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Three days off work. I have three days off work. Isn't that a beautiful sentence? Of course, the three days off come just as the beautiful weather has buggered off, and I did do eleven hours at work yesterday, so I feel as though I am allowed to be joyful.

It's been an immensely frustrating time to be offline, given that the political world *exploded*. The MPs were hoist by their own secretive petard when the Torygraph got hold of a disk of their expenses and proceeded to have a lovely time outing people who were flipping, charging charitable donations to the taxpayer and buying duckhouses or clearing moats. Gordon Brown became the first beleaguered prime minister ever to be saved by an incredibly awful election result -- after all, why chuck your leader out off a cliff when you've no chance of winning in 2010 anyway?

When I was living in other people's houses my special project was reading bestsellers, just to try to figure out why so many people appeared to love those books. I started with a Len Deighton book -- SS-GB. I had planned to read Bomber, after reading a review of it online but SS-GB is an alternate history and I love those more than pie, were such a thing possible.

SS-GB starts from "what if Britain was invaded in the summer of 1940?" and develops a very realistic portrait of a country under occupation by the Germans. If you've read Fatherland, you'll find very obvious parallels with this earlier book, down to the pastede on yay American heroine. Robert Harris's characterisation of the women is better, Deighton's book is creepier.

Then I moved onto Martine Cole and I've been stuck there ever since. Martina Cole is one of the best-selling authors in Britain, writer of brick-like tomes about the London/Essex underworld. It started when I read this interview and wondered whether I was being a snob by not reading the books. Is the literary establishment ganging up on a female working class, wrong-side-of-the-tracks outsider?

Not really. The books are compulsive reading and yet also lousily written. Let me describe the process of reading one. You know how everyone has someone in their family -- a blousy, funny aunt, cousin or family friend, who is a marvellous raconteur. They are confident, slightly hard, maybe with a good turn of phrase, but the main thing is that when they sit down with a glass of wine to tell you a story about their dodgy mates, you listen because you know you're going to be entertained.

Reading a Martina Cole book is like that same aunt after she's got pissed. The story's still pretty good, and you have affection for the teller, but god, the longwindedness, the swearing, the repetitive and contradictory rambling. I fear that she's too important for an editor now, for someone to take her to one side and suggest that she might like to do a little more showing and a bit less telling, and keep better track of her story.

Her typical hero is a gangster from the East End or Essex. The good ones are honorable thieves, the bad ones are violent, remorseless and charming sociopaths. Women are there to be decorative or drink, mothers always smother or are drunken, and warp their families by playing favourites. Every character, with a few exceptions, is vile. Not just weak or mistaken but horrible. She tells you one thing about a character in one chapter and then contradicts it a few chapters later. The settings are seedy and there is no place for human joy at all. If you took the words ****ing and c*** out of the books, you could cut their length by 25%.

And yet... and yet I've read four of the bloody things in a fortnight. I'm going to stop now because if I don't I am going start thinking that the whole of Essex is an open sewer full of criminal nutjobs.

I wanted to link today to the most witless piece of pointless bloggery masquerading as journalism to appear on the Guardian website since, well, the last time there was a witless piece of pointless bloggery yadda yadda yadda but they have taken it down. parthenia14 yesterday linked to the ongoing horror that is Observer Woman or Women or whatever the hell they're calling it. Alas, it is against the law to coat their entire office in banoffee pie or put them in stocks outside King's Cross.

I do not want to know the answer to the question "how many times can K watch episode 5 of Being Human -- "WHO WANTS SOME OF MY CHAIR!!?" -- as I suspect the number is very large.

Happy July 4th (as of five minutes ago) to those of you who celebrate


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 3rd, 2009 11:22 pm (UTC)
I think so. Deighton's prose is excellent, the plot is taut and I liked the way the story unfolded. It's brilliant on how the small compromises of daily life can add up to larger betrayals, on the vicious internecine politics on both sides and on war-shattered Britain. On the downside, its gender attitudes are a product of its time and Deighton is obviously much less interested in the romance than the thriller element.

