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Sarah Rayner "Sarah Rayner" (Brighton)

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Solar
Solar
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating and impressive, so for die hard McEwan fans, not newcomers, 22 Aug 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Solar (Hardcover)
Before you're lured by this exquisite cover, McEwan's reputation and the appeal of the novel's positioning as 'comic', I'd advise one thing: if you've not read McEwan before, don't start here. Stop reading this review now, and head for 'Atonement', 'Enduring Love' or one of his earlier novels. You'll be greatly rewarded.

Meanwhile, I'm suspended betwixt two and three stars (an apt phrase for a novel called Solar) but I've gone for three as there's much to admire and enjoy. I won't recount the plot given other reviewers have done so fully already, so let's start with the positives. As an author myself, I'm humbled by the breadth of McEwan's vocabulary, relish his turn of phrase and admire his bravery in tackling such a complex theme. That he takes on such a pressing global issue and has (as far as I can judge) researched it so painstakingly is laudable. I even found myself liking Beard in the face of a hundred reasons not to, though I did find it hard to read a whole novel about someone so flawed in a not-terribly-interesting way. (Beard is hardly Hannibal Lecter, after all.) No, Beard is not where my chief frustration lay; it's more that the novel seems to lack a sense of direction, as if McEwan is floundering, unsure what he is trying to say. There are seeds sown at the start that fail to grow and loose ends that are not tied up - and this didn't seem to me a deliberate literary device, more a case of a writer not quite in charge of his material. In summary: frustrating and impressive at the same time. Overall, nowhere near as good as McEwan can be.


Miss Garnet's Angel
Miss Garnet's Angel
by Salley Vickers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Charming, but a tad pretentious - not Vickers' best, 8 Aug 2010
This review is from: Miss Garnet's Angel (Paperback)
Miss Garnet's Angel is the gentle story of Julia Garnet, a retired teacher, and her transformation in old age when she moves to Venice for six months following the death of her life-long friend. Out of her suburban English comfort zone, she allows people, paintings and the place itself to touch her soul for the first time. There's much to like, including Julia Garnet herself, and the Venice backdrop is atmospheric and evocative.

However, having read other Vickers' novels and thus armed with high expectations, for me this fell short. The Story of Tobit, woven alongside the main narrative, seemed like a novelist trying too hard to be clever (pretentious, dare I say) and neither did I quite 'buy' all the characters - the twins, for instance, didn't quite ring true. Plus, it's a minor gripe, but stylistically the excessive exclammation marks seemed at odds with the quiet, measured tone and interrupted the flow. So overall, if you've not read Salley Vickers before, I'd say don't start here. 'The Other Side of You' is a much better, more mature novel. Go for that, I suggest, instead.


Couples: The Truth
Couples: The Truth
by Kate Figes
Edition: Paperback

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sympathetic and intelligent, but anecdotal and under edited, 21 April 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Couples: The Truth (Paperback)
I bought this book on the back of enthusiastic broadsheet reviews - and the 5* one here - in the hope it would give me insights into relationships and inspire my own fiction writing. Indeed, there is much to admire: Figes is clearly wise, sympathetic and well intentioned. Many of her interviewees are intelligent and self-aware. But in places it's somewhat slackly edited, as this example from p66 shows:

"Adanna deeply resents the fact she has had to give up a professional job she loved because she had an impossibly long commute to get to work. With three small children she had to give up work completely. 'I never thought I would give up working, as a mother. I loved my work.'"

We get the point in the first line. But for me the chief problem is the structure: it dips in and out of quotes from 120 interviewees - anonymous couples whose experiences are used to illustrate chapters themed around romance, argument, fidelity, the balance of power etc. As this is an echo of the method used by countless magazine journalists (perhaps not that surprising as Figes writes as a journalist herself), I've found little new here. I confess that I am an avid reader of Easy Living, Psychologies, Red, Elle, the Guardian Family section etc., so perhaps this is just me and others may glean far more. But I'd have liked more time and depth devoted to fewer case histories and suspect this would have made grittier reading. Certainly I'd have relished more social history and a greater global perspective, and a lot less in the way of verbiage. If anyone can point me in the direction of such a tome, I'd be happy to hear recommendations!


A Curious Thing
A Curious Thing
Price: £5.85

5.0 out of 5 stars A total treat - if you don't know Amy, you're missing out!, 27 Mar 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Curious Thing (Audio CD)
I just put this on - loud - and loved it immediately. Which is exactly what happened to me with This Is The Life. So I beg to differ that it's a grower; it's a fully-fledged gem.

Amy's voice is like the purest organic chocolate. Heady, delicious and so powerful. Occasionally she reminds me of Sinead O'Connor - in Give It All Up for instance (maybe it's the Celtic blood), yet ultimately her sound is totally her own. The guitar is a tad rockier than on her first album, which felt more folky, and the production is bigger, but good production can't save poor song writing - on this there's not a single weak track. Some are hedonistic, anthemic and uplifting, others more thoughtful and moving, but all make you want to put the roof down on a sports car and sing along.

