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Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom)
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Fanny: A Fiction
Fanny: A Fiction
by Edmund White
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Two Fannys, 12 Nov. 2003
This review is from: Fanny: A Fiction (Hardcover)
Edmund White has published a trilogy of novels in a mode he has termed "autofiction" and another novel heavily based upon his experiences with one of his lovers who died of AIDS. He is currently working on his autobiography and later this year a book called Original Youth: The Real Story of Edmund White's Youth by Keith Fleming will be published. Stephen Barber has also published a biography of White. This profuse amount of material focusing on White's life uses it to examine how gay culture has evolved through decades of gradual liberation. It is a tribute to the complex way a gay identity does not only encompass one life, but many.
White is also a skilful artist that is able to experiment in his narratives with different genres. Persistently, his focus is on particular lives and through them he excavates the ideologies of the time that impacted upon these people's lives. His new novel FANNY: A FICTION is on its surface a great departure from his earlier work, but when examined closely utilizes his greatest skills as a writer to tremendous success. It is a fictional biography of the cerebral Scottish pioneer Francis Wright who moved to America in the early 19th centuy to found a commune with the hope of dissolving slavery. It is narrated from the perspective of Francis Trollope who was a friend to Wright and a middle class women seeking to reverse the fortunes of her family as they sank into bankruptcy. She did so by publishing a non-fiction work titled Domestic Manners of the Americans which trashed the culture of the "New World". Given Wright's ecstatic love of America, this created a rift in the tempestuous friendship of the two which could never be healed. Trollope is writing this biography close to her own death, years after the death of Francis Wright. Still, the anger and resentment burns between these two revolutionary women.
FANNY: A FICTION feels like some amazing drag act with White dressed as Mrs. Trollope. It is an incredibly entertaining read with pages overflowing with tantalizing gossip and fascinating observations. It's also much more sophisticated than just that because it's composed with such a tight structure and uses an elegant style with luscious detail to convey the effect of the early 1800s. What is does best is to examine how the details of a person's life work within the context of when they lived. While this novel includes almost none of the gay content White is famous for, it does point out the aching divisions that can exist within a minority group seeking equality. The abolitionist movement was long and complex with many disagreements about how the end of slavery should be achieved. From the vantage point of history it is easy to forget how groups that struggle for equality are inevitably made of individuals whose objectives may greatly differ. It can even inspire hatred between those who should be allies. Now that the movement for gay liberation has progressed this far with many of it's pioneers buried, it may be useful to think back upon some of the divisions within it and lay some ghosts to rest. White's new novel is a strong example of how this re-examination of history is not only necessary, but urgent.


Trouble
Trouble
Offered by Giant Entertainment
Price: £5.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars She Got Trouble In Her Town, 27 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Trouble (Audio CD)
Pink has described Trouble as a "badass, kick-ass, attitude song." It's exactly that: filled with energy and anger. It's the kind of song you can hurt yourself air-guitaring to in the shower. Unlike some of the other songs on her new album Try This which are filled with personal significance, Trouble is pure wild fun. Pink knows all about trouble. She’s a school drop out who has been banned from Blockbuster for stealing a copy of Showgirls. She’s a pop star that speaks frankly and openly about drug use and her sexual adventures. Her energy and style are refreshing.
On this single are:
1. Album Version
2. Delirium
3. Instrumental
4. Video
Unfortunately, the video of this song comes across as a little embarrassing which is a shame because Pink worked really hard on it. She dotted it with metaphors. Sharktown is marked as having a population of 96, the year that Pink was signed. She wore out her thighs riding the horses, sprained an ankle and hurt her shoulder while making the video. But she looks great as she stomps in her Western get-up across the screen with her usual flare. It features the handsome Jeremy Renner who played the vampire Penn in the Angel series. Despite all this hard work, the video comes across as silly. But the song doesn’t fail to give you a wild ride.


