Book Review – The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking: a novel, by Timothy Balding

I need to make some apologies first. It has been a long time since I posted a book review, and I feel I have somewhat let my readers down – but hey, this blog isn’t called Flailing Through Life for no reason!

I also need to apologise to the author I am reviewing today, Timothy Balding, as I read this book some time ago – last October to be exact, and I am sure that I promised to write something about it, what can I say? I’m a slow reader and a lazy blogger! And, another person to apologise to – Emma Lombard author and ‘mother’ of the Twitter #WritingCommunity, who has probably been wondering when I was going to get around to this. So, without further ado, here’s my take on The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking…

The Man Who Couldn't Stop Thinking: A Novel: Timothy Balding ...
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Thinking
by Timothy Balding

Genre: Fiction, Satire
Pub Date: 2019
Publisher: Upper West Side Philosophers, Incorporated
Length: 274 pages
Kindle Edition: £7.91

Synopsis

Victor Andrews cannot decide whether thinking is a good thing or not. He has managed to escape it till now, too occupied with his career and the pursuit of his romantic and carnal ambitions. A heart operation and an inheritance suddenly change all that. He has time on his hands and new ambitions to invent for himself. If he starts thinking, will it take him forwards or backwards? he wonders. Will it lead him out of the confused labyrinth of his life and give it some new meaning before it’s too late? Or push him to join the company of the crazy people who chase endlessly the tails of their obsessions?

Firstly, I must tell you that I was bought this book by the writer Emma Lombard. On a Twitter post, she ran a competition asking the community which book they would most like to read at that moment. I responded, and was one of three individuals who received their chosen book. Also, I must add, that she bought me the paperback version AND had it posted to me! So many, many thanks to @LombardEmma.

Secondly, this is not the sort of book to read if you’re after action or huge dramatic scenes. It is very low key, with a few sections of dialogue, and mostly focuses on Victor’s day to day musings and concerns. But that isn’t to say it isn’t a good read, it is. In fact I found it to be one of the most interesting books I have read in a long while.

8 common mistakes people make when ordering whisky and how to ...
Wee dram of whisky, image courtesy of Scotsman Food and Drink

Victor has just had surgery again, and (this is only my take as a female of a certain age!) is possibly going through a mid-life crisis; I have to admit that the opening scene made me laugh a lot, still does when I re-read it, a good example of how to grab your audience’s attention! Instead of succumbing to mastering ‘the use of a boomerang’ or taking ‘up skateboarding’, he buys an African grey parrot which he decides to teach phrases such as Nietzsche’s “God is dead.”

The parrot becomes a kind of sounding board for Victor and his philosophising, beginning with questioning his own motives for buying the bird, “Was his act the realization of a tyrannical dream of power, he joked to himself?” and later questions his own motives for teaching the parrot the phrase “God is dead” and how humanity could possibly continue without hope and a deity. He also has a relationship with a woman called Helen, who I would say is Victor’s intellectual equal, but doesn’t give credence to some of his ideas; she comes across as somewhat acerbic and I quite honestly don’t see how Victor stays with her.

Balding’s writing style made me think of British authors from a bygone age. It strikes me as terribly British and a little old fashioned; this is not a criticism, far too many aspiring writers concern themselves with being unique and ‘modern’ instead of concentrating on producing good writing. It is deceptively easy to read – but not to be rushed! Victor’s self-questioning (and self-questing) had me pausing for long moments to give some thought to, well, Victor’s thoughts (but without the whisky). There is no superfluity in his writing, Balding has the skill that many of us budding authors so crave, the ability to write concisely and to the point.

Objectivity and subjectivity drive Victor through his post-op life – he asks, how can a person make decisions if one cannot see the world from the perspective of others? Who is responsible for one’s personal happiness? And “I know I’m egocentric…but I will try harder.” Though I cannot say that I fully understood every philosophical musing, nor every reference to research topics that Victor had undertaken, I was acutely aware that I was probably missing something due to my lack of acquired knowledge or intellect, but I still found the story fascinating. And although Victor seems to suffer minor existential crises internally, he never comes across as morose, or self-obsessed. I found the character to be less white-middle-aged-man-with-English-pomp, and more bemused-middle-aged-man-seeking-the-truth; I felt I could relate to him very much. Victor’s musings are funny and he has a much more positive and generous attitude toward his fellow human beings than many folk I know in real life.

