Laura Gonzalez


26 Feb 2018

Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark *****

Reading dates: 11–22 February 2018

As Hildegard knew from her own experience as a stigmatic fraud, blood, once let loose, gets all over the place. It sticks, it flows, it garishly advertises itself or accumulates in dark thick puddles. Once it gets going, there is o stopping blood.

Dr Hildegard Wolf, a psychotherapist in Paris finds herself with two patients confessing to being Lord Lucan, the English Earl who murdered his nanny, mistaking her for his wife. They blackmail her, as they both discover that, in her past Hildegard was Beate Pappenheim, a fake stigmatic. Anyone who knows me would know that this plot line is 100% written for me and the book did not disappoint. Granted, it does not, perhaps, have the vigour of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ or some of her earlier novels, but ‘Aiding and Abetting’ is still written with all the Sparkian charms I adore. It is very short and to the point, with no plot padding and some resolution (although this is extremely banal, which kind of goes with the premise of the book), the characters are as interesting as human nature is when observed closely and with flair and curiosity. She is my favourite writer, what can I say, and 2018 is her centenary. I have read about 10 of her 22 novels (below, noted with *) and this year seems to be the perfect time to complete the set.

*1. The Comforters
2. Robinson
*3. Memento Mori
*4. The Ballad of Peckham Rye
5. The Bachelors
*6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
*7. The Girls of Slender Means
8. The Mandelbaum Gate
9. The Public Image
*10. The Driver’s Seat
11. Not to Disturb
12. The Hothouse by the East River
13. The Abbess of Crewe
14. The Takeover
15. Territorial Rights
*16. Loitering with Intent
17. The Only Problem
*18. A Far Cry from Kensington
19. Symposium
20. Reality and Dreams
*21. Aiding and Abetting
*22. The Finishing School

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11 Feb 2018

The Thirst by Jo Nesbø****

Reading Dates: 03 January – 10 February 2018

This is a crime novel close to how I like them. Plausible, but silly, with breathing space and red herrings. It is not a whodunnit because it is clear from the last book who the bad guy is. The question is how and why he dunnit. I also like my thrillers to have a defining scene, like the concert at the Albert Hall in The Man who Knew Too Much. In The Thirst, that scene is at a disputation, which is the Scandinavian version of a public PhD thesis defence, so imagine how exciting this was for me. There is also a nice lecture on the Othello syndrome where a character, a psychologist, outlines the proposition that what drove him was ambition and not jealousy. I like my crime fiction à la Sade, with philosophical pamphlets. I think this particular Hole book would make a very good film: there is plenty of music chat; ironically, Harry gets to own bar (the Jealousy, a nice call back); the settings vary from the Boiler Room to hospitals, to Police College, to auditoria and Turkish Baths. I am glad this is the last one for now. I seem to have fallen onto a reading rabbit Hole (boom tish) and I need to get on with my plans for the Muriel Spark centenary.

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22 Jan 2018

Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse****

Reading dates: 25 October 2017–21 January 2018

As ever with the Jeeves and Wooster books, this story is nice, chirpy and very, very funny. The characters are well defined, have a lot of personality and act accordingly. You have, as is customary with Wodehouse, the nicest array of names ever: Stilton Cheeseright, Boko Fittleworth, Lord Worplesdon and Chichester Clam. There is absolutely no padding too, which, as someone who writes, I find very admirable. What sets this story apart is its knots, and how they are gotten out of. The storyline is one in love engagements, marriage proposals, and industrial mergers, set in the appropriate town of Steeple Bumpleigh. And if that was not enough, there is a fancy dress party … Reading it aloud was wonderful, as it allowed for voices to animate Wodehouse’s sharp dialogue. I laughed out loud a few times and when does this happen with a book, eh?

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3 Jan 2018

Police by Jo Nesbø***

Reading Dates: 18 December 2017 – 03 January 2018

I am not going to lie: if there ever was a book that could fall into the category of guilty pleasures (bearing in mind guilt is something I rarely feel), it is this one. Full of cliff hangers, whodunnit surprises, ruthless plot lines and relatively flowing prose. BUT, I found it far too manipulative, as if the book knew how to extract maximum eagerness from me and then drop it. It is a rollercoaster but like the rides, pretty inconsequential. It is a good reading experience but at the back of my mind, I get a sense of déjà lu. What happens seems to happen to poor Harry (whom I am very fond of, by the way) rather a lot. He just collects more physical scars but he somehow has a mental resilience that basically just reveals the artifice. I know, I know that writing literary crime fiction is hard, but this is why I very much admire David Peace, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh. They know when to stop. Unlike me perhaps … I will read the next Hole book, of course. Nothing wrong with an occasional guilty pleasure …

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17 Dec 2017

Phantom by Jo Nesbø****

Reading dates: 18 November – 17 December 2017

Phantom is crime fiction as I like it: a well paced story, in an atmospheric place, with good, solid characters and a plot I can follow to the minutiae while it still surprises me. The storyline is clever, involving Harry Hole’s personal and professional lives as well as big picture issues (drug cartels, immigration, families falling apart). Two things let it down: Harry’s ability to recover from injuries which would kill anyone else (the gaffa tape around the neck was too much) and the word-smithery. Nesbø has tried to experiment by intermingling Gusto’s account (a letter, a recording, a ghost?) with the third person narrator telling most of the story, but they do not work together. Why is Gusto telling this to his foster (or perhaps real) dad? Just to mirror Oleg’s narrative with Harry? I just found that odd, even though his view point is necessary in the novel. It is not David Peace, though, and perhaps some of it might be due to the translation.

