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MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne)

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Amazon Limited Edition Kindle Paperwhite Premium Leather Case - fits all Paperwhite generations
Amazon Limited Edition Kindle Paperwhite Premium Leather Case - fits all Paperwhite generations
Price: £44.99

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Groovy Guru and his Sacred Cows, 22 Oct. 2015
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I have previously had the regular ink blue official Kindle cover and broadly liked it, for all its failings. But it was looking a bit tired, so I leapt at the chance to upgrade it to this aniline leather cover.

The leather looks fabulous - but it does mark. It even came with a scuff/scratch on the back but there is little point objecting to it as it will pick up heaps more scuffs in due course. The cover is supposed to mark and look a bit bished - it's called character. The finish is matt and porous - think suede but not such a coarse texture - and will presumably pick up marks from sweaty fingers too. One difference between this cover and the regular Amazon ones is that the rubber surround that holds the Kindle is black, not the colour of the leather.

The cover fits as well as the previous ink blue one- perfectly snug and secure. It has the same denim-like panel opposite the screen - meaning when you use the cover, you'll fold the front cover back on itself and all the lovely leather will be hidden. People will just see the screen and the grey denimy panel. The magnet secures the cover closed and turns the device on and off - but a failing with the design is that the magnet bangs on the rubber surrounding the device; over time this starts to distort the rubber and you get part of the surround being bashed out of shape where the magnet hits it.

Another failing of the design is that the glue that joins the leather to the cardboard starts to "melt" and come loose at the edges. It's not a big problem but can add to the tired look after a couple of years. This seems to be just the same on this aniline leather version.

The cover is expensive - no way of getting around it. But it does look good and is a vast step up from the badly fitting shells or elastic corners of competitor products. And on the grand scale of things, the cover is about the same price as three hardback books. The amount you save by reading Kindle editions will mean you come out ahead, even if you do splash out on an expensive cover. Kindles need covers; less expensive solutions exist and whether you want to pay this much for a cover will be a matter of personal preference. Personally, I have no regrets.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2016 3:19 PM GMT

This House of Grief
This House of Grief
by Helen Garner
Edition: Paperback

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Born innocent, 21 Oct. 2015
This review is from: This House of Grief (Paperback)
This House of Grief is a devastating book that defies categorisation.

On Father’s Day 2005, Robert Farquharson spent the afternoon with his three boys, Jai (aged 10), Tyler (aged 7) and Bailey (aged 2). It was the first Father’s Day since his wife, Cindy Gambino, had left him. Taking the boys back to Cindy’s house – the former family home in Winchelsea, Victoria – the car left the road and ended deep underwater in a dam. Farquharson survived; Jai, Tyler and Bailey did not.

Like many people who saw the news on TV, local writer Helen Garner was shocked by the story; initially there was sympathy for the family, but then a suggestion emerged that Farquharson might have driven into the dam intentionally. Garner resolved to attend the subsequent murder trial and this book is the result.

Unlike typical true crime books, Garner focuses only on the trial. Events from that fateful day are reported only insofar as they emerged during news reports and the trial. The story remains faithful to the sequencing of witnesses; contradictory stories are presented; there are chance encounters with lawyers and family in the corridors of the Supreme Court or outside at the coffee cart. But there is no additional investigation; although the odd contemporaneous newspaper article of TV report might be mentioned, there is no attempt to gather information that did not come immediately to hand. This is, as the cover says, the story of a trial.

This House of Grief is emotionally draining. Helen Garner pulls no punches in presenting the details of the boys’ last afternoon; the car’s journey; the speculation about the way the boys drowned; the grief of the family. The reader sees points of the narrative where a different outcome might have been possible and wills it to be so, even though the reader knows it cannot be. Readers who are used to death on a grand scale in detective fiction; and dispassionate reporting of deaths in the newspapers will find this real life tragedy harrowing. Garner gets the balance between fact and feeling spot on; her description is perfect and her focus on people as much as deeds lifts this book from its peers. Garner does not use flowery language or long words – but just has an unerring knack of using the right words, succinctly and to the best effect. She transitions with ease from detailed argument to personal conversations with her companion Louise and her old barrister friend; to her thoughts at home in the evening. Readers who know young boys are going to struggle with parts of this.

