscape, its “Great Wee Roads” and its inhabitants, not forgetting the West Highlands’ voracious midges and prodigious rainfall. Banks’s liking for fast cars can’t be missed and the numerous inns and hotels he frequented as well as the distilleries and their visitor centres (there is, it seems a whisky “experience” look) will be grateful for the exposure. Had the book been solely about whisky I would not have been the best person to appreciate it as I have never taken to the stuff.

That said, the history and processes of whisky production are described in extremely accessible terms. While Banks attempts descriptions of the single malts he samples in the course of his travels (for which he had no shortage of willing companions) this is perhaps an impossible task – in the way that descriptions of music are often lacking – but the word “peaty” does appear quite often.

Parts of Raw Spirit read like Banks’s non-SF fiction. The verbal interplay between the author and his friends is just like the conversations encountered in say Espedair Street, The Crow Road or Complicity, the asides and digressions – his journeys were undertaken and the book written around the time of the (second, the illegal) Iraq War, occasioning familiar Banksian rants – typical of his mainstream work.

As a book Raw Spirit is barely ten years old yet so much has changed since it was published. Banks himself is sadly no more, as are the Inverleven Distillery at Dumbarton and (not so sadly) the Forth Road and Skye Bridge tolls. The landscape, the Great Wee Roads, the whisky, though, remain – at least those bottles as yet unconsumed.

A delightful addition to the Banksian œuvre.

Descent by Ken MacLeod

Orbit, 2014, 407 p.

This book is dedicated to the memory of the author’s close friend, Iain (M) Banks, and may be considered as a tribute. It is topped and tailed by two of the protagonist’s dreams, titled respectively 0.1111 Recurring and 0.2222 Recurring. The first of these is very Banksian in tone.

Some time in the near(ish) future Ryan Sinclair and his friend Calum, who has a more demotic form of speech than Ryan, have a close encounter with a strange silver sphere in the hills above Greenock. Ryan thereafter experiences dreams/memories of the classic UFO alien abduction scenario. Calum does not. Both are subsequently visited by mysterious strangers – in Ryan’s case a man calling himself the Reverend James Baxter, a literal Man in Black. Thereafter Baxter figures intermittently throughout the novel. (Quite why MacLeod used the name of perhaps Scotland’s most famous footballer for this character is obscure; to me at least.)

Descent contains simultaneously an exploration and a debunking of the UFO abduction story but is also much more than this. Calum tells Ryan a family history about uniqueness and distancing. In his later life as a freelance science journalist, Ryan uncovers evidence, through fertility statistics, of speciation occurring within humans. This affects Ryan’s life directly in his relationship with Gabrielle, one of Calum’s relatives, whom he meets at a wedding. While Ryan is busy with his Highers* a worldwide change in economic arrangements called the Big Deal saves capitalism from itself by instituting what Calum refers to as a kind of socialism (but if it is, it is very dilute.) The pre-Big Deal revolutionaries evaporate away in this new dispensation where jobs are more abundant, while silver airships and smart fabrics make their appearance. Otherwise people’s activities, drinking, vaping (presumably of e-cigs,) buying, selling, work and relationships are more or less as we know them now. The UFO aspect of his story allows MacLeod to have some fun with government’s response to such manifestations.

The early scenes set in Greenock bear some similarities to Alan Warner’s The Deadman’s Pedal. Both novels have at their start a sixteen year old protagonist, a West of Scotland seaside town setting, a sudden attraction to a girl. The writing of the two novels is comparable also. Descent is a different beast altogether, however. While Warner’s book dealt with politics only obliquely MacLeod has always been a writer whose interest in political ideas has been foregrounded in his fiction. He never lets it get in the way of the story but his engagement with politics is distinctive among SF writers.

In character terms Descent deals with betrayal, revenge and redemption. While the SF elements are necessary to the plot, they could be considered as trappings, scaffolding on which to build the human story.

A nice touch was the inclusion of the phrase, “Gonnae naw dae that,” made famous in Scotland by the TV series Chewin’ the Fat.

*A Scottish educational qualification (originally the Higher School Leaving Certificate) and roughly equivalent to A-levels, but undertaken over one year.) Nitpick:- page 84 refers to Calum excelling at O-level technical drawing. O-levels were not a Scottish examination. Some Scottish schools did enter their pupils for them but I doubt that happened in Greenock. Nor will it. The Scottish equivalent, O-grades, were superseded in the 1980s by Standard Grades, which in their turn have this year been replaced by National 3, 4 and 5 qualifications. O-levels were replaced in England by GCSEs from 1988.

Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky

Chatto & Windus 2007, 153 + xvi p. First published by Editions Denoël, 2007. Translated from the French Chaleur du Sang by Sandra Smith

Most of the handwritten manuscript for Fire in the Blood had been thought lost (45 pages of typescript had been completed) but turned up, along with her later novel Suite Francaise, in the Némirovsky archive given by her daughters to her friend (and editor) for safe keeping in 1942.

It is a worthy resurrection. Despite being barely longer than a novella there is enough insight into humanity and affairs of the heart, not to mention deceit and betrayal, in its 153 pages to grace many a longer novel.

Set in rural France in an area where people know all about each other’s lives and supposed secrets but don’t talk about them, unless while drunk or there is an advantage to be gained. Within families, “In order to avoid scandal, to make sure no one knows anything, all hatreds are hidden. What they fear most of all is that others might know their business.”

The narrator is Sylvestre, who travelled and returned – “A prodigal son. By the time I got back… even the fatted calf had waited so long it had died of old age” – who now lives alone. The fires of youth, “That love, those dreams…. are strangers.” That burning, “devours everything and then, in a few years, a few months, a few hours even, it burns itself out. Then you see how much damage has been done.”

The story concerns the pitfalls of young women marrying older men for security, of marital infidelities and of secrets maintained for years. The themes are of feelings beyond love, fire in the blood, that compels people to commit acts they might regret, and of forgetting forbidden loves as something necessary, plus the inability to forgive someone else’s happiness.

There are frequent bons mots:-
“Countrywomen are never ones to miss a free show, the kind you get with a birth or sudden death.”
“Who knows the real woman? The lover or the husband?”
“There’s no such thing as uncomplicated emotions.”
“You call out for (love.) The wave crashes into your heart, so different from how you imagined it, so bitter and icy.”
“The flesh is easy to satisfy. It’s the heart that’s insatiable …. that needs to love, to despair, to burn with any kind of fire.”

For insights into the affairs of the heart, the recklessness of youth, the loneliness of old age, look no further. This is the best book, with the possible exception of an Iain Banks, I have read this year.

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