Reading out loud: Will Eaves and The Absent Therapist

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As you well know, we here at Nothing in the Rulebook are quite partial to the Goldsmith Prize shortlisted novel, The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves. Not only is it one for any essential reading list, and makes for a great literary stocking filler, it also lends itself to performance in a way that many books simply don’t.

This is in no doubt partly down to the variety of the novel – the different perspectives and voices, characters and ideas held within its pages. We’ve already put together a short list of some of our favourite extracts, but what better way to appreciate a work of writing of this nature than harking back to the aural origins of storytellings?

At a recent event at Vout-O-Renee’s, Eaves performed (it truly is a performance) a fantastic 45-minute reading of excerpts from The Absent Therapist.

You can watch a short video clip of the reading here below:

Now, if that’s peaked your literary curiosity, then we have a great tip, just for you. Will Eaves will be delivering another animated reading at Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace, on Thursday 24 November.

We speak from experience when we say this is an opportunity not to be missed. And if the 24 November seems far too long away, then you can always purchase the book itself.

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The Absent Therapist: ten of the best excerpts

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After we saw Will Eaves’s exceptional reading of his Goldsmith Prize shortlisted, The Absent Therapist, we’ve been reading and re-reading this glorious little collection of mini-narratives. Not quite a novel or a collection of short stories, this collage of interwoven thoughts, voices, characters, scenes and experiences delivers a fiction experience that is quite unlike anything else you’ll read.

We’ve already explained why this should be one of the first books on your essential reading list this summer, but thought we’d also take this opportunity to show you why it should be, too. So, we’ve gone through the book, cover to cover, and have brought you – in no particular order – ten of the best of these mini-narratives (there are 200 in total – and, if we’re honest, they’re all pretty fantastic).

Enjoy!

 

  1. Boxer shorts

“I don’t see the point of boxer shorts. No support. And the gap for your sticky wicket, why bother? Too fiddly. You end up groping about for the opening while your fellow man casts suspicious sideways glances. And as my beloved put it, why poke your head out of the window when you can jump over the wall?”

  1. The Spanking club

“I went to the Spanking Club once. It was mostly older men in glasses and short-sleeved shirts. A few were wandering around in school uniform, in shorts. The whole place smelt of bleach. On the bar, the organisers, someone, had laid out the implements – gloves, spatulas, ping-pong bats, flails. Knobbly dildos, a few bits and pieces I didn’t recognise. People seemed to be enjoying themselves, yes, in a serious-minded sort of way. It was eccentric, I’d say, more than erotic or perverse. Certainly not obscene. After about an hour of leisurely smacking, a skinny little man came in and rang a bell and they served a buffet. The codgers pulled up their trousers, wiped their glasses, and queued for sausages and potato salad, and then disappeared into dark corners with plastic forks and paper plates. No one, not one, washed their hands first. It was revolting.”

  1. A fairly casual racist

“Brenda, at the next desk, is a fairly casual racist. I mean, she’s not knowingly a racist, but then that’s almost the definition of casual racism, isn’t it? She fancies herself as a bit of a singer, too, and I heard her say to Lola, who really is a singer (in a good band, too), ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but only black people can sing the blues.’ Lola didn’t react for a bit. Tap, tap, tap, on she goes. And finally replies, looking down at the keyboard like she’s lost something. ‘Well, I’m black – and I can’t sing the blues.’ ‘No, love,’ Brenda says, patting Lola’s arm, ‘I’m not saying you can’t sing the blues – I’m saying you can.

  1. ET

“I saw ET again, the other night. Every time I’m in pieces when we get to the last half hour, every time. It’s like a religious experience, the confusion in the home, the resurrection, the bikes lifting off and flying across the moon, I can’t bear it. And I’m suddenly angry, terribly cross and I go stamping round the room and clapping my hand over my mouth because I realise the neighbours can probably hear. It’s because I remember an awful night out with my father, when ET came out in the 1980s and I was fourteen. It wasn’t cool to like ET, really, but everyone did. You had – you have – no choice: it’s a brilliant attack on adolescent cynicism, apart from anything else, because the elder brother in the film, Elliott’s protector, falls in love with ET, too. Brilliant stroke, that. And Dad just dismissed the whole film out of hand, but with this hatred I’d not seen before. He kept saying, ‘Some fucking puppet, some rubbery thing’, and pointing out how mawkish the whole enterprise was. And I said, ‘Well, have you seen it?’, and he absolutely went for me. ‘No, I fucking haven’t,’ he said. ‘And I don’t fucking want to.’

