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J. Pierson "joe_pierson" (Essex)
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Planet Earth - Complete Series [2006] [DVD]
Planet Earth - Complete Series [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Attenborough
Price: £7.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Staggering television, 30 July 2012
A galaxy of sand-lancet scatters with a sound like tossed coins as a dogfish propels through them and the blue. The galaxy reforms, yielding and spinning, scattering apart once more. An eagle notices the hunt of a founder in the shallow tide. The founder shrugs at the seabed, covering itself in sand and shingle. The eagle goes higher, repositions, opens its wings and glides a spread descent. It strikes the water, feet aimed at the founder, splashes down and emerges with a foot-long flat fish in its talons. It glides with the flailing fish above the shallow tide. A polar bear emerges from her den in northern Alaska after five months spent hibernating. Her cubs take their first steps. The mother lays on her side and slides down the snowy slope, 'Perhaps,' as David Attenborough tells us, 'to clean her coat. Perhaps for the sheer joy of it.'

The filming is exceptional, the narration clear and informative and also humble enough to let the staggering images speak for themselves. It is a humbling, spectacular and moving viewing experience, and nothing I've ever seen before has made me admire and respect the beauty of the natural world as much as this series. Some of the most beautiful, inspiring, and awesome images I've ever seen.


Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Price: £4.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, 26 July 2012
I've had this before with Wild Palms, by Faulkner: I thought it was a novel, but it (as with the Dyer) is really two distinct novellas in one volume. The Faulkner had an introduction, so I was prepared. This didn't, so when novella two started I was expecting the previous story to resume. It doesn't. We could perhaps assume (though at no point are we clearly encouraged to) that the first person 'I' of the second section is the same 'he' of the first, but because absolutely no back-story at all is ever introduced into the second narrative strand, it seems kind of unanswered. It seems to me a strange decision to have made. I found it a confusing read.

The first section is really engaging and a pleasure to read- a free-lance journalist who doesn't like his job but is too lazy to do much about it (and who, besides, really enjoys these junkets and freebies) is reporting on the Venice Biennale, meets a woman he really hits it off with, and they have a fun couple of days together. Then she leaves and he's sad.

I was drawn by the frank and funny and swift prose enough to be excited by the start of part 2- Death in Varanisi. Which, for the first 50 pages, is a very sharp, smart travelogue about India. The kind of extended article you'd expect to read in The Sunday Times Magazine, maybe with AA Gill's name below the title. And, while I very much enjoyed it as an article (and it maintains that decent, journalistic balance of observation and personal involvement), I felt it disengaging, because it gives no insight into the narrator's feelings about the Venice episode (if, indeed, it IS the same person. If it's a consistent novel, as Dyer seems to represent it as (I think?) then shouldn't it? Or am I missing a trick?).

The problem was that although part 2 was funny and wise and sharply observed (the scene with the monkey and the sunglasses is very good, as is much else) I was turning page after page thinking, 'Is this the same guy? Are we going to get back to that first story?' It leaves the first story bereft. The second is a great piece of extended reportage. But it seems so distinctly unrelated to the first story that, on reflection, the first story ends up being just another tale about a fairly ordinary guy meeting a girl, having a fling and being sad that she had to leave.

The writing is great though. Say what you mean and say it straight. It's also reflective and insightful, and for that it makes perfect sense that he brings Maugham to mind and quotes him. Dyer writes really well, and the first part is a mildly diverting and engaging story, the second a perfectly fine and engaging travelogue. I just don't know why it's being marketed, sold and reviewed (by the press) as a novel. The attached press soundbites are laudatory. Plenty of shared Bellinis I guess.


The String of Pearls
The String of Pearls
by Joseph Roth
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roth at his best, 12 April 2012
This review is from: The String of Pearls (Paperback)
I first came to Roth with Confession of a Murderer and liked it enough to buy another, choosing arbitrarily The Radetzky March, which is, of course, a masterpiece. I read a few of his slim novels after that and liked them all but nothing seemed quite as good as Radetzky. I had String of Pearls for a year without reading it. It's wonderful. I don't know of another writer who can encompass so much plot, can shift focus from one main character to another and discuss the passage of time, and do it all with such a lightness of touch. The narrative shifts are done so elegantly yet the writing is so pacey and funny and engaging that this elegance seems to be sweeping under the surface like a narrative fairy. You don't even realise it's happening. Taittinger is a classic Roth hero- a tired man out of his depth. The story is moving and funny and enthralling and at his best (and he us certainly at his best here) Roth writes prose as beautiful and captivating as it comes. A lovely book.


