Dying to Read – by John Elliott

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt.

And it is of ‘Dying to Read’ by John Elliott (Chômu Press MMXI). A book I purchased from Amazon.

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years. Indeed, this is said with the knowledge that a busy Season is afoot and many people have calls upon my time. So I do not wish any of you interested in this review to keep returning to this page and finding nothing added. However, I do not know how to resolve this problem ….

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/

All my Chômu Press real-time reviews here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/my-chomu-press-real-time-reviews/

Chapter 1: A Naughty Deed in the Best of all Possible Worlds

“If you could say anything it would be he was one of them and them covered a multitude.”

Only the first short chapter read – so nothing significant to say yet, other than the style so far is delightfully, clumsily disarming like the example above.  An intruder into a house and its occupant’s dead body left near the fridge it was using before it was a dead body left undiscovered. (7 Jul 11)

Chapter 2: Let’s Have Some Dialogue

“Life and perception of being alive here outside were sharpened in some way by the death which had occurred inside.”

I wonder if this is a detective whodunnit like that other book I’m reviewing  synchronously? Anyway, this is quite different, very working-class or cosmopolitan English, in fact a laid-back style of humour and language and feel that might initially put off American readers? And the Housing Estate – where the ‘murder’ is being investigated among some salt of the earth characters (investigators as well as those being interviewed) – is JG_Ballardian. (7 Jul 11 – four hours later)

Chapter 3: The Bones Detective Agency

“Their voices filled the air in separate bubbles chatting intimately in the street to unseen callers. Private thoughts made public, while other people unspoken to surrounded them.”

Alexander McCall Smith eat your heart out. This London detective agency is far more engaging. One lady (from James Joyce land fresh into the job as detective) is hired by an etiquette-tutor lady to solve the man’s murder by the fridge, followed by absorbing research into both hirer and victim, involving a parrot in the Agency Office, one with the Intentional Fallacy who keeps repeating “The Writer did it!” What a hoot! Not sure this is my usual type of book, but I feel confident so far that I shall enjoy it. I won’t be able to continue parroting the plot, I don’t think, but I shall give my impressions on the hoof.  Like talking to a stranger on a mobile as I explore the text. Well, a stranger to you.  (7 Jul 11 – another 4 hours later)

Chapter 4: Self Expression

“…which would lead – Eros and Janet Street Porter allowing – to to some kind of permanent domestic bliss…”

We revert to the policemen in Ballard land – hilariously and wittily characterised by dint of dialogue and self-seeking (literally) – now further investigating the case of the decomposing saint-christened corpse by the fridge. One of the policemen starts the chapter showering in a wonderful Joycean ‘stream’-of-consciousness mode, the first step to selfhood (I guess). Meanwhile, I’m missing the parrot. (8 Jul 11)

Chapter 5: Antique Dogs and Shall We Dance

“Evidently the word cynic was derived from the Greek word for dog, kynikos.”

I love the way good fiction can create believable coincidences  – say, a coincidence of a general career area and the potential romance between a male and female – and here the coincidence connects the book’s murder enquiry, connects it between two characters of our gradual acclimatisation – characters respectively representing the public police department and private detective agency schools of thought, their connection ignited by a lecture on Cynic Philosophy. Can it get any better than that? So charmingly disarming. Yes, there’s that word again. (8 Jul 11 – four hours later)

Chapter 6: Is Love Like Music the Answer?

“‘Which book are we in now, mon pote?’ she said to Lacenaire as she unshrouded his cage.”

Cross-ethics and mixed-practicalities as the romantic relationship confuses loyalties as well as the mutual murder mystery case for both police and private agency – the latter headed by a woman (of dubious gender?) who indulges in Yellow Wallpaper sessions (my expression, not the book’s) – and the decomposed (supposedly) Uruguyan victim’s so-called spanking proclivities. All good grist for the gravy or the gravity (to coin something based on a disarming phrase in the book). Indeed, the book is nicely peppered with whimsical turns of phrase (“…a wo hiding under the pseudonym of a man.”) that both delight and linger like flustered-off featherfluff from the bottom of a parrot cage (my whimsicality, not the book’s).  And the book has books, too. Remains to be seen whether we’re also wandering into a meta-fiction, as well as all the other crossed-feathers of truth and falsity. [If Tamburlaine the Great turns up later, I shall kill myself, I think.]  A sheer delight, whatever the case. (9 Jul 11)

Chapter 7: Alone But Not Unhappy

“Protectively all-encompassing London was a huge, sprawling swarm of being.”

