Infinite Jest

by David Foster Wallace

Paperback Edition, 1088 pages

Originally published 1996

“Everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else...

I’d read reviews on the denseness and convoluted writing style almost to the point of putting myself off reading it. But in the end if was those same reviews that deemed Infinite Jest as unreadable that most appealed to me. How can something with so much critical acclaim be unreadable? And then there’s the articles with tips on how best to read it, which seemed even more ridiculous. It’s a book; you read it. There’s no method or strategy or stupid novelty survival guides required; you simple open page one and read the words. If you hate it don’t waste your time or if you like it read on. All you need with a book this length is patience and the realisation that it’ll take more time to finish than your average length book.

The book itself is a mixed bag and my feelings toward it vary.I loved the plot with the three separate story arcs. The drug rehabilitation facility is tragic, funny, horrifying and every other emotion you’d expect from addiction. The tennis academy is a ridiculously in depth insight into the world of amateur and semi-pro tennis, something i never thought i’d find interesting but DFW makes it so. Finally there’s the wheelchair assassins and their relentless pursuit of the ‘Infinite Jest’ tape. My major gripe was the footnotes. After i realised that the footnotes aren’t integral to the main story i started skimming them. I wasn’t a fan of them in House of Leaves and the same goes here. If anything they’re just a novelty that gradually became an annoyance.

The actual writing can only be described with a multitude of adjectives such as: Pretentious, intelligent, dull, hilarious, heartbreaking, experimental, melancholic, gripping, enthralling, slow, unnecessary and so on. You get the idea. I can’t pin this book down to one feeling. It was everything i love and hate about fiction and above all else it was unique; i’ve never read nor will i read anything like this again, which i’m thankful for. I’m glad i’ve read this supposedly unreadable book but at the same time i was glad when i’d finished.

My score is 3/5 


by Neal Stephenson

Paperback Edition, 982 pages

Originally published 2008

“If you sincerely believed in God, how could you form one thought, speak one sentence, without mentioning Him?…”

I’m only three into Neal Stephenson’s back catalog and i already have this apprehension before starting one of his books of ‘will i understand what the hell he’s talking about!’. For the first 150 odd pages of Anathem this was semi-true; as a reader of fantasy i can adapt to made up worlds pretty easily but a made up dictionary with silly sounding words did take a while to adjust to and unless you have a decent amount of patience you could quite easily laugh this book off after 50 pages. Fortunately i knew what i was getting into and persisted beyond page 250 when the story finally starts to take shape.

250 pages of complicated back story may seem both daunting and boring but it never felt so. Every page was a history lesson of a world similar to ours with an added touch of science fiction. It’s heavy on religion, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and many other topics i’d never consider reading up on. The core plot is pretty simple: a possible alien space craft is spotted in the sky which demands further investigation. But this isn’t Independence Day with its approach of attack/kill now and ask questions never; this is more ‘lets discuss where the aliens may have come from, why they’re here and what this tells us about the universe’. It’s an alien invasion handled by academics rather than the military.

I didn’t give 5/5 because he’s overly descriptive in some places, usually on machinery and gadgets, and i did find myself losing concentration due to the tedious intricacy he sometimes wanders into. This is was the main reason i couldn’t get through Seveneves but thankfully these occurrences are rare in Anathem.

If you’re into philosophy and religious theory this book will make you very happy.

My score is 4/5 

The Secret History

by Donna Tartt

Paperback Edition, 629 pages

Originally published 1992

” It is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially…”

Richard is the newbie at the much renowned and expensive Hampden College and rather than joining standard classes like any regular person he joins the cult-like class of Julian, which consists of five other pretentiously rich students and teaches ancient Greek and philosophy.

In my opinion the synopsis is pretty misleading. I was under the impression the story would concentrate on the five individuals as they segregated themselves from society and learnt philosophy in their own little world taught by a kind of mad philosophical genius. If I’m wrong to have assumed this then please correct me but I don’t believe I am!

The book opens with the reveal of a murder; one of our esteemed six, Bunny, has been slain seemingly by his own group of friends. Our narrator, Richard, then takes us back to the start of the events that culminated in this horrific crime. The first quarter does concentrate on the Greek Philosophy I was hoping would feature but once the murder occurs the book descends into a poorly made true crime film. There’s page after page of self loathing, whining and annoying back and forth bitching sessions about regret. It also becomes apparent why these six individuals have outcasted themselves from everyone else; it’s because they’re a bore to be around and by the end of the of the book I hated them.

