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Mr. S. O'kane "snagii" (London, England)
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The Road
The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walk On, 13 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Road (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I came into this novel a McCarthy virgin. I know he is considered one of this generation's greatest authors (and an Oscar winner for the adaptation of 'No Country for Old Men') but I'd never been curious enough to pick up any of the many acclaimed novels he has written up 'till now. I'm not sure why he has failed to prick my curiosity until now. Perhaps it's the intensity of the media intelligentsia raving on and on about his use of language that has intimidated me until this point. Anyway, 'The Road' is now my starting point for Cormac McCarthy and based on this, he has started me on a dark and gripping journey.

The novel starts with no marker, no compass point and no history. We thrown into the deep end with two nameless characters - a man and a boy - facing a charred, grey, lifeless exterior somewhere in America. It isn't obvious, as they make their way down this long southern road, that this is not just one bad part of the country, the whole nation seems to have been violated in this way. Nuclear war? The effects of 'Climate change'? A killer virus? We just don't know but it has left a devastating effect on the land and its people. Forced into such devastation the man and boy make their way to eke out some kind of existence, while avoiding gangs the 'bad guys' who only see their fellow man as food.

Whereas this sort of story line could reek of the worst excesses of pulp horror, McCarthy, by focussing on the humble and heroic story of these two 'survivors', steers well clear of falling into the trashy clichés of the post-apocalyptic zombie novel. That still sounds a little like a Hollywood 'hero' story but it's far more clever and difficult than that. First of all, there is a relentlessness to the boredom of their existence: they slowly make their way down the road, occasionally stopping by an abandoned house to forage for food, stop for the night to recuperate and wake the next morning to do it all over again. This goes on and on and on to the end. It might sound like a boring experiment in novel writing but McCarthy's wonderful descriptions of the landscapes that punctuate this mundane odyssey never makes this repetition seem dull. Secondly, the moments of horror that do occur amidst this day-to-day routine are not garishly laid out like Stephen King or Shaun Hudson but reflect more of the utter tragedy that has befallen mankind amidst this environmental hell. I won't spoil too much here but to give you one example there is moment late on in the novel with a baby by a fire that almost had me in tears: it was so devastatingly sad.

However, there is something beautiful that does come out of all this: the relationship between father and son. McCarthy allows his characters the chance to hope as if that is all they have. Even in the darkest moments they never lose faith in each other and know that, come what may, they need each other more than ever. When they do stumble on some luck (such as a safehouse full of food and supplies) you feel for them and delight in the small moments of fun they share in their newly found safety. It's in these moments of bonding that the crux of 'The Road' really hits home: they both know they must keep going for the sake of keeping the flame of (what is left of) humanity alive. This is what drives them - and us - along the long, hard road to the end.

McCarthy's minimalist, mysterious set-up may baffle the reader at first but the simple story, his willingness for our identification with the main characters and the wonderful attention to the detail of horrific landscape around them more than makes up for any initial confusion. This is a superb and life-affirming book in difficult times. And perhaps that is McCarthy's point - keep on, keeping on.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2010 9:49 PM BST


Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict
Hell Bent for Leather: Confessions of a Heavy Metal Addict
by Seb Hunter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highway to Hell, 3 Feb. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I really shouldn't be reviewing this. In the 1980s I HATED metal: ludicrously over the top, unapologetically misogynistic, soulless and not for those who were (like me) a little sensitive and - dare I say it? - a bit more intelligent. I could never understand why anyone I knew would be attracted to the hyper-masculine Guns & Roses rather than the cool f*** off anarchy of The Jesus and Mary Chain at their height but, hey, those were different times.

But no matter how much I avoided metal, I still somehow managed to hear about it and its many waifs & strays in the media. It is this aspect of 'metal history' that draws me in to Hunter's book: no matter how awful or unsuccessful the band was, I remember most of them now and what they sounded or looked like. Perhaps now on reflection some (like Dogs D'Amour) I was a little too harsh on back in the day while others I was right to be suspicious of (Motley Crue springs to mind). This book brought every Spandex-ed, eye-liner-ed, strutting longhaired band all back to life!

