Book Review: Bleeding London – Geoff Nicholson (Harbour Books – 2014)

A novel about love, dedication, violence, sex, finding meaning in life and revenge, in which London itself is arguably the biggest character.  This is a wonderful book, one I itched to read when work or sleep prevented me from doing so.

Mick Wilton, a gangland enforcer from Sheffield, travels to London to avenge his girlfriend Gabby who tells him that she has been violated by six men whilst she was performing for them.  Mick does this without hesitation or planning, for him it’s simply the right and logical thing to do.  Mick’s disdain for the capital, unwillingness to seek even basic assistance (such as directions), inventive violent streak and complete lack of knowledge about London is humorous and engaging.  

Mick decides to buy a map and finds himself in London Peculiar, a wonderful  sounding establishment stocked with books and maps of the capital.  Mick is assisted by Judy Tanaka, a London born girl who is half Japanese.  Judy is obsessed with London.  Having only a list of names, Mick turns to Judy to suggest some areas of London where the men he is after might live.  Judy is fascinated by what Mick may be up to and becomes embroiled in his activities. 

Despite being violent and unpredictable, Mick makes some insightful and often funny remarks on life and his surroundings.  At one point he gives his opinion of the song ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’.

Well, you know, I’ve always thought it’s a really poxy song.  I mean it’s not good enough to to love a place just because you happen to come from there, is it?  Loving it just because you’re a Londoner is rubbish. Itt’s not a reason, it’s just a prejudice. 

We are introduced to Stuart London, a man who thinks his own name is ridiculous but loves London and operates a company that offers themed walking tours with his wife Anita.  The success of the company means Stuart finds himself surplus to requirements and becomes aimless and disaffected.  His replacement activity involves walking every street in London.  Stuart’s thoughts about his plans to carry out his walk, what sorts of streets are included, how he will document what he sees and his determination that it will not be a ‘sightseeing’ trip is very absorbing.  Stuart identifies with Pepys but feels at a disadvantage because Pepys lived through more momentous times. 

Judy is the link that connects Mick and Stuart.  One man is beginning to love London and the other is becoming tired of it.  

The book was originally written in 1997 and there are references to the use of phone boxes, video cassettes and Littlewoods that alert you to the fact that it was not written more recently.  

Finally, just look at the cover, it’s brilliant.  

Thi is a thoroughly enjoyable book and I would not hesitate to recommend it.  

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Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. (Abacus – 2015)

Pretentious, melodramatic and excruciating. I’m sorry to say I found this book something of a trial and would have given it to a charity shop after 50 pages had it not been for the fact that it’s my book club choice for July and I felt I should persevere.
The book tells the tale of Monsieur Jean Perdu, owner of the ‘Literary Apothecary’, a floating bookshop on the Seine. Monsieur Perdu is middle-aged, single and believes he can cure people’s emotional needs by talking to them and recommending a suitable book. Feel ill yet? I did.  

Jean lives in an apartment at 27 Rue Montagnard. A young novelist called Max Jordan, who has written a book about the inner lives of men and their frailties, also lives in the building. One day, an attractive divorcee named Catherine moves into the building, she has no furniture and in finding a spare table to give to her, Jean opens up a room and part of his life that has not been examined for 20 years.   

Although he seems expert at helping others with their emotional pains, Jean has hidden an old trauma from which he has not recovered; a former lover called Manon. In attempting to find some redemption and meaning, Jean and Max go on a metaphorical and physical voyage on the book barge (Literary Apothecary is an appalling name).  

The ensuing journey heaps emotion, melodrama and wincingly bad prose and scenes into a slag-heap of regrets, creepy decades-long fixations, tears and catharsis. Fierce emotion and wholly unbelievable dialogue abounds. Jean recalls conversations he had with his lost love, Manon, who said to him;

Who knows Jean, you and I might be made of the dust from one and the same star, and maybe we recognised each other by its light. We were searching for each other. We are star seekers.

In my notes I simply wrote ‘FFS’.

At as top on the journey they enter a garden where there is a lady painting. She is naked apart from a hat. Without introduction or explanation the lady asks Max to play the piano. When asked her name she says;

Forget about names. There’s no need for them here. Her we can call ourselves whatever we want.

At a stop in Avignon it is noted that Jean does not like the place;

This city didn’t appeal to Jean; it seems to him like an hypocritical whore, living off her past papal glories.

Seriously, who thinks like that? “How was your trip to Weston-Super-Mare Dave?”

“Well the kids had a good time, but I think of Weston as a haughty dowager duchess, resentful of the youth and vitality of others.”  

It’s not right is it.  

Whilst I might be happy to tell people how this book made my teeth grind and the flesh creep up my spine, I could not recommend this to anyone, ever.