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Roger Risborough (Richmond)

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Funny Girl
Funny Girl
Price: £6.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Funny Peculiar, 7 Dec 2014
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This review is from: Funny Girl (Kindle Edition)
I spent the whole time reading this wondering why Nick Hornby wrote the book at all (other than to meet publishers' deadlines). I'm sure there's something interesting to be written about the world of BBC sitcoms of the early/mid 1960s, but Hornby hasn't found it. His central characters are all loosely (lazily?) based on real people from the era - the (allegedly) funny girl of the title is an apparent amalgam of Lucille Ball, Diana Dors and Barabara Windsor (she's called Barbara, initially at least), and she ends up working with comedy writers, Bill and Tony, who are in the mould of Galton & Simpson. Various actual known names are thrown into the mix (Harold Wilson, Marcia Williams, Mick Jagger, Lucille Ball etc) all to create a true-life memoir feel (but failing), and various issues of the time (class, permissiveness, homosexuality) are leadenly layered over everything. If the book tries to be the tale of a life in showbiz during the formative years of TV and comedy, what eventually emerges is a book about partnerships, both personal and professional, and this really could have been a much stronger theme capable of saving the book. But ideas about how partnerships ignite, flourish, crumble, turn in on themselves, but ultimately continue in some form, all come too late to justify a further commission for this established writer whose latest experiment has failed, I'm afraid. Cancel the sequel.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2014 7:35 PM GMT


Killing Bono
Killing Bono
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Pro Bono, 18 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Killing Bono (Kindle Edition)
This was recommended to me as a side-splitting, life-changing book, which is always dangerous, because rather like Neil McCormick during his formative years, my expectations were way too high. My sides didn't split and my life hasn't changed, just as the author's life didn't change as much as he assumed it would as soon as he plugged-in his microphone and faced his fans. He also assumed that that gobby little squit Paul Hewson in the year below him at school in Dublin would never amount to anything, and this book is basically a record of Neil McCormick's lifelong astonishment at the meteoric rise of Bono and U2 set against his own faltering steps in the music business. So the book is really a tragedy rather than a comedy, about the world's 2nd most ambitious pop-star-in-waiting going to school with the world's 1st most ambitious ROCK star in the world (the distinction is Bono's). I'm not a fan of U2's music, and I was never won over by their lead singer, but while McCormick just wanted fame a little too much (check out the "Shook Up/Yeah Yeah" videos on Youtube for evidence), what I take most from this book is a warmer disposition towards Bono.


Us
Us
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Story Of A Lot Of Us, 28 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Us (Kindle Edition)
In his first novel "Starter For Ten", David Nicholls wrote about student infatuations. He followed that up with "One Day" which dealt with what happens when student relationships leak out into the grown-up world. Now comes "Us", and here the author writes about what happens when grown-up relationships leak-out into middle age and mid-life crises. So there's a sense of continuity with the earlier works, and another strong structure (which made One Day so compelling), this time based on one family's last ditch attempt to find harmony and unity by flogging across Europe on a latter day Grand Tour. Our grand tourists are Douglas (54, a straight-line-thinking-scientist), wife Connie (a thwarted artist who fell into a relationship with Douglas to escape all the flaky Lotharios of her trendy London life), and 17 year old son Albie (Egg) - a predictably taciturn teenager much more in the image of his Bohemian mother than his "on-the-spectrum" father. After more than 25 years of head-down-hard-work, career-progress and generally battling the outside world, Douglas suddenly realises that the biggest threats to his happiness are within his own family. His son is due to leave home for college (never having been that close to his Dad) and his wife is terrified by the prospect of being left alone with dull-Douglas, and wants to leave too. For some reason, Douglas thinks the claustrophobia and stresses of an extended family holiday will repair all this damage. Instead, it gives Douglas lots more evidence of how far he's drifted apart from wife and son. Throughout this process though, the author leaves us in no doubt where our sympathies should lie, and it's hard to disagree with him, particularly if as the reader you share Douglas's age, career arc, character traits and place in the family pecking-order. Connie has fallen out of love with the man who hasn't changed since the day she met him, and their son doesn't value any of Douglas's values of steadfastness, reliability, efficiency and moderation. So it's not exactly a balanced argument on behalf of all parties, and we are asked to believe in this very unbalanced marriage of personality-polar-opposites, but it makes for a fast-paced read about an increasingly frenetic game of Unhappy Famiies/Hide And Seek across the art galleries of Europe. It isn't One Day, but it is the story of a lot of Us.


