Thursday, 30 June 2011

Reviews: Go Tell It On The Mountain, Written on the Body and The Lost Books of the Odyssey

Ah, the silly season is upon us. Today a tourist asked me where to find pads of paper "like the students use, that say 'OXFORD' on them". I pointed out that students would probably use blank refill pads, like all other people, and she looked confused, as though I had shattered her illusions.

Then another lady asked where "the Mister Moss series of books are, that someone told me about, I think they're by an author called - Dexter?" I did not laugh, but oh god was it hard. I think I like this one better than the request I once got for How To Cook A Mockingbird.


Today I have three reviews for you, or rather two reviews and a short bit where I am rude about Jeanette Winterson. As I have been taught in many careers self-improvement sessions, I will sandwich the bad between the two goods, so as to cleanse it from your minds and leave you with a general impression of the four stars that I have given both of the books that happen not to have been written by Jeanette Winterson.

The books in question: Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson and The Lost Books Of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason.

First, the Baldwin. I've come at Go Tell It On The Mountain slightly back-to-front, since I read Giovanni's Room last month on a recommendation from my mother, expecting, goodness knows why, something a bit like a gay Good Soldier: beautifully written, mannered and full of characters with dark wicked secrets hidden underneath their detachable collars. Well, it certainly was beautiful, but otherwise completely unlike what I was imagining - it's written in incredibly clear, expressive, immediate prose, with a bastard of a narrator that you instantly sympathise with and a horribly compelling central story. My mother calls Giovanni's Room a "little gem", which makes it sound a bit like salad, but it's not such a bad description - it really is a gorgeous little book. I finished it, realised that I MUST HAVE MORE OF THIS IMMEDIATELY, and the next day rushed out and bought Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baldwin's first published book, written years before he got round to Giovanni.

First published in 1953 (which I guess makes this a classic review), Go Tell It On The Mountain is the story of a black family living in 1930s Harlem. They're all members of The Church of The Temple of the Fire Baptised, which is one of those all-singing, all-dancing affairs that takes the basic view that you're either a saint or you're damned horribly, and you're much more likely to be the latter than the former. The father, Mr Grimes (can you see the symbolism there?), one of the church's preachers and therefore a saint, seems to spend his days helping his children along to godliness by beating them a lot. This makes his eldest son John hate him intensely and then of course feel horribly guilty about doing so - since he hates a saint, he must be a terrible dirty person who's going to go straight to his father's rather detailed version of hell.

As you may already be able to tell, this is a book that has a lot of painful, mightily suppressed issues. The whole plot takes place within 24 hours, on the fourteenth birthday of the main character John (similarity to James Baldwin not coincidental), and most of it goes on inside its character's heads - John's, as he tries to work out whether or not he can be saved; and his mother's, his father's and his aunt's as they go back over the events of their (fairly awful) lives. It's all incredibly interior - one of those books where people just sit in a room and stare at one another meaningfully - but Baldwin's so good at understanding people, how they work and how they think, that you totally believe in his characters and buy into their inner lives.

All the same, though, the lack of forward movement in Go Tell It On The Mountain does get a little irritating at times. Internalised emotional epiphanies are all very well, and perfectly realistic - most of my moments of deep revelation about the course of my life have happened when I was half way through eating an apple, or washing my toe, or handing my ticket to the train guard - but all the same it's nice to have some sort of accompanying emotional resolution out there in the book's real world. Even the characters in To The Lighthouse finally got to go to the lighthouse, for heaven's sake. John never confronts his father about how horrible he is, for example, and his mother never tells him how much she loves him - they think all this in their heads, but nothing actually comes out.

This all sounds a bit like I didn't enjoy Go Tell It On The Mountain, but I really did. It's a fascinating story, beautifully and colourfully written - not quite as perfect as Giovanni's Room, maybe, but still a very worthwhile read.

4 stars.

When I was about half way through Go Tell It On The Mountain, I happened to leave it behind when I went for my break. Instead of running all the way back downstairs to get it, I decided to finally have a go with Written on the Body, which I have been eyeing up for quite a while. I've enjoyed the Jeanette Wintersons I've read before, and Written on the Body is pleasingly small and slight, apparently perfectly break-sized.

This was an error.

