Book review – Paul Magrs – “Exchange” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

Did you read my exclusive interview with Paul last month? I’m back onto reading my way through a good number of his books now, and spent a very pleasant afternoon in the garden at the weekend re-reading “Exchange”. This is the book that literally introduced me to Paul – I’d read his Phoenix Court novels and others but it was when I came across the concept of BookCrossing being mentioned in this novel that I tracked him down to the university where he was then teaching creative writing, dared to email him (I’ve only sent fan mail to him, Iris Murdoch and Erica Jong …) and now can call him a friend! Hooray!

I read this book previously in 2006 (I first read it VIA BookCrossing!) and 2012 – rather amusingly, I’d forgotten a big plot point around how the characters got to discussing BookCrossing but remembered the hero and the Book Exchange and the feel of the novel. And I’m pleased to say it was just as delightful, third time round!

Paul Magrs – “Exchange”

(28 April 2009)

Simon’s living with his grandparents after, in the grand tradition of young adult and children’s books through the ages, his parents are killed in an accident (I don’t mean to downplay that but it’s such a common way of freeing up your protagonist, isn’t it?). He spends Saturdays on days out to different towns, and bookshops, with his gran, Winnie:

It’s all tea cakes and Earl Grey and bags of sweets and lovely novels. What more could we want, eh? What more could we possibly want? (p. 25)

But Simon does want a little bit more, it turns out, so it’s exciting when they find a new Book Exchange and make some new friends (I loved fierce Kelly even more this time). This time around, this passage seemed to sum up the book for me:

Bitter and black. It sounded cool. Like a vampire or a hardbitten detective. Really, though, Simon liked his coffee with frothy milk, two sugars and a jaffa cake or two. (p. 71) (this has reminded me of my review of “The Diary of a Dr Who Addict“)

It’s funny, because last time it was this passage:

He was wooing her with gateaux and frothy mochas and the tender ministrations of his plastic hands …

although both are very “Paul Magrs” ways of putting things.

This time round I liked Ada, the writer Winnie knew in her childhood, a lot more, and I drew from the book the messages that it’s OK not to rush into things, that friendship is sometimes so very much the best option, and that we all need time to find ourselves. That’s a pretty good set of precepts to get out of a book, isn’t it. Simon is a typical Magrs hero, shy and sensitive and buried in books (cf “Starlight and Snow”, “Dr Who Addict”, “Strange Boy”, “All the Rage” and I love having such a gentle character at the centre of this rare non-magical Magrs read.

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

Bank holiday bonus! An interview with Paul Magrs #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Paul Magrs and Liz Dexter in Manchester in 2013

Paul and Liz in Manchester

As part of my Paul Magrsathon, in which I’ve been reading, and encouraging other people to read, the novels of Paul Magrs during the year, Paul kindly agreed to do an interview with me and here it is as a bank holiday bonus!

When I read “Exchange” (which I’m reading and reviewing next month), I got all over-excited when I came across its mention of BookCrossing, tracked Paul’s work (at the time) email address down and emailed him! Over the years, we’ve become friends, and I actually got to meet Paul back in 2013 (we had afternoon tea in the cafe of Manchester’s Art Museum and a poke around a few bookshops, of course).

I hope you enjoy this little view into Paul’s writing life …

Phoenix Court and beyond

Hello, Paul! So, what was it like revisiting Phoenix Court for the Lethe Press reprint?

It was very moving to return to them. I wrote them in my early twenties – and I felt so brave then! Mixing characters of all kinds of sexualities and bringing in magical realist effects, and writing about the streets and the towns in the North East of England that I grew up in. These books had wonderful reviews and they have fans, too – but like so many books they were allowed to drop through the net and go out of print – almost straight away. I thought they were gone forever, and I had resigned myself to that. But Steve Berman and Matt Bright at Lethe Press were determined to do nice new versions of them.

It was so exciting when they brought them back out and of course I rushed to take part in the pre-order! Did you change or edit the novels at all?

