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Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom)
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The Interrogation
The Interrogation
by J.M.G. Le Clťzio
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Le Clézio's debut novel is a curate's egg, 24 Nov. 2013
This review is from: The Interrogation (Paperback)
'The Interrogation' is the English translation of Le Clézio's prize-winning first novel, 'Le Procès-Verbal', published in 1963 and translated the following year. It follows Adam Pollo, a 29-year-old man who is camping out illegally in a house in the south of France that has been left empty for the summer. Isolated, underfed and short of money, he struggles to stay sane by writing as his consciousness gradually dissolves in anomie.

This book set the pattern for the author's work for the next two decades: formally innovative, deliberately hard going, introverted. It is probably now best seen as the work of a very young man (Le Clézio was only twenty-three when it was published; the later work from 1980 that eventually brought him the Nobel is rather different in character). In its portrait of a man at odds with social expectations he was following in a long line of similar work by other French writers. However, unlike for example Sartre's 'Nausea' and Camus' 'The Outsider', 'The Interrogation' has not earned an international reputation as a classic, and unlike those books now seems very much of its time: particularly in its insistence that madness is a form of 'seeing truly', and in its occasional typographical tricks, which now seem undermotivated and rather conservative.

There is some good writing here, particularly when the author tries to give the reader some insight into Adam's slowly disintegrating psyche. As a description of a mind at the end of its tether, 'The Interrogation' is convincing. But it's never really clear what is at stake here, and I found Le Clézio's late attempt to widen the book's scope from individual tragedy to an indictment of an uncaring and pathological society unconvincing. Adam Pollo seems less a man facing an existential crisis than a child who has never grown up.

Worth reading as an example of what was attracting attention at the time, but hard to recommend as a rewarding reading experience. At this point, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Claude Simon, among others, were doing more substantial avant-garde work.


Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy)
Philosophy of Art: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy)
by NoŽl Carroll
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Substantial introductory text, 19 Nov. 2013
NoŽl Carroll introduces the reader to the philosophy of art by examining in turn the most influential modern attempts to define art. He makes the point that there has been very little agreement concerning these matters, and that this suggests that there may be a fundamental difficulty with all definitional approaches to art. Having carefully examined various alternatives - representationalism, formalism, neo-Wittgensteinianism, institutional theory and so on - noting their strengths and weaknesses, and how their advocates have responded to critics, he concludes by suggesting an alternative, narrational approach that may avoid the problems created when we insist on a single, universal definition of art.

There are many introductory texts in this area, but I think that this is one of the more substantial. The author is a Professor of the Philosophy of Art, and a well-known figure in the area. His book is aimed primarily at undergraduate students of the arts, or of philosophy. Nonetheless, it should be accessible to any intelligent adult reader with a genuine interest in the subject who is willing to read carefully and is not intimidated by line-by-line argumentation. Its strength is not so much that it argues for any given approach - though obviously the author favours his own - as that it forces the reader to see how complex the apparently simple process of art appreciation really is, and why easy definitions continue to elude us.


Well Now, My Pretty
Well Now, My Pretty
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 1967 casino heist thriller, 19 Nov. 2013
James Hadley Chase wrote around ninety thrillers over a period of over forty years, often producing as many as three a year. If you like one, you're likely to enjoy all of them, since he hardly developed as a writer.

His strengths and weaknesses are present from the beginning. He was strong on plot, pace, and violent action; relatively weak on originality and character; and an indifferent stylist (compared, for example, to Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, or Graham Greene). He was a British author resident for much of his life in Switzerland, who nonetheless wrote mainly about American scenes and people. His books often read as though conceived as screenplays, and Hollywood thought well enough of him to film over fifty of his books. The book in question is not one of those.

