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Songs of the Spanish Civil War
Songs of the Spanish Civil War
Price: £7.45

1.0 out of 5 stars It shall not pass, 30 Sep 2013
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These might once have been recognisable as songs of the Spanish Civil War but have undergone a hideous transformation into toneless avant-garde screeching in which any hint of a tune or lyrics is practically undetectable. Embarrassingly, I bought this as a present for a student of the period thinking the title was an accurate description of the contents and had never actually heard it until Amazon sent me a free download, which after 35 seconds went straight in the recycling bin. I had to ring the recipient to apologise. Awful almost beyond words: the reference won't mean much to most people these days, but Henry Reed's "Hilda Tablet" is the pithiest evocation I can summon up.


The Small Hand: A Ghost Story
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ladies and gentlemen, a small hand for Susan Hill, 15 Feb 2013
If there is any supernatural mystery about The Small Hand (the only reason I didn't guess the ending was because I'd long since given up caring what happened in the end, and made it to the final page only from grim determination to justify the 40p library fine incurred for keeping it so long while I struggled through it) it's how Susan Hill managed to stretch what ought more properly to have been a 20-page short story, probably written in the 1930s by an inept imitator of Algernon Blackwood, into a novella. Almost every supposedly significant plot point - the journey to France in search of a First Folio, the appearance of the old lady at the deserted house, the 'spectral' photograph - is actually completely superfluous (though they do fill up the pages, don't they?): yet when something worth mentioning does happen, such as the narrator actually seeing the ghostly child, the absence of detail for such a supposedly pivotal experience is almost laughable, were it not for the choking sense of disappointment that the author of The Woman In Black is now churning out this sort of overwrought, pretentious potboiler. I can cope with the complete absence of any sense of fear; that might almost be novel and intriguing if the story possessed the slightest suspense or drama, but every twist announces its presence a mile off and none of the characters is drawn with sufficient detail or accuracy to make them sympathetic or even vaguely human. Written to an appropriate length, and by someone you've never heard of, it might just about have merited inclusion in one of that seemingly endless series of Pan Books of Ghost Stories that came out in the Seventies and Eighties, usually with a lurid picture of a skeleton in evening dress on the cover; as it is, eight times as long as it should be and by a writer with Susan Hill's pedigree, it's embarrassing, frankly.


Suffering from Cheerfulness: Poems and Parodies from "The Wipers Times"
Suffering from Cheerfulness: Poems and Parodies from "The Wipers Times"
by Malcolm Brown
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How the Upper Sixth thrashed the Kaiser, 7 April 2012
Despite the blurb and the name of Ian Hislop prominent on the cover, don't expect a barrel of laughs: not because there was nothing to raise a smile in the trenches, but largely because the Wipers Times, and its various alter egos as the front shifted about, clearly suffered from a dearth of genuinely humorous material, as the editor's frequent pleas for copy make clear. I heartily endorsed his request - evidently ignored - for less poetry; with the exception of a couple of clever pieces by Gilbert Frankau and a heartbreakingly human and brilliant poem by an unnamed medical officer in which the shell-torn poplars lining the roads of Flanders stand as metaphors for the broken bodies he tends, there is a hell of a lot of mawkish and "comic" doggerel which even the original readers must have struggled to enjoy, especially at a franc a copy. Understandably, there are a lot of in-jokes, which might have been amusing had the compiler of this collection bothered to explain the obscure military acronyms on which the witticism hinges: no such luck. The bits which made me laugh out loud, and there weren't many, sad to say, had no connection with the war at all; those perennial favourites, the spoof adverts, in some cases clearly inspired by nothing more than a rummage through the selection of blocks acquired with a salvaged printing press - two bulls (brothers, no less), representing bitterly rivalrous brands of beef essence: bundles of some commodity being offered at a bargain price because the vendor doesn't know whether they're cigars or asparagus. What stays with me from this book, however, is the overwhelming impression it gives that the British Army of 1914-18 consisted almost entirely of people with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and above. There is almost no mention of the rank and file in these pages and, while the old sweats who enthusiastically marched towards the sound of the guns of August probably weren't remarkable for their literary talent, the conscripts who all too soon were dragged in from all walks of life to sort out the mess the regulars had made of it might well have furnished ample copy of the sort the editor required, had he not directed his requests exclusively at the officer class. The Wipers Times' version of the war is largely one of agreeable drinking parties in each others' dugouts, with whisky and wine in quantities the PBI could only dream of; frequent home leave; flirtations with bewitching local mam'selles; and a hatred of socialism and pacifism almost as intense as that directed towards the beastly Hun. Wilfred Owen said the poetry of war was in the pity. The Wipers Times, and those who wrote and read it, clearly had a bit too much of the former and not enough of the latter.