As a standard crime book it’s ok but based on the blurb on the back page this isn’t how it’s sold. Not my idea of a modern classic!

My score is 2/5 

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle #1)

by Neal Stephenson

Paperback Edition, 916 pages

Originally published 2003

“If money is a science, then it is a dark science…it has gone on developing…by its own rules…” 

Upon finishing the last page of Quicksilver i really was expecting a gold star; the book is physically massive and ridiculously dense with plot so anyone who finishes deserves an award.

As it was split into three separate parts or books, as the author has labelled them, i decided to treat it the same; after each part i took a few days break and read something else. I believe this aided in enjoying Quicksilver. Reading it all in one go would’ve been overkill and possibly sent me insane.

Book 1 – Quicksilver

Daniel Waterhouse is our main protagonist as he lives a life of a Natural Philosopher. There isn’t a plot as such but Daniel is lucky enough to be alive during the time of Isaac Newton and several other famous eccentrics the majority of which i’d never heard of. They spend most of their time carrying out bizarre and grotesque experiments all in the name of science whilst also reacting to the plague, the great fire of London and the reign of Charles II. There’s so much going on i reckon you’d have to read this three or four times to truly appreciate it’s genius.

Book 2 – King of the Vagabonds

We leave Daniel behind for part 2 and follow the story of the syphilis infected Jack Shaftoe who, whilst fighting against the Turks in the Battle of Vienna, sets free a lady of the Sultans Harem called Eliza. Both escape the camp and commence a sightseeing tour of Amsterdam, Paris and Marseilles, interacting with William of Orange, Gottfried Leibniz and the Duke of Monmouth who is planning his coup of the English crown. As with part 1 there’s too much going on for a proper synopsis. Needless to say there’s no let up of events/action and i was never bored.

Book 3 – Odalisque

Part 3 rejoins Daniel and also concentrates on Eliza who is now a financial adviser and the 17th century female version of James Bond as she aligns herself with William of Orange. We also witness the downfall of James II and the Glorious Revolution.

I read the above and my description of Quicksilver seems sparse compared to the mammoth tome that i read. On paper i shouldn’t have liked this book; there’s no definitive plot and it’s focus is the 17th Century, which wouldn’t be my first choice if i was to geek out on history. It’s also full of historical events and people i wasn’t clued up on and there’s little explanation as to what’s going on; Neal Stephenson writes as if you should know about this period of history and if you don’t then tough! Thankfully Wikipedia is a great aid for research if you’re in need. Despite all of this i loved it. It was interesting, packed full of philosophy and there’s an array of crazy characters, none more than Isaac Newton who is an insane genius!

My score is 4/5 

The Autumn of the Patriarch

by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Paperback Edition, 206 pages

Originally published 1975

“We knew that no evidence of his death was final, because there was always another truth behind the truth…”

This is the first time a book from a Guardian Top Ten List has failed me. It was in the ‘Top Ten Books about Tyrants’ and sounded the most appealing plus it’s written by the author of A Hundred Years of Solitude, which is supposed to be a classic. I should have recognised the warning signs of said list because the Stalin book i read is on there, which was an absolute chore to read.

An unnamed dictator lies dead on the floor of his palace so the reader is given a glimpse into his past by way of the main players of his regime. They talk of him like a God albeit a sociopath-type-God who murders at will and treats his country like he’s playing the Sims computer game; tearing down buildings and erecting whatever the hell he wants! It’s an appealing plot if you’re into stories of Dictatorship and if it wasn’t for the horrible style i probably would have like it.

There’s no paragraphs and barely any sentence breaks; this book is a 206 page relentless outpouring of oppression. Due to the absence of structure the book lacks coherence and seems to jump from one persons observation to another without any warning so the whole thing just merges into a huge poorly edited mess. I wasn’t expecting the author to hold my hand and guide me through his weird book but i did expect the bare minimum of clarity. After a hundred or so pages the book just made me angry and became very unenjoyable. I gave up at page 170, which seems ridiculous given i was so close to the end but i lost interest and couldn’t face another page of this shambles of a book.

