The Best of 2011! « virginbooks

The Best of 2011!

December 8, 2011

Whenever you walk into any bookshop, it’s always overwhelming just how many new books there are. So many hundreds of titles are published each year that it can be a hopeless, thankless, even soul-destroying job trying to keep on top of which ones are worth reading.Luckily for you, we’re here to pick out the best, so you can make sure you know what to ask Santa for, or indeed so you know what to buy for the book-lover in your life. After all, Christmas is only thirteen days away and-Thirteen days? OMG.

Anyway, where was I? Presented for your delectation, and in no particular order, here are the ten books we’ve really, honestly loved in 2012.Today’s book is How To Forget, by Marius Brill.Brill’s second novel arrives almost ten years after his amazing debut Making Love: A Conspiracy of the Heart, and the good news is that How To Forget is just as funny, just as clever, and just as enjoyable.

Brill is as clever as Douglas Adams, as intrusive and humourous a narrator as Terry Pratchett, but writes convoluted thrillers which are dunked in a vat of jet-black comedy.

As with Making Love, another book about romance, spies and international pursuit, this is a novel which will delight men and women equally, even if it looks to be aimed more squarely at the male reader.

Magicov the Magnificent, once a great illusionist, earns his living entertaining the geriatrics of Lotus House Care-home. But Mr Magicov also known as Peter envies them – they’ve mastered a trick that eludes him. They can forget. There are so many things Peter yearns to forget: the shameful moment an eight-year-old wrecked his life; the FBI agent who hunted him like a dog; that suitcase stuffed with a million pounds. More than anything Peter wants to forget Kate, the expert con woman. The one he loved and left. For renowned brain-scientist Dr Chris Tavasligh, Peter’s craving to escape makes him the perfect candidate for his bold experiment in changing minds – forever. Faced with such an opportunity, will Peter go through with it? And if he does, who will he become?

Magic meets crime, while love meets psychology. It’s one of those rare novels that feels too full of great ideas and subjects, and what’s satisfying is the way each is fleshed out and pursued. In a nutshell, it’s big and clever, extremely funny, very romantic, and the laughter goes to some very dark places along the way, so adults only please!

Available at selected Virgin Megastores for 84 AED

via The Best of 2011! « virginbooks.

It’s i Generation

After breakfast we stop outside.  I’m heading east towards town, George west to school.  We hug briefly, father and son, our misty breath enveloping each other’s necks.  Crisp air freezes our ears as we disentangle and pat ourselves; unsure what to do with our hands. We wave feebly and turn.  He’s already plugging his headphones in. He’s here, but he’s gone.

I squint into the glare of a low winter sun, kicking through crumbling leaves that fizz like waves across pebbles.  It’s quiet and early enough to hear rooks cawing through the plane trees and to feel the cold ache in my temples.  I sense that autumnal, first frostiness, thrill to be alive in a world unbounded beneath an infinite sky.

George plods away, head down, eyes to phone screen, thumbs dancing:


‘Hey G-ster. U C FiFi ystrday?’


A stripped back steady drum beat syncopates his steps. Guitar and bass fill the space between his ears.

A paternal instinct stirs in me.  I stride back, determined to show him this world he’s missing strapped in to the finite void of his phone screen and the limited horizons of other’s apps and music.

He’s alone but not alone.  You can’t move in this Borough without nearly smacking into the oblivious, marching, road-death-defying, plugged-in; or blue-toothed monologists; or those luddites who still hold phones to ears.  But to whose iTune are they all marching?

Illustration: Don Grant

When Apple supremo Steve Jobs died last month, his very own Generation-i tried to crystallize his wisdom with a global re-tweet, an epitaph for his digital tombstone; words from an address he gave to Stanford University:  ‘Stay foolish.  Stay hungry.’

As if either true foolishness or hunger were a choice; as if anybody who attended Stanford, or could afford Jobs’ products, or even access tweets, could have ever known real hunger beyond day two of the Dukan Diet.

