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Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom)
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Sentinel (The Sentinel Trilogy)
Sentinel (The Sentinel Trilogy)

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent debut, 2 May 2013
Sentinel explores a subterranean world filled with magic and elemental powers hidden from ordinary mortals. The teenage hero Nicholas suddenly finds himself called upon to defend the world from insidious forces when he learns that he's been born into a sacred order of guardians. Joshua Winning's atmospheric and thrilling writing is instantly engaging. Sentinel marks the beginning of a series which is emotionally intense and filled with adventure.


Brooklyn
Brooklyn
by Colm Toibin
Edition: Hardcover

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet novel that makes a big impact, 25 Aug 2009
This review is from: Brooklyn (Hardcover)
Brooklyn follows a young woman named Eilis as she travels from her Irish home town to New York in the early 1950s. Almost without asking, her family decides that she should move to America because she is more likely to find a good job there. Eilis struggles to adjust at first, but eventually finds her way and settles down beginning a romance with an Italian-American named Tony. Eilis brushes against social issues such as the Italian neighbourhoods versus the Irish neighbourhoods in NYC, the gradual integration of African Americans into white society, her female supervisor's latent lesbianism and her Jewish night school teacher who escaped the WWII concentration camps. But she never experiences any great conflict with these issues. Toibin manages to do something very special in this humble, quiet novel. There isn't a great deal of action. The language the author uses is engaging but simple. The characters are interesting but not extraordinary. What the author does is immerse you totally in Eilis' daily life and the small but important decisions she makes along the way which lead up to a devastatingly brilliant ending where the protagonist must make a serious heartrending choice. The lead up to this final section is very subtle so it took me by surprise and completely engrossed me.

What Toibin does so well is describe Eilis' relationships with those closest to her. He conveys how deep bonds can exist between family members even if nothing is said. The love and responsibility these characters feel for each other is expressed through small actions like writing each other letters about superficial things or sorting through old clothes together. He approaches scenes filled with a tremendous emotional intensity with a very light touch so that you almost don't realist the importance of what's happening until it's over. This is when Eilis' superficially simple life takes on a magnitude of importance.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 13, 2010 11:40 PM BST


Silk
Silk
by Rupert James
Edition: Paperback

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lavish and Sexy, 4 Aug 2009
This review is from: Silk (Paperback)
Silk is a rollicking ride of a novel that explores the loves and loses of three dynamic women. This book is deeply pleasurable, wickedly-indulgent and utterly engrossing.

Christine is a fearsome barrister who believes she's moved past any desire for romantic trysts until she meets a handsome personal trainer. When her goal of becoming appointed to the Queen's Counsel and "taking silk" turns out to be more difficult than she anticipated, it's time to dig her nails in and show how determined she really is and make some tough decisions.

Her beautiful daughter Isabelle is an ambitious designer convinced she belongs in the venerable halls of high fashion and that her name will soon be associated with the most famous labels in haute couture. However, romantic entanglements with her sexually-ambiguous business partner Will threaten to trip her up on the way to the top.

Victoria is the mistress of rich greedy Massimo Rivelli. Although she's conscious of how vulnerable she is to being replaced by someone younger and losing the privileged lifestyle Rivelli has introduced her to, her love for him clouds her judgement. But everyone underestimates how determined this glamorous girl really is.

These women are crafty and strong-willed, but not without heart. Silk is full of richly detailed characters and locations, cleverly woven plot lines and contains enough twists and turns to keep you reading it compulsively till the end. James is a talented writer who creates compelling characters that feel immediate and real.

Try reading it while lounging by the pool in your southern French holiday gite while sipping a cool glass of rosé. But, even if you have to read it while on a gloomy commuter train like I did, the luxurious pleasure of Silk will certainly make you feel like you are reading it in a more glamorous location.


Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.83

57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Night-side Music, 13 May 2009
The five stories in this collection move rapidly. Unlike many short story collections where the reader feels like he can pick and choose stories in no particular order, the stories in Nocturnes feel like they should be read in quick succession in one go. Given their pacing, this seems like a manageable task over a long languorous weekend afternoon. They are written in an easy style and it's rewarding to notice that they contain characters which make multiple appearances.

There are several recurring themes throughout these stories. There are long term relationships that have been strained to breaking point like a tourist couple in the story "Malvern Hills"; people uneasy with fame and success like a man who undergoes plastic surgery in "Nocturn"; and an anxiety about fulfilling one's potential like a houseguest with severely judgmental friends in "Come Rain or Come Shine". The niggling details of life are shown to continuously squander the beauty which music offers. Careers get in the way of musicians trying to realize their artistic vision. Music brings individuals together, but the promises it makes can never be realized because of the circumstances those people find themselves in.