I decided not to alter the text of the books at all. I toyed with the idea, but it seemed somehow the wrong thing to do.

Fair enough! Who was your favourite character when you wrote them and how did that change?

My favourite character was always Penny, I think – the teen with the telekinetic powers. I brought her back as a grown up, years later in ‘Hell’s Belles’, and she joined the cast of the Brenda and Effie Mysteries. I love all my characters, though, and it’s hard to pick one out over another.

How did you decide which short stories to include in the reprinted volumes?

That was easy to decide on, but tricky to do. I dug out all the stories that were published in magazines and anthologies during those same years. Some of them complemented the novels rather nicely – ‘Nude on the Moon’ was commissioned by Lisa Tuttle for a collection of stories with an erotic theme, and it picked up Liz and Cliff’s story, so it was natural to put that in with ‘Does it Show?’  And ‘Patient Iris’ led to the publication of my first book, and it was obvious it should go at the start of ‘Marked for Life.’ Others have a more complicated history, for example the story ‘Jep’ – about the leopard-skinned baby – belongs to the middle of ‘Could it be Magic?’ It was cut (wrongly maybe?) at the edit stage, and finds its place now as a dreamlike flashback at the end of the book.

Oh, that makes sense. I think it should have gone back in but it’s great as a story, too. Tell us how “Fancy Man” got lost and how you reclaimed it.

It was a dreadful experience, having that cancelled. I was in the middle of various house moves and I was lecturing and writing and working too hard – and files and boxes of papers were put in the wrong place. What I thought was the complete manuscript of the book turned out to be only the first half – a very messed-up copy, ruined through rewriting. And I had no idea where the complete book was. I shrugged and moved on. ‘Fancy Man’ was clearly cursed. Books often fall by the wayside, and sometimes it’s for the best…  But then, years later – I found a fat folder of loose sheets. Foxed and spotted with damp and mould. And there it was! My lost novel. Just as Lethe was gearing up to do my first novels again. I think it was the process of looking out those ‘extra short stories’ that my missing fourth novel came back into my life…!

What’s your favourite book out of all the ones you’ve written?

This changes each time I’m asked the question. As of now – July 2020 – I would say it’s ‘The Story of Fester Cat.’ It’s so personal. It was so immediate and direct and a book that I had to write, there and then, working in a blaze of energy that’s quite rare. I was very proud of that book. Penguin US brought it out, and I was hugely disappointed it never came out in this country. It seems like it’s in limbo now, which is a shame. People really love that book.

Would you change any of the books you’ve written, looking back on them now?

Very interesting question! I’ve developed and changed in so many ways. I’d write all of them completely differently now. I’d be stricter with plotting, probably. I’d take fewer crazy detours and be less experimental. But I’m not sure that would improve them!  I think I’d make many of my books *longer.* I think, being slightly older, I find I want to stay in the story longer than I did. I don’t want to leave those stories.

Is there a book by someone else you wish you’d written?

Many! But then they wouldn’t be mine, or theirs, any more. I read to escape my own writing, and I write to escape other people’s.

I love that! What’s the best bit of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

‘Keep it on camera.’ From the tutor of my MA Writing Course, David Craig, in 1991.

That’s brilliant! And you do. You teach and write about writing: what do you think the best bit of writing advice is that you’ve given someone?

Write every day.

Good advice. Who are your top five favourite authors and why?

I love writers who feel as if they’re sitting down and telling me *stuff.* Who are saying to me: ‘Oh, it’s you again – hello! Here, listen to this…’  And I’d say – Anne Tyler, Armistead Maupin, Truman Capote, Natalie Goldberg, Alan Bennett.  Many, many others, too. I read a lot. And I’m always listening for that chatty, confiding, trusting voice.

Ah, I’m re-reading all of Anne Tyler next year! Is there anyone else who writes like you, who “goes with” you? Someone who “If you like Paul Magrs novels, you will like this”?

I really, really don’t know. Aspects of what I do you might get elsewhere, in other people’s books. But I’m not really like anyone. That’s what people in publishing often say – like it’s a terrible and difficult thing. But I think it’s a good thing. It’s a Tigger kind of thing.