  1. The vacuum

“If the vacuum were not so complete, the sound of every culture speeding by, from bacteria to late macro-sentient galactic entities, would be that of a cistern filling in the ears of the creator, the soft flare of emptiness nixed and life’s brief quelling of the silent storm, which rages on and on.”

  1. Incontinent skunk sandwiches

“It’s as if a skunk went in there, shat itself, died, and the whole lot got turned into a sandwich. And there are queues, that’s what I don’t understand. Many, many people, at all hours of the day, who want incontinent skunk sandwiches.”

  1. Identity

“When I was a child I didn’t have an identity and I didn’t want one. I was neither boy nor girl, male nor female. I was just a pair of eyes, a nose, some ears. Receiving the world, the brilliant blue sky, people talking above me.”

  1. Time

“Time kills everyone, of course, though none so literally as my ancestors, the Gais of Bristol, who died of mercury poisoning. John Gai licked into a point the little brushes with which he used to paint mercury onto his watch faces. He would have kissed Sophia, his wife, many times. They had five children.”

  1. An ex-Jew Catholic convert

“I’m an ex-Jew Catholic convert and my wife Kris is from Uruguay. She’s not too happy about my shift in orthodoxies and I’m none too clear about it myself. I can see some kind of logical fallacy, certainly. If the commandment says, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’, then I guess that means I should have stayed Jewish. At least I waited until my father was dead before converting. I’m a geologist for the government and I’m researching a nuclear facility near Los Alamos. It’s amazing how you can do this technical thing and still have these ideological disputes with colleagues who are highly respected geologists in their own right but creationists at the same time. I am in an awful way with one guy, whom I like very much as a person. But he is obsessed with explaining away everything as a Biblical relic. So, all the limestones from here to the canyon are carbonates that were reworked by the Flood, okay. He has nothing to say about the classic reefs that show up here. He is in total denial that New Mexico had any kind of coastal environment. It’s crazy. And the dinosaur tracks in the Mesozoic rocks? How can they be late in the Flood like he says? I thought everything outside the Ark was supposed to be dead. Being a Jew Catholic sometimes feels like the least of my problems.”

  1. The rich

“The rich are always frantically busy and in a hurry to do everything because they have all the time in the world and don’t have to do anything.”

 

Now that we’ve got your literary taste-buds going – why don’t you check out the book itself? You can pick up a copy from the lovely independent publisher CB Editions here.

An evening with Will Eaves and the Absent Therapist

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Few things are more enjoyable than those evenings filled with literature, good conversation and excellent company in a relaxing venue. So of course the Nothing in the Rulebook team leapt at the chance to attend Will Eaves’s reading of his Goldsmith Prize shortlisted novel, The Absent Therapist, at Vout-O-Renee’s.

Stepping down the stone steps from the street and into the foyer of Vout-O-Renee’s immediately transports you to another time and place. The private member’s club is almost effortlessly cool in a world of hipster joints trying their hardest to stand out. It is a place for jazz and charm, for mystery, sharp minds and conversation. And absolutely worth the price of a ticket to one of the many book readings and spoken-word events they run on a regular basis.

The perfect location, in other words, to hear Will Eaves reading from The Absent Therapist – a thoroughly curious and brilliant book that, as we’ve previously mentioned, should be on every essential summer reading list.

The Absent Therapist is, in some ways, rather hard to define: not necessarily a novel; not quite a collection of short stories, but rather a collage and compilation of over 200 mini-narratives. Described by the author Luke Kennard as “achingly good”, Eaves’s book never ceases to surprise you. What other piece of writing, after all, can so easily slip from eloquently philosophising about the nature of mortality and artificial intelligence into the following internalised commentary on the constructs of social gatherings:

“You know you’re among the remnants of the aristocracy when you accept an invitation to Sunday lunch in Deal and find yourself talking to a florid character who eats with his mouth open and who, when you turn your ankle on his steps, produces from his ‘cold store’ a compress made of frozen squirrel.”

The intelligence with which Eaves curates the words on the page and the structure of this collection of mini narratives is absolutely unique. And it is incredibly satisfying to hear these little fiction vignettes read aloud by such a performative author. Indeed, Eaves’s ease in front of the microphone and a crowded room is quite rare – and it is not hard to imagine him gathering crowds on the stand-up comedy circuit, should he ever wish to try his hand at it.