It's very rare that I don't finish a book - I've really got to hate something with exceptional fervour - but twenty minutes with this was more than enough for me. It's possible that Written on the Body gets unrecognisably better after page 32, but I decided that in this case I was perfectly happy to take my chances. The thing - up to page 32 - reads like some bizarre Digested Read parody of itself, and of snobbishly literary fiction about romance in general. I'm paraphrasing, because I don't have it in front of me any more, but the average paragraph went something like:
Then I met Helen. She was such a staunch leftie that even her nipples pointed sideways. She loved beauty but was committed to anarchy, which made her sad. I slept with her on a lilo to comfort her but afterwards she was still racked with fundamental doubts. She thought about blowing up some paintings, to show her contempt for the patriarchy, but she found them too beautiful so we decided to detonate a urinal instead. I went into the urinal first to warn the occupants - it was full of pricks. That was a joke. I made a joke! Or maybe I didn't. I'm so fantastically clever that you can't tell. Did I tell you that I've slept with a lot of people? Because I have. Boobs.
On page 32 I gave up, never to return. Two stars, I feel, would be far too generous for what this was.

1.5 stars.

And finally, The Lost Books of the Odyssey. I was lured towards it on the promise of my coworker (who has never been wrong about a book yet) and also because of its cover. I mean, look at that cover. That is a cover that knows its market and calls out to it seductively, like a high-class prostitute in a historically accurate toga. Classics geeks, this one's for you.

I usually don't like describing books by saying 'it's as though Grisham/Joyce/Tennyson/Atwood sat down and wrote a book with Asimov/Heller/Golding/Jodi Picoult', but, in this case, I have to make an exception, because The Lost Books of the Odyssey really is a bit like what would happen if Italio Calvino had written the Odyssey. It's classical myth filled with EXTREME POSTMODERN UNCERTAINTY - non-linear what-ifs, going round and round the original story - what if Penelope was dead, what if Odysseus was a coward, what if (my personal favourite) Penelope was actually a suitor-murdering werewolf. Or, to put it another way, it's 44 bits of really high-end fanfic.

This is definitely a book that works best if you know its source well, both because of how cleverly Mason picks up on little throwaway details from the Odyssey and takes them to their logical conclusion and because of how oddly shocking it is when he departs from the plot you know. Just like in fanfic, an alternative universe where a character is dead is interesting mostly because both the writer and the reader understand that they should really be alive, and that in killing them off they've purposefully messed with the strings of the story.

Because it is so similar to the Odyssey, and at the same time not similar at all, there's a weird, intense, dreamlike quality to The Lost Books of the Odyssey - only it's the sort of dream where your friend has someone else's face and you open your front door to find you're in a garden full of dark statues that turn to watch you as you go by. What I'm trying to say is, it's creepy. Mason's got an incredibly clever, eerie imagination - there's a story, for example, where Paris is Death personified, and Troy is Hell - and when the stories work, they work, like a punch in the (mental) gut. Unfortunately, though, sometimes they don't - Mason's far too fond of putting long words and complex philosophical ideas into the mouths of characters that they don't suit at all, and towards the end of the book I felt like he might be running out of ideas somewhat.

However, for the most part, what he's done in The Lost Books of the Odyssey is awesome. It's gorgeous, and stately, and totally different, and most importantly it's an absolute pleasure to geek out over, top-quality fanfic for people who (mostly) don't even know what fanfic is.

4 stars.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Book By Its Cover

Today a family of Chinese tourists came into the store and insisted on having a picture taken with myself and my co-worker, as though we were tame animals or interesting pieces of architecture. It is disturbing to think that, because of this, we have been inserted into their precious holiday memories for ever more; in fifty years' time, when they are leafing through their photo albums, they will come upon the horrible grinning picture of the two of us, look at each other and say, "Who the hell were those bitches?"

My only consolation is that I was wearing my new Great Gatsby t-shirt (eyes right, if you please, for the full effect), so at least the middle section of me was looking presentable. Book cover t-shirts are our newest non-book selling venture, and I think the ones we've got in are quite brilliant (here's the supplier's website if you want to have a look). I was hoping we'd get the Hound of the Baskervilles one in, since it has a satisfyingly floppy and hound-like dog on it, but in its absence I went for Gatsby. True, Daisy's eyes do stare blankly out at the world from the lower part of my bosom, and when I put it on I am probably aligning myself with roughly a million unique hipsters, but it's such a wonderful cover that I truly don't care. It's a picture of the
girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs,
 - which is the book's in-joke reference to its cover, rather than the other way around: apparently Fitzgerald saw the cover art before the book was finished and liked it so much that he wrote the image into one of his descriptions of New York. Fitzgerald, by the way, was a proto-hipster himself - he coined the phrase 'jazz age' to describe the 20s and seems to have spent most of the decade mad drunk, using long words and talking about the meaning of life. A hipster if ever I heard of one.)