Alright, maybe Jobs was trying to say, “Keep thinking ‘out of the box’ and being ambitious”.  But in reducing to sound bite, in much the same way the iPod mp3 technology reduced the infinite variation of analogue sound to a series of discrete compressed micro tones, something may have got lost in summarisation.

And then, perhaps Jobs really was exhorting his acolytes: be foolish and hungry – never considered, never satisfied.  After all, if you’re peddling equipment which only survives through constant upgrading when previous versions work just as well, what you need is a customer base who are both:  Hungry enough to always want the ‘next thing’, foolish enough to never ask, ‘why?’

Those four words are the tragedy of the shut-off Generation-i, not the triumph.

Desperate to share this natural world with George, I catch him and try to explain.

He looks around. ‘Reality?’ he shrugs, ‘yeah.  Nice. This morning, not my choice.’

And I know he’s right.  We can choose the nature of our journeys now, just as we would our destinations and, this morning, I’m happy: he’s not foolish, he’s not hungry.

via IT’S I GENERATION – KensingtonChelseaToday


Derren Brown, Hallowed Be Thy Name

Derren Brown, Hallowed Be Thy Name – openDemocracy

The success of TV conjuror Derren Brown tells of our vulnerability to the magic of pseudo-scientific explanation. While researching the brilliant comic novel, How to Forget, the author joined the ranks of the conjurors and came away with a degree of healthy dis-illusion

‘How did you do that?’

Let me tell you.

In these straitened times I’ve found myself occasionally exploiting an extra revenue stream: extracting coins from youngster’s ears. I also read their tiny minds, vanish hankies and offer myself up for trial-by-toddler, fairy cakes and cash. You find work where you can these days.

It all started when I set out to write a book about magicians. It quickly became clear that the only way I’d get any conjurers to open up to me was to join their ranks.

A hastily researched performance for my son’s fourth birthday and some parents at his school looking for a cheap party entertainer, launched my alternative career in deceiving, at first the young, and then older, easier, far more compliant and surprisable adult audiences. So this is just to assure you that I talk here from experience; even if some of it is bitter.

There is a phrase more commonly encountered by conjurers than, ‘Abracadabra,’ ‘Alakazam,’ or ‘Bugger off we’re talking.’ Whenever I produce a lost card, or levitate a borrowed bank note, the first utterance, after the look of astonishment, is almost inevitably, ‘How did you do that?’

Despite the Daily Mail’s regular warnings about encroaching fundamentalism, we still, apparently, live in a rational age. The response to one of my magic effects is never a terror filled scream or falling to the floor or ‘Get thee behind me,’ histrionics. Americans occasionally predicate it with ‘No Fucking Way,’ but even they then ask the question every magician both yearns and fears to answer: ‘How did you do that?’

Everyone recognises that, somewhere along the line, I ‘did’ something that they missed; something a rational mind, through a process of logic, would eventually be able to work out. It has just been, for the moment, obscured by some nefarious sleight or misdirection.

Almost universally, even for the most gullible or prone to dodgy belief systems, the first response to my magical mysteries is to challenge it through the prism of rationalism. Even the most fervent of religious believers will choose a sceptical route and never simply blindly believe that I am the agent of a higher power. (I will resist the ‘of course my wife knows otherwise’ quip I’m dying to make at this point.)

From my time at the coalface of astonishment I can happily, anecdotally, report that, for the overwhelming majority of us, without a plausible explanation, reason is our default mystery solver. Like Scooby Doo.

The trouble only comes when conjurers start giving their tricks plausible explanations as part of their misdirection.

No magician alive today does this better than Derren Brown. Having just concluded a series of ‘Experiments’ on Channel 4 based on classic psychological and sociological investigations and concepts, he performs a precarious balancing act in explaining his own effects.

On one side, through his activities blogs and writing, Brown promotes scepticism: he challenges mediums and spiritualists, just as Houdini did; he promotes a scientific approach; he embraces Dawkins and writes about his own lapsed Christian beliefs. He encourages the asking of questions and disapproves of blind belief.

