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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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Making Good Again
Making Good Again
by Lionel Davidson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent in Parts, Complicated, Self-Indulgent and Slow, 13 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: Making Good Again (Paperback)
Looking at various reviews and articles on the books of Lionel Davidson it is customary to praise them and compare his writing to the likes of Eric Ambler; I will not be doing that. Having read, ‘The Night of Wenceslas’ and been well entertained, I moved on to the present volume and was disappointed. This book was written in the early part of Davidson’s “Jewish Period” when he was exploring his own Jewish heritage, writing books with Jewish themes and living in Israel from 1967 until 1976. The theme of this volume is that of German reparations to those whose relatives perished in the Holocaust or to those who were adversely effected by the rise of National Socialism. Davidson stirs three very different characters into the story, an upstanding English lawyer representing a German Jewish survivor, an Israeli lawyer seeking a promised legacy to help fund a clinic in Israel for distressed Jewish people from South Germany and a right-wing German lawyer doing his best to adhere to the new post-war political correctness but finding it a strain. The trio make a trip to Germany is search of a missing person whose whereabouts can unlock problems associated with a previously settled claim for restitution. This allows the author to explore many questions and differing attitudes thrown up by experience of the war and subsequent claims for reparations. Much of the writing is excellent but at times rather self-indulgent. This does little to move along the already closely argued plot-line which requires considerable attention to understand. I found the ending of the story somewhat disappointing as it seemed rather a let-down after the complicated plot. It also makes the mistake of limping on rather too long after the actual dénouement.
In summary, good in parts with passages of excellent writing but rather self-indulgent and slow, and at times quite hard work.


If the Dead Rise Not: A Bernie Gunther Mystery
If the Dead Rise Not: A Bernie Gunther Mystery
by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Read That Will Enthral Gunther Fans, 3 Aug. 2015
This, the sixth in the Bernie Gunther series of detective thrillers by Philip Kerr, follows on from German ex-detective Gunther having sought exile in Argentina. The first half of the book consists of a very extended ‘flash-back’ to 1934 Germany and the manoeuvrings surrounding the preparations for the Berlin Olympics of 1936. The second part of the book then jumps forward twenty years to 1954, Bernie Gunther having travelled from Argentina to Cuba when still under the rule of President Fulgencio Batista. As in previous novels Kerr invokes a wonderful sense of time and place whilst coincidentally weaving a beautifully constructed and wholly satisfying plot. Kerr provides such graphic detail about places, dress, cars, not to mention contemporary characters, that you feel you are virtually there at Bernie’s shoulder. It is not my purpose to try and explain any part of the plot line but suffice to say Gunther fans will not be disappointed, this novel is a first class compelling read.


Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler
Malevolent Muse: The Life of Alma Mahler
by Oliver Hilmes: Donald Arthur
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £29.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the Best Biography of Alma Mahler, Highly Readable and Entertaining, 27 July 2015
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This is a very competent and straightforward biography of Alma Schindler, better known to the world as Alma Mahler. This is the story of a very domineering, scheming woman, who on the basis of her own talent would not merit a biography, but of course the interest arises in the men she married and her wide ranging circle of friends and acquaintances from the cultural and political world of early twentieth century Austria. Whether Alma Schindler acted as a muse to her gifted husbands is doubtful but she married Gustav Mahler (1902), had an affair with the painter Oscar Kokoschka, married the leading light of the Bauhaus movement and architect Walter Gropius (1915), and later married the Austrian author and playwright Franz Werfel (1929). There is no doubt that Alma certainly drove Werfel to move from writing Expressionist poetry to writing very well received historical novels, perhaps the greatest being, ‘The Forty Days of Musa Dagh’ about the Armenian massacres. In addition to her husbands and lovers (and there were more) Alma was the daughter of a successful court artist and befriended virtually all the cultural figures then working in Austria. To name but a few these included Secessionist painters such as Klimt, architect Adolf Loos, playwright Arthur Schnitzler and author Thomas Mann, conductor Bruno Walter, composer Arnold Schonberg, producer Max Reinhardt and Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg.
The book is full of interest not only by virtue of all these interesting characters making an appearance but also by the fact that Alma lived through a traumatic period in European history. Her social rise in the pre-war years, eventually occupying the Ast House by Hoffmann in the artist’s colony Hohe Warte, Vienna, to her desperate escape from Nazism to exile in America makes dramatic reading.
The author Oliver Hilmes has undertaken a great deal of new research to produce this book so that this is probably the most reliable account to date of the life of Alma Mahler. (Alma herself was given to providing conflicting accounts of events.) It is well written although on just one or two occasions I felt that possibly something had been lost in translation from the original German, but this is a minor criticism. This is a highly readable and entertaining book and provides us with further insight into many of the towering figures of early 20th century European culture.


