erasing clouds

Book Reviews

by Anna Battista

Nicolas Blincoe and Matth Thorne (ed.) , All Hail the New Puritans (Fourth Estate )

Free direct speech, free indirect speech, stream of consciousness, flashbacks, foreshadowing and so on: please raise a hand, those of you who don't hate a novel being identified only by these parts of the discourse which make every academic critic come. So, for a minute just close your critical texts and open up this book of more or less short tales gifted with a good and simple story line. Taking the title from a Fall song, this anthology aims at bringing together "a group of like-minded writers and set them a challenge," Nicholas Blincoe and Matt Thorne write in the introduction, "Strip their fiction down to basics, and see if something exciting emerges." Writers and editors Blincoe and Thorne have even written a proper manifesto which states among the other things that they believe in linearity, clarity and grammatical purity, a thing that might make you cringe in this post-modernist age, but on the contrary there are quite a few nice and original stories here. Indeed something intriguing emerges, from the opening tale in which a fish goes missing (Scarlett Thomas), from a paranoid skunk experience in Paris (Geoff Dyer), from a tale of chemical joy found in a tablet of fluoxetine (Daren King) or from the story of a gig-going delusion (Anna Davis). Alex Garland's tale of a Ferrari race car drove to distraction in Monaco, Bo Fowler's very Richard Brautigan three tales of love; Nicholas Blincoe's story about a boardgame designers meeting, Simon Lewis' search for a missing belt and Toby Litt's account of people hiding in a bungalow copying hardcore movies are the best ones. Puritanism has never been that invigorating. (

Matthew Collin, This Is Serbia Calling: Rock 'n'Roll Radio and Belgrade's Underground Resistance (Serpent's Tail)

Better known for his flawless report on the Ecstasy and rave culture, Altered States, pluri-collaborator to various British magazines Matthew Collin has now turned his attention to the ex-Yugoslavia, managing to depict the pains of Serbia through the war years, Slobodan Miloševic's regime and NATO bombings. The book tells the story of those ones who bravely chose to remain in Belgrade, what Collin calls the "city of chaos", struggling to survive, marching in pacific manifestations and making history together with Radio B-92. Far off land from the rest of the world, Radio B-92 started broadcasting in 1989 and straightforwardly opposed the regime with its programs and its music more opened to European influences than to the repulsive turbo-folk proposed by the regime. When war broke out the resistance spread through the B-92 airwaves, broadcasting information and music and even inviting to the radio mics KLF's Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, the pranksters well-known for having burnt a mountain of money: the two were shockingly confronted by a tragicomic hyperinflation. So, while E and heroin were ravaging the country, B-92 was banned, exactly in 1991, 1996 and 1999. When the radio reopened as B2-92 in August 1999, it was seized again, moved to new premises and kept on changing the frequency every time it was gagged by the regime. Closed, banned, robbed, attacked and seized, B-92 kept on broadcasting from the net, stating "When reality doesn't work anymore, we move to the virtual world. But the pain is real and it stays with us." This Is Serbia Calling is the story of B-92, of its editor-in-chief, Veran Matic, of the underground bands who fought with them, of the Otpor organisation, but above all of the hundreds of people who confronted Miloševic on that fateful 5 October 2000 when the Parliament, Radio Television Serbia and the Milosevic's headquarters of his Socialist party were seized and left Vojislav Kostunica as the actual President. 92.5 FM: freedom and information run on this frequency. (

Victoria Mary Clarke & Shane MacGowan, A Drink With Shane MacGowan (Sidgwick & Jackson)

