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The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House
by Kate Summerscale
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What happens when our belief systems meet head-on, 11 Aug 2013
The author is a biographer, an archivist and a social historian. But unlike many archivists and historians - who can sometimes sound dull and over-academic, she has at her fingertips an added dimension - the gift of story-telling.
Her style is succinct, fast-moving and direct. But the underlying strength of what she has to say lies not merely in 'reporting' the things that happened at the time, but in her shrewdness in knowing precisely which letters , newspaper quotations or comments to include and which to leave out. And it is this tight way of putting-together the relevant issues and reporting these in her fast and efficient way that gives the story its acceleration and excitement.
However, for me, the over-riding appeal of the book lies particularly in the way Kate Summerscale explains how (we) the public respond to given situations: how we all make unexamined assumptions - from the 'posse' mentality of - 'Hang the first person one finds loitering near the scene of the crime', through to the 'scapegoat' mentality of attempting to satisfy the public in whatever way one deems necessary - i.e. 'Blame someone rather than no one'. So from the fantasy world of unexamined assumptions - that personal interior cinema of the mind in which anything goes, we ignore fact, then jump to our convenient conclusions (See Stuart Sutherland's brilliant book 'Irrationality: The Enemy Within' - think Tony Blair ... think me, you, every one of us ...)
Given all that, it is little wonder that the approach of dear Mr Whicher - a person who seeks facts through the medium of reason and the exercise of a rational mind, meet head-on with a public whose desire is for a quick-fix solution. It'a all a fine example of what happens when our belief systems meet head-on.


Brazzaville Beach
Brazzaville Beach
by William Boyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'There', he said, 'that's that sorted out', 10 Aug 2013
This review is from: Brazzaville Beach (Paperback)
Wouldn't it be good if we could discover what the writer thinks of their own work - which novel gave them the greatest satisfaction on placing the final full-stop, just ... there.
We know the outline of the story from the 'Product Description' - the story of Hope Clearwater, a 40-something research assistant whose work involves observing the behaviour patterns of chimpanzees in the bush - off Congo Brazzaville during the Civil War in the 60's. But the second story concerns what happened in her marriage to Dr John Clearwater in the UK.
The great thing about Boyd's writing is that he regards the process not only as an investigation of character, but as an exercise in the use of language. Add to this his constant psychological emphasis, or his insistence in this instance of tossing in a variety of themes related to the story - Turbulence (46) Divergence Syndrome (75) Fermat's Last Theorem (130) Happiness (163) Cruelty (180) Time etc. then we clearly have the ingredients for a novel that is in so many ways, special.
'Suspense' is brought about not only by what happens in the war, but by Hope's research findings which run contrary to the published conclusions of her boss ... But this kind of suspense is as of nothing to Boyd who, in page 240, throws in a thrilling 'Cliff-hanger'. (A nod of appreciation here to Thomas Hardy's 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' perhaps? - where Henry Knight clings by his fingertips to the surface of a cliff, and the only way for Elfride to rescue him is to take her clothes off to make a 'rope'. MEN: I'm reliably advised; there are safer ways of achieving one's aims ...)
The novel alternates between 1st and 3rd person - 'I am Hope Clearwater' - 'She is Hope Clearwater'. (His recent 'Waiting for Sunrise' starts and finishes in 2nd person - 'You' are the observer) The ease with which he applies his technique makes Boyd very much a teacher of his craft, 'a writer's writer' in fact, while throughout, he keeps to the idea of his Frontispiece, 'The unexamined life is not worth living' - Socrates. In the final movement of his 'Variations on a theme of Socrates (344) three questions are asked: What can I know? What ought I to do? And what may I hope for? 'What can I know? - Nothing for sure. What ought I to do? - Try not to hurt anyone. What may I hope for? - For the best. (But it won't make any difference) There, he said, that's that sorted out'.


