erasing clouds

Book Reviews

by Anna Battista

Anthony Bourdain - Bone in the Throat & Gone Bamboo (Canongate)

Ingredients for a good seafood chowder? Olive oil, garlic, onions, crushed tomato, thyme, bay leaves, red and green peppers, cumin, squid, swordfish, lobster and clams. Ingredients for a good book? Talent, irony and an intriguing story. NY's Anthony Bourdain is a chef in real life, hence he has all the ingredients to make a great dish, but what's most important is that he also has all the ingredients to write great crime novels. In Bone in the Throat sous-chef Tommy has got to cope everyday with his stressing job and with a junky chef and if that is not enough, he's also got a mafioso uncle who accidentally turns him into the witness of a murder. FBI agents, restaurateurs and cold-blooded killers are the ingredients for a perfect thriller that will enthral and hypnotise the reader with its plot enriched by the hundreds of smells of tasty dishes oozing from the Dreadnaught Grill's kitchen. The follow up to this story, Gone Bamboo, sees Tommy living in Saint Martin where he owns a bar-cum-restaurant with his girlfriend Cheryl. After having been severely injured, former Mafia boss Charlie Wagon is sent to Saint Martin under the Federal Witness Protection program. Problem is that in Saint Martin live also Henry, the gangster who shot him, and his sensual and murderous wife Frances. Problem is that a Mafia boss wants to kill Charlie, Henry and Frances, who in the meantime have made friends with Tommy and Cheryl. The novel ends in an unexpected carnage which shows that the bad always get away with it, especially if the bad ones are a couple of trained assassins drinking tequila and beer on immaculate beaches. Bourdain, is enticed to be your favourite chef. Oh, sorry, writer, I meant your favourite writer. (

Stuart David - The Peacock Manifesto (I.M.P. Fiction)

First book for Peacock Johnson, the brilliant Glaswegian who…wait a second, wait a second, wait a second this guy must have got to my head. Let's start it all from the beginning. Second novel for ex-Belle & Sebastian and now Looper frontman Stuart David. After his debut, Nalda Said, the tale of a quest for love and friendship lead by its paranoid main character, The Peacock Manifesto is the story of a new quest, this time for fame, for music fame, to be precise.

Glaswegian radge Peacock Johnson has got the perfect idea for a successful record: sampling country singer Glen Campbell. Apparently a guy in The States, Evil Bob, can help him out to make his dream hit come true, but when Peacock gets there, he discovers that Bob is just another mad chancer like him with a vague idea about building the pattern of a new triumphant track from a few sparse samples, "We just need to repeat that part. It'll fly," they conspire, "As soon as you've added some beats and maybe a house piano it'll be fantastic. It can't fail." Joining their efforts, crashing in numerous hotels, visiting a record studio after another and meeting more clueless people while Beverly, Peacock's trashy wife, is lost on fancy cocktails and Hollywood movies, Peacock and Evil Bob try to make their dream come true. But the way to fame is long, it passes through Chicago, Minneapolis, Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Memphis, Nashville and ends in Washington where the three finally discover that sampling and deconstructing the umpteenth song is not that vital nor easy as they thought it was.

Between stingy irony and cracking jokes the road to success and to failure unwinds in front of the three heroes of the story which is a highway adventure seeping gasoline and pondering on the absurdity of the States, where the protagonists are depressed and at the same time marvelled at seeing barren landscapes alternating with wonderful ones and are amazed at meeting a pair of clueless policemen. Like the feathers of a peacock, the characters' adventures glow with colours and irony, which characterises even the incipit of the story: "They call me Peacock. Why? The tattoo. I wear it on my shoulder. I had it done in my teens, in admiration of the bird. I still admire the way it looks. I admire the way it struts. I admire the way it preens. And did it hurt? Did it fuck."

The novel, containing also a few pics of the main characters during their trip, is a massive piss take at the Scottish accent not being understood but being inexplicably loved, at America as the land of dreams and at Superstar DJs, apart from being a lesson for musicians, fans, chancers and for the average reader.