"The Pogues would never have existed if I wasn't Irish. Ireland means everything to me … Ireland is the greatest nation in the world and the Irish are the most important race in the world. We're travelling people. That song, 'The Travelling People', which is about tinkers or itinerants or whatever you want to call them, could be about any Irish people. The Irish people are travelling people, we all travel, we've always travelled. We all leave home and go back and leave again and our influence has spread all over the world and this has been going on for thousand of years." This is how Shane MacGowan defines his country of origin and his fellow countrymen at a certain point of this atypical biography. Written in the form of a long interview conducted in different countries and different places by his girlfriend and writer Victoria Mary Clarke, this biography should tell it all about The Pogues' leader, from the smoking, drinking and gambling childhood he lived while being raised in an Irish farm with an uncle who was the local commandant of the IRA, to a stint in a mental hospital when he was a teenager. Living in Great Britain and messing around with The Sex Pistols, ranting about literature, music and the music biz, The Pogues, Shane & The Popes, his songwriting technique and religious faith enrich this tome in which Shane MacGowan declare that The Pogues were a way of fighting his crusade, the crusade "to make Irish music hip…for the Irish music to make the language hip again. And the literature hip. In other words, to build Irish self-esteem…" From Shane with a KMRIA. (

Naomi Klein, No Logo (Flamingo)

"They haven't the slightest idea what reality is. They are buried under the avalanche of mass entertainment -- infantile or at best adolescent to the extreme -- and mass advertisement -- corrupt, cynical as can be. Ad-Mass, someone has called it. The Ad-Mass culture, seduced by itself, wallowing in profound, dangerous Ignorance … it suits the capitalist bosses to keep the masses that way. I'm talking about your country's real bosses: the Big Corporation heads … the cannibalistic economic system, where, mark you, in a country with fantastic natural resources, and an economy functioning in high gear, the system has no jobs for at least three million, sometimes four, five million." This is what Francis Pollini puts in the mouth of the Chinese officer Ching in his novel Night, published in the early '60s, though this is also what Canadian journalist Naomi Klein focalises her attention on in what has by now become a sort of manual for what the press calls "the Seattle people" and for all the people around the world who hate with a vengeance the concept of a wild globalisation which doesn't respect the less developed countries and reduces the most powerful ones in grounds for ad-mass cultures. Born as a piece on culture jamming for The Village Voice, No Logo became in Klein's hands a proper and essential book, which took her four years to complete. Divided in four parts, No Space, No Choice, No Jobs and No Logo, this extremely readable essay starts stating that advertising is just a part of branding and shows how from that day named the Marlboro Friday, in which brands seemed to suffer a slight crisis, things changed and brands triumphed, engulfing like a greedy Leviathan spaces on TV, magazines, streets, but also, colleges and universities where the cult of a free education was replaced by the cult of sports wear, soft drink and junk food, in a nutshell, by the in-logo-we-trust belief. More shame arises in the reader when the author writes about her visits to the Asian factories and reveals the truth about the Cavite Processing Zone, just ninety miles south of Manila, where the big brands employ the locals to manufacture their items: here no unions are allowed and the workers live in labour warehouses in miserable conditions. Culture jamming and ad-busting, the world of temp jobs, the Reclaim the Street campaigns, the Nike, Shell and McDonald's scandals fill the other chapters and show the reader that the globalisation is in itself a re-staging of a fascist state, a state in which when Diesel president Renzo Rosso says there is "never an 'us and them', but simply one giant 'we'," you come to wonder is it's Zamyatin's We.…and deliver us from the logo. Amen.

Chris Ware, Jimmy Corrigan or The Smartest Kid On Earth (Jonathan Cape)

