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Jimbo (London)

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Yeats Is Dead
Yeats Is Dead
by Joseph O'Connor
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hit-and-miss affair, 19 April 2003
This review is from: Yeats Is Dead (Paperback)
Yeats Is Dead is based around an interesting idea: a novel written by 15 different Irish authors. Telling the story about the chase for a manuscript written by James Joyce called Y8s =?!, the book reveals a plethora of odd-ball characters and plenty of twists and turns as it progresses.
The opening chapter, by Roddy Doyle, is flawless, and sets a high bar against which all the other authors are judged. Whilst there remains some fine writing within the book, it can occasionally be hit and miss. Pauline McLynne and Frank McCourt appear battle for the accolade of worst chapter: McLynne’s chapter takes a umber of totally implausible twists and turns, even within the surreal nature of the book, whilst McCourt ensures the book ends with a whimper rather than a bang.
Another problem with the book is that the authors appear to compete with other: for the first half of the book each chapter begins with a sketch of a new character: each author presumably keen to leave their mark on the book. The ginger MC is a particularly fine invention, but the competition becomes wearing towards the end.
However, Yeats Is Dead is definitely worth investigation. It is an interesting experiment, and it does rattle along at a fair old pace. There are moments of genuine humour, and there are some genuinely amusing creations. An interesting experiment, and whilst it doesn’t deliver completely, it is entertaining none-the-less.

The English. A Portrait of a People
The English. A Portrait of a People
by Jeremy Paxman
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly entertaining, 27 Mar. 2003
Paxman's look at English national character is very amusing and light-hearted. Taking as its premise the fact that because "English" no longer means "British" it is time to get to the root of our national character.
This book is obviously not intended as a wholly-serious book, and Paxman accordingly steers us through an amusing array of events from history, contemporary history and interviews with selected figures or organisations. At the end of it there one is left with a slight feeling that he has merely compiled a list of adjectives, often contraidctory, to describe the English, yet he does look at some interesting diversions for example football hooliganism.
I'm not sure if this book is meant to be taken entirely seriously, but it is a fine piece of writing that is written is an easy-to-read style, yet raises a number of philosphical points. Perhaps it's main strength is that it raises more questions than it answers.

by Robert Harris
Edition: Paperback

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A not-bad-thriller., 26 Mar. 2003
This review is from: Fatherland (Paperback)
Harris' book is really two books trying to work as one. On the one hand there is the thriller element of it, which is absolutely superb, really exciting and the twists and turns reveal many pleasures. This aspect makes it a real page-turner: Harris has spent much time thinking about the way the book should be structured, and he proves himself more than competent at this type of writing. The ending is a real cliffhanger, and I liked the way the reader is supposed to guess what happens.
What I really object to is the presence of the Nazis in the novel. He hitches his plot onto an attempted description of how the regime would have worked if the Nazi's had won WWII. There were many "jokes", moments of dramatic irony we were suppoed to find funny, such as the fact that Edward and Wallis Simpson were King & Queen of England, and as for the reference to the Beatles... One can hardly see them being allowed to sing "Revolution" or "All You Need Is Love". Still, I suppose John Lennon would be allowed to have Hitler on the front-cover of Sgt. Pepper.
It is not so much the fact that it is set in a Nazi Germany, it is the throw away remarks that drag the whole tone of the book down, and ruin what would otherwise be an excellent book. There are real moments of inshight into what life would be like, but he has swamped it with comments that remind me too much of the line in Titanic about Clement Freud being in steerage.
This is not to say that it is a bad book. Om the contrary, it is one of the best thrillers I have read for a long time. The Nazi theme is not explored to its' full potential, is occassionally used for "comedy", and does not deserve the lionisation this book seems to attract from so many people.

The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics)
The Handmaid's Tale (Contemporary Classics)
by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A true modern classic!, 7 Mar. 2003
The book describes the story of Offred, a Handmaid, that is a woman ascribed a breeding function by society, and who is placed with a husband and wife higher up the social ladder who "need" a child. Through Offred's eyes we explore the rigidity of the theocracy in which she lives, the contradictions in the society thay have created, and her attemnpts to find solace through otherwise trivial things.
Whilst it shares many common features with George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's A Brave New World and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, Atwood has managed to create a truly original piece of work, and deserves all the praise she receives for it.
Like the afore-mentioned works, The Handmaid's Tale works so well because it holds a mirror up to contemporary society whilst it explores how society might work in the future. It is a biting commentary about female emancipation, that never fails to make the reader stop and think about how things are now. Do women REALLY have freedom to, as is suggested in the book. The book also raises a number of interesting points about masulinity as well - are men only to be judged on their ability to fertilise women, and is there some "masculine" norm to which men must currently strive to achieve.
Atwood backs up this philosophical debate with a lively prose that is beautifully descriptive, and also a keen sense of how to narrate such a tale. She manages to provide a drip drip of detail that never quite satisfies the reader's thrist to find out what is happening, and indeed what happened.
The ending initially seemed disappointing, but the technique of using a section of Historical Notes at the end of the book substantially enhances the book, making the end a lot kore complete, by ironically leaving Offred's fate open to interpretation.
The Handmaid's Tale is a true 20th century classic. I am glad that it is on the A Level syllabus if it means that more people get to read this excellent novel.

