October 29, 2010

Your micro-review roundup: 29 October 2010

(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)

Ghosts & Lightning, by Trevor Byrne

Ghosts & Lightning
By Trevor Byrne
Doubleday

At first I was tempted to dismiss the 2009 character dramedy Ghosts & Lightning, the latest by hip Irish writing professor Trevor Byrne, because of it being almost identical in both theme and tone to so many other youngish Commonwealth authors like Roddy Doyle, Nick Hornby and Irvine Welsh; it is yet another look at charming yet troubled blue-collar underemployed males in a former part of the British Empire (Dublin in this case), the women who love them, and the trouble they are always getting into, told through phonetically sounded-out dialogue from that actual region. But I'll be damned if I didn't end up loving it anyway; because despite the above being true, Byrne at least does an impeccable job at it, turning in a story that is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, in a style that is both exotic to American ears yet easy to understand and follow. I don't really have much to say about it that hasn't been said a thousand times already about other such books; but if you're looking for yet another one in this vein to enjoy, it'd be hard to go wrong with this leisurely paced deep character study.

Out of 10: 8.9

Hector and the Search for Happiness, by Francois Lelord

Hector and the Search for Happiness
By Francois Lelord
Penguin Books

This slight little French tale, originally published in 2002 but just now coming out in the US, has apparently become one of those quirky global hits that has now sold over two million copies, and has spawned a whole series of sequels; essentially an autobiographical tale about the psychiatrist author's mid-life crisis, it follows him as he travels around the world on a sabbatical seeking the true keys to happiness, realizing that it essentially boils down to a series of cutesy new-age homilies that sound vaguely like a cross between Buddhism and Joel Osteen, as well as plenty of volunteer work for us privileged white folk in the decrepit failed states of the world that Lelord traveled to on a regular basis during his own vision quest. But I gotta say, I myself could barely choke my way through even half of this before exasperatingly giving up; not because of its message, which is harmless if not fairly predictable, but rather because Lelord wrote the entire thing as a simplistic children's fairytale, which will no doubt delight your suburban mom when you buy her a copy for Christmas, but will drive most grown-ups quite crazy quite fast. It's one of those infuriatingly upbeat "it takes a village" titles destined for the point-of-purchase shelf full of shiny cute doodads right next to the cash register, and it unfortunately reads exactly so.

Out of 10: 6.0

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere
By Neil Gaiman
HarperCollins

Neil Gaiman is at an interesting point in his career right now, in that he first developed a cadre of salivating young fans in the late '80s and early '90s for what were ultimately many times fairly simplistic yet jarringly original projects, mostly in the world of comics, but has since grown artistically to now put out much more complex stories (mostly text novels now) with appropriately more complex and older fans; and so that makes it problematic in 2010 to do a review of an older project like his 1996 Neverwhere, part of this often-mentioned Collection Of Completely Random Books I'm reviewing here at CCLaP this year because of them being among the first "digital library books" available at the Chicago Public Library website. Because on the one hand, this is a perfect example of what garnered him his original fan base to begin with -- written right at the tail end of his run on the groundbreaking comics series The Sandman, this adventure tale concerning a contemporary London with a shadowy mythological world existing within its midst was an important early touchstone in the now highly popular subgenre of "urban fantasy" (China Mieville, for example, has cited it as a heavy influence on his own work); yet for the most part it simply can no longer hold a candle* to such newer Gaiman projects as American Gods or Anansi Boys, stories where he took such '90s books as Neverwhere merely as beginnings and just expanded from there. It's sure to still have its fans, although I suspect that a certain amount of that will be for nostalgia's sake, and it's certainly a good primer if you feel like easing yourself into Gaiman's oeuvre; but in general I recommend simply skipping ahead to his more mature work from the 2000s and beyond, and to instead maybe try the collected Sandman books if you're looking for a trip down memory lane.

Out of 10: 8.0

*And by the way, don't bother at all with the six-part British television series of Neverwhere that was made at the same time the book was written, currently available at Netflix Streaming which is why I myself checked it out, a production which combined an already small effects budget with '90s-grade DV equipment to produce something that can barely even be watched now, with Dave McKean's animated opening credits being literally the only thing left in the show that doesn't look instantly and horribly dated.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:19 AM, October 29, 2010. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |