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Elizabeth is Missing
Elizabeth is Missing
by Emma Healey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars A master class in first person narrative., 31 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Elizabeth is Missing (Paperback)
Eilzabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey (Viking 2014)

This is a very lovely book. It is also a very clever book, part detective, part exploration of the diminution of the self that is senility. Maud is our protagonist and we spend the entire narrative in her kindly, if very murky head. This is a first person narrative where the first person is forgetting herself, only jerking awake in the now sporadically, where she's increasingly confused. Maud has a friend, Elizabeth, and it won't be spoiling this gently unfurling plot to inform you that Elizabeth is missing. In fact, this drum beat; "Elizabeth is missing, Elizabeth is missing..." becomes a mantra for our very confused narrator, the capital letter that brings her back again and again to a deep sense of anxiety and urgency that is her call to action.

As the story unfurls we experience the episodic pattern of Maud's mental deterioration. The rendering of senility from the inside out is incredibly well done. Maud spends much of her waking day living in the past. A past where a hugely traumatic event, in the period just after the second world war, devastated her life. And it is the panic and horror of this event,
bubbling up through her memories again and again that becomes attached to events in the now. Elizabeth is missing, but not in the way we suspect, but it is her missing that triggers a spiral inside Maud's mind to delve into that past trauma. And the narrative bifurcates, we spend time in the past, where things are clear and solid, and time in the present where things are blurry and confusing. The horror of that past trauma seeps through into the now, delicately and confusingly, create a layered version of the present where every little thing acts as an association which spirals her thinking off into deep, almost dream-like recollections of what once happened. Neither Maud or us (the vicarious viewer of this smorgabord of mental delipidation) can quite work out sometimes whether we are in the past, the present or somewhere in between.

Maud experiences the world choppily, as if via partially open Venetian blinds. She sees snatches of the present, but these are almost always over-laid with very associations of the past. And this is where the debilitation of dementia is so beautifully presented to us. We see where new memories are weak and tissue-thin, so the now becomes a blurred misty thing, where past memories are weighty and strong, piercing through the fog of the present like skyscrapers through a London pea souper. Mental associations send her spinning into the past with increasing regularity and slowly but surely through accident and dogged determination Maud begins to solve the crime that so blighted her younger years. In the present Maud forgets she's put the kettle, the iron and the toast on, whereas is the past she is a young girl fighting her way through an unresolved trauma that she must now put to bed.

Masterly writing. Winner of the Costa First Novel prize. Emma Healey is a very talented young writer who conveys with a deftness of touch that is subtle and beautiful the mental demise of dementia, making us love Maud, hate what's happening to her whilst desperately hoping she can find the answers she seeks in her past. If you want to learn about character and writing in the first person Elizabeth Is Missing is a master class.

(****) Four stars


Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life
Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life
by Paul Dolan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.49

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff, happy by design it says and happy by design it does, 16 Jan. 2015
This is a good read. Intelligent, clear-sighted, honest, open and non-pompous. An academic who sounds like you and me, an academic with insight and clarity, a man who just wants us to look long and hard at how we experience our lives. The joy here is in the self-discovery so I won't say an awful lot but if you've read Daniel Kahnemann's Thinking, Fast and Slow this is a logical build from that, meshing economics, psychology, neuroscience and biology in manner that is not only intuitive but also reads true.

As we know from Dr Steven Peters Chimp Paradox we are two creatures, Chimp and Human, from Kahnemann's books, two systems, Fast and Slow thinking and here from Professor Dolan, two selves, an evaluative and experiencing self. This book is all about nudging us to explore the difference between these two selves, Dolan arguing very cogently that it is our evaluating self that has much more of the attentional resources our brains have to give each day.

Happiness By Design asks you to do just that, to explore your life through your experiencing self, conduct an experiment on your life making notes on where your sources of happiness lie, Dolan suggest very strongly we need to look at what he calls the Purpose and Pleasure axis. Happiness is both purpose and pleasure and the correct balance between them. He argues very convincingly that all the work by Walter Mischel on delayed gratification (you know the old Marshmallow Test - if you don't see here) while correct does not explain how people are able to forgo happiness now with the promise of more happiness later.

