A couple of short reviews whilst I catch up on the reviewing back-log. First up is The Justification of Johann Guttenberg by Blake Morrison. Blake Morrison is the oddest of writers. He seems to have written something really very decent in a large number of genres from autobiography to literary criticism to sociology to poetry. He also wrote the first book I ever sold, and he is local to here, his parents having been the GPs for the next town, in fact he went to school at the bottom of our road. So all in all I have quite a soft spot for his work.
The Justification of Johann Guttenberg is a novel of the life of the inventor of the printing press. Written in the first person, it is presented as though Guttenberg is dictating to a scribe and from the start we have lots of asides about the nature of the writing process, dictation, scribe, manuscript, printer and so on. The subject matter will no doubt interest many of you, centering as it does on the creation of books.
Guttenberg is created by Morrison as a fascinating but self-absorbed man, and indeed a selfish one, who is the originator of one of man's greatest achievements, but at great personal and emotional cost. Each page is well crafted in Guttenberg's measured voice and nothing is without interest and the whole thing is very enjoyable, but this is not really a plot driven narrative and it therefore lacks much in the way of page turning qualities. As I say I enjoyed every page but once I finished a chapter and went to do something else I wasn't champing at the bit to return to the book. It is not therefore something to start when you need not just quality writing but real distraction. It would be very good for those who read several things at once as, kept on the bedside table, with a chapter read here and there, The Justification of Johann Guttenberg will be a great if rather gentle pleasure.
Next was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This my third novel by Ishiguro. I loved both The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans but by my reading of this novel I was finding the reserved, flawed first person narratives a bit wearing. Nothing wrong with it, it is perfectly inoffensive literary fiction, but it failed to really engage my interest.