The Painted Veil (Vintage Classics)
The Painted Veil (Vintage Classics)
by W Somerset Maugham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Things around you, at the time, 1 Aug 2013
Aspiring writers are often advised to write about that which they know - the things around them, at the time. This is never more clearly demonstrated than in the way people speak. Emily Bronte wrote in the way the family around her spoke. She would 'peruse an epistle', not read a letter. She would 'quit the chamber', not leave the room. She wouldn't listen; she would 'hearken' etc. In much the same way, this book, written for the middle and upper-class of its day, has its own distinctive language: 'I've got into a devil of a scrape' - 'He's a thundering good chap' - 'I'm most frightfully sorry; I don't seem to know your name'. (Try that at the end of your first date) But however one feels about the distinctiveness of period-language - of writing about things around you, at the time, this book - along with just about everything Maugham ever wrote, is a master-piece - a superb snapshot of how it was, then.
It is written in film-like short scenes: how from bad can come good/how two people can discover love and mutual respect from facing together a life-threatening experience (a fight against Cholera). In that sense, it's a book about caring. In that sense, the storyline is incremental, and grows upon one, layer upon layer. (Theme: A familiar feature of Maugham's writing. 'The Razor's Edge', is to do with the quest for spiritual rather than material happiness. 'Of Human Bondage', is autobiographical fiction, and in that genre is perhaps the most thematic 'book of knowledge' ever written - 640 pages)
Maugham writes succinctly. In page 25, two years pass by in one line. Walter: 'A person to whom small talk did not come easily'. Charlie Townsend: (The cad) 'who has made a science of popularity'. (83) Kitty's beauty - her skin: 'Could not be compared to the peach or to the flower; it was they that demanded comparison with it'. (33) Waddington: is a man who above all cares about people; a person one can confide in. (Kitty) 'watched Waddington light a cigarette. A little smoke lost in the air; that was the life of man'. (166)
Sometimes, themes re-appear in Maugham's writing. His wonderful short story, 'Th Unconquered' - where a young French farm girl is raped by a German soldier/has a baby, but drowns it in the duck-pond rather than submit, is reflected in Kitty's attitude to Charlie Townsend, her seducer; 'I would rather kill myself than have a baby that is yours'. (201)
From the shallow distractions of their partying home life in England, their concentrations in Cholera-ridden 'Tching-Yen' become one. The veil is lifted, and they finally discover each other as a result of their mutual task; that of caring for others; the people around them, at the time.


Pulp: A Novel
Pulp: A Novel
by Charles Bukowski
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to Reduce Flight Time and arrive Refreshed, 30 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Pulp: A Novel (Paperback)
As the back cover informs us, 'Pulp' is a fantastical pastiche of a detective story. True in one sense, but this gem of a novel is far more than that. For behind the joyful facade of the quick-fire wise-cracks (Think, The Marx Bros interpret Raymond Chandler) there lie countless serious messages about life, how to cope with one's existence - how to do the best you can with what you've got ... Someone once said that life is known only to those who suffer, endure adversity and stumble from one defeat to another. Here, we have such examples in spadefuls. But don't despair, for it's almost hidden by the humour.
Dig deeper under the fun and you'll find re-interpretations of the work of other writers. Bukowski re-affirms Nietzsche's opinion of the human race with, 'Boring damned people. All over the earth' (154) Likewise, Virginia Woolf had clearly thought about how we cope with whatever life throws our way with, 'Thus we spin around us infinitely fine filaments and construct for ourselves a system'. Bukowski's take is: (Life is about) 'The needed machinery of the moment. And those needs keep altering'. (128) The Socratic notion that 'The unexamined life is not worth living', comes from Bukowski's pen as, 'We were all just hanging around waiting to die and meanwhile doing little things to fill the space. Some of us weren't even doing that. We were vegetables'. (147) Our indifference to polluting the planet is clearly stated in p 127, when the visiting Space-aliens decide to leave this earth. 'We've thought it over. It's too awful. We don't want to colonise this earth', and then explain why.
This book is short, and the numerous theories that come in momentarily are what give it its true strength/appeal. Think, Life, ageing, loneliness, attachment theory - it's all there, but only in the fleeting moment, so the flow of the book is never disturbed. While the profound themes are never far away, the wise-cracks are ever present. Obesity: 'He wasn't a fat guy. He was two fat guys'. The name of the psychologist (82) is Seymour ... It's all a bit like Frasier Crane trying to make sense of the Marx Bros. (At the bar) 'Don't I get a receipt?' 'A what?' 'A receipt' ' 'Spell it' ' 'I can't' 'Then you don't get it' (113)
And how to reduce the flight time? Ah yes, I was coming to that ... Yes, the 4 hour flight from the UK to the Canaries was over in just 10 seconds.