Dolan suggests that if we think about happiness in terms of both pleasure AND purpose, then purposeful activities that deliver a sense of well-being, helping others, making a contribution, bringing in our daily bread for our families, allow us to engage in activities that aren't necessarily pleasurable but fulfil our need to connect, to do, to be in the world interacting with people.

The book is a mine of insight both large and small and it is reassuringly delivered by a humane, self-effacing and open chap who tells us quite a bit about his own upbringing and life experience, both good and bad, to deliver his points. It's not showy writing, it not a demanding read at all, but a very life-affirming one.

Thank you to all involved, I am currently running my DRM (day reconstruction method) analysis right now to ensure I am sifting every possible happy design moment from my environment to maximise my well-being and that of those around me. Read this book, it will help you think differently, a light from science into the often benighted dark of our over-active and sometimes very unhelpful minds.

Professor Dolan works at the LSE in London, advises government on the pursuit of policies to promote well-being and seems, rather remarkably, to body-build in his spare time!

In a nutshell there's a lot here that's a scientific and psychological basis for mindfulness; we are happiest when we pay attention to whatever we're doing at the time, whatever, actually, that task is (with the possible exception of the dentist chair). Be here now, the philosopher cries, Paul Dolan in this book explains why.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2015 10:24 AM BST


Before I Go To Sleep
Before I Go To Sleep
by S J Watson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Clunky & contrived (sorry), 10 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Before I Go To Sleep (Paperback)
In my journey to explore genre and story of all types I find myself reading outside my comfort zone. Off YA and children's for a bit, so as to return with a clearer-eyed perspective so deep in the soft mallow of airport fiction in this read.

I am not worthy to give this review and I have ummed and ahhed about it for a while. In the end I have gone for honesty and if you end up reading this SJ (after all the vagaries of social media mean the degrees of separation have probably quartered from six to two) then I am sorry but in the end, though I stuck with it until the last page, it didn't work for me. Having established it wasn't working, I set about trying to pinpoint why and here are my conclusions, more post-mortem then than review and like a post mortem of something beloved, you might just wanted to look away now. Lots of people loved this, for lots of people this was their book of the year, industry types too, people who, unlike me, know what they're talking about. Of course everything that follows is just my opinion with as much weight and importance as a hundred-weight of nothing in the literary firmament of which this novel was and is clearly a major star.

It did exceptionally well. Crime Novel of the year, massive sales, film deal within nanoseconds with big hitters in the cast like Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. I found the idea deeply intriguing and for the very first section, thirty pages, it had me and then it let me go. No spoilers here, the plot does twist about a bit but when the denouement comes, although I personally didn't guess it because my mind was still trying to figure out why this didn't work for me, you'll kick yourself if you don't work it out in advance.

So, why it didn't work for me;

(i) The first person perspective was SJ writing as the protagonist - a woman. And this didn't feel right, it jagged, felt contrived, some writers write in the opposite gender very well but this didn't work at all. Some of the best writing in opposite gender has to be Emma Donoghue writing as a five year old boy in room, or Ian McEwan's virtuoso performance in Sweet Tooth. This read for most of the time like a man imagining what a woman might think, about bodies and breasts and penises and it didn't feel genuine. I don't think women as an interested in their own bodies or those of men in the way that SJ envisaged it here. The metaphors were mixed and clunky and there was a general heaviness of touch to the prose style and characterisation that smacked heavily of male. A fixation on lingerie, not sure women are that interested, isn't lingerie bought by men for women? The vulnerability of the victim protagonist did generate reader empathy for a whole but for me this curdled pretty quickly into irritation as she agonised and dithered and generally appeared weak and defenceless. A toy in, well, the writer's mind, rather than a character with dimensionality, ready to walk off the page.