But 'Hell Bent for Leather' is more than just a fun, potted history of metal. Hunter's own journey through its demimonde is a wistful and heroic quest for teenage 'rock & roll glory'. Beginning with his first taste of AC/DC at the age of 11; and ending with his own disillusionment of metal's OTT values as Kurt Cobain brings in the cavalry, it is fantastic study of what musical inspiration can do to a teenage lad and his guitar. The last few chapters, in particular, really capture the grim wannabe world of the late 80s London scene with its bankrupt, druggy, slum-sodden day-to-day existence. The real highlights are his own anecdotes of his first-hand experiences of metal's clichés (bad lyrics, silly posing and pointless guitar solos from non-band members) which had me in stitches.

Now, it would be easy for some to suggest here that I'm being a cultural snob permitting us non-metal fans to laugh at what millions harmlessly enjoy year in, year out. True, metal has always been entertainment and as Hunter says himself it was never meant to be anything other than about having a good time. True, it certainly has had its moments (Led Zep IV, 'Down Down' by the Quo, and the Sabs' 'Paranoid' are three that spring to mind). But, sorry folks, I'll never be a metal fan and perhaps I'll always be an outsider to is throngs. But, what Hunter does in 'Hell Bent for Leather' so well is to point out the utter ridiculousness of metal itself and yet validate the sense of belonging amongst its fans without making them look ridiculous as well. After all, his insider knowledge would look somewhat shaky if he has even a scintilla of cynicism about his subject. This is a man who clearly has some fond memories of the fun he had as a big metal fan back in the day and for that he should be saluted. Now, enough of this yakking: LET'S BOOGIE!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2012 8:10 PM GMT


A Woman with No Clothes on
A Woman with No Clothes on
by V.R. Main
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe (Revisited), 27 Jan. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Towards the end of VR Main's debut novel Eduoard Manet in discussing the hysterical fuss over his then new work 'Dejeuner sur L'Herbe' - with its bold female nude staring at the viewer in proud defiance - says 'in times to come, people will see better'. The painting is now hailed (rightly) as the keystone of modernism in art and Manet is regarded as one of the great Parisienne impressionist painters of the late 1800s. But this book, despite the cover using another of his works from this era, is not really about him.

Main's book focusses instead on Victorine Meurent: Manet's model during that key period and the very woman whose eyes burn with pride from the canvas of 'Dejeuner..'. A humble waitress with ambitions of being an artist herself one day she is discovered by Manet in the Tuilleries with a view to modelling for him. Despite her vague idea of getting some tips from him somehow during sessions, she ends up being his muse and her life is changed forever. She struggles in her day to day existence: balancing her private life, her ambitions, her finances, her relationship with her mother and the abject sexism of the era. Yet in the end she triumphs but not without a cost.

Of course, it should be pointed out this is fiction (albeit thoroughly researched as the author pains to point out in the prologue). Main alludes to Muerent's unconfirmed lesbianism (although, she did 'share' a house with another woman towards the end of her life*) and even suggests that one of her lovers appears in Manet's 'L'Olympia'. It is possible that this and other aspects of the 'real' characters may or may not have happened but it doesn't detract from a superbly tender and wonderfully observed novel about this whole era. Although essentially historical in nature, the setting is personal and intimate. A fictitious exploration of the possible motives, emotions and artistic decisions of the works that the main characters had involment in. In Main's writing, you sense Victorine's and Manet's keen eye for detail as they look at the world around them for potential subject matter, wishing they had remembered to take their sketch pads along.

VR Main has successfully painted in the gaps of this brief period with such delightful brushstrokes that one cannot ignore the quality of her own 'canvas'. This is a fascinating novel about a fascinating time in modern culture that also manages to rescue one of its key figures from obscurity: Madamemoiselle V. Murent.

* According to Wikipedia.


