Book Review

Barbarian Days- William Finnegan

I’m currently reading this. It’s a surfing memoir written by a 63 year old guy- a lifelong surfer. When I bought it, for my kindle, I was vaguely hoping for ‘What it’s like to be cool: from the horse’s mouth’. The author isn’t the outlaw I expected though. He’s a deeply reflective chap- a journalist for the New Yorker magazine of thirty years standing. I hadn’t bothered to look him up or even read a review of the book before purchasing, so sold was I on the title and premise. So it’s been a pleasant surprise. There’s highlight-worthy lyricism and insight on his full-to-bursting, counter-culture skirting life every other page. It’s great.

 

The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli

A famous 16th century how-to, in short chapters, concerning holding onto power/influence once you have it. The main thrust: Where certain group dynamics are involved, life is such that you have to think and act like a bit of a bastard if you want to live constructively- it’s not possible to avoid it. When faced with social grappling I tend to just disengage and get by on a feeling of martyrdom instead. Above it. But I’ve had valuable things snatched from my grasp a number of times following that strategy. Perhaps I need to go over to the dark side and become a calculating kicker of asses. ‘Old Nick’, for the Devil, supposedly comes from ‘Niccolo’. I once saw a guy bench-pressing with this book opened face down next to him- man on a mission, clearly. I was meaning to read it since.

 

Submission- Michel Houellebecq

I’ve enjoyed this guy’s previous novels. He does modern-life disillusionment with hair-raising power- he really means it. So I was disappointed to realise this one wasn’t really working for me. It’s set in a 2017 where France is in the process of being remodeled around Islamic values, after the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ has come to power democratically. It’s a higher-flown setting than in all his other novels- academics and politicians at the Sorbonne- where the permanently drunk yet revered narrator, Houellebecq, is a lecturer. I suppose that aspect pissed me off- those are perspectives I don’t share much with and probably resent a bit. And he compounds it by taking long chunks of each chapter to talk about the work of some obscure French writer, Huysmans, that seems unrelated to the other goings-on in the novel. Perhaps the point his was making with that went over my head, but it felt to me like he was playing a joke on the reader. He speaks eloquently through other characters’ voices, as the sozzled narrator listens on, about what will be the shape of the new Islam-centric society: Patriarchal family units as a force of social control and six wives for anyone with heft, like the narrator and his colleagues. You get the impression Houellebecq is pretty down with much of that, but it would be nice if the whole thing wasn’t such a frustrating guessing game.

Je Suis Charlie

Not really. No one cares if I’m Charlie or not. Al-Baghdadi, or whoever, himself would smile and roll his eyes and go ‘yeah mate, you’re Charlie’. ‘Excuse me but I am Charlie’ I’d insist in a squeaky voice. ‘Ok, you’re Charlie’ he’d reply, looking at his watch. ‘Listen, I’ve got to split’ he’d say, ‘but you’re Charlie yeah?’ I’d aim a scoffing smile at him acknowledging his piss-taking, but my stomach would be dropping. ‘Yeah’ I’d say, with whatever defiance I could muster. ‘Alright dude, I’ll speak to you later’ I’d hear him shout from the hall then, and the front door would bang shut. Fuck, I’d think, sinking into the sofa.

The BBC was funny on the day of the sieges. They immediately followed the hysteria of that main story with the news that Abu Hamza, the mad cleric with hooks for hands, has finally been imprisoned and won’t see the light of day again. It really felt like they were sticking the finger up to radical islamism. I didn’t see it but apparently they also showed a cartoon of Muhammad, summarily doing away with their years-long policy of not showing images of Muhammad under any circumstances. They just needed someone else, France, to take the initiative. It was like the time back in school when I saw a couple of kids bullying another kid walking in front of me and my friend and I wasn’t sure what to do, until this sports star guy from my year caught up with them and told them to cut it out, and I backed him up with a weak ‘yeah’.