'Well Now, My Pretty', originally published in 1967, is a straightforward crime thriller based around a casino heist, set in Florida in the mid-'60s. Chase was by this point in his career an expert at sucking the reader in; the rather derivative plot grips from the beginning, and has enough twists and turns to maintain interest, without ever being genuinely surprising. Chase is good on the ways in which weak and naive people can be drawn into criminality by amoral predators, and how evil corrupts everything around it. He's less good at creating characters who have a third dimension, or at avoiding clichés; and he has a weakness for improbable plot devices. For me, this will always limit him to the second rank of thriller writers.

A brisk, disposable read. Readers looking only to taste a single Chase would probably do better to seek out 'No Orchids For Miss Blandish' - published in 1939, when writing of this kind was still relatively new to the British public - which was the subject in 1944 of a famous essay by George Orwell, 'Raffles and Miss Blandish'.


The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong
The Numbers Game: Why Everything You Know About Football is Wrong
by Chris Anderson
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful and interesting account of recent developments in soccer analytics, and their implications, 29 Oct. 2013
'The Numbers Game' looks at the future of football from the perspective of mathematical analysis. The enormous increase in the volume of data available on the performance of clubs, players and managers, in tandem with the development of information technology, has made possible new insights into a game dominated by gut instinct, anti-intellectualism and tradition. The book's authors have backgrounds in sociology, football analytics, game theory and professional sport to give authority to their observations.

The book is in the recent tradition established by two influential predecessors: Michael Lewis's pioneering 'Moneyball'(2003), which deals with the impact of analytics on baseball, and Kuper and Symanski's 'Why England Lose' (2009: reissued with revisions and new material as 'Soccernomics', 2012). If 'The Numbers Game' is isn't as straightforwardly compelling as 'Moneyball' - it lacks that book's strong narrative and concentration on a single club - it's at least as interesting and informative as 'Soccernomics', and will appeal to admirers of that book's approach.

The subtitle - 'Why Everything You Know About Football Is Wrong' - is a little misleading. Anderson and Sally do slaughter their fair share of sacred cows, but they are sufficiently objective and even-handed to admit it when their new numbers confirm or nuance rather than contradict some aspect of traditional wisdom. (For example, the manager, the most sacred cow of all, fares rather better at their hands than he does with Kuper and Symanski.) Nor are they afraid to tackle anomalies that at first sight seem to mock the new wisdom. How is it possible for the long ball game to thrive at Stoke when possession football has become the new orthodoxy? If we now believe that team performance can be greatly improved by improving or replacing the worst rather than the best players, why do owners and managers persist in paying fortunes for hugely gifted individuals and then playing them alongside team-mates of significantly lesser ability?

The result is continuously interesting, and represents a genuine, if incremental contribution to the advance in popular understanding of the power of analytics in football. The authors conclude with ten forecasts for the future of soccer and of analytics within the sport; it will be interesting to see how these pan out.

'The Numbers Game' is clearly and accessibly written. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the statistical and strategic aspects of the sport, rather than the personalities and results, and to anyone looking for insights into likely developments.


Economics Without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism
Economics Without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism
by Joseph Heath
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A philosopher's criticism of common economic fallacies of left and right, 26 Oct. 2013
'Economics Without Illusions' is a relatively unusual book in its genre. Written by a Canadian academic philosopher, it looks at common fallacies of economic thinking, dividing them into those most commonly encountered on the political right and those that bedevil the left. As such, it's likely wholly to satisfy partisans of neither camp. Heath's intention, however, is precisely to show how contemporary political discourse around economic matters continues to be deformed - in some cases, made impossible - by the persistence of long-exploded beliefs that have survived as dogmatic certainties because they dovetail so conveniently with particular ways of viewing the world.

The book is likely to be interesting to anybody who values clear thinking, and doubts the competence - or sincerity - of politicians and political pundits in economic matters. That said, it's likely to be of more use to readers willing to reconsider their most cherished nostrums: this suggests that those broadly on the left might benefit more.