He makes statements like “Women were as unpredictable as Belgians.” which made me laugh out loud, because it’s so English and so male, but, and it’s an important but, this never comes across as offensive, because Victor always quizzes his own opinions and offers us facts that he has dredged up from news articles or papers he has read. I found myself reading a paragraph and thinking, Yes, I think this or I have done that – spouting off my theories to a stranger then wondering why on earth I did that. When I tried to describe the book to friends, I found it really difficult, why would a woman want to read the musings of a middle aged man? one asked me. I can’t explain. To the uninitiated, I suppose Victor Andrews might epitomise all that is wrong with white men of a certain age, however, I found him to be lovely, thoughtful, witty, erudite and at least he’s trying! It also goes a bit Kafkaesque near the end when Victor is interrogated! Maybe I just find ‘male humour’, if it exists, to be funnier than female?

As I was reading, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Roger Allam, whose voice is very distinctive, very English. I adore Roger Allam and his voice, you might recognise him from the film ‘V for Vendetta’ and the TV show ‘The Thick of It’. And I would love, simply love this book to be made into a radio or TV drama with Mr. Allam in the lead, though what the author Mr.Balding would have to say about that I don’t know!

Roger Allam - IMDb
Roger Allam, English actor

If you’re after some good strong writing that is humorous as well as thought provoking, I can thoroughly recommend this book.

I’m giving The Man Who Could’t Stop Thinking 5 stars.

Writing is…Hard

Writing is….Hard

Well, writing per se is not hard. However, writing well is!

It is quite easy to put pen to paper, finger tips to keys, or quill to parchment; whatever takes your fancy, I do it all the time. It does not make what I write worthy of reading, or even particularly good.

As an adult who is fairly new to the world of writing, I realise how very little I was taught at school, and probably because teachers work to a curriculum which itself is about passing exams. I am not alone in this lack of education regarding how to write. I was not, for example, taught the difference between an essay and a story, an assignment, a dissertation, or a thesis. I have had to pick these up in the later years of my life – a huge indictment on the English Education system.

Writing is not hard because I am dull-witted; I am not.

Writing is a creative activity, it demands a skill with words that, sadly, many so-called authors do not have. Word-smiths work hard at compiling and re-arranging 26 letters (in English) into a plethora of ideas, and use the same 26 letters over again for completely different themes.

Writing well is demanding.
It requires practise. It requires persistence. It requires commitment. It requires creativity. It requires honesty. Anyone can produce word vomit – it’s recognising the good bits that makes the difference.

Recently, I have been asking myself – who cares? Or, So what?

Who cares if you wrote a tragedy about a lovelorn grass snake? So what if you ‘have a story inside’, do you really have to share it? What make you think anyone wants to read it? I have been guilty of producing some trite nonsense, I need to stop. And so do a lot of people.

Self criticism seems to be sorely lacking in many individuals. I blame the school system; everyone can be creative, everyone is a winner – no they can’t and no they are not. This lack of competition has created a society with a watery attitude to the arts; vapid outpourings of equally vapid individuals.

And this criticism is not only levelled at ‘young up and coming’ authors – there are many brilliant new writers – no, I have read some tosh from long established writers who seem to pump out vast quantities of barely edited text, in the infuriating belief that more is better. It is not.

Many authors have only ever produced one or two novels – would that the others had!!!!

Writing is hard for blog snoopy
Writing is hard for Snoopy…

I’m In Love With Japan

Japanese-customs

Japan; the one country in the world that I have longed, longed, to visit for decades. I cannot put my finger on the moment when I first wanted to visit Japan; childhood I think.

