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“Choke! Gasp!” Not A Podcast! It’s The Menopausal Male Media Massacre!

John Kane

Are you an adventurer? Are you lonely? Are you a lonely adventurer? Click “more” to meet lonely adventurers in your area


Art by Jack Kirby from THE JACK KIRBY OMNIBUS Vol.1 (DC Comics, 2011)

Oh, okay, it’s not really a dating thing for lonely adventurers. After all, Love should be the least lonely adventure of all!

No, what it is is Mr Jeff Lester and Mr Graeme McMillan are denying us all the pleasure of their patter as this is A Skip Week. So here’s some stuff I threw together about some other stuff so you don’t feel all aggrieved and put out or something. It’s either this or me telling you about filling in my tax return or why men should take off their hats when indoors. (Because we aren’t animals is why.) Anyway, this…

The Collected Stories of Jonathan Carroll
By Jonathan Carroll
600pp. Subterranean Press (2012)


Jonathan Carroll is a funny one alright. He’s the kind of writer I blithely assume is at the top of some chart somewhere and beloved of thousands of eager and appreciative fans. The fact that I never hear about his new books and have to actively go look up if he’s done anything since the last time I checked, together with the fact that this, his most recent book, is published by Subterranean Press, indicate that he probably isn’t as popular as I presume. Which is a shame. It’s a shame because he is a really good writer. He does a kind of magical-realist-fantasy-horror thing which is firmly and insistently set within the mundane frame of day to day reality. He does this so that when the Bad Things happen it is all the more effective. In a fairly short number of pages, and in a terse and limited vocabulary of fierce neutrality he’ll map out the setting and then, well, pretty much anything can happen.

Basically he’s like Neil Gaiman if Gaiman hadn’t been neutered for public consumption. While Neil Gaiman is gabbing away at you he’s always too busy refilling your cup of tea and making sure you have enough cushions; while Carroll would chat with you until your guard dropped at which point he’d throw the steaming hot tea in your face and force the cushion down your shrieking mouth while a talking dog appeared from nowhere and pissed in your stinging eyes. He’s been robbed is what I’m saying. If you’ve never read Carroll then this book is a good place to start as it collects all Carroll’s short fiction from 1990-2012 and amply demonstrates the effectiveness of his sharp contrast approach. The work of Jonathan Carroll is as arresting as a sparkling work surface smeared with human shit. One for the book jacket there. He’s not a one-note writer though as well as the horror there’s humour, eroticism, intelligence and a very playful sense of invention. I liked this book (I like all his books) it was VERY GOOD!

By Ian McEwan
336pp. Jonathan Cape (2012)


Difficult not to spoil this one but some might say the author does that for you. It starts off at a right canter and you’ll be whisked along with your pearly teeth exposed in delight as your long clean hair flies behind you like a streamer of joy. Because it looks like  you’re getting a nut-tight spy thriller graced with all the literate loveliness only a prose perfectionist like McEwan can deliver. It looks like you’re getting a fascinating view of the paradigm shift within the Secret Services as the Cold War politely steps back and the Irish mainland bombing campaign thuggishly elbows its way to the forefront of State concerns. It looks like you’re getting a fascinating portrait of the silent sexism that soured the ’70s, it looks like you’re getting a love story, and then…


You just couldn’t help yourself could you, McEwan? Look, pal, no one likes a smart arse. Lucky for lad-di-da Ian McEwan that we all like good writing and the writing in SWEET TOOTH is fantastic but since it is put to such ultimately shallow ends the book wound up just being GOOD!

