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Alexis Paladin (London)

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The Girl in Blue (Everyman's Library P G WODEHOUSE)
The Girl in Blue (Everyman's Library P G WODEHOUSE)
by P.G. Wodehouse
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Silliness, 16 Jan. 2011
Anyone who reads a lot of Wodehouse learns quite quickly that you need to give yourself breaks. If you read two or three in a row, as I have done a few times, you find that characters begin to blur and plot structures become so familiar you find yourself predicting the next unlikely scrape that will befall our hapless characters. If, however, you read plenty of other authors and genres and then return to PG for some light entertainment you simply cannot go wrong. 'The Girl in Blue' is one of his stand-alone books, not connected with any other work but nevertheless is of course populated with many familiar Wodehouseian characters. Our happily inadequate hero Jerry must track down the despicable individual who has stolen a Gainsborough miniature, the `girl in blue' of the title, from his Uncle. As usual confusion and misunderstanding abound and of course Jerry has problems of his own. Having fallen in love at first sight whilst serving as a juror he must disengage himself from his shallow betrothed and her harridan of a mother before his love can be his.

Not one of the best but worth reading as always, just don't read too many back to back...


The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro
The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro
by Paul Theroux
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adventures in Italy and America, 15 Jan. 2011
Paul Theroux is a very prolific author. He is probably still better known as a travel writer but in fact he has written a good deal more fiction than anything else. Some of his books have been first class. In both My Secret History (1989) and The Mosquito Coast (1981) Theroux expertly explores human relationships, particularly in unusual or challenging circumstances. The Stranger at the Palazzo D'Oro is not as good as these but it well worth reading nonetheless. If there is a theme connecting the novella and short stories brought together here it is probably sexuality, or at least female sexuality from a specifically male viewpoint, a familiar preoccupation of Theroux's. The title novella follows a young American as he travels in Italy. At the Palazzo D'Oro he encounters a couple who immediately intrigue. She is a wealthy German Duchess; arrogant, aloof and often downright rude. Despite, or perhaps because of this she is a sexual magnet toward which our young protagonist is irresistibly drawn. Through his relationship with her some of the mysteries of the female of the species, both public and very private, are revealed to him. Some of the writing strikes one as rather sexist but Theroux would presumably be entirely unapologetic about this as his intention is to look at women and sex from a male perspective. The novella is quite shocking at times, to reveal why would spoil the plot so it is left for readers to discover that for themselves.

The other stories are set in the USA and feature a pre-adolescent boy called Andy. Ostensibly at least, they seem far removed from the world of the Palazzo D'oro as Andy engages in various rites of passage activities with his friends. However sexuality or at least the beginning of it, again looms large and there is even a direct link in the form a prurient interest in females urinating. The short stories are nostalgic and heart-warming and are presumably, like the aforementioned 'My Secret History', to some extent autobiographical. Theroux does this stuff well and apparently effortlessly. Well worth a read and a good introduction to his heavier work.


Cal
Cal
by Bernard MacLaverty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love in a time of violence, 15 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Cal (Paperback)
Bernard MacLaverty has not written anything like as many books as he might have. Since Lamb in 1980 he has produced just three more novels of which 'Cal' was the second. This is a great pity as Northern Ireland and specifically 'the troubles' need good works of literature to help us understand them. It has often been said that conventional history books are all well and good but if you really want the 'truth', if you really want to understand why people feel and behave the way they do you need fiction to guide you. Good authors delve deep into the human soul and expose things that historians never can. MacLaverty is one such author. Through his eponymous hero he shows us what it actually feels like to live in a street where all your neighbours despise you just because of where you go to Church. The shattered shell of a man that Cal's previously strong and proud father becomes after years of harassment is truly tragic and a direct consequence of Northern Ireland's 'troubles'.

Similarly MacLaverty explores how it feels to live your life knowing every day that you have done something truly terrible. Cal can never escape what he has done. His guilt grows with him until finally he seeks and finds the punishment he feels he deserves. Alongside this MacLaverty gives us a simple but moving love story from the perspective of a young man with all the passion, frustration and animal lust that come with it.

