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A Ryder (London UK)

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Winter Kills
Winter Kills
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A curiosity, but (unusually) surpassed by the film version, 8 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Winter Kills (Kindle Edition)
I came to this having watched the 1979 film with Jeff Bridges, Tony Perkins and John Huston to name but three of the stars, and having read the book, I now think they add a lot of credence to the film. The book is bizarre and confusing, and where the film has simplified, it has improved, in my opinion. Nick Keegan is summoned by a dying man who tells him he killed Nick's brother, the late President, sparking an investigation that leads to corruption at the highest levels.

This is satire, so don't expect a straightforward thriller about a presidential assassination (Kennedy's, of-course), but it is overblown rather than subtle. I'm sure it had a lot of fans on publication in the 1970s, as a refreshing change from all the earnest conspiracy theories in print and on screen ('All the President's Men', 'The Parallax View', 'The Conversation' etc.) if nothing else, but it doesn't stand up as well as it ought to. The upshot is the same as in the film (I won't give it away) but this takes a very roundabout and not-all-that compelling route to get there. I haven't read 'The Manchurian Candidate' but after this I'm wondering whether that's a better book, or if it just made a far better film in the way this one did.


Right and Left
Right and Left

4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of ideas told via traditional narrative, 8 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Right and Left (Kindle Edition)
Having just read "What I saw...", a compilation of Roth's newspaper features about Berlin from 1921 to 1933, I looked forward to reading his 1929 novel about two middle-class brothers, and the intervention of fate, in early 20th Century Germany.

Paul and Theodor Bernheim are the self-important sons of a wealthy banker who ostensibly take very different paths in life. When they become entangled with the opportunistic Russian emigre Nikolai Brandeis, however, their fates draw closer together.

It's easy with hindsight to say how prescient was Roth's portrait of the Weimar 'fog' and what it would ultimately produce. Older brother Paul came of age in time to fight in the Great War and had already switched allegiance from the English, whose way of life was fashionable among prosperous Germans at the turn of the century. His new-found Imperialist fervour is short-lived too, as the Western Front gives way, and he returns wounded, humiliated and barred from the cavalry for having the wrong background, to a Germany of hyper-inflation. His angry younger brother Theodor, always in his shadow, has emerged to join a criminal paramilitary group who wear brown shirts and are anti-semitic. Both brothers drift along, dissatisfied with life in the new republic, while their mother mourns their lost wealth and panics about the future. Nikolai Brandeis is an older man of Russian and Jewish descent who has learned through his country's upheaval to survive, but finds himself at odds with the vacillating, self-deluding people he comes across. While many motives and plots are attributed to him, he acts on whims and fancies and plans no particular future.

For me, there was a slight sense of anti-climax in the book. It begins, "I can still remember the time when Paul Bernheim promised to be a genius," which led me to think that there would be some first-person involvement in the narrative that never materialises. From then on, it's third person and omniscient, but the plot has no strong, punctuated structure, it's merely a series of episodes in the lives of not entirely sympathetic characters. I don't doubt that this was Roth's intention - his prose is purposeful and never reads as though he's unsure of where his characters are going, even if they themselves are lost - but it is sometimes as frustrating for the reader as for the character when promising starts turn out to be false dawns. It is still, in my opinion, a worthwhile read. You get to know the few main characters quite well, even if you don't much like them, and it's a pen portrait of a society that doesn't seem to know what it is or where it's going.

'The Radetzky March' is the most famous novel of Roth's and perhaps a better place to make his initial acquaintance. He apparently wrote from exile in Paris that the rise of Hitler had plunged the world into Hell, and reading his work is a poignant reminder of the quality of insight we lost as a result of his premature death on the eve of Hell's realisation, WWII.


iWorldApparel BUT-0169 Heart Shaped Painted 2 Hole Wooden Buttons 20mm x 22mm, 25 Pieces
iWorldApparel BUT-0169 Heart Shaped Painted 2 Hole Wooden Buttons 20mm x 22mm, 25 Pieces
Offered by Tuoba (China SHIPPING)
Price: £0.76

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, 8 Aug. 2014
I saw the picture and the price and took a glance at the reviews before ordering. At the time there were 134 5-star reviews and 2 1-star, which says it all: they arrived today and are as pretty and bright as in the picture and will be perfect for the crafts I have in mind. Obviously they aren't for use on clothes (unless you want to remove them each time you wash) as they are wood! For general ornamentation, cards etc. they are great.


