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Paul Bowes (Wales, United Kingdom)
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The Children Act
The Children Act
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.79

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Novella set in the legal world, 13 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Children Act (Hardcover)
'The Children Act' is a brief novel - really a novella - set in the legal world. The principal character is a judge specialising in cases involving children. As the book opens, she is performing her professional duties while dealing with the strain of the potential collapse of her marriage.

Ian McEwan has clearly done a great deal of research for this book, but I didn't feel that the story ever became merely a vehicle for hard-earned detail. The central character is convincingly inhabited, and the conflict that McEwan sets up when the clear and ordered world of the law is required to deal with the messy world of human emotions generates real tension.

Nonetheless, I felt that the book was only partially successful. McEwan writes well, in an understated way, and can create believably complex characters, but is much less secure in matters of plotting. The first half of the story works well. McEwan is at home in the world of successful professional people. How the reader feels about the whole, on the other hand, is likely to depend on how convinced he or she is by the second half, in which the judge becomes personally involved in a difficult case involving an adolescent who is refusing medical treatment. Although the outline of this fictional case is drawn from life, its presentation in fiction is curiously unconvincing: the denouement succumbs to melodrama.

The real fictional interest lies in the relationship between the judge and her restless husband, which is well handled and sustains interest. The legal material, which might have made for an interesting piece of journalism, here serves first as a pretext and ultimately as a distraction, even a red herring. As a result, the book carries less of a charge, and matters less than it might. The effect is less of chilliness than of distance: as of a judge carefully excluding emotional matters from a considered judgement.


Flight to Arras (Penguin Modern Classics)
Flight to Arras (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Antoine Saint-Exupery
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A classic of war literature, and a memorable reflection on mortality and meaning., 9 Sep 2014
'Flight to Arras' (originally 'Pilote de guerre') appeared in 1942 and was almost immediately translated into English. The present edition offers a newer (1995) translation.

The book is an account of a single, near-suicidal reconnaissance mission flown by Saint-Exupéry and two colleagues during the Fall of France in 1940. It blends a gripping boys-own adventure with the author's personal and philosophical reflections on war, on community, and on what it meant at this dark time to be French.

The style will be familiar to anybody familiar with the author's other books, though 'Flight to Arras' is less obviously novelistic than the earlier books that made his name. There are several bravura chapters: notably those that deal with the chaos of the civilian exodus from the combat zone, and the final approach to heavily defended Arras itself. As a first-person account by a man both intimately involved and, as an airman, unavoidably somewhat distanced, it could hardly be bettered. The only flaw is the sudden change of tone in the last few pages, in which Saint-Exupéry tries to formulate an ethic that will reframe a catastrophic defeat as cause for hope: and this may surely be excused in the circumstances. Even this offers important insights into the state of mind of French intellectuals at the time.

A classic of war literature, and a memorable reflection on mortality and meaning.


The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Price: £4.12

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent short introduction to the French Revolution, 8 Sep 2014
This is a good short introduction to the subject. William Doyle provides an account of events - a timeline is supplied - but concentrates on the lasting significance of the French Revolution. There is an even-handed discussion of the origins of the event, and of the historiography of the Revolution inside and outside France. The bibliography is up-to-date, as of publication, and a useful guide for further reading. The book is readable for the non-specialist.


Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico, The
Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico, The
by Antonio Tabucchi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.93

3.0 out of 5 stars Thin collection of '80s stories, 7 Sep 2014
This brief book translates a collection of stories or fragmentary texts that appeared in Italian in 1987. The influence of Borges, and perhaps Calvino, is more obvious here than in Tabucchi's later work: admirers of those authors may find this book more attractive than those readers coming to 'Flying Creatures' from the later, better-known Tabucchi.

Most of these pieces are readable short fictions. A couple of the shortest are enigmatic, as Tabucchi points out in his introduction. As a collection, it's short measure - you will be able to read the whole thing in ninety minutes or so, though it's better taken in bites - and stylistically and thematically various, without any obvious unifying thread. Best appreciated as a snapshot of Tabucchi at the time. Fans will want to read this, but the uncommitted are unlikely to be convinced.