And that, in a very roundabout way, brings me to what I had meant this post to be about in the first place, which is book covers, and how much they affect the way people read. Of course, there are people who claim that covers, like clothes, do not matter - it is what's on the inside that counts. These people are sweet, and well-intentioned, and they are also completely out of their minds.

Until I was about thirteen I bought into this notion, fed me by my mother (who is American - this may or may not be relevant), at which point I realised that although appearance certainly does not reflect inner goodness, there is a lot to be gained in life by not looking as though you have just emerged from a witch's lair and/or the 1970s.

The same is true for books. A book can be beautifully written, but if it looks like ass then very few people are going to want to get close enough to it to discover this fact. Conversely, you can disguise almost any content within a package that promises a certain reading experience and people will go mad for it - and if you don't believe me, consider the recent re-release of Wuthering Heights, cunningly disguised as teen romance.

Its target market might not typically touch a Bronte with a bargepole, but because the cover of this edition tells them that it's Edward and Bella's favourite book, their minds are suddenly filled with desire and they buy three copies on a whim. Or at least that is the theory. (Even though I'd love to get snooty about this concept, by the way, I'm fairly sure that the Brontes would have gone absolutely mental for Twilight, given their fondness for angry, brooding males. Much as I hate to admit it, this is one bit of marketing that they are probably heavily endorsing from beyond the grave).

Book covers can also totally influence the way you think about a particular story for ever more. When I first read Jane Eyre, when I was twelve, I had the old Penguin Classics edition, a painting of a girl sewing in a garden. Now, beyond her taste in clothes and her punch-a-hole-in-a-wall-with-the-power-of-her-mind stare, this girl bears no physical resemblance to any of the book's descriptions of Jane, as she is a hefty lass with a hint of monobrow, but all the same she has become absolutely and forever my mental image of Jane.

These days I get irrationally annoyed whenever I see any other Generic Out Of Copyright Painted Lady taking her rightful spot on the front of Jane Eyre. Even worse, my Jane has now been given a gig pretending to be Dorothea on the front of Penguin's new edition of Middlemarch. SinceI know that Jane Eyre, if called upon to do so, could take Dorothea Brooke down, this is deeply offensive to my mind.

A good book cover, I think, ought to be eye-catching, good-looking and go some way towards explaining to a potential reader what the book is really about. One of my all-time favourites is Penguin's cover for On the Road, which is just brilliant in its simplicity.

Here is a book, it seems to say, that is all about male friendship (friendship? friendship), with main characters that are closely based on real people who have been elevated into Icons of Hipness. They're badass, they're cool, and don't you want to buy this book and become just like them? I bet you do. I know I do. Or maybe I just really fancy Jack Kerouac.Whichever.

So, in conclusion, covers matter. A good one can boost sales and a bad one can crush the selling potential of its book like a bug. If I had to make a list of my favourites I'd be here all day, but some of the ones I'm fond of at the moment include: Amitav Ghosh's River of Smoke (so blue! so swirling!); Rachel Hunt's Mr Chartwell (the dog looks like Winston Churchill, genius); Alexi Zentner's Touch (I am a sucker for gold leaf) and the repackage of China Mieville's backlist to coincide with the release of Embassytown (I just want to buy them all because they are so creepily attractive.)


Sunday, 19 June 2011

Review - New Finnish Grammar

The fact that I am reviewing this book at all is the result of one of the nicest publishing stories of the year so far. A book in translation, by an Italian writer totally unknown in the UK, published by a small, obscure company, with an incredibly uninformative title and a frankly dull cover, we have had more requests for it in the past few weeks than almost any other title, including The Tiger's Wife, we sold 19 copies of it in three days, it has now entirely sold out its first print run and we have 50 more on order. We'll sell them all.

