Triple Choice Tuesday: Asylum

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers and other bookish bods to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is John Self from Asylum.

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t know John’s blog? It’s one of the best ones out there — full of well written, thorough reviews on a wide range of literary fiction — and certainly the most influential among bloggers with similar reading tastes.

John doesn’t have an “about page” on his blog, but I can tell you he lives in Belfast, has a little boy known as “baby self” and is an administrator of Palimpsest. But if I told you anything else I’d have to kill you.

Without further ado, here’s John’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:

 

Dr-Haggards-Disease A favourite book: Dr Haggard’s Disease by Patrick McGrath

Anyone who follows my blog or other online excursions will probably be sick of hearing about this book. It remains the only book I’ve re-read within a month of reading it — and not just because it’s so short (180 pages)! It combines a complex time-frame, Biblical language, perverse passions and unresolved madness to create a horrifying delight of a novel. It’s set mostly in the smoke and sheen of pre-WW2 England, but narrated retrospectively from one specific moment during the war by a limping, wild-haired doctor who believes his dead lover has come back to him in the body of her son. The ending is the most tender and grotesque, and perhaps the most perfect, that I have ever read.

 

Sexing-The-Cherry A book that changed my world: Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

 

This was, I think, the first book I read by Jeanette Winterson, and it made me a lifelong (so far) fan of her work. It combines the lyrical lightness of touch of her early novels like Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (for some reason her most widely read book, though to me her least interesting one) with the ambition of her later (sometimes misfired) books like Art & Lies or The Stone Gods.I chose it as a book which changed my world because it was the first book I read (sometime in 1991, I’d guess) that made me realise that fiction didn’t have to be linear and straightforward to be satisfying. It jumps about from the 17th century to the present day, it takes risks and (mostly) gets away with them, it creates a literary giant in the Dog Woman, and it is also very funny. It made me realise that fiction is often most interesting when it’s asking questions rather than offering answers.

Mutants A book that you deserves a wider audience: Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi

This book won the Guardian First Book Award in 2004 but never really got much of a spring of sales out of that. It deserves better, as it’s a work of non-fiction which is both thrilling and beautiful. It tells us that, because of all the genetic mutations we acquire from our parents (and our parents’ parents), that “no one completely escapes the mutational storm. … We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others.”
It’s really the quality of the writing which sets the book apart from those which ‘simply’ seek to impart information. I still rejoice in this description of the development of a central organ of the human embryo:

“Even as the nerve-cord is forming, the foundations of other organs are being laid. Two hitherto inconspicuous tubes, one on either side, then unite to make a single larger tube running the length of the embryo’s future abdomen, an abdominal tube that echoes the neural tube on its back. Within a few days this abdominal tube will begin to twist and then twist again to become a small machine of exquisite design. Though it still looks nothing like what it will become it already shows the qualities that led William Harvey to call it ‘the Foundation of Life, the Prince of All, the Sun of the Microcosm, on which all vegetation doth depend, from whence all Vigor and Strength doth flow.’ On day 21 it begins to beat.”

Thanks, John, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

I’m not surprised to see John name a Patrick McGrath book, an author I keep meaning to explore further. I didn’t particularly like Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit when I read it a couple of years ago, but perhaps I might have more luck with Sexing the Cherry? And Mutants sounds completely fascinating…

What do you think of John’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

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9 thoughts on “Triple Choice Tuesday: Asylum

  1. Ha, no powers of clairvoyancy required for the favourite book here. John, I promise that I will read Dr. Haggard’s Disease. One day. Soon. Ish. Fascinating to read about Mutants, a book I’d not heard of at all and one that might be perfect for a much needed non-fiction read.

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  2. I second the recommendation of ‘Dr Haggard’s Disease’, which I read after Palimpsest prompting. Brilliant book. Massively disturbing, but brilliant.
    I do actually have a copy of ‘Mutants’ sitting on my shelf still unread. This has given me the prompt to pick it up sooner rather than later.
    Great choices JS!

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  3. I’m a big fan of Jeanette Winterson’s but haven’t read Sexing the Cherry yet. I haven’t heard of the other two titles, but Dr. Haggard’s Disease looks especially interesting and rather gothic…

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  4. Mutants I had never heard of and it sounds fantastic, I do find it hard with non-fiction but that one sounds very interesting. I must read McGrath and Winterston, I am slightly annoyed at myself for not having done already.

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  5. For once I’ve read two of the Triple Choice Tuesday selection. I agree that the McGrath is exceptional. Sexing the Cherry is good, but perhaps Oranges is better? However, John’s reasons for saying it changed his life make a lot of sense. Mutants is a new one to me and if my TBR pile was not too large alread I would add it merely on the strength of John’s recommendation

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