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The Ugly Swans
The Ugly Swans
by Arkady Strugatsky
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New And Original Look At 'Alien Invasion', 17 July 2004
This review is from: The Ugly Swans (Paperback)
THE UGLY SWANS is definitely a change of pace for the Strugatsky brothers, a novel that is powerful, bittersweet, ironic and humourous all at once. The storyline comes across as deceptively lightweight compared to the mindbending fantasies of other classic Strugatsky novels but this makes THE UGLY SWANS no less compelling to read than the others for it has a fascinating content all of its own. Indeed to the casual reader, it will come across as something of a pastiche of CHILDHOOD'S END, THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS and 1984.
The world of THE UGLY SWANS is set in an unnamed town somewhere in an unnamed country presided over by a Big Brother-like 'Mr President'. In this seemingly twilight world, mysterious circumstances have led to two years of non-stop rainfall and transformed the town's schoolchildren into a cadre of twisted mental geniuses with seemingly no humanity, no attachments or sentimentalities. The childrens' metamorphosis appears to be linked to the mysterious and unexplained appearance of 'yellow leprosy' sufferers, known to townspeople as 'slimies'. These 'slimies' in turn seem to be in some form of constant telepathic coomunication with the children. Caught in the middle between the government and the outcasts are the decadent, nonconformist liberal intelligentsia represented by the likes of Victor Banev, a famous author (and father of one of the children) now banished by the government to the unnamed town. Banev's life now more or less consists of drunken orgies with his lover Diana at the local health resort and endless philosophical discussions with the local sanitorium director Yul Golem at the hotel where he resides. When the showdown between the government and the outcasts finally comes about, Banev is again caught in the middle. But the outcome is entirely different from what Banev expected ......
This novel appears to be not so much about 'alien' invasion as it is an allegory about the right of the individual to choose, for the individual to have the right to think for themselves outside of the societal norm. There is a definite subtle, backhanded swipe at the 'cult of personality' which was so much part and parcel of the leadership of the former Soviet Union (this would have been particularly relevant upon the book's publication, being written during the Brezhnev era). Despite the seemingly positive portrayal of the children as some form of vanguard spearheading a revolution against the government, the Strugatskys do, at times, appear to question the motives and aims of the children with subtle suggestions of how a new world order founded by the children might just as well prove to be as equally cold and inhuman as that of the old order. Ultimately what the Strugatskys appear to be saying is that there is no such thing as a definitive 'truth', that everyone has a different concept of what represents 'truth'.
To balance out the unusual storyline, there is a crackling wit and humour throughout which makes for most enjoyable reading. Banev's conversations with the doctor honoris causae Rem Quadriga are some of the most amusing conversations I have ever read in contemporary science fiction, in many ways a cut above many a Western science fiction novel. The combination of an unusual storyline with crackling wit and humour without a doubt make for a winner of a novel. Definitely all the more reason why THE UGLY SWANS makes for essential reading by the keen reader of science fiction.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2010 12:42 PM GMT

Stalker [VHS] [1979]
Stalker [VHS] [1979]

