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The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth - The Original Classic Edition
The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth - The Original Classic Edition
by H. G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.94

1.0 out of 5 stars Don't order this edition!, 27 Dec. 2014
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The print size is so tiny and faint that you will need a magnifying-glass to read the text. Considering that this edition is more expensive than the alternatives, this amounts to a complete rip-off.


Licensed William Morris Pimpernel Cream 147cm (58") Round Cotton Floral Tablecloth
Licensed William Morris Pimpernel Cream 147cm (58") Round Cotton Floral Tablecloth
Offered by Laura's Beau Ltd
Price: £24.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Caveor emptor, 6 Dec. 2014
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It's always something of a lottery when ordering online with only the visual images and descriptions to go on. I was so disappointed with this tablecloth: the pattern already looks "distressed" rather than being sharply focused, with a horrible yellow shade where the online image had led me to expect at most ivory, and the material is very thin. I have no idea how it will wash, but I certainly cannot recommend it.


Excellent Women (VMC)
Excellent Women (VMC)
by Barbara Pym
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The patina of age, 17 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: Excellent Women (VMC) (Paperback)
One of the first things I noticed when reading "around" this novel on the internet was how poorly it had been read by so many people who posted comments and reviews. Mildred Lathbury is not in her late 30s. In fact, she refers to herself as "just over 30", and half-way through the novel describes herself and Allegra Gray as being two women in "their early thirties", so she must be at most 31 or 32. Nor is the novel set in the early 1950s. The first-person narrator says at one point about her flat, "I've been here two years", having earlier explained to the reader that "during the last year of the war Dora and I had been the only occupants". That means the novel must be set in 1946 or, at the very latest, 1947.
The drabness of the life being described, not least the fashion women were expected to wear (brown coats!), along with references to ration-books, and the clear implication that Rocky Napier was being "demobbed" after service in the Royal Navy, all combine to make the setting immediately post-war.
I did find the constant indications of coffee being prepared somewhat surprising. Real coffee was a luxury in the late 1940s and not an everyday beverage. Indeed, until well into the 1950s people made do with "Camp" coffee extract.
Mildred Lathbury herself is full of contradictions, not all of which are happily resolved in the narration. She makes the reader believe she is something of a little grey mouse, and even intellectually rather restricted - she has no idea, for instance, what anthropology is or what anthropologists do - and yet on the other hand is able to complete the lines of poetry that others quote as well as making recondite references of her own. I suspect this is Barbara Pym being unable to conceal the fruits of her own degree course in English at Oxford University, but it does jar unnecessarily.
There are a number of inconsistencies, surprising coincidences and instances of poor editing. For example, she twice refers to the idea of whether or not the Napiers might have something for a jumble sale, without the repetition being commented on in any way. Even more surprising is the fact that she and Dora go away for a holiday in Devon in the month of September - it must be at least mid-September because the waitress says the season is really over - and yet Dora is a schoolteacher. Even in the deprived 1940s, schools were in session in September and never gave leave for staff to take an annual holiday at this time.
The novel is mostly dialogue-driven and Pym doesn't always avoid falling into the trap of writing repetitive and empty sentences. As Alexander McCall Smith observes in his introduction to the Virago edition, this writer makes you smile rather than laugh, but to suggest it is "one of the most endearingly amusing English novels of the twentieth century" is an accolade a few sizes too big for what we have here. To be sure, the self-deprecating irony is a finely observed craft ("the burden of keeping three people in toilet paper"), in both the figure of Mildred Lathbury and in others too. Dora's comment on the holiday resort she and Mildred repair to, after seeing the two signs "Ladies" and "Teas", namely "I told you the whole place would be commercialised", is also quite priceless. Yet Pym doesn't succeed in making more than a few pages sparkle in this way.
One chapter in particular stands out as a minor masterpiece of observation. This is Chapter Fourteen, in which the sad existence of the leading character is painfully revealed, not only in the exchanges between Mildred and Allegra, with her "smooth apricot-coloured face", but also in the way the shop girl attempts to put her in her place, pouring scorn on the idea that "Hawaiian Fire" lipstick could ever be the right choice for such an unassuming woman. If only the rest of the narrative had scaled such impressive heights!
Ultimately, the story deals with a very ordinary life lived in a very ordinary way. Mildred is repeatedly taken advantage of, and the stuffing - such as it exists - is almost knocked out of her. It is an example of the way just a few generations ago that women's lives were regarded, not only by the males around them but by the women themselves. Grey, uninteresting and unfulfilled, which makes the title of "Excellent Women" a supreme instance of irony. Quiet suffering is not the worst of themes a writer can choose for a novel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 3, 2015 5:21 PM GMT