The Adolescent (Vintage Classics)
The Adolescent (Vintage Classics)
by F. M. Dostoevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.68

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Adolescent / A Raw Youth, 12 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'm only 100-odd pages through this but felt compelled to leave a quick review. I'd only ever heard of this book as A Raw Youth (Constance Garnett's translation) and the fact that it's peculiarly difficult to get hold of on amazon (under that title anyway) is matched by the peculiarly scant criticism of this book (in the criticism I've read anyway). I'm four volumes into Frank's truly excellent biography and critical analysis of Dostoevsky and his work and was starting to feel as though not having read A Raw Youth was a bit of a shameful lapse on my part, so I bought it thinking it must be a novella. Of course, it isn't a novella, it's actually quite a big novel. Written between The Devils and Karamazov it's fairly easy to understand why it's considered by many (Frank included) as a bit of a curio, its tone and preoccupations at odds with the remarkable quintet of masterpieces it 'interrupts'. But it's wonderful. I have a good 400 pages left to go and that's certainly ample time for things to take a nose-dive, but if it continues in the same vein as it's begun then I'll continue to be utterly enraptured. It's furiously compelling, very amusing, and delivers a portrait of adolescence so keenly convincing it bears comparison to Catcher in the Rye. That's all I'll say for now, but I was delighted that after thinking this would be a necessary plugging of the gaps in my reading I actually found it to be a remarkable, wonderful, joy to read. Recommended on the highest possible terms.


Resurrection
Resurrection
by Leo Tolstoy
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resurrection, 15 April 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Resurrection (Hardcover)
I'm only half way through this but I am just so surprised by it that I thought I'd write something.

It's true that in Resurrection, the novelist's over-riding intent is to portray certain aspects of Russian society- class inequality, a corrupt and absurd legal institute, the emptiness of religious practise- in a powerfully interrogative and accusatory fashion, often at the cost of narrative and characterisation. There are no scenes (as yet) as beautiful as, say, Natasha and Nikolai Rostov remembering their childhood in War and Peace, or Levin in the fields with his serfs in Anna Karenina. Nekhlyudov, Resurrection's protagonist, spends the novel in the grip of a moral paroxysm that leads him to scrutinise the idleness and depravity of his lauded lifestly, and in this portrayal there is little of Tolstoy's usual concern for the minutae of personality that make his other characters so wonderfully compelling.

All of this said, the scrutiny, compassion, anger and precision of this novel is staggering, shocking and utterly riveting. As a masterwork of narrative literature it is, in my opinion, some way short of Toltoy's two more famous epics but it is, nevertheless, an exceptionally forceful work.

(While writing this a (perhaps) suitable companion-piece to Resurrection occured to me- The Devils, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: that too has a narrative that is occasionally sublimated by its creator's over-riding wish to portray a certain aspect of Russian life in the most serious and critical light).


There Will Be Blood (2 disc Special Edition) [DVD]
There Will Be Blood (2 disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Day-Lewis
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £2.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars American Masterpiece, 18 Feb. 2008
In an interview for The Guardian during the release of There Will Be Blood, P T Anderson said of editing that it had taken him until this, his fifth feature, to really feel that editing your own film is the same as writing it- it's a creative process as critical and expressive as the actual writing of the screenplay. While it feels slightly presumptuous to remark upon the technical `growth' of a film-maker as talented and skilful as Anderson, I think that comment is perfectly indicative of what sets this film apart from the four which preceded it. The director's sense of grand form, the operatic fluidity and boldness of his direction reached its peak in Magnolia. After that Anderson made Punch-Drunk Love; a beautifully contained, delicately executed, sibilant, gorgeous picture. While There Will Be Blood is a return to aesthetic form in terms of its expansive confidence, it is also benefited by the obvious maturity of its maker. It is expressive and bold, but it is also a tightly directed film that never loses its grip of exactitude.

Day-Lewis's performance was hyped to such a point that I found it impossible to go in without expecting greatness. And it won't prove deflating if you can't help doing likewise. There is a force to Day-Lewis that is difficult to quantify. To say he `inhabits' his performance, to say that everything he says carries an authenticity that is invigorating, stimulating and dazzling to behold feels a long way short of how viscerally engaging, how riveting his Plainview is. A reviewer below predicts this will prove one of American cinema's most enduring and revered performances. I completely agree.

