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.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Aisles” plus new books in for the challenge and a giveaway #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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The first book read this year, and indeed this was the photo I sent into the first book of the year blog. I chose this reread as my first book because Iris Murdoch, whose 26 novels I’ve just finished rereading, is a character in the book!

Paul Magrs – “Aisles”

(26 September 2019)

We’re introduced to an Internet chatroom in Norwich, where middle aged lecturers can pose as cheeky monkeys, and Robin spends much time in the spare room doing just that, and the women who surround him could be just anybody, too, including people he might know through six degrees of separation – and suddenly someone calling herself Iris Murdoch is dialling in from a boat on the North Sea full of other dead writers…

The focus pulls out: there’s a car crash (a bit detailed but not too much) which involves most of the characters in one way or another, from a young straight man smitten (sometimes) with his gay best friend to a 77 year old mature student with two secrets. Parents and children, lovers and flirters, the spotlight shines on each, but in a natural way, not like a writing exercise (I’m thinking of other books that do this kind of thing that I haven’t liked so much: it’s more like “The Lido” than “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkbable Things”, and that’s a Good Thing in my book!

Warm and wry, celebrating ordinary and different people with a dash of magical realism … and who’s that on the tills at the end …?

New books in!

These books have arrived for me to read later in the year. I will admit to being a tiny bit nervous about these, as I’m not a big reader of other-planetary sci fi, however I’m going to trust Paul and give the “Mars Trilogy” (“Lost on Mars”, “The Martian Girl” and “The Heart of Mars”) a good go.

Giveaway time!

Paul Magrs’ “Exchange” is a lovely novel, which I first read a good while ago. It’s the story of a boy and a bookshop and about growing up, and, most excitingly, has a mention of Bookcrossing, a hobby I still engage in today. That fact compelled me to write only my third ever fan letter to an author!

To win this second hand but pretty pristine copy of “Exchange”, comment below saying you’d like to go in the draw, and have a go at guessing who my other fan letters were to (your answer won’t affect the draw, but might be fun!).


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 in particular is available new.