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Sam Allenby (Toulouse, France)
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Alone in Berlin (Penguin Modern Classics)
Alone in Berlin (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Geoff Wilkes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Best left Alone in Berlin, 17 Sep 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book has been hailed a minor classic, rather like Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise. While it was interesting to hear how dreary Berlin was in the 1940s, after a while it became a rather intolerable read. Eventually I gave up the struggle, and the relief was as palpable as it must have been in 1945 when Victory in Europe was declared.


Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
by Geoff Dyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.11

4.0 out of 5 stars half good, 29 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I loved the first half of this book, when Jeff the freelance writer is stumbling around Venice trying to get laid. Who's your favourite artist? they all chortled. "Bellini" of course, raising their drinks. Sexy, funny and surprising, it is hard to see what was the point of then sending the narrator - or perhaps it's somebody else, but if so, why bother? - to Varanasi where he goes mad.


The Queen of Whale Cay
The Queen of Whale Cay
by Kate Summerscale
Edition: Paperback

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a whale of a time, 29 Jan 2010
This review is from: The Queen of Whale Cay (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The premise of this is good: super-rich woman leads life of strange excess racing speedboats and seducing women. I'm not sure why I did not find it more diverting. Maybe it is because the subject was just so unpleasant. Half way through I lost interest in her, her boats and her lovers.


Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine: 100 wines for the discerning drinker
Life's Too Short to Drink Bad Wine: 100 wines for the discerning drinker
by Simon Hoggart
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Worth uncorking, 29 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Mr Hoggart is a jovial sort of writer and his taste in wine is sufficently sound to be worth considering, if a little boring. The premise though is excellent: it doesn't take much to consider what you are drinking, but too few people stop to even smell the bouquet. Wine drinking is much more fun if, like Ferdinand, one stops every know and then to smell the flowers. There are some good suggestions in this book too. Definitely better than the average plonk, or the tedious and conceited Jancis Robinson.


Stuff White People Like
Stuff White People Like
by Christian Lander
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff, 29 Jan 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Witty and sly, this is a good take on life and the ideal gift for somebody you don't know that well - whether they are black or white. Many of the observations such as "People who threaten to move to Canada" or "why white men wear glasses" are both funny, but also true. It is scary when you realise that you are a walking caricature.


How Fiction Works
How Fiction Works
by James Wood
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Our Strangest Critic, 25 Feb 2008
This review is from: How Fiction Works (Hardcover)
This book comes with a quote from the New York Review of Books on the cover that describes Wood as 'the strongest...literary critic we have'. The missing words are 'and strangest'. I wonder why they chose to omit those words? And what does it mean to be a strong literary critic? That you can read War and Peace while holding it between your thumb and little finger? Having said that, this a gem of a book, although perhaps it should be called How to Read rather than How Fiction Works because there is very little examination of either characterisation or narrative. Instead there are many examples from writers such as Henry James, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Henry Green with critiques so perceptive that you feel inspired to return to their works. Wood's taste is at once austere and baroque: he wants the novel to do good, but to be stylish and new at the same time. And at least he doesn't recommend the work of Lawrence Durrell!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 3, 2010 3:07 PM BST


The Savage Detectives
The Savage Detectives
by Roberto Bolano
Edition: Hardcover

41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're all Visceral Realists now, 22 Oct 2007
This review is from: The Savage Detectives (Hardcover)
Somebody had to break the strangle-hold that Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz and their imitators such as the dreary Isabelle Allende had on South American literature. Bolano succeeds brilliantly in a rough, bleak, funny and sexy picaresque tale of two poets, Ulisses Lima and Arturo Belano, and their lives in Mexico City in the 1970s and subsequent travels in Europe and Africa. The structure of the book is interesting: it begins with an account by a 17-year-old wannabe poet and his encounter with the rest of the gang. They end up fleeing Mexico City on New Year's Eve 1975 in a borrowed car. The main section consists of a series of interviews with people who encountered the two poets between then and 1996. The final part is an account of what happened on that road trip as they try to find Cesarea, a female poet, whose only known work is one short poem.
The bad news is that Bolano died in Blanes a couple of years ago, aged only 50. The good news is that there is quite a lot of his other stories, either translated or in translation.
Death to Magical Realism! We're all Visceral Realists now!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2009 7:23 AM GMT


