Wednesday 29 October 2014

Book review time - "Numbskulls" by Mark Kilner

Numbskulls. © 2014 Mark KilnerKilner's latest collection picks up nicely where Let's Kill Love left off, in that many of the stories herein deal with similar themes: alienation, isolation and just how messed up life in 21st Century Britain has become. Except I think Numbskulls trumps even the excellence of the previous collection. There's a lot going on here, both in terms of style and content. Rightly or wrongly, it feels like Kilner has grown more confident in his writing, and is even more willing (and he was never reluctant) to try new ideas out for size.

There's humour here ("You Are Boris Johnson" will hit the mark for all those old enough to remember those "choose your own adventure" books of our youth, whilst "Beardface" and "And Now For Something Strangely Familiar" are also highly effective comic pieces), controversy (the Ballardian "Funeral of Princess Diana Considered as a Grand Prix Motor Race" might not be to everyone's taste but is deftly handled), a bit of social commentary ("Killed to Death" and "Rutting Season" are both very good on contemporary celebrity) and outright surrealism ("All The Young Bowies"). As with Let's Kill Love, Kilner also includes a longer story - "Passion" is surprisingly thought-provoking with regard to art, religion, the tabloid press... and a couple called Hugh and Liz.

Best of all though is the story in two parts that bookends the collection, "Single to Kepler-186f" and "Hello Cruel World". These stories epitomise Kilner's style, his preferred subject matter, his dark humour, his inventiveness and his originality. In these tales, our hero, disenchanted with the modern world and deprived of the romantic escape he hopes against hope for, volunteers to journey into deep space to colonise a distant, uninhabited world. But as you might expect from Kilner, things don't quite turn out as expected...

I won't go through all twenty stories here, but I will say this: Numbskulls is a whip-smart collection, with recurrent themes entwined throughout. Working through it, this reader found himself having lightbulb moments on multiple occasions as stories referred back, obliquely, to earlier tales in the book. To borrow a maths analogy, it's like Kilner has shown his working out as he's gone along, which leaves the reader feeling very satisfied on reaching the solution. The quality of the writing alone warrants a five-star review, but that feeling of satisfaction the reader gets, delivered subtly but so, so cleverly, makes this my book of the year. You can, and should, buy it here.

Thursday 16 October 2014

I'd fire you all

I watched The Apprentice for the first time this series last night. The whole format seems to be a bit laboured now and, if I'm honest, I only watch the task enough to be able to shout at the television when they're all in the boardroom. Shout and roll my eyes in despair, that is, because it does seem like the shortlisting process for applicants, of which there must be hundreds if not thousands, seems to be "Who's the most arrogant? Inept? Opinionated? Ghastly?" In other words, who is most likely to get people like me rolling their eyes and throwing my hands up in the air at the awfulness of them all. Rather than, let's say, who might actually make a good apprentice in Sugar's corporate world.

That's television these days, I guess.

There was a double whammy last night. Robert got canned for hiding during the task but then, stupidly, not hiding in the boardroom. If you're going to hide, stay hidden (like Stephen and Felipe, who seemed invisible all evening). And Scott got fired for being angry and intense - that's me reading between the lines, but it seemed to me that Lord Sugar was just glad to be shot of his aggression. And poor old Scott: I'm not going to do a separated at birth because the similarity was more to do with actions and manners than simple looks, but oh my, he reminded me of a young version of this guy, complete with chest-puff/chin-thrust move:

Mr Mackay in Porridge, confusingly played by Fulton Mackay
Mr Mackay in Porridge, confusingly played by Fulton Mackay

© BBC 2014. Scott McCulloch, an angry man, in typically modest mode
Scott McCulloch, an angry man, in typically modest mode

As the post title suggests, I wouldn't want any of them on my team, but if I had to nail my Apprentice colours to the mast, I'd go for Jemma Bird and Solomon Ahktar. Jemma seems relentlessly optimistic and tries to make the best of every situation, however bad it seems and, as yet, hasn't got involved in rows, back-biting and juvenile squabbles. But then it was only episode two. Solomon actually seems to have good ideas, and appears to be a guy you could actually work with, a criteria that is surely more important than grandiose CV padding. I wish these two well. The rest? You're all fired.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

And they call this progress?

Because I know you all lose sleep over my mobile phone choices, here's an update to the chronology.

Mobile phone chronology

Don't get me wrong, it's brilliant, but this is progress? Why are all manufacturers chasing bigger and bigger screens? For the avoidance of doubt, this is the biggest phone I've had since the late Nineties... yet it is billed as Compact. It far outperforms its predecessor in almost every respect, but how I wish that hadn't become temperamental.

The last time I did this...

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Separated at birth VI - Jude and Mia

Miranda Richardson as Jude in Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game"
Miranda Richardson as Jude in Neil Jordan's "The Crying Game"

Is it just me that wonders if Quentin had watched Miranda Richardson as Jude in The Crying Game before he styled Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction?

Uma Thurman as Mia in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction"
Uma Thurman as Mia Wallace in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction"

Previous separations at birth