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Andrew D Wright "Andrew W." (UK)
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The Peripheral
The Peripheral
by William Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Crazy but in such a GOOD way., 25 Aug. 2015
This review is from: The Peripheral (Paperback)
Embarrassing admission out of the way first. This is the first Gibson I’ve ever read, I know, call myself a geek, he of Neuromancer and inventor of the term cyberspace and super-cool take-home quotables like; “The future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet.” It won’t be the last Gibson experience I allow myself, but be warned this isn’t an easy read. This is eye-bleedingly complex at times actually, the literary equivalent of materialising in a Romania bakery and having to work out how to order breakfast with no prior knowledge of the language or even what Romania’s like with their coffee. Hang on in there for the first 100 pages though and you start to get it. Just.

Gibson drops us into a gorgeously realised future world. Well, actually two future worlds. A pre-apocalyptic America and a very noir post-apocalyptic London, a freak show London actually where peripherials are common place (think avatar but with the cyborg left in.) This is cool sci-fi, sharply intelligent with an emphasis on narrative rather than long rambling explanations of what the hell is going on. The future-tech is seamlessly weaved into the world-building, in post-apocalyptic London for example phones have left handsets and become melded to our biology with interfaces in the roof of the mouth and sigil’s (the visual equivalent of ring-tunes) flashing in the field of views of people receiving calls.

Flynne is our sleek and classy heroine she’s stuck in the past. She plays computer games for a living, massive multi-player on-line games that are the great grandchildren of World of Warcraft and War Thunder in the now. In one of these games she sees a murder, turns out later that she isn’t actually in a game but a future version of London and the murderers know she saw it and set out to come get her in the past.

Flynne’s time, pre-apocalypse, is mined by those in the future trying to influence history, attempting for example to prevent the apocalypse or to make a shed load of money. You know the old time travel trick, leave a penny in the past and let compound interest do its work so in the future you have a fat pile of cash. Gibson neatly side-steps paradoxes that bedevil time travel fiction by the conceit that immediately far future London connects with near future America then, because the future is changed, the past time-zone become what’s referred to as a stub. Basically the river of time bifurcates at the point of contact between the time-lines, creating a different unconnected future, on its own, a dead-end leading nowhere.

Anyway it’s all very deep, philosophical and so cool you really don’t mind being confused for much of the time. Gibson’s prose is sparser than a hermit’s contact list and the short chapters and dual narrative, one in the future with Wilf Netherton, one in the past with Flynne, are like twin hand-rails leading us through a dimly lit room. You imagine the whole narrative takes place, every scene, in half-light with people dressed in leathers looking slick and cool. Flynne travels avatar-like into the future to merge with a peripheral (robot humanoid thing that neither living or inorganic but a mash-up between) to help the authorities there identify the murderer, although, of course, that’s not the half of what’s really going on.

Su-bloody-perb Mr Gibson, I will be back for me.

Bat sh*t crazy sci-fi with an emphasis of the batty bit. But cool batty. This man’s mind is a beautiful mess.

***** Five stars

Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes)
Death Cloud (Young Sherlock Holmes)
by Andrew Lane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Sherlock in second gear, but still Sherlock!, 16 Aug. 2015
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Sherlock for a new generation. Set in the period of the original stories, young Sherlock sans Watson cuts a less convincing figure. But it’s lots of fun, even if the plot takes willing suspension of disbelief to an uncomfortable level. What I loved was the bad guy, a genuinely unique horror with a grudge bigger than a James Bond villain’s secret mountain volcano base.

What I didn’t like was the anodyne writing, I thought it was uninventive and a little patronising, metaphors and similes older than Holmes’s violin. I mean, ‘Her scream cut the air like a knife!’ Having said that Andrew Lane is a passionate Holmes geek with writing credentials far and above this reviewer's and he clearly knows his market and writes very successfully for it. Perhaps my be-moaning lame

metaphors and workaday writing should be directed at the audience for whom he is clearly writing very engaging fiction. Come on lads (and lasses) demand more!

PS - This was recommended to me by my eldest son, a very reluctant reader, which probably proves the point about the simple accessibility of the prose style being perfect for the target audience.

