Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - Stephen Kelman, Tom McCarthy, Anton Svensson
Man on Fire
by Stephen Kelman
Stephen Kelman was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Booker with the excellent Pigeon English. Man on Fire is equally worthy of attention, but sadly missed out this year. The first person in this two-hander is John Lock, a diffident, disappointed Englishman who is confronting his own death courtesy of bowel cancer. While Lock feels familiar, in a nice twist he proves entirely imaginary. That honour belongs to the far less ordinary Bibhuti Bhushan Nayak, the sort of exuberant, Indian semi-mystic who might beggar belief if his extraordinary accomplishments weren't inspired by actual events. Nayak breaks the most eye-watering world records imaginable: when we first meet him, he is being kicked repeatedly in the groin. This odd couple find something in each other that shuttles between friendship and spirituality. Although Sartaj Garewal reads Nayak with gusto, making him seem, as does Kelman, credible without being a caricature, his Lock sounds too young and too pleasant. One out of two ain't bad, but here it's not enough.
by Tom McCarthy
Jonathan Cape (audiobook)
Satin Island is the second novel by Tom McCarthy to receive Man Booker attention. C, by turns brilliant and infuriating, original and derivative (if knowingly), made the shortlist in 2010. Like that playful, intellectual fireworks display, Satin Island reconstitutes Kafka (a character called "U"), Beckett (loops and repetition), J.G. Ballard and William Gibson with quite a lot of post-structuralist theory. "U" is a corporate anthropologist. Using a mixture of semiotics, pattern recognition and endless research, he tries to form a unified theory of, well, everything: shark attacks, soccer pundits, jeans, death. You name it. The short-term end of all this connectivity is to sell stuff. But there is, almost inevitably, a bigger game afoot: the "Great Report" as U's boss, the less than subtly named Peyman calls it. The pleasure of reading McCarthy is to witness his characters' minds fall and fracture, and then to try to piece the parts together. McCarthy is oddly a fun writer - passionate, clever and funny.
by Anton Svensson (read by Richard Coyle)
Hachette Audio (audiobook)
Q: When is a Scandinavian crime writer not a Scandinavian crime writer? A: When they are two Scandinavian crime writers. Anton Svensson harnesses the twin powers of Anders Roslund, an investigative journalist and bestselling novelist, and Stefan Thunberg, a screenwriter whose credits include Henning Mankell's Wallander. Like Man on Fire, this story is also inspired by real events: Thunberg's own violent and criminal family. As the title suggests, much of the violence and crime emanated from his father, who turned three of his four sons into bank robbers. Thunberg chose writing instead. In this compelling retelling of that family saga, Ivan Duvnjac is the terrible father who teaches his sons Leo, Felix and Vincent to make Molotov cocktails. Richard Coyle's unhurried Nordic-tinged narration is punctuated by moments of sudden violence. Very enjoyable.
Extras: a podcast series revealing the true story behind The Father can be found at roslund-thunberg.com