So, why didn't it work for me;

(ii) The plot, whilst enticing on the shelf and in that first section, very quickly became a constraining contrivance. As woman whose memories get lost at the end of everyday, except, it transpired when the writer needed her to remember things to get the plot moving. The re-remembering every morning brought a sameness to the story, this sameness of course would be a genuine artefact of forgetting everything everyday, but it was ruined when SJ broke his own rules in order to move the plot forward. Christine remembered bits, she remembered after a doze but not a sleep, she remembered actually when the plot demanded she did and very quickly I lost interest. She was no longer a disabled and disoriented woman struggling with a genuine psychological condition, but a character in a thriller who was being moved by not-so-invisible strings. My disbelief was no longer suspended and it came crashing down. The plot broke, as did the character and my interest went along with it.

So, sorry to everyone involved, it may of course just not be my genre and perhaps I should simply steer well away.

It would pass a long airplane journey without taxing you too much.

*** Three stars


The Shock of the Fall
The Shock of the Fall
by Nathan Filer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersive, first person fiction at its very best., 27 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Shock of the Fall (Paperback)
Arriving late here, apologies, but so glad I did. A joy absolute joy.

This review will tell you little about the story, that is special and rich and immersive and so diligently constructed you can almost hear the words clicking to place. There is suspense, darkness, difficult moments and human kindness and there's hope too. This is a humane book, a loving book, a book that is about walking in the moccasins of our fellow man, a troubled and sick young man called Matthew Homes.

Matt is not well. Matt is really struggling and we experience this poignant and traumatic struggle from the inside out. Matt has schizophrenia, Matt lost his brother in a tragic accident when he was so small he cannot delineate between what is real in his memories and what is not. His illness doesn't help, his rapacious, slithering snake of an illness, a disease that shares the same mind he does. The paranoia is captured superbly, the tissue-thin barrier between what is real and what is not is shown to us live, the way real-events inspire the gyre of the mental fugue and the way those terrifying imaginative flights of fancy then propel behaviour back in the real-world. Thought sick and not, experience real or not, bouncing off each other to build an individual tower of madness all Matt's own. This is also a story of how some events are so traumatic the grief they create never eases so a normal life can never resume, grief so powerful it leaves those it hits so hard broken they cannot be rebuilt.

Read this book to see how first person narrative is done, it is quite literally an out of body experience. Matt is strange, dislikeable and at the same time deeply, deeply caring. He is misunderstood, a loner who plunges into savage addictions (nicotine, marijuna) pretty early on to help no doubt ease the scratching-tugging-biting intensity of his illness. In many places this fiction reads like biography, actually autobiography.

Fiction at it's very best, taking us to new worlds and galaxies all stuffed claustrophobically inside the tight skull of another being, be it the character we're reading or the quiet diligence of the author creating that world. Fiction that does exactly what Steven Pinker lauds it for, building on the argument from philosopher Peter Singer about the importance of "The Expanding Circle" as a strong explainer of the civilising processes that have under-pinned the rise of free, inclusive societies. The development of literacy across the civilised world through the ready availability of the printed word changed our cultural milieu, enabled us to push our experience outside our own, to quite literally live other people's lives from the inside out. This step enables us to understand other's predicament from a different perspective giving us experiences of empathy and sympathy and of wanting to help. Slowly, surely this acid of inclusivity and equality burn their way through the dark and wild prejudices (see school based blog here on the roots of prejudice) of the human animal and The Shock of the Fall is part of the expansion of that process into the minds of the seriously

mentally ill. Dismissing such people crazy and mad and just moving on is less possible after reading this book. Fiction like this breaks down walls more effectively than any hammer, the virtual walls people erect between themselves. This kind of fiction asks us to put away our prejudices and spend time in other's heads and the world is different, more complex, more understandable as a result.

Nathan Filer has done such a superb job here. Beautiful story, never trumping storying over reality, we are allowed to hold our sense of suspended disbelief right to the end, but the author leaves us with enough threads of hope to imagine a better future for Matt might be possible.

