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Under the Dam
Under the Dam
by David Constantine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.95

18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful short story collection..., 24 Jun 2005
This review is from: Under the Dam (Paperback)
This is one of the best short story collections I've read in a long time. David Constantine - one of our foremost poets, and prize-winning translator of Holderlin and Goethe - deserves a place alongside such masters of the genre as Gogol and Chekhov, V.S.Pritchett and William Trevor. He chronicles the ordinary yet extraordinary lives of secret desperation most of us lead in prose of an intense, barbed, mythic quality. The short story is the most perfect missile with which to do this. After all, the poem as a literary form is, well, ultimately about itself; and the novel has its sights set on "grander" themes and objectives. These stories are about unique individuals and about us all. Read, empathize, and be jolted.


Taking Leave
Taking Leave
by Hubank Roger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.73

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Knowledge of Foxes, 29 Aug 2004
This review is from: Taking Leave (Paperback)
Hardman, in his youth, was never a hard man as a climber. As some climbers are hard men. But since then he's hardened himself against the terrible beauty, the fiery darts of real human life. Once, absorbed in the intricacies of the rock face, he experienced transcendent moments of freedom. Now, escaping from a job-marriage-life crisis, he revisits the landscape of his past, the millstone grit and peat hags of Derbyshire's Dark Peak, in a bid for a simpler, more elemental lifestyle. Soloing out of existential angst, he gradually learns how to top out on the plateau of Kinder Surprise. An academic, divorced from the lifeblood of real emotion, Hardman slowly begins to rediscover what reality's all about. He's redeemed by getting to know the ill-fated, hill-farming Ashe family, especially young Tommy Ashe, a child both wild and wise, a Pan-like creature, a fox-spirit. Partly through Tommy, Hardman begins his psychic healing, seeking the "divine child" within himself.

In this contemporary pastoral, Hubank is very much aware of his literary forebears, and pays allusive homage to Hardy and Lawrence, Camus and Ted Hughes; but always in a lightly referential way, never heavy-handedly, never obstructing the flow of a story that's both subtle and moving, that's beautifully and imaginatively told. The novel's a marvel - exquisitely written, with limitless depths and resonances - many-themed and multi-textured. It touches on so many ideas: the outrage of disease and the mysterious, mystical blessing of grace; the way history influences and interweaves with present events; the sterile world of academia contrasted with the vital, untheoretical, actual world of human suffering and joy; the difficulty of expressing in speech or writing that which is ultimately inexpressible - that universe of revealed glories which lies beyong language... However, in this wonderful book, Hubank succeeds triumphantly in describing liminal experience and resolving the paradox. This is the most profound work of fiction which deserves to be read and reread; it has in my opinion already earned a place among the best novels of our time.


Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination
Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Hardcover

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mind has mountains..., 15 Oct 2003
This stunning, magnificent, elegantly written book is one of the best books I've read this year. Some reviewers are entirely missing the point. Yes, of course it's about mountains and mountaineering - at its basic level. But its real concerns resonate so much more broadly and deeply. It's about history and geology, natural history and philosophy, literature and poetry; and it's about culture and psychology and self-discovery. And ultimately, after a meticulously woven argument bringing all these threads together, it's about tragedy, and about knowledge and about love. As another reviewer acutely observed, Macfarlane, like Hopkins, encounters the particular nature of things, and celebrates it, in language that's enormously potent, imaginative, and wide-ranging in imagery and vocabulary. Yet these writerly techniques never even for one moment get in the way of meaning or accessibility. It's at all times page-turningly readable. And the chapters just get better and better throughout. In short, it's a work of art. I just can't wait for his next book - whatever it's about.


North
North
by Roger Hubank
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.41

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arctic tragedy, 9 Nov 2002
This review is from: North (Paperback)
This intelligently crafted, unostentatiously written novel is closely based on the actual historical tragedy of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (1881-1884) led by Lieutenant Adolphus Washington Greely. Although apparent success came initially to the Arctic explorers - important scientific and meteorological records were kept and the furthest ever point north was reached - the expedition ended in disaster, delirium and death. Supply and rescue ships failed to reach the party in 1882 and 1883 and neglected to cache adequate provisions in the right places. Greely (named William Parish in this novel) and his men were forced to move back south to Kane Basin without outside help, spending a hazardous month on an ice floe and fetching up at Cape Sabine, their last camp, where they faced the dire prospect of a third polar winter with dwindling supplies. When a rescue vessel finally did get through in 1884, eighteen (eventually nineteen) members of the twenty-five-strong team, succumbing to the extreme physical and mental torment, had died.

Roger Hubank's narrative switches between two contrasting viewpoints, two starkly opposed worlds of confinement: the icebox of 80 degrees north inhabited by Parish and his men; and the hothouse of Washington, where the steadfast Martha, William's wife, despairs amidst the venal senators and corrupt congressmen. Both are tested: William as he tries to rally an increasingly mutinous expeditionary force; and Martha, as she transforms herself from provincial naïf to political activist, and attempts to galvanize a bungling, self-serving and divided White House into approving one more voyage of rescue.

