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Sunday, 1 May 2016

Zero K by Don DeLillo

'Everybody wants to own the end of the world'



The arrival of a new Don DeLillo novel is always going to create a ripple of excitement. He occupies a place at the top of the pecking order in American literature and after Roth’s retirement some would argue he sits at the pinnacle. His books are seldom what might be called perfect however. Underworld may consistently appear on those lists of great American novels but it’s as bloated as some of those other greats meaning it sits unfinished on many a bookshelf and, personally, I’ve always felt that the opening section describing ‘the shot heard around the world’ is by far the best part of the book.

The excitement from readers and writers comes from the fact that he remains a writer who has consistently been able to see so clearly something about the times he writes in. He has been described by some as a seer for his ability to tell us not only where we are but where we might be heading. Zero K exemplifies this before you even start reading. That futuristic cover, the blurb mentioning cryogenics; this is all about man’s wish to extend life into the future, perhaps to avoid death at all. But this is far from a foray into science fiction. It is a book rooted in the now, in the world in which we live and in fact it articulates something about our anxiety so incisively that you realise he might just be the first to say it and how strange that the man to engage so brilliantly with the contemporary is an 84 year-old who doesn’t use email and still writes his novels on a type-writer.

Jeffrey Lockhart narrates the novel (the first-person narration is key to making this a more accessible book than some) as he visits the Convergence, a remote facility in which his billionaire father, Ross, has invested heavily. This facility allows the wealthy to enter a cryonic suspension until such time as technology and medicine have advanced sufficiently to awaken them again. Jeffrey is there to say goodbye to his stepmother, Artis, whose terminal illness has led her to this facility. The father/son relationship is brilliantly drawn, Ross has not been there for much of Jeffrey’s life and there is an awkwardness about their every exchange intensified by the strangeness of the surroundings.

Scenes of conflict, climate change and disaster are played on screens, the facility seems to be made up of long corridors of identical rooms, there is something dreamlike about everything that happens here, as if limbo were a place on Earth. I wouldn’t want to give too much plot away – this is a novel of ideas rather than plot anyway – but Jeffrey is a character far more interested in living the life he has been allotted rather than one that might be gifted now or promised for the future. DeLillo writes some stonking dialogue to go along with the rather more portentous stuff and I loved the brain-fizz that comes from reading something that makes you think ‘Yes! That is so true.’

This novel might appear to be ice-cold on the exterior but it manages to include an ending of such warmth that I couldn’t help but look back on what I had just read and think about the human heart that was beating throughout. It made me want to read it again, to examine those moments which hadn’t quite landed on the first read. Always a good indication of a novel that might last. If you’ve ever watched the news or looked around you and worried about the way the world is heading, wishing that you could transport yourself to some utopian future - DeLillo has expressed your anxiety in a piece of art.

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Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Last Pilot

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Monday, 27 April 2015

Remember me?

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The hottest read of 2015....?

Like many people at the end of last year I was checking out the lists of books due to be published in 2015 like a kid in a sweet shop. New novels from established favourites or rising stars were joined by big debuts from exciting new voices and if you’d asked me what book I was most excited about reading this year just a couple of days ago then my answer would have been a gigantic 900-page epic debut called City on Fire from Garth Risk Hallberg. This is a novel set in the New York of 1977 with a shooting in Central Park at its centre but many characters and storylines spreading out from it – When Scott Rudin buys film rights to a book that doesn’t even have a publisher and then a publisher pays something close to $2m to land it, then that’s the kind of book you have to sit up and take notice of.


But something happened yesterday that nobody was expecting and it sent book lovers from all walks of life into a bit of a frenzy. Seemingly from nowhere and coming 55 years after the publication of her first and only book it was announced that a sequel to Harper Lee’s seminal novel,To Kill A Mockingbird, would be published this year. Titled Go Set A Watchman it was actually written before Mockingbird but is set 20 years after the events with which so many millions of readers are familiar, and follow Scout as she journeys back to her home town of Maycomb to visit her father Atticus Finch. When this first novel was shared with her agent it was the sections that flashed-back to Scout’s youth that enthused her and so Lee was encouraged to write the book that went on to become Mockingbird. 



How many of us who have read, studied, admired, shared and loved that book have also wondered about and hungered for another novel to come from that same pen? Something about the way that book had always stood alone in its achievements meant that I never for a moment considered that we would ever actually see another. Which is part of what makes yesterday’s news so unsettling. How are you supposed to feel about a sequel that is actually more of a literary prequel? (How do you feel about it all?) Should we consider it as a failed first attempt being brought out into the cold light of day or is it another gem that has been buried for all these years, preserved? None of us will know until we get the chance to read it this summer of course but I know I won’t be the only one desperate to find out whatever became of Atticus and Scout Finch. It will be like being reunited with old friends.



This post features as part of a bloggers list of top recommendations for 2015 on Tombola Times. Follow that link to find out what other books people are looking forward to this year. 

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Sunday, 25 January 2015

...buffering...


Apologies. Huge apologies. I haven't been able to update the blog with a new video for weeks, for very good reason, but first I wanted to say sorry. I kept thinking that I would be able to find the time to record one but then something would always get in between me and the camera (quite often that would actually happen in the case of my children). 

I thought I would just write a quick note to explain the reason for the delay (I am determined that a post will appear soon, perhaps very soon). At the end of last year I saw a job advertised that was very much the answer to a question I had been asking myself in 2014. I have loved writing and talking about books online for the last seven or so years and that passion has been growing to the point where I wondered if I shouldn't look to make it my job rather than just my hobby. What would that job look like however?

Luckily, as I said, I saw an advert that began with the line 'Do you live to recommend books?' I won't go into the rest of the job description, nor the exacting interview process, but I couldn't have wished for a more perfect position to arrive at a more perfect time. And I got it!

So for those who don't know already I am the new Community Manager at Vintage Books.

I am thrilled. More than thrilled.

I will basically be doing what I have done for the last few years: Talking about about amazing books online and through social media and looking to match up those books with the right readers. I knew that starting the job would have an impact on Just William's Luck - the most immediate of which is that I haven't been able to find the time to record a post! The effect may reach further than that of course. I think it might be a slight conflict for me to review Vintage titles here, you might suspect my conclusions, so it may be that this will be a place for me to review books that I don't deal with professionally. The only question right now is when on earth I might find time to read them. We shall see, time will tell.

In the meantime I have a handful of books I managed to read over Christmas that I will blog soon, I promise. There are also some amazing books coming from Vintage in the year ahead. If you want to keep up to date with all of those then you can follow my chatter on Vintage's various channels:


See you soon, and thanks for your patience.

Will x

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