On the other hand, the Derren Brown that countless TV viewers and theatre audiences encounter does not simply create mystifying effects, his explicatory rhetoric in performance is steeped in a belief; not in a god or an afterlife but in a fuzzy set of behavioural dynamics that we non-experts call ‘psychology’. Something which, we may need to remember; just because it is an ‘ology’, doesn’t make it any more scientific than ‘astr’, ‘graph’ or ‘crani’.


Brown often explains his ability to predict words or behaviours, to duplicate drawings or influence people to act in certain ways, as achieved through a mastery of the understanding and exploitation of ‘psychological techniques’[1].

I must here state my own belief that, though some of his effects may have a loose psychological component, these explanations, as you might expect of any conjurer, are mainly bogus; misdirecting attention from his real methodology.

The truth is, no matter how hard you studied psychology, no matter how expert you became in understanding human motivations and frailties you still could not possibly repeat Brown’s effects without the use of age-old conjuring smoke and mirrors.

Brown recognises this tightrope he walks between promoting sceptical disbelief and exploiting his audience’s belief in ‘psychology’. In the conclusion to his book Tricks of the Mind Brown writes, ‘For a while now I have concerned myself with engaging people’s beliefs. A large part of me wishes to have people retain a scepticism about what I do and apply that to other areas in life where our beliefs are manipulated in ugly ways. Meanwhile, the ‘performer’ part of me that enjoys the dramatic and the mysterious needs to balance that scepticism in the audience with a belief in my skills…’[2]

Robert Houdin, the 19th century magician whom Houdini named himself after is considered by most magicians as the father of modern magic. He defined a conjurer as, ‘an actor playing the part of a magician.’ In Brown’s case he is closer to, ‘an actor playing the part of a… master of psychology’ or even more recently, ‘…a scientist.’

Oh, I realise that Brown preambles his performances with his, ‘achieved through a combination of illusion, magic, psychology…’ so more fool anyone who believes otherwise but tumbling out in to the night air in front of the Shaftsbury Theatre, where Brown’s latest stage show ‘Svengali’ enjoyed an extended run, his still entranced audience seem only to have believed that last word.

Steven, a young professional web designer, tech savvy, stripy Jack Will’s boxer-shorts peeping out above his baggy hipfallen jeans, is convinced, “Well, obviously it’s not magic,’ he says, ‘it’s psychology, he’s just very very good at it, it’s amazing.”

‘You can see he picks people who are more likely to do what he’s asking,’ says Mi-Li, an app developer and Steven’s girlfriend. She is equally enraptured, ‘I mean some people are easier to read aren’t they. But then he just does incredible things. Really clever. I wish I could read people like he does.’

What has made Brown such a paragon for modern magicians is not his effects which, from a conjurer’s point of view, are certainly no more extraordinary than an Annemann or Thurston, but the way he dresses them in the irresistibly credible and contemporary beliefs that we hold to be self-evident.

It seems a shame that ‘psychology’ remains a rather catch-all idea about human behaviour which, without substantial evidential proof, remains in a limbo no closer to science than it is to pure belief.

It seems to have materialized amongst some other, more dubious, beliefs that emerged in the late 19th century in the wake of Darwin and the mechanisation of the industrial revolution; ideas like phrenology, eugenics, fascism and communism, the sort of human reductionism that helped set the tone[3] for the following ‘century of war’[4]. Within these concepts, man was no longer that central almost divine creature of Humanism but increasingly a part of the mass, an automaton to be wound up, studied, controlled and, if necessary, destroyed.

To my mind one of the more pernicious of those new mechanistic ‘beliefs’ was the flowering of the ‘science of psychology’ spear-headed by German physician Wilhelm Wundt who founded the first psychological laboratory, at Leipzig University, in 1879. It was a theory of the mind and mental health that seduced the twentieth century, creating amongst other things today’s world-wide therapy industry worth billions.

All this despite the fact that, in all this time, no actual psychological experiment has been found to be scientifically 100 per cent repeatable. When working with populations on a sociological scale, psychological experiments can repeatedly find figures that are close – ie most people do X not Y under Z circumstances – but there is no individual psychological response or action which is universally repeatable. Psychology remains a numbers game.

Derren Brown’s psychological rationalization for his extraordinary effects is his masterstroke. It very cleverly buys into and perpetuates a belief that so many of us maintain to this day, that we are, beneath it all, a mechanism, we are machines just waiting to discover what makes us tick. Dehumanised in this way, it would logically follow that it must be possible to reduce anybody to a set of behaviours and reactions; theoretically we are all potentially predictable and malleable in the hands of someone who has a thorough enough understanding of ‘psychology’. It’s the same reason we thrill to Sherlock Holmes, with his instant in-depth profiling, or even feel awkwardly attracted to the inevitability of Dawkins selfish gene. It is man as unwitting reductionist victim rather than master of his own destiny. Man as programmable machine. Drone to democracy. An automanton.

To me, the belief that anyone, even Derren Brown, could influence or predict anyone with pinpoint accuracy, considering how the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association puts the entire population somewhere on its scale, is almost as barkingly misleading and misguided as the belief in pixies and ghosts of the Victorian era.

Because, of course, it was also in the 19th century when modern spiritualism began, a belief that there is not only an afterlife but those who are in it can be communicated with and be summoned at the command of the living.

All civilisations seem to create their own death cults, from the ancient Egyptians to the Third Reich, but the Victorians appear to have taken it to another level entirely. In their time, in their way, they were the master race, bequeathed the wealth and dominance of the globe by industrialisation and the legacy of the East India Trading company. They ran an empire that spanned the earth; only one last frontier remained beyond their control, escaped their dominion: death.

Spiritualism chimed with a need of the times just as ‘Psychology’ has chimed so clearly with ours. A walk around any British cemetery bears witness to what necromaniacs the Victorians were, centuries of simple gravestones suddenly surpassed by vast mausoleums and elaborate angel-laden tombs. They even created their own Necropolis railway to usher the dead from Waterloo to the enormous Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey.

Over a century later and still with no scientifically confirmed evidence of an afterlife, mediums continue to thrive today. Despite having had all their tricks, their cold, warm and hot readings, exposed by a succession of magicians and sceptics from Houdini, through James Randi and even Derren Brown himself, mediums still draw crowds of believers looking to make sense of that last horror, the indisputable finality of death.

So Derren Brown walks this tightrope between being a hero of scepticism, exposing old ‘ugly’ beliefs like spiritualism, and actively seeking to encourage belief in his skills and in a system that he knows he cannot prove, just pretend to.

Brown has recently started distancing himself from his earlier shows, ‘I have largely moved on from performing those sorts of tricks,’[5] he blogged the other day. He sees his recent work in the ‘Experiments’ as more indicative of his present career.

Every jobbing magician knows that when an effect is just too baffling, you introduce it with the words, ‘I want to try a little experiment.’ This phrase is both pseudo-scientific and very ‘old school’ in conjuring terms and it’s interesting to see Brown returning to it.

Though he appears to sometimes be blurring the edges between science and his own pseudo-science Derren Brown is neither ‘psychologist’ nor ‘scientist’. Nor does he claim to be despite the language he uses in his shows. Sadly, each of his latest ‘Experiments’ seem to have been more interested in faking the successful outcome of famous concepts, like Milgram’s notorious dehumanised cruelty investigation[6] or the Manchurian Candidate’s question as to whether a hypnotised subject can be made to act against his will.

Witness Browns ‘Experiment’, ‘The Guilt Trip’ in which he attempts to drive a man, through guilt, to admit to a murder he did not do. Somehow one feels he missed the point, we never find out anything about why people really admit to crimes they didn’t commit. This may be because science asks questions wheras magic uses answers to create questions. The scenario Brown produced carefully controlled what the audience witnessed and only gave enough to encourage them to believe he had succeeded. Closer analysis: a man is paralytically drunk and wakes the next day to find someone has been killed, he then confesses to the police that it ‘could’ have been him as far as he knows, is far from conclusive. Of course it might have been, just as much as it might not have. Derren Brown produced a very watchable program about someone more willing to just tell the truth than be caught in some horrible lie further down the line.

Brown creates a belief in his successes from very partial revelations of the facts. Something I suspect a real scientist would find frustratingly pointless unless the real experiment was an investigation of the gullibility of TV audiences. But there seems to be no attempt to gather statistical evidence on that.

In the end, even if Brown parenthesises his performances with protestations of ‘illusion and magic,’ we all know that many in his audience will believe these things simply because his ‘psychological’ dressing is such a plausible answer.

There is no doubt that Brown is aware that his success is based on generating belief, ‘we must seek to absorb the model of real magic at the level of belief,’ he writes in Absolute Magic, ‘then allow it to leak through in the way in which we approach our audience and the thought behind the structure of our routines.’ Much like the TV evangelists he has exposed probably do. It is no more honest to say it is a magic trick before you start, only to foster a counter belief during the show than it is to claim that Christ was a man, oh but also God. As a lapsed Christian perhaps Brown ought to know how damaging it can be to monkey around with what people believe. Sometimes I wonder if all this could just be some huge revenge for the hurt to his own beliefs? I couldn’t possibly say. You, on the other hand…

So in the same way that I fear for the people who still take mediums and spiritualists seriously, I fear for those who take Derren Brown seriously, and they do, like Steven and Mi-Li.

‘Psychology’ is a brilliant cover for his illusions, it is the apparently rational belief of our day and age, but I do wonder if there, a hundred years from now, there will be people who have to be disabused of this belief. I fear that some twenty-second century HoloTV magician with a goatee will be declaring, ‘In the twenty-first century people really believed that you could predict what someone would draw on a piece of paper just from knowing their job and where in Indonesia they went on holiday, it was called “psychology”. And there are some deluded fools even now who believe it. But I can show you it was just tricks, the same good old fashioned gimmicks and forces, cups and balls that have been going for millennia. Can you believe their gullibility? Weren’t they ridiculous? But now let me show you something which will really blow your mind…’

And what do I believe? I have faith that, after that magician’s mind blowing effect, there will be someone shouting out, ‘How did you do that?’

[1] Frequently in his treatise on the effective performance of magic, Absolute Magic, Derren Brown, London, 2001 (OOP)

[2] Tricks of the Mind, Derren Brown, London, 2006

[3] John Carey suggests these were a direct response to the emergence of an educated middle class created by the 1870 and 1876 Education Acts and fears amongst the intellectual elite of population explosion. The intellectuals and the masses: pride and prejudice among the literary intelligentsia, 1880-1939, London, 1992

[4] The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred. Niall Ferguson, London. 2006





“Mestre. Say the word without hissing”

“Mestre. Say the word without hissing the conurbated villain, and pitying its citizens. As quickly as they can, two million tourists pass through, or by, Mestre each year, and each one will be struck by the same thought as they wonder at the aesthetic opposition that it represents. Mestre is an ugly town but ugly only in the same way that Michael Jackson might be desccribed as eccentric or a Tabasco Vindaloo flambéed in rocket fuel might be described as warm. Mestre is almost excremental in its hideousness: a fetid, fly-blown, festering, industrial urbanization, scarred with varicose motorways, flyovers, rusting railway sidings and the rubbish of a billion holidaymakers gradually burning, spewing thick black clouds into the Mediterranean sky. A town with apparently no centre, a utilitarian ever-expandable wasteland adapted to house the displaced poor, the shorebound, outpriced, domicile-deprived exiles from its neighbouring city. For, just beyond the condom- and polystyrene-washed, black-stained, mud shores of Marghera, Mestre’s very own oil refinery, less than a mile away across the waters of the lagoon in full sight of its own dispossessed citizens, is the Jewel of the Adriatic. Close enough for all to feel the magnetism, there stands the most beautiful icon of Renaissance glory and, like so much that can attract tourism, a place too lovely to be left in the hands of its natives, the Serenissima itself, Venice.”
Marius Brill, Making Love: A Conspiracy of the Heart