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Stupid & Incredibly Silly, 14 May 2014
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This is not only the strangest piece of fiction I have ever read, it is one of the worst. The problems begin with the nine-year-old narrator, Oskar Schell. Why writers feel they can successfully re-enter the world of a pre-pubescent boy and adequately reflect their mindset is something that I find utterly baffling. Without exception, they transpose adult thinking into a child's brain and believe that by implying we are dealing with a near-genius, this will somehow make the character more plausible. It doesn't and it can't. This amazing child, who corresponds with Stephen Hawking and takes part in a school production of "Hamlet", and who knows that epidemiologists study diseases, has never even heard of Winston Churchill or Marilyn Monroe, poses as his own mother and addresses his married French teacher as "Mademoiselle" instead of "Madame".Most weird and unfathomable of all, his imagination leads him to fantasise on page 235 about his own grandmother: "She'd been raped and murdered." I very much doubt that a nine-year-old can be fully aware of what a rape is, still less capable of imagining such untold violence being done to a female member of his family. On page 97, when told that a woman is 48, he says "You look much younger than that." Young minds do not work in this way. Put simply, anybody over the age of 20 is "old" and the distinctions in age that we adults later uncover are simply a blur to such young minds. The book is riddled with such examples of inconsequentiality and implausibility.
The first few chapters are full of what I have to call verbal diarrhoea. Good writers know how to convey character, mood and atmosphere through sparing and controlled dialogue. Jonathan Safran Foer believes he has to write down every single utterance, without having the depth of insight or poetic imagination to carry the reader along. This is more than just tedious, it is utterly stultifying. Chapters that are stuffed full of such garbage expose a fatal flaw in the overall conception: Oskar is totally unmemorable and so are the other characters. At no stage of this book were my emotions positively engaged.
The novelty factor of so many pages that consist of pictures, words encircled in red, typographical experiments, single sentences and even virgin space quickly wears off when the reader realises how thin the plot is. Basically, a boy finds a key and wants to know what he can unlock with it. He spends some 300 pages visiting people in New York who all have the same family name. In the process a lot of unresolved family history is regurgitated.
It beggars belief that a publishing house actually thought there was sufficient literary merit to want to put this on the market.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 3, 2014 11:49 AM GMT


Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (LSO/Haitink)
Bruckner: Symphony No.9 (LSO/Haitink)
Price: £8.99

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Who says that Bruckner has to be static?, 24 Feb. 2014
I attended one of the concert performances that preceded this live recording in the Barbican and came away feeling waves of disappointment and frustration. Just two seasons previously Haitink had performed the same work with the Concertgebouw, also in the Barbican, and the richness of that orchestra's palette, combined with their long working relationship. gave that performance a special authority. However, there is a real danger in just admiring the architecture of Bruckner 9 from without and not filling it with life from within. Listen to any of the great performers of this composer from the past, including Jochum and Furtwangler, and you will realise that there is more to Bruckner than solid slabs of granite and marble.


Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 1
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £11.20

