Bartlett's Bizarre Bazaar

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Sunday, December 11, 2005


Bartlett recommends

Are you stuck for presents this Christmas? Well, in the first instance I recommend consumables. Alcohol, chocolate, savoury delicacies; you know that these will be used and enjoyed, unlike many other presents which will barely leave their boxes.

But, if you still need something to buy, and the object of your generosity is not a person for whom consumables will be adequate, then I always recommend books. Books are capable of being more than entertaining and enlightening, they can communicate something of the giver. Now, to communicate something of yourself you need to choose the book accordingly, and you really ought to have read it through. But, if you lack the imagination to do this for yourself, or if you wish to buy yourself a present from me, then I suggest one of the following four books (or: alternatives):

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. This graphic novel exploring the Jack the Ripper murders is, for me, Alan Moore’s masterpiece. It appears, in form, to be a thriller, a whodunit, but it is, in effect, a meditation on the poverty, misery and violent exploitation that gave birth to the 20th century. (or: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, for a superficially more straightforward comic book, in that it is in colour and features super-heroes, that is equally intelligent and literate.)

GB84 by David Peace. A novel set amid the 1984 miners’ strike that shares many features that make From Hell such an important book. While at first glance it appears to be a political thriller it uses defined historical events, and, by incorporating what I have taken to calling ‘occult realism’, builds a picture of how social and economic structures corrupt and warp lives. (or: The Enemy Within by Seamus Milne, for a sober dissection of the co-ordinated smear campaign against Arthur Scargill and the NUM.)

Q by Luther Blisset. Another novel that is, at first appearances, a thriller, as the Catholic secret agent Q tracks Thomas Müntzer, who we would now call an activist, across Europe subverting each cause and sect to whom Müntzer lends his support. Set during the turmoil of the Reformation, it examines the power of ideas to undermine authority and power, and the extremes both to which authority will be reasserted and to which ideas can degenerate. (or: 54 by Wu Ming, the second novel from the collective of writers previously known as Luther Blisset, this time set in 1954 and examining the roots of consumerism.)

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. Vonnegut’s novel, a rapid read of short paragraphs interspersed with crude illustrations, is a reflection on free will. Dwayne Hoover, one of the central characters of the book, sees the world as a mechanistic arrangement, but without an understanding of the awareness at the heart of each person is drawn to inhumane conclusions. Okay, it is a lot more than that, so read it. (or: Slaughterhouse 5, the story of Billy Pilgrim, American soldier, prisoner of war in Dresden and a man unstuck in time. So it goes.)

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