And you know what? I think you’re right!

Thanks so much to Paul for taking the time to think about and write down the answers to these questions – very illuminating and interesting!

You can find Paul online at Life on Magrs and he also has a Patreon for exclusive new content.

Book review- Paul Magrs – “All the Rage” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

I was really looking forward to re-reading this one and it didn’t disappoint. I first read it in 2002 from the library (that must have been Lewisham Library, where I discovered Paul’s books from the late 90s onwards, and probably the last one of his I had from there, as I swapped over to the smaller Charing Cross Library when I moved into central London in 2003), and then again in 2008 after buying it in Hay-on-Wye in May of that year. I do love having authors I can re-read, although I know a lot of people don’t do much re-reading (I think next year  might include a re-reading challenge of some sort).

Paul Magrs – “All the Rage”

(18 May 2008 – bookshop in Hay-on-Wye)

A ‘straight’ novel with no magic realism but still with Paul’s trademark wit and warmth, revolving around the story, in alternate chapters, of a boy-girl-boy-girl band in the 1980s who mess up their Eurovision chance but are taken to the hearts of the British public then follows the inevitable trajectory of fall-outs and new musical directions, and of Tim discovering Debbie Now in her mum’s karaoke bar years later and embarking on an epic road and rail trip around the UK of her past. Discovering their hit is going to be covered by a vapid starlet, they collect Tony, Debs’ old best friend (who lives with a rather marvellous creation, another has-been pop star, who has gone beyond gender and, it appears, sense) and then her ex-husband Clive as the plot spins faster and faster, ending up with a hilarious set-piece.

Will meeting Tony be a let-down for Tim, who saw him as someone like him on the telly before he even knew who he was? Is Tim’s job at the shop selling rubbish for your house gone forever (funnily enough, the scenes in the store rooms at the beginnning of the novel made me think of Catherine O’Flynn’s “What Was Lost“, which is partly set in the backstage of a shopping centre, and of course I found I read both novels in April and August 2008!) and can he repair his friendship with colleague Shanna?

Full of warmth – Tony being the centre of this, supporting Debs by shouting out the truth about both of them at school, carefully laundering Tim and Debs’ clothes when they stay over – and care for characters who don’t have much self-confidence (Tim is “just … being nice, not wanting to disappoint people”). There are also big, over-the-top characters: Brenda the fourth member of the band with her helmet of telly hair and Roy the enormous and unapologetic transvestite band manager. Oh, and characters from other novels, something I love about Pau’s books – I whooped out loud when they met a tall, black guy working in a chip shop in Blackpool and yes! it was Timon from “Fancy Man” (although that book was lost by then, so this is the first time I would have made that connection!)

A great fun re-read with a big, warm heart.


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series plus Paul’s excellent books about creative writing are available new. Find all my posts here.

 

State of the TBR July 2020 #20BooksOfSummer20 #Paulmagrsathon

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Whole TBRGiven the number of books that have come into the house this month, I’m quite surprised that I’ve managed to fit everything on to the TBR shelf with only one pile (I have taken the review books from their position balanced on top of the front row, but you’ll see those in a minute. I did read thirteen books this month and of those, I took seven plus one DNF off this shelf, which has helped – and I’ve also taken off one of the ones I’m reading at the moment.

Currently reading

Two Queer Eye BooksThe book I took off to read was the (new) Queer Eye book – it’s a big, square volume that nothing could fit in front of, so was effectively taking up two spaces on the shelf. The new series has started and is excellent as ever, and I also, as you can see, have the ORIGINAL book! So I’m going to read the new one then re-read the original. I think there are quite a lot of differences between the two series and the two sets of experts, so it’ll be very interesting to compare the books.

I’m also finishing up the huge book on Grayson Perry  by Perry and Jacky Klein for review in Shiny New Books, and one of my older ones from NetGalley “Company of One” by Paul Jarvis, which is about the value of keeping your business small (but also about being a “company of one” in a corporation.