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Poetry In Film As Only Tarkovsky Could Do It, 8 Oct 2003
This review is from: Stalker [VHS] [1979] (VHS Tape)
A true masterpiece of cinema as directed by the late, great Andrei Tarkovsky, based on the Strugatsky brothers' classic 1972 sci-fi novel ROADSIDE PICNIC where enigmatic aliens have landed on Earth but left as quickly as they departed, leaving behind an enigmatic, highly dangerous place known as 'The Zone'. In many ways this film adaptation is different to the original style and setting of the novel but Tarkovsky than compensates by taking the vision of ROADSIDE PICNIC to even more extreme, mindbending heights in its depiction of a journey into a physically devastated twilight zone (no pun intended).
STALKER has the same style of direction as ROADSIDE PICNIC but there are numerous differences. Firstly, in the novel the 'stalker' does have a name (Redrick 'Red' Schuhart) and the environment that surrounds his life and that of The Zone is examined in detail. In the film, the stalker does not even have a name, he is simply referred to throughout the film as 'Stalker' (with the occasional referring to with nonsensical names like 'Chingachook', 'Big Snake' and 'Leather Stocking') and details surrounding his environment are virtually non-existent. Secondly, in the novel Red makes his forays into the Zone with the intention of scavaging the technological litter left there by the aliens, to sell on the black market. In the film, the Stalker takes a writer and professor (known as 'Writer' and 'Professor') on an unforgettable, hallucinatory journey into the Zone in search of a building known as 'The Room' which has the power to grant wishes to all those who enter it. Admittedly there is a similar kind of device in ROADSIDE PICNIC that grants wishes but this is a spherical object referred to as a Golden Ball, additionally the Golden Ball only becomes the object of focus towards the end of the novel. STALKER is concerned only with the quest to get to The Room. Thirdly, while both novel and film raise questions surrounding the meaning of human existence, there are differences of approach. Whereas Red, in the novel, seemed more concerned with questioning the meaning and worth of his own existence, the three characters in the film question life and philosophy in all aspects. Nothing is left unturned as all three characters discuss and dissect philosophy, concepts, art, science, lifestyles etc, in extreme detail. Fourthly, in the novel it is known that aliens had landed in the Zone and the Zone is discussed in detail with the hellish labyrinth of booby-traps that exist within it. In the film, no one really knows the origins of the Zone or whether aliens had even landed and disclosures of the Zone's secrets are kept to a minimum. The Zone is indeed secondary to that of the quest to reach The Room. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly) the sci-fi feel of the novel is obvious, in the film the sci-fi feel is conspicuously absent, to the point of non-existence, as it becomes instead an allegorical quest for redemption and salvation in a dislocated, nihilistic world.
STALKER is truly remarkable and stands out conspicuously as a landmark of cinematography. The breathtakingly beautiful use of color, sound, camera shots and lighting all combine to produce an an atmosphere of pure enigma in which the symbolic and philosophical conversion of the three characters takes on a new dimension, helped along by the eerie, electronic musical score from Eduard Artemyov. The images of the nearly totally devasted world that exists outside of the Zone reasonate with an apocalyptic beauty that predated the post-apocalyptic landscape of the landmark film BLADE RUNNER by three years and would indeed come true seven years later with the 1986 nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Poignantly, STALKER was indeed filmed partly in the immediate vicinity of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and the reactor itself can clearly be seen in the beginning and ending shots of the film. The one image I shall never forget though is that of the dog that appears out of nowhere halfway through the film, to come and sit down by the Stalker as he rests. What is that supposed to signify? Is the dog the only living creature worthy of the Stalker's efforts?
Do not be put off by the philosophical conversations of the three characters and the slow pacing of the film. STALKER begs for close analysis of the human condition and is indeed more relevant than ever in the dehumanised, globalised world of today. View the film more than once and you will ultimately be rewarded.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2014 10:15 PM GMT

The Jonah Kit (Panther science fiction)
The Jonah Kit (Panther science fiction)
by Ian Watson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Yet Fascinating, 28 Sep 2003
A fascinating, early sci-fi novel by reknowned British author Ian Watson. This is a mindblowing though somewhat flawed novel that weaves together a multi-stranded narrative structure, centering around communication, perception of language and the origins of our universe and written in a manner that makes it one of the finest examples to emerge from the New Wave movement.
Foremost among the narrative structure, a Soviet (this book was written in 1975) research establishment based at a remote outpost on Sakhalin Island has established a method of imprinting the human consciousness into the brain of a modified, programmed whale, with the future aim of using such programmed whales to provide military intelligence on the locations of US naval shipping and for economic use. In Japan, a 6 year old Russian child, with his minder, has turned up from the above-mentioned Soviet establishment and seemingly appears to possess the mind of a supposedly dead Soviet cosmonaut. High up in the mountains of Mexico a Nobel Prize-winning megalomaniac of a scientist, Paul Hammond, has made the earthshattering discovery that signals received from his radio telescope demonstrate that the Universe is really composed of antimatter particles and that this matter universe is really only a 'ghost' of the real Universe that will eventually collapse in on itself. These revelations eventually come together in a shocking climax that is quite disturbing in its bleak nihilism.
Where this book excels is in its excellent use of characterisation and structure. This is perhaps at the expense of pacing as the first half of the novel is quite slow and appears at times to plod along though admittedly the pace picks up considerably towards the end. However Watson's evocative use of language to describe the psychology of the novel's characters, their surroundings and the environment at large, particularly the oceans, more than makes up for that particular shortcoming. Watson's speculations on the origins of the Universe and the method of imprinting human consciousness onto whale brains are also quite bold and daring, written in such a way that they come across as quite plausible to the reader and easily understood. There is also however the minor annoyance of certain characters briefly popping up midway through the book, namely the Italian journalist Gianfranco Morelli who exists only to offer alternative explanations to the origins of the Universe.
Ultimately this novel is all about communication. Communication between humans, communication between humans and whales, communication between animals, communication between humans and the Universe. This novel is a vivid reminder that without communication, we then lose our common humanity and we are subsequently nothing.