A gem of a very short chapter, merging (it seems to me) a glimpse from the inside of the murderer’s head (unusual for a whodunnit, if that’s what this novel is) and a henry-fielding-esque intrusion of locality and didactick. Some great prose here.  (9 Jul 11 – three hours later)

Chapter 8: Norma in Bed

“What a wag that Iris Murdoch was. Always up to larks.”

On second thoughts, Norma is too old (and perhaps not the right gender?) for the Yellow Wallpaper syndrome, but, before ‘she’ loses her mind, this is probably a glance at her laid-back off-the-wall wittiest, while talking disarmingly to Geraldine: her detective agency employee potentially ‘going out with’ the policeman (Hamish), both on the same murder case.  Much delightful talk of parrot lore, too. (10 Jul 11)

Chapter 9: As the Judge Said, Anyone Can Enter the Ritz Hotel

Pages 89 – 99 – but can they pay the bills, I echo?

“So much of what we experience is in between one thing and another…”

Much reference-crammery in this section, whimsical, off-the-wall, erudite, esoteric, trivial, common-as-muck – and the readers need their own wits about them to ride this rollercoaster of chirpy modernity and rough-diamond philosophy – as the well-characterised police officers visit (as part of their investigation) a big posh hotel that sits within the Ballardian land – connecting the murder victim, both his betweens and his extremes. [By the way, Eddie Stobart lorries have a different girl’s name on the front of each one.] (10 Jul 11 – an hour later)

Pages 99 – 103.  From parrots to green penguins. Brilliant.  This is not just crime fiction, it’s criminal fiction. Disarmingly so, of course. A phone call between Geraldine and Hamish – as the in-between of the police and detective agency – as they put a romantic microsoft patch (my expression, not the book’s)  upon their ethical ends or extremes. (10 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later)

Chapter 10: Etiquette for Beginners (1)

“Flora nowadays is an obnoxious spread.”

Nor – head of the Bones Detective Agency – leaves her bed-ridden retreat – Man – grasping the nettle that others have left ungrasped [i.e. to investigate the very etiquette lady who set the wheels in motion of their murder enquiry], arriving, via various machinations worthy of the ‘News of the World’, in a public park semi-fraternising with a dipso bag-lady who has the info to sell. This book gets better and better. Martin Amis eat your heart out. (10 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

Chapter 11: Sleuthing Twosome

“…well tucked up with a box of peppermints and a gaggle of Ivy Compton Burnetts…”

This scene, on Geraldine’s home ground, could well represent one of the most teasingly conniving courtships in the annals of humorous as well as ‘crime fiction’ literature – as she and Hamish (to the perceptive accompaniment of the parrot’s lines in cheeky backchatter) exchanged respective progressions from their own mutual chatting-up towards some increasingly unself-conscious synergy of infodump and physical culmination. (10 Jul 11 – another 4 hours later)

Chapter 12: Etiquette for Beginners (2)

“A good walk wasted, as Mark Twain had described the Scottish pastime of skelping the gutta percha over fairway and rough.”

And if that doesn’t tell you something of the ‘etiquette academy’ being investigated by Norma(n) Bones, I’m glad for not spoiling spoilers unecessarily – other than to ask: who is following whom, and whom is being filmed, and who filming? For ‘film’ perhaps read ‘write a novel about’. Some more winsome double-takes and  one-liners: a disarmingly skilful hallmark of this book’s style.  “and sank his teeth through the seeded wholegrain to the fish and squishy amalgam within.” (11 Jul 11)

Chapter 13: Geraldine in Spankerland

“Alright, she knew it had not happened in real time.”

“…curious and curiouser.” Even the parrot is morosely ominous. In Ballard land – or Feltham, Bedfont, Slough… – Geraldine visits a business premises (not quite The Office of the “slough of her despond” but equally funny). Watches staged films and yes, ominous role-playing.  Playing ‘real’ Families. The various leitmotifs of her investigation regarding the murder by the fridge are certainly, for me, slowly inching towards their gestalt. Deal or No Deal. (11 Jul 11 – three hours later)

Chapter 14: In Which Nothing Much Happens, or is it Simply In Between?

“Who or what was Diogenes?”

“God knows what havoc my grandfather will wreak after two hours of Lloyd Webber and a trail through Selfridges.” (11 Jul 11 – another 4 hours later)

Chapter 15: Playtime

1.The Second Time Around

“I’m with the websites. I have been following.”