What I Saw: Reports From Berlin 1920-33
What I Saw: Reports From Berlin 1920-33
Price: £6.99

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contemporaneous accounts of Weimar Berlin, 8 Aug. 2014
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Joseph Roth is perhaps undeservedly obscure to readers in English, though I'd be interested to know if he's still popular in Austria and Germany. Here is a collection of newspaper reports on life in Berlin through the Weimar years ('feuilleton') published for German readers at the time. They read as slightly less fanciful, brief snippets of life in the capital along the lines of Isherwood, and bring alive an era that fascinates arguably as much for its bookends of Imperial and Nazi Germany as for anything that happened inter-war.

Roth was an Austrian Jewish author who saw clearly the vainglory, disaffection and fanaticism around him and predicted the direction of political life; he died an alcoholic, in exile in Paris in 1939, having published many articles and a series of novels, of which 'The Radetzky March' is the most acclaimed. This is a relatively short collection and an openly subjective one, with a strong flavour of Roth's dryly comic style and his novelist's eye for detail. It reads almost as a time capsule, compiled by an observant, insightful recorder of one of the most vibrant, dangerous times and places in 20th Century history.


Touched
Touched
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Light but good, 3 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Touched (Kindle Edition)
I came to this because of the Hammer imprint, rather than the author Joanna Briscoe, whose work I haven't read. From a vague recollection of the television adaptation of 'Sleep With Me', I can't imagine I'd want to. 'Touched', however, was a pleasant surprise. It takes some recognisable ingredients: sleepy English village, troubled family, sinister locals and creepy house; and while not giving them a thorough shakedown, either in terms of narrative or style, manages a subtle distinction. Aside from guessing about Eva's imaginary friend from quite early on (no spoilers), the tension built nicely for me and I was keen to know - and couldn't make much of a guess - as to the 'whole story' and what was really going on. Briscoe explains her inspiration in an epilogue in this Kindle version, in which she talks about the havoc wreaked by the living alongside the restless dead, and the book captures that very well.

The Crales and their five children move from London to the Hertfordshire village of Crowsley Beck in the summer of 1963. They are renovating and knocking through two cottages, one of which belonged to Douglas Crale's late mother. Soon their longed-for idyll starts to crumble, literally, exposing resentments and envy along with the damp interiors of The Farings cottages. When 'touched' child Eva and then eerily perfect Jennifer disappear, who or what is undermining their lives? A smattering of local characters add colour, such as the aptly-named neighbour Gregory Dangerfield, local actress Lally Lyn and the smooth Pollards.

The new Hammers are a mixed bag so far, but this builds a nice sense of menace and doesn't as so often happens deflate it with an anti-climactic ending. A good summer (or autumn evening) read.


Music of the Kabarett: The Songs of Berlin Between the Wars
Music of the Kabarett: The Songs of Berlin Between the Wars
by Graham Vickers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome...., 21 July 2014
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Does what it says on the cover: some context, but mostly the sheet music with lyrics in German and printed separately in English, of several cabaret songs. I have to admit I knew only one at first glance, 'Lily Marlene', but I bought the book because I knew so few songs of the period, so I can't but be satisfied. To paraphrase a common saying, if you like Weimar, you'll love this.

And no, naturally nothing from 'Cabaret' in here, but it makes you realise what rich source material Kander and Ebb had to work from!


Last of the Line: Traditional British craftsmen
Last of the Line: Traditional British craftsmen
by Tom Quinn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An 'old ways' compendium, 21 July 2014
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Much better than some of Quinn's text-based books which are mostly of the 'strange tale' variety. This doesn't claim to be comprehensive and is much improved for that. Instead it's a description and depiction of modern craftsmen employing traditional means to do tasks such as trug-making (useful items!) to figurehead carving and painting (sadly but understandably a dying art). Each section is devoted to a different craft and there is a helpful index at the end with names and contact details for the craftsmen, so if you are wanting scenery for a Thomas Hardy adaptation, or you just fancy a pub sign for your abode, here is where you will find it!


Tim's Vermeer [DVD] [2013] [2014]
Tim's Vermeer [DVD] [2013] [2014]
Dvd ~ Teller
Offered by Discs4all
Price: £4.92

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel way to spend a fortune, 15 July 2014
Tim's Vermeer now hangs in a frame above the mantelpiece in his(?) bedroom and this is the story of how Tim undertook his copy of Vermeer's 'Music Room', filmed by his friends Penn and Teller.