Whilst the book does set out technical and legal argument, it does so lightly, focusing as much on the impression left by the evidence as on the evidence itself. The book concentrates on emotions and feelings. Whilst most Australians will know of the case and know the outcome, Helen Garner does not presume and her narrative does not lead the reader to an inevitable outcome of guilt or innocence. At the end, when the verdict is read out, it comes across as an unsatisfactorily definitive resolution to a situation that will always be unsatisfactory. At the heart of the dissatisfaction, though, is the grief that the three boys are dead and will stay dead. Whatever happens in the trial, three young lives have ended and the lives of their parents have been rendered meaningless. There is no recovery from this; determining whether it was deliberate or accidental will have some bearing on Farquharson’s comfort but won’t actually solve very much one way or the other.

The legal system and legal practitioners do not come across well. Barristers are seen to harry witnesses in an attempt to knock them off course; grieving family members are ripped to shreds when imprecisions in their phrasing leaves little loopholes; and experts are reduced to mumbling idiots as the barristers pick through the theory with shocking selectivity. It is a brutal process that relies on scoring points rather than discovering the truth. There are suggestions that even Farquharson himself might not know the truth; that the truth and genuine recollections can shift over time and are, to an extent, malleable to fit in with a greater narrative. The quest for truth is therefore a fool’s errand.

Throughout the book there is a sense that through news reports and through the trial, the story has become public property. What starts as discomfort at intruding on the personal tragedy of those involved grows gradually into a sense of offence against public sensibilities. Small children should not die. As Garner says in her closing remarks: “Every stranger grieves for them. Every stranger’s heart is broken. The children’s fate is our legitimate concern. They are ours to mourn. They belong to all of us now.”

This is compelling reading; even though it can be hard to keep going, it is harder still to look away. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2016 3:02 AM GMT

The Fishermen
The Fishermen
by Chigozie Obioma
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Swan, 13 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: The Fishermen (Hardcover)
The Fishermen was a swan:

A swan that was an ugly duckling for the first half, then blooming into a beautiful bird in the second half.

The novel follows a pretty tight formula, opening with an animal or bird related metaphor that often feels like a stretch, followed by a story that is told in a strangely jerky way – a fact or event is dropped into the conversation, followed by a long explanation of how this fact or event came to pass. The novel is supposedly narrated by Ben, a young Nigerian man relating events from his childhood. The timelines become clearer at the end, but it is obvious that Ben is not narrating with the voice of a ten year old.

The story is that Ben and his four brothers (and baby sister) live in a regional town in Nigeria; their father is a bank manager who is posted to a town some nine hours’ drive away, leaving the boys in the charge of their mother. Mother is too busy to keep a close watch, so the boys wag off school and go fishing by the river instead. There they meet the local madman, who prophesies bad things…

Whilst this is a plot driven novel – at least, it is once the story actually starts to take off at the half way mark – it is also one of the strange blend of modern life, Western values and traditional superstition that one finds in West Africa. Hence, we find Nigerian boys brought up in a middle class family, playing computer games, going off to the hotel to watch football games on big screen TV, avoiding their western education – but also living in fear of ghosts, magic and fate, and wishing they could become fishermen. As young boys, perhaps it is natural that they see no contradiction in these concepts. But their father seems to accept them too.

This is not necessarily saying that this is solely a plotty novel or that it should be. It is a novel that does offer an insight into childhood and does offer an insight into life in relatively recent history in Nigeria. For the most part, it avoids easy clichés and predictable stereotypes. The characters demonstrate rational behaviour (except the madman, naturally) and seem credible. Having said that, the mother is under-developed as a character, and with the exception of the oldest brother, Ikenna, the boys are hard to tell apart. The novel also avoids being preachy or wholesome; there is no moral at the end of the story and no cutesy folk wisdom.

It’s perhaps rather obvious to compare The Fishermen to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, particularly given Obioma’s heavy references to Achebe’s masterpiece seeming to invite the comparison. Sure, The Fishermen does show an overlay of a different value system on recognisable events. But unlike Things Fall Apart, the “purity” of the Igbo culture has long been diluted into a westernised culture, leaving the boys out of step with society as they address their problems by asking “what would Okonkwo do?”

