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Blue Porcupine

Page: 1
by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why did Harris start writing about ancient Rome?, 15 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Pompeii (Paperback)
This is not a bad novel, and not a cracking good one either. You canter through it happily, not getting too involved with the characters or having your nerves twanged too much. I don't regret reading it, but I wasn't reading until 2am with pounding heart, the way I was with Enigma, Fatherland and Archangel.

First, the positives. The sense of place is wonderful. The bay of Naples area is conjured up beautifully, as is Roman architecture and wealth - all those pools and gardens. The aqueduct sections are good, if dense. The weather is important in the story and is well written. You really can feel the stifling heat of Campania in August weighing down on you - and of course, you know something about that stifling heat that the characters don't. The pressure in the atmosphere builds literally and metaphorically towards the eruption, and it's very clever.

Two main - and quite major - faults. First, the characters moving across this fantastic landscape are cardboard cut-outs; it's as if Harris can't quite believe in these two-thousand-year-old people himself. The dialogue has none of his usual spareness and seems trapped in a 1960s afternoon play version of ancient Rome (even with the swearing). The only character I cared about at all was Pliny the Elder, and that's only because we have his nephew's eyewitness account of his role. The section where Harris lightly reworks this account has the only strong tension and character-development in the book. A pity he couldn't match Pliny the Younger's narrative powers elsewhere!

Even more of a problem is the research. Harris has done a lot of it and he's damn well going to tell us about it, whether it's germane or not. This is a basic bloomer in historical novel-writing, and I don't think a new writer would get away with so much telling and not showing. This passage from the second page, for instance:

"He wiped the sweat from his eyes on the sleeve of his tunic. Such shimmering, feverish heavens they had here in the south! Even this close to daybreak, a great hemisphere of stars swept down to the horizon. He could see the horns of Taurus, and the belt and sword of the Hunter; there was Saturn, and also the Bear, and the constellation they called the Vintager, which always rose for Caesar on the twenty-second day of August, following the Festival of Vinalia, and signalled that it was time to harvest the wine."

Sheesh. Now I know how the characters felt when they were wading through all that pumice.

I'm not sure why Harris started writing about ancient Rome. On the evidence of this and the Cicero novels, he's not nearly as good at it as he is the twentieth-century novels. I suspect he's a little bit in thrall to the whole idea of Rome, and sees it as a magnificent story in itself, with no need for such mere things as tension and character development. He hasn't yet grappled with Rome as confidently as he does more recent territory, and weaker books are the result.

The Untouchables [DVD] [1987]
The Untouchables [DVD] [1987]
Dvd ~ Kevin Costner
Offered by Rikdev Media
Price: £2.68

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dull 1980s schlock, 31 Jan. 2011
This film was always in the back of my mind as one of those classics I'd missed, and I love all kinds of caper/crime/action movies. I saw it for the first time recently. Nothing but dull 1980s schlock, I'm afraid, and not in a good way! Disneyworld-does-the-thirties atmosphere, plodding script, one-dimensional characters, wooden acting (even Sean Connery is rubbish), and no real plot development beyond "those suspicious-looking cardboard cut-outs over there are the bad guys, these insufferable prats over here are the good guys".

And what is up with the constant overdone music!? Were all 1980s films like this and I just didn't notice? They might as well have had a little man with a sign in the corner of the screen saying "This bit is sad/funny/serious, you are supposed to cry/laugh/frown." The moment when it rolled over from being just crap into laughably crap was the horse-gun-fight-Mountie-western-whatever scene, which was basically Indiana Jones without the humour, warmth or good direction. After that I was half-reading a magazine and waiting for the thing to end. I can't help suspecting that a lot of people who rate this saw it for the first time as kids, so like it for nostalgic reasons. There are very occasional moments where some suspense breaks through, but they're just not worth trudging through the rest of the film for.

I'm only giving it two stars and not one because Robert de Niro's Al Capone turn is mesmerising. All his scenes are so good it's like he's walked in from a different film. You can hardly believe he's working off the same clunky script as the rest of them, but he is. If you're a hardcore de Niro fan, or maybe saw this for the first time when you were six, you might as well see it. Otherwise, if you want to see a great movie set in this period, watch The Sting, which is just in a different class to this dross.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 20, 2011 1:16 AM BST

The Looking Glass
The Looking Glass
by Michele Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely written - but does it hang together?, 11 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Looking Glass (Paperback)
I was surprised to see this book only had a single 2-star review. I agree with some of the first reviewer's reservations - the perspective changes a little too often to really get a full sense of any one character, and I too was disappointed that some of the haunting magical realism in the early pages never fully unfolded. It finishes, perhaps, as a slightly more ordinary story than it began. Not a story you finish and then walk around inhabiting its world and emotions for the next week.

That said, it is gorgeously written in places, and maybe worth picking up if you like beautifully rendered detail for its own sake. I still remember some of the passages about the kitchen and garden of the little house on the Norman coast where Genevieve arrives as a maid. Even if the successive stories of the characters don't entirely hang together in a satisfying whole, I enjoyed it, and will probably read it again sometime. (I should mention I did pay about a pound for it in a charity shop, so maybe that influenced my expectations!)

Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache: The ultimate feel-good book of natural cakes that taste naughty
Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache: The ultimate feel-good book of natural cakes that taste naughty
by Harry Eastwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

143 of 144 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous cakes... once you get the hang of them, 30 Mar. 2010
This is a beautiful book with beautiful recipes. The cakes, on the whole, are absolutely gorgeous. I cannot stress enough how they do not taste of vegetable at all, as I've sometimes found with other "healthy" cakes. My boyfriend bought me this as a present (clever fellow that he is!) and until I read the introduction neither of us realised it was a "healthy cooking" kind of book. Certainly doesn't taste like it.

Only a couple of cautions (I can't call them faults, the book is too enchanting):

I've tried two chocolate recipes so far (the chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes and chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes) and while they've been perfectly adequate little cakes, I wouldn't say I swooned with the rich chocolatiness of them. You'd have to swathe them in icing to get quite the same hit as you do from, say, some of Nigella's indulgent chocolate recipes. Having said that I am an unreconstructed lover of good old British milk-and-sugar chocolate, so it's possible these recipes are a bit subtle for my palate!

Second point (and I wish someone had told me this when I started making the cakes) is one about timing and ingredients. Harry insists you shouldn't grate the vegetables "until you are about to add them to the mixture." This is all very well, but hard vegetables like potatoes, butternut squash etc can take ten minutes to reduce to a fine shred by hand (she won't let you food process them either), by which time the eggs and sugar you've just whisked have lost a bit of their fluff.

By trial and error I've found that what Harry calls the "woody" vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsnip, beetroot etc) can be safely grated before you start the whisking. They can cope with sitting for 5 minutes without getting damp. The so-called "water" vegetables (courgette, aubergines etc) can't cope with pre-grating, and do get very soggy (as you'd expect). They have to be grated the minute before you put them in - but on the other hand, they're softer and take far less time than the hard vegetables, so they won't hold you up with the eggs and sugar.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 22, 2014 8:03 AM BST

World of Flavours Oriental Plain Carbon Steel 30cm Wok
World of Flavours Oriental Plain Carbon Steel 30cm Wok
Price: £9.95

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars What am I doing wrong?, 27 Mar. 2010
We followed the seasoning instructions included with the wok absolutely to the letter. The carbon seal came off on the first food we tried to cook. We cleaned off the seal and tried seasoning the wok again. Same result. Might give it another go using different instructions. I'll post back if we ever succeed!

Page: 1