Astonishing Diversity

An extraordinary and delightful five star review just popped up on Amazon which must be worth sharing as it is probably better than the blurb on the cover of the book…. read on…
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing Diversity, 5 Nov 2011

Your Christmas shopping this year has just been made easy. Imagine a guy in a black tee-shirt working in a bookshop trying to puzzle out which section to place a book in. Should he put it in Comedy? Or Science Fiction? It could go in Romance, but then again it would fit just as neatly in Action Thriller. At the same time, he knows it transcends all these genres and could happily settle in Literary Fiction. Marius Brill’s second novel, ‘How to Forget’ is that book – an astonishing combination of several genres – a crossover book which gives a whole new meaning to the term. It’s not surprising, then, that the cast of characters is equally as diverse. A magician, a doctor of neurology, a collection of six-year-olds, an Australian widow with a sheep farm and an Hispanic maid revolve around the main characters, who themselves – a timid hero with a failed career and an Amazonian heroine with the instincts of a crack SAS officer – are thrown together in an unlikely, yet engaging, romance.
Hounded by an evil genius and a lumbering American cop and crippled by their own emotional make-up, the pair animates what is a thoroughly researched and fascinating study of the nature of emotional memories and how they affect happiness. Kate, a heroine without soft spots, suffers an internal crisis on finding herself on the brink of love and her predicament is recorded with a delicacy that puts one in mind of the best of Jane Austen’s heroines. Touching, intellectually challenging, magical, hilarious, serious, fast-paced and gripping, but above all witty, ‘How to Forget’ really is the book with something in it for everyone. This novel deserves a place in just about every section of the bookshop – with the exception of cookery. There is nothing in ‘How to Forget’ about cookery.

Order How To Forget - Now

Cocaine dealer avoids jail using a scam straight from the pages of How To Forget

When I wrote this particular scam in How To Forget I wondered why we didn’t hear of this kind of law evasion ever happening… and now it does… did he read the book?  Am I going to be implicated?  Read on…

Cocaine dealer avoids jail by pretending he is illegal Mexican  immigrant and gets DEPORTED instead



Liar: Jaime Alvarado claimed he was an illegal Mexican immigrant to avoid jail

An American avoided going to prison for drug dealing by lying to police he was an illegal immigrant so he could be deported to Mexico.

Jaime Alvarado claimed he was Mexican Saul Quiroz when he pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine and heroin with the intent to distribute.

He lied about his birth date and claimed he was an illegal immigrant TWICE in front of judges.

Alvarado was facing a sentence of up to 15 years but instead was deported, according to court records.

The 27-year-old exploited a system in which law enforcement officials sometimes prefer to send offenders back to their own countries instead of adding to an already overcrowded prison system.

But Alvarado, from Salt Lake City, Utah, returned to the U.S. a month later using his genuine American passport. Instead of lying low he got arrested again in his home city – in connection with the previous case.

Last February he acknowledged during a court hearing that he had lied about his true identity. In a follow-up letter to the judge, he said he regretted his actions and asked for leniency because his family depended on him.

He wrote: ‘I have a good job right now, a lot of little girls waiting for me and a family that will support me. It’s my first offence and my last. I want to spend the rest of my life with my kids!’

He was released by the court, but this week Alvarado was charged in Utah’s 3rd District Court with giving false material statements and giving false personal information to a peace officer.

A $50,000 warrant had been issued for his arrest since he failed to report to state authorities in June after U.S. immigration officers determined he was legally present in the country.

Rishi Oza, an immigration attorney, said Alvarado’s plan is ‘not a risk I’d ever want to take because you’re creating a bigger hole for yourself.

‘More often than not,  a person claims to be legal to avoid detection.I have never seen an American citizen try to get deported.’

via Cocaine dealer avoids jail by pretending he is illegal Mexican immigrant and gets DEPORTED instead | Mail Online.

