Totally different, they just happen to be the last two books I have read. Bit Of A Blur has been hard to avoid, with Alex James doing all the press that I didn’t get for my book. (I blame him, naturally.) It’s as you’d expect: the louche, fag-perched Blur bassist’s own take on the Blur Years, with the added hook of a guided tour through Soho’s bars and clubs, and of course, the decisive move to a very big house in the country, seemingly to give Alex something to write a column about in pretty much every newspaper in the land. I spent a lot of time with Blur in the 90s, and found Alex easy company, if a little distant at times. (Graham was always more volatile but, I found, warmer.) This book is not the biography of Blur – Stuart Maconie’s already written that: 3862 Days – and it’s in Alex’s gift to leave out bags of detail, and surnames, and dates, to make room for his own personal reminiscences, which are, on the whole, insightful, candid and beautifully written. He is a very fine writer, spare, fluid and unshowy. Also, funny. He offers a very instructive view inside the recording and touring processes, enough to actually put you off wanting to be in a famous band, were it not for the sheer magic of playing with Damon, Graham and Dave, which cures all hangovers and puts all differences on hold. You can’t, it seems, legislate for that. Alex makes no effort to big himself up. When he’s the world’s most unfaithful man, he admits it. At his nadir, he describes himself as a fat, drunken slag. You may, like me, be bored of the incessant learning-to-fly bits, but there’s much to compensate. I’ve read negative reviews on Amazon that seem to want a different book. You can’t legislate for those either.
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is outside of my reading comfort zone. I’m not much for novels, or haven’t been since I was in my twenties, as I’ve established elsewhere, but my desire to write one has reawakened my interest in how it’s done. In the case of this book, it’s done magnificently. So good, in fact, it makes me think I could never do it. But as a reader, I’m not complaining. I didn’t know much about Shriver beyond her moany American-in-London Guardian columns, but it turns out she was a failed novelist for years, and it was this book that turned it around for her. You can’t even get her first four novels in the shops, or so it seems. It won the Orange Prize and the next thing you know, she’s famous. Quite, quite justified. If you don’t know already – and this is not a spoiler, it’s written on the jacket – Kevin is a 15-year-old kid in upstate New York who kills nine people at his school. The book takes the form of letters written by his mother, Eva, to her estranged husband, Kevin’s dad, Franklin, through which the years leading up to Thursday (as it’s meaningfully italicised) unfold: the couple’s reasons for having a child in the first place, Eva’s immediate regrets on falling pregnant, Kevin’s difficult upbringing, and so on. You know the ending, which is what makes the writing so powerful. It’s not about what, it’s about why. At the end of the day, Kevin is not about school shootings, it’s about a marriage, and about what having kids does to a marriage, especially when the parents are in their late-30s/early 40s. I must admit I was put off at the beginning by the too-good prose – Shriver writes eloquently and insightfully throughout, nailing those difficult emotions beautifully with metaphor and simile – but as soon as it becomes apparent that Eva is a writer, my doubts were dispelled. Fair enough. I couldn’t stop reading it once I’d started. I raced to the end at the weekend, and the end, even though you think you know it, does not disappoint. One for parents, or prospective parents, or non-parents of the same age as Eva and Franklin. It could put you off having kids for life, though. (Shriver is in a relationship, and has been married, but has no kids, and is about to turn 50. I wonder if this explains why she might write a scary book like this. I must read up on her a bit. She certainly once wrote a column telling all women to have kids, fearing that she would be seen as “the anti-Mom” after this book.)
I’m having a go at Shriver’s new novel, but the reviews on Amazon, again, seem wracked with disappointment after Kevin. We’ll see. Others must have read this. What do you think?