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Mr B (Devon)

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The End of Mr Y
The End of Mr Y
by Scarlett Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.53

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The End of My Patience, 14 April 2008
This review is from: The End of Mr Y (Paperback)
Without wanting to 'spoil' the surprise, this book is about the ability to inhabit other people's consciousness. This is an exciting prospect, and is one I look forward to every time I pick up a story with a first person narrative. It is, after all, the very essence of what novels are about.

The plot of Mr Y runs a rather convoluted gambit of Alice in Wonderland meets the Matrix in order to get the characters (and us) inside each other's heads. So far, so fine. What was really disappointing for me thereafter was that how little I felt part of any of the inhabitants of this metaphysical merry-go-round. They all seem to think in the same sub-GenX speak, whether they're young, old, animal, vegetable or mineral. In place of distinctive voices, the characters seem to have 'issues' - revelations about their past which they brandish over the reader like broken bottles to show they have really 'been there'. That's when they're not propounding philosophy together for chapters on end in a twentysomething round of Sophie's World.

I find the mysteries of consciousness and mutiple universes really quite intriguing, but this novel felt like reading a brochure advertising them more than a story which really embodied and breathed life into them. It probably didn't help that I read Mr Y back-to-back with Cloud Atlas, which whirls these ideas around with mesmeric skll. For a novel which purports to explore four dimensions, I found Mr Y rather stuck in two.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 25, 2008 5:19 PM BST


The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sci-fi's Book of Revelations, 9 Aug 2006
This review is from: The War of the Worlds (Paperback)
A big, biblical vison of apocalypse visited on our green and pleasant land, The War of the Worlds aces its latest film adaptation. There's still no match for the alternately eerie and explosive effects unleashed from H.G. Well's inkwell. From the three puffs of 'luminous greenish smoke' rising from the landing crater to the hundred-foot high 'boilers on stilts' floating in distant mist, the author has an uncanny sense of just how much to withhold to let our imaginations loose. And there's much pleasure to be had in imagining it all in its original Victorian dress, as Wells cleverly splices together the real (newspapers such as The Times, contemporary discoveries) with the invented (a rather expendable cast of dignatories to visit the first crater!) to full effect. A vision that wrenched a God-fearing world's age-old fears out from under the earth and hurled them among the stars: no mean feat.


The View From Mount Improbable (Pocket Penguins)
The View From Mount Improbable (Pocket Penguins)
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Visionary stuff, 15 May 2006
Evolution is all very well, but it can't account for something as mind-boggingly useful and complex as the human eye, can it? In answer, Richard Dawkins takes us through the various eyes in Nature from the molluscs upward, showing just how the metaphorical Mount Improbable was scaled. You can forgive Dawkins his occasional bouts of smugness for the wonderful insights he provides. For instance, I never knew why dogs' and cats' eyes shine in the dark - and the simple answer is very well explained here. On the strength of this, I've already ordered Dawkin's latest 'The Ancestor's Tale' so look out for a review soon. Meanwhile, if you like fiction, pick up H.G. Well's Country of the Blind (also in Pocket Penguins, see my review) as a perfect partner to this enlightening essay.


The Country of the Blind (Pocket Penguins 70's)
The Country of the Blind (Pocket Penguins 70's)
by H. G. Wells
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A braille tale, 14 May 2006
A right little page turner: an intrepid explorer stumbles by accident on an isolated community hidden among the high peaks of the Andes, living the life of ease. And the catch, of course, is that everyone of them has gone blind. The adventurer rubs his hands as he recalls the old proverb 'In the country of the blind, the man with one eye is a king'. But he quickly finds he's not to have everything his own way. A great yarn, which makes you think about how our eyes shape our minds. A couple of other shorter Wells stories are thrown in for good measure.


Arthur & George
Arthur & George
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Hardcover

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Just my cup of tea, 13 May 2006
This review is from: Arthur & George (Hardcover)
Quintessentially English as a good pot of tea, Arthur & George can be sipped down pleasantly as it tips between its two protangonists and their very different lives. And what figure more English could one choose than Arthur Conan Doyle, creator and here it seems imitator, of the great Sherlock Holmes? The novel's based quite tightly on historical events and reads as if it's ideally designed to be enjoyed without too much prior knowledge, so I won't give too much away. Suffice to say that George is a solicitor accused of a crime he almost certainly did not commit, while the reknowned Arthur becomes his unlikely champion. The writing is slow and mellow as you might expect from such a fine brew, and if it has a downside, it's that its faith to real events makes it slightly predictable. Still, there's a lively bout of leaf gazing in the seances of its final pages to keep you guessing. A worthy Booker nominee, and recommended (lays cup to saucer with a chink).


