The Pigeon – Patrick Suesskind

The street diarrhoea scene will linger, I suspect, forever.


The Collector – John Fowles

Another psychological treat from Fowles. Less pretentious and adolescent than The Magus, The Collector cleverly examines the same fact base from the viewpoint of the kidnapper, and kidnappee.

Fowles has the ability to generate the state of mind you are in when you wake from a half-remembered nightmare, where the feeling of disquiet still lingers, but you can’t remember quite why.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Philip Pullman

Excellent, thought provoking idea. What makes the Christian story persist is also what allows the creation of the Magisterium.

Pullman makes it clear his guns are trained at organised religion, and its emergent characteristics, not in wise moral guidance.

Rowan Williams likes it, although he thinks the Gospels are better (but he’s paid to say that).

A Field Guide to the English – Sarah Lyall

Kate Fox and Jeremy Paxman have both tackled this subject. Fox gets gold, Paxo silver, and Lyall bronze.

Her book has some pleasant enough anecdotes, but she lacks the biting wit of Bryson, and although she likes England well enough, she lacks Bryson’s quirky deep affection for the country and (many of) its people.

Also, she really doesn’t appreciate the pervasiveness of class in English society, and tries to tackle it in a separate chapter, and by doing so fails.

It’s a pleasant enough aeroplane read, but Fox’s book is a lot better.

Of course, The Road to Wigan Pier is the grandaddy of the genre, and is still pertinent, and appears unbeatable.

The Rachel Papers – Martin Amis

Better than that Adrian Mole crap. Worse than Catcher in the Rye.

Did any pretentious spotty gits ever get that much sex? I was spotty and pretentious, but it didn’t help me get my end away.

As usual, some wonderful apercus.

The Girl on the Motorcycle – Andre Pierre de Mandiargues

“On the bench the men in black have become utterly motionless and sit inert, almost as though stupefied. All these people, Rebecca thinks, live their lives only at the lowest level of vitality.”

First published in 1963, this book was adapted into the 1968 film “Girl on a Motorcycle” starring Marianne Faithfull in the title role.

Newly married 19 year old Rebecca rides from Alsace to southern Germany into (she hope) the arms of her dominant, and much older lover. She’s escaping from Raymond: a man she despises, who bears the somewhat laboured surname “Nul”.

Symbolism is plastered on with an unsubtle trowel. For example the colours red, white and black are a recurring theme, and we are reminded that these were the colours of the Nazi flag. For a story written in 1963, featuring numerous border crossings between France and Germany, I doubt this needs to be explicitly stated.

Rebecca has a wonderful exuberance, self-confidence and superiority. She is aware of her power over men. Other women hardly feature in the book at all.

She pilots her black Harley (a wedding gift from her lover) with skill. Her lover rides a red Guzzi. Mandriargues describes the engineering in loving detail.

In one way, there is a hierarchy: the woman in control of the bike, and her lover in control of her. Her lover provides the context in which Rebecca can be free.

Room 101

Christopher Hitchens suggests that Orwell’s Room 101 in 1984 is derived from his experiences in Room 101 at the BBC’s Portland Place headquarters in London.It also occurs to me that room 101 may be the most common hotel room number. If you think about it.