In case you missed it, here is a short extract of Eaves’s reading for you to enjoy:

If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of Eaves’s readings, we cannot recommend attending highly enough. Until that point, you will have to make do with purchasing the book itself (you can do that here).

Book Review: The Inevitable Gift Shop by Will Eaves

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An artistic movement is forming. One that is open to spontaneity, artistic risk, emotional urgency and one which flies against traditional models. Will Eaves’s latest book, The Inevitable Gift Shop, is an example of this movement displayed in written form. We may call it a book at first mention, rather than a novel or a collection of poetry, because really this is simultaneously both of these things, and at the same time, something else and something new entirely. A combination of prose, poetry, literary critique and philosophy, it is collage, it is memoir, it is anything and everything that you want it to be. If there were rules to writing – which there aren’t (probably) – this book is rewriting them.

While mainstream publishing continues down a well-trodden but not exactly adventurous path – Julian Barnes suggests in an interview with the Paris Review there is little objective beyond “publishing copies of novels that are copies of commercially successful novels” – Eaves is cutting an entirely new path, machete in hand, through bush, briar and jungle into uncharted artistic territory.

So what does this new territory look like? In one word – episodic. In sections ranging in length from a single line to two or three pages, are contained mini-narratives and episodes, which sit alongside poems, and abstract thoughts and expressions of ideas. For instance, here runs a complete section early on in The Inevitable Gift Shop:

“The novel is the autobiography of the imagination”

Such lines make us question whether we feel we are reading a novel; an autobiography or, perhaps most intriguingly of all – an accurate representation of creative imagination.

Imagination, after all – and, indeed, so many of our thoughts and ideas – does not run in linear patterns. Rather, it comes in flashes; moments of clarity and inspiration. As Daniel Dennet notes in Consciousness Explained:

“While we tend to conceive of the operations of the mind as unified and transparent, they’re actually chaotic. There’s no invisible boss in the brain, no central meaner, no unitary self in command of our activities and utterances.”

Traditional forms of fiction, therefore, do not to justice to the reality of the human mind. Conventional fiction teaches us that life and our thoughts are coherent – they are linear and whole, neat and wrapped up. When the truth of the matter is quite the opposite; our lives, and our ideas, are fragments, and we stumble upon them as though they were bright splinters.

Eaves’s previous book – The Absent Therapist­ – worked within a similar form and structure. It brought together a succession of mini narratives, and a multitude of different characters and protagonists. In The Inevitable Gift Shop, we are again introduced to different characters, but more than anything, the protagonists in this book are ideas. We might call The Inevitable Gift Shop collage – a collage of the ideas that are created within the human imagination.

What’s fascinating about works of collage in literature, where short paragraphs and vignettes are brought together as a collection of fragments to create a whole – alongside Eaves’s latest two books, think Reality Hunger by David Shields or What I heard about Iraq by Eliot Weinberger – is the exciting sense of newness contained within them. In Reality Hunger, Shields contests that neither fiction nor non-fiction, in their current forms and structures, adequately meet the needs of the 21st Century reader. And in this new structure we see again here in The Inevitable Gift Shop, we perhaps see a possible alternative model for writing and literature. This is something Eaves touches upon early on in The Inevitable Gift Shop:

“A literary convention is a retrospective abstraction. It exists only in relation to the experiment or the revolution that overturns it. It doesn’t exist until someone does something new and you see how far you’ve come. Form and content, in other words. There is a widespread misconception about form, as the poet Elizabeth Jennings once pointed out: it is not a jelly mould into which one pours content. Rather, the two things are co-eval. Form will arise to express content, and the established forms (sonnets, novels, collage) are those that, like an evolutionary convergent body shape, have by long trial shown themselves to be optimally expressive.”

The novel and the sonnet have been with us now for centuries, with precious few innovations in form and structure between their invention and now. Collage has been with us since the 20th Century and has largely existed within visual media – art, montage in cinema. The marriage between collage and the novel (and indeed poetic forms) as displayed here is perhaps the beginning of a new revolution that overturns previous literary conventions. The question one might rightly ask when you see how well books like The Inevitable Gift Shop work is, “well, what’s taken so long?” It feels as though the book almost proves that the narratives we are accustomed to are long overdue a makeover.