My problem with the novel is one of pacing. There is a big thing that happens at the 50% mark, just like the “How To Write A Novel” textbook suggests. But, this big thing is not the natural half-way point; if anything, it is the catalyst from which the story follows. Thus, we have extensive backstory and meandering, seemingly just to fill pages until things can get interesting. There is repetition, waffle and padding. There are riots and political visits that add to the colour, but don’t add much to the story. It feels slow and whilst the writing is often good enough to dissuade the reader from putting the book down, it is not enough to persuade the reader to pick the book back up once it has been set down. The reward for sticking it out, though, is a pacey and exciting second half in which some (but not all) of the background gives the context.

Overall, it’s a novel that is good to have read, even if it didn’t always feel good during the reading.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 16, 2015 10:38 PM GMT

The Year of the Runaways
The Year of the Runaways
by Sunjeev Sahota
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dhal rotis and shalwar kameez, 9 Oct. 2015
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Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways is very topical, dealing with the lives of illegal and semi-legal migrants to the UK. But topicality does not guarantee that a novel is any good.

In this novel, Sahota introduces us to a number of Indian migrants who have ended up in Sheffield and London. Principally, we follow Randeep, Avtar and Tochi as they embark on a new life. Avtar is on a student visa but has no intention of studying; Tochi arrived hidden in a lorry, and Randeep has hit the jackpot with a marriage of convenience to Narinder, a British woman of Indian heritage. They struggle to find slave-labour work, they and their families are laden with debt, and generally life is a whole lot harder than they imagined.

On the positive side, Sahota gives a humanity to these hidden migrants. They are individuals rather than part of some generic swarm. We see their back stories in India; we see the impact of the caste system and how far it restricts social mobility – preventing movement upwards but also burdening high caste Indians with expectations they cannot always fulfil. We see the fine line between ambition to work, and the temptation (and even need) to lie, steal and cheat. We see the confusion that can arise from misunderstanding a strange culture and fear of exposing oneself by trying to resolve those misunderstandings.

But on a heavy negative side, we find a novel that is clumsily structured and whose execution does not match its ambition. Having established the cast in the opening pages, we find ourselves spending a good half of the novel back in India telling four separate back stories (those of our three heroes and Narinder). These are way too long, don’t have proper links to the main novel or to one another, and just sit like undigestable lumps. They break all sense of narrative drive and confuse as much as they illuminate. It makes the novel feel like a real slog, and when you get to 60% on your Kindle and you’re still dealing with the background, you wonder whether there is even going to be a foreground at all. It might have been preferable for the back stories to have been shorter and, perhaps, dripfed into the main narrative.

A further problem is that: the characters are insufficiently distinctive. They take it in turns to be the bad guy, the voice of reason, the desperate, and the pious. They don’t behave consistently from one scene to the next; they don’t seem to have much logic behind the decisions they take. There are also a slew of supporting characters, most of whom seem to be nothing more than their actions. If the story requires someone to be daring, a side character will pop up to be daring. If the story requires someone to know something, up will pop a character to know it. For a novel that tries to show migrants as individuals, it is a bit disappointing that they all seem so interchangeable.

If the men are indistinguishable, Narinder is simply not believable. She has an over-bearing father; an over-protective brother, yet she seems to traipse off to India at will, hanging around with whomever she pleases and engaging in a series of relationships in plain sight – yet her family never notices. The explanation for her offering herself as a bride of convenience is not plausible and her method of going about it seems to fly in the face of her supposed motivation. She zips between strength and victimhood; independence and beholdenness with dizzying speed.

A further irritation – and this is a common failing of Indian themed books (Amitav Ghosh comes to mind) – is the constant dropping of Indian words into the text. Not once or twice, but several times a paragraph. Perhaps this is intended to remind us that the characters may not be speaking in English, but it does render much of the descriptive narrative pointless. This might be compared with The Fishermen (also Booker shortlisted in 2015) where the few Nigerian words deemed necessary are translated or explained.

