Category Archives: Literary

Rivers Of London (Ben Aaronovitch)


Rivers Of London (fiction)

Ben Aaronovitch

Gollancz, London. 2011   

ISBN 978-0-575-09756-8

Peter Grant is a policeman in London.  Following his probationary period, he unexpectedly finds himself assigned to  a department they dont like to talk about (it comes  under the umbrella of Economic & Specialist Crime), due to a sensitivity to occult matters discovered when he tried to interview a ghost who claimed to have witnessed a murder.

Specialist is the right word – his particular department is the one that has to deal with all the weird shit no-one officaially acknowledges exists – you know, vampires, ghosts and   warring river gods.

See, back at the time of the Great Stink of 1858, Father Thames and his sons (tributories) retreated up the river, above Teddington Lock (the tidal limit of the river), and never returned.

Eventually the river found someone to fill the vacuum, a female  human suicide, and thus Mama Thames, ruler of the tidal reaches of the river, came into being.

‘As I stepped closer I could smell salt water and coffee, diesel and bananas, chocolate and fish guts. I didn’t need Nightingale [his boss] to tell me I was sensing something supernatural, a glamour so strong  it was like being washed away by the tide. In her presence I found nothing strange in the fact that the Goddess of the River was Nigerian.’

Full review and details-



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50 Shades Of Grey

“Whenever books are burned, men too are eventually burned.”

(attributed to Heinrich Heine, 1797-1856)

I have to admit I’ve not read current publishing success 50 Shades Of Grey, although I have read various reviews and comments, as well as extracts from the book itself. The general opinion seems to be that it’s badly written soft-porn, or more precisely something apparently called “mummy porn” (which sounds like something dubious  indulged in by certain archaeologits and curators of museum Egyptology departments.)

But I digress – 50 Shades.. sounds crap, it probably is crap, so I’ll give it a miss, thanks. Some may get a kick out it, and good luck to them.

So I was a little suprised to see that a womens group from this very city have launched a campaign against the book, collecting copies of it with the intention of burning them all on Bonfire Night (November 5th).

Clare Phillipson, director of Wearside Women In Need, told local rag the Sunderland Echo that:   “It’s absolutely disgusting. It normalises abuse, degrades women and encourages sexual violence.”

“With it being in the media so much many men and women have rushed out to buy it, and many have come to me and told me how distressed they are by what’s written. Passages in it are about women submitting to men, obeying their orders and violence being used in a sexual and erotic manner. It’s disgusting and sends out the wrong message.”

“I’ve come across people who have been confused by it, people who have been enraged by it and others that are bewildered. Some women come away thinking ‘is this how I should be behaving in the bedroom’ and ‘is there something wrong with me because I’m not’ and that’s not right.

“It sends out the idea that this kind of Mr Rochester character is a heroic romantic and masculine in his domination. Really he controls the powerless, unworldly girl who must submit to his temper. It is not how a relationship between a man and woman should be. In this day and age, books like this should not be written.They send out the wrong message and are in fact encouraging abuse, sexism and misogyny.”

I’m certain that  WWIN do sterling work in their chosen  field of domestic violence, but they’ve sure  got a lot to learn about human psycholology – you could  almost guarantee that a denouncement like that will intiate a stampede to the local bookshops by people who probably were only dimly aware of the book’s existence before – as one comment on the Echo’s website said: “Well done ladies, the book is selling like hot cakes in Asda this morning. I don’t see any if them ending up in your bin and I don’t see the fire brigade needing to worry about this bonfire. I doubt there’ll be enough heat to cook a sausage.”

It’s a strange situation –

– The offending book was written by a woman (a man might have made her do it, but I suspect not.)

– It seems to be primarily aimed at, and bought by, women and

– Its women protesting against it and threatening to burn it.

What worries me, though, is when people start dictating what other people should or should not be writing, publishing or reading, as well as making wildly generalized statements about the effect the said book will have on its readership.  I’ve recently been doing a bit of background reading on the Jack the Ripper murders – not fiction like 50 Shades…  but real women who suffered the ultimate abuse. But it hasn’t encouraged me to start behaving in a similar manner, nor all the other men – and women – who’ve read the same books. If it did, we’d be knee-deep in bodies and prostitution as an industry would just about be wiped out.

Some readers of 50 Shades… may find it disturbing, some may be turned on by it and good luck to them. The majority will probably say “God, why did I waste money on that piece of shit ?”

But really, you’ve got to let them find out for themselves.

Mr. Frankenstein

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Happy Bloomsday !

June 16th  is Bloomsday,  a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce during which the events of his novel Ulysses (which is set on 16 June 1904) are relived.
The name derives from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses, and Joyce chose 16 June 1904 as it was the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle – they walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend.

Bloomsday (a term Joyce himself did not employ) was invented in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, when John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine) and the novelist Flann O’Brien organised what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route.

They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin). Ryan had engaged two horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral.

The party were assigned roles from the novel. They planned to travel round the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown.

However, the pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the pilgrims succumbed to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan then owned. A Bloomsday record of 1954, informally filmed by John Ryan, follows this pilgrimage.

A few particles of Bloomsday miscellania – culled from the internet, so may or may not be true…

In 1956, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married by special licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at St George the Martyr Church, Holborn, on 16 June, in honour of Bloomsday.

In Mel Brooks‘ 1968 film The Producers, Gene Wilder‘s character is called Leo Bloom, an homage to Joyce’s character. In the musical 2005 version, in the evening scene at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, Leo asks, “When will it be Bloom’s day?”. However, in the earlier scene in which Bloom first meets Max Bialystock, the office wall calendar shows that the current day is 16 June, indicating that it is, in fact, Bloomsday.

In 1981 a biography of Leopold Bloom – by Peter Costello – was published. Not read it, but it may have had an influence on the next item…

Bloomsday has also been celebrated since 1994 in the Hungarian town of Szombathely, the fictional birthplace of Leopold Bloom’s father, Virág Rudolf, an emigrant Hungarian Jew.

The event is usually centered on the Iseum, the remnants of an Isis temple from Roman times, and the Blum-mansion, commemorated to Joyce since 1997, at 40–41 Fő street, which used to be the property of an actual Jewish family called Blum.
Hungarian author László Najmányi in his 2007 novel, The Mystery of the Blum-Mansion  describes the results of his research on the connection between Joyce and the Blum family.

On Bloomsday 2011, @11ysses was the stage for an experimental day-long tweeting of Ulysses. Starting at 0800 (Dublin time) on Thursday 16 June 2011, the aim was to explore what would happen if Ulysses was recast 140 characters at a time.

And  Bloomsday 2011 also saw the arrival of our new  Cat from the rescue centre. A beautiful black & white girl, around a year old, she was named Molly, after Leopold Bloom’s wife.

I guess this is a good example of  the consequences of an action echoing down through the years. When Joyce and Nora took that original walk in 1904 they could never have imagined that they were setting in motion a chain of events that would result, 108 years later, of a Cat in Sunderland being named after a character in a novel that wouldn’t even be published for another 18 years.

Molly, incidentally, has moved into music videos with a percussive offering called To My Hellcat [which is, of course, an anagram of Molly the Cat].

Mr. Frankenstein


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