Suffering from Cheerfulness. The Best Bits from The Wipers Times
Suffering from Cheerfulness. The Best Bits from The Wipers Times
by Ian Hislop
Edition: Paperback

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How the Upper Sixth thrashed the Kaiser, 13 Jan 2012
Despite the blurb and the name of Ian Hislop prominent on the cover, don't expect a barrel of laughs: not because there was nothing to raise a smile in the trenches, but largely because the Wipers Times, and its various alter egos as the front shifted about, clearly suffered from a dearth of genuinely humorous material, as the editor's frequent pleas for copy make clear. I heartily endorsed his request - evidently ignored - for less poetry; with the exception of a couple of clever pieces by Gilbert Frankau and a heartbreakingly human and brilliant poem by an unnamed medical officer in which the shell-torn poplars lining the roads of Flanders stand as metaphors for the broken bodies he tends, there is a hell of a lot of mawkish and "comic" doggerel which even the original readers must have struggled to enjoy, especially at a franc a copy. Understandably, there are a lot of in-jokes, which might have been amusing had the compiler of this collection bothered to explain the obscure military acronyms on which the witticism hinges: no such luck. The bits which made me laugh out loud, and there weren't many, sad to say, had no connection with the war at all; those perennial favourites, the spoof adverts, in some cases clearly inspired by nothing more than a rummage through the selection of blocks acquired with a salvaged printing press - two bulls (brothers, no less), representing bitterly rivalrous brands of beef essence: bundles of some commodity being offered at a bargain price because the vendor doesn't know whether they're cigars or asparagus. What stays with me from this book, however, is the overwhelming impression it gives that the British Army of 1914-18 consisted almost entirely of people with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and above. There is almost no mention of the rank and file in these pages and, while the old sweats who enthusiastically marched towards the sound of the guns of August probably weren't remarkable for their literary talent, the conscripts who all too soon were dragged in from all walks of life to sort out the mess the regulars had made of it might well have furnished ample copy of the sort the editor required, had he not directed his requests exclusively at the officer class. The Wipers Times' version of the war is largely one of agreeable drinking parties in each others' dugouts, with whisky and wine in quantities the PBI could only dream of; frequent home leave; flirtations with bewitching local mam'selles; and a hatred of socialism and pacifism almost as intense as that directed towards the beastly Hun. Wilfred Owen said the poetry of war was in the pity. The Wipers Times, and those who wrote and read it, clearly had a bit too much of the former and not enough of the latter.


Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants
Weeds: The Story of Outlaw Plants
by Richard Mabey
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A ripping read, but evidently not aimed at the expert, 4 Aug 2011
I didn't particularly expect to enjoy this book - my father-in-law, who's a keen gardener, absolutely hated it, which was the main reason I picked up his copy: to see if it was quite as bad as he said it was - and to my surprise found it completely fascinating. That may, however, be because though I have a garden, I wouldn't describe myself as a gardener, so the mistakes spotted by other reviewers went straight over my head. I do happen to know a bit about the Civil War, though, and though Mabey may perhaps be excused for thinking, perhaps due to his title, that the Earl of Essex was a Royalist commander, when in fact he was a Parliamentarian, which makes the anecdote in which he appears fairly meaningless, a decent editor or proofreader really ought to have picked it up. That was the most obvious non-horticultural solecism, so the comments elsewhere about accuracy are probably pretty close to the mark. I can well understand, therefore, that an expert would find this book infuriating, but as a layman it had me gripped. Whether saying that a book's appeal is to to the ignorant really counts as a recommendation, I'm not sure, but as a gardening dunce I'd give it a hearty 9 out of 10.


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