*** Three stars

I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
by Terry Hayes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

3.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Is Trying To Be a Movie - It's Good But Not As Good As It Thinks It is, 21 July 2015
This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Paperback)
I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes (Bantam Books 2013)

This is a novel that reads like a screenplay, not surprising as that's where Hayes found his initial success. It's actually a novel that reads like a screenplay told in voice-over by a Matt Damon/Tom Cruise type all-American hero-spy-action-hero who's been there and done it whilst wearing the t-shirt. He is the pilgrim of the title, a man with no past, a man with no future, a man of the moment, a hero of our times! Oops, flopped into Hollywood trailer voice there.

I Am Pilgrim is a spy flick told in first person prose, an odd choice of point of view as we spend much of the time effectively listening to our protagonist telling us third person back story (describing events he wasn't there for), everything we're told to avoid in good writing. Also, it is also a big book. A very big book. Hayes has a Pringles writing style, once you've popped a sentence you just can't stop. Having said that the first two hundred pages are more ready salted than Barbecue, heavy-going and a bit samey. The first person narration of third person events became, initially, irritating. But as the twisty-turny plot kicked in with it's big concept and big international budget we begin to forgive Terry his odd choice of point of view. This is a great beach book, it reads like much we've read before and whilst many people seem to think it's original, it's plot is a weave of so many popular themes that it covers quite familiar territory. It's definitely much better written than a Dan Brown (sorry, on re-reading that seems a faint sort of praise!). It's basically a movie that's been pressed between covers, with a car chase and a boat yard fight that seems to have tumbled straight from a Bond script.

The pilgrim of our title is after a terrorist, a lone wolf terrorist with a devious plan to release a virulent form of the small pox virus on America. The story tracks Pilgrim's ingenious attempts to track him down, a roller-coaster ride, some turns you see and some you don't. In the end it was a fun read, but I have to admit that some of the beginning and middle sections did drag a bit and the cheesiness of the lines did make me wince sometimes. There are crow-bar plot-moves and great special effects set-pieces but it's at its best however when Hayes thriller-writer instincts offer us

convolutions and clevernesses which we don't see coming. He is a very clever man and has clearly done buckets of research. The writing style is muscular and the characterisation is never allowed to get in the way of the steam-roller of a plot so much so that like a film set the characters are all facade and no depth. The last three hundred pages are a binge-fest of activity and I chomped through them, definitely a Pringles reading experience though, yes I'd eat more but I'm not sure it'd be all that good for me.

Also; suffers a bit from hyperbole, not as good as the superlatives on the cover or the rave reviews suggest. However, I will be back to buy more Pringles in future - The Year of the Locust from Terry Hayes is coming soon which is I suppose is all Mr Hayes and his publishers need to hear.

*** (Three stars)

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.89

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet desperation at full volume - a beautiful book., 21 July 2015
Short sentences and chapters to carry the most beautiful, complex ideas. Spanning a human life-time All The Light We Cannot See uses a disordered time sequence, a weird third person present tense point of view and a forensic attention to the emotional experience of its characters to express something as insubstantial and beautiful as a sunset. It is astounding. Through a split narrative, shared between Marie-LeBlanc, the blind daughter of a Paris museum curator and Werner Pfenning, a curious, sparkly-eyed German boy living in the coal-mining town of Zollverein in 1934, we watch the loud, appalling abomination of war engulf ordinary lives.

This books reaches its fingers deep into the essence of human experience and comes up both bloody and beautiful. Werner's genius with electronics, hot valves and solder, is very quickly sucked into the Hitler Youth and what is good and kind corrupted. Werner remains untrammelled despite the horror around him, walking that tightrope between abhorrence and the simple need to stay alive which must have been many ordinary German's experience of Hitler's madness. Amongst the brutalising conditions of training camp, where he is selected because of his high aptitude, Werner sees the animal face of Nazism early. His brilliance with radios and maths means he is spared some of the worse excesses in that dog-eat-dog world of young masculine ebullience, but through the vehicle of his round-faced, kind-hearted friend, Freddy, we experience the mercilessness of the animal Nazism reveals.

