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Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn (John F. Byrne Irish Literature Series)
Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn (John F. Byrne Irish Literature Series)
by Flann O'Brien
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Hit and miss collection from early post-modern Irish satirist, 22 Aug. 2011
I love Flann O'Brien's novels. Without him I doubt whether we'd have had Spike Milligan, Monty Python or Woody Allen. His first collection, Best of Myles, from the daily Irish Times column that he wrote between 1940 and 1966 is more hit or miss (that collection covers a selection between 1940-5), but when it hit, it was hilarious.

The same is true of the second collection covering a selection between 1947-1957, along with a companion 'The Hair of the Dogma' - - which I haven't read yet - covering the same period (one wonders what happened in 1946 that resulted in Myles's columns from that year being excluded from any of the collections).

I struggled with the first third of the book ('Monologues and dialogues', and 'The District and other Courts') until the section on 'Bores' which for me was the highlight of the book. Thereafter there are occasional gems and one largely non-humorous but spot-on analysis of why hospitals need managers (written in the forties or fifties, mind you).

Not a book to begin a flirtation with Flann O'Brien's work but worth a go after you've read Best of Myles and the novels.


One to Nine: The Inner Life of Numbers
One to Nine: The Inner Life of Numbers
by Andrew Hodges
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't get past chapter 1!, 30 Mar. 2009
I am not innumerate or illiterate (of course, that is just my opinion) but I found chapter 1 of this book hard going and decided enough was enough. My problems with the book are that there is too much flitting from subject to subject - some have called this "a free-wheeling approach", "free association" and "brainstorming". I thought it was a hotchpotch of random facts. I think the only useful lesson in that chapter was around the "unique primacy of numbers" but that was so poorly explained that I had to reread it several times before I understood it. I'm afraid that I couldn't continue.


Thraxas: The Thraxas Novels: Book One
Thraxas: The Thraxas Novels: Book One
by Martin Scott
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cliched, clunky but kinda fun detective fantasy, 12 Feb. 2009
A mixture of cliched fantasy (dragons, orcs, elves, assassin's guild, sorcerers etc) cliched hardboiled private eye (gambling and drink problem, overweight, hard-up, wisecracks etc) and sub-pratchett humour, but kinda fun to read anyway.

Thraxas is a low level magician and poor PI with gambling and drink problems who finds himself involved in three linked cases involving recovering a valuable magical cloth, proving a princess's innocence and getting a politician's son off the hook.

Unusually, written in the first person present tense which is quite effective in that the narrator is not narrating with hindsight. The plot is complex but clunky with a predictable but nonetheless decent twist at the end.


Paris Review Interviews, Volume II, THE: 2
Paris Review Interviews, Volume II, THE: 2
by Philip Gourevitch
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite as good as volume 1, but still useful, 8 Jan. 2009
Volume 2 of the "writers at work" interviews didn't quite reach the heights of usefulness for me as the first volume, although the Steven King and Harold Bloom interviews come close to the sheer practicality of the Robert Gottlieb interview of the 1st volume. At the other end of the scale, I found Eudora Welty, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Robert Lowell hard to get through and of little interest. Graham Greene was a little better but he was too guarded to offer any useful insights. The interviews of James Thurber, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and John Gardner made me want to buy their books. An interesting read.


Make Room!
Make Room!
by Harry Harrison
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but film was better, 10 April 2008
This review is from: Make Room! (Paperback)
This is the book that the film science-fiction film Soylent Green is loosely based on. The two stories are very different, however. Both are set in an overpopulated New York in the near future. In the film, the story is about the police investigation into the murder of an executive of the corporation that makes the synthetic food stuff, Soylent Green and has one of the most memorable twist endings I remember in a film. In the book there is also a murder, but the story is very different and less important than the Harrison's description of daily life in New York. Harrison was writing a warning to his readers about the dangers of unchecked population growth and resistance to birth control , and there is a bibliography at the end of the book. I don't think the book has dated terribly well. Much of the population growth that Harrison feared has happened, but with few of the consequences that he had feared. Nonetheless, the book makes for uncomfortable reading as he describes the daily fight to live in a city with little food, unreliable sources of power, and insufficient accommodation. The plot, however, is poor, and the filmmakers were right to change it. The ending in the book has nothing of the shock power of the film version.


Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler
Malory: The Life and Times of King Arthur's Chronicler
by Christina Hardyment
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping in parts, heavy going in others., 25 Mar. 2008
An interesting, if uneven, biography of Sir Thomas Malory, the most comprehensive medieval chronicler of King Arthur's legends. In fairness, the patchiness is not really Hardyment's fault. The problem is that that there are only scraps of information known about Malory. When this book deals with known facts about Malory or his family, it is an impressive and exciting piece of detective work. For example, the probable circumstances behind the allegations of assault, robbery, and - most controversially for a writer of chivalrous romances - the two rapes on the same woman that kept Malory in jail for a good part of the decade from 1450, are gripping. Hardyment looks at the bigger picture and convincingly concludes that he may have had reasons for the assaults and robberies. He was also probably framed for the rapes by his `victim's' husband and high ranking nobles in revenge for Malory's opposition as an MP to Henry VI's policies of appeasement towards the French. Even more fascinating is the speculation surrounding the explicit exceptions for Malory from three general pardons issued by Henry VI's usurper, Edward IV, during the course of the Wars of the Roses.