The Cat Inside
The Cat Inside
by William S. Burroughs
Edition: Paperback

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The True Beauty Of The Feline World, 28 Sep 2003
This review is from: The Cat Inside (Paperback)
This is truly one of the most beautifully written books that I have ever read and I say this unbiasedly despite being the proud owner of a most gorgeous female tabby moggy. THE CAT INSIDE is a personal, revealing account by Burroughs of the various cats that came into his life and written in a manner quite far-removed from that of the out-of-control, nightmarish quality of his more well-known novels like JUNKY and NAKED LUNCH. THE CAT INSIDE by contrast is quite meditative and mellow, filled with affectionate and moving anecdotes of those most beautiful creatures of the feline world, cats like the inimitable Ruski, Calico Jane, Ed, Horatio etc etc, stretching from Tangier in Morroco to that of The Stone House somewhere in the United States. In addition, there are enigmatic references to other creatures of the animal world like the badger shot by a pig of a redneck camp counsellor at a Los Alamos boys camp and that of dogs, described by Burroughs as 'natural enemies of the State' and 'symbolic of the lynch mob mentality of the human race'. Despite the change in style, Burroughs fans will still recognise the laconic, offbeat writing style which is a Burroughs trademark and there is plenty to both laugh and cry over as the book progresses. THE CAT INSIDE also comes across to the casual reader as an allegory of the history in which mankind viewed the feline species and Burroughs indeed describes a time when he realised that he was chosen to be a 'Guardian', to create and nurture a creature that is part feline, part human and part something unimaginable of which a union has not take place for millions of years.
Despite what I regard as ramblings as to the role of dogs in the animal world, the reader of THE CAT INSIDE will find it hard to put down this book, once started. In my opinion, no other book has ever so movingly and wittily examined why humans have such an indeterminable affinity with and attachment with the domestic cat. Sit back and be prepared to be moved emotionally like you have never been moved before. To quote a passage by Burroughs ... "We are the cats inside. We are the cats who cannot walk alone, and for us there is only one place".

Roadside Picnic (Penguin science fiction)
Roadside Picnic (Penguin science fiction)
by Arkady Strugatsky
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary Mindbender Of Kafkaesque Proportions, 17 Sep 2003
Dark, intriguing ... ROADSIDE PICNIC is as enigmatic in 2003 as it was when first written by the Strugatsky brothers in 1972 in its Russian title 'PIKNIK NA OBOCHINE'. It has retained its tang of pure enigma in its blend of esoteric blend of philosophy and sci-fi and in my opinion is simply unparalleled in its startling originality and intensity.
The storyline centers around the town of Harmont in Canada, one of the five 'Zones' where enigmatic aliens have made a 'Visitation' but only used the Zones as a stop-over, leaving behind some of the technological litter of their existence. After the aliens' departure, the Zones have become places of dangerous shifting dimensions and time scales from which few people, reckless enough to enter the Zones, have returned to tell their tale. However there are men known as Stalkers who venture into the Zones to retrieve the mysterious artefacts left behind by the aliens and if they make it out of the Zones alive, sell their booty through a thriving black market. Foremost among the Stalkers (and one of the few still alive) in the Zone bordering Harmont is the tough anti-hero Redrick 'Red' Schuhart who has spent his life making constant forays into the Zone. Every aspect of his life is dominated by the Zone, from his being lured by the Siren call of the Zone to his daughter Monkey who is deformed as a result of Red's forays into the Zone. Ultimately it is for Monkey and his desire to have her made 'normal' that leads Red to make a last, unforgettable journey into the Zone in search of a Golden Ball that is said to grant any wish to the lucky person that is able to find it. This last journey will ultimately be a final revelation for Red ....
In a manner reminiscent of the works of Stanislaw Lem, ROADSIDE PICNIC is a startling, original look at what might constitute the limits of humanity's quest for knowledge, are there events which mankind is simply unable or not meant to understand? Details of the aliens' 'Visitation' are scant and provided at second-hand so there is simply no means of ascertaining why the aliens visited Earth and no consensus on why the aliens left behind so many of their technological artefacts. The book is also a startling look at what may constitute humanity within a person, this is best exemplified by Red as he is mentally torn apart by the unknown forces that exist within the Zone and the final revelation at the book's conclusion. The Zone itself is described in fascinating detail with descriptions of the deadly 'booby-traps' that exist within it, these descriptions endow the book with an ominous, hallucinatory atmosphere that, quite frankly, made my hair stand up on end. There is also an eerie beauty in the depictions of the devastated, deserted town that exists within the Zone, descriptions which indeed are semi-prophetic in light of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster (the 1979 Soviet film STALKER, which was based on ROADSIDE PICNIC, was indeed partly filmed in the area surrounding Chernobyl and that surrounding area is now indeed a quarantined 'Zone').
Most remarkably, the book also comes across as semi-allegorical of the living conditions and environment of the former USSR. A place where a scientific-administrative bureaucracy is at the forefront of government policy, yet in the book the only reference to the USSR is that of the scientist named Kirill. This does make one wonder if the Strugatskys had written the book as such to avoid the wrath of the MVD (Soviet-era Ministry Of The Interior). Whichever way the book is written, try it for yourself. If you are on the lookout for something totally original conceptually, you won't be disappointed with this mindbender of a novel.

Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale
Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale
by Ivan Antonovich Yefremov
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent Awe-Inspiring Soviet-Era Russian Space Opera, 18 May 2003
Simply breathtaking could be the one word that I could use to describe ANDROMEDA. This book has been noted by many noteworthy critics as one of the greatest sci-fi books ever written and with good reason. Personally I have yet to see a book with the same grand vision as envisaged by Ivan Yefremov when he wrote ANDROMEDA in 1957, the year of the launch of Sputnik 1.
ANDROMEDA depicts an utterly changed utopian Earth of the Far Future, reaching into the 4th Millenium. The whole of Earth is united as one under a new Communist order, of the original type envisaged by Marx and Engels. Mankind has reached far into the depths of the solar system through space travel. Earth has established contact with and subsequent relations with terrestrial civilisations in the distant depths of the Galaxy and Earth itself is now part of a "Great Circle", an organisation that has consolidated planets of the solar system into one collective, united whole through communications by means of super-powerful radio communication. People on Earth all work for the common good of mankind and indeed Earth's ecological problems have become a thing of the distant past as people have worked to transform Earth into a beautiful lush garden where scenarios like pollution and starvation have simply vanished. The whole of Earth's continents is linked by a railway system towering into the skies and known as The Spiral Way. Within the backdrop of this wondrous new utopia, the lives of a number of a number of people intersect as they help with the preparations for a space journey of monumental proportions into the Andromeda Nebula and beyond, people with unusual names like "Darr Veter", "Mven Mass", "Veda Kong", et al et al.
Russian sci-fi has often leaned heavily towards use of advanced technology for the benefit of mankind and ANDROMEDA is no exception. The book is crammed full of fascinating details of scientific and technological extrapolation, with detailed explanation into the ecological order of the new Earth and other planets of the solar system, technology used for palaeontological excavation (not surprising as Yefremov was also a noted palaeontologist), spaceship design and space station construction, the composition of the stars and outer planets, even the composition and properties of the fuel used to power spaceships is discussed at length. Indeed on occasion, Yefremov swamps the book with such complex technical explanation that the text becomes quite wooden and a showcase for technological achievement at the expense of character development. Yet at the same time, there are passages within the book that radiate with an exquisite, surreal beauty almost beyond comprehension, an example being the book's fourth chapter "The River Of Time". The dreamy and beautiful descriptions of Earth in that chapter simply left me at a loss for words.
There are a few agendas within ANDROMEDA that are worthy of close attention. Yefremov was many years ahead of his time in warning against the dangers of nuclear power, this comes across very strongly in the book where "It was soon realized that this (e.g. the old nuclear sources) meant danger to life on the planet and nuclear power possibilities were greatly curtailed. It was decided to destroy all the stocks of thermo-nuclear materials that had been accumulating a long time radioactive isotopes of uranium, thorium, hydrogen, cobalt and lithium - as soon as a method of ejecting them beyond Earth's atmosphere had been devised". All of this written nearly thirty years before the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster of 1986. There is also very little in the way of political didactics, this may come across as surprising as ANDROMEDA was written in Russia during the height of the Soviet era. Yefremov was very much a "humanistic" communist who believed in the the free will of people to accept communism rather than through forced indoctrination and throughout the book, there is no pandering whatsoever to a supreme Communist Party. Indeed the Soviet authorities were suspicious of ANDROMEDA upon its first publication and Yefremov himself turned down an offer to be awarded a Lenin Prize for the book if he included a pivotal role for the Communist Party in the reshaping of the book's new societal order.
The reader of intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi need go no further than ANDROMEDA. I have given the book four stars rather than five due to the previously mentioned fault of Yefremov on occasion to push technological explanation at the expense of character development but do not let this dissuade you from careful reading of the book. ANDROMEDA truly represents the pinnacle of Soviet sci-fi at its finest.

