The Mark And The Void – Paul Murray (Penguin 2015)

The other day Robert over on 101Books (he’s busy reading his way through Time Magazine’s List of the greatest books of all time) prompted a discussion by asking his readers what is the funniest novel? Funnily enough, (gulp!) I’ve just finished reading a very strong contender for that title and it is a book which is due to be published within the next few weeks.  So following on from my previous Paul Murray review here is one that I’m sure you’ll going to be hearing a lot more about.


I was delighted to be chosen by Penguin to read Paul Murray’s  new novel for review purposes before publication. When I found out the set-up my heart sank- the educational institutions of “Skippy Dies” are part of my psyche so I felt an immediate attachment to it, the financial institutions that form the basis of “The Mark And The Void” leave me cold. I’ve got to my advanced age pretty much avoiding any books, films or television which deal with financial matters or are even set in offices. Perhaps the only related thing I have ever enjoyed is that moment in “Superman III” where Richard Pryor deposits all his fellow employees unrounded half-cents into his account! So it was with hesitancy but an open mind I began Murray’s book.

The Irish financial crisis has been responsible for at least one great novel already- Donal Ryan’s “The Spinning Heart”, one of the best books of this century (so far). That concentrates on the effects upon a small-town community. This book is even better and may very well be the Great Comic Novel of our time.

The narrator, Claude Martingale, a French analyst working in an Irish investment bank, is approached by Paul, looking for an Everyman for his new novel set in Dublin’s financial institutions . This news permeates through Claude’s workplace. This is a place where little exciting or “real” happens- a bank which “produces nothing tangible, which trades only ever in the virtual”, one of the factors for the economic collapse we all suffered.

It soon becomes apparent that Paul’s heart is not in his novel and that Claude at work is just “A Void. A Dead space” and that there is no story to be told. He has other plans in his shadowing of Claude. Murray doesn’t simplify matters, finance is a complicated subject but he makes it all understandable, plausible and, extraordinarily, very very funny. There’s a lot of “nothings” in this book; the bankers work with it, the writer produce it, Claude’s very life is it until he meets Paul. I may still have no idea what a hedge fund is (does anyone?) but I learnt a lot and my sheer enjoyment of this book is not diminished one iota by my economic stupidity. Within this there’s also Philosophy, Art and Literature and the role they have to play in the modern world where “the void” is so prevalent. This is a world where the nothingness has to be finely balanced, where banks can implode because of rumour, where the world of work sees “everyone completely oblivious to everyone else, eyes fixed instead on screens or on that empty point in mid-air where so much of life now takes place.”

I loved the characters in this book, Claude, the “Everyman” with little going for him, Paul, always hopeful he’ll find the next big thing before total destitution, whose literary career was stalled by one bad review, Ish, the female analyst of out place in a male dominated world because she believes in things rather than “nothings”, the boorish men who make up the majority of the workforce. It’s intelligent yet outrageous and Murray gets it just right. I felt with “Skippy Dies” that the book took a time to settle and that the author just crammed too much into it initially and that it was only after Skippy’s death is confirmed and we move away from the events leading up to his demise that the book really took off and we saw the true quality of the writing and the potential of this writer. I was with “The Mark And The Void” all the way. The pace never flags and it becomes funnier and funnier, which is some achievement in a comic novel. If Paul Murray can get me enjoying a book so much with this premise then he can write about absolutely anything. If Joseph Heller with “Catch 22” managed to make war funny (and I’m not entirely convinced he did) then Murray’s making us laugh at loud at Ireland’s financial crises is a comparable achievement.

This is the best book I have read this year and I am looking forward to seeing it appear on prize shortlists.


“The Mark And The Void” is published July 2015 by Penguin. Thanks to Netgalley for providing this copy for review.


The Author Strikes Back – Carol Branston Interview

imagesN8KPZ1YTA Murder They Wrote Special!

Last month I reviewed “Murder! Hollywood Style” by Carol Branston (published April 2015 by First Edition Publishing). I was very pleased to have a comment from Carol thanking me for the review and after a bit of correspondence between us I am delighted to welcome Carol for my first interview in my Author Strikes Back category. I am especially pleased because the review of Carol’s book has certainly been attracting attention. Just the other day it crept past Michael Rosen’s classic book of children’s poems “Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here!” to become my most read book review on the site. So, striking while the iron is hot and at the time when people are beginning to consider what books to take with them on holiday here is what Carol had to say about her book.


What was the inspiration for Murder! Hollywood Style? (In my review I compared it to Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins novels and Carol commented that this was what she had set out to do as she thought it was time to reactivate this genre)

I never know when something is going to inspire me. With this novel it came from seeing an Unsolved Murder show and I immediately knew who had done it, and how it was done. So there I was with an ending. I love old movies especially flash backs and thought all I have to do now is write a story that leads me to my ending. So I did.

How does, in your opinion, the Hollywood you portray in the late 60’s compare to Hollywood today?

