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P. Pensom (London)

Page: 1
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.00

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The welcoming past, 7 Dec 2011
This review is from: 11.22.63 (Hardcover)
I'd not read any Stephen King for decades, but I liked the sound of this one. The trope is that of time travel, but the subtext is twofold: a nagging sense that the traumatic ruptures of the sixties were somehow avoidable, and a longing for the warm embrace of the welcoming past.

Even a passing familiarity with King cannot disguise his affection for Maine, the state where he grew up. This sense of place, and of the values of rural, smalltown America are recurring themes, and in this book he returns to them once more, his nostalgia pinned explicitly this time to 1957, a year when he would have been eleven years old.

George Orwell wrote that food tasted better in his childhood. King's protagonist says the same here. Of course we can argue about preservatives, intensive farming and production methods, but that overlooks the fact what changes most dramatically over time is the eater, not the eatables. Has everything been in perpetual decline since my childhood, or is it possible that nothing tangible could ever compare to my memory of it? The answer is inescapable, and thus the time tunnel in this book leads us not to 1957, but to the golden, sunny uplands of King's remembrance of it.

That's not to say that King's 1950's are one dimensional; there is light and shade here to be sure, but allusions to social issues sometimes feel tokenistic: it's clear where both the author and his protagonist's hearts lie. This is a better place; simpler, more trusting, more guileless. It's a place you could call home.

I was repeatedly struck when reading this book with the similarities to modern computer games. I don't know how familiar King is with the medium, but this idea, of the immersive environment, waiting just beyond the veil of reality chimed exactly with the kind of massive role playing games that are commonplace nowadays. The seductive conceit of the 'complete reset' used here, whereby wrongs can be righted simply through exiting and reentering the world is surely drawn from the collective subconscious of the 'delete-undo' generation. I've personally felt the temporal dislocation caused by the instinctive recourse to 'command-z', to undo some small mishap in the real world. Perhaps our technology is in some way preparing us for the inevitability of time travel.

Modern political narratives stem from the wellspring of the 1960s. For conservatives it's where things started to go wrong, for liberals the betrayal of the decade's idealism is the source of much subsequent strife. King's sympathies lie firmly in the latter camp, hence the mission of the novel: use the 'rabbit hole' to travel back to 1957 and prevent the Kennedy assassination, hence changing the course of history. This is a long novel, and the journey to Dallas on that November day is labyrinthine, but the moral questions raised are profound: to kill a murderer before he commits his crime is utilitarianism writ large.

Time travel always invites debate, but for the most part King handles the inevitable paradoxes with aplomb. The mechanisms controlling his worlds are delicate, and his solutions plausible. It takes a writer of some skill to introduce a time portal in a pantry with the cogency that he does it. Some have said that the book is overlong, and it is a brick of a novel, but if you think of it as a few pleasurable hours spent back in Maine in '57, it's really no time at all.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 10, 2012 5:15 PM GMT

The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel (Sherlock Holmes Novel 1)
The House of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel (Sherlock Holmes Novel 1)
by Anthony Horowitz
Edition: Hardcover

92 of 101 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great expectations, 22 Nov 2011
The marketing spiel for this book claims that it is 'the first new Sherlock Holmes novel to be published with the endorsement of the Conan Doyle estate'. I'd have thought that that honour would have gone to the collection published by Adrian Conan Doyle in the 1950s, but that's by the by. The novel has garnered a truly impressive list of five star reviews, but though I enjoyed it, I feel unable to wholeheartedly second their appreciation.

For one thing, much has been made of the authenticity, the fidelity of this book to the original canon. I should say that it deviates quite drastically in two distinct ways, one consciously, and the other less so. The first thing that grates is the twenty-first century sensibility; this is both a novel with a social conscience and a very contemporary subject matter. The grisly minutiae of the modern crime novel sits uneasily in a Holmes story, as do his new-found progressive sensibilities. Each generation remakes Holmes anew, and I have no problem with that -- in fact I enjoy it. But I do think that if you make great play of inheriting the mantle of Conan Doyle, you must play by his rules, and not your own.

My second point is less overt: I disagree with most critics about the sensitivity with which this Holmes has been drawn. One of the great pleasures for me in the original stories was the capriciousness of Holmes' character. It's one of the most delicious ironies in literature that the supposed 'thinking machine' is anything but: he's a petulant, vainglorious monomaniac, with little time for anyone or anything save himself.

This is the side to Holmes that I found sorely missing in this book. The showy deductions were there, the scenery was all in place, but where was the arrogance? Where was the selfishness that Jeremy Brett drew out so well in the late TV series? The Holmes in this story seems a quiet, efficient and remarkably well balanced man, entirely unsuited for his chosen profession. When he does offer us asides, they are inevitably so clumsy and obvious that they would have been better left out altogether.

Anybody reading this review will by now have the distinct impression that I detest this book. Far from it. It is big on atmosphere and rattles along at a good pace. It is what you might call a good 'fireside book', and I think I should probably have been less hard on it were it just one of the many apocryphal Holmes stories. But as I said before, the 'official' imprimatur, and the many laurels it has gathered make it subject to a far more rigorous examination.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2013 6:29 PM BST

Offered by MoveAir
Price: 3.25

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid or use with extreme caution, 2 Jun 2009
This thing has never worked at all for me. The connection to the iPhone is unsupported by the structure, so constantly cuts off. It comes with no instructions at all, and doesn't even seem to charge itself, let alone the phone. And what the hell is that 'test' button on the front for? It seems to do nothing and bears no relation to the amount of charge in the machine. As if that wasn't enough though, today it appears to have fatally malfunctioned and fed too much power in to the phone, heating it up quite astonishingly and burning out the chip -- a minimum bill of 100!

Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West
Persian Fire: The First World Empire, Battle for the West
by Tom Holland
Edition: Paperback

68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent popular history, 26 May 2006
Last summer I was carried away to the far distant Roman republic in Holland's 'Rubicon', and enthralling as that book was, the author has excelled himself with 'Persian Fire'. This is partly because, unlike 'Rubicon', where he compressed centuries of events in to one modest book, 'Persian Fire' is far more narrow in scope, and hence moves forward with much greater narrative thrust.

If, like me, your knowledge of the titanic battles between Persia and Greece in 5th Century BC is scanty then you are in for a treat. I found myself unable to put this book down, greedily devouring chapters as if it were a novel. In 'Rubicon', the sheer breadth of the book meant it was easy to become lost in the labyrinthine twists and turns of Roman politics, and often I had to remind myself of the identity of a character. In 'Persian Fire' however, the key events are dictated by a much smaller cast, and are all balanced around a central fulcrum: the great invasion of the west by the east. This gives the book incredible dynamism.

If I were to make one minor cavil, it would be that occasionally Holland tries too hard to make the story relevant to contemporary concerns. The book is littered with modish language and modern references which it would be much better without. Anyone with a passing interest in the subject will be enthralled with this narrative, without constant, obvious comparisons to the functioning of modern superpowers. And can we really be sure that buzzwords like 'spin' and 'bling' will make any more sense to future generations than anachronistic slang from the 1920s does to us? I think not, but that is only a slight blemish on an otherwise outstanding work.

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