'Cal' is not a perfect book, like most novels about Northern Ireland there is over-simplification of politics at times and the pace of the story falters a little in the middle. It is however, worthily conceived and skilfully executed. Both a good introduction to the Northern Ireland of the nineteen-eighties and an engagingly tragic love story in its own right.


Troubles
Troubles
by J.G. Farrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anglo-Irish Charm, 15 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Troubles (Paperback)
Reading through the reviews of `Troubles' I am struck by just how good they are. I can't remember ever reading though a set of Amazon reviews and being so impressed. Clearly Farrell is very well-loved by some very literate people! I was delighted as I am sure were many people by the book's `Lost Booker' win last year which was certainly no more than this wonderful novel deserved. There is not a great deal I can add to what has already been written. Perhaps a little about Farrell himself would be of interest. Known to his friends as `Jim' he moved to West Cork in 1979, to a large but dilapidated house which, with the help of some locals he began to restore. One of these locals got him interested in sea fishing and provided equipment and instruction. Jim immediately took to the sport and it was this which lead to his tragic and untimely death. Fishing alone in Bantry Bay one day a few months after his move he was apparently swept out to sea by sudden wave. A woman, passing with her son, did her best to save him to no avail and thus perhaps the last of the great Anglo-Irish writers was lost. That Farrell was truly `Anglo-Irish' is hard to dispute. His father's family made the journey from England to Ireland whilst his mother's did the reverse. He had a strong connection with and understanding of, both countries and their complicated and often tragic relationship with each other. This understanding comes to the fore in `Troubles'. Many reviewers have commented on how The Major represents to some degree the British Empire in its final days, impotent and confused as the world around him changes. Whilst this is true he can also be seen to represent his reader, forced to learn quickly about a bewilderingly complicated political and social system he hitherto knew virtually nothing about. Rarely does the Major express opinions about the political situation instead he simply observes the differing positions and perceptions which thus expose their relative flaws and merits. The back and forth between the old Tory Edmund and the students from Oxford exemplify this perfectly. The Major simply observes and listens. It is up to the reader to form opinions if he wishes.

Farrell's humour has been described eloquently elsewhere but it is worth mentioning specifically the comedy he creates around all things sexual. Apparently he was an amorous man under whose charming spell many women fell. The fun he has with the characters of Faith and Charity and their burgeoning sexuality is one of the many highlights of this tremendous work. I challenge anyone to read the scenes involving these two feisty young women and their soldier suitors without laughing.

A truly incredible work that entertains on so many levels from a magnificent, much-missed author.


Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe (Penguin Classics)
Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe (Penguin Classics)
by George Eliot
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle religous instruction, 15 Jan. 2011
It is entirely to George Elliot's credit that in this short novel she manages to convey, clearly and powerfully, her fairly narrow vision of Christianity and Christian life without in the least compromising her artistic integrity.

On one level Silas Marner can be read as a simple tale of loss and love. Through the early parts of the novel our eponymous hero experiences the sort of misfortune only Job would put up with; he loses his betrothed, his friends, his relationship with his God such as it is, and dramatically, a little later, his fortune. Gradually, through his relationship with an orphan child, all of these are restored or rather replaced with something better. Marner finally learns that simple unconditional love can facilitate both redemption for past sins and deep and long-lasting happiness.

Ostensibly this story is simple and yet Elliot gently expounds her opinions on a variety of religious and social topics. We learn of course that a love of material things is ultimately destructive and isolating, particularly when contrasted with a love for our fellow man. This message is not a challenging one but we are also told, in no uncertain terms, that the Calvinist form of Christianity of the big city with it's confined spaces, 'baptism' and `drawing of lots' is similarly destructive. It is contrasted with the all-embracing, life-affirming Anglican form of Christianity practiced in the rural parts of England which Elliot clearly held very dear. This form of Christianity, exemplified in the simple soul of Dolly Winthrop offers its adherents a simple and instinctive relationship with God and their fellow man. Dolly understands little of the words in the Bible but somehow knows that it is right and lives her life in the best way she can. In addition to criticising Calvinists and their ilk Elliot exposes what she sees as the folly of holding too firmly to set doctrines in her treatment of Nancy Cass. Nancy is evidently a kind and loving human being but her very clearly defined sense of what is right and what is wrong comes from what she has been taught rather than from her instinct and her faith. Hence she refuses to allow her husband to adopt a child and potentially denies them both the happiness that could bring.

