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Mike Collins

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A Little History of Philosophy
A Little History of Philosophy
by Nigel Warburton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Think About It, 3 Mar. 2016
This may be an excellent book for "an inquisitive teenager", as one reviewer here puts it, but it's also pretty handy for a sixty-something who always got stuck when reading the original texts of the great thinkers it discusses. Abandoned copies of Kant, Sartre and Wittgenstein littered my youth and I would never have even considered reading them if this nifty little volume had been around at the time. Warburton reassures me greatly when he states that Martin Heidegger, for example, is incomprehensible to laypeople because at least it wasn't just me being thick when I gave up, baffled, on page six. There are nice little pen portraits of the sages too and the image of Immanuel Kant setting off on his daily walk up and down his street eight times at four-thirty is a reminder of just how dotty philosophers can be, though he was so punctual his neighbours set their watches by him. I also like the fact he smoked a pipe, never married, and lived to 80 at a time when most didn't even reach half that age. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, therefore I am. You will, and are, too.


Free Fall: With an introduction by John Gray
Free Fall: With an introduction by John Gray
by William Golding
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Art Of The Matter, 14 Feb. 2016
This stunning novel could have been called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but I think someone had already nabbed that title, though this cleverly elusive one does just as well. Protagonist Sammy Mountjoy, a famous painter, is born a bastard (in more ways than one) in a slum area - Rotten Row - of a Kent town where he lives with his slatternly but good-hearted mum. We witness scenes from Sammy's childhood, vividly engraved on his adult memory (a disturbed little girl wetting herself, for example, just as one does at the end) and, as ever with WG and children, these are superbly rendered. We follow his progress in a non-linear way to young adulthood and a shabby betrayal, the possible consequences of which are detailed in the final chapter. In all of this Sammy wants to learn when he "lost his freedom", which he did literally at one point when imprisoned by the Germans during the war, a sweatily nightmarish scene of a man forced to torture himself with inescapable truths. Emotional torture is a big part of the book, witness RE teacher's Miss Pringle's humiliation of Sammy in a scene that surely inspired Dennis Potter to replicate it in The Singing Detective, and the prevailing hue is grey (days are mostly grey here), ironically apt for a man who presumably uses colour to express himself but exists in a fog of moral ambivalence. All of this sounds miserable - "Happiness isn't your business, Sammy" - and indeed it is not a happy tale, though it has some brilliantly comic moments. What it is, however, is a work of the highest artistic integrity and skill, one of those rare books with the power to transform the receptive reader. In short, it is a classic.


The Secret of Evil
The Secret of Evil
by Roberto Bolaño
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Let Him Tell You A Secret, 12 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Secret of Evil (Hardcover)
These pieces are essentially fragments found on RB's computer after he died and it says something for his prowess as a writer that they are often as powerful as many another author's completed work. There's marvellous stuff about everyday life, critical stuff about Latin American writers (of limited interest to many in the UK, I suspect), a fervid description of a madcap zombie film RB watched on TV, and a brilliant opening to a John le Carre or Graham Greene-type mystery in the title story. One common thread in RB's work is the lack of surprise about anything and it's here too - "I gave up heroin and went home and began the methadone treatment administered at the outpatient clinic..." - this as if he's describing his weekly shopping trip. Chris Andrews and Natasha Wimmer did the translation honours, and blessings and boons on them for doing so. If you want to start reading RB then go for The Skating Rink or the short-story collection Last Evenings On Earth; if you already enjoy him then this collection affords valuable insight into how he wove his unique magic.


