PATERSON PULLS NO PUNCHES AS HE TAPS INTO THE SUREAL AND EVENTFUL LIFE OF HENRY MILLER

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In 1990, I was in the first year of a two-year Media studies course in Dublin. On a regular basis the class was allowed to attend press showings, of soon to be released films, so we could practice writing reviews. In October of that year the film we were sent to review was Philip Kaufman’s movie Henry and June. Based loosely on the book of the same name by Anais Nin, both of which tell the story of French author Nin’s tempestuous affair with salacious American author Henry Miller, while he was living in Paris between 1930-1939. That was my first introduction to Miller, through my background research on him, Nin and his wife June. I’ve since relised i’ve not got around to reading any of his forty books, most notably Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Like most good things of that era, that challenged social norms, a number of them were banned. So, I was very surprised to discover that Mr Miller is one of the main characters in this month’s book review, the book is The Girl, The Crow, The Writer and The Fighter by  George Paterson and published by Into Books (www.intocreative.co.uk) on the 21st October.

In 1965 provocative author Henry Miller is taken incognito to an infamous title fight. In the turbulent aftermath of the bout, Miller is forced to battle his way through the melee to rendezvous with the keeper of a tightly guarded secret. Twenty years later a young Maine waitress, May Morgenstern is bequeathed a collection of bound letters by an elderly patron. The correspondence she quickly discovers are between Miller and her late friend and recounts how Miller was accused of the murder in Paris, then asked by a French criminal gang to take a valuable African plate back to the United States, while avoiding the attention of a rival criminal gang lead by a man known as “The Crow”. Miller is left for dead in the Mediterranean and recuperates on Corfu, only returning to the states just after the war. Yyars later, he and future heavyweight champion Sonny Liston find themselves again being coerced into to completing the mission. Can they finally get the plate to its original destination, or now all these years later does May have a role in this unfinished escapade…?

Henry Miller, California, circa 1950 (New York Review)

This isn’t the first time I’ve read a work of fiction featuring a real life personality in the lead, previously one of our book club choices a number of years ago was The Pirate’s Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, based on Errol Flynn’s time in Jamaica. That was an absorbing and inventive read which weaved together historical facts about Flynn’s life and his time on the island. Again, Paterson’s book takes large well documented historical parts of Miller’s eventful and alcohol fuelled life and marries them with a very believable plot.

At times you get the feeling you are reading two books merged into one, what with the large chunk of the 395 pages taken up with the supposed italicised letters from Miller, and the modern-day ramifications which have a bearing on May’s life. But overall, I found the story recanted in the letters humours and an enjoyable to read, which showed us that Paterson had gone into a lot of in-depth research to keep it as close to the truth as possible.

If I had any issues with the book, they were minor, such as thinking it was slightly over long and there was a lot of characters to keep track of, which made me think that Paterson had veered slightly into the area a lot of debutant authors make, in trying to cram too much into their first book. Some readers might find the large swathes of italicised correspondence off putting, but the overall storytelling and the sense that he got Miller’s personality down to a tee, is what makes this book an enjoyable read.

George Paterson

This Scottish author, Musician and DJ, George Paterson’s (@gfpaterson) debut novel. As a member of the bands White and DMP, he released several well received albums on the Poco Alto label. His musical work can also be found in a few independent feature length and short films, as well as providing musical backing to the London stage play ‘ISM’. Over the past four years his focus has been split between the spoken word – with his weekly radio show ‘Lost in Music’ and written work appearing in online publications, before finding a permanent home as a regular features writer and reviewer at INTO creative.

So, if you a fan of miller or just fancy reading an enjoyable salute to the man’s hedonistic and colourful life, then go online and order a copy. Better still support your local bookshop and while adhering to all covid restrictions, go down in person and pick up a copy and join May, Henry, Sonny and a host of interesting characters on rambunctious journey across the decades.

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought it, read theiur blogs klisted below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what yopu thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

BOURKE CROSSES THE LINE TO SUCCESS WITH HIS ENGAGING AND SIMPLE DEBUT

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We’ve being doing something sub-consciously for years, then over the past eighteen months or more, we’ve had to get used to doing it almost as a necessity. While also lengthening this simple act by standing two metres apart from the person in front and behind us. What am I talking about? Queuing.

Whether you’re standing at a bus stop, in a supermarket, or a public toilet, we usually form an orderly queue. But when order breaks down, or someone tries to jump the queue, that’s when problems arise. This is usually supressed by a few polite words and an effusive apology from the offender. But when fear, or if there is a perception of missing out on something, and you could look at those images coming out Afghanistan over the past couple of days, or those scenes in the past of men, women and children scrambling over each other to get at items in Black Friday sales, that things can turn bad.  So, it’s in this month’s second book review that the story centres around queuing, its Line by Niall Bourke and published by Tramp Press (www.tramppress.com) in April of this year.

Willard, his mother, and his girlfriend Nyla have spent their entire lives in an eternal procession, as part of The Line.  The Line is a seemingly never-ending queue that stops, starts, and meanders its way across vast plains, up over mountains and in and out of valleys. Daily life in the Line is dictated by the ultimate imperative: obey the rules or lose your place in the line. When, one day Willard returns to his place in the line after visiting Nyla, he finds his mum has died. Among her possessions he discovers a small booklet, unable to comprehend what it means or its refences to Ali-Ben Orkul and The Corporation, he and Nyla decide to break one of the more sacrosanct rules and leave The Line. What answers will they find in the wilderness, cut off from The Line, and who or what are the Corporation and Ali-Ben Orkul?