The first ten - fifteen minutes of this film are dominated atmospherically by its haunting and relentlessly unsettling score. The physicality and savage perseverance of Plainview's animalistic scrabble amongst his pick-hewn rock caverns is accompanied by music that kept putting into my mind the weird, disturbing hum that Kubrick's 2001 monolith emits. Also reminiscent of that other masterpiece is when Plainview's team strike oil- Plainview thrusts his stained hand in the air like a second-coming of the moment the apes learn how to use bones as cudgels.

The pace, the skill, the unerring confidence of the direction builds a story as elemental and powerful as they come. The clash between the weird, boyish, milksop evangelist and Plainview's powerhouse capitalist is absolutely thrilling. There are also moments of such visual audacity and strength that watching this film I was aware, like no other time in modern cinema, that I was beholding a film that will be swiftly inducted into the slim canon of the truly great: the moment an oil shaft catches fire and this ceaseless plume of gushing oil cascades, flaming, into the night sky. Plainview staggers back and the frame almost irises into a squashed opal, this ferocious burst of flame at its centre, the edges buzzing in a strange blood-red. Another particular moment that has stuck powerfully with me sees Day-Lewis on the beach with his imposter-brother. Day-Lewis runs into the water and the camera watches this strange man in shadowed profile look up sadly, sustain, then bury his head on his knees again. The length of the shot, the disturbing score, the precision of its lighting- it's a perfect moment; tragic and unsettling, and it stirs feelings that are impossible to talk about without recreating the shot itself- as all vital art should, it cannot be explained in terms other than its own.

The final scene of this film is violent and abrupt. I loved and savoured every second of it.

Anderson is unique amongst his peers in that each of his features has been more accomplished, more confident and as original as the one that preceded it. He's still not forty years old, and he's just made the greatest American movie since Blue Velvet.


The Devils: (The Possessed) (Penguin Classics)
The Devils: (The Possessed) (Penguin Classics)
by Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.58

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Feverish, terrifying, hilarious and brilliant., 6 Dec. 2007
Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, the two greatest novelists who ever lived, happened to be Russian contemporaries. The radical differences in their ideologies are perhaps most concentrated on their own versions of Christianity. Tolstoy the empiricist firmly believed in the notion of heaven on earth, of equality to all enlightened men. His two greatest novels, War and Peace and Anna Kerenina, include moments of luminous, effervescent and utter transcendence through the dousing sense of redemption his main characters find in the simplicity of goodness, hard work, and social justice and responsibility. Dostoyevsky's religious faith was catastrophically opposite. To Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy's idea of heaven on earth was actually a vision of hell. If god is found, undeniably, then man is unable to not believe in him, thus his free will is eliminated and the whole of mankind is enslaved. It was Dostoyevsk's obsession with one basic tenet- that if man must be free to believe in god, then he must be free not to believe in him with equal passion- that incites the friction and fever of his novels, the sense of reckless abandonment, of motivelessness, murder, suicide and abject despair.

The Possessed is perhaps unique among Dostoyevsky's novels in that it explores and explodes a very particular moment in time, a specific social movement that basically came down to the clash of extremes in the ideas of one generation and the next. The author's passionate, vitriolic distaste for the nihilism of the younger generation is demonstrated by the character of Verkhovensky, a petty, parasitic revolutionary with no purpose or sense of social resolve beyond a mischievous and amoral taste for tumult and destruction. Yet the most interesting character is the 'leader' of this troupe of petty revolutionaries- Nicolas Stavrogin. Stavrogin is as complex a character as Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. His amorality, his misdeeds, cruelty and incitements to murder, come from a much more anguished soul. Seemingly an extreme form of the nihilistic youth, he is in fact torn apart by the obvious futility of this ideological bent. In typical style, The Possessed tightly works its way toward climaxes of terrifying intensity. While this novel has as much eccentric, wild humour as any other of the author's works, it also, to my mind, contains some of the most frightening scenes in dramatic literature's history (the suicide of Kirilov chief among them- you will be haunted by his inexplicable cry of 'Directly! Directly! Directly!' ten times as Verkhovesnky flees the scene for the rest of your life).