I’m a novelist, journalist and film maker interested in Neuroscience, Conjuring, Hustles, Deception, Illusion, Delusion and the nature of Love.

This is how the TLS summed me up:

Puns, gags, witty observations, surreal flights, there is a laugh of some sort in every line… A quip for Brill is the Cleopatra for which he will give up the world and consider it well lost.

And that’s a fair cop… which is more than you’ll find in The Wire.

Now, with the publication of my second novel How To Forget this is a pretty exciting time. What’s below may not be my life, but it’s a blog of events and tangential thoughts that grind the optics behind my own peculiar views.

Marius Brill

Halloween: The Rules

I stand with my dead son in the hall.  He’s giving me a strange look.  But, with one eye gouged out and glistening nerves dangling from the dark prosthetic hole, strange looks is about all he can give me.

‘No,’ I say firmly, ‘you’re just too big now.’

His hunchback visibly slumps. ‘But Pete and Max and all the others are…’

‘You’re fifteen now, bigger than most adults and if a hoard of kids your size came knocking on my door, I’d be terrified.’

‘You’re supposed to be,’ George retorts sulkily, ‘that’s the point.’Illustration by Don Grant

Is it?  I’m really not sure.  Trouble is, like fast-food, Mother’s Day or chronic obesity, we seem to adopt American traditions without a thorough understanding of the rules.

Wimpy, the great British precursor to MacDonalds, believed they were providing fast-food by making sure their waitresses served tables quickly.  The idea of buying straight from a counter was just too uncivilised to contemplate.

And Mother’s Day, devoid of any established ceremony, perpetually feels like an awkward obligation to bestow potted plants.  We can’t even do US-style corpulence without feeling guilty and trying to negate it with self-effacing jokes whereas Americans seem to happily get through life never mentioning the elephant, or elephants, in the room.

If we had any flair for homemade festivities, October could have been the month dominated, not by its last day but by, say, national Conker Day, or a Festival of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness or a celebration of Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. We could dress up with eye patches and demand kisses from hardy sailors rather than sweets from strangers.

Indeed, this year’s baying for the blood of Rebekah Brookes led me to think that we might return to more traditional British style Halloween Witch hunting.  But then along came those meddling kids looting London during their recessionary Costa curtailed summer holidays and it brought home all the fears that householders may experience when opening the door to masked teenagers intent on booty.

My own first ‘Trick or Treat’ was forty years ago. Six years old and invited to observe this foreign ritual by my friend Eugene who lived in a Kensington mansion block popular with American families. Using some old pillow cases to unwittingly dress up like a couple of lynch-happy white supremacists we glided around a carefully organised route of flats inside the block.  At each door there was a ‘treat’ but, not understanding the rules of this game, I was too terrified to enjoy it. I understood the basics of the verbal contract we were making and worried about what would happen if we actually had to ‘trick’ someone. Before we had left, Eugene’s ‘mom’ had told me that ‘back home’ a trick would be to rub soap on their windows.

We were seven stories up.

So nowadays, as soon as the supermarkets pack the barbecues away, their shelves begin to buckle with halloweenia.  By the night of October 31st  the streets buzz with ghouls and waddling pumpkins not completely sure what they’re doing, or why.

You might ask why do we need rules? Why not just enjoy it? But maybe that’s why these events seem so alien.  Far too much freedom, no room for faux pas.  If you want to make something British – give it rules. Not laws, to be policed by a third party, far too totalitarian, but rules that mean we can all police each other’s compliance and be outraged by, and justify exclusion of, anybody who doesn’t follow them.  Watch Downton Abbey and you’re experiencing that distant comfort afforded by everyone knowing their place and keeping to it -not enforced by the state but by social contract.

So to help Halloween become a less foreign event these are six basic rules I’ve worked out from years trudging around with my own children:

1)      No flats – you can’t get sweets from an entryphone.

2)      They’re ‘sweets’ not ‘candy’.

3)      Only houses that place a pumpkin in the window.