At Last (The Patrick Melrose Novels)
At Last (The Patrick Melrose Novels)
by Edward St Aubyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Clever Edward, 7 Feb. 2016
The problem here is that the writing is too perfect, too polished (good upper class word that) and too concerned with not letting a single nuance of the author's tediously contrived extended metaphors go. As a celebration of escape from the perfidies of an abused childhood it is distant and disengaging (much like members of the social class it depicts), and as a piece of writing it glorifies cleverness, despite the protagonist's warning of such a condition: "He (Patrick Melrose) felt the presence of a new vitality that could be easily nullified by habit, including the habit of seeming to be clever." Not long after this prescription, Wittgenstein and Wallace Stevens (normally a cause for celebration in this laager) are casually dropped into the text, just to underline the point, dont'cha know. I mean is this any good? "Nevertheless, even if Utilitarian arithmetic, based on the notion of an unobtainable impartiality... qua qua, honk, honk, etc". The professional critics drool all over the covers here - "miraculously wrought piece of art" (huh?) - but even the actual writing is suspect so you wonder who goes to whose dinner parties in which street near Regents Park. "Patrick stepped into the pallid light, relieved that his mother's funeral was over..." Since we've just had interminable maundering on that very funeral, including cheap shots at vulnerable people, surely "relieved that the funeral was over" would be miles better. But there you go; money talks, trauma is resolved at the Priory, and funereal occasions are held in Onslow Square (pronounced Squah). All a great shame.


Monsignor Quixote (Vintage Classics)
Monsignor Quixote (Vintage Classics)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Good Friends, 4 Feb. 2016
GG sometimes lays on the Catholic angst too thickly for my taste - The Heart of the Matter and The Power and the Glory are examples - spoiling intriguing stories with protracted and often miserable musings on the fickle nature of faith and states of sin. Here in this marvellous book, on the other hand, the reader is given plenty of neat RC theology as it differs from and coincides with Communism, a vision of heaven on earth as opposed to beyond the grave, but it reads a lot more easily because of the brilliantly drawn friendship between the two protagonists. I have read the original DQ and didn't much like it but this update is a peach, the newly promoted Monsignor and the Mayor travelling across Spain in a battered old car (Rocinante) and having plenty of adventures (and cheese and manchega wine) along the way, pursued by the nefarious forces of Good. I won't reprise the plot but the chapter where our chums visit a cinema to watch a film attractive to the Monsignor because it is called A Maiden's Prayer is hilarious as the opus in question turns out to be something far from Dei. The ending is affecting because precisely because GG has made the friendship so believable and, though I normally dislike criticism which talks about art showing us "what it is like to be human", this book certainly does so in a manner that educates and amuses equally. Marvellous.


Scoop
Scoop
by Evelyn Waugh
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hack Trouble, 28 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Scoop (Mass Market Paperback)
Newspaper journalists often get stick from Joe Public and when you look at some of the dubious practices they've resorted to in recent times it's hardly surprising. In the era this novel is set there was also the rampant drinking culture to consider - Fleet Street pubs packed from morning to night with a motley collection of reeling drunks and ne'r-do-wells in trilby hats - though readers can rest assured that on that score at least these days mineral water and wholegrain lunches, and puritanical flexing and stretching in city gyms, are more the order of the day. But if workplace habits have changed, the driving force behind the business certainly hasn't - getting stories, the more "exclusive" the better, because we all love a good story. EW's hilarious tale shows the lengths to which reporters will go to get them and how even complete rubbish will do the trick, if it's what people want to read. All the types are here - the monstrous proprietor Lord Copper, never happier than when he's boring people to death with glib speeches; the put-upon, countryside-hating Foreign Editor who really wants to be in charge of Competitions; and fey hero, bucolic ingenue William Boot, despatched to Africa in error and becoming a journalistic legend by complete accident. Throw in a cast of other reprobates - corrupt but clever African politicians, back-stabbing press agency men, a mercenary German fraulein (we think), and a swivel-eyed Swede who goes absolutely nuts after drinking 60% alcohol - and you end up with a comic masterpiece that will make you laugh out loud. Brilliant.