Death of Grass
Death of Grass
by John Christopher
Edition: Paperback

84 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the world's food crops have died .........., 6 Feb 2003
This review is from: Death of Grass (Paperback)
...... do we revert to the Year Zero of the Pol Pot era in Cambodia? This novel is perhaps one of the best treatments of the ecological disaster theme, written with both intelligence and a clear understanding of the human condition when faced with life-threatening circumstances.
The storyline starts out with the news that a deadly, resilient plant virus known as the Chung-Li virus has virtually wiped all cereal crops, including rice, in China. Due to an initial Chinese government decision to suppress details of the ensuing famine, the full scale of the disaster is not made known until it is quite too late. Vaccine developed hastily by Western countries proves ultimately to be ineffective and before long, the virus has rapidly spread, reaching Europe including England and wiping out all the cereal crops (with the exception of potatoes) and grass of that particular region. Life in England starts breaking down with catastrophic consequences and the story then focuses on the attempts of the protagonist John Custance, his family and close friends, to reach safety in northern England where his brother has a farm newly set up for potato farming.
Initially the reader may gain the impression of the novel being a THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS clone but as the story progresses, it is clear that this is not the case. Whereas John Wyndham attempted to portray English middle-class values as being the best defence against total societal breakdown, John Christopher provides no such assurances. The transformation of Custance from comfortably middle-class Londoner through a deterioration of personality to that of a feudal clan chieftain is indeed very disturbing and the atmosphere throughout the novel is one of constant potential violence as people prepare to wage war on one another .... for a scrap of food. The depiction(s) of Custance's right-hand man, Harold Pirrie, as an expert rifle marksman and a cold, calculating killer are chilling in the extreme. Add to that, the summary justice meted out by Custance and his followers to a gang of marauders who kidnap and rape Custance's wife and young daughter and the cold-blooded shooting of an unfortunate family seeking to defend their household and you have a novel of quite brutal savagery. Very rarely throughout the book is any chance of salvation offered and the novel's conclusion I found to be shockingly nihilistic. With scant details provided of the Chung-Li virus and the news of the Chinese famine provided at second-hand, the novel is very much a study of mankind's primal instincts and the lengths individuals will go to preserve their very existence.
Every sci-fi reader should read this book. The novel is a subdued warning against complacency and the possible consequences of such complacency. This is very much relevant in today's world of GM-modified foods and resistant strains of disease culture. If such a scenario unfolded in present-day Western society, then all I can say is ...... God help the lot of us.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2010 7:00 PM BST

