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The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar strongly reminded me of a Doctor Who script, in the best way possible. It's a hugely imaginative book set in an alternate reality Victorian London in which the royal family are all lizards and many of the characters are literary or historical figures. It could easily be a Who multi-parter from any of the series. There's lots of other Who nods as well - robots, whales, clockwork contraptions.

I've listened to a few Doctor Who radio plays and they didn't quite scratch the itch, but this definitely felt like a superior novelisation, albeit one without the Doctor himself. This was a nice surprise and I enjoyed my read.

The downside is that there were parts that were definitely unpolished, both in ways like unnecessary repeated word use, and also a general lack of pacing, tying up of plot points and character development. Also, heterosexual love interests aren't this writer's strong suit. The main character had a deal more chemistry with a random sailor he met on a boat than with his own girlfriend. The plot revolves around the main character's supposedly overwhelming love for his girlfriend, so this was a problem. Another issue was that the book is set in London but the writer doesn't seem to be fluent in British English, at least going by the jarring mistakes in some of the slang. The London scenes did lack a sense of authenticity. There are so many books that do London excellently, for instance Rivers of London, so this did stand out. Luckily the second half of the book takes place at sea and on a tropical island. Those scenes were much more vibrant and also pacier.

I'd definitely read the other books in this series (there are three of them) butt I'd hope they were a little more polished. This one still had unfulfilled potential. (7/10)

Ancestral Vices by Tom Sharpe is supposed to be one of his better ones and I'd agree. He's an intelligent writer and this book is a proper satire about the class system, the police, academia, the uncontrollable nature of lust and nearly anything else you can think of.

I didn't realise it at the time, but going by current Amazon reviews, I have a feeling that Sharpe's books became popular in a kind of Pub Landlord kind of way, in that most of the people who bought his books took his most satirical characters at 100% face value. For instance, there's a judge here who hates lesbians and feminists (as well as nearly everybody else) and has the most horrible things to say about them. "Oho!" say the reviews. "Sharpe's not very politically correct, not one for the feminists!"

I think Sharpe might actually be the second most feminist novelist I've ever read, after Charlotte Bronte. Fair play to him, that he managed to take money off both the anti-PC brigade at the same time as those on completely the opposite side of the spectrum. Alf Garnett from Death Do Us Part would be another example of this phenonemon, an angry gay-hating, xenophobic character who was supposed to be satire but became beloved by racists and homophobes. It's a long-running trait in British culture.

Anyway, Ancestral Vices is about a radically socialist university lecturer hired by a horrible old rich toff to write a book and dig up dirt on his family, so as to annoy his reams of relatives. Calamity ensues, involving mainly dwarves and dildos.

Surprisingly, there's a substantial section of the book which deals with persons of restricted growth, as the book also calls them. Less surprisingly, terrible things happen to them, because terrible things happen to everyone in a Sharpe novel. By the end of the book Sharpe does balance things nicely and have a wide variety of all kinds of characters, some good and bad, some with a tragic ending and some triumphant. It's a skill I've got to admire. Sharpe never picks on a minority without balancing it out in some way, even though his books never have happy endings.

This book would be even better if it had sharper pacing in the middle, where it slows a little. Also, some of the jokes fall flat because they're just too unbelieveable or reaching too hard for the lowest common denominator. But still it's got some amazing passages, and I can only admire the sharpness and sense of riotous freedom.

Here's a taster quote: "The Sergeant shook his head in disbelief. The notion that anyone could find anything remotely resembling carnal pleasure with an enormous turtle was even less appealing to think about than that fucking pig."

That's the first eight chapters kind of summed up, for better or worse. (8/10)

Currently reading: Sorceress of Darshiva by David Eddings. I'm enjoying the whole made-up fantasy history aspect of it, but I don't think the writer does women that well. His male characters are fun, though.
Also: The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. This is my third attempt at reading this novel and surprisingly, I'm enjoying it this time.

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August 2016

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