In Self Help, Lorrie Moore wrote that “plots are for dead people” – the traditional narrative format and structure cannot serve the living. Eaves breaks apart the traditional model for something far more engaging; and far more alive. The poetry is, at times, penetratingly devastating simply for the real, life-lived truth it exposes – consider the line from The Crossings, for instance: “you choose a friend for life as you might choose a seat”. While the prose moves you, as you read it, through ideas and emotions, asking you to seek out new ways of looking at the world.

You can recognise good art and good writing if it surprises you. And, boy, can this book surprise you. Just as you are critiquing Shakespeare’s 37th Sonnet, a line of pure magic – “I eat fish with a clear conscious because they neglect their young” – will fly out and catch you off guard, shifting the tone in an exhilarating rush.

The structure of Eaves’s novel allows readers to pull away from notions of narrative as an important – or indeed central – part of any story or essay. This is important, because it allows us to move toward contemplation, and is more conducive to helping us expand our own understanding of both the ideas contained within the book, and the thoughts and ideas they inspire within us as we read.

Consider, for instance, Eaves’s skilful and fascinating literary critiques and analysis – present throughout the book in analysis of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but also Madame Bovary, and indeed the works of other literary critics. One of the longest sections in the book focuses on William Golding’s The Inheritors – a brilliant novel in its own right – and Eaves guides us through Golding’s book, its plot and themes, and leaves us considering not only the novel; but “the whole of human history” – a concept so brilliantly large and fascinating in itself that we immediately find our imaginations stirred, our horizons widened.

The writing is sharp and fresh, and the work as a whole is inquisitive, analytical, contemplative; significant. Subtitled “A memoir by other means”, there is something incredibly personal about the book, which is surely appropriate for a memoir, and in the end it leaves you feeling as though you’ve spent a long while in the intimate company of a stranger, who nonetheless somehow feels achingly familiar.

Frequently hilarious– “really what tortoises teach you about is abusive relationships” – there is almost a cinematic element. Both through the vivid descriptions of the natural and man-made world, and also in the way the collage effect feels not unlike a visual montage; whereby overall meaning is not to be found in any one section or episode but instead created by the juxtaposition of each of the different fragments and bits and pieces intercut together. Of course, while a viewer’s relationship with a montage is relatively binary – you watch the images on a screen in front of you – the reader’s relationship with The Inevitable Gift Shop is far more interesting. It’s interactive. By picking through the options, it’s possible to arrange the overarching narrative in different ways; and to find new meanings contained within it.

It’s a book that demands to be read and re-read – and then re-read again; both front to back, back to front, and in all other manner of combinations. The perfect book to revisit.

The Inevitable Gift Shop – A memoir by other means

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The Inevitable Gift Shop, the latest book from Will Eaves, is now available, and we here at Nothing in the Rulebook are already excited about it.

Subtitled ‘A memoir by other means’, The Inevitable Gift Shop lassoes consciousness, memory, desire, literature, illness, flora and fauna, problems with tortoises and cable ties, and brings them back home in double file, as prose and poetry.

Sri Lankan-born Australian novelist Michelle de Kretser has described the book as being “like a conversation with an extraordinarily wise friend: surprising, tender, funny and profound”.

Irish poet Ian Duhig has also praised Eaves’s latest offering, saying “It takes itself apart and puts itself back together again as it goes along like a literary Transformer, morphing from prose to poetry, literary criticism to history, every new shape a brilliant incarnation … this is an odd book, no question, one I back to last.”

The Inevitable Gift Shop is the second book Eaves has published with CB Editions – the imprint of publisher-poet Charles Boyle which has, as The Guardian points out, produced “some truly dazzling books”. CB Editions publishes short fiction, poetry, translations and other work which, “might otherwise fall through the cracks between the big publishers”.

Will Eaves is the author of four novels and a collection of poems (Sound Houses, Carcanet, 2011). He was Arts Editor of the Times Literary Supplement from 1995 to 2011, and now teaches at Warwick University.

His previous novel (perhaps better described as a collection of mini-narratives), The Absent Therapist, was shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize 2014. Since this book also made it onto both our essential summer reading list of 2015, and also our recommended list of literary stocking fillers, we’re already looking forward to reading The Inevitable Gift Shop. You should be, too.

You can order your copy of The Inevitable Gift Shop by Will Eaves here – http://www.cbeditions.com/eaves2.html

The best literary stocking fillers

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The average British family is set to spend over £800 this Christmas. It’s possible that quite a lot of that will be splurged on some of the wide range of Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise currently piled high in every shop window – from your Lightsaber BBQ tongs to your BB-8 oranges.