Improbable Fiction. A Comedy
Improbable Fiction. A Comedy
by Alan Ayckbourn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Theatre Play that reads like a Novel, 25 July 2013
Six aspiring writers meet on a winter's evening in the house of the chairman of the group, Arnold; they discuss their work.The Players: Arnold (a Paul Eddington 'Yes, Prime Minister' figure who writes non-fiction in the form of manuals that explain manuals) Jess: 'Historical Romance'. Grace: 'Children's Fiction'. Vivvi: Journalist. Clem: 'Science Fiction'. Brev: 'Music adaptations' - kind of ... and Ilsa: the maid.
The chairman Arnold attempts to get the rest of the group out of a rut by suggesting they collaborate on a piece of writing - an idea that is received WITHOUT enthusiasm. However, as Arnold is clearing up after the meeting, there is a clap of thunder, a black-out - and then the story that would have resulted from the collaboration takes place before his very eyes. Act 2 is therefore a fictional romp - a who-done-it written in turn (Cued by further thunder-claps/Change of Lights/Telephone ringing) from the point of view of each of the SPECIALIST-GENRE writers. Arnold however has no experience of fiction (only 'fact') so in true 'Yes, Prime Minister' manner he hasn't a clue what's going on and remains in a daze throughout the play.
For me, Clem (the Science Fiction writer) stands out. By page 26, we are introduced to Clem's crazy use (mis-use) of words. His habit is to make up words that SOUND like the correct word. (Think, Stanley Unwin meets Raymond Chandler meets President George Bush and you'll begin to get the picture) Add to that the over-the-top jargon of science fiction writing and the picture becomes High Octane. Clem is also a know-it-all 'Inspector Japp' figure ... but suddenly he turns to Poetry. (His poetry 'intrusions' continue the end of the play - see 45,47,54, 61 etc.)
Much of the writing is Victorian in style (Think Conan Doyle - 'I'll prepare a draught to help her sleep' etc.) The Play is extremely FAST, and even Arnold's instruction manual gets involved at one point ...
Breathtakingly brilliant. It's a theatre play that reads like a Novel. As such it is the ideal read for a Book Club that seeks relief from today's 'misery writing'. You'll still need your tissue-box though, for your tears of laughter will make the print swim in front of your eyes.


Tropic of Capricorn (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
Tropic of Capricorn (Harper Perennial Modern Classics)
by Henry Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Some Glorious Moments in Many Terrible Half-hours', 20 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an instance where the 'Star' system of reviewing simply does not work. Parts of this book are worthy of far more than 5 Stars while other areas barely merit 1 Star - hence my title, 'Some glorious moments in many terrible half-hours' - a term I once read in relation to Wagner's music. This book is Wagnerian in scale, while the female vagina serves as the 'Leitmotiv' (leading motif).
The 'Overture' - the first 60 or so pages, provide examples of some of the best writing I've yet encountered; but once we get into the book proper it often feels as though Miller does not really know where he intends to take us ... The 'Glorious Moments' are still there, but in-between these there are volumes of self-indulgent writing, usually related to historical figures/themes that do not always relate closely to the supposed idea of the book - growing up and being thoroughly disillusioned by life in the USA.
I think it's hugely misogynistic. Sad. Why insult and attempt to degrade the one thing one supposedly adores? To be this way hurts me as surely as it must hurt every woman on the planet. As a result of this it fails miserably in the arena of 'Erotica'. (I think it's as sexy as standing in the queue of a Salvation Army Soup Kitchen) It's called 'demystifying the female parts'. Really? Tell me; which man on this earth finds the female 'parts' a mystery? (Oh, for the fumbling, bungling day it once was) Having said all that, I believe the 'Glorious Moments' to be wonderful examples of genius at work - particularly the sections concerned with writing (page 32/3/4)- or the Dostoyevsky references (189) etc. and I also believe that, for anyone who is a writer or a writing student, then this book is a treasure trove of ideas and 'how to say it'. How sad it is that it is so uneven, and for that reason alone the Star system of reviewing simply does not work - hence my pathetic 3 stars.


