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Neil Kealey "Neil Kealey" (Littlehampton, Sussex)

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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: 21 Great Bloomsbury Reads for the 21st Century (21st Birthday Celebratory Edn)
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: 21 Great Bloomsbury Reads for the 21st Century (21st Birthday Celebratory Edn)
by Susanna Clarke
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, smashing, magical, 22 May 2007
Firstly, please allow me to be pedantic and clear something up for clarification purposes because it is absolutely crucial to the plot of the book: this book is not set in Victorian times as suggested below.

The Napoleonic wars, the backdrop to the book, were not, as suggested below, in Victorian times. The term Victorian refers to the ruler of a period in British History. Her name was Victoria. Victoria was a Queen not a King, and, as mentioned below, this book includes 'a mad English* King' - there is no Queen here. In fact it is THE mad English* King. The famous one. His name was George. The book therefore has its roots in the Georgian period (so called because the ruler was called George).

*George (who appears in this book), his son, the Prince Regent (who also appears in this book), and Victoria (who doesn't) were not Kings (or Queens) of England (mad or otherwise), as suggested in the review below; they were respectively Kings (and Queens) of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Queen Victoria was also Empress of India. People from Wales, Scotland and Ireland get rightly upset when Monarchs are called the King (or Queen) of England.

Because George (the mad King from this great book) was considered mad, his son (who also makes a first class appearance in this book), the Prince Regent, ruled between 1811 and 1820. This period is knownn as The Regency, although the term also has a wider definition when applied to the arts, going back as early as 1795 (but in real terms, the rule of his son (who later became George IV by the way - but that is outside the scope of this book), began as Regent in 1811)).

But I digress.

The Battle of Waterloo, one of the fine set pieces of this great book, and possibly one of my favourite scenes, took place in 1815 so at this point the book can be said to be set in the Regency period. So, this book covers the end of the Georgian and the beginning of the Regency period, certainly not the Victorian period which came later (between 1837 and 1901).

Anyway, enough of that...

I have had this book on my shelf for ages but I allowed the hype to influence me (I just couldn't believe it was as good as people said) and, as such, I have only just got round to reading it.

When I started to read this book I made the mistake of trying to place it in a genre. Fortunately, I soon realised that to do so is impossible and I quickly gave up and allowed the story to flow all around me.

But, I suppose, for the sake of this review, I should try again: take a little bit of any of the better historical novels out there, a little bit of the magical realism of Rushdie, a little bit of the fantasy of Neil Gaiman, with a liberal dose of Austen's social humour and give it a very good shake and you get somewhere near to the genre of this book.

But, again, I am missing the point entirely; in writing this book Clarke has created her own genre and this book belongs in a class of her own. It is a stunning achievement of writing as a craft and art. It is alarming, disturbing, funny, moving, in short, wonderful, and needs to be experienced with no preconceptions or expectations. I only wish that I had read it earlier.

So, a book very much on its own, hey? Hmmm...I doubt that will last...I can see publishers up and down the country scouring the nation for the next Jonathan Strange. There is no point. I doubt they will find anything that quite matches this (but let's hope I am wrong).

by Bill Broady
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A real find, 21 May 2007
This review is from: Swimmer (Paperback)
I am so glad that I stumbled upon this book. The writing is beautiful, interesting, different and inventive yet never pretentious. The narrative style is equally original (and it works, too). The characterisation is great, particulary the protagonist who's descent into madness is reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper.

It would've been perfect but for two things: 1) the plot falls apart dramatically towards the end; and 2) THERE ARE NO CLIFFS AT WORTHING!!! That second point will make sense once you read it.

Still a delightfull piece of writing and a book that genuninely will live with you for years to come.

So Many Ways to Begin
So Many Ways to Begin
by Jon McGregor
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little messy, 19 May 2007
This review is from: So Many Ways to Begin (Hardcover)
There is general feeling of messiness about this book. That messiness permeates through to the plot, the characterisation (particularly in their relationships) and also the dialogue. There is little of the stark beauty of language that marked McGregor's previous effort. There is also the feint stench of the contrived. This book has its moments, but they are brief and only remind you how could it could've been.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
by Jon McGregor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A window into reality..., 19 May 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed this inventive, original book. McGregor manages to capture the banality of modern day life beautifully and yet still captivates the reader with beautiful, economical language and an engaging plot. Between the ordinary, McGregor weaves a single thread of plot that will keep you turning the page. Warning: It is not cheery but then, hey, life isn't cheery.

Everything is Illuminated
Everything is Illuminated
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A delight!, 19 May 2007
This delightful novel has it all: great style, believable and engaging characters, a moving plot, lashings of humour and wonderful dialogue. Well, it does lack one thing: a great ending. It's not a terrible ending, it just isn't a great one. Still, a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging read. ****Recommended writer, would read again AAAAA+++++++***

Football Manager 2007 (PC CD)
Football Manager 2007 (PC CD)
Offered by Satsumo
Price: 5.46

62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Umm, has anyone seen my life?, 18 May 2007
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Oh, how I wish, really, really wish, that I didn't go to see my friend that evening, all those years ago, and how I wish he hadn't shown me the game he was playing. It was this game in its second outing. I had to have it. I got it. I even bought a new PC because mine wasn't powerful enough to play it. I have been addicted ever since.