Being mum's boy has never been that easy, especially if you're in your late thirties, sexually repressed and your mum is always on the other end of the line ready to rebuke you. That is why the guy who's even scared of his own shadow, Jimmy Corrigan, a character created by the mind and the pen of cartoonist Chris Ware, lives a miserable existence, which becomes even more traumatic when his father, who's been perennially absent in his life, suddenly writes him suggesting to meet. The trip to meet his parent becomes for Jimmy laced with nightmares, dreams and flashbacks of all sorts, that even go back to Jimmy's great grandfather and grandfather's times. A semi-autobiographical comic, (Chris Ware really received a letter from his unknown father who asked to meet him), this edition, gloriously packaged, collects all the strips Ware started drawing in 1993 for the Chicago newspaper New City. Ware is a pure genius and nobody can deny this statement by having a look at what superficially looks like a very minimalist comic, but hides in its soft and round lines the scariest secrets and lies. In Ware's world, there are stories even "in dinner wrappers, in emptied tins of flavoured waters, in the frying pools of saliva all whispering a tale to those who might listen over the roar of passing traffic" to paraphrase what he writes in one of his strips. Ware truly manages to catch the most traumatic moments or the most poignant ones in this tome, drawing eye striking strips in which the monotonous colours of Jimmy's unfashionable clothes sometimes are contrasted by the intoxicating green of the parks and portraying his characters and his sets from remarkable points of view, indeed Ware seems to be shooting a movie instead of drawing a comic. If Jimmy Corrigan is a "lonely, emotionally-impaired human castaway", as his creator defines him, then Chris Ware is a true talent.(,

Irvine Welsh, Glue (Jonathan Cape)

Rejoice all you Irvine Welsh fans: the radge is 'Back tae the Old Skool', to quote DJ Craig Smith. Published a few weeks before the collection of adaptations for the stage from his novels, 4 Plays, came out, Glue is set in Edinburgh and follows the lives of four friends, Terry, Billy, Carl and Gally from the '70s till our days. Terry, lost on beer and sex, is the constant loser, permanently on the dole after his old job, selling fizzy drinks in the scheme, the job that gave him the nickname of Juice Terry, went out of fashion; Billy is a boxer who turns bar owner; the unfortunate wee Gally is HIV positive and commits suicide; Carl, the Milky Bar Kid, becomes a DJ and musician, what would probably be Irvine Welsh's vocation if he wasn't too busy writing novels. The four lads grow up generally following the teachings of Duncan, Carl's father, in particular they stick to one rule, "Always back up your mates." And it is never grassing each other that the boys will go on in their lives, till the end of the book, when painful secrets will be revealed, but friendship will be sealed back and they will stick together once again like glue. Along the novel the reader will also be updated on Trainspotting and Marabou Stork Nightmares characters, Franco Begbie, Spud, Mark Renton (apparently he's in the music biz now) and Lexo who are mentioned here and there as if they were old friends you lost the track of. Football casuals and the rivalries between Hibs (Welsh's fave team) and Hearts, violence, sex and drugs are still there, Welsh hasn't lost his main themes, nor his Scottish drawl, though his fans will also be confronted by Standard English orthography which every now and them will break the rhythm of the four friends' dialogues, which will cast a spell also on a depressed American singer who is touring Edinburgh. The novel is also a platform for Irvine to remember his friends, from former Hibee-Nation Henry Cullen, aka D.A.V.E the Drummer ("…I'd always admired the house heads who kept it real: Dave the Drummer…") to the paragraph 'Gimme Medication' that sounds like a tribute to Primal Scream while mentioning The Manumission ("Aye, that wis your fault but, takin her tae that Manumission oan the last night, … Aye, whin that couple started shaggin, ah didnae ken whaire tae pit ma face…") is a hint at Mike and Claire, the Manumission couple. Harsh with Mrs Thatcher ("That cunt Thatcher's oan the telly, her that the English voted it. Cannae fuckin stand her, that fuckin voice. Who the fuck could vote for a cunt like that?"), but equally harsh with New Labour Tony Blair ("That Tony Blair cunt, worse than Thatcher that wanker. He's goat this New Deal shite. Ye huv tae dae eighteen hours' work or the cunts stoap yir giro"), Welsh's literature is the literature for someone who was dispossessed and did not want to hear the establishment patronizingly preaching of choosing life when there wasn't a proper one, but only the dole. Glue is nothing more than a 12" hiding in each groove Welsh's culture, passions, obsessions and friends. Aye, he might have a shelf-life (or more likely a decks-life…), but unfortunately for those who hate him, it's still long enough. Like an endless remix. (,,

Issue 6, July 2001 |

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