The Peacock Manifesto is like Jack Kerouac's stuff, only less boring, like Charles Bukowski's, only less grimy, like Hunter S.Thompson's only more funny. An on the road novel? No more on the decks, in the studio and on a DAT novel. (, (

Dan Fante - Mooch (Rebel Inc)

Carey McWilliams once writing about LA admitted "Los Angeles has become a junkyard for a continent. Every newcomer to the city has brought something with him, usually the oldest relic, the antique piece, the family heirloom." Bruno Dante has brought with him his oldest relic, his alcoholism. Follow-up to Chump Change, Mooch by Dan Fante, son of writer and screenwriter John Fante, is the second episode in the Bruno Dante saga.

Back in LA Bruno tries to get off alcohol and finds a steady job at Orbit Computer supplies, a giant in the telemarketing business which employs ex-addicts and ex-alcoholics. Under the tent of that great circus of this behemoth-like company, run by its king Eddy Kammegian, Dante looks like a winner, but remains a loser, ending up in losing his mind on alcohol and on his ex-crack addicted colleague Jimmi Valiente a beautiful Mexican-Iranian woman who keeps on relapsing on her vice. Jimmi, not a woman, but a physical assault, is the proverbial Californian torrential rain that overflows Bruno's life, she's an earthquake of dismal proportions, able to shake Bruno's life from its very foundations. The two characters reveal themselves as being indivisible, naturally interacting in their addiction and thoroughly dependent: if the desert needs the ocean, Bruno needs Jimmi. Hence the life of crazy but sensible Bruno becomes a cloudburst of non sequiturs as he tries to get out of alcoholism, but ending in fucking the pain away, taking refuge in self destruction, being surrounded by his father and his brother's ghosts, finally understanding why he loves Jimmi: "She was like my dead father, at war against her own life and time. Ten thousands disappointments would kill her as they had killed him. Living head-on against herself would kill her." In the end, when the voice of Jimmi, the wild woman who painfully reminds the reader of the beautiful Mexican woman in John Fante's Ask the Dust, disappears plummeting through a phone, like the sun plunging into the ocean, Bruno will understand that she's a lost cause, but it's still compulsive to love her.

In Mooch, the utopia of the American dream becomes a dystopia made of AA meetings, telemarketers conspiracies and rat races, attempted suicides and despair reeking sex, a dystopia in which Las Vegas is "a big cum stain, an upholstered sewer" and Hollywood is just the dream suburb of Los Angeles as the rust on the Hollywood sign up the hill shows. Dan Fante's style is terse and vivid, underlined and punctuated by Jimmi's slang, a pure cascade of rhythms.

Carey McWilliams in his comprehensive research on Southern California, Southern California Country admitted that only four novels managed to portray what Southern California was like, The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West, Ask The Dust by John Fante, A Place in the Sun by Frank Fenton and The Booster by Mark Lee Luther. I'm sure that if McWilliams had lived nowadays he would have included also the rank, coarse and sexy Mooch among his treasured titles.

Martin James - Moby - His Life And Times (I.M.P. Fiction)

Clue: you've seen him playing at your local summer festival; you've heard his music being played on the airwaves of the world; you've seen him being awarded at random music ceremonies all over the globe; you've heard his tracks being played as the soundtrack for the latest hip movie or during the ad for the latest expensive car. Yeah, you've guessed, it's Moby, the guy the music press used to call Christian vegan techno freak or something like that.

Moby's biographer, Martin James starts his recount in 1999 in New York, Manhattan, where Moby is brooding on what at that time was still a soon to be released album, Play. James then takes a step back in time to tell us all from the beginning. Son of a young hippie, Richard Hell, better known to us as Moby, being Herman Melville his great-great-grand-uncle, experiences when he's still a kid, the commune, the '60s crazes of hippies, dope, alcohol and music.