In any case, I cannot stop now. I found this to be my perfect Christmas read and it is not yet Christmas, so I will be going to the next Harry Hole straight away. I needed a bit of good old silly escapism, and Phantom is 4 stars because it fulfils that role very well.

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26 Nov 2017

Kill all normies by Angela Nagle***

Reading dates: 5 September – 25 November 2017

I chose this for my Dialectical Materialism book group and the discussion was vivacious, when not debauched. This is a book I am glad I have read but, at the same time, I wish I had not. It explains a lot about how the current world operates and why it does the way it does. It shows how the right has managed to congregate and form relatively coherently online through 4chan + but it shows the despair and the hatred of the alt-right, as well as the vacuity of the left and its ‘sour-faced identitarians’ of Tumblr. Few on the left seem to be thinking about society as whole, about the ever growing economic inequality, about the systemic issues we face. Reading the chapters on misogyny and gamergate was very hard, and those about Men Going Their Own Way and the involuntary celibates, frankly quite sad.

Nagle’s analysis is not deep but it is deep enough to explain the now without any hindsight. She links the right to Nietzsche and the left to Judith Butler and explains the problems of both sides. No solutions are given and the most despairing read was the conclusion, which opens with the death of Mark Fisher, whom I much admired and invited to speak in Glasgow. I agree with Nagle that Fisher was one of the most lucid voices of the left, maybe the person who might have been able to offer ways out of this current scary pickle, but he is not in this world anymore. No one has come to occupy his place.

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20 Nov 2017

The Long Drop by Denise Mina***

Reading dates: 13 October–17 November 2017

I love Denise Mina and I love the fact that she is an artist, and experiments, even though she also has a winning formula that is very successful in the crime fiction. The Long Drop is true crime and her voice more literary than her previous novels. I like the first half of the book very, very much. Her choice of examining the character of Peter Manuel thought the lens of his night with Watt, the husband of one of the killed women, is fabulous, but the shift towards following Manuel, and the final court case, with Manuel’s family, is a bit too abrupt, as if a few chapters were missing. The atmosphere is wonderfully set and some sentences are chilling, as is appropriate to the topic. Yet, I felt there was a lot more to this book, to the story and to how it was decided to be told.

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18 Oct 2017

The Ramayana (modern version by Ramesh Menon) ****

Reading dates: 14 June to 12 October 2017

This is such a beautiful, primordial story … the Adi Kavya, the first epic. I loved it. Despite its length (900 pages) it is very dynamic and contains a lot of philosophical teachings. The characters are archetypal, eternal (Rama, Sita, Hanuman) and the narrative is one that does not age. I developed such a love for Hanuman and for Sita … Yet, her suffering is heart-wrenching, the outcome of it, really sad. That is why I would not re-read it, and would not give it 5 stars. In The Mahabharata, Panchali (and womanhood) triumphs. In the Ramayana, it suffers beyond bounds. 

I also did not understand the Rakshasa (a force of evil) character Ravana. His story is told after the abduction is resolved but it does not quite fit for me, he remains bookish, wordy and two-dimensional. 

I still learned so much reading this … about Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, about love and desire, about loyalty and about engineering and magic. It was a brilliant read.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reading, Yoga | No Comments »

6 Sep 2017

The Russian Revolution: A Very Short Introduction by S. A. Smith****

Reading dates: 02 August to 04 September 2017

It is not easy to find a short introductory book on a complex issue written with clarity, insight and in a manner that is not condescending. This is it. If you want to commemorate October 1917 by finding out more about what happened, this is an excellent and quick way into the subject. Granted sometimes one gets lost in the acronyms, the names and the places and soon enough I realised I had to read Smith with attention, but that was my issue as a reader more than the book. The account is both balanced and comprehensive, or at least as much as a 160pp book can be. It is paced well, written with flair and with beautiful quotes from letters and reports of the time.

We read it for our Dialectical Materialism book group (Neil’s choice) and we had a lively conversation about Venezuela, about the future of communism, about charismatic leaders and about the lack of events revisiting October 1917 in its centenary (which is a shame). We discussed, and endorsed, the intentions of the revolution as human emancipation but acknowledged, as is well argued in the book, the unforeseen events that came up from 1917 onwards and which made Stalin rise: the return of the repressed … Perhaps, before the next revolution, we need to be well analysed …

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1 Jul 2017

Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina****

Reading dates: 11 May – 14 June 2017.

I went to this book for comfort and it definitely delivered. I had been reading a well known and much loved contemporary classic and I just found it too worthy. I needed a book that was going to be like a friend listening to anxieties before dropping off to sleep, rather than one giving me advice on how to change my life. Slip of the Knife is the third in the Paddy Meehan series. She is such a brilliant, likeable detective. As ever with Mina, Glasgow, the city I have lived in for the last 12 years, is alive, well observed and represented. The plot is a good combination of new stuff and threads from the other books and everything is plausible and well pitched. I cannot take fault with anything here: it just gave me what I needed and that is all I ask of my books.

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About Me

I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.

I am currently immersed in an interdisciplinary project exploring knowledge and the body of the hysteric. In 2013, together with Child and Adolescent Mental Health practitioner Frances Davies, I co-edited the book ‘Madness, Women and the Power of Art’, to which I contributed a work authored with Eleanor Bowen. My book ‘Make Me Yours: How Art Seduces’ was published by Cambridge Scholars in 2016. In this text, investigates psychoanalytic approaches to making and understanding objects of seduction, including an examination of parallels between artistic and analytic practices, a study of Manolo Blahnik’s shoes as objects of desire, a disturbing encounter with Marcel Duchamp’s last work, and the creation of a psychoanalytically inspired Discourse of the Artefact, a framework enabling the circulation of questions and answers through a relational approach to artworks.