If you want a good book about dictatorship i recommend the Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa. It’s brilliant and best of all readable!

My score – 1/5

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Millennium #4)

by David Lagercrantz

Paperback Edition, 496 pages

Originally published 2015

“How come all lunatics and murderers are religious these days?…” 

Whether we like it or not female terminator Lisbeth Salander returns in the fourth outing of the Millennium series. The Girl in the Spiders Web starts with washed up has-been Mikael Blomkvist looking for his next big scoop to finally revitalise his career after a lengthy dry patch. Millennium has had an injection of capital from a big corporation and is fighting to keep its identity after falling revenue and subscriptions. As luck would have it Lisbeth Salander hacks in the NSA and kick starts a whole series of troublesome events involving the usual shady government characters and hardcore criminals.

Despite the unfortunate change in author i was still willing to give this a chance. I went in with low expectations purely because i couldn’t foresee anyone taking on Steig Larssons brilliant literary creation and doing it justice; sadly i was right. For a middle of the road thriller it’s OK but when you’re comparing it to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, which is easily one of the best books i’ve read this year, they’re worlds apart. One problem is the lack of complexity to the story; it’s just too simple and outright boring. Books 1-3 seemed more intricate with the details of the plot as it wasn’t just a case of going from A to B and wrapping up the story; there was always little subplots and nuggets of factual information about the surroundings but all of that seems to be missing. I even missed the descriptions of food and coffee preparation, which barely feature. Ultimately though the main issue is the watered down versions of Lisbeth and Mikael as they seem like ghosts of the strong characters they became in the original trilogy. It was all just a bit sad.

Ideally Steig Larsson would still be alive and writing this series. But life is brutal and we were only able to read three masterful novels before his untimely death. A perfect scenario would have been to end the series after book 3 and just leave it alone but obviously money is a great talker, which is why we’ve received this anemic addition to the series. I didn’t want to use the term ‘cash-in’ but i fear it’s unavoidable.

My score is 2/5 

The Blind Assassin

by Margaret Atwood

Paperback Edition, 641 pages

Originally published 2000

“Stick a shovel into the ground almost anywhere and some horrible thing or other will come to light. Good for trade, we thrive on bones; without them there’d be no stories…”

I was looking through Margaret Atwood’s bibliography deciding where to start and this called out to me with the most appealing synopsis. A 600 page book about a ‘mysterious death’ interwoven with the victims own sci-fi novel entitled ‘The Blind Assassin’; it sounded too good to be true!

Within a few chapters i realised how good of a writer Margaret Atwood is. Her prose is intelligently beautiful and quite easily pulls on the heart strings as main character Iris recounts her poignant life whilst coming to grips with the inadequacies of old age. Laura, Iris’s sister, died after driving her car off a bridge in 1945. Now in her twilight years Iris is putting pen to paper to tell the story of her family and the events leading up to Laura’s suicide, which was sudden and cloaked in strangeness. Laura also wrote a novel, which was published posthumously, and further adds to the mystery of her death with its cryptic narrative.

There’s no doubting Margaret Atwood’s a brilliant wordsmith and if i had to score purely on her writing then 5/5 would be awarded but classy writing needs an intriguing story. For 200 or so pages The Blind Assassin builds brilliantly and is well on the way to becoming a mystery tinged with darkness but the more pages i read the more i realised how unoriginal the story was; it wasn’t living up to the promise of the synopsis. Iris recounts a life that isn’t greatly captivating and Laura’s death isn’t such a mystery. The extracts from ‘The Blind Assassin’ are a well written distraction to the central plot but is ultimately tarnished by the ending, which i wasn’t a fan of.

My score – 2/5

On the Trail of the Assassins

by Jim Garrison

Paperback Edition, 368 pages

Originally published 1988

“There’s no way in the world that one man could have shot up Jack Kennedy that way… “

Who pulled the trigger? It’s a question with an answer so why are so many still searching for the ‘truth’. Even if the answer is Lee Harvey Oswald the speculation and conspiracy surrounding the JFK assassination makes for a fascinating story with an infinite number of alternative theories to chew on. Probably the most believable is Jim Garrisons; the only man to bring an alleged JFK conspirator to court and with a theory and investigation that is believable

This was one of the books used for Oliver Stones brilliant film JFK, which i’d highly recommend even if conspiracies aren’t your thing; it’s probably Kevin Costner’s best film. Jim Garrison isn’t the greatest writer as at times his prose seems clunky and awkward but i didn’t start this book looking for a literary masterclass; i wanted intrigue and stories of shadowy goings on in the US government, which he provides relentlessly. Jim Garrison isn’t just another fanatic, spouting theories of Aliens and Warlocks infiltrating the White House; this is a serious and coherent investigation into the probable assassination of a US president by his own government.