Whether or not the reader agrees with Elliot's ideas about religion or indeed about the gradual erosion of pastoral life through the expansion of the city and the industrial revolution, it is impossible not to admire the way she simultaneously instructs, edifies and entertains.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2011 3:23 PM GMT


Ring for Jeeves
Ring for Jeeves
by P. G. Wodehouse
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Curio, 23 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Ring for Jeeves (Paperback)
For Wodehouse fans this one is definitely worth reading if only for the novelty of a book that features Jeeves without Wooster. You could argue, and some have done, that this is a bit like Don Quixote without Sancho Panza, Holmes without Watson or indeed Fish without Chips. In Bertie's absence Jeeves is working for a similarly buffoonish aristocrat named Bill. Like many other Wodehousian characters he is rather down on his luck and entertainingly decides that the most practical way to regain his family's lost wealth is to become some sort of shady bookmaker, ably supported of course by Jeeves. So begins the usual meandering muddle of wealthy American women, mistaken intentions, unfulfilled threats of astounding violence and faltering love affairs. The resolution however, differs from most J & W in that the male and female protagonist live happily ever after whereas of course, if Bertie was around he would craftily escape the impending nuptials at the last minute thanks to some highly imaginative and unlikely scheme of Jeeves'.

It is not a bad book, Wodehouse was incapable of writing such a thing, but the accusations that is a bit too formulaic and overly-simple do stick and Bertie is unquestionably missed. It is perhaps telling that the funniest moments concern him in absentia. Firstly there is the fact that he had enrolled in a school that teaches young aristocrats to fend for themselves and secondly that in his own inimitable way, he gets himself thrown out of said institution for breaking the rules.


The Sea
The Sea
by John Banville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little too clever for its own good, 23 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Sea (Paperback)
Banville makes no secret of the fact that when he writes using the pseudonym 'Benjamin Black' he is able to work quickly and relatively easily whilst when it comes to his 'literary' works he is resolutely meticulous in both their planning and execution. In 'The Sea' this is evident from the very first page. It is immediately apparent that he has very carefully considered the style and structure of his novel which is unusual in many ways. Some examples; there is no reported speech, the narrative comes from three distinct time periods and is diffused through a psychologically damaged and therefore potentially unreliable narrator and key elements of the plot, such as it is, are slowly, often painstakingly revealed. Moreover, one can tell that Banville has spent a great deal of time considering each sentence, both the ways the words follow each other and the words themselves. Sometimes this fastidiousness works; despite the fact that book has very little conventional story the reader is still drawn in as Banville's narrator flits between the tale of his burgeoning sexuality, the loss of his wife and his present day attempts to make sense of it all and it is hard not to be impressed by the creative dexterity of much of the prose.

However, inspiring admiration for your undoubted literary talents is not in itself enough to make your novel great. As the book progresses the relentless use of clever words begins to grate a little. It is impossible to read the book without a thesaurus at hand and one cannot help but suspect, perhaps unfairly, that Banville wrote the book with Roget similarly close by. Furthermore it is hard to stay particularly interested in what happens to his basically selfish narrator and whilst the conceit of the unpredictable, ever-shifting, potentially treacherous sea as a metaphor for life itself works to some extent it seems a bit overused as increasingly odd things are revealed about the novel's protagonist's lives (and deaths) on the coast.

Clearly Banville is a good writer and it would be churlish to begrudge him his Booker, but perhaps this is just a bit too smart, perhaps he tries just a little too hard to be brilliant.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2015 3:09 PM GMT


The Longest Journey (Twentieth Century Classics)
The Longest Journey (Twentieth Century Classics)
by E. M. Forster
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An underated gem, 14 Oct. 2010
I read recently that some hitherto unknown letters of Forster's had been made public. The author of the article expressed surprise that some of the letters betrayed in Forster a significant amount of misogyny. How, wondered the author, could the creator of the wonderfully sympathetic Mrs. Moore, possibly have disliked women? Clearly, that particular author had never read The Longest Journey (or perhaps anything by Forster apart from a A Passage to India). The least known of Forster's six novels it nonetheless contains all of his familiar preoccupations including very definitely the destructive dominance of sensitive, truth loving men by hard-faced, small-minded women.