As France falls in 1940 Marie (whose loving father has constructed a miniature model of their Paris neighbourhood so she can learn its streets and shape with her fingers) and her father go on the run. As the artefacts of the museum are distributed and hidden from the tide of advancing thuggery, her father takes with them to St Malo in Normandy the Sea of Flames, a famous and valuable diamond. And through a simple mechanism, as precise a clockwork, Doerr delivers chapters with alternating points of view, Werner, Marie, Werner, Marie, with the occasional side dish of a Nazi antiquities hunter, Von Rumpel, on the trail of the Sea of Flames. And just like clockwork, something numinous is captured above the whirling of cogs of this carefully constructed narrative, something as insubstantial as the time on a watch's face. This narrative offers us something both ordinary and exotic. Werner is in a Nazi uniform but retains his humanity, Marie is lost in a town under occupation, bereft of hope, and yet manages to make meaning with her Great Uncle's radio project. And that is the great contradiction of the human condition, benighted and mortal, yet amongst the soiled tragedy of our lives, there's the opportunity for acts of courage and hope, for lighted arrows of kindness to streak across the black that's the pointlessness of our being here at all.

The fine threads of this story are beautifully braided as the narrative heads for crescendo, and through the device of the radio, both physical and narrative, Werner and Marie are brought together in the crumbled masonry of St Malo in 1944 as the tide finally turns against the Nazis. Werner is some kind of hero, as is Marie, as are the whole sorry parade of the damaged and destroyed we see along the way. Having lost her father, taken as a prisoner when he returned briefly to Paris in the early part of the occupation, Marie has been looked after by her Great-Uncle, Etienne, a recluse with a powerful radio up in his loft. This radio is used to broadcast messages to the Allies from the French Resistance, messages Marie brings folded inside warm loaves of bread from the bakery in town. Werner and Marie's lives enwrap so beautifully at the end, amongst the desolation, his true nature and hers meeting in an elegiac scene that is as uplifting as it is ultimately tragic.

All The Light We Cannot See expresses something inexpressible in its 500+ pages. All The Light We Cannot See talks of the dead and of the living, it shows us that living your true life, in whatever circumstances is a majestic and grandiose thing. Thoreau said; "Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still inside them." And this is true, you see it in the rheumy eyes of the old guy ahead of you in the check-out queue or the shop assistant piling his groceries down the conveyor. In All The Light We Cannot See we see that quiet desperation against the backdrop of war and human life is so beautiful and tragic, but with the novelist's powers at least Marie and Werner's desperation is quiet no longer.

Read it. The length and themes of a classic with the page-turning quality of a bestseller.

Five stars (*****)

The Miniaturist
The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a good as we're led to believe, 31 May 2015
This review is from: The Miniaturist (Paperback)
The Miniaturist - Jesse Burton (Picador)

Without a doubt this is beautifully written, with great characters, a great setting and much intrigue. It's written from an interesting point of view too, third mostly, but the tense is immediate, as if we are witnessing events directly rather than trailing slightly behind real-time which is the standard for third person POV. It takes us into an interesting world, the city state of Amsterdam circa 1686 where merchants are the law as long as they maintain respectability in a puritanically Christian country. Petronella, our heroine, is plucked from rural ordinariness to high society life, when just eighteen she is married to successful and very rich local merchant Johannes Brandt. Nella is naive and nervous and her marriage very quickly turns out to be not what it seemed. Johannes gives Nella a gift of a cabinet with a miniature version of their house inside and the Miniaturist whose employed to supply puppets for this house seems to has some sinister, almost supernatural powers of prescience. The tragedies and travails befalling the household are picked out in miniature in the puppets and furniture supplied. An unexpected pregnancy for example, presaged by the arrival of a miniature cradle. It all gets very spooky and intriguing and then...flops utterly and completely.

A book much feted, Waterstones book of the year, Richard and Judy loved it, people have got very excited about it. Four hundred pages later however I am left feeling ambivalent and slightly cheated. The Miniaturist is easily the most interesting thing about the story and whilst the plot (nothing to do with the Miniaturist) works as a historical narrative it never actually delivers in the areas where the expectations of this reader were. It's called the Miniaturist so you'd expect that to be the focal point of the story, but the demise of Brandt's merchant empire and his entire household has absolutely nothing to do with the small dolls being supplied by the ever mysterious Miniaturist. We are given some pappy nonsense to explain the Miniaturist's prescient but the explanation is unsatisfying. It's as if this book tried to be two things, a spooky, supernatural mystery and a main-stream historical drama and ended up wedged between both themes in a manner it couldn't extricate itself from.

Enjoyable, but not stand out for this reader in the way it has clearly been for so many others. I clearly missed something but it felt to me like Jesse Burton was never clear enough in her own mind what the theme was. A beautifully constructed world and a great historical tragedy, but The Miniaturist was always an adjunct to that drama in a way that was never successfully reconciled.