There are moments when these stories tread the line between realism and a hallucinatory dream-like narrative resonant of Ishiguro's masterful experimental novel The Unconsoled (whose protagonist is also a musician). Perhaps this is what Ishiguro is seeking to do: create the kind of inarticulate sensations which music invokes by using a carefully-modulated form of prose. He most definitely succeeds at demonstrating great skill in creating stories which are touchingly beautiful like the opening story "Crooner" and ones which are utterly hilarious and disturbing like "Nocturn". While perhaps not reaching the depth of his more meditative novels due to their intentionally clipped lengths, these stories are nevertheless highly accomplished and very enjoyable.


Hearts and Minds
Hearts and Minds
by Amanda Craig
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where True Freedom is Found, 7 May 2009
This review is from: Hearts and Minds (Hardcover)
Hearts and Minds is a novel about London today. It portrays the lives of several different characters, many of whom have recently or newly moved to the United Kingdom from such diverse locations as the Ukraine, South Africa, Zimbabwe and America. Craig is a magnanimous author portraying her characters' personal struggles with a balanced sense of compassion. From a single working mother's guilt over dividing herself between her job and children to a lonely hard-working man's intense desire to satiate his emotional and sexual needs, each of the central characters' concerns are treated with respect and feel entirely true. The author has a particular talent for summing up psychological complexities in pithy descriptions. For instance, when describing a wayward editorial assistant named Katie the author writes, "She isn't anorexic, as her parents fear, she just can't remember what wanting anything ever again feels like." Each chapter leans heavily towards one of the main characters' perspectives. At first, being immersed in several very different individuals' viewpoints is disorientating as the reader struggles to connect the characters to each other and make distinctions between the large cast of characters. But soon, as the story gains momentum, the broad canvas which Craig creates becomes a complete picture which is so compelling it's difficult to put the book down.

At the centre of the book is a mysterious murder. The novel begins with the body of an immigrant woman being dumped in a Hampstead Heath pond. Only gradually over the course of the novel and through discoveries made by the central characters do we understand who she is and why she was murdered. Through the different perspectives of the characters, the reader accumulates a multi-sided portrait of the city. To some it's filled with opportunity, beauty, kindness and affluence; to others it's a metropolis of danger, isolation, poverty and treachery. A central debate in the book is over the contentious question of immigration and the book doesn't shy from making some strong, highly striking statements about the immigrant experience. It's commendable that the author can bravely engage with and open debate about the issue by realistically depicting facets of immigrant life which many inhabitants of London never see. There are scenes of racial abuse, human-trafficking, underage prostitution, gang-warfare and Islamic terrorism. However, readers shouldn't be frightened off by the serious subject matter as this novel is also punctuated with moments of humour such as when a poet is chased by an editor out of a newspaper publisher as if he were vermin. Equally, there are moments of quiet beauty as when Katie attends a piano recital leading her to understand, "It is worth being alive." Though London is given a severe sobering critique in this richly layered novel, it is shown to possess rare potential and unique charms which you'd be unable to find elsewhere. And there is even room for hope. Shining through the novel is the importance of the interconnectedness of individuals in a city whose population values isolation.


Dangerous Pleasures: A Decade of Stories
Dangerous Pleasures: A Decade of Stories
by Patrick Gale
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing Perspectives, 18 April 2009
The title story of this collection begins with a sober, realistic scene in a hospital where a young woman named Shuna is taking her final few breaths while her parents watch over her. After Shuna 's death, the mother must figure out what to do with this estranged daughter's belongings. Where the story ends is somewhere so unexpected and surprising I had to read it twice to make sure I got it right. This is the power of the stories in this book. Gale's talent is to take the physical world with its recognizable characters functioning within ordinary relationships and expose the wilful human emotion that flows riotously beneath all those social niceties. The result is that the every-dayness of their lives is distorted, transformed and irrevocably altered. These characters' desires don't simply occasionally spring up from some hidden corner of consciousness; the world is shown to be composed of nothing but desires. When the characters decide to claim their pleasure at the expense of others there are often causalities such as the breakup of a marriage or a body on the floor.

