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Adam Kelly (Dublin, Ireland)

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Falling Man
Falling Man
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decline and Fall, 4 Aug 2007
This review is from: Falling Man (Hardcover)
Having read a large quantity of DeLillo's previous work I knew exactly what to expect with this novel. And that is part of the problem.

This is DeLillo doing DeLillo doing 9/11. Like all his novels, it has a searingly good beginning and a profound and suggestive ending, with the body of the terrorist Hammad melding into that of Keith, just as the prose at the finale does. Perhaps our greatest contemporary set-piece writer, these two pieces, both focused on the immediate aftermath of the planes hitting, are among DeLillo's finest. However, in between them what we have is a series of occasionally insightful but often bland observations given to us through characters that are, as usual, no more than cyphers.

Not since Libra has DeLillo written a really good character, one that can give a book a centre from which all the philosophical nuances can be registered as affective and felt. The point is not that characters need be warm and amusing, but that they be real and self-conscious in the way human beings actually are. Lianne, Keith and Justin think and speak in detached and discrete segments that give no sense of people actually involved in the lives they lead. Always at his best when thinking conceptually, DeLillo has at this stage turned everything into a concept, in a way that I, as a human being, find unrecognisable, and that reduces the potential drama to nil.

The great 9/11 novel will be written by someone whose worldview and aesthetic were profoundly formed by what happened to the Twin Towers. Perhaps it is too much to expect an established and older novelist to react in a new and inaugural way to such a new and inaugural event. On this evidence, certainly, DeLillo's best work is behind him.

Eat the Document
Eat the Document
by Dana Spiotta
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who is Responsible?, 4 Aug 2007
This review is from: Eat the Document (Paperback)
With only her second novel, Dana Spiotta has proved herself a major chronicler and interpreter of contemporary American culture. Beginning in the early 70s and ending in 2000 (before the planes hit), this book evokes the lives of two contrasting generations of socially concerned US citizens.

The big influence here is DeLillo, but Spiotta manages to combine the insights his work provides with a renewed emphasis on characterisation and a warm resonance in the dialogue which contrasts with his studied coldness. Each character manages to be real and rounded, as well as representative of a recognisable strand of contemporary experience.

The book deals with nostalgia in a critically astute manner through Jason's eventual understanding of both his mother and his obsession with the Beach Boys. We see the depressing corporatisation of protest and social concern in the figure of Josh, contrasted with the renewing possibility of a radical politics in Miranda. The question of disturbing generational inheritance is probed through the figure of Henry. The place of art in politics and culture is interrogated subtly and persuasively in the discussions of Bobby's films. And the tone throughout stays the right side of sentimental, even in an ending that weaves all the strands together.

Finally, and most prominently through the figure of Mary/Caroline, we are left to ponder the question of responsibility in our (post)modern world; where it might reside and how to regain and renew it. The articulation of this question is the book's finest achievement, and places Spiotta firmly at the centre of a new wave of American writers dealing with this and other pressing concerns. Rarely has such a short novel dealt so impressively with so many of the difficult issues that face us at the beginning of the twenty-first century. A National Book Award nomination was the least it deserved.

Things You Should Know
Things You Should Know
by A. M. Homes
Edition: Paperback

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dissatisfaction, 20 Nov 2006
This review is from: Things You Should Know (Paperback)
Dissatisfaction is the emotion experienced by most of the characters in this collection, but is also, unfortunately, the most likely reader response to the work.

Homes has undoubted talent, and most of the stories start well and have interesting themes. However, she doesn't seem to know where to go with many of the pieces, and the endings uniformly pack no punch at all, rather allowing the stories to peter out into forgettableness.

The two exceptions to this trend are 'Georgica', startling if only for its premise of a woman who inseminates herself using sperm found in used condoms on a beach(!), and the outstanding title story, in which all Homes' best absurdist traits are on show. Perhaps significantly, the latter is the shortest piece in the collection.

This is not a terrible book, and is probably worth about 2.5 stars, but how anyone could give it 5 is beyond me. One is tempted to recommend that those reviewers turn to some of the undisputed masters of the short form for greater delights than can be found here.

Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric by Johannes De Silentio (Classics)
Fear and Trembling: Dialectical Lyric by Johannes De Silentio (Classics)
by Soren Kierkegaard
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awe-inspiring, 20 Nov 2006
Somewhat ironically, given that it is ostensibly a work of philosophy and not literature, Fear and Trembling is truly a book to instil awe in the power of language. The reader is swept along in a sea of powerful words, with phrases repeating and overlapping, washing through the mind with waves of energy. Kierkegaard, unlike the majority of major philosophers, can really write.