Structually, The Possessed is a train wreck. Dostoyevsky wrote at break-neck speed and rarely had time for revision. But neither this fact, nor the inconsistency of the the narrator's stance, alter the sheer manic pace, fervour and fever of the story. While many consider this great novel the lesser of D.'s four greats, I think it is perhaps the most perfect, concentrated and powerful demonstration of the panic, terror, anguish and violence that epitomise Dostoyevsky's ouvre.

The Possessed is a stunning novel, and one I will never forget. If Tolstoy belonged to the epic, to the traditions of Homer, then Dostoyevsky was his mirror as the arch dramatist, the most potent since Shakespeare.


The Human Factor (Vintage Classics)
The Human Factor (Vintage Classics)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Typically excellent, 5 Nov. 2007
Greene's writing is always correct, deft and engrossing without the flash of pomp or needless audacity. Nor is it terse or markedly clipped. Simply put, Greene novels are effortlessly compelling and calmly faultless.

The Human Factor is a novel more about the fatiguing and tiresome business of constant occupational mistrust as about the excitement and intrigue of agents and double-agents. The novel's principal characters are heads of divisions stuck in their ways, blinded by their own routine compartmentalising (to the detriment of compassion, of that `human factor'), and their lesser agents- lonely men who find solace too frequently in a quadruple J & B.

Though I've enjoyed other Graham Greene novels more than this one (The End of the Affair and To the Heart of the Matter I consider his finest works), his copious output maintained a consistently high standard, and this certainly does not fall short.

The Human Factor is a very good book. Anyone familiar with Graham Greene's work would, quite rightly, expect nothing less.


The Radetzky March
The Radetzky March
by Joseph Roth
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A singular and brilliant novel, 7 Sept. 2007
This review is from: The Radetzky March (Paperback)
There's something wonderful about reading Joseph Roth even before one begins a novel of his. I came across him by chance rather than active effort and he is, of course, still nowhere near as well-known and alluded to as his talent should have already assured. So you get the wonderful sense of discovery, which only adds to the beauty of his prose.

This novel is beautifully lyrical. As a couple of the other reveiwers have mentioned, one feels compelled to say that it is not sentimental, though the texture of it, its tone, sometimes makes it feel as though it almost is.

The most potent scenes, for me, were those which so pointedly expressed a feeling of regret, of disiappontment and failure. We have all felt that stomach-lurching collapse, that sudden and absolute knowledge that we have done something very wrong, that we have ruined something, that something important to us is now over. The Radetzky March is as sad as it is beautiful.

It's also wonderfully funny. The wit verges on the Dostoyevskian in its eccentricity and is brilliantly compelling and balanced. Roth's writing style, amidst a weighty, formal narrative, is so joyfully unusual. The way massive events are meticulously introduced and then torn through at a hurtling pace only to land- ta-da- at the next plot-point is so refreshing, so out of the ordinary.

My favourite comment in the introduction (and surely this translator deserves some sort of award for seemingly introducing the English-speaking world to Roth single-handedly) is his basic summation of many of Roth's protagonists- they are just tired men out of their depth. And this also allows for tragi-comedy: the passages describing Trotta's slump into ninety-proof reliance are brilliant. There is never an occasion not to have a drink in this nowhere border garrison. And he cheerfully drinks the days away, amiable to all he passes, though only he doesn't realise that his step is faltering, his tunic stained, his buttons done up wrong...

I'd recommend anything by this author, to anyone, and this, surely, will eventually gain its rightful standing as a vital must-read for anyone interested in literature.


Saturday
Saturday
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm sorry, this is unfair, but I just don't like it, 26 July 2007
This review is from: Saturday (Paperback)
So he can't win really. The review below is of course spot on- McEwan's protagonist is aware of his own pretentiousness. It is, in tone, a bit like Dalloway, a book I can't stand. So I should just let it lie, say, this just isn't for me. But I can't help myself. I can't restrain the gag-reflex in the face of this hideous borgeois family, sons a jazz guitarist, daughters a poet, should I feel bad about not having had a firm opinion about something that went ahead despite the biggest protest march the country has ever seen and do I feel bad about having everything and being jolly pleased with my lot? I might just make a fish soup instead.

The whole thing's like staring through autumn foliage. This kind of 'suspicions confirmed about the prols', smugly comfortable tone is just horrible. I read an article by Rod Liddle recently about how boring all this current-affairs, let's talk about terrorism/multiculturalism/environmentalism (okay, not yet but just wait)modern literature is. Will this novel be admired by anyone in fifty years? I hope not. There is grandeur in this way of life. Ugh!


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