Trouble [CASSETTE]
Trouble [CASSETTE]
Offered by Smaller World Future
Price: £259.97

4.0 out of 5 stars She got trouble in her town, 16 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Trouble [CASSETTE] (Audio CD)
Pink has described Trouble as a "badass, kick-ass, attitude song." It's exactly that: filled with energy and anger. It's the kind of song you can hurt yourself air-guitaring to in the shower. Unlike some of the other songs on her new album Try This which are filled with personal significance, Trouble is pure wild fun. Pink knows all about trouble. She’s a school drop out who has been banned from Blockbuster for stealing a copy of Showgirls. She’s a pop star that speaks frankly and openly about drug use and her sexual adventures. Her energy and style are refreshing.
On this single are:
1. Album Version
2. Delirium
3. Instrumental
4. Video
Unfortunately, the video of this song comes across as a little embarrassing which is a shame because Pink worked really hard on it. She dotted it with metaphors. Sharktown is marked as having a population of 96, the year that Pink was signed. She wore out her thighs riding the horses, sprained an ankle and hurt her shoulder while making the video. But she looks great as she stomps in her Western get-up across the screen with her usual flare. It features the handsome Jeremy Renner who played the vampire Penn in the Angel series. Despite all this hard work, the video comes across as silly. But the song doesn’t fail to give you a wild ride.


Elizabeth Costello
Elizabeth Costello
by J. M. Coetzee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portrait of the Famous Artist, 14 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Elizabeth Costello (Hardcover)
Elizabeth Costello is a famous Australian writer who spends much of her later years travelling the world and giving lectures. Like many famous people Costello has an uncomfortable relationship with her fame. At times she simply goes through the motions, remaining disconnected from her speeches and satisfying many of her listeners. However, on many occasions sited throughout this novel she spontaneously decides to speak about something she actually believes in. The results are usually unpopular thoughts that her audience has no interest in. Costello is trying to sort through her past while coming to conclusions about the meaning of life. Her strained relationships with her children and sister leave her a highly isolated individual grappling with her battered psyche. Despite the unpopularity of her recent ideas, her fame rests securely in a novel she wrote many years ago that expands on the fictional life of James Joyce's Molly Bloom.
Coetzee has done something both astonishing and baffling with this novel. At the back of the book he lists his acknowledgements. The truth is that substantial amounts of this novel are lectures that Coetzee himself has previously given and/or published before. As the novel progresses these lectures are integrated less into the story until the final short section which seems to hang very precariously upon the end of the novel and bears no obvious relation to the story. Rather than give us just a straightforward critique of literary fame integrated into his story, Coetzee also mocks how novels are traditionally constructed by writing what amounts to very little story to link these disconnected works. This isn't to say that it makes a bad novel. On the contrary, the story is very effective. I only longed to hear more. Also, the lectures are incredibly interesting focusing on a range of subjects from the rights of animals to the meaning of representing evil in literature. We are given the voice of the artist who is uncertain about his creations and wary of the fame they have brought him, something that the majority of readers don't normally want to hear. Coetzee is able to make this interesting with his masterful use of language and compelling ideas. No doubt Coetzee's uncomfortable relationship to his literary fame has only been strained further having recently won the Nobel Prize. I wonder if he had been writing this novel a little later whether he would have also included the speech he delivered at that ceremony. While this is a fascinating work, I would suggest that if you are approaching Coetzee's work for the first time this strange, short and brilliant novel isn't the best thing to begin with. You might want to start reading some of his earlier and more straightforward novels like the brilliant Disgrace or Age of Iron.


Brick Lane
Brick Lane
by Monica Ali
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tourists in their own Adopted Country, 10 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Brick Lane (Hardcover)
Brick Lane focuses on the story of Nazneen who moves to a Bangladesh community in London when she is still very young. Her marriage to a man named Chanu was arranged and she had very little choice in what she wanted to do with her life. Her destiny as a housewife and mother seems to have been set, but one of the main focuses of this novel is questioning whether the individual can have a hand in forming his or her own destiny. This age old question is artfully contemplated as we follow Nazneen through a great portion of her life while she gives birth three times and cares for her husband. Much of the novel seems to pass in the calm routines of her daily life. However, now and then we are given glimpses of Nazneen's rebellious thoughts which signify that she is anything but a passive character. When she meets an attractive radical named Karim we are aware that everything could easily change.
Brewing beneath this internal and domestic struggle is a conflict in the community of Bangladesh immigrants who are caught between assimilation to English life and reinventing a shared space where they can express their religion and culture. Many of these people came to England with the hope of earning a fortune and returning to their own country triumphantly wealthy. This rarely happens. Many have to renegotiate their sense of their own identities to survive in a culture that is alien and sometimes hostile toward them. Political groups form in the community. Things come to a crisis. It becomes evident that the community is not as threatened by groups outside of itself as by it's own internal divisions. The fact that many of these Bagladeshi people live their entire lives in England and still feel like outsiders is illuminated in a scene where Chanu takes his family on a hilarious outing to view London like tourists.
Monica Ali gives tremendous dignity to all her characters. While many may feel a natural sympathy with Nazneen as a captive to her own household, the idealistic Chanu is drawn as a very complex and loveable character. He may be stubborn, unappreciative and lost in his own dreams. But he's also shown to be very loving, honest and loyal to his family. Throughout the entire novel Nazneen keeps in touch with her sister who lives a difficult life in Bangladesh. This gives a hint of the life she might have had if she had chosen not to obediently follow tradition and proceed with her arranged marriage. This novel is filled with humor and sorrow making it an extremely compulsive and delightful read. The familial struggles really transcend any national boundaries however formed they are by cultural traditions. Ali gives a truly universal story in a very specific setting.