Star Wars images

While we’ve been puzzling over just what it is exactly about oranges that makes them suitable Star Wars-themed, we’ve come to the conclusion that some of the best purchases you can make this Christmas may be on items that have a far longer shelf-life and far greater usability than Star Wars fruit and utensils. Although of course that Star Wars Darth Vader toaster is a must-buy for all your estranged aunts, uncles, first and second cousins.

We’re of course talking about books. Not only can they be read again and again, and invite us to explore new worlds and entire new universes, they also help us think differently about the world – and they teach us about wonderful new ideas. They’re also good for us, too. Perhaps even better than the vitamin C you’ll get from those Star Wars oranges. As this paper in the journal Science points out, reading literary works cultivates a skill known as “theory of mind”, which is described as the “ability to ‘read’ the thoughts and feelings of others.” So books make us nicer, basically. If there is anything more appropriate at Christmas, then, we certainly haven’t come across it.

So which books should you buy for those special people in your life who aren’t getting that Vader toaster? Well, surely size comes into it – because they have to fit into stockings of all shapes and sizes.

To help you narrow your options down, take a look at some of our suggestions, below:

  1. Penguin Little Black Classics

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80 little books to choose from – one for each year in the life of Penguin Books and each around 60 pages long – give you a wealth of options to choose from. These extracts of wider classical literary works are sure to offer choices to meet all literary tastes. Authors include Karl Marx, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Plato, Caligula, Keats, Flaubert, Dostoevsky and Dickens. What’s not to love?

  1. The Absent Therapist, by Will Eaves

 

absent therapist

Technically described as a novel, this delightful little book will fit any stocking – but would also be a great find under the Christmas tree. A collection of mini-narratives, each with a precise tone and occasional touches of poetry, feature stories of artificial intelligence and musings on philosophy, of travel and adventure, and of course, family feuds – without which it simply wouldn’t be Christmas.

  1. On Inequality, by Harry Frankfurt

On inequality

Certainly one for the more miserly Christmas gift receiver, who will undoubtedly point out that the credit-fuelled Christmas expenditure is forced upon the poorest in society by those marketing and corporate execs who bombard us with advertisements designed only to make us consume endlessly on a finite planet. But this fascinating book by New York Times bestselling author Harry Frankfurt addresses one of the most divisive and important issues of our time – inequality.

  1. A Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice

Guinea Pig

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Few people realise that this same truth applies to Guinea Pigs. This brand new abridgement to the classis Jane Austen novel helps set the record straight in this regard.

  1. A satirical spoof of the classic ‘Peter and Jane’ series

Penguins new Ladybird books

Penguin’s new series of spoof Ladybird book titles, modelled on the Peter and Jane learning reading books from the 1960s and 70s have been selling out in their hundreds of thousands as potential stocking fillers. They feature “The Ladybird Book of Sheds” and “The Ladybird Book of the Hipster”. Yet they have been inspired by books they initially threatened legal action over – the wonderfully satirical ‘We Go to the Gallery’ by Miriam Elia. Instead of going for the spoof of the spoof, why not get your loved ones the real thing?

  1. The Jeremy Corbyn Colouring Book, by James Nunn

Jeremy Corbyn colouring book

A fantastic twist that has accompanied the explosion in popularity of adult colouring books, as well as in left-wing literature, James Nunn’s Corbyn-themed colouring book is a wonderfully interactive gift for people on all wings of the political spectrum. Not only topical – Corbyn is, after all, a massive part of our cultural consciousness at the moment – the book also shines a light on a man whose message of kindness, respect, love and honesty surely fits perfectly with the true meaning of Christmas.

  1. Where’s the Wookie?

Where's the wookie

If you really can’t avoid getting in on all the Star Wars hype, we can’t think of many better stocking filler options than this suitably fitting take on the classic ‘Where’s Wally’ book series. You might think that an eight-foot tall walking carpet is not going to be difficult to spot, but you’d be surprised. This book will have you scanning some 40 pages depicting elaborately detailed scenes from the Star Wars universe in search for Chewbacca. Sure to distract people of all ages from trying to work out where that Vader toaster is.

Professor Wu’s essential summer reading list

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Summertime. The time when the living is easy, apparently. Also the time when we look for breezy, beachy books to take with us on our travels around the world. But what about books that help us actually take other, metaphorical, journeys? Obviously metaphorical journeys won’t necessarily give you the best pictures to post on Facebook or Instagram – and you might not even get a tan! – but they can be both spiritual and intellectual, while they also cost significantly less than a return trip to that 5* all-inclusive resort in the Maldives; so it’s a win-win situation, really.