Heath is by no means a socialist. On the other hand, he isn't an unreflecting admirer of the market. In talking about the common fallacies of the right, although he eschews easy name-calling and trumped-up moral outrage, the arguments he makes, though powerful, are relatively familiar, and their implications conventional. For me, the meat of the book is in the second half, in which he is severe on the more infantile tendencies of the left, and its steady refusal to turn its critical scrutiny on its own assumptions in the light of what has been learned from over a hundred and fifty years' consideration of economics since Marx. In Heath's view, this failure to ground its politics in a serious economics is the reason why so many leftist policy proposals cannot be taken seriously.

Having no professional background in academic economics, Heath has no professional axe to grind - though his relentless exposure of fallacious thinking on the part of economists and commentators should be embarrassing to them. As a Canadian, he has a view of the world just sufficiently displaced from the usual Anglo-American perspectives to be useful as a corrective to the tired old narratives and hackneyed examples that one encounters elsewhere. He has written this book for the intelligent general reader rather than the academic. Just occasionally I felt that his explanations were a little less clear than he believes them to be: but that is likely to be evidence of precisely the phenomenon that he sees as lying at the root of our difficulties - the failure of our education system to give non-specialists the tools with which to identify common economic fallacies, and an urgent sense of why it is important that we educate ourselves in these matters. This book is one step in that direction.


Seven Years
Seven Years
by Peter Stamm
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cool and penetrating look at modern relationships, 22 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Seven Years (Paperback)
'Seven Years' is a coolly-written account of a young German professional who finds himself involved in two relationships of very different characters. The novel follows Alex from his student days through his early career as an architect in partnership with a fellow student, Sonia. At the same time, Alex finds himself drawn to a Polish illegal immigrant who seems almost the polar opposite of Sonia: plain, unintellectual, religious.

Selfish and listless, Alex is a difficult man to like. The key to the novel's power is precisely Stamm's unwillingness to ignore his protagonist's shortcomings, or simplify his psychological plight. Stamm is one of those undramatic writers who demand that the reader read between the lines and below the surface. There are no great events to catch the attention, and Stamm (in Hoffmann's limpid translation) is a colourless stylist. Alex's life is mundane, even typical of his class and generation. This makes his obsession with Ivona - the unsatisfying and unsuitable woman with whom over many years he repeatedly risks his relationship with Sonia - increasingly perturbing in its fundamental irrationality. Stamm expertly suggests the complexities and deep undercurrents of adult emotional life, the fundamental unknowability of others, and the unexpected difficulty of answering the question of what we really want.

Recommended for the reader who is prepared to be patient, and prefers subtlety to fireworks.


Nothing To Be Frightened Of
Nothing To Be Frightened Of
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Funny and perceptive view of contemporary mortality through a literary lens, 9 Oct. 2013
'Nothing To Be Frightened Of' is an elegant hybrid of indirect autobiography and study of our relation to mortality in a post-religious age. Julian Barnes uses three generations of his own family as a sounding-board against which to test his own thoughts about death. In counterpoint, he explores two other perspectives: that of his elder brother, a retired academic philosopher; and the accumulated wisdom of a host of literati, mainly French, in matters death-related.

Like so many of us, Barnes is an atheist and a Darwinian. In this book he explores the common dilemma: how do we, relatively comfortable and long-lived products of modern medicine, deal with the scientific certainty of personal and species extinction that seems to render every human endeavour potentially meaningless?

Barnes is arguably at his best in this kind of writing; lucid, mordantly funny, self-aware, clear-sighted. His account of his parents and grandparents is both reasonably affectionate and accurate in its perception of human weakness and inadequacy. His portrait of his mother is particularly memorable. To be fair, he doesn't spare himself, either: he extends the same scrutiny to his own character, and in particular to his (unreasonable, or all too reasonable?) fears concerning the inevitability and permanence of personal extinction. The result is a mixture of English social comedy with an underlying seriousness more characteristic of the author's French influences.

Admirers of Barnes won't need a recommendation. Readers who have found his fiction unconvincing should give this a try.


