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Modern Bystander (Kingston)

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Across The Blood-Red Skies
Across The Blood-Red Skies
by Robert Radcliffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cancel your flight, 5 May 2012
A friend who normally enjoys war fiction passed this book on to me, wondering if he was being too harsh in finding it boring. After dragging my way through it, I'm afraid I would have to agree.

At the very least, with this kind of plot-driven writing, you expect an intriguing journey, with plenty of twists and turns. Radcliffe, who is clearly not a natural writer, apparently believes he can elevate his work above its genre by employing a fruitlessly complex flashback structure, changing narrative voice repeatedly. Unfortunately, this clumsily undercuts several crucial moments in the development of whatever plot there is. Remember the frustration you feel when a storyline picks up pace, only to cut away to an apparent irrelevance? That happens repeatedly in this novel.

Staggered time-structure is, in fact, a device only to be handled by a skilled writer, who can place his revelations deftly: here, each significant point is underlined three times, while the hard work of providing fully-rounded characters and believable situations is neglected.

A platoon of two-dimensional character types is brought on parade - inscrutable hero, sweet but determined heroine, dashing colonial with a mysterious past, crusty paterfamilias, and plenty of expendable supernumeraries who are sacrificed to the Dreadful War as we march along. Almost perfunctorily, at one point a Zeppelin is shot down, and quickly left behind. Nobody's reaction to trauma is unexpected or intriguing, if you have ever read or watched another fictionalised representation of the Great War. Although the story does eventually rouse itself - to a rushed climax involving deliberately mistaken identity, a suspiciously neat resolution, and our hero apparently claiming credit for downing the Red Baron - it has been an effort of will to 'keep right on till the end of the road'.

Probably it won't matter to most readers, but the author meanwhile displays all the concern for period and psychology of a Julian Fellowes script in his limited attempts to furnish each character with a plausible idiolect. The hero is eighteen, but talks like a man of forty; his best pal (of Southern US origins) could be from anywhere; while a woman from Essex laughably writes her letters in the style of Alfred Doolittle. Anachronisms - "like" for "as if" is particularly grating - abound throughout; including the strange misapprehension that off-course betting was not only legal in 1916, but that you could follow the results of races at a distant course while you beguiled the hours at the bookmaker's. We are also treated to such descriptive horrors as "the sight that beheld them".

If you want to read a recent novel with a true feel for the period, handling the same themes with greater finesse, and delivering an emotional reward for your investment, I would emphatically recommend "The Return of Captain John Emmett" by Elizabeth Spellar.

Beyond the Storm
Beyond the Storm
by E. V. Thompson
Edition: Paperback

4 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Warning to the Curious, 4 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Beyond the Storm (Paperback)
Having just read "Before the Storm", I feel impelled to warn you: if you are tempted to try E V Thompson's work, please borrow a copy from your local library before throwing away your money. Ten pages should be enough for you to realise that Thompson is possibly the feeblest writer of popular fiction currently in print.

Prose so bad cannot be blamed on inadequate editing - although, to protect their reputation, Hale Books should have returned Thompson his manuscript, marked "unpublishable". If all that is dull, hackneyed, repetitious, illogical, crass, insipid, inelegant and straightforwardly incorrect were removed from "Before the Storm", you would be left with 256 pages blank save for the chapter headings.

The author's descriptive talent is so meagre that any colourful adjective (even when wrongly-used: "fulsome" does not mean hearty, but overdone and insincere) is recycled ad nauseam. Likewise, the reader is not trusted to grasp any important information, right down to the central relationship between a vicar (curiously referred to as "Reverend David") and his sister; so it reappears whenever possible, conveniently padding out the text. Thompson is perhaps on piecework rates; though that would imply he were a competent craftsman, which he unquestionably is not.