*** Three Stars

A God in Ruins: Costa Shortlisted 2015
A God in Ruins: Costa Shortlisted 2015
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is lived forwards and understood backwards. Kate Atkinson gets that - beautifully., 28 May 2015
A God In Ruins - Kate Atkinson (Doubleday) 2015

Brilliant is an over-used word. Moving, humbling, passionate, angry, forceful, contemplative and brimming with ennui. A God In Ruins is all of these things and much, much more. It is what the best stories are, a human life in miniature, laid out for us to explore and engage with in the tiniest of details.

A God In Ruins is the literary cousin of Kate Atkinson's previous novel, the very excellent, Life After Life (reviewed here.) In that story Ursula Todd shimmies back and forth across her life as she relives it after various mishaps kill her prematurely. In doing so she gradually improving things. In the end, Ursula, the world's first repeat re-incarnate, remembering her previous lives, decides to ensure her mortality weighs heavy in the history of the early 20th century when the story is set. She does something incredible, life-changing...

A God In Ruins shows us her brother's life, Teddy, a brother she helped to save several times during Life After Life. Teddy's life is explored in great detail, the narrative ratcheting back and forth over his life like some majestic, impossible loom. We see Teddy's life from the end, 2012, when he is an old man and from the beginning and back and forth and back and forth. The narrative is like one great digression, constructed like memories are, one association leading inexorably to the next. Teddy's life, in this version of it, saved by his sister, has been long. He has fathered a daughter, buried his wife too young in the ground. He's been a pilot of a Halifax Bomber in the Second World War, part of Bomber Harris vicious targeting of German civilians during 1942-44. Teddy never expects to survive the war, but does, deciding as a result to be kind, a feather in the balance of the world, his contribution to tilting the scales in favour of humanity.

Kate Atkinson writes so beautifully, so delicately, showing so much compassion for the human condition. There are bits of this book that made me laugh, and bits that made me cry. Such beauty, such under-stated description, such soaring concepts committed to the page. This story nails perfectly the benighted, tragic optimism of a human life. An animal who dreamed it was something else, who imagined it was better but turned out to be just as brutal and self-serving as the rest of nature. The characters, even the horrible ones, the despicable Viola (Teddy and Nancy's only daughter) are cemented on the page with great love. In Life After Life Ursula saves Teddy again and again, A God In Ruins asks the question; What for? The answer is a very human, ordinary life, a gentle life, a dull life, repetitive mostly, punctuated with extreme experiences both good and bad.

George Elliot's Middlemarch was once described as a book for grown-ups. Well, this grown-up has never managed to get beyond page 180 of that boring tome. A God In Ruins would be my nomination for a book deserving of that title, and a million times better written to boot. Atkinson is such a versatile writer, beyond genre, a novelist at the height of her powers. This is a novel of love and compassion, a story that asks and answers the question about what it means to be human. A tapestry as much as a novel, a many-splendid weave of experience and event articulating quite perfectly Shakespeare's "tale told by an idiot".

We are born knowing little and that state never changes despite various conceits to the contrart, we just get bigger and more embroiled in things that we think matter, when what does, the people we love and care for, our relationships with them, our experiences, get left to one-side. Reading A God In Ruins will make you feel alive like the best fiction can, like you're living a whole other human life, wedded through empathy to that shared experience. It builds like symphony, emotion, philosophical reflection, the character responses to different circumstances, crescendo after crescendo crashing in. Life has no point, but that is the point, it is, as Teddy displays through his choices and character, what we choose to focus on, what we choose to be. Whatever you decide to do with yours, make sure reading this book is in your plan.

***** Five Stars

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
by Chris Hadfield
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Space travel from the inside out. Your jaw with drop. Awesome book., 17 May 2015
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth - Chris Hadfield (Macmillan)

What are astronauts like? Of Buzz Lightyear chin and alpha-male constitution, full of macho horse-s*** & over-confidence? Some possibly, but certainly not Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian in space and possibly the first Buddhist too (his approach to life is Buddhist, even if his beliefs aren't.) Through the vehicle of Soyuz, the space shuttle and the International Space Station Colonel Chris (although he's too self-effacing ever to give himself that title in the book) takes on a fascinating guide to the experience of space. What we learn is jaw-dropping and in places, quite intimate, for example did you know that 25% of an astronaut's urinations are collected as samples to be analysed back on Earth? The process of collecting urine in a weightless environment is quite mind-boggling.