Too Loud A Solitude
Too Loud A Solitude
by Bohumil Hrabal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars A Weird Book That I Suspect Will Stay with Me, 16 July 2015
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This review is from: Too Loud A Solitude (Paperback)
It has to be said that this is a really weird book. True it has a clearly defined story, a beginning, a middle of sorts and a clear ending but it is perplexing. This is the story of a person who has received an incidental education whilst compacting waste paper and (banned and waste) books for thirty-five years in the police state of Czechoslovakia. There are numerous quotes from classical literature and the great philosophers. I suspect that some sixth-form students are given quite a difficult time over texts such as these, but whilst I could see the relevance of some, many of the quotes passed me by. Clearly I need to do some research to fully understand their importance to the story. The book is engaging in a funny way but the author sets out to shock in parts, describing a couple of situations that seem to be gratuitously obscene, for what reason I am not sure.
The book is not a long read at 98 pages of fairly large type and is probably worth the investment in reading time, certainly it is a book you will not forget. I am not sure I can go with the cover quotes of “unmissable”, “devastating – a superb book” etc., but it is interesting, and it is clever and thought provoking. Recommended to those who like their literature on the outer fringes, not mainstream.


Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
by Charlotte Gordon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.80

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enthralling and Highly Readable Double Biography, 14 July 2015
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It was with some trepidation that I bought this mighty tome, this double biography with alternating chapters on Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Godwin, better known as Mary Shelley, I wondered would it work? Well, the answer is a resounding, yes. At first the alternating chapters seem odd, even irritating, and interrupt the flow, but as the book progresses the prevailing influence of Wollstonecraft and her husband William Godwin upon the successive generation becomes more obvious and the structure of the book increasingly relevant.
Many prospective readers will know Wollstonecraft as a pioneering author on equal rights for women in daily life. However, her biography is an enthralling story of a thrusting and pioneering woman who set to work very early in life but who seemed prone to disastrous relationships with men, resulting in two suicide attempts. This drove her to ever greater efforts to support herself with her writing; an almost unique ambition for the late 18th century. Perhaps her greatest stroke of luck was to befriend the radical publisher Joseph Johnson, famous for publishing the work of Thomas Paine, William Cowper and Erasmus Darwin, and who stood by Wollstonecraft all her life. Finally Wollstonecraft meets the killjoy Calvinist philosopher William Godwin and embarks upon a unique marriage contract.
Perhaps more widely known than her mother these days is Mary Shelley, the second daughter of Wollstonecraft and author of ‘Frankenstein’, the groundbreaking work and most misunderstood book born out of that stormy night in 1816 at Byron’s ‘Villa Diodati’ on the edge of Lake Geneva. The romantic elopement of Mary with the poet Percy Shelley and the flight to Europe in search of a radical new way of living are quite well known, but perhaps less well appreciated is the influence of her mother on both Mary and Shelley. Mary Shelley strove to further the work of her mother not only in ‘Frankenstein’ but in her other copious writing. Again, like her mother she had a difficult relationship with her capricious and restless partner (Shelley was initially already married). The prodigious efforts by Mary to preserve and publish the poetical work of Shelley and the philosophical work of her father is a heartbreaking tale of devotion against very great odds in itself.
This is a highly engaging double biography written in a wonderfully lucid style. Despite the subjects being pioneers of the rights of women potential readers should not be put off, these are well rounded and interesting biographies and contain no hint of the boring diatribes one may sometimes encounter around the subject of ‘feminism’. Highly recommended to all interested in biography.