By the end, a sort of story has started to emerge. Even then, it is pretty loose, proceeds at glacial pace despite frenetic travel between various English cities. Multiple strands seem to fly off (in slow motion) but never land. This all leads up to an epilogue which, in too many pages, tells us that they all lived happily ever after – whilst not addressing the cliff-hangers at the end of the story proper. It’s deeply unsatisfying.

As in his previous novel: Ours Are The Streets, Sunjeev Sahota has taken an important and interesting subject matter but not quite made it work. This could have been insightful and moving. Instead it feels clunky and sterile.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 2, 2016 12:41 PM BST

The Illuminations
The Illuminations
by Andrew O'Hagan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars That's Entertainment, 6 Oct. 2015
This review is from: The Illuminations (Hardcover)
The Illuminations feels like two short novellas that have been interleaved, presumably in an effort to add bulk.

On the one hand, we have Anne, an elderly mother who is succumbing slowly to dementia. Her family knows that she had lived in the United States and England before settling down in Ayrshire, but as her recent memories fade, she exposes the hints of old secrets.

And on the other hand, there’s the story of Luke, a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, witnessing brutality and betrayal – then failing to adjust to life back home. Luke is Anne’s grandson.

Of the two stories, Anne’s is more intriguing, but perhaps promises more than it delivers. The denouement in Blackpool (hence The Illuminations) feels contrived and when the secrets are revealed, the biggest mystery is why they were ever secret to start with. Luke’s story is pretty standard Afghan fare that is doing the rounds at the moment; others have done it in more depth and, perhaps, with more credibility. The characters in Luke’s story seem a bit cartoonish; the events a bit too much like a reheating of news headlines. It may be readable (actually, it zips along), but it doesn’t seem to add much to the canon.

The real sticking point, though, is that the two stories never cohere into a whole; but neither do they offer any real counterpoint to one another. They are just two separate stories, with a familial relationship built in as a framing device to justify their inclusion within the same covers.

The end result is a short, readable novel but one which won’t offer much insight into the human condition; won’t wow anyone with its beauty; won’t impress anyone with its skill; and won’t provoke strong feeling towards its characters. Graham Greene divided his novels into “serious literature” and lighter “entertainments”. Were Andrew O’Hagan to do the same, I suspect The Illuminations would be in the entertainments category.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 5, 2015 9:33 AM GMT

Anil's Ghost
Anil's Ghost
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dem bones..., 5 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Anil's Ghost (Kindle Edition)
Anil is a forensic archaeologist, Sri Lankan by birth and returning to the nation of her birth as part of an international scheme of cooperation to investigate murders. She is assigned to work in partnership with Sarath, a local forensic archaeologist (I have waited all my life to meet one and then two come along at once!), presumably employed by the Sri Lankan Government.

Sarath has been assigned a number of skeletons to look at, found at an ancient burial site. Anil quickly determines that some of the skeletons are not ancient at all, and given the Government controls access to the burial site, is presumably responsible for putting the bodies there. Anil is determined to uncover the identity of one of the bodies…

Thus far, there have been a couple of imponderables. Firstly, why would Sarath have had the bodies in the first place. If the site was well known and preserved, there would be no reason to dig up bodies. And secondly, if Sarath had thought the bodies were ancient, why was he showing them to Anil whose sole remit is to investigate murders.

What follows starts to look like a real slice of Sri Lankan life. I had the good fortune to be in Sri Lanka whilst reading this, and some of the atmosphere – the rain, the arrack, the roads, the forest – all rang true. But after a while, it looks like a framing device for a series of anecdotes about instances of brutality and learning about ancient Sri Lankan culture. The plot, thin, though it was, just evaporates. Meanwhile, we get a breakneck tour of Sri Lankan place names (was there a single sizeable town that wasn’t mentioned?) but little sense of actual place. Anil and Sarath travel and set up operations in a variety of locations without any obvious difficulty, rope in assistants and leave muddy footprints everywhere. There is little logic to their actions; and their successes seem to be based on improbable flukes of circumstance.

There is little exploration if the nature of the conflict. There are, we are told, three groups – the Government, the opposition, and the Tamil separatists. However, we are not told about their respective positions, their territory, their identity. The war has no background, it is just a state of being. It seems to sweep up anybody and everybody. I can understand that Michael Ondaatje did not want to take sides and wanted to avoid a lengthy history lesson, but this just feels to far removed from any physical reality.