So yes, I agree it's crazy she's not a bigger star (let's face it, she can hardly be hard to market, she's rather pretty), yet I only discovered her first album as it was sent to my home by her PR company in error. Now I'm returning the favour with a 5* review!


Simon's Cat
Simon's Cat
by Simon Tofield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Loses some of its unique appeal in translation from animation, 27 Feb 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Simon's Cat (Hardcover)
Simon's cat on You Tube is one of the funniest, warmest, most affectionate animations I have ever seen. I am a big fan; I, like many cat lovers, recognised traits of my cats in Simon's and it has had me in tears of laughter. Indeed, as I type, one of mine is doing a Simon's-cat-style sunning of himself under my desk light, edging me off the keyboard. But most artists have their metier and I feel that Simon Tofield's is animation, not cartoon strips, and the book was a bit of a disappointment. Some ideas translate well onto the page - the snowman, the cat reading the paper on the litter tray and the bird house - but the lion's share are weak in comparison to the beautifully honed, carefully thought through animations. The animations benefit from two elements that are missing here: sound and time. The voiceovers and SFX create a lot of the humour online, and over say, 90 seconds, it is possible to tell more of a story and be more subtley nuanced than in a one-off drawing or four-stage strip. I thought the book felt rushed - you can even see this in some of the drawings, which look less than confident -and under edited, so would have much better at half the length. I completely appreciate however, the drive to get a book out on the back of the success on You Tube, and also wish Simon Tofield success with it, as overall I think Simon's Cat is a great thing and the author deserves to do well from his splendid creation. Just don't expect this book to be quite the cat's whiskers - which is what I did from all the five star reviews!


The Death of Bunny Munro
The Death of Bunny Munro
by Nick Cave
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.80

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed novel from a great lyricist, 23 Dec 2009
Following his wife's suicide, cosmetics salesman and sex addict Bunny Monro takes to the road in his seagull-dropping covered car, together with his nine-year-old son, Bunny Junior. As we follow their tragic journey through Brighton's bleaker suburbs selling lotions and potions, we encounter pre-pubescent girls and giggling housewives, blind pensioners and erotically-dressed policewomen.

Having grown up with the Cavester's music and been a long admirer of his lyrics - many of which have stories at their heart - I had high expectations of The Death of Bunny Monro; being a Brightonian to boot meant the setting particularly appealed. And in many ways, there's much to relish. Contrary to other reviewers, I found Bunny not entirely unsympathetic: that we see him through his son's adoring eyes helps achieve this. There are clear areas where the novel works well: the father/son relationship is touching and convincing - as perspectives shift from man to boy, Cave inhabits both psyches with panache. The characters of Brighton's underclass are keenly observed; indeed the entire south coast setting is painted with a deft hand. But the whole is less than the sum of its parts, so the writing becomes repetitive and the tale protracted. The end is long foreshadowed and too easy to predict. My feeling is it would have been stronger for editing right down; the idea at its core seems too thin, more worthy of a short story or novella, and doesn't quite warrant a full blown novel.


Devotion
Devotion
by Nell Leyshon
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A moving, empathetic and illuminating protrayal of marital and personal breakdown, 7 Nov 2008
This review is from: Devotion (Hardcover)
I loved this novel, and am intrigued to know what the previous reviewer 'saw coming' without finishing the it, as I found the end both shocking and moving. The author depicted the unravelling of a marriage with heartbreaking clarity, and the breakdown in personal identity that all too often goes with it. Despite bleak subject matter, I found it full of warmth and human understanding. I won't give away the plot, but it IS well worth a read.


There Will Be Blood (2 disc Special Edition) [DVD]
There Will Be Blood (2 disc Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Day-Lewis
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: £9.01

10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished film making with hollow core, 1 Aug 2008
To quote from Amazon's own review: `that we don't entirely understand Plainview at the film's conclusion is not a shortcoming, but rather a tribute to the depths of this most vile creature and this most brilliant film.'

Well I beg to differ: but it IS a shortcoming. Or it felt like one to me.

Just like No Country for Old Men, which I watched the subsequent night in a double bill of shattered-American-Dream masochism, it's an accomplished piece of film making containing a virtuoso performance or two. But likewise, it has been praised beyond its due and fails for not dissimilar reasons.

Day Lewis' character seems to have come from nowhere and journey from there to a richer, lonelier nowhere. Other than a brief insight into his motivation midway - where he illuminates us that he hates mankind - there is no explanation for his actions and his ruthless drive for money. He betrays everyone - townsfolk, son, brother. And his nemesis - preacher Eli - is just as scarily off the sanity Richter Scale, so there is no moral measure against which to guage him.

Some - like Amazon's own reviewer - will argue this doesn't matter. Except that makes it hard to care what happens to anyone, so by the time we reach the final scene it seems grotesque but dissatisfying. Plainview's son, his fellow oil men, the village inhabitants are too thinly outlined - characters are brought in, like the stubborn farmer who will not sell his land, then disappear - and was I the only one confused by the two lookalike-y brothers at the start? The result is not just rambling but disengaging, as man's every raison d'Ítre - capitalism, faith, familial love - is set up and knocked down; and nothing remains, or emerges in its stead. I've heard this film described as a parable for our times. But where, exactly, is the moral or spiritual insight to justify such a term when the core is hollow?