What we learn about life of Earth is simple. Anything important, complex or meaningful takes time. As in space, so on Earth. What we learn about space exploration is how many fail-safes and sims astronauts go through as they work through every possible scenario and routine pre-flight. A mantra they work with is; Okay, So What Might Kill Me Next, exploring every process with thorough negative thinking to ensure they've analysed every possible risk factor. An astronaut's day is choreographed to the minute and much of it is very mundane. Lever B needs pressing, Tool X needs racking, visor helmet needs careful polishing and cleaning, toileting now, toothbrushing soon, remembering to swallow the paste as in weightless it just wobbles about 'til it splats against the wall or a fellow astronaut.

There's a gorgeous playfulness to Chris's approach to life in space, even amongst the grandeur and danger the astronauts down-time spent racing each other the length of compartments in the IS to see who is quickest. And here Chris draws an analogy with our everyday earth-bound lives, reminding us that we live amongst wonder, as they did amongst the stars, it just depends on where we choose to focus our attention. We must focus on the now, on our present experience, where all joy, engagement and wonder flow from.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth presents us with an amazing insight in life in space and the mind-sets of the people who work up there or have the temerity to design ships and machines that get people up there. Space exploration isn't a luxury or an indulgence, Hadfield argues, but a necessary engine in our quest to challenge ourselves and our engineers and scientists. The work they do up there has practical implications everyday, from the satellites we use for communication, to the understanding of weather and cosmic rays.

Incredible book. Follow Chris on Twitter and visit his website for more, what a thoroughly decent, self-effacing and inspiring human being.

***** Five Stars

The 5th Wave (Book 1)
The 5th Wave (Book 1)
by Rick Yancey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Science fiction with the dirt & blood left on. Great stuff., 16 May 2015
This review is from: The 5th Wave (Book 1) (Paperback)
The 5th Wave - Ricky Yancey (published by Penguin)

Watch out here comes the next BIG THING. Think Independence Day, The Stand, The Day After Tomorrow and Hunger Games. Think slick story-telling that makes reading is effortless. Think intense first person narrative, great action sequences and a very believable end of the world. Dystopia just grew up, got covered in dirt and blood and came to kick our arses.

This is how the book starts, with Hawking's quote. And then the aliens let rip, four waves of destructive annihilation aimed at ridding the planet of the seething cockroach of humanity. No spoilers here, but Yancey's aliens are quite special, nicely believeable and different enough from what's gone before to be a refreshing change. Our protagonists are Cassi, Zombie (a foot solider in the human fight-back) and Evan Walker, mystery hunk whose motives keep us guessing 'til the end.

Yancey has done a great job, this is science fiction with the dirt left on, a cultural bomb that is about to go off in the Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight type way. The film rights were snapped up early and the film is already in production and the second book, Infinite Sea, is already out.

If you liked Patrick Ness's More Than This or Chaos Walking trilogy you will love this. I loved it, such an excellently told story and the obligatory scene* when it came was so beautifully trailed I had a smile on my face as it was delivered.

Cassi is sassy, kick-arse, like Sarah Connor with a great emotional range. All the elements are here and they are brought together with panache and assurance and in the manner of all good stories we gobble words like we're hungry, that need to know driving us right into the final sentence.

Watch this space, the 5th Wave is about to detonate in the culture big time, a story experience that puts many adult thrillers to shame. Proof again that stories for young people are so of the most exciting, innovative and well-told on the planet and books for adults are having to run to keep up.

Read it. Read it now.

Five stars *****

*Obligatory scene - In a well-constructed story the audience is held in expectation of what is called an obligatory scene brought about by a reversal (or indeed, a series of reversals). Note that the obligatory scene, usually the denouement of a story, classically expresses the theme. It is an expression of the story’s central moral, the point expressed as a generalisation as seen in character-in-action. (A good way of defining this moment, in fact many moments in a dramatic narrative, is to ask: ‘Who does what with which to whom and why?’)

Alice and the Fly
Alice and the Fly
by James Rice
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Madness. From the inside., 10 May 2015
This review is from: Alice and the Fly (Hardcover)
Alice And The Fly - James Rice (Hodder and Stoughton 2015)
This is good. Very good indeed.