And this is all because of one review that appeared in the Guardian a few weeks ago. Reviews do tend to generate sales, even when they're quite mixed, (I have come to dread the customer approaching the desk clutching a pathetic little bit of newspaper clipping in their hand, because invariably the book they want will be not yet released, or only available in America, or published in 1976 - damn you, newspaper reviewers, damn your eyes) but for the kind of review that this book got, most writers would willingly sell at least one of their kidneys and possibly their spleen.
I can't remember when I read a more extraordinary novel, or when I was last so strongly tempted to use the word "genius" of its author.
I mean. Damn.

So obviously I had to buy New Finnish Grammar to see if it really was that good. And here's the thing - it really is. I'm nearly embarrassed about how much I was bowled over by this book. In terms of style, the way it's written, it's flawless. It's so well written that it doesn't even need to bother with the fancy little fiddles or weird convoluted images that a lot of writers use to show how incredibly 'intelligent' and 'erudite' they are (these words can be substituted with 'infuriating' and 'snobbish', or other, ruder adjectives of your choice). New Finnish Grammar just tells the story it wants to, clearly and beautifully, without being a show-off about it at all. It does what it does, and what it does is astonishing.

It's the story of a man discovered in the port of Trieste in 1943, unconscious and almost beaten to death. The name on his coat's tag is Finnish, and because of this the doctor on board the hospital ship he's taken to, an exiled Finn himself, becomes nearly obsessive about the importance of this man recovering his memory and identity. He teaches him the Finnish language, and ultimately sends him back to Finland hoping that he'll rediscover his roots.

Words in this book become physical things, with meanings that are part of the particular time or place they are spoken, or the person they are spoken by. The main character learns the Finnish language as much by his relationships he forms with other people as by the tables of grammar that he painstakingly writes out, and the words he learns are the way in which he rebuilds his world and himself. There are so many beautiful ideas going on in New Finnish Grammar, about language and identity and nationality, but all the same it doesn't push any of them on you. You're free to notice them, or not, and think about them or not, and the book works equally well either way. It's just lovely, every sentence of it, but it doesn't want to bother you - it's very polite, this book, it never grabs or shoves or overstays its welcome. If you expect fireworks, plot-wise, you'll be missing the point - the joy of New Finnish Grammar is its attention to detail, its descriptions of streets and clouds and trees. It's incredible, for a book written about World War II, how peaceful it is to read.

This book is beautiful. It's absolutely wonderful, and it's very difficult to explain it in a way that does it justice. Just - read it, seriously, read it, and I hope you'll see what I mean.

5 stars.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Happy fecking Bloomsday


So, it's Bloomsday today, is it? Well! Fascinating James Joyce fact time!

Did you know that, charming man that he was, he had an enormous poo fetish, and devoted hours of his leisure time to writing great big dirty letters to his mistress Nora Barnacle? They are touching stuff, containing as they do heartbreaking and finely crafted sentences such as
I think I would know Nora's fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women.
That right there? That is true love. The Nora Barnacle letters are far and away my favourite things about James Joyce. They turned him, in my head, from simply being a monolithic asshole into being a monolithic asshole who knew and willingly used the word 'farties' in his correspondence.

As you may have guessed, I don't like James Joyce. I said so, once, in a seminar in my first year at university, and the professor looked at me as though I had just announced that I had licked a live chicken. However, I maintain that if you have read 900-odd pages of someone's writing, you can form a perfectly valid opinion about whether or not you personally like their style, and I disliked Ulysses intensely. I also, for the record, dislike mustard, Pearl Jam and fish and chips, and yet I sleep perfectly soundly at night.

In The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath has her main character Esther's final descent into total depression happen when she tries to begin reading Finnegans Wake, which first of all says something about what Joyce's prose can do to people, and secondly makes me think that Sylvia Plath and I would have got on very well. It seems to me that Esther's crucial error was in choosing to read Joyce's fiction in the first place. If she had only read the Nora Barnacle letters instead, The Bell Jar would have probably been riotous fun and ended with Esther in Bimini drinking Mai Tais with a lion tamer named Frank. Probably.