Definitely coming up this month

Four books to read this month

As well as my next six 20 Books of Summer, I’ll be reading these review and project books. Lev Parikian’s “Into the Tangled Bank” is an exploration of the British relationship to nature and is a review copy from Elliott and Thompson that comes out early this month, so this will be started soon. Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass”, kindly sent to me by Bloomsbury, is out in August but a mighty tome, so I will start it this month, too. In my Paul Magrsathon I will be reading “All the Rage”, his book about a two boys / two girls band in the 80s. I think I last read this in May 2002 and I have a dim memory of a scene in a shopping centre … (I sent “Exchange” off to its Australian winner a few weeks ago and will schedule to read that when he has it ready to read). Then “I will not be erased” by the gal-dem collective, “Our stories of growing up as people of colour” which I bought in September last year will be the next on my Black Lives Matter reading theme – I’ve decided to read a few books about people’s experience in the UK to get more of the background before going on to “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” and “White Fragility” to underpin and explain how I feel reading and working through “Me and White Supremacy”.

I will also add in at least two of the lovely volumes Dean Street Press have sent me which are coming out in August.

Up next / 20 Books of Summer Month 2

next on the TBR

The front (older) end of the TBR is looking very different to how it looked in June (and, indeed, for a good few months before that). 20 Books of Summer 20 is really shifting those older books and I’m up to 25 December 2018 now! So next up around the books above will basically be anything that’s not a Persephone / Virago / Dean St Press in this picture (the Persephones and DSPs will be read in August; the Viragos are waiting for more Thirkell reprints in late August that come before and around these two). Once I’ve got to Tim Parks’ “Where I’m Reading From” which was originally Book 13, I have one to choose to finish the month out of “A Brown Man in Russia”, “Our City” and “Naturally Tan” – whichever I choose will at least be contributing to diversifying the 20Books pile a bit! I’ll see how much time I’ve got at the end of the month.


So there we go: a successful reading month in June and some really good reads to look forward to in July. How’s your TBR?

Book review- Paul Magrs – “The Diary of a Dr Who Addict” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

A re-read of a book I first read back in 2014. I was going to pick up a few of Paul’s novels that I didn’t have to read during my Magrsathon, but unfortunately quite a lot of the older ones are now out of print and I’m feeling (temporarily I hope) a bit funny about second-hand books, even ordered online and quarantined. But what a joy to go back to this one and spend a Sunday afternoon in the company of a boy working out what his place in the world might be.

Paul Magrs – “The Diary of a Dr Who Addict”

(08 December 2013, BookCrossing Not-So-Secret Santa gift)

A re-read of this lovely, warm little coming-of-age tale where David must adjust to a new stepdad plus his American mum (one of those great older adults who love books and reading who often crop up in Paul’s novels) as well as his emerging sexuality, the development of his writing and his troubled relationship with his former best friend, Robert, who appears to be moving away from him alarmingly. One major place this shows up is in their relationship to Dr Who – as Peter Davison becomes The Doctor, and they get the chance to go to the big exhibition in Blackpool, Robert starts to see the home-made, contingent feeling of the show (The Show) as a failing, not a strength.

There are as usual some fabulous strong women characters in the book, with Robert’s sister particularly trying to break out of the standard mould, and a big theme of the fine line between over-protection and too much freedom. Robert and David’s differing personalities and experiences are beautifully summed up:

Robert is an anarchist. He read something about being one in the NME and now he gets cross about most things we have to do, especially at school. I find the whole anarchist thing interesting, but quite hard to get a grip on. The idea of no rules at all makes me feel a bit unsteady. (p. 41)

We do have a positive ending as David dares to break free a little but in a controlled way, just as he wants it; as he watches Robert showing off with a pint, he meets a quite different friend, a role model and one who, amazingly, doesn’t mock David for his interest. Hooray!


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series plus Paul’s excellent books about creative writing are available new.