***** Five stars


When Mr Dog Bites
When Mr Dog Bites
Price: £5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Down & Dirty with a Tourette's Sufferer, Brilliantly Done., 25 Dec. 2014
This review is from: When Mr Dog Bites (Kindle Edition)
Good this. Really good. Ironic too that a book with a teenage Tourette's suffering protagonist represents more realistically in fiction the real-life swearing of its adolescent audience than anything else out there. YA books are cleansed mostly, denuded of the reality of teenage language because of the squeamishness of adults (writers, editors, publishers, parents and teachers). And fair enough, there is an order of magnitude magnification going on when a swear word hits the page, especially when uttered by a teenage protagonist. That When Mr Dog Bites struggled to find a publisher is therefore hardly surprising. And even when it did Bloomsbury felt the need to go on the defence about the coarse and earthy language even though a book with a Tourette's suffering protagonist without the swearing would have struggled to find a publisher for a whole different set of reasons. Brian's written a great book here, an exploration of Tourette's from the inside out, a sufferer himself, he conveys it exquisitely, the Dog of the title being the uncontrollable impulsive fug our protagonist descends into when anxiety goes off the scale.

Many comparisons have already been made in lots of reviews with Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time so I won't repeat them here. But just like that this is the story of an extraordinary boy doing very ordinary things, coping with the secrets and lies of adults, the bullying he and his friends are subjected to at school. When, early on, Dylan Mint, our philosophical protagonist, mistakes a medical diagnosis directed at his mother as a death sentence for him he sets out fulfill items on his bucket list, one of which is having sex with Michelle Malloy. The humour here is dark and brilliant, as you can imagine with anxiety off-the-scale Dylan's attempts to engage Michelle in chat-up lines about the possibility of coming to the Halloween Disco are replete with him shouting, loudly and rudely, exactly the the opposite of what he wants to say. But it's worse than that, because he says what he wants to say as well, his secret, opposite thoughts spraying up and out through the middle of rehearsed right things to say. Michelle is brilliant, sassy, benighted by her own disabilities and as real as Dylan and his mate Amir. Dylan is a dislikeable character in the first act, his behaviour, his thoughts, his language not the most endearing but Brian does a fantastic job is

building our sympathy for his struggle whilst never being sentimental about it. The physical and psychological experience of Tourette's from the inside out is incredible, the exhaustion, the profuse sweating, the energy expended and the total understandable desire not to shout loudly, facially tic and flick and physically jerk about and generally draw attention to oneself. Painful experiences brought powerfully to life here.

As revelations come thick and fast both about the mistaken medical diagnosis and what has really happened to Dylan's real dad, he finally manages to make some progress with Michelle, although giving details of the how and the why would definitely count as a spoiler. Original, funny, incisive and a real page turner. Dylan is a GOOD kid, kind and thoughtful, different as hell, but his perspective closes the gaps between our experience and his. The medical advances in Tourette's that become a focus in the closing act of the book had me speeding off onto the internet to find out more (don't look at this link until you've read the book as it would spoil the ending, but what's possible now via this research is incredible.)

A thoroughly engaging and well written book. Well done Brian.

**** Four stars


The Bone Clocks
The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My book of 2014 by a country-mile..., 12 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Bone Clocks (Hardcover)
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (2014) published by Sceptre

This isn't a review more of a love letter to a book. This story is grand and powerful and elegiac and high and vaulted and majestic as a cathedral ceiling. David Mitchell speaks narrative, deep and fast and slick. Six stories threaded through the cohering strand of one person's life. We begin in the 1980s and end up halfway through the 21st century doggedly following Holly Sykes our sassy, earthy female protagonist. Like Cloud Atlas (Mitchell's much lauded fifth book), there is beautiful invention here, incredible breath-taking invention that we watch like wide-eyed children observing a high-wire act, and like those mad men who recently nudged themselves one toe in front of the other over Victoria Falls with no net, David Mitchell pulls it off.

The Bone Clocks is genius, there is character and geography and breadth and width and such depth that we drown in the power of the imagery sometimes. Six stories woven tight, six stories replete with three dimensional characters who stroll onto the page fully-formed. We love these characters, their inner lives loud as our own. There is war here, love, human life unpeeled and examined and cherished and mocked. And you need to go with it, you really do, this doesn't sit inside a genre, but is a narrative main-lined directly from one complex and intriguing mind to ours. To give a hint, to hook you in, Holly meets a strange old woman in the 1980s, as she is running away from teenage troubles, a strange old woman who is seeking asylum. Holly suffers darknesses and memory lapses and psychic episodes. She witnesses an incredible, discombobulating psychic attack in an ordinary bungalow in the bum-end of Kent - these memories quietly redacted soon after - and her strange little brother, the enigmatic Jacko, gives her a drawing of a maze he urges her to learn. Jacko disappears during the time Holly is on the run.