At risk of being yet more incendiary (no pun intended), whilst there can be no doubt the film is a great vehicle for Day Lewis, I'd contend that he has been better. More than once I felt he was Acting with a capital `A'. Am I alone in having found him more subversive, moving, and above all subtle in his earlier films such as My Beautiful Launderette, My Left Foot and The Unbearable Lightness of Being? Whereas here, as with Gangs of New York, he seems to over egg it, creating a sense he is playing in a different movie to everyone else.

Finally, talking of over egging...that score. It interrupted constantly, like a radio in the same room tuned to a different station. At times it felt better suited to a thriller, at times to an epic romance. Never did it seem to sit with the film it had - presumably - been written for. And that, for me, sealed it. 3 stars. No more, no less.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 18, 2008 11:32 AM BST


No Country For Old Men [DVD]
No Country For Old Men [DVD]
Dvd ~ Tommy Lee Jones
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £2.96

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ends not with a bang but a whimper, 1 Aug 2008
This review is from: No Country For Old Men [DVD] (DVD)
Let's get this straight from the off: this is supposed to be the best film of the year. It's by the Coen brothers. It's had a raft of plaudits from fellow Amazonians. Expectations are high.

But both this, and There Will Be Blood, which I watched two nights in succession, left me cold and somewhat mystified. They seem from a similar school: portraying a bleak, soulless America, where people - or, more specifically, men - are self serving, violent, and driven by money. If you're after a double bill of existential nihilism, I recommend them both.

However, call me a girl, but I want more from a film. Some humanity would be good, failing that some laughs to alleviate the tension. After all, the Coen brothers films are often bloodthirsty - though I have wondered if they'd stand up equally well without so much gore - but they also are deliciously, darkly funny. In `No Country' they have taken a more singular direction - downplaying their offbeat humour to focus on an explicitly bloodletting theme.

Yet whilst this makes the film less to my personal taste, it isn't my main quibble. Many enjoy gore, and all in all it isn't that violent. Rather, it's that within the terms of the film itself, it didn't hold together as well as it might.

Narrative tends to work according to certain structural rules. It's difficult to break too many at once, or like a clay pot tumbling over on a wheel before completion, you end up with a vessel that won't hold water.

Structurally, it is hard to have a film without a human centre. And in `No Country', I was left floundering, wondering where, or specifically, who, was it? Was it Tommy Lee Jones' Sheriff? We start with his disillusionment, yet somehow he is too insubstantial to hold the film. By the time we return to his rambles at the end, I didn't give a hoot.

So was it then, Brolin's Moss? Here, again, I felt led up the garden path. After over an hour of cat and mouse, which, yes, is tense, but not that tense (cf. The Shining anyone?) I had at the very least expectations of some kind of denouement with Bardem's Chigurh. Instead the film's until then main protagonist is killed off screen in a scene which left me feeling `...huh?'

To précis; the beginning and middle of this film are better than the end. It isn't funny, and it isn't really that clever. As a result, it isn't the best film of the year; it isn't even the best Coen brothers' film.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2008 5:40 PM BST


I, Lucifer
I, Lucifer
by Glen Duncan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Lucifer fails to catch fire, 4 July 2007
This review is from: I, Lucifer (Paperback)
It seems a shame that when reviewers give a book few stars, their take often gets deemed `unhelpful' to other readers; there seems a pattern of four and five star reviews being the ones granted `helpful' status. Surely it's good to have a balance, especially when, as in the case with I, Lucifer, the book is really not going to light everyone's fire. I've thought as to why: my hunch is that it's a boy's book. I agree with the previous reviwer on this, and say `boy' advisedly. My guess it will appeal far more to young men still hell bent on hedonism than 40-something women like my good self who have come somewhat out the other side. Contrary to the TLS, I didn't find it a `wonderful act of ventriloquism', but then I've never been a huge fan of Orville anyway. I found the writing self conscious to the point of irritating - if I'd not been reading the novel for a book club I'd never have finished it. (All those asides. Jeez! Get ON with it.) Duncan writes like an author desperate to prove how clever he is. Granted, his vocab is broad, but good writing is about so much more than that. Then there was the fact that I couldn't' rid myself of the niggling feeling `I've seen this, heard this, got the t-shirt' long ago. 17th century Milton - even films such as Angel Heart - seem to `do' the devil so better. And as for all that endless snorting of coke and prostitution, it seemed so 1980s to me. But for me the real failing of the novel was its glibness. Is indulging in the sins of the flesh really the ultimate evil? I think not. Yet when it came to tackling more than mere rebelliousness but the terrible reality of man's cruelty to man, Duncan can't cut the mustard. The Spanish Inquisition, paedophilia, even the Holocaust for goodness' sake, he skates over these issues like a man on very thin ice, dodging the questions they raise with his oh-clever-me! writing style. And this, for me, is the book's ultimate failing. Thus two stars, max.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2012 4:33 PM GMT


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