The book's teeming cast of characters must have seemed daunting to control, but Hubank manages it beautifully by concentrating on a few pivotal figures (William, Martha, the supercilious Dr Fabius, the ultimately redeemed Lieutenant Rainbird, the complex, pragmatic Senator Clay) and yet at the same time bringing to life with light and subtle brushstrokes a host of peripheral personalities. Hubank writes with understatement and occasional gentle ironies, with quietly controlled drive and direction as the scenes slowly unfold towards their inescapable conclusion, with an attuned ear for language and a poetic feel for primeval, natural landscape -

"Rocks glittered in that spangled light. Giddy with warmth and light, delirious hares flashed to and fro. Everything that lived praised life. Out in the bay, where the sea ice had begun to melt, a lagoon of shimmering light rang with the cries of waterfowl and squabbling geese..."

And above all - in a cold, clear world beyond the misguided ambitions of late nineteenth century "heroes" (their vices and virtues portrayed as all-too-human) and the cynical manipulations of wheeler-dealing politicians, beyond hints of betrayal, whispers of deceit and murmurs of cannibalism - endures the crushing, unforgiving, bleak, austere beauty of the High Arctic.


Travels with the Flea: And Other Eccentric Journeys
Travels with the Flea: And Other Eccentric Journeys
by Jim Perrin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.49

21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The familiar as strange; the strange as familiar, 6 Jun 2002
Ranging from Cuba to Caher Island, whale watching in Quebec to trekking the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan, biking on a Harley through the American West to searching out the Franklin Graves in the High Arctic - this collection of Jim Perrin's travel writings does not fail to inspire. These essays exhibit all the hallmarks of the Perrin style: a self-conscious quest for the correct word or phrase and a rigorous honesty born of meticulous observation - all senses alert to the quirkily human and the strangely divine.
No subject is too arcane or too everyday, too sophisticated or too street, to escape the egalitarian sweep of his prose, encompassing everything from an encounter with a drug-carrying biker chick - "a gold bar skewered through her right nipple" - to a meditation on the Welsh writer Caradoc Evans, "the Hieronymous Bosch of the printed word". Eclectic literary touchstones are evident as always - peppered references include Thomas Traherne and Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan, Krishnamurti and R.D.Laing - but there are also face-to-face meetings with fellow travel writers Jonathan Raban, Jan Morris, Barry Lopez and Dervla Murphy. Not to mention mystical moments on foot in the animal world - a lone wolf in Montana and the mythic rapport with a Bangor raven...
From beat raps on cafe-life in Machynlleth and bar-life in Budapest to poetic disquisitions on the subtle nuances of landscape, Perrin's elegant cadences rise and fall, from the classical to the demotic, from grouchy rant to romantic rhapsody, from abrasive critique to exquisitely delicate nature description. He gets right under the skin of a milieu, its character and culture - no more so than in Wales, his adoptive homeland - "All roads in my life seem to have led to Wales" - where you witness his true love and passion, expressed in the long final sequence "Travels With The Flea", which culminates in a heartfelt obituary to his faithful terrier,The Flea, a constant companion for 17 years, and concludes that "Love in its every form...is our truest point of connection into the world we inhabit."
For intellectuals you have here the postmodernist pilgrim par excellence. For the rest of us you have a damn fine author who is just as much at home eavesdropping on Welsh National Milk Bar chat as musing on corpse-burning on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi. Read and enjoy. All life is here...


River Map
River Map
by Jim Perrin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.95

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Travel writing at its finest - but also a spiritual quest, 4 Jan 2002
This review is from: River Map (Hardcover)
This wonderful book - travel writing at its finest - traces the course of the River Dee (Afon Dyfrdwy in Welsh - "water of the divinity") from river mouth pollution to ancient purity of the source spring beneath the cliffs of Dduallt mountain, "the black height".
But the journey is not just a physical one: the author Jim Perrin (rockclimber and writer) is also taking us on a symbolic and spiritual quest for wholeness and renewal. The river shimmers with all kinds of meanings and associations - it's a means of therapy and a gateway to discovery, a place where inner and outer landscapes merge, and in the end becomes "the flow of love itself".
The lyrical text meanders like the river from one emotion to another, from literary quotation to historical allusion, from observations on birds, beasts and flowers to a passionate encounter in a country churchyard. Above all the book celebrates the mysterious beauty of the natural world and is an indictment of the way we treat nature (and ourselves as part of nature) when greed and corruption squeeze out love and morality. But it's also about the joy of friendship and the comfort of solitude, the pleasure of good beer and cheery barmaids...and many other things, sublime and mundane.
I can really recommend this book. It forms part of the whole writing tradition of literary pilgrims and travellers (such as Borrow and Belloc) and nature philosophers like Thoreau. Also the photographs taken by John Beatty which accompany and complement the text are superb.


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