I had high hopes of the novel and there was some intrigue built into the opening chapters (including why the female protagonist had a male name). But by the end, I felt that I didn’t know much more about Sri Lanka and didn’t particularly believe in Anil or Sarath.

A Little Life
A Little Life
Price: £3.66

73 of 88 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb, 15 Sept. 2015
This review is from: A Little Life (Kindle Edition)
A Little Life is a novel that fails on so many levels.

By far its biggest failing is that it is so big. By my estimate, this is a novel that is somewhere between four and five times as long as the content justifies. It is, at heart, a very simple story of a man who was abused as a child, becomes successful as an adult, but is still haunted by the physical and psychological scars of childhood. Yet this very basic premise is played out over 726 huge, densely typeset pages. How is it done? Repetition. Indeed. We have the same events played out over and over again. Conversations happen over and over again, never getting anywhere. The character list is paraded endlessly – even though more than half of the characters have no actual speaking part and serve merely as decoration.

The next – and related – failing is that nothing actually happens. There is no development or progression. The characters at the start of the novel are still the same people at the end of the novel. They think the same things, do the same things, eat the same things. The only thing that seems to change is that their bank balances start to swell, because they are all so talented. Seriously, the generation’s greatest lawyer, greatest film star and greatest artist all lived together at university in the same house. With Malcolm, the wealthy but under-performing flatmate whose only purpose seems to be to provide the seed capital that allowed the others to become so self-actualised.

On a related theme to the characters staying the same, so too does the world. In the beginning, as Jude, our hero, is a small child, the world is accessible through computers. So much so that when he was running away with Brother Luke (a cheeky monk), Brother Luke always took his computer with him when he left Jude on his own in a motel room. Not that Jude would have known what to do with the computer anyway, having been denied any form of contact with modern technology at that point in his life. The point, though, is that this places Jude’s childhood firmly in a post 2000 world. By the end of the novel, some 40-50 years later (i.e. firmly in the future) the world looks just the same. Jude stores his important computer files on disks that he leaves in different buildings for safe keeping; he prints out important e-mails and worries that his mobile phone doesn’t have enough memory to store all the texts he gets. People still go into their offices to work long hours, sat at their computers, looking out over the city. They fly anywhere and everywhere for important client meetings, and spend their spare time eating in the same cafes and restaurants that they discovered half a century earlier.

Some of the story lines are simply not credible. The idea that a man as broken as Jude could get into a top college, make friends with the idle rich, get genius marks in multiple subjects, and get headhunted by the top law firm whilst working as a state attorney is difficult to believe. That he could do so, and succeed in this cut-throat corporate environment whilst taking such extensive and unscheduled leave for his health issues is just not feasible. The idea that [spoiler alert], Brother Luke could drift from state to state, immediately finding literally thousands of men who were willing to buy sex with an eleven year old is, again, not feasible. And for Brother Luke to have such remarkable teaching gifts that he is able to prepare Luke for college, even though Jude will spend subsequent years in a children’s home and drifting homeless…

The most incredible facet to the novel, though, is that Jude is able to attract and retain the friendship of so many internationally successful people despite being an unreliable, unforthcoming, self-pitying, attention-seeking whinger. I mean, really, [another spoiler alert], is the world’s most famous actor who has never been with a man before really going to turn gay for him? Is that film star really going to be at Jude’s beck and call, leaving film sets to travel around the world to help Jude up the stairs or help him recover from the latest episode of self-harm?

Most of the characterisation is absent. The supporting cast (at least those who say and do things) are cardboard cut outs. Only Jude is allowed an independent character, and it is not convincing. He is intentionally ambiguous, a foundling baby of unknown birth date, unknown mixed race parentage, with no name and nobody to remember his unhappy childhood. For all this intentional ambiguity, the biggest one is probably unintentional – his gender. Jude’s name (especially when abbreviated to Judy) is likely to be mistaken for female. His sexuality is ambiguous too. However, he is definitely supposed to be male. Yet his internal monologue, his whole style and demeanour is feminine. His relationships do not sound gay, they sound straight with Jude in the female role. I am sure this is not meant and it detracts greatly from his credibility. The reader thinks that it must be Hanya Yanagihara’s voice, not Jude’s.