Dream of Wessex (Pan science fiction)
Dream of Wessex (Pan science fiction)
by Christopher Priest
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dream of Wessex ???, 19 Jan 2003
...... or dreaming WITHIN Wessex??? What constitutes true existence as we know it? This book, another masterpiece by Christopher Priest, leaves no easy answers and is a seminal forerunner of the cyberpunk genre.
A Dream Of Wessex follows the path of one Julia Stretton as she participates in the Wessex Project, a network of people wired up to a form of virtual reality called the Ridpath Projector, set in 22nd-century Wessex, England, and set up with the aim of solving the problems of the real-world England. The real-world England is set in 1983 (the book was written in 1977) and 1983-England is a bleak dystopia with law and order breaking down throughout England, daily terrorist bombings and chronic housing shortages to name a few. The 22nd-century Wessex of the Wessex Project is one where Wessex has been separated from mainland England by catastrophic earthquakes, caused by mining, and the Wessex capital, Dorchester, has become a large tourist spot complete with beaches for surfing along with numerous casinos and mosques, side by side. In addition, the USA is an Islamic state known as the Western Emirate States and the bulk of Dorchester's tourists originate from there.
When Julia's abusive ex-boyfriend Paul Mason is introduced into the Wessex Project via the Ridpath Projector, the frail 'reality' of the project is seriously disturbed with interesting consequences for all those involved.
The book is not so much a study of virtual reality than mapping out the often intricate twists of the human mind. Christopher Priest has excelled at exploring the multiple-layered nature of reality, of what constitutes reality and true consciousness. Numerous dark possibilities and questions of existence abound in this book and make the reader question the reality of his/her own surroundings. Of particular interest is the near lack of visible violence, rather a kind of implied violence that endows the book with a dark, ominous feel. I found that I couldn't help but have feelings of unease, long after I had finished the book.
With its very 'British' qualities and more in-depth study of the human condition than that offered by the cyberpunk generation, this book makes for essential and fascinating reading. With Christopher Priest's meticulous approach as to what constitutes 'existence', seductive blending of elements and a dreamy, hallucinatory feel, this book once finished will not be forgotten.

Blast From The Past [VHS] [1999]
Blast From The Past [VHS] [1999]

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Nostalgic Comedy, 3 Dec 2002
A film that can be watched over and over again without ever feeling bored. 'Blast From The Past' is a funny and sweet film about a young man who has lived in a nuclear fallout shelter since birth during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 to his emergence from the shelter in 1999 and the subsequent adventures that follow.
Brendan Fraser, in a step away from his action man persona of the Mummy films, plays the part of Adam with gusto and relish, his range of facial expressions throughout the film easily a match for any ever utilised by Jim Carrey, and he is a joy to watch. Alicia Silverstone as Eve provides a great though somewhat understated performance. Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek are magnificent in their roles as Adam's wacko parents with Walken in particular, a comical gem. Dave Foley as Eve's gay housemate Troy, is the showstealer of the film however, his way of framing seemingly innocent comments as putdowns are one hilarious blast, particularly his barbed send-up of an unfortunate social worker. Laughs abound throughout the film.
This film is a fine example of how comedy need not resort to nudity or dubious situations to get a point across. You haven't lived in the past till you've seen this gem .... one great "blast from the past"!!!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 15, 2011 12:07 PM GMT

A Time to Dance
A Time to Dance
by Melvyn Bragg
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless Love With Echoes Of 'Pygmalion', 22 Nov 2002
This review is from: A Time to Dance (Paperback)
I read this book when it first came out in 1990, twelve years on, it still has not lost its power to convey powerful emotions to me through the sheer power of its prose and Melvyn Bragg's beautiful descriptions of the English Lakes district.
'A Time To Dance' chronicles the love affair in 1989 England between a retired 54 year old bank manager (of whom we never know his name) and 18 year old school-leaver Bernadette Kennedy who is from the 'wrong side of the tracks' socially. The book itself takes the form of a letter from the bank manager to Bernadette after the ending of their affair, chronicling their affair from beginning to end. Despite the fact that the bank manager is married, with an invalid wife, the affair itself is not presented as a cheap, sordid affair, purely based on sex. Rather, the affair is seen through the eyes of the bank manager who has obviously come to a crossroads in his life with retirement and stuck in a rut of his own making. Nowhere in the book at any stage is it suggested that the bank manager has consciously set out to seduce a younger woman. Rather than following the crude, disturbing path of 'Lolita', the book is an evocative description of the healing power of love and of how age ceases to be an issue when two people are drawn to each other by love.
Set in the beauty of the Cumbrian countryside, one cannot help but be moved by the beauty of the book as Melvyn Bragg thoroughly explores the lives of the book's characters, what led them to falling in love and the lives of those close to them who are affected by their love affair. The use of the bank manager as the book's narrator adds an excellent dose of realism to the book as the bank manager experiences the ecstasy and the pain of erotic love. Once read, this book will never be forgotten.
I write this review with the encouragement of my wonderful (and younger) partner, Amelia.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 18, 2014 7:38 PM BST

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