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WillDavies "WillDavies" (England)

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Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling, 2 Aug 2012
This review is from: Never Let Me Go (Paperback)
I adored it, but was left perplexed by two things. The first was Ishiguro's urge to insert a chapter 'explaining' things, which just seemed mistaken - much better to let it all hang by itself. The second is the inclination people seem to show to explain it as being about politics, or technology or history or somesuch, which all seems the hangover of having been taught to read books in order to write essays for english lit classes. This beautiful book didn't seem to me to be about cloning or the Nazis or anything remotely similar, merely to be a way of looking at (and being frightened by) death. Utterly memorable and brilliant written, it sweeps you along powerfully and stays with you - but it's also something you don't have to accept as the only way of looking at the world. It isn't necessary to approach death by lying on your back in a field and kicking your limbs about in a tantrum. Not Ishiguro ever says that; as with his other writing, it's so genuinely imaginative that it can't be translated into any final message.

Odd that he seems to take run-ups at his great books. Remains of the Day came off the back of prior semi-successful attempts; this seems to have the same relationship with Unconsoled, etc. But what a brilliant writer.


The Hours
The Hours
by Michael Cunningham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Clever and arid, 8 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Hours (Paperback)
All very impressive - different strands, literary allusions and all the other paraphernalia of a modern literary novel - but it reads as though more designed to be admired and studied than to be read and enjoyed. One of many books that seems written by someone who has spent too long in academic departments of English literature, and written chiefly to be read by others within academic departments of English literature. All body and no soul. A reminder of how much more technically proficient so many modern writers are than those who went before them, and yet how little pleasure is usually to be had from reading a contemporary novel in place of a classic.


The Painted Veil (Vintage Classics)
The Painted Veil (Vintage Classics)
by W Somerset Maugham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking and entirely unexpected, 25 May 2012
I agree with the reviewer who commented that it starts badly, but only later do you realise how thoroughly deliberate that is. I disagree completely with the other who suggests that you read on because Kitty is a likeable character. She's not, nor is she meant to be. She's thoroughly pitiful, and the point of the book is the utterly gripping and unexpected way in which she changes - all without an easy resolution of problems (marital love and fidelity) that a lesser author would have slickly provided.

Quite breathtaking, both to read to and to consider once you close the pages. "Haunting" is a much over-used description of a fine book, and I'm hackneying it a little further by applying it here - but it seems such an appropriate word all the same.

Of all the books that have been a scandal and a success when first published, it's the first time I've read one that remains supremely shocking today. Brief, beautiful, memorable and utterly brilliant.


The Dig
The Dig
by John Preston
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but falls short of being great, 27 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Dig (Paperback)
Immediately evocative and inviting when you start it, the book doesn't quite follow through on its promise. Switching between characters feels more clever than it is effective, and the early intoxication of the writing fades out a little bit. Still very much worth reading and, given its size, not in the least a struggle to get through. But just falls short of being something one would wish to re-read in future years.


Adventures in Contentment
Adventures in Contentment
by David Grayson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, charming ...and encouraging, 22 Mar 2012
Is there any more delightful book that hasn't remained properly in print? For a joyfully happy read - no sticky sentimentality, just an inclination to be optimistic about life - you can't do better. A beautifully judged title and a beautifully judged tone throughout. Sort of like reading a more cheerful and less pompous version of Emerson or Thoreau. Worth a few moments of browsing; they'll turn into something more serious and satisfying. Here's a taste:

"After my experience in the country, if I were to be cross-examined as to the requisites of a farm, I should say that the chief thing to be desired in any sort of agriculture, is good health in the farmer. What, after all, can
touch that! How many of our joys that we think intellectual are purely physical! This joy o' the morning that the poet carols about so cheerfully, is often nothing more than the exuberance produced by a good hot breakfast. Going out of my kitchen door some mornings and standing for a moment, while I survey the green and spreading fields of my farm, it seems to me truly as if all nature were making a bow to me. It seems to me that there never was a better cow than mine, never a more really perfect horse, and as for pigs, could any in this world herald my approach with more cheerful gruntings and squealings!"