Obviously, since taste is subjective and we do not live in a totalitarian state (imagine a totalitarian state where everyone was ordered to read James Joyce! Christ. We'd all better make sure Kim Jong-Il doesn't get hold of a copy of Dubliners) you are perfectly justified in thinking James Joyce was the literary second coming of Christ - and evidently people do, since today is the festival of his fictional character. But I maintain that it is my right to think that he was a tit, albeit a tit who wrote amazing dirty letters. On this day, let us give thanks for Nora Barnacle.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Reviews: Roots of Betrayal and City of Bohane

Customers are very strange. Yesterday afternoon:

Customer: I would like Thus Spake Zarathustra.
Me: That'll be downstairs in Philosophy.
Customer: Can I borrow it?
Me: We're a bookshop. All our books are only for sale.
Customer: So I can't borrow it, then?

And later:

Me: Do you need a bag for your purchase?
Other Customer: Yes, I do.
Me: Our large plastic bags are 10p.
Other Customer: That's outrageous! How dare you! Charging me to cart away your items! Disgusting.
Me: I'm very sorry, but it's company policy.
Other Customer: DISGUSTING.
Other Customer: *reaches into coat, pulls out plastic bag, puts in his purchases and storms out*
Me: I see that you really did need that bag, then.

Anyway, today I have two reviews - The Roots of Betrayal by James Forrester (who, interestingly, is actually the historian Ian Mortimer in disguise) and City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (who, if you believe the book's blurb, is James Joyce in disguise. As far as I can tell, this is not at all true.)

Friday, 10 June 2011

In which I realise I am old; also Review - The Map of Time

 So. Tea Obreht won the Orange Prize the other day. Tea Obreht is 25. I am 23. What have I done with my life. If I haven't won the Booker by next year I will be the literary equivalent of an old maid. Tears, recriminations, Mr Collins etc await me.

As a bookseller, I am similarly unhappy. Tea Obreht's publishers, amusingly enough, noticed that the Orange Prize would be announced on the 8th and decided not to print The Tiger's Wife in paperback until the 13th, so we have no copies in the store and no way of getting them. If I had taken the precaution of painting WE HAVE NO TIGER'S WIFE HERE, COME BACK NEXT WEEK on my forehead this morning, today would have been about 75% easier to handle.

But anyway, onto today's book review, which has nothing in common with The Tiger's Wife at all, since it is mainly concerned with time travel, H G Wells and giant robots from the future.

The Map of Time, in proof copy form, has been sitting on my floor since, I think, February, just languishing away at the bottom of my to-read pile. Every time I got to the point of picking it up, I ended up being repulsed, and if you look directly left you will see why.

This, I think you'll have to agree, is an utter turd of a front cover, simultaneously evocative of Twilight, a wasting disease and MS Paint. It is vomitous. I kept hoping that the actual book would miraculously not look like this, but the trade paperbacks came into the shop yesterday, and alas, they look just as bad as my proof. I can't even imagine which market the publishers thought they were going to reach out to with this - people who cannot see? The deranged? People who wished that Twilight was more robotic than it already is?

So anyway, although chronically repulsed by the cover, I finally decided to read the first chapter to check if it really was as bad as it looked - and the first chapter turned out to be all about a young aristocrat, tragically in love with Jack the Ripper's final victim. Ahah! I thought. This IS terrible! This is incredibly stupid! This writing is totally clunky! I'll just read one more chapter to make sure it keeps on being ridiculous, and then I'll stop.

And then I finished the book.

Friday, 3 June 2011

On Historical Accuracy (Or, How To Write Like Josephine Tey But Without All The Racism)

I've just finished reading Angel With Two Faces by Nicola Upson, a murder mystery set in 30s England... which is particularly relevant to me, since I currently happen to be writing a murder mystery set in 1930s England. Obviously, since I haven't personally experienced life in the 30s, I've been worrying about how to get all the historically relevant bits right, and so reading Angel With Two Faces felt a lot like being that person at a party who sits in the corner and says cryptic, slightly rude things about how if I was the host I don't think I would have let those people spike the punch with Windex, but of course that's just my personal feeling and I'm sure it'll work out fine.

My sour little internal monologue on this occasion went something like: "Ooh, Nicola Upson, did people really say shit in 1935? I'm not sure they would have used fucking in quite that way, either. And if it were me I'm not sure I'd have my characters react to the revelation that someone was gay with "Really? Poor man. It must be so terribly difficult to be a homosexual in such a small country community.""