Hamish’s colleague follows up more leads at the the intertextual Ballard-landscape posh-hotel about our murder victim and his off- and on-line shenanigans. I love the way the various parties are characterised with deft touches in this book. For example, to learn that Hamish can pass himself off as Jocky Wilson tells a whole hilarious multitude of sins! (12 Jul 11)

2. Wandsworth Social Gathering

“There are private rooms, but you have to be a full member and there’s a kind of pecking order.”

Jocky” – and we all know there are rules about how whips are used in races – has hands-on role-brinking as his undercover investigation becomes overcover – while encountering a Retro Goth and “consensual larrupings” possibly tied up with with Diogenes. Sometimes I can’t believe I’m enjoying this! (12 Jul 11 – six hours later)

Chapter 16: A Lady Client Withdraws

1. Death and Uploads

“…day by day through chat rooms, topic threads, emails […] she revealed her thoughts, her shifting interests, sudden passions…”

Another murder – a cohering of the leitmotifs from the victim’s lap(dancing?)top seeming, to my ‘crime fiction’-naive mind, to create a very dodgy gestalt as to the plot thrust of this surrogate whodunnit via a vis one of its main characters…? [Coincidentally, I recently wrote – i.e. verifiably on my own blog a couple of days ago – that heavy-duty websters should be taken in the round not in some choice of specific snapshots of what they said or did. This is more important today with real-time action and re-action in various changing and interactive venues / moods of the internet.] (12 Jul 11 – another 90 minutes later)

2. Still Searching for the Right Book

“Is there a book, I wonder, that among other things combines murder with spanking?”

Is “detecting by books” a goer? To find out, I resign my jurisdiction as real-time reviewer. I’m going to get stuck in and solve this mystery, hereon in, from within the book as a character or character-assignation. Hummmpf!  Once on a literary case, I don’t need the initial client or mission statement or impetus or publisher loyalty to keep me there. (12 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

Chapter 17: The Path I Tread

All I can say: “it takes me where I have to go”. (12 Jul 11 – another 2 hours later)

Chapter 18: Confessions of Norma

“Never say die, as the horse whispered to Lester Piggott.”

Or – Only Connect, as the Parrot parroted (or so I guess from the tone and detailed substance of the breakfast conversation – amid sensual cooking descriptions of kedgeree – between Norma and Geraldine). Yes, breakfast, and, as Geraldine herself also does at the beginning of this chapter, I seem to have woken from a remarkable dream (a dream mixed up with last night’s reading of this book – but was it the right book? Or is today’s the wrong one?) Whatever the case, it is a sheer delight. Highly recommended so far. A book I would never have read without it being serendipitously-by-the-accident-of-fate placed in the path I tread by people I trust. (13 Jul 11)

Chapter 19: A Boy’s Best Friend

“She was quite disarming.”

Hamish interviews our etiquette lady in her home – a gem of character and place and implication.  Just one example, the deft touch of the exterior noise of a rubbish lorry etc. in the background as they talk (which coincided with the same noise outside my home where I was reading the chapter!). Mention of the Milky Bar Kid makes me recall that Michael Portillo in his childhood was one of those. And of Englebert Humperdinck – reminding me of “Hansel and Gretel”. “Help yourself but try and avoid crumbs. The carpet you know.” (13 Jul 11 – five hours later)

Chapter 20: Synchronicity

Pages 220 – 232

“His flow of urine lacked the abandon of youth, but it still arced down with a satisfactory splash.”

Hamish’s  Scottish-dialect grandparents visiting him in London – hilarious! – inadvertently give him a clue stemming from erstwhile double act Mike and Bernie Winters.  And a police colleague of his – in a later section – has thoughts of river horses and Deutschygramophon and St Augustine and uxorious dealings  and thoughts of retirement and the murder corpse under investigation and police shortcomings (now under extreme scrutiny as a result of the News Corp scandal of July 2011) – and all I can say and do: Only Connect, Only Connect, Only Connect…  Fiction is never to be sniffed at. Or even pecked. (13 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

Pages 233 – 245 (Books at Breakfast)

“The reader did it!”

Or sometimes the reader did it, says the parrot. More breakfast truths emerge, as Martina Navratilova swats glamour-pusses and Gertrude Stein claims an egg is an egg is an egg … and A Tale of Two Cities (as well as evoking further poignancy relating to Norma’s erstwhile tale of sororal sadnesses from the past) carries a thesis relating to the original suspect murder victim by the fridge whom this plot revolves around, two cities, Mike and Bernie Winters, Poe’s William Wilson, the reader and the writer, me and you… as Geraldine and Hamish ricochet over breakfast… who’s feeding whom, I ask. (13 Jul 11 – another 3 hours later)

Chapter 21: Missing You in Montevideo

“…clutching a large Lidl plastic bag.”