No character in his book is more than a name (often a clumsily-invented one: for example, Eval Moyle, engaged in evil moil), barely depicted and speaking indistinguishably from any other, in the flat tones of a TEFL textbook. Anachronisms abound: the 1840s were unacquainted with the notion of "minor disabilities" or "inappropriate behaviour", and although the author's attempt to give his heroine HRT (not that sort) with liberal use of question marks is enterprising, it's premature by around 150 years. From the very first page, the plot somehow contrives to be drearily predictable, and at the same time, completely laughable: a chapter in which country folk run scared of some cattle is all, in Thompson's words, "lively bullocks".

The editor - if there indeed was one - is not entirely off the hook. While some sentences in the narrative are painfully protracted via a sudden conjunction, usually "but", others merrily connect finite verbs with only a comma between. In several scenes, the names Eliza and Alice are used interchangeably for the same character, while the name Kendall is spelt ad lib with one "e" or two. Some passages, meanwhile, literally make no sense.

Bothering to comment on witless drivel like "Beyond the Storm" is probably like trying to make water run uphill: the effluent will continue to pour forth (another Thompson volume is threatened), and some misguided people will lap it up. But considering that the rich satisfaction of an Iain Pears, a Rose Tremain or even a Patrick O'Brian could be had for the same price, what need has any reader to waste time on E V Thompson?

Sense And Sensibility (Collector's Edition) [1996] [DVD] [2002]
Sense And Sensibility (Collector's Edition) [1996] [DVD] [2002]
Dvd ~ Emma Thompson
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £8.59

4 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Respectable, 19 April 2007
While Ang Lee has done a surprisingly sensitive job, considering how far "Sense & Sensibility" is from his other work, some of the comment below is fulsome. The film is accomplished, not a masterpiece. There is a pallid, washed-out appearance to the cinematography, a metaphor for the whole enterprise: Jane Austen's books are incidentally profound social comedies, but there's precious little fun to be had here. The tone near the end suggests a tragedy. Among the cast, Kate Winslet is very irritating as Marianne (it's not just the character), and Emma Thompson can only have come to play Elinor through being the screenwriter: mature, plain and dull, she is no heroine, and brings to the part her standard nasal suburban delivery. Fortunately, most of the supporting players are far better, with Harriet Walter, Robert Hardy and Tom Wilkinson in excellent form, and Greg Wise making an early showing; on the debit side, Hugh Grant is out of his comfort zone, and Alan Rickman unusually subdued. There are several very well handled scenes, and the West of England locations are as attractive as ever; but on the whole, this version is too sombre, and it stands out mainly in contrast to the gaudy rival theatrical films of "Emma" with Gwyneth Paltrow and "Pride and Prejudice" with the miscast Keira Knightley. Two similar-length television versions are at least its equal: ITV's "Emma" with Kate Beckinsale and the young Samantha Morton, and the irreproachable 1995 BBC "Persuasion", with Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds. Worth seeing, nonetheless.

Persuasion : Complete BBC Adaptation [1995] [DVD]
Persuasion : Complete BBC Adaptation [1995] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Amanda Root
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: £12.00

50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbeatable, 19 April 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Jane Austen's final novel has a subtle, haunting quality very hard to capture in abridgement. The recent ITV version, crass in tone and woefully undercast, fell short in every way; I went back for relief to Roger Michell's BBC production, not seen since its original broadcast on Good Friday, 1995, and I'm delighted to say my memory played no tricks. This "Persuasion" is perfection. There are two hours of sheer pleasure on this DVD not just for Austen enthusiasts, but anyone who cares for beautifully-crafted drama. Few modern adaptations have been as sensitive to the nuances of the book and the period (the BBC's "Middlemarch", perhaps). Notwithstanding some simplification in the plot, no moment of screen time is wasted. Without exception, the cast is superb: the warm and lovely Amanda Root gives a career-defining performance of few words but heart-stopping authenticity, and meets her match in Ciaran Hinds' impressive (if faintly Irish-sounding) Wentworth. The production design is spare, the costumes perfectly appropriate to each character, the natural lighting extraordinarily graded (almost to darkness in some scenes), and the locations, including an alternately wet and shining Bath, beautifully evoked. If you want artificial, over-coloured, Hollywood-style melodrama, look elsewhere: this is Austen for the connoisseur.

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