Book Review—Lucky Jim

I’m pretty sure most readers today have never heard of Lucky Jim, that crazed, lunatic’s cry of literary rage against the sheer boredom of academic life in the early 1950s. I read the novel decades ago and recently picked it up again, having decided to take a break from nail-biting stories of horror and suspense. And I must say, Kingsley Amis’s excoriating masterpiece is just as hilarious the second time around.

When you first meet Jim Dixon, what strikes you is not only his penchant for mockery but his incredible ability to pull the most inventive faces. In fact, I counted no less than ten throughout the book, my favorite being his shot-in-the-back face. Those coupled with his irritatable mumblings, drunken ramblings, and blatant ignorance about women make for an antihero par excellence. And the highlight of these antics? A leaden, uninspired speech he must deliver to hundreds of students and faculty entitled “Merrie England,” whatever that means.

If you love scathing, satirical stories featuring romance, give Lucky Jim a try. And don’t worry that the book was published more than sixty years ago. Its razorlike humor is as fresh as ever. Try to decide which is your favorite Jim Dixon face. And imagine you had to deliver that ill-fated “Merrie England” speech. Hint: a few pulls of good Scottish whiskey and you will indeed be merry. Good luck.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

Regarded by many as the finest, and funniest, comic novel of the twentieth century, Lucky Jim remains as trenchant, withering, and eloquently misanthropic as when it first scandalized readers in 1954. This is the story of Jim Dixon, a hapless lecturer in medieval history at a provincial university who knows better than most that “there was no end to the ways in which nice things are nicer than nasty ones.” Amis’s scabrous debut leads the reader through a gallery of emphatically English bores, cranks, frauds, and neurotics, with each of whom Dixon must contend in one way or another in order to hold on to his cushy academic perch and win the girl of his fancy.

More than just a merciless satire of cloistered college life and stuffy post-war manners, Lucky Jim is an attack on the forces of boredom, whatever form they may take, and a work of art that at once distills and extends an entire tradition of English comic writing, from Fielding and Dickens through Wodehouse and Waugh. As Christopher Hitchens has written, “if you can picture Bertie or Jeeves being capable of actual malice, and simultaneously imagine Evelyn Waugh forgetting about original sin, you have the combination of innocence and experience that makes this short romp so imperishable.”

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Book Review—Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers Cover

Every once in a while, you come across a collection of short stories that are, well, magical. And I had the good fortune to experience a great deal of magic in Sticky Fingers by JT Lawrence. First of all, let me just say, I never knew South Africans could be so damn funny. Come to think of it, I’ve only ever met one South African, and she was sweet. And, okay, kind of funny. Moving on.

These stories range from the macabre to the flat-out hilarious. My favorite was “Off the Hinge.” I never realized it was so difficult to secure a pint of milk for your tea. Maybe that’s why I always take mine black. On the other hand, considering the narrator’s predicament, perhaps milk is the least of her worries.

If you like stories that disturb rather than horrify, then get this collection. Each one reminded me of a modern, well-made Twilight Zone episode featuring great actors. And if you’ve ever had a chance to catch the original television episodes, you’ll know I’m setting a high bar.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Diverse, dark-humoured, and deliciously bite-sized, this compelling collection of 12 short stories by JT Lawrence include:

ESCAPE

A suicidal baby knows he was born into the wrong life. He has to get creative to correct the mistake, much to his mother’s horror.

THE ITCH

An intense, uncontrollable, unexplainable itch lands the protagonist in a mental institution.

BRIDGE GATE

In this poignant and charming short story, a daughter yearns to connect with her absent father through the letters they exchange. She’s not put off by his pedantic corrections of her writing, despite the slow reveal that he is less than perfect himself.

THE UNSUSPECTING GOLD-DIGGER

A woman gradually poisons her husband so that she doesn’t have to break his heart.

***

“Each story is masterfully constructed … Humorous, touching, creepy, but most of all entertaining, this collection is superb.” — Tracy (Amazon review)

***

If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl or Gillian Flynn you’ll love these unsettling stories with a twist in the tale.

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FLIP SIDE—Gangsters, Ghosts and Magic!