By Laurent Binet
Translated by Sam Taylor
336 pp. Harvill Secker (2012)


It was the fictional light entertainment dunderhead Alan Partridge who said, “The more I learn about Hitler the more I dislike him”; a statement that it is hard to argue with and one which is also equally applicable to Reinhard Heydrich who is the titular subject of this book. Yes, reader, the more I learned about Heydrich the more I disliked him. Although, to be fair, he had an uphill struggle from the off as he was one of the architects of The Final Solution. You know the one, that’s right, that one. Revealingly the impetus for The Final Solution was to ease the burden on the sensitive souls of the SS who found slaughtering men, women and children round the clock was a tad wearing on their ickle nerves. That such tremendous horror should have been born of such tender concern is almost funny. If it isn’t funny it is at least instructive, as is much of the book since its subject is not just Heydrich but also the kind of Mind-State occupied by a people willing to implement the unthinkable in the same way as a change to bus routes; the attempt on Heydrich’s life by a small group of Czech and Slovak resistance fighters; the appalling consequences of this (See! A village disappear!) and how it all lead to the world finally facing the fact that the only way to deal with  Hitler was to burn him down and salt the earth afterwards. The book is written in a chatty, discursive style in which Binet reflects on his doubts regarding his work, the impossibility of being objective, the ladies he has liked and the other works of fact and fiction dealing with the same areas. I guess some would find this post-modern and innovative, and it probably is, but I just found it absorbing and appealing. Which, of course, can be due in no small part to the translator Sam Taylor. Don’t worry the style doesn’t reduce the subject matter to vapid emo-tainment (You know: “Enough about The Holocaust! What about my problems!?!“) but it does just take the edges off so that you can finish the book without collapsing in despair at the whole shoddy mess of Evil involved and all the unthinkable implications about our species that all that sad Nazi shit contains. It wasn’t exactly a feel-good romp but it was VERY GOOD!

Remember: Always leave ’em laughing!

Next time maybe I’ll avoid a disciplinary from Bwana Brian and observe the remit and talk about COMICS!!!

9 Responses to “ “Choke! Gasp!” Not A Podcast! It’s The Menopausal Male Media Massacre! ”

  1. I don’t actually think that Neil is watered down, these days. What we have now is concentrated, undiluted Gaiman. When he first hit the comics scene back in the 80’s he was mixed with a lot of ‘ comics have to be serious and meaningful ‘ pretentions. It took him a year and a half of Sandman before he realised he was more comfortable with the modern day fairy tale, fantasy bollocks he’s ran with ever since.

  2. @a man with a strange name: Could be, certainly sounds reasonable. I was really on about his prose rather than his comics but same difference, your point still sticks. His earlier stuff just seemed to have a bit more bite. But, y’know, that’s okay I don’t expect Neil Gaiman to write how I personally want him to. And I certainly (certainly!) wouldn’t want anyone to think I don’t think he is an incredibly talented man. He’s without a doubt the most gifted prose stylist I’ve ever encountered. Put him in a room with someone’s complete works for a length of time and he’ll emerge able to mimic that style perfectly.He’s like the John Carpenter’s The Thing of genre fiction.


  3. See, it’s actually Gaiman’s prose that I like least about him – I find that his tone tends to fall somewhere between condescending and cloying, and he has a grating habit of over-writing everything from dialogue to basic narration. His comics have always held up much better than his books have, I think, because the artists are doing so much of the storytelling, and the work doesn’t have to rely nearly so much on actual words, which I don’t think Gaiman is nearly that good at. But his best work by far, I maintain, are his children’s books, like Wolves in the Wall and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which make the best use of Gaiman’s strengths (great ideas, an ability to engage with the childlike) while relying on the excellent talents of Dave McKean to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

    There’s a general problem in genre fiction, I think, where the quality of the prose is much lower than the quality of the ideas being presented (which is a reason I haven’t read genre fiction in a while). Because the writer is (ideally) trying to present you with novel concepts, there’s a tendency or a need to explain the setup or the world as much as possible, which leads to a very leaden, over-written, exposition-heavy prose style, in which the writer is using as many words as possible to explain or describe everything at once, which just becomes numbing and suffocating after a while. The idea that fiction can accomplish more by merely suggesting something is utterly lost.

  4. and both Gaiman and Carroll have done work with McKean.