All Quiet on the Orient Express
All Quiet on the Orient Express
by Magnus Mills
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd jobs for odd bods, 1 May 2006
Expect no journeys to Eastern Europe in All Quiet on the Orient Express. I will give very little away if I say that the narrator finishing his last few days of his camping holiday in the Lakes never departs. Blessed or cursed with a dab hand for odd jobs and a good nature, the hapless holidaymaker little-by-little finds himself put to work and unable to escape the mysterious village community where he finds himself stuck. Not one for fancy descriptions, Mills instead combines a great ear for dialogue with a sly sense of humour. Both are in evidence again here. One particular highlight which springs to mind is when the local shopkeeper starts bemoaning 'the people who come in here asking for things'. These qualities buoy the tale along as the plot surrounding the lake thickens for the stranded tourist. Why is everyone so keen for him to take over Deakin's milk round? What is the significance of Bryan's cardboard crown that he inexplicably sports at all times? When will the landlord finally accept payment for his spiralling tab?

A star-off for similarities with The Restraint of Beasts storyline, this is nevertheless another page-turning, thought-provoking good'un by Mills.


The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Twentieth Century Classics)
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Twentieth Century Classics)
by G. K. Chesterton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The wild joy of being Thursday, 1 May 2006
Witty, wonderfully written and endlessly surprising, The Man who was Thursday is a novel which defies categories. It is hard to believe it was first published a whole century ago and that its protagonists scamper about in tails and top hats 'like black chimney pots'. On one level, it is a breathless thriller worthy of 007 - featuring a descent into an international terrorist organization headquarters, a baffling game of subterfuge between spies and a high speed chase through central London after an elephant and a hot air balloon. On another, it is a profound meditation on the nature of identity and the theological problem of evil. Entertainment and such weighty themes make strange bedfellows indeed, but here it is as if they tear off the sheets and indulge in a 100-page pillow fight so much fun is had by their combination. Chesterton acts as a winking master of revels throughout, orchestrating the chaos in his inimitable style while scattering bon mots and charming comparisons with abandon. One of my personal all time favourites, 'the wild joy of being Thursday' is an experience I will return to again and again.


Explorers of the New Century
Explorers of the New Century
by Magnus Mills
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boldly going into uncharted territory, 15 April 2006
Having thoroughly enjoyed my previous Mills expeditions - Restraint of Beasts, Scheme for Full Employment - I was impressed by the way he has forged onward into new territory here. Opening as a pastiche of the Scott/Amundsen race to the pole, it will gradually dawn on the reader that something is rotten in this dark fictional landscape. Suffice to say that the truths eventually unleashed in its second half make Explorers a genuinely perturbing read, which will have you retracing your steps at journey's end. Perhaps due to this tone, the comic moments are not quite as enjoyable as in, say, Restraint of Beasts, which despite its macabre twists, seems more played for laughs. However, full marks for scope, ambition and invention. I am sure the reputation of this and other Mills' books will go on growing.


Underworld
Underworld
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Paperback

33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bravura opening fades away, 9 April 2006
This review is from: Underworld (Paperback)
My advice: pick up this tome at your local bookshop and read the wonderfully evocative first 50-60 pages which describe a mythical baseball game at a pivotal moment in American history. Watch the game slowly unfold through the eyes of the youngster who vaults the turnstiles. Savour the descriptions of the stands going wild, the papers and programmes spiralling through the air and wonder on the fate of that coveted home run ball. And then replace your copy. For after this almighty beginning, Underworld's joys are but fleeting epiphanies. For me, De Lillo reads as if he is just trying too hard at times, and nowhere more so than in his constant reference to GenX assembly parts like linoleum and styrofoam in his descriptions. And it's such a shame because the set pieces are so huge in scale and ambition that you'd go with them, if the characters and situations didn't seem so studied, so plotted out. All the right tunes, but sadly minus the soul.


The People's Act Of Love
The People's Act Of Love
by James Meek
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A holiday locomotive, 9 April 2006
First things first. If you're really interested in buying this book, be careful which reviews you read. The plot of People's Act does pack one or two real sledgehammer surprises which are really best absorbed at the moment of their revelation rather than in the subsequent reviews posted here. Suffice to say it steams through shivering Siberia at quite a pace, with its freight concealed till the very last. Even so, the charges of 'low browism' are well made. The pace of the novel does tend toward the cinematic and there is a certain mordant glee in the grisly twists. However, there's no escaping that the writing is wonderful - at times hallugenic in its precision. This is nowhere more true than in the apocalyptic vision of horses tumbling from a railway bridge in its opening scene. So if it's a little marketed at the holiday crowd, why not? For the truly high brow, you'll be hard pushed to compete with Dostoyevsky and co. That Meek, having read them in the original Russian, does not try is perhaps not an act of cynicism, but one of modesty.


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