Thursday, 6 February 2014

Book #7 Paper Towns by John Green

Paper Towns

At the end of 2012 - I read The Fault In Our Stars, the young adult romance novel by John Green, and thought it was a classy affair with real crossover merit. Many people my own age have also read it and recommended it to me, including just the other day a friend of mine from uni days. A film of The Fault In Our Stars is set to appear at a cinema near you shortly.

What then of the rest of John Green's output? I've just got round to a second one of his now and chose Paper Towns.

This novel is told from the perspective of Quentin, one night school Queen Bee Margo who was once his friend and lives next door appears at his window and makes him join her on a series of revenge pranks in the middle of the night and then promptly vanishes leaving Quentin and his friends to decipher the mystery of her whereabouts.

There's a lot to like about Paper Towns and I'll start with that, for every girl with a complicated internal life there is something to identify with in Margo. She's the girl with a million records whose friends don't even know she likes music. The girl with a copy of Leaves Of Grass by Walt Whitman whose friends don't even know she likes poetry. The popular girl at the centre of things who knows she's faking it all.

She's the girl who keeps going missing because she needs to be found. And the girl who wants to stay lost too.

Margo is a great character - fascinating even, though perhaps with some annoying hipster tendencies.

Margo is the best thing about this novel - but she is also its biggest problem.

The book isn't about Margo. It's about Quentin. Quentin and his friends Ben and Radar - later joined by Lacey who are searching for Margo.

And there's nothing of note about any of them really; Quentin IMs his friends, they play video games, they scour the equivalent of Wikipedia for Margo clues and live out standard American High School Outsider tropes about which there is nothing original.

The only thing that is interesting about Quentin is 'Quentin in relation to Margo' - he's not interesting outside of her. The essential point that John Green is making about people with this novel and it's a great point and one particularly worth making to young people I think, is about how Quentin relates to Margo.

At the beginning of the novel Quentin counts it as a miracle that he ever knew Margo, that she ever happened to be his next door neighbour.

Quentin has an idea, a concept, of the person that he believes Margo to be, he's built it all in his mind, this idea that he has of her, is an impression that he's decided upon. It's an interesting lesson about how we, and it applies to adults too, carry ideals or mistaken beliefs about people based upon the narrative we have imposed upon them ourselves.

Margo, Quentin realises eventually is not a miracle, she's just a troubled girl and nothing more or less than that.

And this is such a good book for young people just for that lesson, but it's a mistake that adults including myself are often guilty of making; of expecting superhuman behaviour from people who we put on a pedestal who ultimately are just as human and fallible as we are.

A good book with a great secondary character 7/10 for Paper Towns the bulk of which didn't engage me - 10/10 for Margo herself.


Monday, 3 February 2014

Book #6 From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

 From Russia With Love

I should perhaps say first that this is the only James Bond novel I have ever read. It will probably remain the only James Bond novel I have ever read.

As far as James Bond goes, I have only seen 4 fllms in their entirety, GoldenEye and the first three Daniel Craigs. The older Classic James Bonds exist in a hazy fog of Bank Holidays and rain and I wouldn’t be able to tell you which of the scenes I recall came from which film.

Why on earth then would I read a James Bond novel? I actually went into the shop to buy a different book, had a hard time finding it and as I looked around ‘From Russia With Love’ for extenuating reasons I won’t bother going into seemed to gaze out at me from the shelf shouting ‘Go on, Pick Me’ so I did.

I spent almost the entirety of this novel open mouthed or laughing in appalled fascination.
My eyes just boggled at the page the vast majority of the time. I couldn’t believe what I was reading at certain points.

This review, given that both the book and the film are very old will have spoilers in it, so if as with the football results you don’t want to know look away now. I can’t discuss all the bits I want to without spoilers. 

Firstly the opening is quite a long preamble - Bond doesn’t appear for 129 pages and all the pages prior introduce the villain, the girl and the plot.

The plot of this novel is a standard honeytrap, the Russians are sending a girl in to trick Bond, then the villain, a hulking Irish gun for hire will off him, causing a blow to British Intelligence.

Inevitably, it is with the entrance of Bond where things get ‘good‘ (though I use good loosely) Really it is with the entrance of Bond that things become hilarious, and beggar belief.

In a nutshell the Russian strategy is this, their bird, Tatiana walks up to a British Intelligence contact and says : “Hey, by the way I’m a Russian Spy, and I’m in love with James Bond and if you get me James Bond I’ll give you secrets”  - what’s amazing about this is not that as international espionage traps go it’s a pretty shit plan of action which should have seen her taken and brought in for questioning immediately, but how James Bond and his boss M react to it.

M and Bond’s reaction is astounding and goes something like this; M: Yes it sounds a bit silly, but all women are silly fools, so it’s probably true  


Bond is basically Gaston in the Disney cartoon ‘Beauty and The Beast’

At no point does either state the obvious “This is BLATANTLY a honeytrap, but go investigate and see what we get out of it”

Something remarkable happens here, and it is remarkable in that it is the only instance of sexual equality in the entire novel, and based on what I’ve read in this one potentially the entire series. M basically just pimps Bond out like a whore in the same way the Russians are pimping Tatiana out and tells him “he’d better come up to expectations”.

Bond is cool with that.

Next up we meet prince among men Darko Kerim, Bond’s contact in Turkey, Kerim gives Bond his opinions on women : “They’re all liars. You can only tell if they love you by having sex with them” His opinions on the locals : “They’re miserable. They want sultans and wars and rape and fun” (Because those last two things are just SYNONYMOUS with each other) and then regales him with the exotic tale of how he once won a woman in a bet and she wasn’t happy about it so he chained her up naked under a table like a dog to train her. His mother was displeased and rescued her but she refused to leave. WHICH JUST GOES TO SHOW YOU IT WAS ALWAYS IN HER BEST INTERESTS.