There are moments when the novel brings some interest. In particular, the drip feeding of Jude’s back story is well handled and some of the writing about physical harm is compelling. That is, it is compelling the first time. But with each subsequent telling, the power diminishes. Once the entire back story is out in the open, there is not much left to tell, despite two hundred pages remaining. For a brief, oh so brief, while at the beginning, there is enough in the book to cheat the reader into expecting something great. That greatness never happens; the promise is left unfulfilled.

This is a harsh review, but I feel that a writer who feels able to stake such a large claim on my time really needs to have something pretty special to justify that claim. This isn’t even close.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2016 11:51 PM BST

The Devil I Know
The Devil I Know
Price: £5.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Once upon a time in the land of the Sidhe..., 14 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Devil I Know (Kindle Edition)
Ireland is a land of tradition and folklore. On the one hand, it is the land of the Sidhe, the fairies who wreak evil mischief on people. On the other, it is a nation that strove for independence, and since 1916 has striven for prosperity against all the odds. And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it really looked as though Ireland had found the magic formula for wealth. Based on very low rates of corporation tax, the Government encouraged huge inward investment, particularly in the IT and pharmaceutical sectors. This investment created income, which was poured into a property boom which appeared to generate instant rewards as investors bought off plan and flipped their properties on completion for instant profit. The more properties you bought, the more profit you made... until the Celtic Tiger lots its roar.

The Devil I Know is a wonderful story of just how the crash happened. The reader is given a spectator's seat for ten days of an Inquiry, coinciding with the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, unpicking events that seem to have brought Ireland to its knees. In the witness box we find Tristram St Lawrence, Earl of Howth, a character borrowed from Finnegan's Wake explaining how he came to return to Ireland, quite by accident, and set up in partnership with a shady builder by the name of Dessie Hickey on some of the most ambitious property speculation in an Ireland on the move.

Tristram, it becomes clear, was just caught up in it by accident. He was only following orders from his personal mentor, M. Deauville. He hadn't wanted to get involved, but doesn't deny that he welcomed the payoffs as he tried to save the family castle from its slow crumble back into Howth Bay. Looking back, he is almost surprised at himself, as though watching someone completely different participating in the deals, bribing ministers, sweet-talking bankers. The developments become ever bigger, from a marina development in Howth (almost Malahide), through to speculation in London, Shanghai, and running up to the creation of whole new suburbs in north County Dublin bogland. The voracious appetite is there to be seen. The poor taste spoils of victory - ranch style bungalows, luxury pick up trucks with cream leather upholstery, perma-tanned Eastern European wives are so accurate.

There was a real belief in Ireland at the time that anything was possible; that Ireland had finally claimed its right, in the words of General Collins, to a place at the table of nations. It was as though there had been some magic catalyst that had unlocked the potential for unlimited wealth and Ireland was going to blaze the trail that others would follow. But it was all built on debt. In The Devil I Know, Tristram becomes increasingly uneasy at the debt fuelled growth whilst Dessie just wants to make hay whilst the sun shines. And the contrast between the two men works well. Tristram is educated, suave, sober. He has sophisticated tastes and exquisite manners. Dessie, however, is uneducated, unsophisticated, drunken and vulgar. But both have been thrown together by unseen forces.

As things unravel, the tone becomes increasingly bacchanalian and surreal. We start to see the revenge of the Sidhe as it becomes clear that man has over-reached his ambitions. We see that residences with no residents are quite worthless; just a rearrangement of stones; just swirls on the surface. Ireland is its history, not its assets.

The style of narration is that of question and response - similar to that used by Joyce in part of Ulysses. This creates a sense of immediacy and direction. The interrogator, Fergus, works as counsel for the Inquiry but also works well as a proxy for the reader. And the juxtaposition of very short questions and mostly expansive answers creates a sense of gameplay between the reader and the narrator in a very effective way. We follow the story as it unfolds in a conventional time sequence, but keep being brought back to the present day (future, actually) and the consequences of what we are seeing. And the occasional use of very short responses adds to the dramatic effect. Tristram seems to strive for accuracy and honesty in his responses; he is at pains not to be hiding things. Yet there is a constant feeling of subtexts and undercurrents. It is tense and atmospheric. Moreover, for a story whose ending we know from our news reports, there is a genuine suspense for how the characters will respond to that ending.