Vernon God Little
Vernon God Little
by D. B. C. Pierre
Edition: Hardcover

32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Noose is Tightening, 9 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Vernon God Little (Hardcover)
Vernon is a typical American teenage boy living in Martirio, Texas. He spends a lot of time fantasizing about the panties of a particular girl. He suffers the abuse of dominant social groups at his high school. He struggles to maintain a sense of normality in his broken home. Only one day his friend Jesus reaches his breaking point and things get out of hand. Suddenly Vernon is caught in a maelstrom of controversy when the nation in its grief points a guilty finger. He must justify his innocence by wading through the media-hype determined to crucify him without the help of his friends and family who are caught up in their own banal problems. Vernon sets out on a surreal escape from America.
Pierre creates a highly original voice in this dark, funny and incredibly clever novel. The structure is somewhere between satire and a dream-like logic where Vernon stumbles upon a number of colorful characters that distract him from his goal. While Vernon himself isn’t especially likeable, his commentary on America with all his clever twists of language is hilarious to read. Vernon and his mother have an uncomfortable but loving relationship. While on death row, Vernon’s mother is more concerned about the delivery of a new almond toned refrigerator. Vernon’s ongoing analysis of the relationship between mother and son is devastating. More than its political commentary, I think this novel makes a powerful statement about familial relations. There has been a lot of attention paid recently to gun control and high school massacres. Pierre manages to make a moving statement about American values using the voice of a decidedly average boy caught in extraordinary circumstances. This isn’t a cynical treatise. For all it’s bitterness, Vernon God Little has a lot of hope.


The Good Doctor
The Good Doctor
by Damon Galgut
Edition: Paperback

78 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Youthful Optimism vs Middle Aged Cynicism, 8 Oct. 2003
This review is from: The Good Doctor (Paperback)
Galgut's novel evokes the stark landscape of rural post-apartheid South Africa. But do not let the daunting subject matter scare you away. This is a highly accessible novel written in simple, but eloquent prose. It's told from the point of view of middle-aged Frank Eloff who is an under-achieving doctor that has spent many years of his life at a remote hospital waiting to be promoted. He begins the tale when an enthusiastic young doctor named Laurence joins the hospital as part of a required year of training. The two are required to share a room. A uncomfortable friendship blossoms. Laurence is determined to use his time at the hospital to make some radical changes as part of the new South Africa he welcomes. Frank however isn't so certain that the old South Africa has entirely left. Through the novel they are confronted by unavoidable people and problems from the past which slow the progress Laurence so ardently desires.
It's a literary work that contemplates the dilemma of the new South Africa with the same brevity as Gordimer's None to Accompany Me and Coetzee's Disgrace. Apart from the political connotations, this novel is a powerful and haunting tale about friendship and a man coming to terms with his middle age. It echoes the disturbing quality of Ibsen's Ghosts through its repetition of sexual betrayal. Toward the end of Frank's narrative, his accounts become more hallucinatory and his honesty becomes uncertain. A tremendous guilt overshadows his narrative. There is a desire to shake the complacency of the environment, yet any attempt at progress instantly proves futile. This is a very melancholy novel, but one of captivating beauty and intriguing mystery.