So how does one take said metaphorical journey? Fortunately, there’s no need to get Tripadvisor involved here. In fact, it’s rather simple: all it takes is a good book and a bit of your time!

But what books to read? That Harry Potter collection under your bed has had its day, I fear, and what are you doing reaching for that dusty copy of War and Peace? It might be brilliant, but is it summer reading brilliant? At over 1200 pages, I’m not so sure. Instead, I feel it’s best to opt for some really rather marvellous books, which pack a lot more bite than your classic holiday lit; but which don’t weigh more than your entire luggage allowance.

As such, I’ve put together my essential summer reading list for 2015 – so here you can find three books guaranteed to take you places you’d never dreamed of. Enjoy!

The trick is to keep breathing – Janice Galloway

So, what gives? As well as being a simple yet effective life hack for anyone seeking an easy win in the constant battle against death, Galloway’s the trick is to keep breathing is also a deviously intricate novel about mental health and gender roles.

Lost the plot? The central character of Joy Stone has just lost her married lover, a fellow teacher from the local school, in a terrible drowning accident while they were on holiday. The book contains short dream-like passages which piece together that dreadful event. On returning from overseas, Joy is ostracised by her colleagues and friends. She is the unwanted reminder of a less than perfect life, and it is not how people want to remember the dead. Everyone – including Joy, at least in part – wishes she would disappear. Galloway manages to convey a life where every little task becomes unimaginable, overwhelming and virtually impossible. The detail and the effort are beautifully rendered in Galloway’s unsentimental and often disconcerting writing. There is humour, but in context it is of the blackest kind.

Verdict: The perfect literary companion for married teachers to read while on holiday – preferably while their SO is taking a dip in the sea.

The Absent Therapist – Will Eaves

So, what gives? Well, what doesn’t? This is a fabulous book – not a novel; not a collection of short stories – but rather a collage of over 200 mini-narratives; thoughts and voices of different people about different places, different memories, other people, other stories. Some of these voices and people recur, but that isn’t to say there’s a linear story here. More than anything, it’s a compilation of different experiences; more than anything, it’s about life.

Woah: Yep. Each of these narratives makes sense on their own, and where characters or voices or places recur there’s some tantalizing hint at something larger, more complex and significant at work. But isn’t that just true of life in general? We exist through a collection of myriad different places, events and people – only ever able to catch the smallest of glimpses at what greater meaning there may – or may not – be. It’s only by looking at events and moments – and listening to voices – one at a time that they become manageable. You have to whittle life down to these individual scenes and narratives to make sense of it; otherwise it builds up in one great tumultuous event that doesn’t make sense. And that’s possibly what makes The Absent Therapist so interesting: it is, quite possibly, fantastically insane. Yet, irrespective of this; it simply seems to make sense.

Verdict: While listening to the waves of the sea, open this book and let the stories wash over you. Immerse yourself in these funny, wry, acute and startling observations; snapshots and overheard conversations  – all written in a flawless, vivid and compelling style and mixed in with deeper intellectual thought and discussion on all manner of topics – from sex to existence, as it were.

Butchers Crossing – John Williams

So, what gives? This, quite simply, is a novel for all disenchanted university graduates whose disillusionment with societal pressure to take up jobs ‘in the city’ has led them to wonder what it would be like to step outside civilization for a while and spend a gap year slaughtering buffalo.

We’ve all been there. For sure, the protagonist Will Andrews’s general malaise at post university life is as much a driving narrative force in the novel as the relentless character of Miller, whose determination to seek out and kill the now extinct American Buffalo drives the characters out to a wilderness both physical and psychological. There are of course clear themes of humanities rapacious consumption – pertinent in this day and age of unrestrained capitalism and striving for growth at any ecological cost – but this is primarily a literary western. There’s also something deliciously evil and human about seeking out a great and rare hidden, beautiful treasure – in this case, the last great herd of buffalo hidden in a lost valley in the Rocky Mountains – and destroying it on sight.

Verdict: Set yourself up with a large, thirst quenching cocktail and within a short distance of an all-you-can eat buffet on some all-inclusive Mediterranean holiday and enjoy reading Williams’s pitiless depiction of men reduced to the most basic and extreme situations: thirst, cold, heat, exhaustion; and isolation. Preferably discuss over some expensive steak – cow, I guess; for want of buffalo meat.