[Simon Oneill]Simon Oneill is one of my favorite authors. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how his brain works. Forget it! His books are always fresh, funny and full of surprises.

So, I’m thrilled to let you know about his latest novel, Flip Side, which will be published later this month. Here’s the scoop …

Book Blurb

[Flip Side Cover]

Dead gangster returns to living world to correct his mistakes only to cause more problems for the ones he loves.

Johnny Knight is on top of his game as kingpin drug lord. His enemies are either dead or licking their wounds. Now tired of all the killing, he wants to live his dream in the Caribbean with his family.

Johnny’s dream turns to a nightmare when the ghost of his father appears, causing chaos and mayhem. His Old Man must correct a mistake he made and this means Johnny’s dream will never be fulfilled.

The ghost shows his son the error of his ways, making Johnny weak in the eyes of his enemies. Johnny’s empire crumbles around him. All he has is his dream.

Synopsis
This is ‘The Sopranos’ meets Scrooge meets ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ full of sex and violence and Jimmy the wise ghost who must do his best to set things right or return time and time again until his family’s problems are resolved. Only then can he be happy on the Flip Side.

Tough gangster Jimmy Knight is a ghost sent back to the living world to sort out his family problems that he left behind. These problems have festered in his soul making him unsuitable for the Flip Side where peaceful spirits can live out their dreams. The biggest soul crusher for Jimmy is getting revenge on the hitman that snuffed him out and to do this he must reveal himself to his youngest son, mob boss – Johnny. But there are certain rules to adhere to in the Flip Side. A ghost can enter a family member’s mind and use memories and words of wisdom to alter the course of their life or imminent death. But the closer that person gets to death the more visible the ghost becomes and when they can touch their beloved dead family member they are ready to flip.

Ten years ago, Jimmy is on his deathbed, a bloody bullet hole in his chest. Standing over him are his two sons, Johnny and Chalky. With his dying breath, Jimmy chooses his younger son, Johnny, the more stable, the man with the savvy. The look on Chalky’s face says it all – the drugs business was his to have as he is the oldest. Jimmy flipped, but his baggage was heavy not knowing who killed him, it gnawed at him not knowing. Now he has to return to his chosen offspring and fix the mess he has left behind.

Ten tough years later Johnny has stayed on top of his drugs empire. His enemies are either dead or licking their wounds and in no fit state to harm him. But of late, Johnny has been having strange dreams, annoying flashbacks to the days when Jimmy ruled the roost and even worse he has heard that haunting music more and more often – LA BAMBA – music played at his wedding! Chalky has been inside since their father’s wake, since he beat to death some geezer for not paying his respects to the old man’s remains. Chalky loves to use his hands, he’s a real genuine hands on kind of guy. Johnny accepts the Old Man’s intrusion in his head and shows signs of weakness when talking to himself. Jimmy uses La Bamba to warn Johnny of imminent death.

Chalky’s hatred of his brother sets in motion traumatic events as he does a Clint Eastwood on Johnny’s cool rat-pack gang and his most ruthless enemy – Rosa, Queen of the Ganja boss of The Yardies. The gangs go to war each side manipulated by Chalky’s devious tactics.

There are plenty of situations where Jimmy uses his music of chance and wise words to alter the inevitable course of Johnny’s life. He shows Johnny what might have been and also what could possibly be in the near future with swift acts of ghostly magic to prevent that bullet with Johnny’s name on it finding the target. But with each attack on Johnny’s life, Johnny gets closer to his father, seeing him, having a joke with him until finally touching him. Johnny learns what it is to be a loving father even when his love falls on hatred and vengeful family members.

Families are ripped apart by death and betrayal, plans within plans, greed and avarice fueling a war that can only end one way for Johnny, unless his old man’s magic can save him.

About the Author
Simon Oneill resides in South Wales UK with his wife Shirley Anne. He is a writer of all things paranormal fantasy in both the YA and Adult categories. He loves to collect fossils when not writing, and will often be found combing the local beach for fossils and shells. Or he can sometimes be found in a local pub enjoying a pint of real ale. You can find Simon on Twitter, on Facebook and at his Amazon author page.