The problem arises in part when there are huge evidential gaps in Malory's life. Malory spent some time fighting in France for Henry V as a young man, but there is little evidence that he was involved in Agincourt (he probably wasn't) or during the imprisonment of Joan of Arc (Hardyment thinks he was involved and may even have been her gaoler). At these and other points the biography reverts to a pretty straight and heavy history of the latter stages of the 100 Years War and the beginning of the Wars of the Roses. Better is the speculation surrounding Malory's involvement with is uncle, Sir John Malory who was the English Prior of the Order of St John.

The whole thing convincingly paints Malory as a tough and loyal soldier and possibly a successful propagandist, who honed his writing skills by writing Arthurian romances whilst wiling away his time in jail.


Unearthed
Unearthed
Price: £46.27

12 of 33 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overpriced box set, 24 Mar. 2008
This review is from: Unearthed (Audio CD)
£60 or thereabouts for a box set, of stuff not good enough to make it onto any of the last five American Recording CDs Johnny Cash recorded for Rick Rubin, is poor value for money. The cost is actually higher than that of buying all five American Recording CDs. That's where almost all of the good stuff is. The four CDs of new material are not bad, and there are two or three gems in there, but that's a poor return for £60. The fifth CD - a "best of" the first four American Recordings is pointless.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 29, 2014 5:28 AM GMT


Don Quixote
Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

6 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Widely considered unfilmable. That's because it's rubbish., 12 Feb. 2008
This review is from: Don Quixote (Paperback)
Reading other reviews it appears that readers tend to like mulling over the novel Don Quixote over a period of time to fully savour the experience. I also took three months to read it, but that was because I struggled to motivate myself to read more than 10-20 pages at a time.

One major problem is the humour, which has not aged well. Most of the 900+ plus pages deal with the same joke, Don Quixote's insane belief that he is a brave knight errant, as described in medieval romances, told time and time again. Jokes are explained to death. Sancho Panza, Don Quixote's squire, whilst he does get some lines of dialogue that are still funny, is not the consistent earthly wit that some critics make him out to be. Often he is simply just plain stupid. Another problem is the structure. In Part One, the story often digresses into other narratives to which the relevance to Don Quixote is minimal at best. The tone of these stories is very different to the main narrative, romantic or tragic rather than `funny'. A third is the lack of realism in the main plot. Often Cervantes will describe a situation by saying that it was resolved, or that Sancho Panza was very amusing, or that Don Quixote demonstrated his insanity without describing how.

That is not to say that it is difficult to read. Edith Grossman's translation is easy to follow and would be a joy to read were it not for the subject matter. The other highlight for me was the section in part two where Sancho Panza was governor of an `insula' for ten days. This, for me, was a truly fine part of the novel, both in terms of interest and Panza's humour, which on this occasion was convincingly demonstrated.

It must also be said that the novel is historically interesting as am early attempt at a novel. As Johnson would have put, it is not that it was done well that is astonishing, but that it was done at all. The point for me, however, is that it was not done well, a point even acknowledged by Cervantes in several points of reference to Part One in Part Two (responding to complaints of digression and lack of continuity - particularly as regards the mysterious disappearance and appearance of Panza's donkey). That fact that it was done at all is of historical interest not of interest to the general reader. It certainly doesn't deserve Harold Bloom's praise of being the "finest modern novel".
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 26, 2009 1:01 AM GMT


A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)
A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4)
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Paperback

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Weakest book in the series, but still fascinating, 19 Sept. 2007
A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in George R.R. Martin's epic high-fantasy series. The book is really a collection of simultaneous stories taking place in the aftermath of the civil war. Unlike previous books, Martin took the decision to tell complete tales of only half the series characters in this book. This means having to wait for Tyrion, Dany, Bran, Jon and Stannis until the next book. This still leaves stories about Queen Regent Cersei, her twin Jaime, Arya, Sansa, Brienne and Samwell 'the Slayer' to which Martin adds other stories around the royal succession in the Iron Islands and intrigue in Dorne. Like the other books magic is largely absent, but is slowly becoming more pronounced as the series progresses. Realpolitik, violence, death, religion, lust and betrayal remain to the fore. That's what makes this series so different from other epic fantasies.

However, although the characterisation remain strong, dialogue and plotting is more variable than in earlier books. The tone remains gratifyingly bleak but loses something from the lack of humour that Tyrion's tongue would brought to the proceedings. There is too much of Queen Cersei although her story does have the most satisfying ending. The Brienne storyline is also strong, if incredibly bleak. The Samwell story peters out in the end, but the Sansa tale continues to increase in interest partly thanks to the machinations of her 'father' Littlefinger. As with all the books in the series, Martin over-describes and he could really have done with a more brutal editor throughout.

Overall, it is the weakest book in the series, but still fascinating. Let's hope we don't have to wait another five years for the next one.


Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator In-Ear Earphones - White
Etymotic Research ER6i Isolator In-Ear Earphones - White

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK but fragile and causes problem with earwax build-up, 27 Jun. 2007
I've owned a pair of the ER-6i earphones for just under a year. On the plus side they sound good with extremely clear treble and mid range (but not great bass) and isolate sound extremely well.

On the downside, I've experienced the same problems as two other reviewers (C Simpson and D Clearwater). I had to replace the first set after 6 months as the left earphone stopped working. This entailed returning them to Etymotic in the USA (costing around £6 in registered post) but was otherwise problem free. The replacement earphones have just developed the same problem, which is a bit irritating given how much they cost. I guess I can expect them to go again in 6 months at which point I will shop around for something a bit more sturdy. I've also experienced the problem with earwax and am about to get one of my ears syringed.


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