(I just want to pause for a moment to reflect on the fact he's Turkish and called DARKO. Jesus Wept)

Bond’s reaction to Darko Kerim can be summarised as follows : “What a lad. I’m so impressed. I want us to be best friends.”

As soon as this is stated you just know Kerim is going to die, as per the rules of the game “Spot The Stiff” (From 90s comedy sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience)  
Duly, this occurs, what a loss for all the women of Turkey.

As part of the Darko Kerim sexist roadshow he takes Bond to a gypsy camp. But there’s a problem. Two girls have fallen out over the same bloke, so somewhat like Harry Hill, the leader of the gypsies has decided this can only be resolved with a FIGHT.

Kerim asks Bond to not interfere. Bond is like “Two women having a fight? Cool with it”

In a scene which surely only exists for titilation these two scantily clad girls scrap whilst Bond ogles their boobs. Bond is so obsessed with boobs that at one point he is aroused by THE SHAPE OF A MOSQUE. A MOSQUE! (p166)

A diversion occurs and Kerim and Bond have a fight with some Bulgarians; at the end of this the gypsy leader tells Bond that if he won’t stay around to help kill people and keep women in line then by all means he can come back whenever he likes and have sex with either or both of the girls UNTIL SUCH A TIME AS THEIR BREASTS HAVE SAGGED.


I’m a massive fan of the series Mad Men and of its hero Don Draper, who shares many of Bond’s qualities. I was fascinated by this book in the same way that Mad Men fascinates me. My mother’s opinion is “you wouldn’t marvel at it if you’d had to live through it”. The very fact of its publication is fascinating.

I mean it’s just so abhorrent, it does feel like another planet not just another time. The chauvinism is just endless, at one point Bond tells Tatiana he will beat her if she becomes overweight. They are both cool with this. There is also some random homophobia thrown in early on which seems to serve purely as a reminder to all the real men who will be reading this novel that no-one likes a queer.

Given that recently a Bond Cologne and Aftershave were released my absolute favourite bit of this novel is the bit where Tatiana asks Bond why Englishmen don’t wear perfume and he says shortly “We wash”

Even though he only says “we wash” it’s like this big Caveman sentence can be inferred :



I have to give a mention to the baddy of the piece Donovan Grant. There is a real instance here of Bond being an absolutely crap spy, he totally buys that Grant is a fellow British agent purely because Grant is a walking cliche in faded tweeds and an ancient mac that the Russians have lately hauled out of the Props department - huh? I mean, come on Bond! Bond is suspicious of him because he has tied his tie with a Windsor Knot and this is "the mark of a cad" - Bond should have trusted his instincts, for my part I want to know what a Windsor Knot looks like so I can be on the look out for potential cads.

UPDATE : Having since googled The Windsor Knot, it is basically how every man I have ever met ties a tie HOW WILL I SPOT POTENTIAL CADS NOW?! AND IF JAMES BOND DOESN'T USE THE WINDSOR KNOT HOW THE FUCK DOES HE TIE HIS TIE? This requires investigation!

The most jaw dropping aspect of the whole depiction of Grant is his alleged mental illness, Bond looks into his eyes and in a second armchair diagnoses Schizophrenia, Grant is also called ‘manic depressive’

Grant is someone who goes out on murderous rampages at every Full Moon.


Bond is fighting a werewolf.

In true Bond villain fashion, the werewolf gives Bond a 30 minute window BEFORE he kills him during which he divulges the entirety of the plan plus extras.

Why do they do this?

Also considering he’s a werewolf, Bond doesn’t really have much trouble with him. Because he’s Bond.

I have come to a certain conclusion about James Bond, the novels at least. They are the male literary equivalent of Fifty Shades Of Grey. They are a like for like comparison. Fifty Shades Of Grey isn’t just selling BDSM sex to the masses it’s also selling ‘lifestyle porn’ Christian Grey as a ‘hero‘ owns a yacht, flies a helicopter, has a ski lodge, a massive apartment, buys his girlfriend 2 Audis and a Saab, a Mac, an iPad, a first edition Thomas Hardy, and a raft of designer clothes. He also gives her an orgasm every few hours.

Bond is lifestyle porn for boys, not only do all these nubile fragile beauties permanently throw themselves at you, but you always rise to the occasion, you are an international spy extraordinaire who can even make short work of a werewolf.

I totally get what the appeal of ‘being James Bond‘ is. It’s the same appeal of ‘being Don Draper‘ - king of all he surveys.  And,Don Draper though he is an absolute bastard is sexy.

But, how sexy would he be in real life? He’d probably be the worst creep you’d ever met without even having the decency to look even remotely like John Hamm or Daniel Craig.

There is but one singular instance in this novel where vile, vain, sexist, fat shaming, homophobic befriender and endorser of rapists James Bond is actually sexy.

Tatiana is sleeping and James is watching her, if she wakes he intends to reassure her that everything is alright and settle her back down to sleep with the security that he’ll protect her.

That I will grant you is very sweet.

I can’t even give an out of ten verdict on this because I don’t know what I made of it.

I was vastly entertained by it - but really for all the opposite of the reasons why I was actually meant to be.

The odd thing was it ended on a cliffhanger with Bond will return in Dr No and I couldn't help but wonder what happened next.......