Gilligan’s Zombie Island

Photo Courtesy of IMDb
[Gilligan’s Island Poster]So, I’ve been thinking about that old TV show, ‘Gilligan’s Island’—don’t ask me why. Writers do that sometimes. Anything to occupy our minds so we don’t have to sit down and actually write. Anyway, I’ve been thinking it’s time for a reboot. Only now, instead of concentrating on a small band of survivors simply stuck on island with no way to escape—never mind that you’ve got a Professor who supposedly can invent anything out of coconuts and vines, but cannot seem to fix the friggin’ SS Minnow …

Getting back to my idea. I’ve decided it would be cool if you added zombies. So now, these guys are stuck there. But instead of being undone by their own petty fighting and incompetence (mostly on the part of Gilligan himself), they have to fend off the skin-crawling, slavering advances of the undead. Wouldn’t that make for a great show? Of course, it would.

First off, though, the eternal question—namely, who really would survive in a zombie apocalypse? I can tell you right now, the Howells are out. What, Mrs. Howell is going to hit some dead sailor dripping with gore with her purse? The old man is going to break out a 9 iron and hit the rotting thing in the face? And by the way, why did those two even pack all that stuff for a one-day trip?

The professor is a given. He is pretty smart, though naïve. And what about Skipper? Sure. Why? Because, in the words of Napoleon Dynamite, he has skills. Same goes for Mary Ann. I mean, come on, she grew up on a farm. She knows how to grow food, cook and keep livestock. Maybe should could capture a few wild boars and raise them for meat.

Now, Ginger. Yes, she’s beautiful. But in a zombie apocalypse, beauty will not help, my friend. Not unless you plan on seducing the zombie. So she’s out. And here’s my thought about her character. I think in this reboot that I am already casting, you need to replace her character with a slacker played by Aubrey Plaza. Can you imagine it? Every time a zombie takes a hunk out of someone, she’s off making these caustic remarks like a one-woman Greek chorus. Yes, the more I think about it, Aubrey Plaza would be awesome.

That leaves Gilligan himself. Okay, the guy is a boob. He has no skills and no brains. He’s a mouth-breather from way back who should have been dead a long time ago. But you know what? He’s lucky. So, I say keep the schlemiel—the show will work better.

And like the old show, every once in a while you can have over-the-hill guest stars like Erik Estrada and Loni Anderson land on the island and get eaten while Aubrey Plaza provides the sarcastic commentary. Hey, this thing practically writes itself!

So what would you like to see in this new show? Anyone? I’ll be standing by, awaiting your comments.

Hinting at an Age Long Gone

By Ian Hutson

[Ian Hutson]I was incarcerated in a dozen very different schools as a child, and one of them was run by hippies. We attended the classes we felt like attending, generally did whatever we pleased and were encouraged to loosen our orange and purple Paisley pattern bandanas and expand our own minds. Ye gods, it was awful. Forget spelling they said, forget grammar and punctuation, just get those precious ideas and stories down in green crayon on recycled hand-laid ninety-percent hemp paper.

It didn’t seem to matter that thereafter no-one could decipher a word of it. I once dipped the school Tarantula into an inkwell and then set him free in the stationery cupboard. By the time the caretaker had recaptured him Mr. Creepy-Crawley had garnered two gold merit stars and a favourable mention in the school’s creative-writing hall of fame.

Language is a code and codes, like recipes for soufflé, have structure and format for a reason. The reason that they have structure and format is so that someone who has never met you or been in the same elementary spliff-rolling class on the rubber mats in the library building can understand what it is that you were trying to say.

The word “bring” is not the same as the word “take,” “couple” is not a rational number and quite frankly, without a properly formed phrase or adverb you might as well just Eat Fresh from a tin or Drive Safe in Ralph Nader’s Chevrolet Corvair.

It pains me to say it, and I do love my sitar and my quilted evening “smoking” kaftan, but the hippies were entirely wrong in these matters.

A commercial editor recently told me that his first action on any manuscript is to remove any and all italics from the text. When I asked what he used instead to change the inflection of the little voice in the readers’ heads, his eyes remained lifeless and his lips remained silent. He simply didn’t understand the question.