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a minor miracle, 17 Jan. 2014
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The largely positive responses here to this new recording persuaded me to invest in yet another recording of this great work. I have loved this wonderful Russian symphony from the moment I first heard it and cannot understand why we hear it so rarely in the concert-halls of the world instead of vacuous pieces like Richard Strauss' Ein Heldenleben.
However, I feel that Petrenko's approach is very much work in progress and he doesn't quite pull off a minor miracle in making this a top recommendation. On the positive side, there is evidence of sensitive shaping of musical phrases - of which there are many in this symphony - and strong forward momentum. Thanks to the very transparent recording a great deal of instrumental detail, often submerged in other recordings, makes one aware of how skilled Rachmaninov already was in mastering orchestral colour and what an absolute tragedy it was that the work had such a disastrous premiere.
The basic problem is that Petrenko charges at fences again and again, not allowing the symphonic lines to unfold properly, and hustling his players through passages that require a longer-breathed approach. There is a great deal of majesty and dark melancholy in this work, and sheer vigour and energy will not always unlock those secrets successfully. I was also mildly shocked to discover on reading the liner notes what a small-scale string complement Petrenko had at his disposal. Four double-basses? Those who regard the RLPO as a world-class ensemble are entitled to their patriotic over-indulgence, but I'm afraid the strings are found sadly wanting again and again. Just listen to the Concertgebouw under Ashkenazy or the Philadelphia under Ormandy where sumptuous string textures convey the Russian soul far more adequately.
I accept there has always been an issue with any "authorised" version of the score. Even Ormandy makes a small cut in his recording. However, the paraphernalia of extra percussion employed by Petrenko is like pouring huge quantities of treacle over a dark chocolate cake. It adds absolutely nothing to the symphonic argument and runs the risk of cheapening the melodic lines. There is a particularly egregious example of this eight minutes or so into the slow movement. I cannot believe that were Petrenko to re-record this work in twenty years time he would commit this and other musical sins again.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 29, 2015 1:14 PM BST


Apple Tree Yard
Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars "We only pay for perfection", 15 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Apple Tree Yard (Hardcover)
is the catchphrase used in a popular quiz show, and because Louise Doughty's latest novel is not perfect that is why she only gets four stars from me. But she comes pretty close. This is a well plotted and well crafted work, even if there are a few rough edges. What stands out is her ability to get completely inside characters and to reveal the world through their eyes. This she does very convincingly with her heroine of sorts, the geneticist Yvonne Carmichael. Even scientists dissemble from time to time and close the world to the things they should see but choose not to: they are, after all, only human. What post-menopausal woman is not going to feel flattered by the attentions of a slightly younger virile male and ends up suspending all her critical, rational faculties? The way in which middle-class families can be thrown apart by the sins of the parents and the errors of their progeny is expertly delineated here, with each detail helping to build up a psychological framework in which trust, once shattered, is difficult to rebuild. I also find the setting of the novel, which depends on an awareness of London topography, key in producing a compelling sense of realism. Even small details, like the way barristers can twist spoken words in court to suggest something sinister when the opposite was intended, are handled with aplomb.
So why no "perfection"? I am not sure the add-ons at the end of the novel are entirely necessary. They also expose a fatal weakness as part of the final twist: Yvonne's husband would have had to be God almighty himself or blessed with the greatest intuition on earth to realise that a compromising computer file, to which he wouldn't have had access, even if he had known what was so incriminating in it, needed to be deleted from the hard drive.
And, since Louise Doughty acknowledges the help of her editor, I am really surprised at the poor standard of sub-editing: countless punctuation errors, typos, missing words, unnecessary words and instances of untidy writing. In her Daily Telegraph blog for writers - and I am a published author myself - she mentioned being told that she needed to rewrite parts of the novel. Why she didn't pick up on this ambiguous and contentious sentence on page 54(just one of several instances) I really don't know:
"The two obvious stars were a boy called Pradesh and one of the girls, Emmanuella, both of whom had chosen original subject matter but had not relied on its originality to score them points all on its own, a common failing in postgraduate students."


Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade / Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead
Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade / Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead
Price: £7.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning orchestral virtuosity, 13 July 2013
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Lorin Maazel is noted for his ability to draw the finest playing from any ensemble he conducts, and his own experience as a string player gives him an additional advantage over many others in the field. What stands out here, apart from the beautifully engineered recording with its clarity and brilliance, is the stunning orchestral virtuosity. There are few performances on record as tonally rich as this one. Maazel pays particular attention to the articulation of string lines so that every note is given its proper measure, and he is also eminently successful in balancing all the sections of the orchestra. The drama of Scheherezade thus unfolds with an imposing inevitability..
It is, however, a very spacious reading of this grand work and the missing element is the sheer theatricality in the score. One can admire everything that Maazel does - nothing is vulgarised and there are few quirky mannerisms - but the heart doesn't always race in the way it should. Kondrashin and Beecham, for instance, inject greater sparks of electricity but neither is served as brilliantly by their engineers as is Maazel.
The lush romanticism and brooding intensity of Rachmaninov's tone poem are rendered with the same care over orchestral detail, but once again one senses a degree of emotional detachment not present in finer interpretations, such as the one by Ashkenazy.


