Tag Archives: Brett Easton Ellis

Dead Babies – Martin Amis

Sometimes books that come up as choices for the Riverside Readers book group will throw a small grenade in my general reading direction. The latest choice for our meeting last Tuesday ‘Dead Babies’ by Martin Amis was one such book that almost had me running for cover when I knew that it was what we would be reading next. You see at a previous book group I was in ‘London Fields’ was chosen and I went into it with open arms only to have to give up about a quarter of the way through simply because I hated it, absolutely loathed it (not a reaction you will hear on Savidge Reads very often, I tend to keep those negative thoughts to myself) and swore I would never read an Amis again. But when Dom chose this latest title I thought ‘second chances’ and so through myself into Amis’ second novel, to a strange and surprising outcome.

‘Dead Babies’ has to be one of the most off putting titles of a book that I can think of, though undoubtedly there are some other horrors out there. The image it instantly brings you isn’t pleasant; there are no dead babies actually in the book though I can report there are some decidedly unpleasant characters. The premise of Martin Amis’ second novel, originally published in 1975, is that a group of friends are in a house on the more rural outskirts of London for a weekend  of drug and sex filled chaos with some American friends arriving in tow. Somewhere in the midst of this a mysterious character ‘Johnny’ is causing an unsettling feeling through the group, already beyond paranoid from their concoctions, by leaving evil messages and gifts. That pretty much sums up the book without giving anything away.

In writing about the book like that it doesn’t sound like its really anything special and unfortunately in some ways it isn’t. However I think that is because having read books later published such as Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ and the horrifically brilliant ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis the book doesn’t read as being as original as it perhaps was at the time, though in the 70’s there was a wave of this sort of fiction. What separates it from those other books is a mixture of humour and character history. They are all vile but you find out why, even if on occasion the reasoning behind their mental states is slightly contrived. However, with characters like Giles Coldstream who is obsessed with teeth and the vile and appalling – yet strangely likeable – Keith Whitehead who when he takes his clothes off makes people vomit and their backgrounds you do find you want to read on.

“The Whiteheads have several claims to being the fattest family alive. At the time of writing you could go along to Parky St, Wimbledon, any Sunday, one o’clock in the afternoon – and you’d see them, taking their seats in the Morris for the weekly Whitehead jaunt to Brighton.
‘Get your huge fat arse out of the way’ – ‘Whose horrible great leg is this?’ – ‘Is that your bum Keith or Aggie’s?’- ‘I don’t care whose guts these are, they’ve got to be moved’ – ‘That’s not Dad’s arm, you stupid great bitch, it’s my leg!’
‘It’s no good,’ says Whitehead Sr eventually, slapping his trotters on the steering-wheel. ‘The Morris can’t be expected to cope with this. You can take it in turns staying behind from now on.
And indeed, as each toothpaste Whitehead squeezes into the Morris, the chassis drops two inches on its flattened tyres, and when Frank himself gets in behind the wheel, the whole car seems to sink imploringly to its knees.
‘Flora, close that sodding door,’ Frank tells his wife.
‘I can’t, Frank. Some of my legs still out there.’”
  

What really works in ‘Dead Babies’, and makes this an accessible Amis book to my mind, is the humour, because in laughing your head of you do get through some pretty horrific people and their goings on without ever hating the book. I find authors who can write a book with vile lead characters like this and yet make the book enjoyable a rare breed and ‘Dead Babies’ should be applauded for that. It is also the two nicest vile characters Keith and Giles that you want to follow, in fact the book would be incredibly readable if it was just about Keith’s life.

What stopped this book from rating higher with me, because I did actually weirdly enjoy reading most of it, was that I felt like this was a book set to shock and therefore sell rather than say anything (it does clearly state drugs are stupid) and despite my personal feelings on Amis (both the pro’s and the con’s) I did think he was maybe cleverer than that. I don’t think every book you read should change your life, but surely there needs to be some substance behind what is shocking, rather than simply to make shocking scenes with no value? Also, though I liked it and it creeped me out a lot at the end, I didn’t see the relevance of the ‘Johnny’ storyline other than purely a plot device to make the book longer and make the reader carry on. That being said I finished it, which was a feat in itself both due to my prior reading of Amis. Plus despite the fact it gets quite uncomfortable amid the tears of laughter in parts its left me open to reading more of his work in the future, especially knowing that Keith Whitehead features in his new book ‘The Pregnant Widow’. 6/10

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;

Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh (we discussed at Book Group that this may have been inspired/a homage from ‘Dead Babies’ only in the 90’s rather than the 70’s)
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis (possibly one of the nastiest books I have ever read which is also a complete and utter masterpiece. Interestingly I would recommend this book and yet know I could never read it again, if weirdly felt I could read ‘Dead Babies’ again but am not sure I could recommend it – odd?)

Which Amis books have you read and what you recommend I read and avoid? What books have you read you would read again but might not recommend? Which books will you never read again and yet would tell anyone who hasn’t read it to rush out and get instantly? What other books have you read despite their horrid or off putting titles?