I love Vermeer and the Dutch School, but I am neither artist nor scientist, so the truth of whether JV painted this way in 17th Century Delft eludes me: from the scant evidence, it would seem that he did use unusual techniques, possibly using lenses and mirrors, since unlike other paintings, x-rays have not revealed sketches underneath, and as Tim points out, there is a slight curve in the line of the virginal that could have been JH's failure to compensate for curvature in the lens.

For me though, pursuing his technique is beside the point. Much is made of the documentary nature of paintings and how they tell a story. The result of Vermeer's extraordinary labours is remarkable in the case of this and his other work. This film is like an academic byway, illustrating a 'wouldn't be interesting if...?' scenario, and the first thing after the 'if' is 'if I had a fortune to throw at this'. Tim is an inventor and entrepreneur, more than competent both technically and practically, and has the kind of money for lear jets. In pursuit of his obsession with Vermeer's technique ("I lay awake at night thinking, 'I must paint a Vermeer'") he leaves his San Antonio home to visit London, where the original 'Music Room' hangs in Buckingham Palace, then to York to have a chat with the artist David Hockney and subsequently to Delft where Vermeer lived and painted. On his return, he builds a life-sized replica of the room that Vermeer used for his painting, down to assembling the furniture and contents of the composition with the aid of CAD and various machines. Then he sets up his lenses and begins to paint, using only materials available in the 17th Century, and by a technique that is almost like tracing from life. It's painstaking, it takes many months (though whether it's an all-day/everyday pursuit isn't clear) and let's not be under any illusions that Tim's claim that he's no artist is true: he obviously has a good eye, a steady hand, and the basic ability to paint.

The result proves nothing, aside from establishing that this wasn't impossible. Tim's vast expenditure and herculean labours have no doubt given him great satisfaction, although many would argue that he could probably have bought the genuine article for not much more. I found it interesting to watch, even while my inner 17th Century Puritan was dismissing it as a self-indulgent vanity project, and the folly of a rich man who might use his considerable intelligence to improve the world and do something towards sustaining the forms of life who live in it now and will in the future....
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 8, 2015 12:03 PM BST


A Social History of The Third Reich
A Social History of The Third Reich
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and fascinating, 3 July 2014
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Like Ms. Johnston, I read this after having watched 'Generation War' recently, since that challenged my perceptions of how much the 'ordinary' German citizen knew about their Nazi government.

Having studied this period of history, I thought I knew quite a bit about it, but this is a very thorough and informative text, helpfully divided by chapters on topics such as health, students, the army etc. and explaining how each area of life changed under Nazi rule. The book is also very readable and contains lots of well-sourced snippets as well as evidence from primary documents of the era. The snippets highlight the absurdities of a regime whose prejudices came into conflict with both reality and other prejudices, and - as these things inevitably will - tied them up in knots. The everyday double-think in a society where, for example, 'protective custody' meant imprisonment and eventual death, encouraged farcical situations with people convincing themselves that apathy or active cooperation was, in fact, the best thing for all concerned.

There is also objectivity in so far as the few positive (some unintentional) improvements that happened are also dealt with in their relevant chapters. These mostly took the form of more opportunities for the working population, rather than the old-fashioned class bias lingering through the Weimar Republic after the end of Imperial rule. Since in practice, however, this meant that instead of those with moneyed backgrounds, preference was given to those who were fanatical party members, it seems mostly to have substituted one form of corruption for another.

An essential read, I would say, for anyone interested in everyday life in Germany between 1933 and 1945: the author is careful to differentiate between peacetime and wartime, while stressing that society, culture and the economy were always geared towards conflict and particularly so from 1936. It gives a real, overall sense of what life was probably like for many, with details on everything from life in the Ordnungsburgen (schools for the future elite), through the monthly 'Eintopf' meals, to the widespread flatulence caused by changes to bread from the new food regulations. Highly recommended.


Forgotten London
Forgotten London
by Elizabeth Drury
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.94

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not forgotten while these pictures exist, 25 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Forgotten London (Hardcover)
The 4 and 5-star reviews garnered by this book are understandable. It's a fairly substantial volume full of evocative, detailed images, accompanied by informative captions. Of-course, you always want to know more than is known about the photographs that interest you and, as another review mentions, maximising clarity of image has resulted in a sort of standarized sepia tone to them all, but there are some very atmospheric, vivid pictures which make this a good 'album' to have. I also appreciate the way that the authors draw out the sense of history in the photos (such as those of soon-to-be-demolished buildings and elderly street traders still dressed in the fashions of 30 years previously) highlighting that any era, while having a sheen of the modern, is also a sum of the past. I aim to peruse with older relatives to prompt some memories!


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