I was given a set of books by my grandfather, one of which was about Japan; its otherness absolutely fascinated me. My father used to talk of the horrors committed by Japanese soldiers in WW2; they had a fearsome reputation, but I was somehow convinced that they couldn’t have been the only ‘bad guys’. Over the years, I have dipped in and out of my love affair with this distant land; Books, Films, Manga/Anime, Sushi, Textiles, Crafts, Comics etc.

But what of modern-day Japan?

It is a country of contradictions, fascinating customs, beauty and respect. Japan arrived relatively late to the ‘Westernisation party’. They had had connections with the Dutch and English since the 16th century, however, it was the Americans (Commodore Perry), who literally forced Japan to open its doors; to trade; join us, or suffer the consequences was the implicit message from Perry’s massive fleet.( I equally loath and thank the man)

An island nation of 127 million, Japan is notorious for its ultra-strict work culture, and for being so safe even its Yakuza gangsters do not carry guns – much. The murder rate is the third lowest in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), with fewer than one thousand homicides in 2015. In that same time period, the US – a country with a population less than three times the size of Japan’s – recorded fifteen times that many. Japan is one of the safest countries in Asia, and its murder rate of less than one per 100,000 is the lowest among industrial nations (* compare with South Africa – The murder rate since 2011 stayed at around 32 per 100,000 but the number of murders has increased with increases in population. South Africa also has one of the highest rates of rape in the world.)

yakuza
No hiding place…

And it just keeps on getting safer. 2015 saw the lowest rate for every single type of crime since 1945. Tokyo is ranked as the safest city in the world. Osaka is ranked as the 3rd safest. Greater Tokyo is the second largest urban habitation on the planet, so that’s one heck of a verdict.

japan

Street crime is practically non-existent there, and drug use is low. This is largely attributed to the culture of Japan, as being known to use illegal drugs or being sentence to prison would be considered of bad character.

According to the United Nations, in their report called UN Chronicle: The Atlas of Heart Disease & Stroke – Japan has one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease in the world.

Japan life-expectancy

Japan is well known for its politeness and good manners. Not only that, but Japanese culture is also extremely efficient. Japan is a busy country but is well organised.

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The Japanese take hygiene seriously. You will hardly see any rubbish on the roadsides – even the trains are clean!! In Japan, not only they are clean, everything is in perfect order and neat as well – well trimmed trees, for example.

Temple bells, the stone gardens, the bamboo, and the torii gates instill a sense of peace and serenity. And teenagers can be seen paying tribute at shrines as often as older generations. Respect for tradition and culture runs deep.

 

It has been reported to me many times by family and friends, that Asian countries always have much better hotel service than in the West, but, I read repeatedly, Japan takes it to another level. Bags are brought to your room. Towels brought up just because you might need extra. Hotel owners wave you good-bye. Everything is done with a bow. Everyone is helpful.

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Giving gifts is a huge part of Japanese life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dumb; Japan has its down sides, doesn’t everywhere. But  I cannot help but be drawn to this place that is 9,406 km away. And the recent mini-series of TV shows by BBC 4 made me pine for it even more.

samurai sword
They make the curve how?!!

I think in the age of the ‘self’, the individual, me, me, me; we might learn a thing or two from the Japanese.

Sayonara

 

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p054qbtb

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/26/what-is-safest-city-in-the-world-crime-immigration-tokyo-amsterdam-new-york-bogota

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/01/06/national/media-national/even-gangsters-live-in-fear-of-japans-gun-laws/#.WXHYDxXyvIU

https://www.insidejapantours.com/blog/2012/03/12/10-reasons-why-japan-is-so-great/

http://www.thecoolist.com/japanese-anime-for-everyone/

http://www.rmc.edu/docs/default-source/asian-studies/the-opening-closing-and-re-opening-of-japan-japanese-foreign-relations-before-during-and-after-the-tokugawa-shogunate-%281600-1868%29-%28pdf%29.pdf?sfvrsn=0

http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2013/12/31/japan_s_19th_century_modernization_why_did_the_country_end_its_isolation.html