Influenced by post punk, Moby turns into a DJ, starts a few bands, namely AWOL, Shopwell and Japanese Sex Paintings, moves back to New York from Connecticut while times are changing and finally founds another band, Voodoo Child which will bring him the first successes thanks to the Twin Peaks sampling track "Go", the worldwide famous club anthem for many a rave. Passing through the Christian beliefs and criticisms Moby received, being a Christian who loved a drug fuelled dance scene, James analyses Moby's other bands, Brainstorm, Barracuda and UHF and Moby's proper albums, from Early Underground through Everything Is Wrong and Animal Rights to Play which marked the final success of "little idiot" Moby. "Moby is a man born to entertain and confuse, in equal measure", wrote the Melody Maker, and it was true as Richard Hall was the man most attacked by the press, most praised by the press, most loved by ravers, most hated by ravers, an anti-establishment, anti-meat, anti-drugs, anti-alcohol, anti-violence man, a troublemaker with a confusing personality, but above all a musician.

Martin James' bio is mostly sugar coated though it retains a few sparse vitriolic comments and often refers to the north star of contemporary history of dance music, journalist Simon Reynolds. Thumbs up for the discography: everyone who had the guts to list all Moby's remixes should deserve a prize.

Nick Hornby (ed.) - Speaking with the Angel (Penguin)

In the introduction to this collection of stories, Nick Hornby confesses of having nicked the title from a Ron Sexsmith song, but, as a matter of fact, this anthology might have been entitled in any way, what's most important is its aim, raising money to enlarge the TreeHouse school. The school, based in London, is attended by autistic children who need constant care and particular educational programmes to be able to relate to the external world. Behind the good aim of the book, there is also another reason why you should buy it: it contains a very good bunch of stories, going from the hilarious misadventures of a naive Prime Minister (Robert Harris) to the ranting of the woman who cooks the last meals for people on death row (Giles Smith), from walking around in Manhattan after a party (Melissa Bank) to losing virginity while listening to the Buzzcocks (Patrick Marber) to a kid getting addicted to his grandma's stories (Colin Firth), from a depressed film maker (Zadie Smith) to a despaired old woman lying in her bathroom (Helen Fielding), from a man getting disgusted by finding a rat in his kitchen (Roddy Doyle) to an homophobic man turned into a homosexual ghost (Irvine Welsh) to the hilarious portrait from riches to rags of a mime artist (John O'Farrell). Honourable mentions go to the brilliant "NippleJesus" by Nick Hornby in which a gallery watchman becomes too protective with a picture of Jesus that hides a controversial and unsettling truth and to Dave Eggers' "After I Was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned" a tale told by a dog's point of view.

Did you know that angels have different roles? There are Angels who are attendants before God's throne, Angels who help God, guardian Angels and so on, even writers have personal Angels who protect them. The TreeHouse future students need an angel too and a larger school. See if you can give them a hand.

And for further information on TreeHouse write to: TreeHouse FREEPOST LON 14496, London WC1N 2BR (Great Britain).

Richard Thomas (ed.) - Vox 'n' Roll (Serpent's Tail)

Take a few writers and let them read their work intertwined with some music they themselves chose, because they like it, because it inspired them while writing or whatever, just music. This was the successful idea behind the Vox'n'Roll events, held in Islington, North London, since 1995. From then on various writers, from the like of Nick Hornby, Helen Fielding, A L Kennedy and Hanif Kureishi and musician-writers such as John Cale and Richard Hell were present at these literary and musical nights. This anthology presents a few of those writers and their works: Sparkle Hayter, Kevin Sampson, Lana Citron, Tania Glyde, Stella Duffy, Ben Richards, Paul Charles, Irvine Welsh, Matt Thorne, Lynne Tillman, Selena Saliva Godden, Christopher Fowler and John Williams. Best stories are Will Self's tale of a morally and commercially deregulated airline; Nicholas Blincoe's tale of how Factory honcho Tony Wilson falls responsible for the death of a member of a brass band; Patrick McCabe's tale of cyborgs landing in Ireland and getting involved in the petty rivalries between the natives; Vicki Hendricks's story of a Siamese twin couple falling in love and Jim Dodge's sweet and absurd memory of bathing his brother's dog. Music. Literature. Phew, at least there are a couple of things worthwhile living!

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