Millroy the Magician – Paul Theroux

“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all of the power we need inside ourselves already.” ― J.K. Rowling

My fiancé (oh yes!) recently finished reading this book and passed it on to me, insisting I read it my first possible opportunity. It didn’t take me quite as long to finish, he seemed to take months and months over it, but I can definitely understand why it might take someone a while to get through. The book is, shall I say, a little bit tricky. This is not a book you would want to attempt in a single sitting; it’s definitely one to take your time over.

Milroy the Magician – Paul Theroux

Our cheering drowned the music, but Milroy did not seem to hear it. He looked dignified, holding the flapping eagle, and he turned to me, and stared as he had before, and leaned over to where I sat in the second row.

Popping my thumb out of my mouth made the sound of a cork being yanked from a bottle.

Even through the cheering crowds his voice was distinct, as he said, ‘I want to eat you.’

So I stayed for his second show.

51WXvY4gl2LJilly Farina was nervous the day she attended the Barnstable County Fair. It was a hot, sticky Saturday in July and she was all by herself. Her Dada was black-out-drunk, so she went on alone, sitting at the back of the bus, quietly sucking her thumb, and thinking about what the fair had in store for her.

She had seen Millroy the Magician once before, he was famous for making an elephant disappear, and had once turned a girl from the audience into a glass of milk and drank her. Jeekers! But when Jilly stepped into the wickerwork coffin during a performance she had no idea that he would transform her life into something magical, and a touch bizarre.

You see, Millroy was no ordinary magician. A magical, eccentric, vegetarian, health fanatic, Millroy was set on changing the eating habits of the whole of America – Millroy could sense the future, and he knew that Jilly had a big role to play.

I was supposed to meet my father at the Barnstaple County Fair, and in a way I did, though he was not Dada.

Paul Theroux presents Jilly as a girl who is very young for her years. The world which emerges through Jilly’s eyes is that inhabited by a scared, lonely child. As a reader you enter the body of Jilly, and stand, absent mindedly sucking your thumb and stroking your ear, while dreamily drinking in the world around you. As a reader, you grow to know Jilly intimately, to understand her innocence and naivety.

It is really no wonder that Millroy chose her.

Jilly’s relationship with Millroy is an odd combination of love and fear, sometimes one, sometimes both, and often shifting quickly from one to the other. The relationship is, on the whole, slightly awkward. While it is obvious that Jilly dotes on Millroy they remain entirely separate beings, always together, but forever apart. It is obvious that she fears him, or at least she fears his magic, but at the same time loves him, as a father or perhaps something more?

Even odder is Millroy’s relationship with Jilly. If Jilly dotes on Millroy, then Millroy obsesses over Jilly. Linked to this is Millroy’s own obsession with food – he is determined to inform the American public of the evils of the American food industry, but more than this, he is obsessed with feeding Jilly.

Food is an underlying and overlying theme. The whole book is brimming with pottage, homemade bread, green tea, broiled fish and herbage. Try reading the book without in some way succumbing to the desire to be regular – I’m sure it can’t be done. I developed such an appetite for leaves! Millroy is forever chewing, munching or gulping some delectable healthy snack, while preaching the importance of a clean, fresh, healthy, regular lifestyle. At the same time, Millroy obsesses over the dark side of food, the insidious nature of the American food industry, the sweating, drooling, gasping, jiggling American population, stuffed full of fat, chemicals, meat and sugar.

If the American food industry is insidious, what is even more insidious is Millroy’s interest in Jilly. Why is he so obsessed with her? Why does he want to be responsible for ‘everything’ that goes inside of her? And why does he fall to pieces at the idea of losing her? It is almost as though he is in some way dependent on Jilly, not just emotionally, but physically, as though he is feeding off of her.

This is one of the oddest books I have ever read. It left me with so many questions, which I’m not sure have clear cut answers: Who is Millroy? What is the root of his magic? Does the magic pass on? Does it destroy the bearer? So many questions, and so many potential answers.

Millroy the Magician is a strange book – but one that I very much enjoyed reading. It is absorbing, without much action, and tense, without real drama. Each passage speaks volumes, without relaying much in the way of actual events. I feel as though the story is more of a journey in itself than an adventure – sure, Millroy travels across America and achieves amazing things, but in the end has much changed? Are Millroy and Jilly much different? Or have they merely switched roles?

On the whole, would recommend.

And yes, he did propose ❤

The Lost Art of Sinking by Naomi Booth – Book review and giveaway!

“The floor scooped me up where I stood, and I blinked as it hit me― M. Beth Bloom

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Have you ever played the Fainting Game?

The girls of class 2B have a new obsession – perhaps you know it as the Dying Game, or maybe Indian Headrush? The rules are all the same.

We had all agreed. We would secretly play the Fainting Game every day in assembly the following week. The winner would be the girl who passed out the most times. Or, in the case of a tie, whoever passed out in the most dramatic way. If anyone died, they scored an automatic win. If more than one person died, the winner was the girl who died in the coolest way.

