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Robert Cordner (Northern Ireland, UK)

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Lucky Jim (Penguin Modern Classics)
Lucky Jim (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Kingsley Amis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Near and far, 15 Mar 2010
Written in the early 1950s, Lucky Jim serves as a testament to the constants of professional life at provincial British universities. The uncertain futures of junior lecturers, their need to publish, to please their immediate superiors, and to forge a life (and lifestyle) somewhat removed from their place of origin. Whatever the stresses and uncertainties of academic life today, Lucky Jim reminds readers that none of its problems are novel. Nevertheless, the world Amis captures and caricatures is very different from our own. Provincial universities have long ceased to be backwaters, and the numbers of lecturers and students has increased massively, as have the pressures to publish. Only job certainty has decreased. Often described as a comic novel, it is the sections that still resonate today which are among the funniest. But much of the narrative is (intentionally) humourless, and if anything demonstrates why universities, for better or for worse, have become as they are today.


The Screwtape Letters: includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, Sixtieth Anniversary Edition)
The Screwtape Letters: includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, Sixtieth Anniversary Edition)
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unapologetics, 11 Mar 2010
The central conceit of the Screwtape Letters, correspondence between a senior and junior devil about how to corrupt a Christian convert, is a brilliant device to convey Christian morality without preaching or condemning non-Christian behaviour. The joy of reading the Letters is this central conceit, rendering the book in turns humorous and deeply meaningful. The Letters can be read and enjoyed by believers and non-believers alike, but it is surely significant that the thrust of the commentary deals with the hollowness and divisiveness of many Christian church goers. Written and published in the first years of the Second World War, inappropriate 'Christian' behaviour is rendered especially important because of the imminence of death through air raids (of the Letters' subject and contemporary reader). Although as Screwtape wryly observes, the war is irrelevant as everyone dies eventually. Having largely hidden his own personal beliefs, Lewis' epilogue, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, published long after the Letters but included in most editions, is overtly political and as a consequence is out of style and keeping with the Letters. The Toast has none of the verve and intelligence of the Letters, and reads instead like a very human rant against the post-Second World War British political dispensation.


The Siege Of Krishnapur
The Siege Of Krishnapur
by J.G. Farrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.36

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clashing civilisations, 7 Feb 2010
The clash of civilisations in this novel is not the 'Indian Mutiny' against Britain's East India Company. It is, rather, the clash between divergent ideas of 'civilisation' among the British, brought into sharp relief by the community of Britons held-up in Krishnapur, surrounded and besieged by mutinous sepoys. The tremendous strain this puts on the community, initially hilarious because of the social conceits of colonial and mid-Victorian 'Society', but eventually macabre (while still being humorous), force into the open clashes in outlook among the main characters, and a significant adjustment in the outlook of others. The two generations caught up in the siege represent divergent views of the world. The Magistrate a radical and Chartist, the Collector a (presumably Liberal) believer in typically nineteenth-century progress who is increasingly forced to reckon with the feasibility of Company rule. The Padre rails against the German school of Biblical criticism, seeing his main challenge also in the recent (pre-Darwin) scientific developments celebrated by the Collector, and the philosophical musings of Fleury. These divisions are brought out in the battle between old and new medicine, represented by the two doctors, the Scottish Dr MacNab clearly emerging a hero, of sorts. The few Indian characters in this novel are somewhat stereotypical, loyal Sihks, morally corrupt rajahs, and rebelling seopys, but this is a piece with the rest of the characterisation, and in the end colonialism is firmly in the dock.


Giovanni's Room (Penguin Modern Classics)
Giovanni's Room (Penguin Modern Classics)
by James Baldwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.27

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illusion of choice, 5 Feb 2010
A short novel about the sometimes painful illusion of choice. The central character, David, an American in Paris, believes he can control his destiny, but his desire to forge this in a particular direction comes from severe prescriptions on his sexuality. Baldwin's depiction of David's struggle to deal with the inherent tension of his situation is moving and unsentimental: David is neither hero nor anti-hero. In a like manner, the two lovers, David and Giovanni, have little love for gay Paris, despite fleeing to its bosom. They cannot conceive that its seediness reflects the attitudes of society outside rather than those within, and they deride the middle-age men in their lives whose attention and money both repel and attract respectively. As the novel develops, Giovanni appears the more progressive, reconciled with his love and identity, albeit largely confined to his eponymous 'room'. But the revelation of his life before Paris, and his reaction to the loss of love, reveal the shallow foundations on which his confidence is built.


Martha, Jack & Shanco
Martha, Jack & Shanco
by Caryl Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.91

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, earthy and intimate, 11 Jan 2010
This review is from: Martha, Jack & Shanco (Paperback)
This short novel follows the lives of three elderly siblings living on an isolated farm in west Wales: Martha, effectively a mother figure; Jack the bachelor, and simple but hard-working Shanco. Their lives are completely bound up with one another, causing reliance and resentment in equal measure. The arrival in Jack's life of a girlfriend creates tension, and taps into deeper, unspoken, resentments that in turn further bind the siblings together. Outwardly, however, it is the farm, and the memory of a seemingly dominant 'mami', that link the three, and it is only very slowly, and randomly, that the reader becomes aware of the tragic events and consequences of their relationships. Martha's stoicism is all too believable, especially for a certain generation of rural women, but its depths are only truly realized toward the end of the novel. The depiction of Shanco (Sianco) largely avoids cliche and has echoes of William Faulkner's Sound and the Fury. Jack's frustration with life is painfully clear, and his attempt at finding an alternative is understandably desparate. This translation is an achievement, not least for its earthy prose and ability to capture the pain of intimacy.