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Filed under Book Group, Martin Amis, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

1000 Novels Everyone Must Read… So Far

So The Guardian (and Observer) are treating us to the ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’ over seven days. I wasn’t sure how this would work it being that 1000 divided by seven means 142.85714 books per day. However what they have done is to theme each issue in the series. So far we have had Love and Crime. Though personally I didn’t exactly think that To Kill A Mockingbird or Jurassic Park was crime, or The Virgin Suicides a love story but I shouldn’t be picky. I was shocked The Time Travellers Wife wasn’t in love actually. I haven’t thought of ones I would put in their yet! That could be another blog for another time.


I don’t know about you but I go through the list and look at which ones I have read and then the ones that I should read in the future and these two issues so far have given me lots to read. What had I read?

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary E Braddon
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Murder At The Vicarage – Agatha Christie
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton
The Hound Of The Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
American Psycho – Brett Easton Ellis
A Quiet Belief In Angels – RJ Ellory (I was shocked this was in here – hated it)
Casino Royale – Ian Fleming
A Room With A View – E.M. Forster
The End Of The Affair – Graham Greene
Red Dragon – Thomas Harris (which I am going to re-read this year)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Atonement – Ian McEwan
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Dissolution – CJ Sansom
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (well am reading it in the background)
Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Hmmm… 25/1000 so far… must try harder! If you have missed this so far then have a look here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/series/1000novels

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Bernhard Schink, Brett Easton Ellis, Daphne Du Maurier, Emily Bronte, Harper Lee, Ian Fleming, Ian McEwan, John Buchan, Leo Tolstoy, Nancy Mitford, Sarah Waters

Thingbooks

So yesterday was my first foray into a book group where I didn’t know anyone. I have Cornflower Books book group later on in the week but being online you kind of have your profile or simply your name to hide behind, with a real live one it’s not quite the same. I didn’t realise when I arrived that this was the first Thingbooks book group. Though a few people knew each other most of us didn’t know anyone else and that made me feel some what better as most of us where in the same boat.

The book had been Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and the discussion was very lively. I wont give to much away as will be doing the book review for you tomorrow, but what was nice was that no one stole all the conversation, no one laughed if someone said something a bit silly – unless that person (possibly me) was laughing as well. What I do love about book groups is the fact that you can hear so many different insights into a book. I found myself thinking ‘blimey I never thought that, but yes that’s right’ and also on occasion thinking ‘absolutely not, no way’.

I am really pleased I decided to go, I did actually when arriving at the right Waterstones think briefly about turning round and going home as give me a celebrity to interview and I am fine, give me a room full of strangers and I am absolutely hopeless. One thing that happened which did bond us all as a group, well I thought so, was a woman joined us having no idea what book we had read or who the group was. As Waterstones had simply left a sign saying ‘Sunday book group’ up on the wall she had decided to pop a long. We had just started to discuss some of the graphic scenes in the book and how they made us feel (mainly uncomfortable and nauseous) she suddenly jumped up said ‘well this doesn’t interest me at all’ and marched out. We were all a bit speechless and then dissolved into laughter. Would I go again? Of course, in fact I am when next months book is Jake Arnott’s The Long Firm which I read years ago but can’t remember. I think I liked it but found it confusing. I guess time will tell!

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Filed under Book Group, Brett Easton Ellis, Jake Arnott

Bring On The Book Groups

As you may have read one of my resolutions in book terms this year was to read more varied books and in doing so join a few more book groups. I am already doing Rogue Book Group with Novel Insights which is fantastic as we have known each other for over twenty years and have a fairly similar taste in books. We are slowly but surely working our way through books we have always wanted to read and also books by authors that we both really enjoy reading and want to read more of. Currently our choice for this month is Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as this has been a book that has been on both of our TBR piles for quite some time and is a book that we have both been told ‘we simply must read’ over the years. So far so good though I have to admit I am reading a part a time, keeping furious notes of characters and sub-plots, and reading a different book between each part. So many bonuses to this book group, but one slight drawback being that it’s varying our reading but in our own comfort zone, not making me read fiction that I wouldn’t think to pick up otherwise.

So I went on the hunt for more. I decided I should do a book group or two where I didn’t know anyone else to start with, this meaning the choices would be more varied and I get out and meet more people who love books. Now you would think finding book groups in central London would be fairly easy… not so. After hunting for many, many hours I found ‘Thingbooks’ which ticked all my boxes; I don’t know anyone, they meet in a Waterstones in London (spending wise could prove lethal with all that temptation) and seem to have a possible TBR that I wouldn’t pick myself. The first book that we are doing (the book group is new so its not a clique yet) is Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho and I managed to find an almost new copy for 50p so was chuffed that my spending hadn’t gone crazy, well not yet anyway. This one is happening on Sunday so will divulge all about it afterwards.

Whilst looking at some of my favourite book blogs I saw that Cornflower Books has an online book group. After the initial worry that these people would be way ahead of me on book knowledge and I might come across as a bit of a wally I thought ‘don’t be silly’ and emailed. I had a lovely reply from Karen the same day saying she was really pleased I had emailed and that the book group is quite informal and ad hoc so you can come and read as you like. It didn’t think it could have been more ideal until I saw they were reading Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler as this month’s choice and I have wanted to read much more by her since Digging To America was such a hit with me last year. So that’s it, all sorted. The only thing is they are doing theirs on the 17th so I now have all three of these to read by the end of next week. Mind you that’s hardly a hardship is it? I better dash off and get cracking, though not spine cracking as I cant stand it when people do that!

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Group, Brett Easton Ellis, Leo Tolstoy