Andre Gide and the Second World War: A Novelist's Occupation
Andre Gide and the Second World War: A Novelist's Occupation
by Jocelyn Van Tuyl
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.79

4.0 out of 5 stars A useful account of André Gide's war throws light on issues around the Occupation, literary Resistance and the postwar épuration, 31 Aug 2014
This is a detailed, nuanced account of André Gide's negotiation of the tricky waters of the Occupation and the immediate postwar years.

Neither Gide nor most of his critics come well out of this. Gide was accused both (from the Left) of covert support for Vichy - or at the very least of hedging his bets - and (from both Right and Left) of having been one of the leading cultural figures whose libidinous and irresponsible writings had undermined the French character and led to defeat in 1940.

His accusers were in many - but not all - cases hypocrites or bigots. Nonetheless, there was a case to answer. Gide, fêted as a writer and commentator, but approaching the end of his life, was inconsistent in his behaviour: attracted by some aspects of fascism; inclined to rewrite the past in the light of changing events; seemingly unable to transcend his relentlessly self-absorbed perspective; and at some level persistently anti-Semitic even after having experienced, as a homosexual, what it might be like to be a member of a despised minority.

Jocelyn Van Tuyl has written a quietly absorbing book that shines a light into some dark corners without resorting to caricature or reducing complex issues and states of mind to black and white certainties. Anybody interested in Gide, in French literary culture, in the intellectual climate of these years, or in the history of the French under Occupation will benefit from a reading of this book.


Works (French Literature Series)
Works (French Literature Series)
by Edouard Leve
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.55

4.0 out of 5 stars An earlier work of indirect autobiography from the author of 'Autoportrait' and 'Suicide', 25 Aug 2014
'Works' is a translation of Edouard Levé's 'Oeuvres' (2002). Presented without comment on its form, it is a bald list of 533 numbered descriptions of art projects "conceived but not executed". The first of these projects describes, paradoxically, the book itself.

The reader has a choice of strategies. The book may taken straight, as a list of proposed projects conceived by a writer who had already produced work in the general area of conceptual art: as a conceptual artwork in itself; as a parody or pastiche of such a work; as a work of fiction, postmodernist and ludic in its formal choices; or as a form of disguised autobiography. In truth, 'Works' is all of these things: but the last seems the most interesting and fruitful for the reader.

Taken individually, the proposals are of varying interest, seriousness and feasibility, but not much out of the general run of conceptual art as we have known it since the 1960s. Collectively, however, they form an indirect portrait of the author, as one might form an idea of a man's body purely from his cast shadows and reflected images on and in a variety of surfaces.

If there is a underlying theme that holds the proposals together, it is Levé's love of indirection: of that which cannot be seen or grasped directly. In this sense, 'Works' anticipates Levé's later books, 'Autoportrait' and 'Suicide'.

Admirers of the latter will want to read this. They are likely to find that it is best approached in small bites. I found that each proposal – they vary in length from a couple of lines to a couple of pages – demanded a certain effort of visual imagination that is fatiguing over the long run, and the repetitive list form encourages distraction. The sense of collective significance emerges over time, and requires patience. This short book is not necessarily a quick read.

One caveat: unusually for Dalkey Archive Press, this edition appears to have been inadequately proof-read. There are numerous instances in which the necessary space between two adjacent words has been omitted (see, for example, items 22, page 10; and 35, page 12). This is more of a minor irritant than an obstacle, but I was surprised to see this fault at all, and it recurs at intervals throughout the book. One hopes that the next printing will correct this.

Recommended for anyone interested in conceptual literature and contemporary French writing. Readers new to Levé might do better to begin with 'Autoportrait', from the same publisher.

[Note: the printed book is 118 pages long, not 208 as described here.]


Paris After the Liberation: 1944 - 1949
Paris After the Liberation: 1944 - 1949
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative overview of the post-Liberation period with a Parisian and upper-class focus, 24 Aug 2014
This book manages a difficult task: to make a serious historical account readable for the non-specialist. The authors have achieved this by narrowing their focus - making Paris central to the narrative and depending heavily on diplomatic, intellectual and artistic sources - and by relying fairly heavily on a limited range of personal accounts.