  5. @moose n squirrel: Well, while I do think he’s very good at what he does I don’t really like what he does. It’s pretty much what you said about his tone that rubs me up the wrong way. “Cloying” is spot on. But I don’t think the quality of his prose depends on whether I like it. I mean, is his prose actually “cloying” or is that just what we (you and I) perceive it as being? Or maybe I should have been less woolly and seperated Tone and Diction, but that’s getting a bit academic for my old brain.

    Those are super-smart points but I think they apply to any bad writing, not just genre fiction in toto. I guess I generalise when I speak of genre fiction. Once we start getting into defining that one everybody retreats to a different corner. I guess, for me,if the prose is as good as the ideas (providing the ideas are good) then I’d take it out of genre fiction and just class it as Fiction. But that’s me; after all Peter Straub hasn’t written pure Horror for a long time and James Ellroy is a long way from Crime now but I bet both are classed as Horror and Crime respectivley. Or Elmore Leonard. He’s fiction to me, but Michael Connelly is Crime. Um, I just really regard fiction as fiction unless, as you say, the prose isn’t too hot but the ideas carry it; in which case I call it genre fiction, because it’s the genre fixings which attract me and hold me. I’ll probably change my mind in a minute though. This isn’t the kind of thing I carry around ready-made in my feeble head.

    @Corey (Ottawa): Indeed! Black Cocktail is included in THE WOMAN WHO MARRIED A CLOUD (but sans McKean.) I think Carroll did an intro to a volume of SANDMAN too. A volume of SANDMAN that was, cough-cough, very Jonathan Carroll-esque IIRC!

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  6. Wow, I thought I was out of my league before reading the comments….

    Anyway, John, your book columns are my favorite columns. I enjoy them because you explain things in a way where I always think, “hey, I understand that!” But you do it with dense, heavy books I wouldn’t otherwise have read. Like, thanks to you, I’m now a James Ellroy fanatic.

    So, I don’t want to be the contrarian, but I like Gaiman’s prose a lot. I find his biggest problems are clarity, like moose n squirrell said, along with his characters being a wee bit underdeveloped, but everything is so nice and easy to read. I may not fall in love with his characters, but I always really enjoy the time I spend with them.

    The genre fiction/ fiction delineation…I’m also too feeble minded for that. I just assume everything’s genre fiction of some sort. Gravity’s Rainbow is war fiction, Infinite Jest is tennis fiction (and wow, is that ever a wide open genre! I think I might write a tennis story just so I can be compared to Wallace!). Really, if you pull the camera back far enough, everything is some kind of fiction. (This is also the justification I use for my crack-addiction-like reading of Jo Nesbo novels. I really, really enjoy those.)

    I read your review of HHhH to my dad, who really enjoys learning about military wartime history and how the politics unfolded after, and he was as amused by it as I was. He didn’t agree the Final Solution was a justification for all the killing, but he saw where you were coming from. I, however, never even heard of Heydrich (I never had a War Criminals trading card set), and I did a lot of reading on him. Apparently, Hitler was the good cop to Heydrich’s bad cop and that totally blew my mind.

    So, I bought the HHhH book today, both because I’m not well informed and because the author’s navel gazing approach sounds cool. I’m definitely going to give Jonathon Carroll a read, too. Any novel you recommend from him?

  7. @Chris Hero: Hurrah! We were all beginning to think you were dead or something! The Beat’s comment section just wasn’t as much fun to read I’ll tell you that.

    As ever I thank you for your very kind words and I bet James Ellroy thanks you for the money. The thing about Gaiman for me is it’s *too* nice and easy to read. He pays the reader’s comfort level too much attention (hence the cushions and the cups of tea). I don’t know; I say he’s good at what he does but it just isn’t for me and I still get into trouble!

    Nah, you aren’t out of your depth, Mr. Hero. Discussing genre is a great way to waste the rest of your life. It’s fun but I wouldn’t get too hung up about it. Genre labels are really only of practical use in finding your way around big bookshops. Or finding other people who write stuff like the people you already like. As you wisely say: it’s all fiction if you step back far enough. I haven’t read Jo Nesbo but I am aware he is Hot! Hot! Hot!