Or maybe it is the subject matter that allows the flowing style. For this is surely one of THE books of the individual, an examination of the inexplicability of certain actions and the failure of systematic thinking in dealing with real faith. It was brand new in European philosophy at the time, and remains relevant and challenging today. If you want to reassess what God might be, and if you want to understand (without fully understanding) what true belief might mean, open these pages.

City Of God
City Of God
by E. L. Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not For Everyone, 20 Nov 2006
This review is from: City Of God (Paperback)
This is a very tough one to review because it's a difficult book to know how to feel about. Despite its length, it has all the elements of an epic - Holocaust, God, philosophy, cityscapes, a millenium approaching etc - and plays self-consciously, and often brilliantly, with the possibilities of the epic form at the twentieth century's end.

However, Doctorow too often relies on detached speeches to make his point. There is very little character interaction or development, and thus little drama. It's almost as if Doctorow didn't trust the strength of his central story to hold the weight of the message, and also didn't feel he could write a full-on Holocaust story as an alternative (though I think he can judging by the scenes in here).

Nevertheless, there are long stretches of brilliant writing, particularly in the aforementioned Holocaust sections and in the thoughts of Wittgenstein and Einstein. The structure is also very clever as the reader is lost for a while but soon begins to see the outline of the book's narrative form. All in all, an ambitious and challenging work, up there with "Ragtime" and "Billy Bathgate" as one of Doctorow's best works.

Leviathan (FF Classics)
Leviathan (FF Classics)
by Paul Auster
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Bag, 20 Nov 2006
Having recently read Leviathan and The Music of Chance, I can't help but fear that anything Auster has done or will do after 1987 will always be dwarfed by The New York Trilogy. There is nothing wrong with Leviathan as entertainment - it is a fast-paced page turner with an interesting plot and enjoyable (if incomplete) characterisation. The problem is it feels like an early work by a writer of potential, not one by a great writer coming after such a masterpiece as NYT. The thematics go in too many different directions - philosophical, political and sensational - and the second half of the novel feels rushed, heading towards a conclusion that contains only a half-hearted version of the metafictive brilliance that we know Auster is capable of. Too many of the plot-lines go nowhere in the end, and the book is finally too many things at once to make a real mark.

Auster is a highly skilled and thought-provoking writer who can hold the attention like few others with the pace and punch of his sentences. He should be capable of more than is on show here, and I shall continue to read his later work with the hope that he lives up to his promise.

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait [DVD] [2006]
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ David Beckham
Price: 5.12

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Film first, football second, 20 Nov 2006
I agree with the reviewer above that you should not bother with this film if all you want to see is football. In that case, watch a football match instead. If on the other hand you want to see a remarkable artwork that (if you are open to it) will make you consider the relationships between art and sport, order and randomness, time and the event, mediation and reality etc. then this is certainly for you.

The filmmakers try many various means to expore what Zidane signifies about the world at the beginning of the 21st century, making it impossible to sum the film up. So much is about the context of what we are seeing, most powerfully evoked at half-time in a selection of images and stories from around the world that occurred on the same day as the game we are watching. Subtitles are used superbly in this section, culminating in a voice we do not hear saying to us "I had something to do today..." The speaker, it becomes clear on reflection, is all those who are currently watching, and by extension, everyone living on that day. Singular individuality and global humanity are subtly invoked simultaneously.

This is typical of how the film works, mostly taking a highly non-directive stance which allows a large space for individual reflection on the themes on screen. This is an unusual feeling in a cinema, as movies tend to be the most coercive of art forms, bombarding the viewer with image, sound and narrative. There are long sections here of Zidane drifting around the field, rarely receiving the ball, meaning that viewers will be bored unless they alter their conventional habits (what all the best art should make you do). This also has the effect that when music or words are used they take on greater significance than usual, as the juxtaposition between raw image and imposed artistic meaning becomes stark.

Zidane himself comes across as both an artist and an existentially frustrated man, as both a deep thinker and an instinctual genius, as both a material human being and our best current metaphor for the Western condition. When he gets sent off at the end it is one of the most poigant moments I have seen on film. His final words are perfect, both offering closure while at the same poetically acknowledging his lasting imprint on the beautiful game (never more beautiful than in this film):

"Sometimes magic is so close

...To nothing at all.