Notes From the Languedoc
Notes From the Languedoc
by Rupert Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.09

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best on the Languedoc, 6 Jun 2007
Of the books purporting to uncover the hidden or secret Languedoc, this was one of the first to appear and is unquestionably the best. Beautifully written, this is an intelligent and original tour of the Languedoc, covering its chequered history with the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, the wine riots in 1907, the landscape, the building of the Canal du Midi, together with up to date meetings with people such as Georges Freche, mayor of Montpellier, who is responsible for changing the city from a sleepy wine town to a serious player on the Mediterranean coast. It is also very funny in parts. Not everybody will get its subtlety or intelligence - but then not everybody gets the Languedoc, preferring the more obvious charms of Provence and its chroniclers such as Peter Mayle.

My only criticism would be the quality of the Ebury edition. If you can, try to get hold of the original limited edition which was published in France. It comes with nice line drawings by Peter Glynn-Smith.


How Low Can You Go? Round Europe for 1p Return (+ Tax)
How Low Can You Go? Round Europe for 1p Return (+ Tax)
by Tom Chesshyre
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars heart of darkness, 6 Jun 2007
Bad journeys often make for good reading: think of Apsley Cherry-Garrard's The Worst Journey in the World or Peter Fleming's News from Tartary. Chesshyre's travels round the unpronounceable parts of central and eastern Europe is a classic in the same vein. With good humour but without slapstick, and in a measured but thoughtful way, he contrasts the places and people who live in places such as Brno, Sczecin, Tallinn and Ljubljana. In most places the beer is good, the food is awful and the people struggling to adjust to a new way of life after the raising of the Iron Curtain. For many, this means coming to work in Britain, and they use Ryanair or easyjet for the commute. In return, we send them property speculators - the pair of welsh women he encounters in Bulgaria are particularly ghastly - and stag weekenders, looking for beer, girls, guns and food. I enjoyed the encounter with easyjet's Stelios, who is partly responsible for the whole revolution and share Chesshyre's shock that Stelios has been to few of these places, preferring to visit Greece and Monaco.

Any fool can paddle along an African river and try to make it sound exciting. Chesshyre takes us to the very heart of darkness, which turns out to be on our doorstep, starting with Stansted. And his account - and delight - in eating a horse burger in Ljubljana "a hot horse monster" is worth the price of the book alone. It turns out Chesshyre is a punter and is often disappointed on Boxing Day when his punt falls at the final hurdle at Kempton Park. As he chomps through the horse burger he reflects: "Here's to all you final hurdle flops! If only you could see me now!"


A Piano in the Pyrenees: The Ups and Downs of an Englishman in the French Mountains
A Piano in the Pyrenees: The Ups and Downs of an Englishman in the French Mountains
by Tony Hawks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.92

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Predicatable and trite, 6 Jun 2006
If you think farting is funny, then this book is for you. If you have never been to France, or read a book about it, then perhaps you might also enjoy it. The problem is though, that books about moving to France and laughing at the French are not new, and many people have done it well. Hawks probably hasn't bothered reading any of them. He writes as if he is the first person to deal with notaires, he has problems with the language. He feels he is swindled on the commission. Then he goes to meet some English people. On their gate-post is a sign saying Gites de France. "I amused myself with the idea that Malcolm and Anne were advertising themselves as `French gits'". Oh dear.

Then of course the piano kicks in. Somehow, one knew it would. Pianos have been comic props since the days of Laurel and Hardy. Hawks, it seems, will travel anywhere, as long as it's with an immovable object.

So he buys a van. It breaks down. Then he hires another van and drives to France. Once in France, he gets up to all the usual things that people in France do: go to village lunches, share in rural rituals, deal with French bureaucracy. He builds a swimming pool and there's even a love interest. All of this is told in quite an amusing way, but the problem is, it's not that interesting.


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