Intense first person narrative, an inner eye view on a collapse to madness that's beautifully done. Comparisons with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Shock of the Fall have already been made. I listened to this on audio-book and the regional accent of the voice actor meant it was like being there. Gritty, northern, realistic, I could almost see the headlights of the commuter traffic spangling as Greg sat on the bus travelling to school.

Like all truly great writing this story does three things very well. There's the strength of the character's voice, the precision and detail with which his troubled inner world is evoked, and there's mystery. What lifts this story experience somewhere else is the quiet, forensic beauty of the metaphors, poetry masked as prose.

Greg isn't well. Greg isn't well at all. He suffers voices, visions and mental glitches, powerful phobias that mean his inner world and outer experience meld in weird, phantasmagoric ways. In a fugue of confusion and distress his commits a terrible crime, or that at least is how the world sees it, the cleverness of this story is from the inside we see what happens from a very different place. Like all great fiction we are forced to empathize with someone, see it their way, widening our understanding and deepening our compassion.

A brilliant book, we enter the cathedral like space of Greg's madness, a giddy space, filled with sound and paranoia and weird linkages and obsessions. These echo and eddy round, faster, faster, wilder, wilder until the inner world and outer overlay in a way that means he cannot determine between them. Greg is mad, a beautiful, benighted madness which, like all inner collapse, has at its centre a desperate desire to make sense of the senseless and survive. And alongside Greg's collapse, we see his family implode, moving from dealing badly with his condition to not dealing with his condition to culpability in the awful thing that happens.

Clever stuff. Well done James Rice, hats off to you Sir, a powerful and haunting debut. A book you might find yourself reading in one sitting.

***** Five Stars

The Buried Giant
The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Duller than a bran sandwich., 9 May 2015
This review is from: The Buried Giant (Hardcover)
The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro (Canongate Books)
Oh dear.

Message for Kazuo: (If by some terrible accident in this hyperlinked world you end up reading this stop now. You are a great writer and story-teller, just not - in this humble reader's opinion - with this book.)

Is this some great literary in-joke I am too unsophisticated to get? What? We have Pythonesque pre-Saxon peasants and Knights of Yore who speak and in funny ways. Hey? Is Kazuo having a joke with us? Is the The Buried Giant himself, a master story-teller buried in the absurd and inane story? In Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go Kazuo signature style works so well, he uses precise formal language to describe beautifully his first person narrator's predicament and reflections. Here, buried under a tawdry story that tries to be an epic fable and ends up just plain dull, that same precision and formality makes it seem that Parker, Lady Penelope's Butler from Thunderbirds, goes on a Grail quest.

Axl and Beatrice, two elderly peasants, quest through pre-Saxon England where myths and legends (there are pixies, giants and dragons) still abound. But this isn't fantasy, this is Ishiguro's nod to Arthurian legend, to the great stories of pre-literate societies (Beowulf and the like), where stories spread by word of mouth creatures changing every telling.

Imagine if you will Lords of the Rings without Orcs, battles, wizards or any form of action told in the tones of Stevens the butler from Remains of the Day. Axl and Beatrice have somehow had elocution lessons in Pre-Saxon England and Axl, dear, ponderous, ultra-polite Axl, incessantly refers to Beatrice as Princess. Not a Ray Winstone, "Princess," but a rather patronising, misogynistic, "Princess," like she is delicate and might break any minute. In fact he does it so much I am surprised Beatrice has managed to stay with him so long. The narrative voice, the story and the things that happen are part allegory and part fable and totally boring. As our polite Butler strides through the green bosom of rural England in search of his lost son various uninteresting things occur, all of them described in polite, formal language which makes you suspect that very soon you are going to be offered some afternoon tea or have the rules of cricket explained.

If you love Kazuo's other books I urge you NOT to read this one. He's a superb writer, he just lost his way here and no-one stopped him (although his wife does seem to have tried a few times). Perhaps it is a deeply personal novel for him, maybe it touches on relationships in his own life, perhaps he did it for a bet. This novel does have the dubious honour of having the most boring fictional dragon ever. A poor old knackered creature wheezing its last. It would not have seen the light of day (the novel, not the dragon) if Kazuo didn't usually tell such superb stories.

Duller than a bran sandwich.

* One Star.
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