Nonetheless, 'Paris After the Liberation' is real history, and a useful pendant to general histories of France or Paris during the Occupation. Beevor and Cooper do a fine job of explaining the politics of the period, while humanising a potentially dry subject by weaving personal stories in and out of the detailed explication. For the most part, the narrative is even-handed, blaming neither the French nor the Anglo-American allies exclusively for the problems both experienced in the task of re-establishing a legitimate French political authority. The French and Russian communists do come in for consistently rough handling, however: a fact that may be justified by the conduct of those concerned, but can obscure the authors' apparent relative lack of interest in matters below the purview of the governing classes.

Recommended for the general reader interested in the history of the period, but expect to supplement this. Readers with more specialist knowledge, or seeking a broader social and geographic canvas, are advised to look elsewhere.


Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another limp exercise in marital strife and self-absorption, 6 Aug 2014
This review is from: Dept. of Speculation (Hardcover)
I read this short novel, or novella, by an author previously unknown to me, on a recommendation. At such, it was a disappointment. It combines a dumbed-down version of the mosaic narrative style of Renata Adler's 'Speedboat' with featherweight reflections on young love, young motherhood and a marriage turning sour: something that has been done to death almost everywhere, and too often better than here.

Inoffensively competent, but really no better than a speedy summer read for an idle morning at the beach. Look to Adler or Didion for something in the same general style, but with greater intelligence and bigger, sharper teeth.


No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars Bone nut and saddle set for classical (nylon-strung) guitar, 30 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A nut and saddle set for a classical guitar. It appears to be made of bone, as described, and the dimensions (as measured with a digital caliper) are exactly as quoted, except that the 9mm height quoted for the saddle is a maximum, for the bass side only: it runs off to 8mm on the treble side. All edges are cleanly cut.

The nut appears to have been machined on something like a CNC machine, with clean but basic string grooves and profiling. The saddle has compensation for the third string. Both pieces will of course require sanding and adjusting to fit the individual instrument, but that's up to the buyer. These are not 'fit-and-forget' parts.

Delivered from China in 9 days from order, post free. I am very satisfied with the quality and delivery at this price.


Death and the Afterlife (The Berkeley Tanner Lectures)
Death and the Afterlife (The Berkeley Tanner Lectures)
by Samuel Scheffler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How far do human values and the meaning of life depend on our assumption that the lives of others will survive our own deaths?, 22 Jun 2014
In 'Death and the Afterlife' the philosopher Samuel Scheffler asks an unusual question: to what extent does it matter to the individual human being that humanity itself survives his or her death? Rather than think about 'the afterlife' within a religious or traditional philosophical framework, Scheffler asks us to consider to what extent the value and meaning or our lives are affected by our - largely unconscious - assumption that human life will continue, even if we ourselves will not.

Scheffler approaches this problem by way of two thought experiments. How would we feel about our lives if we knew that mankind was going to be exterminated en masse by an asteroid strike thirty days after our death? And then: how would we feel if we knew that, due to some environmental catastrophe, mass infertility would gradually lead to species extinction as all living human beings enjoyed a full life but died without heirs?

The tentative answers to Scheffler's what-ifs prove to be interesting and not immediately obvious. The book's format divides between Scheffler's original lectures and the responses of his professional peers, who are unanimous in seeing the problem as novel and interesting, but uncertain of its significance, or the validity of Scheffler's own conclusions. A final chapter allows Scheffler to address their caveats without closing the discussion.

The question of how our human sense of meaning and our values are to survive the modern scientific perspective on individual death, species demise and the eventual destruction of the universe has become steadily more urgent, particularly for those of us who cannot fall back on religious belief. Scheffler's book is an interesting one, bringing long-suppressed problems to the surface of consciousness. The second half of the book, in which four of Scheffler's colleagues raise their doubts, is somewhat drier than Scheffler's exposition, but may be particularly interesting to those who wish to see at first hand how contemporary philosophers engage in debate.

Serious philosophy, but accessible to the intelligent general reader.


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