Fatherland
Fatherland
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

7 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Only read for superficial excitement, 9 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: Fatherland (Paperback)
Robert Harris is a political journalist and this was his first novel. Unfortunately, the many inaccuracies and errors plus the incorrect and inconsistent German reflect very badly on the author and call into question how thoroughly he works as a journalist and how credible his "Roman" books - Pompeii, Imperium and Lustrum - really are. The worst of the fantasy element he uses as a backdrop to this thriller, the notion that the Nazis won the Second World War and Europe is now controlled by a huge Third Reich, is that it is so Anglocentric. Harris has his representatives of law and order - the central characters are policemen - drinking whisky and there are absurd references to a sherry-sipping German woman, ginger beer and milk bottles (with milk floats imported from Merry Old England?), deeds to a house (the German system of land registration is quite different!), the hiss of frying food at breakfast time in a hotel (Germans never had full English breakfasts in the Third Reich), to take just a few random examples of his lack of familiarity with the German cultural idiom. It is equally ridiculous to have a system of concierges operating in tenement buildings: Harris is confusing France with Germany. Even if you can overlook the complete lack of authenticity about the German context, you are bound to end up asking yourself other questions about historical developments. Digital clocks and daytime television programmes did not exist in 1964. Why would the permissive Swinging Sixties have taken place, given what we know about the repressive attitudes to sex and morality that characterised the Third Reich? Why would a homosexual army cadet (a minor character called Jost), whose sexual orientation was not a secret, not have been denounced to the authorities? Why would The Beatles have been allowed to perform in the new Germany? Why would all the Russian and Polish cities conquered by the Nazis in this scenario have retained their original names? The list of historical legerdemain is endless. That in itself disqualifies this book. The plausibility of some of the characters and what Harris makes them do in this rather contrived story must also be called into question. The irony of it all is that the basic premise - those who attended the Wannsee conference which authorised the systematic liquidation of European Jews not wanting this information ever to reach the public domain - could have been sustained even without the fiction of the Third Reich controlling most of Europe. And the 75-year-old Hitler doesn't even have a walk-on part. The title? Totally misplaced and a glib attempt to maximise the marketing potential. Don't read this book unless you are at a very loose end indeed.


Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters
Keeping Up With the Germans: A History of Anglo-German Encounters
by Philip Oltermann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could do better; could have done better, 22 April 2013
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There are a number of things wrong with this work, measured against the claims implied in the all-encompassing sub-title "A History of Anglo-German Encounters". To begin with, Oltermann has a fixation about football and popular music which runs through the whole book, and this is curiously at odds with his repeated mention of the German philosopher Adorno and his own scarcely-concealed attempts to present himself as knowledgeable about philosophy. He doesn't in fact quite bridge the gap between what are often seen as highbrow and lowbrow culture, with very little in between.
In fiction the use of dialogue is a pre-requisite. However, when a man in his thirties has supposed verbatim recall of dozens of complex conversations that took place several decades earlier, this makes him appear as either a somewhat bumptious individual or someone who doesn't allow facts to get in the way of point-making. There are, quite simply, far too many factual errors in this book. Some of them can easily be explained. If you relocate to another country, you may think that things stay the same in your home country as you remembered them from your childhood, but that is not always the case. Newsreaders on the Tagesschau now make use of the tele-prompter and do not read from their scripts, as Oltermann maintains. He decries any suggestion that there is anything comparable to the Academie Francaise in Germany, but he has plainly forgotten all about the prescriptive nature of the Duden-Redaktion. And what then also happens is because he has not grown up with the culture, history and idiom in this country he presumes to understand things which are beyond his comprehension. He misunderstands the function of bonfires on Guy Fawkes Day, for instance, and the significance of burning an effigy of the Catholic terrorist, he gets historical dates wrong (the Education Act of 1870, for instance, introduced uniform elementary education and this did not occur later, as he maintains), his vocabulary does not extend to kale for the German Gruenkohl, calling it "green cabbage" instead (a direct translation) and he makes the absurd statement on page 215 that Labour won in 1997 because of "a new wave of cultural patriotism". A lot of the typographical errors and misprints as well as the factual inaccuracies could have been avoided, had he spent a little more care and attention on every precise detail.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2013 11:46 AM BST


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