Notes on a Scandal
Notes on a Scandal
by Zoe Heller
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Romance and a Passionate Friend, 8 Oct. 2003
This review is from: Notes on a Scandal (Hardcover)
Notes on a Scandal is narrated by a late middle-aged teacher named Barbara. She has decided to write an account of her friendship with her former colleague Sheba in the hope of clarifying the events which led to Sheba's dismissal from their school. Sheba is a new pottery teacher who has been married for a long time with two children. Over the course of her first year teaching she strikes up an intimate friendship with a 15 year-old pupil named Connolly. The student's interest in learning is very welcome as Sheba's success with the rest of the students is minimal. Sheba's optimism about a student who actually cares about learning is quickly confused with feelings of lust. The two have an affair which becomes public and leads to Sheba's ultimate humiliation and isolation from everyone except the ever devoted Barbara.
Although Barbara begins the novel professing to write about her friend Sheba, the narrative is gradually subsumed with details of Barbara's life. She is an extremely solitary individual prone to making sharp judgements about people. Her last close friendship ended abruptly. We can only infer that the reason for this was because Barbara became far too attached. Hoping to become the objective recorder of Sheba's plight, Barbara is revealed to be anything but an innocent bystander. Late in the novel Sheba gets a hold of these "notes" written by Barbara and denounces it all as lies calling into question the validity of Barbara's already suspect account. This tremendous novel was written with great subtlety and yields a fascinating plot fuelled by passion. It doesn't condone or condemn the legally inappropriate student-teacher relationship which takes place. Instead it illuminates the complexities involved where the moral line is blurred while making powerful statements about the nature of lust and obsession.


Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
Astonishing Splashes Of Colour
by Clare Morrall
Edition: Paperback

42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intensely Colored Emotions, 6 Oct. 2003
Astonishing Splashes of Colour, Clare Morrall's first published novel, takes its title from a description of Peter Pan's Neverland. It follows the life of an eccentric Birmingham woman who in a sense never has grown up. She is impulsive, doesn't follow conventional daily time tables and can be rather mischievous. But like a child she is someone you have an immediate affection for if only, for no other reason, the purity of her response to the world. It is revealed that Kitty reacts this way because of family tragedies that have impaired her ability to act rationally and develop a secure sense of self. She lives a kind of improvised life reviewing children's books, occasionally visiting her husband who lives in the apartment next door and fostering a strange obsession for her nieces as well as other children. The remote nature of her family relations makes it all too clear why this woman maintains a childish need for love and attention.
The great strength of this novel is the strong personality of the protagonist as she relates her tale in a barely chronological sequence (which suits her jumbled state of consciousness). We follow her mood swings which switch dramatically from joy to deep depression. These are illuminated by the way she views people that emanate certain colors in accordance with her emotions. She can be at one time horribly remote and at another time excruciatingly too personal. The plot quickly gains speed as the novel progresses revealing startling details about Kitty's past. It's to the author's credit that a seemingly innocent journey to the sea side can take on such dark undertones. We feel simultaneously sympathetic and horrified with Kitty for embarking on this impetuous journey. For all this novel's local flavor, it conveys universal truths about the bonds of family, the need for love and the subsistence of childhood innocence into adulthood.


My Life as a Fake
My Life as a Fake
by Peter Carey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.48

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding the Real Amidst Words, 10 Sept. 2003
This review is from: My Life as a Fake (Hardcover)
Following from Carey's hugely successful True History of the Kelly Gang, the author plucks another charismatic figure from history to reform in his fiction. This time he has taken the Ern Malley hoax and rewritten it using a bounty of sumptuous detail. In the 1940s a couple of writers sought to play a joke on the surrealist movement of the time. Their hoax got out of hand. They composed poetry using a mixture of their own original work, Shakespeare, a rhyming dictionary and a US army report. However, it was taken seriously, published and then caused a scandal because the content of the work was considered indecent. In many ways the editor who first received the work considered that the fake poet really did come to life. Stemming from this thought, Carey creates the story of Christopher Chubb who similarly sets up a literary hoax. This time, the fictional poet really does come to life.
The narrator of My Life is a Fake is the English poetry editor Sarah Wode-Douglass. She travels to Kuala Lumpur on the invitation of her acquaintance, the poet John Slater, with whom she has a long and complicated past. By accident she meets Chubb who is working in a bicycle repair shop. He gives her a glimpse of a poem by the poet he created named McCorkle. Sarah is desperate to retrieve this poet's work to make her own claim to fame. However, first she must hear the whole gruesome story behind it. It is a complicated affair leading Sarah and the reader to wonder what is real and what is fake. McCorkle comes to life and discredits Chubb's own life. Not only is Chubb's past revealed, but through conversations with Slater Sarah's own past is examined. Another fake is revealed.
Carey does a magnificent job at evoking the environment of Kuala Lumpur in this time period. He creates a thrilling story despite its complicated plot. As the story progresses it becomes confusing who exactly is narrating the story. This fight to be heard seems to be the point because the spotlight is the object of desire for which the characters' manic ambition is set. Lies are the fuel used to gain entry into it. Each character struggles to make their lies sound the most convincing. It is the reader's delightful job to sift through for the truth.


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