A Prison Diary
A Prison Diary
by FF8282
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shocking, insightful and unrepentent..., 24 Feb. 2003
This review is from: A Prison Diary (Hardcover)
This is a book of two halves. On the one hand we ahvea view of prison that is shocking and unsightful, and on the other hand we have Archer, unrepentent, wallowing in the injustices of the system.
This book detials the epxeriences of Arhcer whilst at Belmarsh prison, in the first 22 days following his sentence. He faithfully chronicles what happens to him, and the stories of his fellow inmates, and is a valuable addition to the debate of retribution vs. rehabilitation. He demonstrates the frequent futility of what goes on in prison, and highlights a number of problems with the British justice system.
This half of the book is superbly written, and anyone with opinions on the criminal justice system would do well to read this book. However, the value of the material is downgraded somewhat by Archer's continued sense of inujustice, and sideswipes that he is being "taught an example". Wherever you choose to side on the question of Archer's guilt and treatment, it still grates to read so many self-pitying passages. One also gets tired of reading what he misses from the outside - his trips to athletics championships, his visits to the gym...he comes at the problem from a position of privilege, and one comes away with a feeling that he is no more humble when he left Belmarsh than when he entered.
This is not to say that A Prison Diary is a bad book, it is not. What it reveals about prison life is fascinating; what it reveals about FF8282 is not.

The Crow Road
The Crow Road
by Iain Banks
Edition: Paperback

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost-classic Banks, 18 Feb. 2003
This review is from: The Crow Road (Paperback)
The Crow Road is regularly trumpeted as one of the best of Banks' novels, yet topping The Wasp Factory was always going to be a hard act to follow. And the Crow Road isn't the book to do it...
The book starts more with a whimper rather than capitalising on the bang he works in to the first chapter. Whilst it contains some of his finest writing to date, the first half of the book is sloppy, and only really starts to make sense towards the end of the novel. Once the book gets going, Banks constructs a page-turning classic, and it is a shame he was not able to do this all the way through, especially considering the drama of the final two chapters.
In trying to create anti-characters, Banks ends up reinforcing a set of stereotypes about students (Prentice) and "lefties" (Kenneth) that takes some of the bite away from the the plot.
Having said this, it IS an enjoyable novel, and once the reader has waded through the first half of the novel, there is much to enjoy and admire.

Churchill: A Biography
Churchill: A Biography
by Roy Jenkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.73

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A statesman on a statesman, 7 Feb. 2003
This review is from: Churchill: A Biography (Paperback)
Jenkins is famous principally as a Labour cabinet minister and European President of some repute. His biography of Churchill now adds another field in which he deserves to be remembered: biographer.
The release of the biography has been timely becasue of Churchill's sucess in being named the "greatest Britain" in a recent BBC poll. The boom therefore allows a timely re-evaluation of his life, and perhaps in the wake of Jenkin's death, a chance to study the qualities of the author as well.
Jenkins writing style is slightly pompous. He obviously has a vast knowledge of parliament and its' members, and he was particularly adept at realting Churchill's experiences not only to his own, but also to more recent events, providing a useful yard staick for younger readers. However, he can occasionally deviate: do we really need to know in a book on Churchill that Clement Attlee deliverd a speech at Jenkins' wedding. Also, his constant use of French phrases tends to irritate, expecially when one cannot find a French-English dictionnary in the house.
Despite these problems of accessibility, the book is a triumph. Churchill packed so much into his life that one might a single-volume biography ambitious, especially considering his decisive role in WWII. He deals in depth with every phase of his life, summarising effectively and being scrupulously fair in his evaluation. He also succeeds in capturing his personality, and the many humorous anecdotes make the book a real pleasure to read.
I would agree with the criticisms levelled at Jenkins about the lack of detail on his post-45 political career. The running of the Conservative party between 1945 - 51 was mostly left to RA Butler, but some insight here would have been useful, as would an axplanation as to why he was the best PM ever. An evaluation of Churchill's reputation and a look at the way politicians have repeatedly sought to evoke his memory would also have made interesting reading, and I am sure would not have been beyond the formidable talents of Lord Jenkins.
These small points aside, Churchill is a classic political biography, and is a major piece of work for which Jenkins deserves to be remembered alongside his pioneering time as Home Secretary.

Margaret Thatcher: Volume One: The Grocer's Daughter: The Grocer's Daughter Vol 1
Margaret Thatcher: Volume One: The Grocer's Daughter: The Grocer's Daughter Vol 1
by John Campbell
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A non-partisan biogrpahy of a VERY partisan person..., 6 Feb. 2003
John Campbell has produced an extremely insightful biography, and although it is the first volume, contains some of the best analysis about Thatcher ever written.
Taking as its' basic premise the fact that she claimed to be so indebted to her father, he assiduously looks into her life and ideology prior to 1979 to see if this statement stands up to repeated scrutiny.
Although in this sense it is somewhat of a revisionist account, Campbell is scrupulously fair to Thatcher. He analyses her strengths fairly, and succeeds in producing what must be one of the last partisan biographies to have been written about her. Whilst her claimed links with the past are found wanting - the main thrust is that she manipulated her past to gain political advancement, he does succeed in explaining how she became to dominent political figure of the late 20th century. As a politics student who did not live through the time, it was interestign to see how the perceptions of her altered as time passed, and how she built up her image following her election as Leader of the Opposition in 1975.
One can only hope that Campbell's book on her period in Government is as balanced and as scrupulous as this volume.

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