Phineas Finn: The Irish Member (Oxford World's Classics)
Phineas Finn: The Irish Member (Oxford World's Classics)
by Anthony Trollope
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deeper grooves, 2 Jan 2010
Despite being the eponymous hero of the novel, Phineas Finn serves as a curious device for Trollope to explore timeless themes of power, place, vocation and love. The real characters of this engrossing novel are the society women drawn to Finn, beginning with Lady Laura, then her friend Violet Effingham, and the rich (and foreign) widow Mrs Max Goesler. Compared to their nuances, contrivances, and designs, Finn's true love, the Irish Mary Flood Jones, is rendered simple and pure. The same can be said of Trollope's portrayal of Phineas Finn, albeit less obvious due to his being the central focus of the story. In his case, what truly resonates with today's reader is Phineas's opportunism: his effort to become a career politician for the sake of that alone. His convictions eventually catch up, but the significant thing is that Trollope develops this in such a way as to highlight the bind of middle-class politicians in the nineteenth century - their (greater) need for ministerial income adversely affecting their political independence. The fickleness of Finn's society ladies Trollope uses to explore deeper attitudes to class, creed, and country. Laura and Violet love Phineas, but his background makes them hesitate. A similar attitude is displayed by their caste to the widow Goesler, so that they come to believe a match between Finn and Goesler the most appropriate outcome. The reader (whom Trollope identifies as 'English') is encouraged to think the same of Finn and little Mary Flood Jones.


Red Strangers (Penguin Modern Classics)
Red Strangers (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Elspeth Huxley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking, 25 Nov 2009
A thought provoking novel that stimulates and then challenges our moral certainty about the wrongs of imperialism. Huxley's narrative skillfully and convincingly draws us into the story of three generations of a Kikuyu family. A mere rumour at first, as the novel progresses, Europeans, personally and culturally, became increasingly a feature of African life. Readers naturally lament this outcome and its related developments: urbanisation, changes in agriculture and landownership, and the passing of native customs, both ceremonial and practical. Some might also have strong feelings about the Christian missionaries. But the novel's handling of female genital mutilation gives pause for thought, as does African enthusiasm for formal education. In a like manner, the depiction of native nationalism helps explain, in part, its lack of success until the 1950s (well over a decade after Red Strangers was published).


The Withered Root (Library of Wales) (Library of Wales)
The Withered Root (Library of Wales) (Library of Wales)
by Rhys Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.14

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Explaining Revival, 19 May 2009
The last Welsh religious revival (1904-05), especially its main protagonist, Evan Roberts, present a fascinating story, full of mystery, amazement, betrayal and abandonment. In his fictionalised account of the revival, Rhys Davies attempts to capture all these, and assert at the same time his distinct take on the events (in the narrative, and in the metropolitan character of Philip). The novel does not adhere exactly to Roberts' life (or, as he is depicted here, Reuben Daniels), but it does provide an insight into what, possibly, motivated him. Davies, of course, dismisses any outside supernatural influence. Reflecting its time (1927), the novel prefers internal psychological explanation, woven tightly with unflattering observations about Welsh society, particularly in the industrial valleys. There is nothing sentimental in this novel, nor is it very modern, but it is a tale well told.


Moon
Moon
by Jeremy Gavron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A touching tale, 28 Jan 2009
This review is from: Moon (Paperback)
This short book presents a child's eye view of the Emergency in 1950s Kenya, then under British control and populated, largely in the agriculturally rich 'White Highlands', by significant numbers of ex-patriot Britons. The experience of these white families, mainly farmers, during the Emergency attracted alarmist headlines back in the United Kingdom, and contributed to the draconian security policy that effectively led to a civil war amongst Kenyan tribes. The state's strong reaction was in part based on the widespread fear among whites of their black servants, who they thought might collaborate with or even be members of the dreaded Mau Mau. The early life of Gavron's central character is a microcosm of these events. The use of a child's perspective as a literary device is hardly new, but Gavron uses it to present a nuanced view of the Emergency. It is particularly recommended for anyone seeking an introduction to Kenya's recent past, and for an understanding of the almost forgotten generation of settlers Britain sent to Africa after the Second World War.


Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea
Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea
by Roger Sweet
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good case badly argued, 27 Jan 2009
This is an interesting read for any child of the early to mid-1980s when the He-Man craze was all the rage. Roger Sweet claims to be the man who invented He-Man, something I had not realised was contested until reading this book. Mr Sweet is at pains throughout to claim he originated the toyline, and involves the reader in a lot of office politics and apparent back-stabbing that is not the most interesting or attractive thing to read. Moreover, it comes at the expense of explaining in detail the creativity behind the development of the line. We have a lot on its origins, but not much on how other characters were developed. Children, after all, invested these toy characters with meaning, helped of course by the comics sold with the toys (not mentioned at all here), and the Filmation TV series. The writing style, despite the so-called assistance of a co-writer, is in places grammatically illiterate, cliche-ridden and self-regarding. This is also an outcome of its focus, a defensive rebuke of otherwise unknown counter-claimants to the position of He-Man's inventer, and also of poor co-writing and editing (although there is an effort at the start to situate Masters of the Universe in the history of children's toys). A must read for those who want to discover the humble beginnings of He-Man, but a book that might have been a lot better written and produced.


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