Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The best of this summer’s weird and wonderful novels. Three mini-reviews

I’m not entirely sure why, but in the eight weeks since I gave birth, I have managed to read a whole raft of twisted fiction. Delicious, funny novels that are always just a little bit warped, these books have seen me through sleepless nights and hectic days. Indeed, one of the works on my Top Three Weird Books list, has the dubious honour of being a work of literature that I managed to finish reading whilst I was actually in labour. Advanced labour. True, there were only two pages of the novel remaining, but Matt Haig’s The Radleys will always be special to me for the reason that reading about suburban vampires battling irksome relations was never more intense than when experiencing contractions at three-minute intervals. But enough about the circumstances of the reading experience, onto the books themselves.

The Radleys by Matt Haig. Two teenagers, Clara and Rowan, discover why they are so pale, listless and unpopular. Their parents are vampires, as apparently they are themselves, but alas their folks are staunch Abstainers (yes, they abstain from drinking human blood, the fusspots), which means that lethargy and wimpiness will be a constant in all of their lives. That is until one fateful night when an over-amorous teenage boy thrusts himself upon Clara, at which point she discovers a certain violent streak within herself. Blood, gore, dark humour and various larks ensue until compromises are reached and the future once again seems as if it will be far less scarlet. Sigh. A future without Awesome Baddy And Smooth Talker Uncle Will will definitely be less interesting. But still, order is restored and Good wins over Evil. Such messages are important and popular in books, I’m told, so who am I to argue? And there are hints that the aforementioned two teenagers won’t tiptoe too neatly along the straight and narrow. Thank heavens. The world (okay, of fiction) surely does not need two more saintly vampires.

Anyhow, if you fancy the sound of suburban black comedy with a supernatural twist, this one will likely be for you.

Canongate Books, ISBN 13: 9781847678607, 352pages, paperback.

Two Little Boys by Duncan Sarkies. A study of a seriously juvenile friendship. Part moving bromance, part gross-out-roadtrip, this novel will both offend and delight. The product description on Amazon says the following:

When Nige runs over a Norwegian backpacker while attempting to save petrol, his life really turns to shit. He throws the body in a nearby road works and runs to his best mate of fifteen years, Deano. The trouble is, Deano’s not really the guy you should turn to in a crisis.

Quite a nifty hook, and one that certainly made me keen to read the book. Nige is one of the most hopeless and stupid heroes I’ve ever encountered in a work of fiction and yet possibly one of the most endearing, if that can be said of a character who accidentally kills a tourist and then takes part in a ridiculous cover-up that involves stuffing a body into a rucksack and disposing of it in a most indecorous manner. In terms of snappy comic dialogue, there are echoes of Flight of the Conchords here (Deano has some of the funniest lines that I have ever read in a novel), and interestingly, Jemaine Clement has provided Two Little Boys with a cover quote (‘Twisted, surprising and very very very funny. Did I put too many verys? I don’t think so‘). Surprisingly, beneath the dimwit bluster and creepster banter there is a very tender story of male friendship, and a thread (perhaps a tapestry) of homoeroticism. If you’re fond of the New Zealand Slacker, or if you giggled through Eagle Vs Shark (what a film) then you might just enjoy Two Little Boys.

John Murray, ISBN 13: 9781848540972, 288 pages, paperback.

Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes. Story-telling so gloriously preposterous and eerie that it reminded me of those books of Victorian fairytales that are nowadays mostly considered too disturbing to read to children. Rhodes presents the reader with a study of a community full of quirky weirdoes with strange predilections and magnificently bizarre lives. Contains a love story that almost reduced me to tears (almost. My hormones have not got the better of me yet, thank you very much). A cannibalistic doctor and an idealistic baker were my two favourite characters in this novel, but there are plenty of other crackpot characters in which to delight. Dan Rhodes weaves his wonderful stories with a dash of humour and a dollop of old school imagination. Panache is the word that first comes to mind when remembering Little Hands Clapping. A word of warning though: anyone disturbed by images of spiders entering mouths, or cannibals feasting on the depressed, should really avoid this one. None of the Bookfoxes will be surprised, however, when I say that I loved it. Strange characters and ludicrous plot-lines, swaddled in some darkly comic giftwrap…what now could be better?

Canongate Books, ISBN 13: 9781847675293, 320 pages, hardback.

4 comments on “The best of this summer’s weird and wonderful novels. Three mini-reviews

  1. rosyb
    June 17, 2010

    Oh this is a review for me!!!!

    I want Two Little Boys. Will I like it? Which of these would you recommend for me?

  2. Birdy
    June 18, 2010

    This is quite an nifty collection of books and I absolutely enjoyed the Little Hands Clapping review. I have been following your blog for some time and now added it to my blogroll. Just dropped in to say that you have some really wonderful reviews here and do keep writing! 🙂

  3. Lisa
    June 18, 2010

    Rosy, Two Little Boys would be right up your street, I reckon. I think you’d also enjoy the weirdness & dark humour of the Rhodes book AND the suburban vampires in the Haig. But definitely have a look through TLB if you see it in a shop.

    Thanks for reading VL, Birdy! Thanks also for adding us to your links. Really appreciate. Will check out your site now. 🙂

  4. Jackie
    June 18, 2010

    The cover of “Little hands Clapping” reminds me of an Edward Gorey drawing.
    “The Radleys” sounds like it takes the vampire trend & gives it some humorous twists. I actually chuckled when I read your review of it. But your comment about reading during labor just boggled my mind, that was quite amazing.

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This entry was posted on June 17, 2010 by in Entries by Lisa, Fiction: Horror, Fiction: humour, Fiction: literary.



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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