The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions
The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions
by Rolf Dobelli
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A compendium of newspaper columns treating common difficulties in practical reasoning, 9 Oct. 2013
'The Art of Thinking Clearly' is a slightly misleading title. Rather than being a systematic manual of instruction in how to reason, the book collects a series of short observations about errors in practical reasoning that bedevil all of us at one time or another. These were composed as newspaper columns, and the book has the episodic structure and absence of clear development that one would expect from such a compendium. Nonetheless, some effort has been made to draw thematic links between the separate chapters, so that the interested reader may follow particular themes further if he so wishes; and there's an index.

This may give the impression that the book is trivial. In fact, it is entertaining and lucidly written. It might be an ideal introduction to the problems of thinking for an intelligent teenager. The short chapters and episodic structure lend themselves to dipping, but most of what Dobelli has to say is reasonable and accurate. He may focus on the negative side of reasoning - how to avoid error - but if we could all take these lessons to heart the world might be a saner place.

The faults in reasoning that Dobelli covers in his ninety-nine chapters are quite various: everything from purely logical fallacies to intellectual misunderstandings of probability and psychological weaknesses receives some attention. Dobelli is well versed in recent science - or at least in the popularised versions of recent science - and properly sceptical of our ability to detect the most likely flaws in our own reasoning and protect ourselves from the consequences.

The book has been very successful and widely translated; as a taster, one could do much worse. A reader genuinely interested in the subject will probably want to look further, but there is no shortage of books, many written for students, that take a more systematic approach.


What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
by Michael Sandel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A philosopher's compelling argument for the exclusion of market values from certain areas of life, 9 Oct. 2013
In 'What Money Can't Buy' Michael Sandel makes a careful, proportionate philosophical argument for recognising the limits of market values. It's all the more powerful because Sandel acknowledges the things that the market does well - this is not an anticapitalist tract. Nonetheless, it makes with great force the case that market values have extended their reach to the point at which we are faced with the possibility of a market society; a society in which no alternative values are permitted to prevail against the logic of the market, and all human activities and artefacts are potentially commodities. Sandel contends, with a multitude of concrete examples, that such a society is highly undesirable.

Sandel's examples are almost all drawn from past and current American practice. As a result, the book may be particularly valuable to British readers as a preview of the future, given the enthusiasm of British politicians for all things American. Not the least of the book's surprises is that it documents just how early the process of thoroughgoing marketisation began in the States, how far it has extended beyond the world of business, and how little credible opposition there has been since the primacy of the market in all things was first asserted. It's a measure of how far the process has advanced, and how far as a result our ethical world has been corrupted and degraded over the last thirty years or so, that Sandel felt the need to make this case explicitly.

A pleasure to read, and recommended to anybody interested in these issues.


New Balance Men's Mx624ab- Width 2e Trainer
New Balance Men's Mx624ab- Width 2e Trainer
Offered by UK.Shoes Retail
Price: £44.99 - £49.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent trainer for wider foot and heavier person, 30 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the first pair of New Balance trainers I've purchased. They are well made, reasonably priced, and discreet enough to be worn with normal clothing if necessary.

From my point of view, there are two specific attractions to the 624. Unlike almost all other inexpensive trainers, they are available in width fittings. I have a wide foot, and find almost all standard width trainers too narrow. I went for the 2E, and have found it almost a perfect fit: a wider 4E is available.

Secondly, the trainer has a comfort midsole that runs all the way through the shoe. This means that there is substantial padding under the forefoot, not just the heel, which enormously increases the comfort of the shoe, especially for the heavier wearer. The sole is relatively stiff - this isn't one of those shoes that you can bend in half easily - which means that stability is good, too.

They're quite warm: the upper isn't made of mesh, but in a more traditional style with solid fabrics. As the illustration shows, they are almost completely black (a mixture of gloss and matt blacks), including the sole and the normally rather obtrusive New Balance logo. A very similar item is also available in white.

I'm very pleased with this item and would buy another pair from the same manufacturer and supplier without hesitation.


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