If you’re a lover of treasonous schemes then this book is most definitely for you as it’s probably the original great conspiracy. A must read!

My score – 4/5

The Warrior-Prophet (The Prince of Nothing #2)

by R. Scott Bakker

Paperback Edition, 736 pages

Originally published 2004

” For all things there is a toll. We pay in breaths, and our purse is soon empty…”

The Holy War continues its long march toward Shimeh to reclaim it back from the Heathens. Book 1 saw the insanely enormous gathering of soldiers, whores and slaves with only one battle being fought, which was disastrous for the Men of the Tusk. Book 2 progresses the story at a pretty decent pace with the violence and battle level turned all the way up to 11!

It’s a bit of a weird review to consider because at times The Warrior-Prophet annoyed me to the point of giving up (it was probably an empty threat) but at others i was in awe of the story the author was weaving. My biggest irritation is the number of factions and their intricate names. During some of the major battles i couldn’t figure out which side had the upper hand because keeping track of the factions and the side they’re fighting for is harder than it should be. That goes for the individual names also. I stopped trying pronounce some of them and shortened them down to the first three letters!

Name length aside the Warrior-Prophet continues in the same excellent fashion as The Darkness That Comes Before. The political maneuvering and scheming, which i love to read in fantasy books, continues on its intriguing course with even more complexity and backstabbing than Book 1. I’m not a fan of long paragraphs of battles in books because rarely are they written well (Steven Erikson is the exception) . They’re usually clumsy, unoriginal, repetitive and predictable. Recently i read the Empire in Black and Gold and the fight scenes were so boring to the point of sleep inducing and in fact put me off reading the rest of the series. For me, the less fighting the better. Thankfully Warrior-Prophet doesn’t go for the formulaic fight scenes and instead gives a descriptive overview of what’s happening on the battlefield. I particularly enjoyed the parts where Cnaiur urs Skiotha is watching the battle unfold before his eyes.

It’s a slow burn and took me a while to read as there are parts that lull and hang around too long but as with book 1 patience is required and the ultimate pay-off is worth the wait. The ending, although pretty dark and horrific, is brilliantly done and sets up book 3 superbly.

My score – 4/5


by Don Delillo

Paperback Edition, 464 pages

Originally published 1988

” Six point nine seconds of heat and light. Let’s call a meeting to analyze the blur. Let’s devote our lives to understanding this moment, separating the elements of each crowded second… “

My first foray into the JFK Assassination was the superb Oliver Stone film. I watched it without any prior knowledge of the conspiracy and became fascinated. After this i read Plausible Deniable by Mark Lane, which at the time i was in awe of but i’ve since realised is probably a bit fanatical. Plus Mark Lane went way down in my opinion since i’ve read of his involvement in Jonestown.

Libra is a speculative fiction/non-fiction novel that follows Lee Harvey Oswald during his short life from his school days up to his murder by Jack Ruby. I say non-fiction because the majority of this, i.e. his time in Russia, various associations and political beliefs, are probably pretty accurate. The shooting itself is pure conjecture because nobody (except the super secretive government) is au fait with the truth as the main player was killed soon afterwards and the majority of the other alleged conspirators died also. So unless LHO is holding a Q+A session in the afterlife we’ll remain in the dark. This is probably a good thing because the speculation and the who/what/where are always more interesting than the truth, which is why Libra is such a great book.

If you’ve read other Don Delillo you’ll know he has a certain writing style, which takes a couple of chapters to adjust to. I’ve previously read the brilliant Underworld so i was able to instantly settle into his unique mesmeric prose. Running alongside the LHO chapters is the hypothetical story of where the JFK assassination idea originated from. In this case it’s a couple of disgruntled FBI agents who are holding a grudge over the Bay of Pigs fiasco. A brilliant book about an intriguing moment in history. I would also recommend 11/22/63 by Stephen King.

My score – 4/5