The stories include an impressive variety of perspectives ranging from a young girl to a nostalgic father to a recent widow. In the story `The Wig' a housewife undergoes a personality change when she alters her appearance. It reveals a side to herself that is unwilling to tolerate the way her former self was treated by those closest to her. The story `Paint' depicts a man named Andrew's tense visit with his father which is interrupted by a trip to meet an eccentric brother/sister team of artists. Andrew's attempts to strengthen the delicate father/son relationship are thwarted by his father having a spontaneous affair. Some of the stories also vary greatly in style. For instance, `A Slight Chill' has undertones which verge on the gothic when an English teacher cares for two of her pupils during a holiday with tragic results. Other stories are less dramatic in tone, but still quietly explosive. A woman returning to London with her female lover discovers that her mother is more accepting of her relationship than she expected in `The List.' A father returns to his old public school with his wife to determine whether they should send their son there in `Old Boys.' He's haunted by memories of an intensely romantic relationship he had there with an older boy. These stories turn conventional ideas about gender, marriage and sexuality on their heads.

Surprising, memorable and with a good degree of humour leaning toward the macabre, each story in this collection is a gem.


The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Hardcover

83 of 93 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Meaning of our Labour, 7 April 2009
Something about Alain de Botton's writing captivates me. Though great chunky paragraphs of this photo essay are taken up with things which are banal on the surface like detailed descriptions of how biscuits are manufactured or the workings of electricity lines, the author's pithy observations about the individuals involved and his asides about the nature of being are engrossing. This author investigates an eclectic range of professions such as tuna fishing, career counselling, painting and accountancy. He begins the book by pondering the complex network of work involved which delivers to us goods in our everyday lives and how we are largely blithely unaware of these goods' origins. He then investigates a series of professions as a base point, engaging with the professionals involved in order to try to understand how this labour relates to their place in the world. The result is a sort of travelogue, each section containing a large amount of photographs to accompany the text, created with the help of photographer Richard Baker. Many of these pictures are beautiful and poignant in themselves, adding an even greater depth and understanding to the text which runs alongside them.

Many of the people the author encounters are treated with a good deal of sympathy and one feels his observations to be largely accurate based on his personal impressions of them. I grew to feel admiration, respect and envy for people who are emphatically engaged in their professions and passionate about the importance of their labour. However, at some points de Botton's prose lapse almost too far into a novelistic approach so that individuals he meets are fitted into the author's schematic understanding of certain workers' reality. Thus he might make presumptions about real people by speculating about their consciousness and how they feel about their position in the world. For instance, he summarizes the end of the day for an employee from an accountancy's advisory services and concludes how this man contemplates what has been "difficult, unnecessary and regrettable" about the effort of his labour for that day. The author doesn't specify whether he gleaned this understanding of this individual's inner-existence from a revealing interview or following him home to unobtrusively observe his private life. But one can't help but feel some liberties were taken. This makes me wonder why this author who is so brilliant at investigating the liminal spaces of our existence and the most crucial issues of our lives doesn't write more novels like his first published works.

The author also touchingly interjects elements of himself in the book. This might include finding a likeness of his father in a portrait of the president of the Maldives or a melancholic mood he falls into following the launch of a satellite into space. However, though always taking himself and his enquiries seriously, one can feel a great deal of humour laden in his emphatic pondering especially when he relates this to people he encounters. At one point he desperately asks a girl working on a document about brand performance why "in our society the greatest sums of money so often tend to accrue from the sale of the least meaningful things" and at another point in the Majove desert implores the groundskeeper of an airfield populated by dilapidated airplanes to grant him closer access out of his "preoccupation with the remnants of collapsing civilisations." What is so engaging about de Botton's style is how evidently immediate and crucial the concerns he writes about are to the author himself. Yet, at the same time, he understands that life shouldn't be taken too seriously. This makes the book very personal and enjoyable as well as including profound thoughts about the nature of being. Life is full of questions and, even if no satisfactory answers can be found, Alain de Botton is bravely determined to at least explore the meaning of it all with great eloquence and wit.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 23, 2009 6:33 PM BST


The Torturer's Wife
The Torturer's Wife
by Thomas Glave
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revelatory Stories, 28 Jan 2009
This review is from: The Torturer's Wife (Paperback)
The Torturer's Wife brings together a collection of stories from acclaimed writer Thomas Glave. It seems fitting the book is dedicated to Nadine Gordimer who is also a fan of Glave's work. Like much of Gordimer's writing, Glave's stories focus on characters who haven't been allowed a voice or whose ability to speak has been silenced through death and the machinations of government and/or society. Though the subject matter is heavy, the author's beautiful use of language gives meaning and substance to what are sometimes horrific events. More importantly, Glave bears witness to incidents often ignored just as he did in his collection of essays WORDS TO OUR NOW. However, in this book a poetic voice is given to these characters so that their stories are transmuted into a mythic structure, giving resonance to their struggles which speaks beyond the limits of their time and location.

