Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules; The Lemon Table; England, England; Shampoo Planet – review

I can’t remember the last time I penned my thoughts about a book here, but I have been reading. Not as much as I like, for the constant exhaustion often overwhelms, but enough.

Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules (David Sedaris), then.

I’d read anything by David Sedaris. If he scribbled something unintelligible down on an envelope, I’d pay to see what he said. He never fails to please. Children Playing… is a collection of short stories he’s edited, so it isn’t actually his own work, but parts of it were enjoyable nonetheless. I read most of them. I knew the rest weren’t for me in the opening paragraphs. I wouldn’t suggest you bother if it’s your first foray into Sedaris territory (obviously) but if you’re somewhat nuts about him, like me, then you should definitely try to pick up a copy.

Another edited collection of short stories – The Lemon Table by Julian Barnes – was less enjoyable but these stories were clearly written by, shall I say, more sensible folk. The theme throughout the collection was ‘ageing’, apparently, but most if that evaded me when I skipped half of it out. It was a bit dull, truth be told.

Old Barnesy made amends, though, in the next novel I read: England, England. Here Barnes constructed a wonderful tale of global satire and absurdity, and made it provincial enough for all of us England-dwellers to get a kick out of. Of course, as an Oirish, I do like to poke fun at the English sometimes, and he gave us fodder for that too. His premise wasn’t quite as believable as some of those proposed by other satirical novelists (*) but he did quite a good job overall. I didn’t really need to read two chapters on what became of the protagonist at the end – I’m not sure we were even supposed to like her – but I suppose Barnes had to finish it off somehow. There was probably a message about greed, selfishness, cold-heartedness and loneliness in there, but I didn’t really care.

Next I went for a Coupland I’ve been meaning for a while. I don’t know why I bother really because every time I read a Coupland, I’m reminded of what I haven’t read one in a very very long time. Shampoo Planet was no different an experience. Yes, we’re all living in a souless consumer culture; yes, we’re all shallow and self-serving; yes, we’re all lacking in self-awareness and empathy for others; yes, we’re all decadent and grotesque, etc. etc. etc. Douglas, we’ve heard it all before. Every single book you write tells us the same thing, and you still haven’t got me caring. I should have given up after Generation X.

I’m now reading what is sure to be a ludicrous whodunit (with a psychoanalytical bent) which features none other than Freud and Jung in New York in 1909 solving a series of murder. I felt like something stupid. I won’t be disappointed, I dare say.


(*) Dare I mention, as an example, one Ben Elton. His novels are thrown together by an illiterate four-year-old, I’m sure, but his satire is generally right on the button.

8 responses to “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules; The Lemon Table; England, England; Shampoo Planet – review

  1. Hey! Have you read Talking It Over by Julian Barnes? That was one of my favourite novels ever and I really enjoyed that and the sequel Love, etc. I’m glad to read a good review on his other stuff.

    I picked up Shampoo Planet quite by accident a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed it and have read most of his other novels. My faves are Shampoo Planet, Miss Wyoming and Girlfriend in a Coma. I’m not surprised I like his work as I’m so taken with other post-modern authors like Jeff Noon and Bret Easton Ellis. He seems to paint a picture of the world which is almost similar to Margaret Atwood. It’s a dry, almost alienated view.
    Having said all that – I completely understand when people don’t like his work. I can see exactly what you’re saying.

  2. I haven’t read that, Emm, but I will get around to it. I’m quite taken by Barnes.

    I do like other post-modern authors (particularly Bret Easton Ellis), and I really like the ideas behind Coupland’s work, but I find him a terribly boring and poor writer. I can’t get past that with him and I can’t get into any of his books because of that.

  3. I love Douglas Coupland! Have you read J-Pod – by far my favourite (and not overly moralising, just funny).

  4. I haven’t read any of these books. Am I now a literary desspot?

    If you haven’t already I would suggest you read Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, it’s terribly good.

  5. Pingback: The Interpretation of Murder - review « tenderhooligan·

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