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Review - Ragnarok by A.S Byatt

One of the greatest things about my job is the access we get to proof copies of new books months before they are actually published. Although I have to admit that most of them are unmitigated drivel and/or Norwegian crime novels with strap lines along the lines of SHE HAS NO ARMS OR LEGS ANY MORE, BUT... SHE'LL NEVER GIVE IN, from time to time we do score big.

Which is the explanation for why I have just finished reading the newest addition to Canongate's Myths series, Ragnarok by A.S Byatt. (Bear in mind that what I've read, and what I'm reviewing, is the advance proof, so there may be changes in it between now and the release - nothing I quote is final.)

When it arrived it caused a slightly undignified fight between me and one of the people I work with, which I lost because he is older and more muscular. I suppose this is apt, since Norse mythology is full of people gleefully hitting each other over the head with things (one of the reasons why I like it so much). In fact, Norse mythology is so great that I'm always surprised at the raw deal it gets, comparitively. The Greeks and the Egyptians seem to be seen as the fun, sexy, zeitgeisty gods who do interesting things and so get cool book and movie projects, while the Norse gods are just stuck out there in the cultural wilderness, hitting each other over the head with things. There definitely are not enough good English retellings of Norse myth, and so the fact that someone as great as A.S Byatt has decided to do something about it is brilliant. And, as far as actually retelling the myths goes, Ragnarok is pretty damn brilliant.

It's beautiful, lively, vivid writing like big bold jewellry, full of nasty, gorgeous images and with exactly the right rhythm to it. When the gods go to bind Fenrir:
Heimdall, the herald, who guarded the high gate of Asgard, could hear the grass grow on the earth, and the wool springing from the hide of the sheep. He could hear the wolf's blood pounding and pumping, he could hear his pelt expanding.
And from the description of Yggdrasil:
Pools formed in the pits where the branches forked; moss sprouted; bright tree-frogs swam in the pools, laid delicate eggs and gulped in jerking and spiralling wormlings. Birds sang at the twigs' ends and built nests of all kinds - clay cup, hairy bag, soft hay-lined bowl, hidden in holes in the bark. All over its surface the tree was scraped and scavenged, bored and gnawed, minced and mashed.
Byatt clearly loves the stories she's telling, and she's had a lot of enjoyment putting her own spin on them. She tells us that Loki's her favourite (which I really approve of her for) and the best parts of Ragnarok come when she's describing the sheer fun Loki and his children have just being chaotic, messing around, ruining the universe a bit because they enjoy it. The Norse myths are nasty stories with a nasty ending, and it's the casual bloodthirstiness of it all that Byatt's so good at. Seriously, for her retelling of the myths themselves I can't praise her highly enough.

However, I do think there's a slight problem with the whole Myths thing as a whole. The series itself seems to be a great idea in theory that tends in practice to be a bit hit and miss, quality-wise, since what it does is give the individual authors a lot of scope to think that Their Interpretations Matter, which in turn means that they are highly likely to go off on a mad little rant about whatever cultural bee they have in their bonnet. Jeanette Winterson, for example, did a retelling of the Atlas myth that was half lovely and half a weirdly personal screed about what a nasty sweaty rapist Hercules was.

To a lesser extent, Ragnarok falls victim to the same awkward issues. Byatt is telling her myths through, and interspersed with, the experiences of a little girl (who is very clearly A.S Byatt in awful disguise) growing up in the countryside during World War Two, as she's taught about Christianity in school and learns about the Norse pantheon from a book at home. In writing about her life, Byatt gets caught up in two horribly overdone plot tropes: one, that this is The First Child In The World To Discover Atheism, and the other, that the natural world she lives in is Dying Because Of The Greed And Foolishness Of Mankind. It's funny, because I am quite environmentally conscious and atheistic myself, but seeing these two themes crop up again and again in books makes me annoyed. It just feels like rather smug preaching to the choir - most people who read the kind of books that contain these themes are going to automatically agree with the views they express, and so really there's nothing remotely daring or thought-provoking about including them.

Having said that, though, I really did love Ragnarok. It was an absolute pleasure to read and it'll be a total geeky delight for everyone who's even vaguely interested in Norse mythology. As far as I'm concerned, when it's released on the 8th of September, you should all leap into your vehicles, drive to Blackwell's bookshop and purchase it at once.

4 stars.