Don't Sweat the Aubergine: What works in the kitchen and why
Don't Sweat the Aubergine: What works in the kitchen and why
by Nicholas Clee
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good book, not brilliantly organised, 2 Mar 2012
I feel a little mean with my three stars here - I'd certainly give the book four for what's actually in here. Nigel Slater's cover quote is bang on - the books is intelligent, thoughtful and fascinating. The trouble is, it's also pretty badly laid out. The amount of cross-referencing required to work your way through it is significant. I'd still thoroughly recommend getting hold of a copy, but it's frustrating all the same and certainly limits my enjoyment and use of it.


Raymond Blanc: Recipes From Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons
Raymond Blanc: Recipes From Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons
by Raymond Blanc
Edition: Paperback
Price: 22.75

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delightfully complex, 2 Mar 2012
A negative review of this book makes the absolutely accurate point that the recipes are often exceedingly complex. So they should be. Raymond Blanc has written other cookbooks aimed at a simpler style, this is explicitly there to offer you some 2-star level dishes from Le Manoir. I loved it, both the challenge and the results. I came to it very early on in my cooking career, without a knowledge of how to make even very basic dishes, and found what it expected staggering. I also found that Blanc laid down the methods very clearly, and that it merely required hard work and time to make food that I had never before dreamed of doing.

The experience really was eye opening, and I recall thinking that I after a lifetime of eating in black-and-white, this was how to eat in colour. I've remained fond of the book ever since. Much recommended, but not if you want ten-minute suppers.


Physiology of Taste
Physiology of Taste
by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.52

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic & deservedly so, 28 Feb 2012
This review is from: Physiology of Taste (Hardcover)
For most of its history this book has been such a classic that praising it was to engage in cliché. Perhaps in certain circles it still has that status, but for me it was an accidental and a happy discovery. Neither a science book, as the title might imply, nor a cookery book, it's more a rambling collection of thoughts on food, life, love and being human. It's rambling, however, not in the sense of being aimless and slow but in that of delightfully straying down wonderful sidetracks. From the costly treasures and wild beasts of the New World - which, in both cases, turn out to be turkey - to the dishes (calibrated by social class and depth of pocket) which you can place in front of a man to see if his pleasure in them marks him out as a well-developed gourmand, the whole book is a joy. The different pace and perspective of life is jarring at first, but within a few pages it becomes part of the savour. This is food and drink seen in an entirely novel way - novel at the time, to those who first read it, even more novel to us when faced with Brillat-Savarin's brilliantly anachronistic mode of thought. Strange, but highly recommended.


Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside
by Katrina S Firlik
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreary & thoughtless egotism, 28 Feb 2012
Fatuous, self-serving and thoughtless. If you want to see how possible it is to be a - presumably excellent - neurosurgeon, while simultaneously achieving no insight into your job, your place in society or your own capacities, then it's a terrifically rewarding read. Otherwise avoid it. If you want to read about what it's like being a (thoughtful) surgeon, go for Atul Gawande instead - Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance or Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science.


Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man
Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man
by Oliver August
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific views of China, 8 Feb 2012
What makes this book worth reading is that it doesn't present a series of opinions about living in China and writing about it, instead it offers something far more satisfying, namely a coherent view of the place. August is a superb travelling companion, and the fact he spends so much time in one place, and pursuing one quest, means there's more to the book than if he were flitting around from location to location. Rather than trying to come up with endlessly clever things to say about airports, bus stations and city squares he gives you the feeling of coming up close with modern Chinese culture. He's sympathetic and critical, but what the book doesn't quite do is be open and honest about what the hell he's up to during the time it covers. The sense of personal dislocation and loneliness is never explored, and other than a couple of references to a nameless girlfriend (absent, for unexplained reasons), the way in which August's full life fits with the travels he tells about isn't made clear.

Four stars is too generous - I'd have gone for 3.5 if that distinction were available - but I found it an enjoyable book to read and an unexpectedly haunting one to remember.


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