The title story focuses on a privileged wife who has discovered that her husband is involved with the torture and death of political prisoners. In the 1970s the Argentinian right-wing military cracked down on dissidents; thousands were tortured, drugged and flown out to be dumped into the ocean. In Glave's story the voices of these victims rise out of the ocean to assail this woman's ears and their body parts fall from the sky to litter her home and garden. More than the survivors of the violent political conflicts portrayed in heart-rending flashing glimpses, these stories are populated with the dead who have been swept aside, their tongues cut out and corpses annihilated. Glave manages to not only give a voice to these casualties of history, but a face and a body so that their physical bulk cannot be denied or ignored.

While many of the stories refer to specific struggles in time of war, others such as "Between" and "South Beach , 1992" speak about interpersonal conflicts between lovers, and specifically troubles which occur within gay relationships. The barriers of racial and class difference are explored just as sensual discoveries are made. Fear and disgust are revealed when it's discovered a partner is HIV+. These intensely-felt intimate moments between men reveal darker truths about their feelings and often-ignored divisions within the gay community.

Glave's narratives seamlessly interweave components of speech with descriptions of place and the internal thoughts of the characters. His olfactory-driven prose give an immediacy to the time, location and physicality of his characters, making his stories come vibrantly alive. Many of these stories explore what it means when the terms in which a person defines herself or himself are shattered, leaving them grasping for language with which to articulate who they are. Identity is divided in order for the individual to cope with the extremity of emotion and maintain aspects of themselves they don't want to lose. Glave employs radically diverse styles and structures to describe this process making his writing some of the most exciting and spirited I've read for a long time.


Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel
Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel
by Edmund White
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining read about the most difficult genius, 2 Jan 2009
This is a carefully researched and entertaining biography of the vagabond poet Rimbaud's life. Beginning with a moving personal note about what Rimbaud means to the biographer, White goes on to describe the poet's early life, literary maturation and later frustrated drive for financial success with his typically warm and engaging writer's tone of voice. Rimbaud's intelligence and extremely difficult personality are brought alive with stories of his family life, literary associations and tumultuous relationship with the poet Verlaine. The evolution of Rimbaud's poetry which seems to take place in hyper-speed is intelligently explained with examples of the poet's work and how it relates to the poet's experiences and radical artistic vision. White is also careful to disentangle some of the popular myths about this mysterious poet's life.

It is mesmerizing reading about the quickfire creation of Rimbaud's ambitious output before his total withdrawal from art and the artistic community. Passages of the poet's work are sublimely beautiful and one can't help wonder what sort of literary works he would have created in his adult life if he had kept writing. That such a young man made such an enormous impact on his early champions speaks more about the bewitching influence of adolescent gusto, particularly from such a handsome and frustrated youth, rather than the quality of his writing. Nevertheless, the enduring influence the poet had on successive generations of artists is clear.


The First Person and Other Stories
The First Person and Other Stories
by Ali Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.69

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting to the essential, 16 Nov 2008
What place do stories have in the great bloated canon of literature? Some consider them as playful side-thoughts compared to the larger in-depth novels that authors produce. Others think of them as an author's most essential ideas pared down to the bare essentials, brief and perfect in their distillation. It probably depends on what author you are reading. This is a debate Ali Smith engages with in the opening story of her latest collection and, as a staunch defender of this literary form, the stories contained in this book are robust examples of how imaginative, important and powerful short stories can be.

In this book you'll find a story which describes the seductive reactionary thoughts contained within each of us in the form of a foul-mouthed abandoned baby. In `Writ' the author shows how alien we are in adult form to the child we used to be, suggesting that a constant dialogue is taking place between our present and former selves by explaining how her 14 year-old self has taken up residence in her home. There is a daring to Smith's writing which pushes the reader out of conventional ways of thinking and the comfortable, methodical way readers might ingest stories. Mythic tropes are invited to engage in the particulars of the present day. Particular people in particular places at particular times expand into what is universal. Paragraphs on the pages refuse to be justified and end on the right side of the page in jagged lines. Quotation marks are abandoned. Forms of narrative are teased and taunted to explore the meaning of points of view. Nameless voices banter back and forth in sensual, intimate, bodily play. Conclusions are written, abandoned, rewritten, erased, rewritten.

Yet these stories are not mere playful experiments with literary forms. They contain real heart. For readers who are familiar with Smith's work, they are probably the most confessional you'll find among her publications. When describing a friend who has cancer, an adulterous affair, a childhood crush on an art teacher, these stories feel immediate, emotional and true (regardless of whether they are autobiographical or not). Consequently, Smith shows in these stories that this literary form provides strategies for confronting what is most vital in our lives right now. Whether you finish reading a piece in this collection feeling touched to the bone or utterly perplexed, these stories make an impact larger than their "short" stature suggests.


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