Man at the Helm
Man at the Helm
Price: £5.03

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Man Overboard, 12 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Man at the Helm (Kindle Edition)
What an odd book! Nina Stibbe's first book was a memoir of her times as a teenage nanny in London, seeing her strange new world through child-like eyes with simple, matter-of-fact, child-like observations. Now we get the prequel, a first-person, simple, matter-of-fact child's eye view of growing up and coping with parental divorce in rural Leicestershire in the 1970s. In other words, the same "voice" and general approach as "Love Nina", only this time the narrative is presented as being fictional rather than autobiographical. The trouble is, this FEELS very autobiographical, and the ambiguity this creates (did that actually happen to the author or not?) robs "Man At The Helm" of all its interest for me. The success of "Love Nina" is down to the reader thinking "that's amazing/hilarious/bizarre BECAUSE it's true . . . ". With the follow-up I found myself thinking "that would be amazing/hilarious/bizarre IF it's true . . . if not, it's just a random load of make-believe". Odd to criticize a piece of fiction for being made-up, but Nina Stibbe's wonderful first book is an impossible act to follow with fiction . . . with or without a man at the helm.


Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it
Harry's Last Stand: How the world my generation built is falling down, and what we can do to save it

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Half-Way To Hell In A Hand-Cart, 9 Oct 2014
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This is thought-provoking and sobering . . . but not life-changing. Harry Smith takes us back to the days of his very hard childhood in the Yorkshire towns of The Depression and The Second World War, and reminds us all why we should be grateful for our Welfare State and National Health Service. And why we should all be trying harder to protect these great British social/political achievements. So nothing that Danny Boyle didn't also remind us of, with a much lighter touch, in the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics, and at least Boyle threw in all the other aspects of modern Britain that we should also be proud of. Harry, however, doesn't really focus on any positives - according to him, we're all already half-way to hell, and it's the bankers, the politicians, tax-dodging big business, the pay-day-lenders and the celebrity-obsessed media who are pushing the hand-cart. Obvious targets, perhaps, and the author hits them hard and frequently, but in the end I think it's good that Harry has played his seniority card to make us think a bit harder about our society, and the role each of us plays in it.


Boy About Town
Boy About Town
Price: £3.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Start or Finish?, 2 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Boy About Town (Kindle Edition)
This is rather a sad book on reflection. It's a nostalgic look back at a Golden Age of youth music (late 70s/early 80s), and charts, (literally, from 50 down to No.1 in chapter numbers) Tony Fletcher's journey through his teenage years. Quite a story, too with all of the complexities and contradictions of growing up. In some ways he's very advanced for his years (older friends, good musical taste, rubbing shoulders with various stars), but by his own admission he was a very late developer physically (this leads to bullying, insecurity and introversion). And what emerges is a picture of a young lad pushing himself to grab a bit of music industry lime-light for the sake of some self-empowerment and as an escape from having his trousers pulled-down in the playground. Fletcher starts a fanzine, eventually called "Jammin'" and eventually an industry success, and one that gives him access to Keith Moon, Pete Townshend and Paul Weller, and hence a musical heritage linking Mods ancient and, er, modern. But he has two real aims - to be a rock star himself, and to lose his virginity - so, it's a universal story that lots of people can relate to. But here's why it's so sad . . . I'd never heard of Tony Fletcher before reading this, so while he crowingly loses his cherry before the end of the book, rock stardom obviously eluded him, and the conclusion really is that a book that is packed with hope, expectation, ambition and optimism (and ends with a chapter entitled "Start"), is really a (chart) count-down to the end of what probably turned-out to be the author's own Golden Age. Again, something too many of us can probably relate to.


The Planner
The Planner
Price: £5.66

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Application Deferred, 22 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Planner (Kindle Edition)
Reading this book is a bit like submitting a planning application. Lots of interest all round at the start (local authority planner must decide whether to leave London or not) followed by a long drawn-out process, (planner tries to sample everything the city he helped plan actually has to offer, be it sex or drugs or rock-and-roll), and finally a disappointing outcome (not a refusal, more of a deferral). Like a master plan for a city, the concept is good but the implementation is disappointing.


Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.
Price: £4.79

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Look At Me, Listen To Me, Be Impressed By Me . . ., 13 Sep 2014
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Just in case there's any doubt that this should be in the "Oooh, Look At Me" section of your lending library, Viv Albertine entitles the opening chapter of her autobiography "Masturbation". She claims the practice itself doesn't do it for her (so to speak) but you could argue the whole book is an exercise in it. Albertine is instantly unlikeable as a person, but just like one of her many rockstar conquests, as a reader she targets you, reels you in, snogs you senseless, and then moves on. The first half of this book is effectively a manifesto for being the girlfriend from hell (I WILL sleep with your friends, I WILL sleep with your rivals) - and what emerges is the story of someone who doesn't need boyfriends, fellow band members, partners, friends, or husbands, she just needs people who will bolster her big, fragile ego, or 'muses' as she calls them. But not liking the author as a person doesn't mean you can't like her as a writer, because she has a great story to tell and she is brilliant at telling it (thank god she talked the publishers out of using a ghost-writer). And in the end (ie now) bereft of her 'muses' (divorce leads to friends melting away), a new Viv Albertine emerges, uncertain and unsteady, but increasingly determined, and ultimately, much more likeable. Terrible title, great book.


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Price: £2.69

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jean Louise Finch meets Madonna Louise Ciccone., 9 Sep 2014
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This book is an amalgam of various American icons and themes. As a little girl, our narrator, Rosemary, has the adult-in-a-grown-up's-body of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, whilst as a college student, she meets Harlow, her first real grown-up friend who comes over like Madonna: sassy and street-wise, and by taking Rosemary out of her comfort zone, she is the mechanism that allows the narrator's odd family story to unfold. On the surface, Rosemary's home-life is not that strange - a dad who becomes increasingly detached and unloved, a 'mom' on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a runaway brother, an unusual family pet, and an oft-referred-to inciting incident . . . The book's chronology switches backwards and forwards, before and after this incident, which when it is finally laid-out in front of us, doesn't seem "inciting" enough for what followed and the impact it had on all concerned. Ultimately, this is about the distorted realities and mythologies of all families (again, a very familiar theme), and how we all pay a heavy price for miscommunication and mistaken memories. After a fire-cracker start, the book flattens out, but finishes with a very powerful last page - and for me, that's only enough to get three stars. "Me Cheeta" covers some of the same territory, but with much more wit and wisdom.


H is for Hawk
H is for Hawk
Price: £3.80

41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars H is for Hmmmmm . . ., 2 Sep 2014
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This review is from: H is for Hawk (Kindle Edition)
The idea behind this book is brilliant. And it starts magnificently, gripping you as I now understand a hawk will clutch the outstretched gloved-hand of its trainer (if it's holding a dead chick). Helen MacDonald is suddenly many things - a bereaved daughter, a Cambridge post-graduate, a life-long lover of falconry, and now the proud but unconfident owner of a young goshawk, Mabel. Out of all this comes her book, a deeply layered memoir of grief, loss, the past and letting-go. Inspired by the works of TH White as a girl (both his Arthurian fiction and his real-life ramblings about hawksmanship) she now records her own faltering falconry against White's, at the same time laying bare both their vulnerable emotional states. The irony is that both White and MacDonald have to imprison a bird-of-prey as a means of setting themselves free from their own traumas - in White's case repressed sexuality and missed opportunities, in MacDonald's case, grief for her much-loved father.
This is a heavy weight for Mabel's feathered shoulders, and she frequently fails to play her part properly in the author's recovery process, resulting in a long, drawn-out battle of wills, and lots of repetitive coaxing involving stuttering take-offs and bumpy landings (for both hawk and "austringer"). This protraction is not great for engaging the non-austringer-reader over long distances. It seems harsh to buy someone's autobiography and then criticise them for being self-obsessed, but that's how I ended-up feeling, as well as wondering about the central contradiction of loving hawks, given that their well-being is based on the savage death of lots of other wild creatures. I now know a lot more about hawks, T H White and H MacDonald, but in the end I was no longer "gripped", and my interest had long since flown.


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