In section two we meet Hugo Lamb, suave arrogance personified, lover of many, but in love with none. He has a brief and intense moment with Holly before his life too is drawn into the weirdness that clouds around hers. Next we are with Ed Brubeck, a boy Holly knew at school, a boy who went after her when she ran away, a boy who fell in love with her and married her. Ed is a war reporter and we experience his first person perspective at a family wedding and in the hell-hole of a mashed Iraq post Gulf War 2004. The next story, perhaps my favourite, takes places via the voice of Crispin Hershey, once fated brilliant novelist, down on his luck and barnacled with petty jealousies for other authors and the world. Crispin quietly falls in love with Holly but neither her or him realise it. Crispin is attacked by the those same strange psychic beings that have been stalking Holly's life and almost killed, he witnesses one of Holly's episodes and worries for her perpetually. In the final two stories the complex spaghetti of this genius narrative is slowly and surely drawn together in ways which if I describe I will impede the suspense and majesty.

A beautiful, clever, fast-paced narrative sparkling with incredible writing. Poetry as prose, all human life is here. This is science-fiction and fantasy and literary fiction, it is love story, war story and human condition writ large. David Mitchell lifts up the boundaries of narrative and walks them wider, encompassing new ground in what is possible. This will be, no doubt, a marmite book, you will either love or hate it. I still have three hours to listen to of the masterfully voice-acted Audiobook, three hours with Holly in her life in 2045 aged 70. I think I know what is going to happen, I have been guess-guess-guessing all the way through. There's one last encounter with her dark love to come I believe, one last dance with the majestic grandeur of the secret world Mitchell has created for all of us. I will miss that world when it's over.

Humans are crazy and infuriating and stupid and dangerous. Humans are also amazing, clever, sensitive and so deeply imaginative that the privilege of experiencing the thought-transference that a great novel is inspires me every time. We sad and pathetic Bone Clocks need fiction this good to remind us how incredible we really are.

A brilliant book. My book of 2014. Read it, get lost in it, 25 hours of gorgeous listening. There is hope and death and wonder and grandeur in our souls if we only look long and deep enough. This book is a mirror reflecting back at us the urgent reminder keep on with that search.

***** Five stars

Other reviews are available; more intelligent, better written but perhaps not as heartfelt:


Gone Girl
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, only sour note right at the very, very end..., 9 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Gone Girl (Paperback)
Better late than never I wash up into this story, that there are twists, re-aligned expectations and a pulsing plot you can sense simply from the shrapnel this story's flung all about popular culture. Gillian Flynn hit gold with this, tautly written, expertly envisaged and mercilessly edited. There's now a critically regarded David Fincher film staring moody Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike that has taken this narrative up into the cultural stratosphere.

I will speak little of the plot for I will, inadvertently, give stuff away. Just to say the girl does go and for a while at the beginning, as the insipid narratives of our two disreputable and dislikable protagonists (the novel is told from twin first person POVs) she stays gone. It is an excellent story, well told and more importantly in this age when bad writing sells (witness Dan Brown, Fifty Shades and the god awful Girl Online) brilliantly written. Gillian Flynn can write but what makes this a mega-selling airport novel door-stop is that the writing delivers plot, character and a building sense that the world has gone to s***.

Her characters are hideous, totally three-dimensional and completely believeable and like people you might share the lift with. She embodies their thoughts through her writing and very, very soon, it is the story that is sticking and staying and the words, so beautifully constructed, fall away as our consciousness engages directly with the need to know that an excellent narrative creates. The writing doesn't get in the way of the story, but enables it, the very opposite of a Dan Brown where we're wincing for at least seventy percent of the experience as terrible metaphors and long rambling blocks of tell blast and patronise us as readers.