    I hope you enjoy HHhH (although I hope your researches on Heydrich haven’t spoiled most of it for you). While I’m not sure I was justifying WW2 exactly you can assure your Dad I would much rather it had not had to happen at all. I am amused that I amused your Dad as well as yourself. They give out War Criminals card sets to all new born babies here. We have an unreasonably long memory about stuff like having the sh*t bombed out of us.

    As for Carroll, er, I dunno, you look like A Child Across The Sky kind of guy to me? Or a Sleeping in Flame dame if it’s the Fantasy stuff in Gaiman you warm to. It’s all good, really (but The Panic Hand is short stories, so they are all in TWWMAC). I’m glad you are looking forward to Alan Moore’s JERUSALEM as well. Wait, did I just…READ YOUR MIND!?!

    As ever I thank you for your thoughtful comments and I appreciate you trying books I mention. However I am a bit leery of you spending money on my say-so (there’s always the library) as I’m just, as ever, winging it.

    Thanks though and the best of luck with ‘em!

  8. Hey John!

    Yeah, I’ve been MIA because I’ve been so busy lately. I travel a lot for work and I’ve been spending any free time working on assignments for my newest comic art class. I’m still terrible but I keep learning soooo much. The down side is it now takes me about 10x longer to read a comic because I keep noticing a lot of little things.

    My dad wasn’t upset with your conclusion about why the term “the final solution” came about, he just saw things in a different way. (i.e. It doesn’t matter what they called it or when they called it, genocide is genocide.) I wasn’t trying to be crass with my war criminals trading card joke…I continue to be amazed on an almost daily basis how isolated we Americans are. Like, we don’t have a history where someone bombed the daylights out of us, so most of this stuff just seems like facts from a book for us. Also, I think not having a thousand years of history for our country is a problem, too.

    Anyway, don’t worry about me buying books based on your recommendations. I have a weird compulsion where I have to buy the books I read. Luckily, I don’t drink, so my drinking money goes to books that clog up my shelves. And I’ve noticed you and I have very similar interests, so why not read stuff you recommend? Even if I don’t like it, I’m sure it will be a worthwhile experience.

    Yep, you read my mind on Jerusalem. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited by an upcoming book. With Gaiman, I don’t think he writes memorable characters or stories with his prose, but I love the way he words things. I loved your joke about the pillows and tea, though. You’re in good company, though. A buddy of mine has a PhD in English Lit and can’t stand Gaiman’s work. Personally, I agree with moose n squirell that his comics work is his best. I loooove Sandman and the first Death mini is one of my favorite books to read ever.

    Anyway, I’ll let you know what I think of HHhH. I’m really excited by the premise. I tried to limit my reading of his history to up until the Night of Long Knives. For me, reading the quote by Hitler, “Heydrich is the man with the iron heart,” told me all I needed to know. My sensibilities are a bit weak, so I get creeped out just trying to fathom how someone can be that devoid of empathy. I mean, when Hitler’s basically saying someone else is the bad cop to Hitler’s good cop…I just can’t quite wrap my head around that. Clearly I need some more education!

  9. @Chris Hero: I wish I’d had some proper comic training then I might understand what I’m looking at! Well done, you. That’s awesome stuff.

    Before this turns into a Monty Python sketch I move that we stop apologising to each other…carried! Your Dad and me are sound. But I will just say I didn’t think you were being crass at all but I was (a bit). Also, you do have more than a 1000 years of history, dude!!! I know you know that really but it made me laugh. Really, I do know it was just a slip.

    Hey, Sandman’s good comics. I got no beef there. But “Goodnight moon! Goodnight, Batman!” No. A thousand times “no”. NOOOOOoooooOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOOO!

    Yeah, you let me know how HHhH works out for you. If you like quotes there’s an awesome quote from Churchill to Chamberlain on his return from appeasing Hitler where The Church just plain says, “Dude, you just shit that bed and now we’re all going to have to sleep in it!” but in a really classy way. Let me know anyway. Especially if you didn’t like it!

    Cheers as ever!

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