Little Brother
Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It Ain't Heavy, It's Little Brother., 22 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Little Brother (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother' should in all reality be a hard hitting missive about the CCTV state and its paranoiac search for so-called subversives, but unfortunately it doesn't quite leave you shivering with fear when you're reading it. The problem is the audience it seems to be aimed for: teenagers. Well, at least that's what I'm guessing its target audience is. There seems to be no acknowledgement who it's for in the preface or on Amazon but the violence within is so muted and the language never gets worse than 'damn' or 'bloody' that you start to wonder if this is a book someone over 18 should be reading at all. This might seem a trivial point to pick up on but given the prescience of the subject, this book should really be as important as its hype suggests. However, it never quite has that 'edge' to make it so because everything seems to be heavily watered down to make it good for the 'kids'. Shame.

I've given it three stars because the plot and the characterisations are actually very good and it did keep me turning the pages. The sections on Mikey's breakdown after being held at Gitmo Bay are beautifully done and quite emotional. On the other hand, the finale was a bit too Hollywood for my liking but I suppose a fantastical story needs a fantastical ending and that's what some will come to expect from this sort of thing (not me, though). And the geeky techie stuff!!!!! Do we really need two hard-to-read pages or so to describe something most of us will never ever use? No. Please. I'm not a geeky nerd, just get on with the plot, man!!!

Little Brother is not as great as Neil Gaiman et al suggests on the back blurb but it's not a bad book to stumble on if you want some topical sci-fi. It's a real shame that it isn't a harder, nastier novel given the subject but if you want to 'arm' the next generation of right-thinking kids perhaps this is what you have to do.


Babylon [DVD]
Babylon [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brinsley Forde
Price: £5.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chant Down Babylon..., 18 Nov. 2008
This review is from: Babylon [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As many have already recounted here, my first recollection of Franco Rosso's movie 'Babylon' was way back in the mid 1980s (?) when Channel 4 in the UK screened it late one Friday night. Back then I was a mere slip of a teenager with a growing musical taste but sadly not one to yet embrace the various wondrous and complex qualities of Jamaican music. However, the movie did fascinate me at the time because I was taking an interest in UK politics and the effects of Thatcher's repressive right-wing regime on us all.

The re-release of this movie nearly 25 years after that one night stand couldn't come at a better time. My love of Dub and the legendary sound systems that blasted through the cities and large towns of the UK back in the day has never been bigger. I've been waiting to see this movie again for quite some time to bring everything full circle. From what I've read about it from fans of the movie or those - like me - who also saw it just the once back then on TV, it appears its historical and cultural importance demands a decent re-release. So, here it is.

But first, I want to big up Dennis Bovell's sublime soundtrack. It's absolutely outstanding. For a film about extant Afro-Carribean sound systems in Britain, it needed to be authentic and by god it is. But rather than solely using that as background music throughout, Bovell also throws in a mini-history of Jamaican music to accompany different scenes. For example, the engagement party scene kicks off with a stonking ska track which then cuts to a slick lovers rock track as the soon-to-be bride & groom slow dance. Also, the Nyahbinghi track banging away in the Rastafarian temple scene near the end is fantastic stuff if you've never ever heard the genre. It really is worth tracking down the soundtrack album for this even if you don't get the movie at all. There's not a single duff track on it.

So, what do I make of the movie now? It's an absolute crime that 'Babylon' died a death on its release because I really do believe that is one of the most important British youth culture movies of the 20th Century. I can't think of any movie that nail the gritty day-to-day experience of Afro-Caribbean youth under Thatcher's Britain and also gives us an accurate taste of the sound system culture to boot. The fact that the patois is difficult to understand isn't an issue here, the symbolism is. Remember, this movie came out one year after Thatcher's election and one year before the explosive riots in Toxteth and Brixton. In Brinsley Forde's performance as Blue, we see a man gradually stripped of hope and potential by the racist white society around him and, although it is somewhat predictable, his frustration ends in violence (albeit reluctantly). Although that does seem a disappointing cliche given the bigger message being put across, the movie does, however, end in a rousing defiant gesture of resistance by the Ital Lion crew. This should have spoken volumes to a disaffected youth out there on the cusp of difficult times but alas, the movie wasn't allowed to get the chance to do so.