It's many years on now. I have grown up, left home, got a degree, got married, got kids, and a mortgage, but one thing has been constant through all of that. One thing has been with me: this (insert expletive of choice here) game. I wish I could give it up and have tried, but I can't.

There is hope, I have heard stories of people who have successfully unhooked themselves from the Football Manager universe, but so far I have been unsuccessful. This is how bad it is: I applied for a job recently based on my success at this game. The interview was (unsurprisingly) unsuccesful.

Please Sega, please Sports Interactive just stop making these games. Think of the children; think of the wives; have some compassion. I used to have friends, I could've been someone. Look at me: I can't distinguish between football reality and Football Manager. I get confused when watching Match of the Day thinking, "He doesn't play for West Ham, he plays for Brighton..."

But I don't mind. I am actually not sure what I would do if this game didn't exist. I'd probably be a millionaire, but hey, who cares. It's great.

Mean Time
Mean Time
by Carol Ann Duffy
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the Student Debt on its own, 18 May 2007
This review is from: Mean Time (Paperback)
Some people meet the loves of their lives at University; some people find their best friend there. I found both: Mean Time by Carol Ann Duffy.

Her writing has the perfect formula: brevity and impact; emotion and recognition. Duffy has a way of hitting you with a single word that leaves you quite breathless but it is the number of times one recognises oneself in her writing that is quite startling. Read this and you will say, "Yes, that is it, exactly, that is how it feels." Duffy knows; Duffy understands...

Mean Time will live with me, on my shelf, and in my head. This is Duffy at her best.

Midnight's Children
Midnight's Children
by Salman Rushdie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to live with..., 18 May 2007
This review is from: Midnight's Children (Paperback)
Like many, I intially read this at University and didn't really enjoy it, but there is a huge gulf between reading and studying and when I came across it again on a forgotten book shelf I thought, "Well, it won the Booker of Bookers, I must've missed something." With this in mind, I read it again and oh, my goodness, I'm glad I did. I certainly missed something. Actually, I missed rather a lot (and not just lectures).

Midnight's Children deserves a place alongside One Hundred Years of Solitude as one of the finest examples of Magic Realism. It is allegorical, reflecting India's development as a country and more loosely Rushdie's own childhood, but the books stands up as a piece of writing in its own merit. The writing is vibrant; the (many) characters are well-observed; the humour is delightful; and the story is melancholy and touching in places but is stuffed with examples of Rushdie's elegant style.

To me, it is more than just an allegory for the birth and development of a nation, it is more than a great piece of writing; Midnight's Children has become an evocative depiction of how we seek to find things to lift ourselves from the futility of existence, to separate ourselves from the normal. By way of example, I give you Saleem's birth. It is normal in every way apart from the accident of timing that gives the book its title but it's the way he uses this accident of timing to lift his existence away from the mundane that I love.

Finishing this book left me hollow and a little lost. In short, I loved it and have subsequently read it again and again. Rushdie has done nothing that matches this. I doubt he, or anyone, can.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 23, 2014 11:33 AM GMT

Fugitive Pieces
Fugitive Pieces
by Anne Michaels
Edition: Paperback

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, but..., 15 May 2007
This review is from: Fugitive Pieces (Paperback)
I will not presume to denigrate the quality of the writing, it is undeniably good, but the style, mixed with the mournful nature of the story, makes for very heavy going. Neither will I ridicule the plot. It has an unusual plot line, yes, but that is fine and comparisons with Finnegans Wake are very, very wide of the mark and highly unfair on Michaels.

I do have slight concerns about the characters. Not that they aren't human, they are, startling so, but their thoughts and 'dialogue' (such as it is) elevate them away from the everyday which makes it harder for the reader to relate to them. No one really speaks or thinks like this in real life, and, more importantly, the characters all have the same voice. This is odd because they have such varied backgrounds and languages. This results in the voices blending into one until they become indistinct. This seriously damages their credibility.

My other concern is the sheer bleakness and hopelessness of plot. Whenever a brief shoot of hope appears, Michaels stamps on it as if afraid it might take over. I know there are few subjects so lugubrious as The Holocaust but the lack of any humour to break up the perpetual gloom desensitizes the reader which is a shame.

Beyond the beauty of some of the lines, I did not enjoy this book at all and was glad to finish it. Sorry.

Things Fall Apart (Penguin Classics)
Things Fall Apart (Penguin Classics)
by Chinua Achebe
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please, please read this. You deserve it!, 5 May 2007
This book will move you. I guarantee it. 100%. It will live with you for ever. I also guarantee that. 100%. If a book ever can have such a guarantee attached to it, then this is the one. How about another one: You will not be able to put this book down.

Why? Well, how about the slow unravelling of a people; the tragic desperation of the protagonist to preserve what has always been; and what about his frustration as, despite his strength and standing, he is quite unable to preseve his people's traditions against the onslaught of a couple of English missionaries?

And if that doesn't leave an indelible mark on you, the unashamed portrayal of the traditional practices of the local populace will. Indeed, the greatest strength of this book is that it doesn't idealise the traditional, neither does it villify the new. It just lays the facts of empire and all the tragedy of empire and the human condition before the reader and says, "This is how it was and this is how it is."

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