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Alison Pegg

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Temporary Problems
Temporary Problems
by C.G. Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Tense, vivid and authentic, 6 May 2015
This review is from: Temporary Problems (Paperback)
Just finished reading Temporary Problems today and thoroughly enjoyed it. It has a good fast pace and the dramatic scenes in Afghanistan are very well described. The first half of the book is set in Scotland, in Edinburgh and Fife with many authentic scenes in the Royal Mile, Deacon Brodies and Murrayfield.

When the action moves to Afghanistan, the sights sounds and smells are well described. The action is relentless and the reader is given a good insight into the sense of numbness that takes hold like an enveloping grey blanket. You can visualise the rat lines and the dust everywhere.

Very well done. You have all the ingredients here of a great adventure, action, drama, tension and romance and above all, a feeling of great authenticity.


As I Lay Dying
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.74

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Southern Gothic Modernism - unique, 13 April 2014
First published in 1930, As I lay Dying has all the hallmarks of modernist literature including interior monologue, multiple viewpoints and stream of consciousness. Faulkner uses all three techniques with great originality and to great effect as a means of highlighting the shocking nature of his theme.

Nevertheless at first sight the narrative is confusing with fifteen separate narrators all of them unreliable and 59 chapters of varying length. In this it's similar way to The Sound and the Fury.

Yet if you let go of the obsessive need to understand exactly what is the reality of what is going on and simply allow the layers of narrative to carry you along, you become absorbed into Faulkner's world completely. You enter it, breathe it, taste it. The experience is sensually overwhelming and in many ways Faulkner's writing seems to me more akin to painting than anything else. If I was to think of an artist, it would be Van Gogh or Gauguin. It has that kind of shimmering sunlit brilliance about it.

Of course Modernism is all about the fact that we can't know the truth. There is no one truth, only versions of events seen through the eyes of the protagonists.

Yet what Faulkner paints here is something truly horrific. This is the Southern Gothic version of Modernism and unlike anything else.

The Bundren family living in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional area of Mississippi, is a perfect symbol for the post Civil War American South. Corrupt, degenerate, inbred, mentally retarded, vicious yet soft, they are the inbred runts of a South on the point of decay, degenerate and capable of practically any form of inhumanity.

With an insensitivity that defies comprehension Cash, Addie's carpenter son and Anse begin to construct Addie's coffin in the yard while she, Addie Bundren, is still alive upstairs and can hear their discussion and the planing of the wood through the open window.

The image of this degenerate family then setting off on the journey carrying the corpse of the mother as it begins to fester and stink till they finally reach the appointed burial site in Jefferson is an abiding image. The decaying mother in the coffin sums up figuratively the overwhelming burden carried by the southern states in the period following the Civil War.

When Cash breaks his leg, his father Anse attempts to set it himself with concrete and finally Cash, now in agony at the pain inflicted on him by such crass stupidity, has to be carried on top of his mother's coffin in an image of almost unthinkable degeneracy.

On reaching their destination after a long detour the family enter the town of Jefferson with the now stinking coffin and become figures of horror and disgust. But Anse without any sense of shame, quickly and without any qualms finds himself a new wife and marries her on the spot.

This is a novel full of haunting images and breathtaking language. The title comes from Homer's Odyssey when Agamemnon says: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades." Faulkner's narrative is without doubt that, an image of a Hell without end told in the voices of the most degenerate of characters.(less) [edit]


My Name Is Red
My Name Is Red
by Orhan Pamuk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel that captures the soul of Istanbul, 13 April 2014
This review is from: My Name Is Red (Paperback)
If it was William Faulkner who first really promoted the multi-narrator novel as a way of showing the unreliable point of view of characters such as Caroline, Quentin and Benjy in The Sound and the Fury, Orhan Pamuk takes this whole approach to another level.

Here we have a narrative about the Ottoman Empire told from the point of view of a horse in a painting, a corpse, a gold coin, Satan and the colour red as well as the more conventional narratives of the various artists or miniaturists who are involved in the creation of the great work itself.

At times as a reader you feel confused, at times almost overwhelmed. I found it best simply to allow myself to be swept along by the various narratives as if I were sailing on the great Bosphorus itself. Don't feel obliged to follow every detail. Simply let yourself be carried along on the poetry of it all. You can taste the city. Later it becomes clearer through the overlapping layers of narrative. Gradually you begin to understand a little of the puzzle about what is going on.

There is such richness in the evocation of Istanbul itself, in the smells of the marketplace and the dark shadowy houses and the bitter cold of the winter nights. And in the narrative of the very beguiling Shakure with all her inconsistency and very physical adoration of her children, Pamuk is at his best.

Here is a writer who can convey emotion at its most visceral while also discussing very subtly the intellectual and religious differences between east and west in the great melting pot that is Istanbul. Pamuk writes about the great truths. He writes with soul.


The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback

105 of 122 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliance and paradox, 13 April 2014
This review is from: The Goldfinch (Paperback)
Rarely these days does one find a writer brave enough to confront so unflinchingly the desperateness of the human condition in the 21st century. But Donna Tartt is such a writer and it is this which raises her novel The Goldfinch to the highest level of art. The protagonist Theo Decker has been compared to Pip in Great Expectations but the reality is that this is a far darker tale than Dickens' novel.

Dickens shines a light on the bleakness and wickedness at the heart of 19th century British industrial society but in his novels there is always the conviction that good and right will triumph in the end. This was still a Christian world he was writing about after all and his Victorian audience expected a happy ending even if the reality did not quite live up to it.

But the amoral world Theo Decker inhabits following the death of his mother in a terrorist attack in New York, is a world of unrelieved bleakness where there are no certainties any more. Once on the road to corruption through drugs, deception, stealing and dishonesty there is no way back. Without a family to offer some sort of protection or relief, Theo has absolutely no hope in a society which is fundamentally corrupt at every level.

From the well observed social workers whose job is to process Theo through the care system, to the wealthy Barbour family with their coolly efficient lifestyle, concealing fundamental psychological flaws, Donna Tartt paints a picture of quiet desperation where there is no longer any possibility of finding anything that resembles home ever again. It's a picture of alienation and as such utterly convincing. Only with Hobie the antique restorer and Welty's niece Pippa does Theo find a temporary bolt hole where he can genuinely relax.

But the narrative takes on a darker aspect altogether when Theo's unreliable alcoholic father turns up finally with his new girlfriend Xandra and they move to the outskirts of Las Vegas to a life of gambling, baccarat, drinking and cocaine. It's here that Theo meets Boris, a dissolute but entertaining Ukrainian with a similarly unreliable and violent father, who has lived in Australia. Together they dabble in everything, Vodka, beer, drunken swimming, shoplifting, drugs and sex.

There is a point in this novel when you think, so.. is this simply a rites of passage novel, the move from childhood to adulthood by way of drugs and alienation? Is Theo finally bound to settle for the inevitable dull mediocre future of adult life with its nine to five cycle, chained to the capitalist machine for a lifetime? I mean, what else can there be now? What can there be after you've done everything else, except to end up as a carbon copy of your hopeless father?

But here's the surprise. No. No. That's not it. It's worse. So bad in fact that ultimately there seems to be no way back. Even Theo sees this in the end.

But then just to confound the reader even more, there's a twist. Just when you believe things can't possibly get any worse, the enigma of The Goldfinch,the painting by Fabritius which Theo stole from the museum, works its own magic. The paradox is that hope springs out of paradox. This is the nature of art and love and all greatness.

Donna Tartt writes with the cool eye of the observer standing just far enough away to see clearly. But I defy you not to be moved by The Goldfinch and its finally hopeful message.
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