When the decision-makers of class 2B decided it was time to play the Fainting Game, it was nothing more than that – a game. It was just silly ritual among adolescent girls, to annoy their teachers and try and get a bit of a buzz, something to quickly go through and leave behind.

They all grew out of it… or rather… they almost all grew out of it.

In her debut novel Naomi Booth explores the art of losing yourself, and the effects of taking obsession a little too far. The Lost Art of Sinking is a beautiful, yet unusual novella, as artfully striking as it is subtly unsettling. Prepare to be blown away, swept into the depths of obsession and addiction, a journey which begins, and ends in a mysterious room.

Esther cannot stop thinking about the game, a self-proclaimed ‘non-swooner’ she has never managed to successfully lose consciousness. She obsesses over what it would be like, the experience, to find out what she was missing. She wants to see the visions the girls in her class have boasted about. To see the strange and beautiful shapes, like ghosts, familiar, yet alien, which will your body to let go.

I thought it sounded like the most wonderful thing and I hoarded that possibility inside myself.

While all her friends move on, passing likes ghosts from her peripheral vision, Esther continues to experiment with different ways to pass out.

Her fascination is rooted in the memory of her late mother the beautiful retired dancer, who lived her final years locked away in her studio, like a butterfly with a broken wing. In her despair, Esther’s mother never stopped attempting the perfect swoon – curving, trembling, sinking and rising.

Utterly resolved to her fate Esther holds her breath, wills herself to fall and when that fails she snorts cleaning products. Later, unable to rid herself of her obsession she loses herself in the sights and sounds of London. Through the endless streets and houses she can feel her mother calling to her, saturating her body and mind, tilting her head, arching her back, begging her to let go.

Esther’s fascination with falling is so all encompassing that she neglects all other aspects of her life. She has no plan, drifting from one place to another, seeing where the wind takes her, always searching.  Her obsession blinds her, so much so that she misses a glaring secret hidden in her past – one which, if left untold, could be her undoing.

In Esther, Booth has created a strange and wonderful character. Her persona is mystifying yet utterly two-dimensional – defined only by her actions and her obsession. As a reader you are given access to her inner thoughts, but these centre only on her desire to sink away, to become one with her mother. Her relationships feel hollow; her fleeting encounters with men no more than another attempt to reach her goal. Each time she is with someone they are with her body only, her mind is somewhere else entirely.

While Esther herself is a bit of a mystery, those around her are artfully sketched. She outlines all those she encounters, pouring their descriptions onto the page, from an unpleasant-smelling gentleman on the tube, whose odour emanates from his body in ‘mustardy waves’ to the odd young man that is her father.

Through Esther’s obsession, Booth takes the reader on a beautiful and haunting journey – which is all at once unsettling, dark and strangely hilarious. The Lost Art of Sinking is exquisitely written, evoking, sensual and all encompassing – once I started to read I didn’t stop. I was blown away by the writing, absorbed by the ride and fascinated by Esther’s mind. This is definitely one for those of you looking for something fresh and new – Naomi Booth is not to be overlooked.

The Lost Art of Sinking will be released 1st June 2015 by Penned in the Margins.

I was given a free review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

****GIVEAWAY****

I have been given a copy of The Lost Art of Sinking by the publisher to give away to one lucky reader.

To be in with a chance of winning all you have to do is comment on this post. Be sure to enter your correct email address when posting so I can get in touch if you win. The giveaway will run until Friday 12th June – giving you plenty of time to enter.

Good luck!

“I want my kids to have the things in life that I never had when I was growing up. Things like beards and chest hair.” ― Jarod Kintz

I was terribly secretive and mysterious in my last post and said I had something in the pipeline for my next round of obscure poetry, which I’m sure you’re all eagerly anticipating. So I’m very sorry to have to tell you that it failed.

The one that got away was the N+7 method (if you don’t know what that is, look it up, I’m sick of the thought of it) and try as I might I could not I love it as much as I wanted to, in fact, I couldn’t love it at all.

So now I’m back to the drawing board 😦

It’s not all gloom and doom though. Today, despite starting off feeling less than literary, I was inspired, with the help of one or two others, by a truly exceptional sentence: ‘Governance enables the government to govern’ ― It just rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? 

It seems almost inevitable that such masterful words would feed ones creativity, here’s what we came up with:

Governance enables the governed to govern;
Spying enables the spider to spy.
There’s hardly room to groom succession;
Incumbents have virtually no room to try.

And that’s it, I’ve no method to share this time, just the words themselves.

“Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks.” ― Dr. Seuss

I recently discovered a fantastic creative activity – book title poetry.

The idea is fairly simple  take some books and arrange them into piles using their titles to make up the lines of a poem. I thoroughly recommend giving it a go if you haven’t already.

I came across the idea while at work casually browsing instagram on my lunch break and decided that I would make my own the second I got home. As soon as I walked through the door that evening I started taking books from their shelves. I’m normally quite a neat person, but I threw caution to the wind, not even bothering to remember which shelf had housed which book.