I cannot recommend this enough. This is as an important a movie about British youth culture as Quadrophenia, or This is England but it has a symbolic edge for its time that those movies never had and as such it carries immense historical value. It's superbly acted and the direction is gritty and uncompromising. Magnificent.


The Mayan Prophecies for 2012
The Mayan Prophecies for 2012
by Gerald Benedict
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The past is our future?, 4 Nov. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Gerald Benedict's book on the ancient Mayan predictive texts presents this reviewer with a real quandry. His research on what the Mayan elders said in their prophecies several thousand years ago is fascinating and very well written. Indeed, Benedict seems to be at pains to make his book an easy read for the masses rather than one for academic eyes only. On these aspects alone, 'Mayan Prophecies for 2012' would easily have merited a 5 star review had it stuck to what was actually said by those who set out their vision of the next 26,000 years.

However, what lets this book down is Benedict's own modern analyses of what the Mayan elders prophesised about the end of the 'Long Cycle' in 2012. It is one thing stating the facts of what was actually written down, it is another to try and interpret them in a modern and topical way without even a scintilla of subjective criticism. His 'summaries' of each prophecy are not even handed and - dare I say it - seem somewhat slightly biased towards the politics of modern alternative culture. One can certainly agree that we have many problems in our world today and they do need to be addressed, but do we want to base our actions on a loose 21st century analysis of an ancient text? Especially by an author who seems convinced that because they got one prediction right (the arrival of the Spanish to Mesoamerica), they must surely be trusted with such far-reaching knowledge to guide us to our future salvation. Sorry, no. That is stretching it quite a bit.

Shame. I really enjoyed the enlightening (no pun intended) aspects of Mayan culture that Benedict brought to the fore in many parts of this book. It is saddening to see him use ancient Mayan culture to - if you like - politicise it for an agenda that is of this era, not theirs. We may indeed change our way of thinking about the world around us or have changes thrust upon us by nature in years to come, but not many of us will look back and say 'Gee, the Mayans were right. Dang! We should have done something'. It's not that convincing an argument, Mr Benedict, to make us all sit up and take notice. Stick to relating the facts in future.


Selling Your Father's Bones: The Epic Fate of the American West
Selling Your Father's Bones: The Epic Fate of the American West
by Brian Schofield
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Buried stories, bleeding pain., 28 Oct. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have to admit this was one of the hardest books I've been asked to read under the Vine programme. I do read academic books for my ongoing BA in Humanities course at the OU but I don't make a habit of reading such books in my free-time.

However, this was a thoroughly researched book with a point to a prove. The story of the Native Americans and how the incumbent Europeans have 'dealt' with 'them' is one that needs to be told so that 'we' never make the same mistake again. Schofield's tome is a welcome addition to the many that have so far debunked the theory that 'we tamed the savages' and is worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee'. My only criticism is that it is perhaps a little too academic for a larger audience in terms of reaching out to others but I suppose that may not be the point of it.

An excellent book and worth it if you have more than a passing interest in the old Wild West.


Netherland
Netherland
by Joseph O'Neill
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Amsterdam, 28 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Netherland (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Unlike some other reviewers here, I disagree with the sentiment that this novel doesn't do what it says on the tin, so to speak. Joseph O'Neill's 'Netherland' IS exactly that: a topographic overview of a man lost in the vastness of New York City; lost amongst other fellow immigrants; lost after the breakdown of his own marriage post 9/11; and finding himself very far, far away from his homeland & the warm memories it brings back to him (hence the cover photograph).

I thoroughly enjoyed O'Neill's empathetic reading of Hans and his adventurous 2 year long "lost weekend". He desperately tries anything to pick up his life again (driving lessons, one night stands, cricket etc) and you find yourself routing for him as he shifts from one time-killer to another, in the hope that he breaks the cycle of listlessness and moves on with his life. A saviour seems to appear in the form of the mysterious Chuck Ramkissoon (an ambitious cricket-loving Trinidadian) whom he befriends but - without giving too much away - he is not as he appears to be. When Hans unravels what Chuck was really all about, he also comes to some hard-hitting conclusions about himself and he finally sees the light.