During the 1960s and 70s Hollywood totally changed. The big studios lost their clout. They didn’t have stars under contract any more. Financing came from banks whose only interest was the bottom line. Actors started their own production companies, they wanted a piece of the action. Independent films with lower budgets were given a chance. Censorship was still a very strong influence, but Doris Day was finishing her reign as the professional virgin. Carnal Knowledge and Midnight Cowboy were breakthrough movies for general audiences. Then came Blow Up and Clockwork Orange, and younger people suddenly realized they had a lot to say in a fresh new way. Creativity ran rampant. A thrilling time to be involved in any of the art forms. Personally I still love a movie with good dialogue, not just special effects. I seldom go to see these monstrosities filled with graphics. I can appreciate the work that goes into them, but… One English film I loved and still do is Sexy Beast. Every time I watch it, I love it more. The way it’s shot. The acting. Actually I can find no fault with it.








Doris Day contemplating Sexy Beast!   (I never thought I’d write those words in a blog!)

Why did you choose Joe, the hairdresser, to tell the story?

I am a hairdresser and have worked in film and TV for a number of years doing both makeup and hair. When I was a kid in London I was an apprentice in a very chic salon off Bakers St. Funnily enough the woman who owned the salon worked on movies. At that time I had no idea I’d end up doing the same thing. We had clients that ran the gamut from Lady so and so, to very expensive Mayfair call girls. Quite an education at fifteen. So I know for a fact that clients tend to tell their hairdressers everything. When I started to write my book, Joe was able to connect my characters easily. He didn’t have to be there all the time but eventually he knew all that was going on. Now at this time in his life he finally had to get it off his chest. You see one unwritten law in the hair business is to keep a confidence, and he had certainly done that.

 I have a real soft spot for Karen van Dougall (In my review I referred to her as “superbly trashy super-rich Karen van Dougall who manipulates everyone but is often their only true friend”). How did she come about?

I’m so happy to hear you liked Karen, not many people do. She is a lot of fiction based on a lot of facts, like most of my characters. That era was breakout time for blue bloods too. They didn’t go to country clubs with their parents any more. New York was so diverse. If one was interesting, creative, unique, or beautiful it was easy to break into the supposed In Crowd. The more Far Out you were, the better! Everyone was experimenting with everything. I really believe the country was run by speed freaks. Some faded quickly others became household names, rich and famous in their own right. Karen loved to star, and she did, besides she was always very generous. I like her too. 

What’s next for Carol Branston?

I love the whole process of writing. Over the years I’ve travelled quite extensively for both work and pleasure, and have met incredible people and seen incredible sights. Luckily I wrote journals whilst doing this and have quite an extensive collection to go through. I know there’s a story or a series of short stories among the collection that hopefully will prove to be very entertaining. My other hope is to have Murder! Hollywood Style made into a Netflix Two- Part Movie. The 70s were so visual. I just know it would work. I want Gwyneth Paltrow to play Mrs. Rhodes. What do you think?

I think that’s good casting, Carol. That got me thinking………….Zac Efron for Nicky Venuti (imagine what that would do to the ratings!), Carey Mulligan for Valerie Rhodes and how about thinking right out of the box and offering the part of Karen van Dougall to Rupaul!? I’m subscribing to Netflix right away…………..!

I would like to thank Carol very much for agreeing to be the first in my The Author Strikes Back section. Hopefully, that would have whetted some appetites for “Murder Hollywood Style”. UK readers can buy the paperback or e-book from by following the link here. Of course it is available from and most other book retailers.

Buy Murder! Hollywood Style here

My original review of the book can be found here-

Murder They Wrote Review – Murder Hollywood Style by Carol Branston


How things are going…… (Blogging 101 Introductory Assignment)

I wrote my first blog post just over 5 months ago and I had little idea really as to what I was doing.  For the next few weeks I am taking part in the Blogging 101 Course run by WordPress which will hopefully answer those little niggling questions as to how to do things I’m still finding problematical.   Hopefully, you will see the benefits on this site.

As a way of introduction to those who will come to this site via the Blogging course.  I thought I’d take stock of the last few months of blogging three or four times a week.  Looking back at my very first post, the introductory one at the top of this page I have been really pleased that I’m more or less doing what I said I would.

This is going to be my 75th post.  I have reviewed 73 books and 10 CDs.  I haven’t got round to reviewing any films yet, but that’s probably because my time for film viewing has dropped considerably because of all the reading I have been doing.  I have been accepted as a member of Netgalley and I am absolutely thrilled to have readers from all around the world.  By following me I hope to be bringing you more of the same over the coming months plus a few new ideas which I’m not going to give away just yet, but I think they are exciting developments.  I do always welcome comments on reviews etc. so don’t be shy.  Hopefully, I’ll get to learn to be more adept with the technical aspects, which generally look fine on the website but sometimes can take quite a while for me to get right.

The summer season is beginning to kick in on the Isle of Wight, after a slow start, and the warmer weather means that the cats are spending marginally less time on my lap. At the top of the page it is Tara helping me with reviewing tasks so I’ll give my other cat, Archie, Tara’s son, the chance.