A Genius for Failure: The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon
A Genius for Failure: The Life of Benjamin Robert Haydon
by Paul O'Keeffe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderfully Engaging and Readable Biography of a Tragic and Neglected Artist, 1 July 2015
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It is our amazing good fortune that Benjamin Haydon left behind a partial autobiography and copious diary notes, and it is from these that Paul O’Keefe has constructed this most vivid and engaging biography of this tragically self destructive artist and writer.
O’Keefe has a very lucid straightforward style and beautifully reconstructs the life and times (1786 – 1846) of this sadly neglected and tragic figure. The author provides a classic chronological narrative telling us something of the parents and early life of Haydon, on to his early triumphs and recognition, only to be brought low as debts mount and he is consigned to prison. There follows further triumphs and then the start of the self-inflicted and disastrously ill-judged project that finally leads to the demise of this prodigious talent. Haydon toured the country extensively making use of the new railways and was a highly successful lecturer on art and artists. He published a number of books on the subject and received painting commissions from some of the greatest people in the land. Yet personal tragedy, continuous debt and a lifelong animosity between himself and the art establishment, largely represented by the Royal Academy, blighted his life. In some ways the tragedy continues to this day with many of Haydon’s paintings consigned to storerooms or obscure locations with the notable exception of the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
Haydon numbered among his closest circle Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, Elizabeth Barrett, Keats and for a short period Leigh Hunt. He also met the leading politicians of the day, Melbourne, Robert Peel and Wellington, to say nothing of the Monarchy and provided detailed descriptions of these renowned characters. The author brings all these events and encounters vividly to life, often utilising reported conversation of Haydon and his contemporaries. This wonderfully engaging and very readable book is highly recommended to all interested in the art and cultural scene of the day and to those who will simply enjoy an excellent biography.
Some readers will recognise a very fair vignette of Haydon in the recent Mike Leigh film, ‘Turner’.


Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum
Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum
by Nicholas Tromans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Produced But A Disappointing Text, 4 Jun. 2015
I have to confess to being disappointed with this book. It is beautifully produced and profusely illustrated with excellent high quality graphics as you might expect from Tate Publishing. However, it was disappointing to encounter a rather tortured style of prose from the author Nicholas Tromans. I found myself quite frequently re-reading sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs, in order to understand their meaning and even then not always being sure of the point being made. The straightforward biographical details of the artist Dadd, or the histories of Bethlem and Broadmoor Hospitals are fine but when the author sets forth on an interpretation of Dadd’s paintings and their possible relevance to his clinical condition then the text becomes somewhat impenetrable and overly erudite. Time is spent invoking ancient Greek ideas of each individual having a ‘genie’ or second self who may advance views that differ from those of the first person or self. This theme has been taken up in recent times by the writer Philip Pullman. The author uses these ideas to try to interpret Dadd’s reported conversations and paintings, to my mind not very convincingly.
The book covers the full life work of Richard Dadd, his epic journey across Europe and the Middle East with his patron Thomas Phillips, his descent into madness and the murder of his father, and his arrest and incarceration at the age of 27, in 1844, for the rest of his life in the Bethlem and Broadmoor Hospitals. A description of the foundation and brief history of Bethlem and Broadmoor Hospitals and a commentary on the prevailing state of psychiatry during the 19th and 20th centuries are also provided.
Despite my criticism of the style and text the book is still worth buying for the profuse illustrations and general history of Dadd and the asylums he occupied.


The Night of Wenceslas
The Night of Wenceslas
by Lionel Davidson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent, Highly Entertaining, Well Written Thriller., 30 May 2015
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This review is from: The Night of Wenceslas (Paperback)
This is a very well written and very entertaining ‘thriller’. Although Lionel Davidson’s first work of this type it already displays a masterly talent in style and construction. Right from the very first paragraph you find yourself drawn to the central character, something of an anti-hero, Nicolas Whistler, and are interested at once in what awaits him and how he will cope with the many vexations that life seems to throw at him. The characters are well drawn and interesting. As readers may guess from the title, part of the action takes place in 1960s Prague, the city is still under Communist rule and the author conjurers up that fascinating mixture of apparent normality and gaiety but with an undercurrent of distrust and menace. Davidson is very good at scene setting and topography and having visited Prague I could easily follow the movements of the characters. The book maintains a good pace throughout and readers may rest assured there are no dull patches. Other reviewers have compared Davidson to Eric Ambler, but for me Davidson, particularly in this work, demonstrates more interesting characterisation and greater emotional content, but I feel sure others may have their own preferences. It should also be said that this book contains a fair amount of first rate situational humour and I laughed out loud on a number of occasions.
An excellent, well written, thriller recommended to all who like this type of fiction.


