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Sophie Cooke (Edinburgh, UK)

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Don't Cry: Stories
Don't Cry: Stories
by Mary Gaitskill
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing insights, 20 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: Don't Cry: Stories (Hardcover)
A superb collection of short stories. Gaitskill's muscular prose uncovers moments of startling emotional clarity. The stories pivot on those points of connection we can share as human beings, whether we know each other or not. I was struck by how well she writes about the impact of emotional contact with strangers. We are so used to reading stories about relationships: to see this other experience (where a shared look might have the potential to change a life) represented in fiction, felt like truth-telling of the best kind. Gaitksill is staggeringly perceptive and honest; in this collection, she also presents us with our hope.


Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories
Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories
by Raymond Carver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars God is in the detail, 1 Jun. 2011
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This is a great collection of Carver's work. It shows how his themes developed through his working life from stressful marriage, through alcoholism, to self-acceptance. The stories themselves are small masterpieces. The emotional detail is at times uncanny, creating a shiver of truth. Reading these accounts, one sometimes feels that not just one's reading mind but one's whole self has been carried off: that one has been there, lived these events for oneself.


The Wrecking Light
The Wrecking Light
by Robin Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stunning heartfelt collection, 10 Mar. 2011
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This review is from: The Wrecking Light (Paperback)
I am a poetry junkie, and this is the real deal. Every poem comes from a place of pain and beauty; capturing both the joy and the pathetic irony of human life. A sense of knowing too much about oneself (or about humanity) suffuses the lines. It is as if Robertson has gone to the edge of something, and stepped over; his poems come from beyond the cliff. The individual human weakness that he explores is somehow not depressing: in a way, Robertson's poems are showing us how much we need each other - the strength in THIS.
The poems are beautifully crafted, being both simple and mythically powerful. I have tried to pick a favourite but really can not choose. Whether he is showing us ducks' feet caught in the ice - bodies torn off by foxes - or a woman's hair on the pillow beside a vase of tulips, Robertson seems to be always on top form in every poem. The imagery is stunning. 'He put all his doubt / to the mouth of her long body, / let her draw the night / out of him like a thorn.'


Spies of the Balkans
Spies of the Balkans
by Alan Furst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars well-researched book, 10 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Spies of the Balkans (Paperback)
Alan Furst has clearly researched his material very thoroughly; unfortunately, the book wears its research rather heavily. The writing is full of exposition; characters are forever saying things to one another for the reader's benefit, rather than because they might realistically say them in the given situation; everything is EXPLAINED and SIGNPOSTED in capital letters.
To give a brief example, one character says: 'We are madly Hellenophile; you know, we have a great passion for Greece.' If you don't mind having every difficult word explained to you by the characters then maybe this won't annoy you, but after a while it began to drive me up the wall. Apart from anything else, it constantly reminded me that these characters were fictional, and that they were explaining things for my benefit rather than getting on with the plot. For me, the style of writing destroyed any tension that the story would otherwise have had.
It is a solidly constructed narrative but, because of the writing, the comparisons with John Le Carre are not really warranted. Perhaps I made a mistake in buying this one first. I see from other reviews of this novel that Furst's other books are better.


The Silver Darlings
The Silver Darlings
by Neil M Gunn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic novel with universal appeal, 10 July 2010
This review is from: The Silver Darlings (Paperback)
The Silver Darlings is one of the best books ever written in English. It begs comparison with the work of the Russian greats - the psychological insight has a deftness and heartstopping accuracy that lifts the narrative beyond storytelling. Yes, Gunn IS a gifted storyteller, and you will be turning the pages faster and faster to find out what happens next, but the true value of the work is in its pure humanity. You will finish it and feel not only entertained and moved by the adventures of the characters, but also less alone yourself, and perhaps wiser. It is rare to find a book that illuminates so many different types of human relationships: romantic, platonic, familial, economic. For among other things, The Silver Darlings is a paean to economic freedom: a world in which men find honour by owning their means of production, rather than working as serfs on another man's land. This still has a lot of resonance today.


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