 

State of the TBR June 2020 #20BooksOfSummer

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I finished 13 books in May, one of which was 908 pages long, and also read parts of two more, plus have three on the go, so not a bad reading month. And after having a lot of the shelf piled up, most of the back and one pile in the front, I’m now down to one pile at the back, so pleased with that.

I’m currently reading “Don’t Touch My Hair” by Emma Dabiri, which is a fascinating book I won on NetGalley about the sociology and cultural importance of black and dual-heritage women’s hair written by a Black Irish woman. I’m over half way through and learning a lot. Because my 20BooksOfSummer list is quite monocultural, I’m trying to explore the experiences of people who are different to me in the gaps between project books.

I’m also working my way through Jacky Klein’s wonderful monograph on Grayson Perry, which is worth lingering over. This is for Shiny New Books but I might review it in full on here, too. It’s the last of my books from Thames & Hudson for that publication, and I’ll be sharing my first two reviews next week.

Coming up of course are the first swathe of my #20BooksofSummer (read about my Pile here and find links to all my reviews as I write them up here). So I have books about Tahiti, an Icelandic travelling woman, the sociology of birdwatching, West Penwith, a pub landlady, Tolkien and the last remaining parts of the British Empire to enjoy this month (it seems to make sense to split them up into a seven, a six and a seven) and I’m looking forward to them, having succeeded in removing a book about the Inklings (DNFed) and a Pamela Brown book from the 2018 books already.

At some point in proceedings I will be continuing with “Rewild Yourself” by Simon Barnes, which I’m reading alongside my best friend and which I really need to get on with, and Paul Magrs’ “Lost on Mars”, which is proper sci fi but I am sure I’m in safe hands with Paul.

Let #20BooksOfSummer commence, and let’s hope I continue reading at this rate! Are you doing any challenges this month? Have you read any of these?

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Fancy Man” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Look at me, all done with my Paul Magrsathon book and it’s only half-way through the month! I was very intrigued by this one, his fourth and lost novel, republished by Lethe Press along with his Phoenix Court trilogy (you can buy them all from their website or on Amazon) after he found the slightly damp manuscript in his writing shed and decided to revisit it. I’ve now finished all the Lethe reissues and thoroughly enjoyed them. As usual, you get an introduction talking about the context and writing of the book and two bonus short stories.

Paul Magrs – “Fancy Man”

(11 April 2018)

A standalone novel which only has a glance at Phoenix Court but does inhabit the same 1990s Edinburgh world as “Could it Be Magic?” including some of the same fabulous queer venues. I loved this romp through the life of third sister Wendy, her best friend Timon and her cousin Colin (someone who is HIV+ and doesn’t die, making a change from a lot of novels of a similar vintage) as she moves from Blackpool on the death of her mother to move in with Auntie Anne of the ‘good legs’ and her lottery-winner ex-husband (are you keeping up here?) in Edinburgh. Her two older sisters serve as alternative paths she could have taken, one using life as art in a writing career, the other settling for boring housewifedom.

As the editor who turned this one down pointed out, everyone in the book is a little bit odd – but then again, isn’t everybody a bit odd in life anyway? I particularly loved the German amputee laundrette owners, one of whom is hilariously given her own section to narrate, and then there are UFO-spotters and a unicorn death cult as well as all sorts of odd goings on. It’s alternate fiction, set in a world where Scotland is independent and you go through a tartan arch to get there on the train, although this aspect isn’t really dwelt on, just a little funny addition. Great fun and perfectly readable, with a more solid timeline going through a section of just one character’s life. it is supposed to be based around James’ “Portrait of a Lady” which I read on holiday in Tunisia in 1999 and do not remember, but you certainly don’t need to have read or know that book to enjoy this one.

There’s a magical Christmas story in “Glittery Fag” where you can create your own hero if you try hard enough, and thrillingly, lovely Robert from the Brenda and Effie novels has an adventure with his aunt in Venice in “Baubles”.


