Madness For All: Book Round-Up

Christopher Fowler
Only two books this week but I've been bit rough, and the first one was (for me) fairly demanding. 'Venomous Lumpsucker' is unique in a way that only Ned Beauman's novels can be, a richly detailed systems novel that at times outpaces the reader. For me, his previous high-water marks were 'The Teleportation Accident' and 'Madness Is Better Than Defeat', but this doubles down on the multiple pile-ups of subject matter matter to create a fragmented, hallucinatory adventure that may well come closest to reflecting the Catch-22 mentality of the modern world. Making sense of madness seems to be Mr B's stock in trade. It's almost a love story too. Mark is an 'Environmental Impact Co-ordinator' short-selling 'extinction credits' that allow rich conglomerates to kill off rare species so long as their deets are stashed in global bio-banks, and we remember how that was working out when the Svalbard biobank encased in permafrost started thawing a couple of years back. His opposite number is Karin, vaguely attracted/appalled by him and trying to save the titular ugly Swedish fish by proving its rescue-worthy intelligence. I should add that it plays out, often hilariously, like a James Bond thriller, zipping around the more interesting topmost parts of the world, fighting off corporate slugs and forever being allowed access into mysterious experimental labs at the swipe of a security card. Relegated to the sidelines of the global power-grab process is the 'Hermit Kingdom', a collapsing, deluded isolationist country coyly unnamed even though Mr Beauman knows that you know you live in it. Beauman is still young; read him before he calms down. I approached Frankie Boyle's debut noir crime novel 'Meantime' with trepidation because I did not want to be disappointed. The Glaswegian stand-up is thoughtfully shocking and his one-liners tend to linger in the mind. There's something unusual about their construction, as though they started out longer, then had a middle stage removed to streamline them. A one-liner in a novel is still just a one-liner, though, unless it's organically fitted within its fiction structure. At first 'Meantime' gives off noughties vibes; the penniless chancers wasting themselves on drugs and booze, the death of a girlfriend offering a shot at redemption, the ugly impoverishment at the wrong end of Glaswegian society.  I started to think I'd read all this a hundred times before, beginning with Irvine Welsh, but there are some nicely mad twists, a bit of politics and many laugh-out-loud observations, like; 'People trying to be cool in Glasgow don't have a lot of reference points to work with, so they often have to cobble together a personality from movie characters and food allergies.' Boyle has adapted his off-kilter imagination and refined his jokes in the service of his downtrodden characters, although occasionally he can't resist giving someone a funny line for the sake of it. If we apply Margery Allingham's 'Plum Pudding Principle' to the book, yes, there's a plum to be pulled out on every page, and the mystery itself is perfectly serviceable. What shines through is a genuine love of Glasgow and its long-suffering residents. I wonder what would happen if Boyle stepped out of his comfort zone and wrote characters from beyond his general ken. Let's hope he keeps writing and we find out. A word about reading graphic novels on Kindle. I'm late to this game, but having been told that the experience was very different to reading a physical comic I tested them out, starting with early classic Marvel and DC comics. They're expensive, but that's because they're been elaborately reformatted so that you slide from one single panel to another. The big surprise is that stories I knew well suddenly took on a grander, more cinematic quality to become an exciting reading experience. The disappointment is that only the most popular books are being treated this way, so anything off the beaten track has to be read in the traditional manner. Forget experimental or independent books, as I assume they don't have the money for this kind of high-end treatment. But  if anyone has found comics/ graphic novels given the Kindle treatment do let me know.


BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 12:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Hope you are feeling less rough - i.e. better. The hot weather doesn't help.

Rachel Green (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 12:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I read the 'Rivers of London' comics on Kindle.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 13:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Truth be told, only the second graphic novel I've read to date (the first being 'The Casebook of Bryant & May' which should be digitised) --- and on Kindle --- is the wildly imaginative ‘The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer’ by Sydney Padua (Penguin/2016). A well-informed, annotated (lots of footnotes) historical portrait of two eccentric Victorian geniuses — mathematician Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, whose writings are considered the first attempt at general computing theory and Charles Babbage, inventor of the Difference Engine, an enormous clockwork calculating machine that would have been the first computer, had he ever finished it.