4)      Avoid all celebrities’ houses And obviously whatever day it is, never let your daughter knock on Michael Winner’s door… he’s a married man now.

5)     Never ever actually do a ‘trick’; whatever you’ve threatened.

6)     Always be cuter than you are scary.  Remember it’s an American tradition.  Think Disney and Barbie not Manson and waterboarding; it’s like the movies, all popcorn and happy endings and any horror more kitsch than kitchen knife. It’s little kids inappropriately dressed as vampirella or pumpkin outfits, being a bit sweet when they come to your door.  Not the terror of being mugged on your own doorstep. If your kid is big enough to scare someone without the make-up they’re too big for trick or treat.

‘George,’ I say, ‘If you’re big enough to cause actual bodily harm you’re too big to be in a gang beating at people’s doors.  Them’s the rules.’

He looks at the flat door longingly, despairing that I may well have a lecture attached to my homily.

‘But, happily,’ I say, ‘it also means you’re big enough to be looking after the littler ones as they haunt the streets.  And I assure you, cutie booty is far bigger.’

He glances back at his little vampire sisters, blood streaming from the corners of their mouths, patiently waiting for me to take them out.  With a grunt he beckons them and nods towards the door.

As the monsters leave I settle down.  For once I’m going to enjoy Halloween.


A version of this article appears here in

A magical book


How to Forget

Marius Brill (Author)

A magical book; or rather a book about magic, confidence trickery, illusions, prestidigitation, conjuring, mind reading and more, all interwoven with the long quest for catharsis of an unmanned magician and his emergent relationship with a lifelong female hustler. As if that weren’t enough, the book is written in the style of a literary humoresque, seasoned with amusing asides and adroit wordplay. (It was often punny, sometimes funny. One example, describing over-long sunbathing: “Is ‘lobsterized a word? Take it as red…”).

This is a polished second-book performance from an accomplished author. He manages a clever and convoluted plot extremely well, and his characters are vividly portrayed. He employs a neat technique of interspersing narrative with clinical notes from the consultant psychiatrist purporting to be the author, and background material into brain function and research. All of which, in the context of this book, may or not be illusory. Either way, a very worthwhile diversion.

Reviewed by: John Oakley – Stourbridge

Personal read: *****

Group read: *****

Publisher: Doubleday

ISBN: 9780385605243

Published Date: Thu 18th Aug 2011

Format: Hardback

via How to Forget




The perfect partner to a day on a sunlounger.

This may sound a bit over enthusiastic – but I’m going to say it anyway. Marius Brill needs to add an extra ‘iant’ to the end of his surname. Once you’ve read How To Forget you’ll understand why.

Brill’s second novel is a ‘fictual book’, meaning it mixes up fiction with facts. The fictional side of the story revolves around the grand illusionist, Magicov the Magnificent, AKA Peter, who earns a living performing tricks in a nursing home. Peter is jealous of the geriatrics he entertains, particularly the old people who have lost their memories. This is because there are painful events in his life that he wishes to forget.

During the novel, Peter is approached by brain scientist, Dr Chris Tavasligh, who offers to help Peter forget for good. The facts, which are woven throughout the book, are all about the processes involved in human memory. And they’re there to make us think twice about what we believe we know.

If you’re worried that the book sounds a bit too heavy, don’t be. The novel is written so that you can sail through the pages. Chapters are split into bite-size portions and the prose is broken up by pages of fictional magazine articles, handwritten letters and emails.

Brill’s writing is top-dollar, too. Here is a writer who has taken up arms against clichés, and the result is page after page of refreshingly unique prose.

Overall, this book is an ideal holiday read. Once you pick it up you won’t want to put it down, which makes it the perfect partner to a day on a sunlounger.

If you like this, try this… The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

via How To Forget Marius Brill | FirstChoice blog.

Flip-flop rating for this book:

5 / 5

About Reviewer

  • Name: Sarah Holt
  • Favourite Book: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  • Guilty Pleasure: The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
  • Favourite Holiday: Rio Carnival, Brazil
  • Sarah Holt