Next month I’m starting the Mars trilogy, which I’m a bit trepidatious about as I don’t read much sci-fi or other-planetary stuff in general. I trust Paul, but I hope I can keep up with the tropes he uses and, I’m sure, subtly undermines. Anyone fancy reading them along with me?

Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Could it be Magic?” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Oops, at the end of the month again with my review. It took a while to read this one as I have managed not to have much reading time this week. Having read this assuming it was a re-read, I’m not entirely sure it was, and it’s not in my Reading Diary Index, which I’ve done for 1996-2001, which would have covered when I’d have read it, I think.

Paul Magrs – “Could it be Magic?”

(11 April 2018)

Another of Lethe Press’s republished Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon), and I loved Paul’s description of how and where he wrote it in the introduction. There are two short stories included, “Jep”, which links to the main story, and “Fond of a Treat” which is a brilliant, atmospheric piece set in the Edinburgh queer community but linking back a little, very nicely.

I would say that you need to have read the other two to really get to grips with this one, as it opens with a rather raucous and marvellous party featuring most of the characters from the previous book, with all the interplays of friendship and rivalry going on but only Penny and Andy left in Penny and Liz’s house, which has housed all sorts since the last book. And Vince has gone off to Paris, only featuring in a rather snippy phone call.

Elsie’s son Craig has got in with the bad lads across the road and they’re terrorising the neighbourhood; meanwhile, her husband’s got his religious visions again and is recuperating in the psychiatric hospital. But who’s coming back to do strange things in the house – and who’s putting them right again? Tattooed Mark is back, and someone makes his tattoos almost come alive in a couple of scenes I loved and could have done with more of. Liz has an accident and lies in a coma for much of the book, a (clever) blank canvas for each of the other characters to display themselves on. The community support for her identity in a place not known for its tolerance is lovely and heartwarming. There’s lots of moving around – Andy escapes to the wild life  of Edinburgh and ends up somehow and mystifyingly pregnant. I loved his son, Jep, and was glad of a) the story featuring him at the end of the book and b) the wonderful epilogue 17 years later, with Fran installed where she should be and Jep grown up and well. This was a real high point to the book, although I’m not sure how the final book in the series, which was never published at the time, will intersect with that.


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?” #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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Coming in just under the wire on finishing reading this and then getting my review in – I will do better next month! A good read that I enjoyed much more than last time – and huge thanks to Paul who sent me a Word document when I suddenly discovered I had blank pages in my copy of the book!

Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?”

(11 April 2018)

This is one of Lethe Press’s republished Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon),  with introductions by Paul and in this one two extra special short stories, too. I had an early copy, and the printing problem was apparently sorted out, so feel safe to buy!

So we’re back at Phoenix Court but with an emphasis on a group of houses, and I can’t work out why in my original review of this I wasn’t as keen as I had been on “Marked for Life” as this was great. I can’t see what I wouldn’t have liked last time in this tale of young gay love revisited, errant bus drivers and terribly glamorous trans folk. It reminded me a bit of Catherine O’Flynn’s “What Was Lost” with its slightly prosaic mystery set among, here, shopping precincts and small areas of natural land among the concrete, gossiped and picked over by the locals.

The women of the neighbourhood are tangled into each other’s lives; Penny, daughter of the newly arrived and glam Liz, and Vince, a young teacher trying to be down with the kis, thing they’re different, but they get drawn and settled into estate life, too. Everyone’s related or linked to everyone else, too. The magic realism is confined to a bit of light levitation, some lucid dreams and some weird tiny creatures (do they appear in one of the Brenda and Effie stories, too?) but they add a shimmering extra dimension. Magrs in the Introduction calls it

A phantasmagorical opera set in the midst of concrete brutalism.

Mark Kelly and Iris from the first novel reappear a couple of times (I think Paul wrote this one first so I wonder if he added them in afterwards or fleshed them out from these mentions for the other book?) and we hear something of how Mark’s life is going (so maybe the former). Class distinctions are minutely dissected by the characters and there’s a heartbreaking moment when Liz tries to communicate with her clever daughter:

“You sound like a soap opera.”