And, in parallel, a delightful ‘steampunk’ imagining of what might have happened if the steam-driven analytical engine in all its brass cogs and gears glory had actually been built — allowing Lovelace and Babbage to solve crimes, redesign an economy, and parse written language. Add to this, interactions with the likes of Queen Victoria herself, Charles Dickens and ‘Lewis Carroll,’ previously unpublished drawings of Babbage’s creation (and ray guns) along with copious footnotes (will have to enlarge on your reader) and you have a fascinating melange of beautifully drawn and realized fact and fiction. Somewhat eccentric in the telling but worthwhile. A relative has also suggested the Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips ‘Criminal’ neo-noir graphic novel series --- quite successful in its print version.

Stephen Winer (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 18:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The Comixology app, which is owned by Amazon, let’s you do that with pretty much all comics, at least in America.

Roger (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 19:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I don't know if it's on Kindle, but the great crime graphic novel is Martin Rowson's re-interpretation of The Waste Land with a hard-boiled detective trying to find out what happened in Eliot's poem.
Rowson has also graphicised - is that the word? - Tristram Shandy, Gulliver's Travels and The Communist Manifesto, and written and illustrated an illustrated limerick history of poetry, but The Waste Land is his magnum opus.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 23:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Roger Roger --- Of the three Rowson books you mention --- only 'The Communist Manifesto' is presently available as an ebook (Kindle). Rowson does do the honours with illustration for 'Gimson's Presidents: Brief Lives from Washington to Trump', 'Gimson’s Kings and Queens: Brief Lives of the Forty Monarchs since 1066,' and 'Gimson's Prime Ministers: Brief Lives from Walpole to May' --- all in Kindle format though, not of course graphic novels per se.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sat, 13/08/2022 - 23:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger, graphicised does seem to be a word that I found used on Google. However, the sites that used it - one was connected to music - seem to be talking about using actual images to represent musical sounds or something being done. The word was used with showing a person at Heathrow having a fingerprint scan. So, even though I couldn't find anything about using drawings, graphicised is a word that's coming into use. snowy might know more about this than I could figure out, but you probably were fairly correct in your use of the word.

Christopher Fowler Sun, 14/08/2022 - 08:43

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I have Rowson's 'Tristram Shandy' (which like the novel I still haven't finished) and Bryan Talbot's bonkers labour of love 'Alice in Sunderland', a beautifully designed graphic novel that tells you more about Sunderland than you'll ever need to know.
Comixology's UK selection seems narrower, not that we need all the US superhero stuff, but I hope they get the more experimental European volumes out eventually, although the chances of that happening seem slim.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Sun, 14/08/2022 - 13:52

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@admin You've mentioned several times in the blog that you regularly listen to music when you write (soundtracks being a favourite as I recall). Interesting subject. Studies show that instrumentals, even electronic dance music, can have a positive influence on writing --- including, it is suggested, 'creativity.' Which raises the question (to me at least...) does that 'influence' vary from writer to writer, or even on what specifically is being written at any point in time ? Is it simply a matter of tempo or does the music actually form images that lend themselves to being translated into words ? Ned Bauman credits a playlist for evoking both his near-future setting and his protagonist in 'Venomous Lumpsucker..' Here it is on Spotify. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3bjDtDYiPtnSciwiuVNPm7

snowy (not verified) Sun, 14/08/2022 - 15:11

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Graphicised', .... for this I will need my very finest hair-splitter, and possibly a very large hammer:

Literary novel [for print] ⤇ Graphic adaptation [for print] ⤳ Digitised [for screen display]

Well it sort of works, but it's not a pretty word. Reworking a print comic/graphic novel for the screen is not a simple or cheap task, even with the original artwork. It has to be pieced together frame by frame manually, no wonder they are only picking the ones that will return a profit.

But, and this is a question only an experienced reader will be able to answer, what do they do when the artist 'breaks the grid'? How do they handle this in the digital form? Is everything just the same size and ratio, or do they try to maintain the original design ideas?


[Explaining for normal people: Comic strips in particular have a fixed number of frames per row, and when turned into a book a fixed number of rows per page. But artists have always played around with this, if they want to convey a vast empty landscape they would merge three frames into one to give a Cinema-scope effect. Or for an big explosion merge a 2x2 block of frames to give it 'epic' scale.]

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Sun, 14/08/2022 - 16:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you, snowy. I knew you had a better sense of this than I would. And I agree - it is an odd word.