I listened to Gone Girl on Audiobook, cleverly voice acted, the first person POV a slippery skinned sound inside my ears as the two protagonists vyed live on tape to show us who really is the most despicable. Sublime story-telling, a cultural bomb Gillian Flynn detonated globally, she deserves all the praise heaped on her, an utterly gripping narrative that treats readers with the intelligence they deserve.

The one not-quite-right note was the ending, sinuous as a snake until the end, we're second-guessing our little hearts out, but it didn't quite scan for me. I wanted total and complete closure and perhaps the tiniest sense of justice being done, but I am sure that is just a matter of opinion.

You will read it quickly, beyond page 50 I hardly noticed my progress, I just wanted to know what the hell was going on.


We Were Liars
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever, clever., 28 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: We Were Liars (Paperback)
Intriguing.

And a difficult review to write without putting in spoilers. Let's just say this story is not what it appears and the author keeps that very well hidden until she decides to reveal it in the final quarter. To say anymore would spoil the surprise.

So, what did I think? This is many people's YA novel of 2014 and it is easy to see why. The writing is beautiful, simple, clean and, by turns, poetic and rhythmic. The first person POV is delivered faultlessly, keeping us looking over there when what is really happening is underway over here. Clever, clever. But...I'll come back to that but in a mo.

The story's protagonist is Cadence, a rich girl who suffers a terrible accident on a regular summer retreat to the island home where her family have spent June, July and August for generations. She is falling in love, beautifully, slowly and so, so intensely with Gat, an Indian boy who travels up to the island every summer too. The time-line of the narrative is choppy and episodic matching Cadence's flickering consciousness and recollection of events as a result of the head injury she suffers one summer. And it is this accident and what really happened that provides the intrigue. A whole summer is blank in her mind.

The story is laggardly, almost languid in places, because of course, it is not what it appears. We think it's about love and recovery from a tragic accident but it is about something else entirely, a volte-face in the story which casts everything that went before in a very different light. Like I said, clever, clever.

And this is where the but comes in. Because the story is a very beautifully constructed sleight-of-hand, not one thing or the other until that big reveal, nothing much happens. This is YA because the protagonist is YA and the publishers publish YA and that is the genre where it seems to fit best, but actually I am not sure this is what older teenagers would naturally read. It is a story about rich people and families and twisted inheritance and difficulties with houses and money and young lovers and liars and running and jumping in the sand. The prose is poetry in places. I think it hits the spot of where we adults think YA would want to read, but not exactly where they might be. It has a classical feel, like a Great Gatsby or something early 20th century, grand and full of poise. But YA? Really? It's a clever piece of writing, a mystery disguised as romance.

E Lockhart has accomplished an amazing thing, a story that is a beautiful trick, so beautiful you continue to explore its twists and turns in the aftermath, but as a result, there is no arrow of a story, straight and true, this is a corner rather than a straight forward journey from A to B, there is a flipping great hinge toward the end that brings about a total change in direction.

Very clever. Very literary. Very haunting. Did I enjoy it? Mostly, but it didn't compel me because the mystery was so well hidden it snuck up on me. I read it like a love story and I don't really read those. You should read it, it's well worth it, she writes beautifully, like a young Margaret Atwood, but more simply.

Challenging stuff.

Four stars (****)


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £8.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best zombie book EVER!, 12 Oct. 2014
I went to superlative store and cleared them out in order to write this review.

This is superb.

Utterly brilliant. Enthralling, visceral, well written, well told, exciting, engaging and containing such scintillating verisimilitude it's like actually being there. Take cover people, here come the zombies.

This audiobook version offers us fourteen hours of unabridged narrative genius delivered through the device of reportage from the total Zombie war. Beginning in China at the very beginning of the mysterious infection that causes the dead to re-animate, this listen-fest of guts, gore and genius is the apogee of zombie stories. We experience the slide into chaos, destruction and apocalypse that befalls humanity as the zombie infection spreads, charting its highs and lows from all around the globe. If this was played on the radio to an unsuspecting population as was Orson Welles's adaptation of War of the Worlds back in the 1938 people'd be running for them their hills.

War World Z is quite simply the best zombie novel ever written. Period. Stop reading anything else about zombies - with the possible exception of Charlie Higson's brilliant YA series The Enemy which is like WWZ but for smaller people.