Peron & The Enigmas Of Arg
Peron & The Enigmas Of Arg
by Robert D Crassweller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent History of Argentina and Its Charismatic Leader, 23 May 2015
This is a well written and carefully constructed book that covers the history of Argentina and the prevailing circumstances that gave rise to Peron and the period known as the ‘Peronato’, before dealing with the life of Peron himself.
The author introduces us to some thoughts on the attitudes of Argentineans which he suggests are inherited from their Spanish and Moorish ancestry. In particular he describes the importance of respect for strong men, or men of power and wealth, and of the importance of honour and loyalty. He further suggests that the adversarial and compromising norms associated with North American or British democracies do not sit well with such traits and that this gives rise to the periodic appearance of strong charismatic leaders in Argentine history. Crossweller stresses the influence of such figures as the 19th century creator of Argentina Juan Manuel de Rosas and the later social pioneer Hipolito Yrigoyen in the early 20th century on Argentine leaders.
The author runs through the history of Argentina from early settlers moving down from Bolivia and the growth of Buenos Aires. The rest of the northern part of the country being occupied by vast and distant cattle ranches run by the aristocrats of the country or ‘caudillos’, families of immense wealth providing jobs for impoverished ranch hands or ‘gauchos’. Finally the south of the country was conquered with settlers overcoming the native Indians and occupying parts of the vast scrubland of Patagonia down to Tierra del Fuego. Subsequent development of the country and vast inward foreign investment, particularly by Britain, generated wealth and a large body of industrial workers. These changes were to have profound consequences in providing the working-class power-base that Juan Peron was later to so successfully utilise in his rise to power.
Peron rose through a military career and was noted for his ability and charisma. He appears to have displayed a tendency to take risks but at key moments to demonstrate caution and await the turn of events (one of the enigmas of the title). It may be a surprise to some but Peron always insisted on being elected to power and having a mandate from the people through properly run elections. He never seized power by force. His secret was to be able to appeal directly to the workers and to be able to mobilise the big unions in his favour whilst at the same time not antagonising the ‘caudillos’. This latter point being illustrated by the passing of much social legislation and the role of the charitable foundation run by Evita, but the complete absence of meaningful land reform.
Declassified US documents demonstrate that the United States State Department frequently misunderstood what Peron was about and formulated policies based on misconceptions. They suggested that Peron was a Fascist, a sobriquet that seems to have come down to the present day. (The author somewhat disappointingly never deals with the subject of providing a safe haven for Nazi exiles whilst happily boasting a sizeable Jewish population in the country.) The fall of Peron and his 18 year exile in a number of countries before settling in Madrid (and ignored by Franco) are described, and his brief and triumphant return to power with his second wife and successor, Isabel.
Although we are familiar with the rise of terrorism in Argentina and the phenomenon of the ‘disappeared’ or ‘desaparecidos’ these things did not take place during the main period of the Peronato but were a right wing response to radical left wing movements that grew after the fall of Peron and which appeared again in the final months of his second period as President. Perhaps again a surprise to many that the Peronato was not a period of repression and violence. A short section brings the book up to the period of the rule of President Galtieri and the Falklands War.
This is an excellent history of Argentina and an even-handed biography of Juan Peron. Although the book is perhaps lacking in emotion and personal detail at times it is recommended to all those with an interest in this fascinating country and its leaders.


The Discobolus (Objects in Focus)
The Discobolus (Objects in Focus)
by Ian Jenkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Well Written, Profusely Illustrated, 4 May 2015
This is an excellent little book, very well written and profusely illustrated. It is one in a series of books published by the British Museum that takes a specific object in the collection and examines it in detail. The (Townley) Discobolus is an iconic piece, immediately recognisable, and a masterpiece of Roman skill being a marble copy of a Greek bronze original. The book tells us about the original sculptor, the provenance of this piece and alterations that have been wrought. The author examines similar works and possible companion pieces and considers what they tell us. A short section deals with modern perceptions and the impact on modern politics. Highly recommended.


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