Roger (not verified) Mon, 15/08/2022 - 02:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks, Snowy.
"Graphicise" isn't pretty, but it's terser than "make graphic novels out of". It's also got an advantage, because you can't technically make graphic novels out of non-fiction, unless you adapt it drastically. I look forward to the graphic version of Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.
I hoped there was a less ugly and more exact word.

snowy (not verified) Mon, 15/08/2022 - 11:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

'Graphic adaptation' isn't a bad phrase, it says what has been done in a sort of back to front way.

I'll admit Wittgenstein would be tricky... one might have to edit it a bit, [for weight].

Probably end up with a pop-up book in which a large hand springs off the page and hits the reader repeatedly round the face, while a disembodied voice shouts the contents of Proposition 7 in a German accent.

[Free copies to be given to politicians, media pundits and 'social media influencers'.]

Christopher Fowler Mon, 15/08/2022 - 11:10

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I suspect 'graphicised' isn't pretty because words with a soft C never are, plus it has an assonance with 'circumcised'.

Roger (not verified) Mon, 15/08/2022 - 12:04

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Not just "circumcised": "Catholicised", "cosmeticised", "domesticised"... If you want more, go to Word Wizard, and those are just start of the eleven-letter ones.
It isn't only the sft C, Admin, I think it's the combination of soft C and soft S.

The problem with "Graphic adaptation" is that "graphic"'s other meaning tends to be the one we see and think of first - like Coleridge's "short, thick pants".

Peter T (not verified) Mon, 15/08/2022 - 15:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There's a series of graphic books called 'Introducing ...' (intoroducingbooks.com and Icon or Totem) that attempt subjects from Freud to Logic to Postmodernism to Einstein and on to Quantum Theory. If Freud had been graphicised at an early age it might have liberated him psychologically.

Joel (not verified) Mon, 15/08/2022 - 18:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

i have tried reading comics on my kindle, and probably because of my vision, didn't enjoy the experience...i guess i can read a regular book on kindle, but i must hold the comic in my hand...so i have turned to omnibus editions of favourite comic series...i did just start reading jodi taylors, "the chronicles of st. mary's" which have enjoyed so much, that i manage to finish a volume a weekend (the only time i have to read right now)...very funny, sci fi, blunt historic descriptions, and a wild story that so far (finished vol 4 yesterday) hasn't gone anywhere near where i thought it would...glad to find a bundle of 10 books, kind of like binge watching

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Tue, 16/08/2022 - 13:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

In my never ending fascination for the irrelevant, it seems in re: the -ise/-ize in 'graphicis(z)e' --- the -ize suffix is the etymologically correct one. For those who fondly remember the 3rd c. AD, chiefly known for the near collapse of the Roman Empire after a series of troublesome emperors (sound familiar ?), you may also recall that Latin introduced the suffix –izare to turn nouns into verbs, usually transitive ones.

So English words that derive from Greek and Latin should be spelled with –ize and pronounced that way. This includes verbs derived from nouns from other languages, verbs formed from proper nouns and verbs deriving from chemical compounds. Why then, you ask ( you do, don't you ?) is --ise in common usage for these 'to make' verbs ? In your heart of hearts you know --- it was the French. They took it upon themselves to change the Latin -izare to -iser. But then they also came up with the metric system just to confuse things (and stick it to the British into the bargain).

Peter T (not verified) Tue, 16/08/2022 - 17:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Graphic-size sounds as if the graphic is being painted with an antique glue made from boiled animal, which makes it quite an attractive form. And it scores higher in Scrabble.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Tue, 16/08/2022 - 22:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I always want to spell -ise words that way, assuming that the -ize form is American for some reason. I will have to clean my brain and start over. That is always supposing that Stu is correct in his etymological history. I have an uncertain feeling that the American ascription was given to me by a person in authority aka a teacher. What is it they say about checking sources and not relying on "authorities"?

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 17/08/2022 - 01:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Helen+ Martin Now Helen, as a citizen of an officially bilingual country, you wouldn't want to offend the other 'lingual,' by reverting to the -ize, now would you ? Although the -ize spelling was once common in British English, the -ise originally came from Old French (via Late Latin and Greek) and the die was cast in the late 17th c. when the authoritative French Academy dictionary standardiz(s)ed the spellings as -s-. An issue concerning, I would say, only the linguistically ultra fastidious (or pedantic). The -ise/-ize spelling variation is estimated to involve only about 200 English verbs.