“If I do, it’s because I watch soaps. I don’t read your kind of books. How would I saw what I want to say … how would I say it in your language? The one you like?” (p. 134)

It was interesting to note that Liz is 41 – as with so many of my Iris Murdoch re-reads, I’ve overtaken her in age, closer to Vince and Andy (surely named after Erasure?) than her the first time I read it!

Of the two extra short stories, I preferred “Nude on the Moon”, which follows Liz and Cliff on their escapades in the Lake District and picks at their relationship. “Bargains for Charlotte” was a bit creepy for me!

And I managed to collect two bits of Synchronicity like Bookish Beck’s finds: in this novel, Janet’s mum is about to make a surprising second marriage, and in Jane Linfoot’s “Summer at the Little Wedding Shop” (not yet reviewed), the central character’s mum is about to do the same. And in this novel, Vince likes a completely plain white room with no distractions, which is how Edith in “Tenterhooks” by Ada Leverson (also not yet reviewed) likes her rooms, too!


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life” #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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Ignore “Aisles” now in the picture – I’m onto the first in that arc of books behind me, “Marked for Life”, the second book Paul wrote but the first to be published (I think I’ve got that the right way around). It’s the first in the Phoenix Court series of magical realist novels set on North-East England housing estates full of precints and odd goings-on.

I first read this book a little while after it was first published, in around 1997. I was living  in New Cross Gate in my own flat, working up by London Bridge, and I used to catch the number 36 bus on a Saturday to Lewisham and go to the library. It was a Routemaster bus and I’d be havering away on the back platform, trying to steel my nerves to get off, and sometimes it’d whip me all the way round the back of the library and half-way up the high street before I could get off. I read all sorts of books in those years: Lewisham Library had an excellent collection and I broadened my horizons hugely in the books I read by writers of colour, LGBTQ writers and writers from different backgrounds to my own. I found Paul’s books and hoovered them up as they came out, and always remembered these fondly – although I have to say I didn’t remember much about this one apart from Mark, the man tattooed from head to foot (even his eyelids) but a gentle man. Having said that, if I read this book in 1997 that was 22-23 years ago, so I’ll have read around 2,500-3,000 books since then – so I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for a few memory lapses. 

While I’m on not forgetting I’ve only had two entries in my competition to win a copy of “Exchange” so you’re in with a good chance. Do pop over to my review of “Aisles” to enter – you don’t have to answer the competition question to have a go, that’s just a bit of fun.

Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life”

(11 April 2018)

It was so exciting when Lethe Press republished the Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon), and they’ve included introductions by Paul and special short stories, too, making a lovely keepsake.

In “Marked for Life” we meet tattooed Mark, settled down with his feisty wife Sam and their small daughter, but getting letters from his old best friend Tony, with whom he shared a passionate affair as teenagers. Meanwhile, Sam’s mum Peggy is shacked up with the somewhat mysterious Iris, who claims to be an Orlando-type ageless figure but with the odd touch of regeneration, and they’ve got into some wild walking about the place. Then Sally’s suddenly abducted and everyone, including Sam’s police officer lover, whizzes down to Leeds to get her from a weird old house full of funny objects and odd inhabitants. But where’s Tony? Is he in fact there?

It’s a joyful book, full of play and books and yes, the odd sex scene, but tenderness and family feeling, even if the family is far from traditional. I wondered if it might have dated but the only feel of the 90s, apart from no one having mobile phones, of course, is that it reminds me a touch of one of Angela Carter’s more readable novels: real, down-to-earth people mixed with just a smidgeon of magic.

The first short story, “Patient Iris” I think looks at a previous life of Iris’ and is full of seals and mystery. “Judith’s Do Round Hers” is fuller and reminds me a bit of “Aisles”, a lovely character study of a woman who works in a newsagents and comes home to her twins, a “sensitive” boy and a girl who’s handy with electrics, and, in a place where everyone’s lived there forever and no one seems to leave, has a good handle on everyone’s past lives as well as their present ones.


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

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