No Title Available

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Be The Verse, 22 Jan. 2016
PL's major triumph was that he brought clarity to a form George Orwell, in his 1943 essay Poetry and the Microphone, characterised as "something intelligible only to a minority, encouraging obscurity and 'cleverness'," a charge I would still level at poetry today, with a few honourable exceptions such as the brilliant Don Paterson. American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), for example, has spawned a society of admirers that only rarely discusses its man's work in something only distantly resembling clear English. There are also plenty of niche journals where academics who may have chosen useful careers prefer instead to obfuscate and complicate anything in verse - look at the oceans of bilge spewed out about Shakespeare. However, PL writes about the basic things of our lives - transience, regret, death and the sheer awkwardness of existence - with vivid economy, fulfilling WH Auden's criterion of poetry being "memorable speech". He's also brilliant at evoking England - try 'Here' to get the full effect of that - and is not afraid to be unflinchingly honest where others may fear to tread - 'The Old Fools', for example, a furiously despairing blast at the dismal and terrifying process of getting old. So, was he any good? I'd say that he was the best English poet of the 20th century by a mile and this edition is one of its best books. Not bad then.


Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics)
Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Eric Ambler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Spies On Me, 14 Jan. 2016
EA knocked out five superb thrillers just before the war and this is one of my favourites. Its trademark hapless hero, Joseph Vadassy, is traduced by the French police and intelligence services into 'investigating' incriminating photos of sea defences that have mysteriously appeared on a roll of film on what he thinks is his camera. The fun resides in JV's ham-fisted unpicking of the dodgy characters staying with him at a sleepy hotel on a quiet stretch of the Riviera, trying to find the real spy before he's for the high jump. EA's descriptions of this Mediterranean idyll shimmer and dazzle like the coastal landscape, and he conjures the spiced air and summer heat perfectly, a satisfying backdrop to a cast straight out of an Agatha Christie yarn. The ending is breathless and exciting, the epitaph for this particular spy a damning one that roots at least some of the story in tawdry reality. There's also a scene of a couple taking a selfie - the first in English fiction? Ambler's five 1930s' thrillers are all winners; buy right here, right now.


Uncommon Danger (Penguin Modern Classics)
Uncommon Danger (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Eric Ambler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Danger To Himself, 7 Jan. 2016
Journalists are reputed to have interesting lives but our hero Kenton (his Christian name is mentioned only once; see if you can spot it) takes the biscuit as a hitherto unexceptional political reporter's CV suddenly includes finding a murdered man (stabbed by a Spanish assassin) in an hotel bedroom; taking on a diabolical Continental villain and his psychopathic English henchman, who more than once have the chance to shut him up; being locked into a factory's airtight vulcanising chamber with a Soviet agent who becomes a sort of a pal; and participating in a frantic car chase - the driver a Russian uber-babe - for the German border which culminates in a climactic shoot-out and an act of scarcely plausible clemency. Isn't this all a bit much? Of course it is, but EA presses the narrative accelerator at the right moments, shifting gears with commendable ease, and even gives us one of his trademark soliloquies from a cameo character - the outburst of commercial traveller Mr Hodgkin on the iniquities of your average Continental in the 1930s. So what's all this hokum really about? It's about this: "The Big Business Man was only one player in the game of international politics, but he was the player who made all the rules." How true that is and, for all the rollicking entertainment here, EA never lets us forget the utterly serious nature of his underlying message. You also get a superb essay on EA, his life and times, from editor Thomas Jones. Don't delay, discover Ambler today.


The Great Winglebury Duel (Penguin Little Black Classics)
The Great Winglebury Duel (Penguin Little Black Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £0.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Duel Carriageway, 27 Dec. 2015
I read the two short stories here at the same time as trying to plough through Peter Carey's overlong and tedious True History of the Kelly Gang and needless to say there is a thousand times more in these few pages than in the Australian's endlessly clunking exposition. The title tale is a concisely plotted comedy of misidentity, the second a look at the English on a day out on the Thames - The Steam Excursion - a comic Heart of Darkness. Absurdity survives the passing of generations intact judging by the all too recognisable shenanigans described here and, as the river gets choppier in a breaking storm, the humour broadens, with CD's withering gaze sparing no one as social order disintegrates. So how good is the writing? Mr Percy Noakes 'inhabits chambers with an extensive view of the gardens, and their usual adjuncts - flaunting nursery maids, and town-made children, with paranthetical legs.' That'll do me. Brilliant.


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