Over the past number of years, a host of new Irish writing talent has taken it upon themselves to breakdown old traditions and step outside the literary box so to speak. Take Mike McCormack’s award-winning Solar Bones, which is a single sentence stretching over 233 pages and the equally unusual and highly celebrated Milkman by Anna Burns, which I had to put down after 20 pages due to it wrecking my head.

Unlike Burns’ book, I couldn’t put this down. Niall Bourke’s Line is both unusual and amazing in its simplicity. There is also punctuation, as well as seemly intriguing but easy to follow story within these 245 pages.

But I was held by the mystery of this story from page one and kept trying to figure out whether The Line and Willard, his mum and Nyla were part of a wagon train crossing the Americas? Were they and everyone else migrating from Africa to Europe or from South America to North America?  Bourke’s excellent writing style gives no clue and lets you wonder. But every so often, I had to ask myself, is it simpler than that? Are they just on a constant never-ending line? And there you have it, the thing I found most interesting about this book and the story, is the unknown… But then, just when you think you can relax and let the book lead on, Bourke throws in a thesis on queuing!!! Again, this was beautiful and reminded me of the asides that regularly feature is Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy, and as a result I was enthralled by the uniqueness and originality of this story.

Niall Bourke (rte.ie)

This is Irish Author Niall Bourke’s (www.niallbourke.com)  debut novel. His work has been published widely in magazines across Ireland and the UK, while his poems and stories have been shortlisted for numerous awards, including the Costa Short Story Award and the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award. When not writing he is a teacher and lives in London with his wife and daughter.

This book proves that you can make a highly thought-provoking read out of the most mundane things in life and follows hot on the heels of the recent success of fellow Irish debutant writer Jamie O’Connell and his Diving for Pearls, which we reviewed here in June. I hope Niall keeps this up and bases his next book on some equally obscure day to day ritual or maybe he’ll write a sequel.

So, as we enter the latter part of August, and the last vestiges of the school holidays. I urge you to step away from the queue to the bestselling authors as you search for your holiday read and try this brand-new name in Irish literary fiction, that will have you following a new line -the one for his next eagerly anticipated book.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought we’d really appreciate the feedback.

KAUFMANN’S DEBUT SKIRTS ACROSS TIME WITH A TALE OF LOVE, LOSS AND EMPOWERMENT

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Prior to the second world war, my grandmother was a lady’s maid in a grand house in the Nottinghamshire countryside. The daughter of a coalminer, she achieved this position, with its travel to London for the season and summer holiday’s on the Dorset coast, by winning a needlework competition. Her winning entry caught the fine Lady’s eye and my great grandparents were asked if she could go ‘into service’. As a 14-year-old, this must have been a daunting proposition. My grandmother certainly became a modern woman, working as a bus conductress in the war and running a ‘chippy’ after. Following the death of her husband in her 50’s, she returned to working with textiles, becoming a cutter and examiner in a local factory.  She was always interested in fashion, never went out without her hair done or her ‘lippy’. I hope to emulate her style, love of travel, independence and joy in life through the rest of mine, especially once I get vaccinated and liberated!

These reminiscences bring me to this month’s final review, its The Dressmaker of Paris by Georgia Kauffmann published by Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) on the 28th January. This is the story of Rosa Kusttatscher, born in the mountains of Italy and who is forced to flee during the war to Switzerland following a traumatic event. Having discovered a skill and interest in fashion, she moves to Paris. Here as well as developing he career, she finds love. Moving to Brazil, she experiences both tragedy and success. When we meet her in New York, she has found peace and happiness. Her past haunts her still. She has spent a life running, she realises. But now she will run no more.

Each chapter begins with a short vignette about her preparations for an important meeting Rosa is going to. She explains some aspect of her toilette or appearance to the reader in a chatty, informative way. We do not know whom she is addressing, as she just refers to the person as ‘ma chere’ Thereafter, Rosa remembers a period of her life and gradually, through the book, we learn her life story. Usually, the beauty advice related in some way to the period or event that was discussed.  I like these thoughtful markers at each new point in the story. They were useful in tying the parts together and reminding you of the mystery surrounding her appointment that day.

I enjoyed this book immensely. There was always a sense of drama. The wartime scenes were well portrayed. I enjoyed learning a little fashion history during the Paris period. I must admit my favourite portion was the American section and her final marriage. It was lovely, romantic and rather unexpected. I don’t usually like books with beautiful, brilliant women who are too perfect, but Rosa had enough flaws and experienced enough troubles to have me rooting for her. I’m not a chick lit fan either but this had enough grit, history and great characters to keep me enthralled. It was a book I looked forward to picking up at the end of a busy, messy and unfashionable day!

Georgia Kaufmann

This the debut novel of English author Georgia Kaufmann (www.georgiakaufmann.com).After studying Social Anthropology and Demography in Cambridge, she travelled widely, living in numerous places beginning with the letter B, Brussels, Brighton and Boston, to name a few. She now lives within cycling distance of central London with her husband, two daughters and a cat.

This book is a journey through time. The threads of love, loss, fashion, female emancipation and the importance of family were woven deftly into a sweeping story.  It can’t be read without a sigh, a few tears and the odd smile. An ideal escape from lockdown woes, I recommend you cut a dash to your local online book supplier now.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a blog tour organised by Hodder & Stoughton, to see what the others thought visit their sites listed below. Then, if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really love the feedback.