Don't be put off by the endless cricket references in some of the other reviews here on Amazon because it is far more than just a novel about a lost cricketer in New York. It is one man's listless, yet gripping, odyssey in New Amsterdam after 9/11 and O'Neill effortless lays it out in just over 250 pages. A deserved Man Booker nomination, in my opinion. One of the novels of the year.


Atmospheric Disturbances
Atmospheric Disturbances
by Rivka Galchen
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Baffling, befuddling and unlikeable., 13 Aug. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's a good thing Rivka Galchen's 'Atmospheric Disturbances' is only 240 pages long because I don't think I could have taken much more of it if there was another 100 or so pages left. The title of my review says it all: it was an incredibly difficult and frustrating read with little to enjoy along the way. I really cannot think of anything positive to say about it.

Budding authors are often told to write about what you know and perhaps this may explain why Galchen's debut novel echoes her background - graduated as a MD in the States and later worked on public health in South America. It's certainly an interesting idea to explore the breakdown of a psychiatrist through his own critical eyes but the thoroughness of the lead character's dry and ludicrous theories about his 'missing wife', make Dr Leo Liebenstein a cold, unlikeable character in my opinion. His wife, her mother and even his patient Harvey are all in crisis around him but yet he cannot see this admist the delusion of his misguided hunch and as a result selfishly goes off on a bizarre quest to prove it, despite rational evidence to the contrary. His research seems to go on and on with little change in fortune but he never snaps out of it to the frustration of the reader. Galchen makes it very difficult for us to identify with Libenstein by letting him go off like this with little effort to try and make us empathise with him. Even when the novel ends, there is no 'reveal' as a trade off for all this jiggery-pokery - he is still is unshaken from his 'truth' and there is no explanation as to what has made the doctor crack in the first place. This might have saved the novel from being a tedious, baffling exercise in psychiatric fiction (if such a genre exists, that is).

This is an ugly, babbling mess of a debut novel with little to recommend to fellow readers. It's a hard slog of a read that made me wish I hadn't bothered. As a comedian might say about Galchen's debut - for a novelist, she'd make a great psychiatrist. Awful.


Bright Shiny Morning
Bright Shiny Morning
by James Frey
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars City Of Blinding Lights, 4 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Bright Shiny Morning (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
From what I've read elsewhere James Frey has already cut an infamous figure in literary circles with his debut book 'A Million Little Pieces'. Purported - at first - to be a personal memoir of his past, it was later exposed by the media as pure fiction instead. Cue huge public outrage and a public dressing down & humiliation on the Oprah Winfrey show. To be honest, I'd not heard a single word about all of this before I began this novel and I'm glad I didn't: 'Bright Shiny Morning' is absolutely brilliant regardless of any reputation Frey has.

This novel isn't easy to describe. There are 4 main plots and these are mixed in with either brief snapshots of other minor denizens of LA or various bits of trivia about the city today (for example a list of the innumerate murderous gangs that roam its streets). Every break in the book is punctuated with events in the history of the city in the form of a single paragraph on a single page. Like the city itself, the novel is a sprawling mix of these strands but it never complicates itself by twisting them all together. The brief snippets of history and one off stories here & there allow the 4 main plots to breathe independently.

I thoroughly enjoyed this innovative book from cover to cover. Aside from the book's wonderful structure, the 4 main stories reflect the best known aspects of LA (& America today) very well: the rich & famous, the down & out, the migrant worker and kids in search of the American Dream. I often did wonder amidst the bulk of the novel if some of the shorter ones would be expanded later on or somehow clash with the bigger stories but, on reflection now, I'm glad they didn't. Such is the vastness of LA's varied populace, perhaps leaving out other individual voices meant some parts had to stand alone (beguilingly) in the way they did. The novel is really is a such a huge, delicious yet terrifying mix of ideas and one started to sense that the lead character wasn't someone from the 4 main stories, but Los Angeles itself.

This is my novel of the year so far. By a country mile. A modern masterpiece.


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