WWZ takes its subject matter and makes it totally real by exploring exactly what would happen if a zombie infection could spread through a 21st century world teeming with people. And it does that through the voices of the people who experienced it across the globe. I mean have you ever wondered what would happen to zombies who fell into the sea? No, me neither, but we find out here. They'd sink of course, but they wouldn't drown (they're dead already) so they'd jigger and judder around the sea-bed until they either washed up somewhere or didn't, always a danger to swimmers or fishing boats. And how would the frozen north affect zombies? Well, they'd freeze solid of course, that is, until the spring, when they'd come all grey-skinned and slimy back to stiff-limbed motion all over again. Gorgeously horrific.

The audiobook uses a large cast of voice actors who make the already superb wordage come alive, taking us through a worm-hole is space and time where we're listening to the news reports of the an alternative future where the undead are really kicking off. Unlike the well-meaning but woefully inadequate movie starring Brad Pitt, World War Z the audiobook allows the enthralled and engaged reader to experience the horrific reality of this world through exposure to the voices of the sufferers. And having listened to all of it its totally clear to me that World War Z the movie was never going to work. You should have saved your money Brad. The scope of this genius novel is too broad, too wide and too deep to work inside the 120 minutes of a Hollywood blockbuster where the gorgeously handsome hero simply has to win! The film is a reedy, irritating pipsqueak of a tale in comparison to the towering edifice that is this audiobook narrative.

Heartily recommended, George A Romero meets Stephen King darkest stuff in a bar at the back end of hell. Horror fiction at it's best, but story-telling and imagination too, in spades. Max Brooks simply seems to have asked himself the question; "Umm...zombies....what, like, would, you know, really happen?" *rubs hands with shiny-eyed, smiley-faced glee*

World War Z is the brilliant answer.


How to Train Your Dragon 2 [DVD]
How to Train Your Dragon 2 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jay Baruchel
Offered by nagiry
Price: £7.26

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smarter Than Your Average Cartoon Blockbuster, 27 Sept. 2014
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How To Train Your Dragon 2

This film is deeper than it looks. If you’ve loved the Cressida Cowell How to Train Your Dragon series then it’s probably best you leave your expectations at the door as you pick up the popcorn. This is good as was its predecessor, but nothing could ever be as good as those wonderful books. Cressida however is credited as one of the screenwriters, which means this quite different treatment of her stories for screen has the weight of her storytelling skill.

What remains from the books are the dragons and some of the deep themes and the fact that it is set on the mythical island of Berk amongst a Viking tribe. The names of the characters have also survived the treatment but the rest of the story is a made for movie affair, the antagonist from the books for example, almost comically evil - Alvin the Treacherous - hasn't made it through to the films yet but this is right and proper, as different media require different storytelling approaches. The story starts off fast-paced and frantic and initially you might be forgiven for imagining you’re being subjected to just another Disney Frozen piece of candy-floss and colour-fest full of light and zaniness, signifying nothing. However…this film has depth, emotional gravity and power. It hangs on a traditional five act structure and the point of no return is well tother side of the middle. Our hero has to face a deep tragedy (I will say no more as I don’t want to spoil it) and how he copes with this and how the characters around him respond turns this film into something so much better than the normal cartoon blockbuster.

The story is lovingly envisaged, the characters are well drawn and not prettified. Disabled characters play a key role, both good and bad and even the very, very bad guy has a back story that offers us a way of looking at his evil from a redemptive perspective. This story has something important to say to children about the world and how it ends up the way it does. Evil is caused rather than made, which means, hopefully, evil can be transformed as well as being overcome.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is moving and emotionally nuanced. Sitting amongst small people watching it from the middle third of the story there were lots of difficult silences and half-hidden snuffles. The stories final act is very well-played and it’s all okay in the end but on the journey children experience the very real prospect that it won’t be and that life vomits up terrible surprises that will challenge, upset and possibly change their lives forever.

A great family film in the tradition of Up, Finding Nemo and Wall-E. There are those fast-paced popcorn munching moments, but you’ll need to take the tissues too!
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