When he stopped writing novels after 1924 Forster said that he was tired of only being able to create certain character types. These could be said to full into three categories, the classically-trained, beauty-seeking person, the uneducated, simple, id-driven but fundamentally honest person and finally the dishonest, manipulative and worldly person. Throughout the novels many who fit into this last category are women and in Agnes Pembroke he creates one of his most truly repulsive characters. She is materialistic and dull and does everything she can to prevent her husband Rickie from remaining true to himself and pursuing his literary and spiritual dreams.

This is sometimes quite difficult to read but whether or not one accepts it as an accurate representation of what really happens or rejects it as abject misogyny it is difficult not to admire the way Forster elegantly and simply presents his story. Add into the mix typical Forsterian plot devices as gradually new pieces of information about the past are revealed and characters meet again in rather unexpected circumstances and you have a fine piece of work that probably tells you as much about Forster himself as anything else he ever wrote.


Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
by Evelyn Waugh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but ultimately unsastisfying, 14 Oct. 2010
I do not think my views on Brideshead could possibly be more ambivalent. To begin with the things I admired; firstly the language is beautiful and evocative throughout. The early passages at Oxford alone, most notably Charles and Sebastian's trip to the countryside and the superbly louche Anthony Blanche's soliloquy about Sebastian, are enough to propel the book to literary greatness. Add to this some of the greatest comic scenes ever written where Charles tries to negotiate living with his eccentric and endlessly entertaining father and you have a book entirely worthy of a five star review.

Things change in the latter half of the book but not immediately in a particularly negative way. Charles embarks on a relationship with Sebastian's sister Julia. Whether or not Julia is a replacement for Sebastian is a moot point but either way the passion and connection between Charles and Julia, begun in a storm on the Atlantic, is both convincing and touchingly described. Ultimately however, Julia, as a consequence of a re-emergence of her Catholic faith decides that she cannot marry Charles. And therein lies the rub. I have read about Waugh's conversion to Catholicism and his interest in the concept of Divine Grace. Whilst I do not personally believe in it this would not necessarily prevent me from accepting its significance in this novel if only it was a little more convincing. Julia's change of heart comes about following her father's last minute 'death-bed conversion'. I know that many will disagree with me but I found this passage impossible to believe and almost impossible to read. Lord Marchmain is a confirmed atheist who is bullied by his family into a confused little gesture which changes everything in the novel. Even now, some months after reading it I still struggle to believe that Waugh really believed in this conversion and in Julia's change of heart himself. Neither make any sense. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps others will tell me that 'God moves in mysterious ways' but it simply does not work for me. Ultimately, I'm afraid, the ending of this beautiful book left me quite devastated.


Decline and Fall
Decline and Fall
by Evelyn Waugh
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Curmugeonly Comedy, 14 Oct. 2010
Evelyn Waugh was a grumpy old so and so. In his lifetime he was very vocal about his dislike of all manner of things particularly those which he considered 'modern'. In this, his first novel, he takes every opportunity to mercilessly satirise such diverse subjects as prison reform, architecture, psychology, the behaviours of modern women and with a little less subtlety... The Welsh. In the hands of lesser authors some of this could be a little clumsy and offensive but Waugh's wit, literary dexterity, lightness of touch and ability to reflect the attitudes and mores of his time easily pull him through. There are some fantastically funny passages. The section detailing the inadequate clergyman Prendergast's musings on marriage for example, is comic genius as is the description of the school sport's day.

However, unlike Wodehouse, Waugh was always about more than knockabout comedy and he ably makes some serious points about the changes fast occurring in England between the wars. Perhaps the most powerful impression he conveys is that of the powerlessness of his main character Pennyfeather. All manner of malign influences come to bear on his life at one time or another and he seems incapable of doing anything about them. He drifts from the aristocratic buffoons at Oxford to the pseudo-scholarliness of the pubic school headmaster to the self-serving cruelty of a wealthy woman to the ludicrous pseudo-psychology of a prison warden. He is indeed a feather, blown helplessly from one powerful person to another.

A wonderful book and a great starting point for anyone wanting to get to know one of England's finest writers a little better.


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