When I retire I will miss the green of the grass, le carré vert"

(Finally, it should be mentioned that there is in fact a wonderful moment here for soccer lovers, when Zidane beats three players and sends in an extraordinary chip over the keeper to set up the first goal. As the football cliché goes, it is worth the price of admission on its own.)

Winter Bayou
Winter Bayou
by Kelly Sullivan
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Elegiac, 10 Jan 2005
This review is from: Winter Bayou (Paperback)
This is a beautifully-written debut novella, a diary-like first-person narrative which circles around themes and repeats motifs in a delicate analogy with the music that is the book's driving force. A treat for those who enjoy the work of Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen and Kate Chopin, Sullivan's elegiac style evokes these modernist writers in its poetic sensuality and feminine aspect. Perhaps the echoes of Chopin are clearest, with both writers sharing the same geographical landscape as well as many stylistic and thematic traits.
The story opens in 1970 with the account of a hurricane destroying the New Orleans home of the narrator, Grace Wright. Her marriage to husband Charlie is quickly shown to be in a similar state of wreckage, with evidence of his openly unfaithful behaviour at a party on the night of the storm providing a stark introduction to the story of their marriage, a story told through a series of flashback diary-entries scattered throughout the years 1939-1969. These flashbacks also detail Grace's slow-moving potential affair with local butcher Henri Rossi, but most importantly, her narrative focuses on and describes Grace's increasing obsession with music and the violin.
The music and physical nature of the violin are allied powerfully with Grace's feminine identity, and stand in the book's texture against the overt masculinity of Charlie, the latter associated repeatedly with images of horses and trains. In a world where verbal and sexual communication can only offer her a submissive role, her relationship with the violin provides the sole outlet for Grace's interiority. Indeed, the text of her story is influenced and framed by the six lessons of Igor Stravinksy's The Poetics of Music.
As a relative novice to music and musical form, I am thus perhaps not best placed to fully judge the book on all its merits. Much in the same way that a reading of Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is enhanced by musical proficiency, I felt that my lack in this regard meant I missed much of the subtlety of the musical patterning and referencing in the text. It must also be said that as a male, I perhaps could not sympathise with the passive Grace to the implied degree, instead often feeling for the helpless would-be-lover Henri, and even at times for the blatantly dislikable Charlie. This meant that the text's slow and deliberate repetition wore a little at times during my reading.
Nevertheless, as a document of femininity in a mid-century rural America in the throes of modernization, Sullivan's work evokes and deserves favourable comparison with Chopin's The Awakening. This is a mature piece by a young author, indicating that more is to come in the future, perhaps in a longer form with a broadened range of narrative voices.

by Don DeLillo
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars DeLillo at his best, 7 Jan 2005
This review is from: Libra (Paperback)
The way the author links up the life of Lee Harvey Oswald (the Libra of the title) with the multiple and convoluted conspiracies to stage an assassination attempt is completely engrossing. Oswald's imagined life on its own is fascinating, and if the depiction of the workings of the CIA is anything like the reality, we should all have a long deep look at how our world works.
Unusually for DeLillo, the minor characters, mainly invented, are all brilliantly portrayed and the reader cares about how each and every one of them ends up. DeLillo's notorious way (or lack of it) with dialogue actually works in this novel (whereas for me it fails utterly in a novel like Underworld).
The assassination scene finally arrives after 400 pages of intrigue and is well worth the wait. It's so well written that the events seem to flash in slow motion across your eyes as you read.
The only bum note for me was the depiction of Jack Ruby, who is written as a kind of afterthought. The author is obviously constrained by the factual basis, but Ruby's own story could have been more thoughtfully interweaved.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
Brief Interviews With Hideous Men
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Future of Fiction, 11 July 2004
This is truly a book for our times, and Wallace is the one contemporary writer who seems to hit the mark with everything he does. He is able to track and elucidate moments in life which we all have but which we've never seen in fiction before.

There are many great stories and vignettes here but the highlight is the outstanding penultimate story (simply called Brief Interviews #20) in which a man narrates his experience of a girl telling the story of how she was raped by a psychotic sex killer. The trick is that Wallace manages to write highly self-consciously, humorously and movingly all at the same time, no easy feat. He takes the best parts of the realist, modernist and postmodernist traditions and combines them into something new and hilariously funny.

In doing so he transcends genre to produce something new and very exciting. The future of fiction is here.

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