The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
by William Nicholson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nat King Cole's 'Nature Boy', 14 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book is 'light' but extremely deep/You are happily married; suddenly a long-lost lover calls: would you be tempted?/For me, this book revolves around TWO major themes. 1: The inexplicable nature of attraction - what draws us to a partner - sometimes a circumstance that others can see is totally wrong for us but we are blind to. ('The heart has reasons that Reason know nothing of' etc. Pascall) and 2: Our need and desire of RECOGNITION/to be thought significant/a potent force/to be admired/to love and to be loved in return/the lengths we go to in order to achieve acceptance/and our fear of never achieving these basic aims, needs/of never being loved. (Hence my Nature Boy title, the last lines of which read, 'The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return'. Lyrics by Eden Ahbez)
The title may at first seem clumsy but I think is spot-on: 'Secret Intensity' = We each live in our own world. We know every bit of that experience, but only part of that experience can, or is allowed to be conveyed to others. 'Others' cannot know all of us, (if anything at all sometimes) while we in turn see only a tiny fraction of what others are - even our nearest and dearest, it simply isn't possible. ('Secret Intensity' is explained in a later page of the book)
The chapters are short/It is written 'Scenically', like a film. If, like me, you are a writer, you will soon discover that this book is a master-class in how to write. (as are books 2 and 3 of the trilogy)


Duke Ellington, Jazz Composer
Duke Ellington, Jazz Composer
by Ken Rattenbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: 21.22

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Duke Ellington, Jazz Composer, 3 July 2013
Nowhere in music is the challenge of writing down what you hear more difficult to achieve than in the transcription of spontaneous jazz - an art form that by its very nature has to be elusive; this way one moment, that way the next.
The main cause of the problem is the 'peculiar' nature of sound made - how the note is intended, how the performer wanted to say it at that particular moment in time. Dig further, and you'll find that jazz (unlike European music) has rhythmic and pitch qualities that are constantly changing ... Given the limitations of musical notation, how does one write down the sound of a voice that is crying - sighing - wailing one moment then without warning can burst forth in joyous celebration of all that is good in life? Yet, this is what the voice does in jazz, and this is what the instrumentalist captures on his horn.
Nowhere in the history of jazz is the enormous width of tone-colour and effect more prevalent than in the orchestras of Duke Ellington. The period covered in this book, 1939-1941, was considered by Rattenbury to be Ellington's 'Mature Period', and, as if to explain his reasoning in choosing this period, Rattenbury here transcribes (from recordings) five whole band scores from that period. (There were no published scores to work from)That apart, the detail of all that is revealed in the remainder of the book leaves me overwhelmed with admiration, for so detailed and deep was the author's knowledge of the Ellington style - resulting from a lifetime's study, that he was able to write the book within a time-scale of 12 months. Under the supervision of Professor Peter Dickinson, Ken Rattenbury was awarded an MA at the University of Keele in the mid-80's. But, as Dickinson once said informally to Rattenbury, this work was worthy of a Ph D. I would add that, likewise, this book deserves far more than the five available stars. Geraint Ellis, author of 'Trumpet Style in Jazz' 2013
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