Had I not remembered an urgent need to go home and shampoo my parakeet I might have pressed him on other items of apparently non-essential punctuation and grammar. Question marks perhaps. or capital letters indicating the beginning of a sentence. Perhaps this “professional” editor also held prejudices against full stops and commas and paragraphs in particular parakeets’ bottoms require careful use of a proprietary medicated conditioner so one should always wear rubber gloves to avoid undue avian familiarity.

Statistical analysis might indicate that the spaces used between words constitute a veryinefficientuseofpreciousasciicodeandinternetbandwith, but I’d rather we retained that luxury.

What, I hear you ask wearily, has prompted this tirade? Nothing in particular. I’ve always been a boring old stickler for correct as possible language, make it as can we. I border on the 0CD (ouch, did someone just substitute a zero for a letter “O” there cozzit duzzunt mattah?). As rants go it’s very probably linked to just how comfortable I feel in my current work-in-progress, an anthology by the name of The Cat Wore Electric Goggles.

See? Even we duddy-fuddies sometimes slavishly follow new-fangled modern trends by putting capital letters where they really shouldn’t be.

This anthology, due out in springtime 2014, is a collection of science-fiction stories with a dated, nineteen-fifties flavour to them. All references to “nuclear” become “atomic” and “space ships” become “rockets,” and the construction itself includes sentences much, much longer than a tweet. The paragraphs run to more than a couple of lines and the plots hail from an age predating Hollywooden’s unhealthy preoccupation with prepo$terou$ LPG-fuelled explo$ion$, a blazing gun in every hand and an unspecified terrorist threat to the unquestioned establishment status quo around every box office corner. The individual titles in the anthology range from “The Maharaja of Mars” to “The Curse of The Mandarin,” and that should give you some inkling as to the contents. My goodness me, do I ever feel at home in this anthology, and I wasn’t even a twinkle in my Father’s Far-Eastern Cold-War diary during the first nine years of the nineteen-fifties, let alone born. Incidentally, it was a difficult birth because I refused to leave my typewriter behind or go easy on the carriage-returns during labour.

Is there a point to this blathering, I hear you cry as you reach for your computing mouse. Well the first point is to ask you to insert your own question mark into the previous sentence, should you think it needs one. There are plenty of spare question marks lying around, some folk sprinkle them everywhere? The main thrust, however, is as I said earlier—that the hippies were wrong. All of the characters in my anthology would have known so at a glance. The chaps and memsahibas adventuring within these stories may have possessed the imagination of a tapeworm, but they could tell you so on paper without forcing you into the clutches of Google Translate, Google Best Guess or Google Beats Me, and they had measurable attention spans.

Language isn’t the enemy and imagination is in no way constrained by it. There is, as yet, no charge for or tax upon the use of words or punctuation so why not go wild? Stroll around the museum of English (be that original English, US English or Global English), pick a few priceless words from the dusty displays and throw them into your work.

Be a rotter, be a bounder, be a cad. Be brave, be bold, be uggered.

Sharpen your chisels once in a while.

Be a writer, not a sound-biter.

Oh dear—those all read like sound-bites. What I mean to say is; you’re not in a maths class, you don’t always have to pare your language down to the lowest common denominator. Love the tools of your trade, relish diversity and carve the occasional Hollywooden script editor-annoying flourish. Language is a living, evolving beast—but there’s really no need to kill it stone dead and bury the remains before you move on to the next generational fad.

End of rant.

Chin-chin.

P.S. While I do the best that I can, I offer no guarantees or apologies in re my own grammar and punctuation and, accordingly, I hereby offer my throat to the wolves.

[The Cat Wore Electric Goggles Cover]

About the Author
Ian Hutson was born in England and has lived in peculiar places as diverse as Hong Kong and The Outer Hebrides in Scotland. He stands in awe of folk who write heavy, complicated plots since all of his writing is intended, mostly, for giggles. His favorite hats are the “smoking” cap, the tweed cap and the pith helmet, but he only wears one at a time.

Ian was thrown out of the British Civil Service, thrown out of several multinational corporations, and now works as an Edwardian photographer by day and a scribbler by night. His latest anthology, The Cat Wore Electric Goggles, is due to be published in the spring.

You can find Ian at dieselelectricelephant.wordpress.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.