I think Harris is very much in Deighton's debt with Fatherland, much as I liked Fatherland
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 4th, 2009 09:09 am (UTC)
I've seen the Harry Palmer films, which I loved, and I think I like your description of them even more! Deighton is cold, matter of fact but deadpan funny. I think I was startled by how good his books are. He's very good on class and on masculinity. Did you know he was once a cooking correspondent? I heard a radio documentary about him a month or so ago and he's been living in your neck of the woods for 20 years.

A charity shop trawl is in order to get some more once I prise myself away from Martina bloody Cole and the literary crack that is her crime novels.
Jul. 4th, 2009 12:24 am (UTC)
I want to know the answer! Episode 5 was my favorite of the series. I found and enjoyed the Being Human finale last weekend, so no need for special services. However, I may have to go find episode 5 because now you're making me think about it, I only saw it that one time, and it was so good.

Enjoy your days off work. Don't spend it all fussing with home repair!
Jul. 4th, 2009 09:09 am (UTC)
I have to fuss with home repair - can't buy furniture until it's done. Bah.
Jul. 4th, 2009 11:53 am (UTC)
Just don't spend *all* your time doing that! Although I do see the draw to getting to go to Ikea sooner... *g*
Jul. 4th, 2009 12:31 am (UTC)
I really need to get Being Human.
Jul. 4th, 2009 09:09 am (UTC)
It shall be arranged.
Jul. 5th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure I can grab it-- don't worry!
Jul. 4th, 2009 01:30 am (UTC)
Who wants some of my chair! ::dies laughing::

Jul. 4th, 2009 09:11 am (UTC)
I draw sparkly hearts around it. Sparkly. Hearts. All. Around. It.
(Deleted comment)
Jul. 4th, 2009 09:12 am (UTC)
You're allowed to mock a little, but that is charming. I hope you (and your mum) have a lovely relaxing few days off.
Jul. 4th, 2009 02:27 am (UTC)
Why is it that 3 days off from work sounds like so much more time than just 2 days of a regular weekend?

I don't know either, but it does!
Jul. 4th, 2009 09:13 am (UTC)
I don't know but four would be even better. Alas, work beckons again on Monday
Jul. 4th, 2009 07:32 am (UTC)
Gosh, which piece of pointless bloggery was that?

When I was searching for the pieces that Hadley Freeman didn't name, I came across the most godawful articles. Liz Jones featured highly - her article about breast reduction is even more disturbing than the anorexia one. If that's possible.

the whole of Essex is an open sewer full of criminal nutjobs.

I think that's Kent.
Jul. 4th, 2009 09:31 am (UTC)
Liz Jones is a frightening person. I have no idea why The Daily Mail runs her "Oh I understand it's all wrong but you should look like a toothpick" articles, or used to run her column where she slagged off her husband, always mentioning that he was younger than her and would probably run off with a floozie. Oh yes I do. They hate women.

The pointless piece of witless bloggery was headlined something like "Dealing with troublesome tenants moving into your house" and was briefly on the main page on Wednesday or Thursday. However it turned out to be "a piece by our blogger Tabitha [somethingorother]" in which the woman whined that, caught out by getting a massive mortgage, she'd had to let a French person move in, who left all his stuff all over! And she had to explain to the neighbours in her exclusive neighbourhood that she would have lodgers! And the French person smoked! But it turns out that he put his things away and was actually quite Frenchily funny so that's all right then. It was *so* poor little rich thing that it was nauseating and wasn't anything to do with problem tenants.

The first 20-30 comments on the blog were along the lines of "What the shit is this, Guardian?" and were pretty funny. I wanted to link to it for that alone but I think they learned their lesson after they ran the blog of the entitled rich kid bumming around Thailand who turned out to be related to a Guardian contributor and it spawned a firestorm of disgusted sarcasm, and TAbitha's travails are gone. :::pouff!:::
Jul. 4th, 2009 12:35 pm (UTC)
And yet... and yet I've read four of the bloody things in a fortnight. I'm going to stop now because if I don't I am going start thinking that the whole of Essex is an open sewer full of criminal nutjobs.

I hate to break this to you, but round here all of those are classed as 'Non Fiction'. Really, it *is*...
Jul. 4th, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
I had heard that. But reading the book is a bit like lifting a rock and going "eeeeeeuurgh" at all the scurrying things
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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