It is interesting, however, that in spite of the formal opposition to the -s- spelling by the OED, Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Times (of London), and Fowler (that would be Henry Watson Fowler of style guide fame), the use of -ise remains dominant in Britain and the former British Empire. Fowler must have thought this had to do with his countrymen being too lazy (or thick) to remember a short list of common words not from Greek which unequivocally must be spelled with an -s-, such as advertise, devise and surprise. Ah well, Henry was a schoolmaster at one time.

As for the American usage of -ize, it probably has to with the same contrariness that made George III even madder and hanging on to most of the British Imperial system when the rest of the world has gone metric.

Roger (not verified) Wed, 17/08/2022 - 05:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"As for the American usage of -ize," it's more likely to do with Noah Webster's determination to return to Latin roots of words that came to English via French that made words ending "-our" from the French "-eur" go back to the original "-or".
There's no unequivocal must about spelling. Polish, which is spelt phonetically, writes foreign words the way they're pronounced rather than in their original spelling or approximate transliterations.

Stu-I-Am (not verified) Wed, 17/08/2022 - 12:19

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@Roger The spelling issue may well be true with other languages, but there is no difference of opinion about the -s- or -z- spelling when it comes to the relatively short list of English words which do not originally come from the Greek.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Wed, 17/08/2022 - 19:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Fine. I will split the difference and spell everything the way it appears best to me at the time. As for the -or/our contention If you have to change the -eur ending at all then -our is at least as good as -or so I'll stick with that, although even in elementary school (back in the dark ages of the 1950s) our spelling books gave both spellings. I like the Polish solution.
Speaking of which, they're talking today about the census results of the language questions (more foreign languages spoken at home, slightly fewer native languages, and more English). One gentleman said he had come from Poland over thirty years ago and found that after an extended holiday in the US he found his Polish vocabulary fracturing.He is making a point of speaking Polish at home so his son will have it growing up. Our family lost German that way so I think he has a good idea there.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Thu, 18/08/2022 - 02:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The reason I notice the -ise thing is that my computer red lines that ending and wants -ize instead. Otherwise I might not notice.

snowy (not verified) Thu, 18/08/2022 - 12:06

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

If you are suffering from 'Red Worm' in your perfectly spelt prose, it may be that your computer/tablet/phone wrongly assumes you are an American.

If it is bothersome, you can choose to switch your default dictionary from English (US) to, in your case English (CA).

[Most browsers have a setting for this, in my instance it is under Edit-Preferences-Language-Add Dictionary.

Windows has a global setting for the default dictionary, but not all programmes inherit or respect the system setting and may need it to be set individually.]

Helen+Martin (not verified) Thu, 18/08/2022 - 18:13

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I thought I had done that long ago, Snowy, but in case Firefox supersedes I checked and Firefox doesn't offer an English other than US so I'll live with it. It's the world as it is.

snowy (not verified) Thu, 18/08/2022 - 20:14

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

One hates to contradict, but.... but.... well... my Firefox is quite happily running in English (GB), [I can honour and neighbour as much as I like without attracting the 'worm'].

Edit - Settings - Opens a new tab to the General page - Scroll down to Language and Appearance section - Sub-section Language - Click Set Alternatives... - New pop-up box appears - Firefox Language Settings.... and now it gets.... a bit silly

There is a button marked 'Select a language to add', first press will only give the option to search for additional languages, if you press it nothing appears to happen, but in the background it is compiling a list of other languages. Then if you press it again English (CA) should be the first of the English group.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Fri, 19/08/2022 - 00:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Alright, let's see: honour them all. Changing to Canadian didn't help so I changed to "GB" and the little red worm is still there. I will fiddle and curse until the machine complies. Thank you, Snowy. I don't think in terms of repeatedly pressing buttons (not elevators nor pedestrian crossing lights) but computers are a law unto themselves as we all know.

Liz+Thompson (not verified) Wed, 24/08/2022 - 12:27

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Roger, somewhat belated thanks for mentioning Rowson's The Waste Land. I'm a very recent convert to graphic stuff - oddly enough, via Polyp's Peterloo, and I hadn't even realised Rowson had done graphic novels! I only thought of him as a cartoonist. My loss, definitely - but I can now try to remedy that.