Where has this author been all my life? This book is Britain today – as seen through the eyes of someone with the eye for sarcastic trivialities as essential truths or resonating tropes (symbolized in this chapter by the mystery of the macaroons) laced with the driest wit and surreal unsurrealness.  The plot? Yes it continues in this chapter almost as a skeleton to hang the pregnant trivialities upon – but, then again, also as a skeleton enthralling in itself with its own susceptibility for being fleshed over in a bespoke manner by each reader for him- or herself. And that’s not to mention the believable characterisation of all the parties with deft touches and memorable one-liners. (Oh yes, the plot: A bag of missing post for the murder victim and its ramifications retrocausal and going forward.) (14 Jul 11)

Chapter 22: Afternoon Ices and a Tap on the Head

“…some old gent is so demented and confused he believes books are the real world and the real world simply behaves according to books.”

Oh yeah! (14 Jul 11 – five hours later)

Chapter 23: Busy Busy

“…Pat enthused as the Inbox attachments blossomed and pollinated.”

That last chapter was like a knock on the reader’s noddle from some wide boy in the novel. Having recovered (well, this book is normally a real tonic sent racing along my reading veins), I’d better say right now that I am withdrawing from further plot coverage as the denoument blossoms and pollinates – and I don’t really want another knock where it hurts (on my demented and confused head). Just suffice to say Poe and one of his tropes again figures in the teamwork investigation (and it’s not premature burial!). (14 Jul 11 – another hour later)

Chapter 24: Suspect Mourners

“In the end, deciding between peahen and peacock, she chose muted parakeet.”

How to dress for a funeral… Mentioning ‘sarcastic trivialities’ and ‘one-liners’, I think I may have short-changed this book. It also has poignancy, a disarming literariness, a subtlety of truth, and scattered ‘Alice’ references used in a manner second to none. What more could you wish for? Jeremy Paxman judging a bonny baby competition? Monica Seles’ grunts in your living-room? (14 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Chapter 25: Baby Talk

“You’ve been watching too many duff movies.”

This scene is one great staged duff movie.  Forget – for a moment – the poignancy. There are in fact two parrots, both suffering from paraphilic infantalism: one called Lacenaire and the other Diogenes. No, I just made that up as a subterfuge. This is one hilarious denoument.  I simply must try to finish this book today. (14 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later)

Chapter 26: A Good Deed in the Worst of all Possible Worlds

1. No-one

“No-one is no-one.”

Chomsky might like that indeed. I prefer Nemo, the Latin word for no-one. You notice I’ve never named the murder victim once in this whole review. Not sure what that says.  There was no conscious reason why I didn’t.  Except perhaps impelled by some force from the now famous Synchronised Shards of Random Truth & Fiction? At least this review isn’t written half in UPPER CASE.  Be thankful for small mercies. (14 Jul 11 – another 30 minutes later) 

2. Fat the Chew

“The victim got away. DNA may well point to a connection.”

This book may be the only key to itself.  Detective fiction is its own detective. I’ve always found it difficult to follow whodunnits and ‘Burke’s Law’ type TV plots. But now this book has taught me the ultimate lesson. If you sympathise, you need to follow a path similar to mine, with no preconceptions.  You see, Norman is just a hair’s breadth away from No Man. But don’t assume that gives anything away at all other than that Fiction is serious, Fiction is funny, Fiction is human(e), Fiction is cruel, Fiction tells the truth, Fiction tells lies.  (14 Jul 11 – another – two hours later)

Chapter 27: Fare Well

“Silliness is like salt. Cut it down, but it is still essential in small measures.”

The policeman retires, thinking of leaving for Dorset, almost touching, feeling Hardy if not Cowper Powys. Finishing this book is like a real book-reader retiring before e-books take over, having worked his guts out through each page of life both to laugh and cry. Paid jobs are a struggle.  Retirements, too. [Next week, we all go digital here. Fingers stretching to touch, to feel death itself…] (14 Jul 11 – another 45 minutes later)

Chapter 28: Read Me

It’s a great thing to succeed in spanking the banker on ‘Deal or No Deal’. To escape this book, unscathed, is like biting the writer. But I escape it by saying it has been one of my major experiences in my reading life, as I hope has come across. But I’ll still bite him for being so silly and so damn clever and sensitive. He’s a clever boy. In muted parakeet. END (14 Jul 11 – another 20 minutes later)

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