Johnny Ruin by Dan Dalton review – for the love of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

In this witty, zappy fable, 80s rocker Jon Bon Jovi guides a troubled young man through his dark night of the soul

Some novels review themselves. They give you a synopsis. “A man takes a road trip through his own mind with Jon Bon Jovi.” They don’t hide the novelist’s Notes to Self, drawn from screenplay manuals: “Start with the weather … Set the scene … Give your character a flaw …” They then wittily describe that flaw: “My superpower is selective vision. I can see what I want to from a hundred paces.” They even spell out their own moral. “Every book is a self-help book if you read it right.”

All this could be frustrating for the non-reviewing, out-for-fun reader, but Johnny Ruin is charming in the way that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is charming – by which I mean, charming if you’re OK with a multilayered metafictional ...

The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne review – brilliantly knowing

The 2011 London riots form the backdrop to a comedy about millennial angst and rampaging house prices

First-person narrators can be bloody annoying, especially in novels. To give us anything like the full story, they need to be know-it-alls. But if their point of view is limited, we spend half our time squinting into their peripheral vision – working out the story from the bits they’ve shied away from due to shame, guilt or the author’s unwillingness to do research. And then there are their endless, uninterrupted voices: describing objects, describing people, on and on ...

There’s a terrifyingly knowing eloquence to the voice of Ray Morris, the narrator of Joe Dunthorne’s third novel, The Adulterants. This is Ray on his wife:

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The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills review – philosophy down the pub

This deceptively slim novel about blokes at a pub vinyl night could be read as a disguised retelling of the Russian revolution, or any great human falling out In the house of fiction, blokes are the cavity wall insulation. Usually they are out of sight and mostly they are taken for granted. If a bloke appears in a contemporary British novel, he will be there to pop round and fix something, to give someone a lift into town or – at his most prominent – to take all the blame for stifling the life chances of an intelligent and passionate woman. A few writers have dared to put lots of blokes in their novels. But Martin Amis’s characters aren’t really blokes because they are too wordy; when you cut them open you find Amis and a slang dictionary. Nick Hornby’s may be blokes when we meet them, but ...

The Forensic Records Society by Magnus Mills review – philosophy down the pub

This deceptively slim novel about blokes at a pub vinyl night could be read as a disguised retelling of the Russian revolution, or any great human falling out In the house of fiction, blokes are the cavity wall insulation. Usually they are out of sight and mostly they are taken for granted. If a bloke appears in a contemporary British novel, he will be there to pop round and fix something, to give someone a lift into town or – at his most prominent – to take all the blame for stifling the life chances of an intelligent and passionate woman. A few writers have dared to put lots of blokes in their novels. But Martin Amis’s characters aren’t really blokes because they are too wordy; when you cut them open you find Amis and a slang dictionary. Nick Hornby’s may be blokes when we meet them, but ...

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan review – explosive post-punk novel

A portrait of a fictional Airdrie rock group morphs into a haunting, hallucinatory vision of the early 80sWho were the local legends round where you grew up? The beautiful losers and the outsider freaks: did they form the greatest band any of you had ever seen, play a few obscure gigs then break up after the lead singer killed himself? Or did they deal in drugs and rare psychedelic vinyl, but mainly focus on making their nuclear bunker as cosy as possible? Or did they romantically quit the whole scene to go and work in Palestine? David Keenan’s first novel is populated by about 30 beautifully believable and appallingly sad local legends – including that great band (Memorial Device), that drug-dealer survivalist and that expat romantic. The book’s subtitle gives the most succinct description of the whole enterprise: “An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs, ...

What makes bad writing bad?

The biggest mistake most writers make is thinking they have nothing left to learnBad writing is mainly boring writing. It can be boring because it is too confused or too logical, or boring because it is hysterical or lethargic, or boring because nothing really happens. If I give you a 400 page manuscript of an unpublished novel – something that I consider to be badly written – you may read it to the end, but you will suffer as you do. It’s possible that you’ve never had to read 80,000 words of bad writing. The friend of a friend’s novel. I have. On numerous occasions. If you ask around, I’m sure you’ll be able to find a really bad novel easily enough. I mean a novel by someone who has spent isolated years writing a book they are convinced is a great work of literature. And when you’re reading ...