I didn’t choose books for any one reason in particular, some titles just stood out to me, or were phrases I thought would be useful. I don’t think particularly matters, I just went with what felt right. Once I had a good selection of books I started to arrange them, trying to make lines fit together and when I was happy with my ‘poem’ I took a picture.

My attempts:

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At a time like this,
Hard times,
The sands of time.
A cold unhurried hand.
A small part of me,
The man who would be King

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Farewell, my lovely.
The boy who kicked pigs
Going solo,
Where angels fear to tread.
The love of a good woman.

When I’d made a couple I decided to try a constructing a political poem using a selection of my old text books, and a few stolen from my boyfriend’s study:

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Political thinkers,
Lords of poverty,
Syndromes of corruption,
The white man’s burden.
Karl Marx,
Rebel with a cause,
Banker to the poor.

I had such a great time trying this out that I passed the idea on to a friend who’s currently working overseas in Canada and feeling a little bored. She loves trying out new ways of stretching her creativity, so I gave her the task of taking titles from the public library and sending me the pictures to use alongside my own.

I absolutely love what she came up with – here are the pictures, and translations from french:

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The last week of May,
A taste of paradise,
A heart full of hope.
Not bad.

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Loving eyes,
The colour of lies,
Nothing more than one night,
The little bastard.

It can be quite therapeutic to try out, and if you have a lot of book titles you will be surprised what you can find. Sometimes the poems will just come together on their own  as was the case with last poem here, which uses a few titles by the same author.

This little activity got me thinking about the process of writing a poem. We didn’t really ‘write’ these poems, they already existed, and just needed putting together. So I started to wonder, how else can poetry be created from ‘found’ words? And, what other unusual methods of creating poetry are there? With this in mind I’ve decided to do some research into interesting techniques for constructing poetry, rather than writing it, and I’ve set up the ‘obscure poetry’ section of my blog in which to do this.

If any of you have any suggestions feel free to comment or drop me an email, ideas are always welcome 🙂

“We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves.” ― Leonora Carrington

Short and obscure

After Dark ― Haruki Murakami

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Set in the witching hours between midnight and sunrise, Murakami explores encounters throughout Tokyo during this silent time. At the centre of the story lies Mari Asai, a young college student sat quietly reading and smoking in a 24 hour Denny’s, her sister Eri Asai a fashion model has been mysteriously sleeping for two months. Mari is troubled by the distance between herself and her sister, physically and emotionally, and is choosing to stay away from home. Mari is drawn out of her night time sanctuary and into the lives of the people who frequent Tokyo at night, Takahashi a jazz trombonist who takes an interest in Mari, insisting that they’ve met before, Kaoru the rugged female manager of a japanese “love hotel”, and a Chinese prostitute savagely beaten by a night-shift businessman.

Murakumi follows Mari and her counterparts, drifting through the city like ghosts. Mari learns about the lives of all whom she encounters, Takahashi, Kaoru, the love hotel staff, and the prostitute.

Marukumi also traces the evening of the mysterious businessman who attacked the Chinese prostitute – Shirakawa. Working late in the office of his company ‘veritech’,  Sharakawa seems plagued by what he has done, what he ‘had to do’, and the thought of returning home to his family. On occasions he comes dangerously close to the furious ‘owners’ of the prostitute, literally within an inch of his life.

On several occasions the reader enters the room of the sleeping Eri Asai, who is sleeping ‘so very’ deeply, in the room ‘we’ adopt the view of what seems like a security camera, and are given strict rules to adhere to, ‘we can only watch’, although it is not apparent where exactly these rules come from. Slowly it becomes apparent that the TV in the room is on, and a man in a silicone mask inside the screen is watching Eri, Eri is transported in her sleeping state, awakening inside the TV. On the floor she finds a pencil with the word ‘veritech’ inscribed on the side, we are made to believe that Eri’s sleeping state is somehow, mysteriously linked to the businessman. By the end of the novel Eri has left the TV and is inside her room, sleeping once again.

The story is obscure, and extraordinary, on two occasions character stand and look in the mirror, only to leave their reflections behind when they walk away.

I can’t pretend to have fully understood what Marukumi was trying to express when he wrote this book, I imagine Marukumi to be the type of author who is never fully understood by anyone. His style of writing seems very abstract. I am tempted to have a look at more of his work in the hope of understanding it better.

The writing style is difficult to get on board with at first [partly, I assume, due to having been translated from Japanese], but once I got past the first chapter or so I found I had happily adjusted. The detail more than makes up for any difficulties with style. The reader often takes the position of some kind of security camera, and everything is taken in, Eri’s eyelashes as she sleeps, the glass of beer in the love hotel, Shirakawa’s pencil, the reader sees them all. For me the description seemed to go beyond the level you would normally see with your eyes. The best way I can find to describe it is like audio descriptions for the visually impaired on a DVD.

Overall while I don’t proclaim to have discovered Marukumi’s message behind this book, I definitely think it is worth a read, and I will seriously consider looking further into his work.