It is also worth commenting on the presentation. The Devil I Know is a beautiful book - a whimsical cover, a nursery rhyme on the back, and laid out in an extravagant style with plenty of white space. It is a joy to hold.

Claire Kilroy is one of the most interesting writers in Ireland right now. This is an accomplished work that operates on many levels; drips with history, style and reference; yet is accessible and immediate. It is also historically important. As the people of Ireland pay the debts for the rest of their lives, this Faustian tale will tell them how it came to pass.

Tessa Kiros: The Recipe Collection
Tessa Kiros: The Recipe Collection
by Tessa Kiros
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your mouth will love you for the rest of your life, 13 Sept. 2015
I hadn't come across Tessa Kiros before, but saw the hardback copy of this collection, leafed through it and fell in love instantly. Very specifically, I fell in love with the pasta with sardines and fennel. I had to buy it.

So, within 24 hours, I was filleting sardines and looking forward to a Greek salad that looked lie the ones we had in Greece. And today, the day after, we tucked in to Cypriot baked lamb and potato (tava). All three recipes worked; all three had the most wonderful balance and intensity of flavour. Looking at the book, none of the recipes is terribly complex (although filleting sardines takes a bit of practice) and the ingredients are pretty straightforward. In some cases, the preparation is simply cutting things up and mixing them together. But the trick is knowing what to mix up and in what quantity. The Greek salad, for example, was a million miles from the stuff in the supermarkets - thanks to the herbs and dressing.

People judge cookery books on the photos and presentation. Yes, this ticks the boxes although more ribbons would be helpful for preparing multiple things simultaneously. But the real test of a recipe book is whether you actually use it. This one is a hit with everyone so far, and I am sure I will use it for multiple things with the confidence that they will work - whether for breads, salads, soups, meat or cakes. Expect updates...

Sleeping on Jupiter
Sleeping on Jupiter
Price: £3.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Extremely neutral, 8 Sept. 2015
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Sleeping On Jupiter is extremely neutral. Yes, really. Some of the writing is good, the characters are clear cut, but overall it is very, very meh.

Part of the shortcoming is that the novel features three stories all set in the coastal town of Jarmuli. One is the story of Nomi, an Indian refugee returning on a filming mission to the scene of some atrocities she experienced in childhood. The second is the story of Gouri, Latika and Vidya, three older women on holiday and trying to cope with Gouri’s dementia. The third is the story of some of the beach boys who sell tea and guided tours to the visitors. The three stories all touch on one another, but the linkages manage to be both insufficiently substantial and overly coincidental to make for a single story. Sometimes three stories can nevertheless rub along, perhaps through creating the location as the star of the story, but this never quite happens. Instead, the reader tries to fill in gaps and spot linkages whilst not appreciating the stories that actually are on the page.

Some commentators have said that Anuradha Roy has created a good sense of place. I tend not to agree. Although some of the individual details are right – the interior of the Indian Railways carriage; the tea cart on the beach, overall Jarmuli doesn’t feel right. It feels too small, too empty. There are no characters other than those named in the text – no background crowds or incidental people. There seems to be no employment, no industry, no hinterland. Just a temple, a couple of hotels, and a very unspecific place where children were detained many years ago. The ages also don’t seem to tie up. Nomi is supposed to be a young woman – almost of backpacker age – yet she treats the land she left at the age of 12 as though it was some vague memory from early childhood. She is supposed to be the contemporary of one of the beach boys, yet the elderly women are supposed to be just one generation above the beach boys. It doesn’t quite add up.

Sleeping On Jupiter is not a terribly demanding read. It does have some scenes of brutality and unhappiness, but they do not dominate the story. Mostly it is a novel about a beach holiday, suitable for reading on a beach holiday. And like that beach holiday, it slips away quite quickly without leaving much lasting impression. That such an ordinary novel is long-listed for the 2015 Booker Prize, and that it sits somewhere in the middle of my 2015 Booker reads, really speaks volumes for the poor selection made by this year’s Booker judges.
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