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Thinner Than a Hair
Thinner Than a Hair
by Adnan Mahmutovic
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.04

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pace Is The Thing, 25 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Thinner Than a Hair (Paperback)
Mahmutovic's novel is a truly gripping read. Beside a lyrical quality, it so well paces the dolling out of information to the reader, by a selective narrative design, that the reader will quite easily read it in one sitting. Packed into a short space we have here a study of character slowly disintegrating under horrid external pressures. And yet the plot is judicious. When one has finished the book and thinks it over, one realises that this is not narcissistic work or therapeutic work, which chooses a cynical mode to portray change in character,but rather the latter is necessitated by the public political setting. In other words, Mahmutovic shows, rather than tells, the logic behind the story and due to his powers of empathy and negative capability, we believe everything we've read. This novel is not only beautifully written but tactfully written as well. We don't have purple passages gushing over loss and war, but just enough to touch us and let us do the rest of the work in our imaginations. A true tour de force, in the same way tariq ali's novels are. I look forward now to reading more Mahmutovic.


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: £6.29

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Waugh at his most lyrical, 15 July 2004
This is Waugh at his most lyrical and sentimental. At times reminiscent of another post war writer, Lawrence Durrell, especially in the final love scenes. Charles Ryder, the narrator, stresses that it is memory and the past that is the novel's central theme. And there is a definite sense, from the first paragraph onwards, that the passage of time and the effects of change and growth in the human personality is what is being dealt with throughout. And yet, ultimately it is the catholic aspect of the novel that resonates loudest. A close reader of the novel will note that happiness, equivalent to being at peace, is the prime issue of this novel. All the characters, in this most subjective and romantic of Waugh's novels, are struggling with themselves to achieve peace of mind, including the narrator himself. There is the dissipated Sebastian, a holy character, beset by guilt. His sister Julia, living in sin, yet still drawn back finally by that thread of religion sown into her in her childhood. The narrator himself, whose intense relationship with the Flyte family eventually lead him to the Faith. And of course the relapsed catholic, Lord Marchmain, who returns to his faith very movingly on his deathbed. For all the sensual richness and lushness of the surroundings, this is, curiously, a pious novel. A timeless classic, accessible and stylish at the same time, this is one of my favourite novels of the twentieth century. A must read for those interested in the last days of the English aristocracy, and of course for those interested in a tale of passion and essential humanity. A landmark in the literature of the twentieth century! Read it!


The centre of hilarity: A play upon ideas about laughter and the absurd
The centre of hilarity: A play upon ideas about laughter and the absurd
by Michael Mason
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars elegant and original, 9 July 2004
This work is a beautifully written and original discussion of, ultimately, the importance of acceptance. The central idea, discussed with relation to Shakespeare, Lawrence, Eliot and Chesterton amog others, is that, as opposed to the modern secular, 'titanist' attempt to critique existence and develop the grounds of existence out of human culture, the more common sensical and healthy approach is to recognise that there is something before and beyond the human intelligence that that intelligence is dependent on- God. Human culture and critique in general could not even get off the ground if we didn't exist first and if we didn't possess reason as part of that existence. The attempt to prove our existence and the relevance of our thought (in epistemology) is the attempt of the human creature, who is by defininition limited and imperfect, to become a God. As Chesterton highlighted again anad again the consequence of this attitude is mental disorder. Humour, the absurd and playfullness are utlimately the background enveloping any tragic and ultimately private worldview. They are the symptoms of a realistic humility. Implicitly, existence is Good- otherwise we wouldn't be in a position to amke any value or literary judgment. This work is brilliant and fascinating, skipping across disciplines and eras elegantly. I recommend it to anyone interested in the poetics of common sense. Highly accessible and yet academically engaged. I benefited enormously from this work, not only in my understanding of the literary personages discussed, but in my whole outlook.


Unconditional Surrender: The Conclusion of Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen (Twentieth Century Classics)
Unconditional Surrender: The Conclusion of Men at Arms and Officers and Gentlemen (Twentieth Century Classics)
by Evelyn Waugh
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peace at last, 9 July 2004
This, the third of the sword of honour trilogy, is the best of the lot. As Chesterton said of Dickens, Waugh does not imitate reality, he adds to it. His characters are as ever vividly varied and yet somehow living in the same war-torn and chaotic world. In fact, I think it would be accurate to say that the tension between the insanity of the world as a whole, or of the circumstances and the struggle to keep sanity of the individuals tossed and turned in this tempest is the most enduring note to come from this hilarious symphony. The inadequate effort everyone makes to keep 'in the picture', all the 'flops', misreadings, miscommunications and misunderstandings are the source of both the tragic force of the public events confusing all the individual characters, and also, being full of incongruity, the source of the brilliant comedy. In the end, to echo Michael Mason's wonderfully idiosyncratic work of the 1970's, there is a center of hilarity to this work that envelops all the private tragedy. Indeed, if the reader feels almost like the characters are too real to fit into their fictional surroundings, feels like they are all individual virtuoso creations stumbling across each other and at times crashing into each other, this is actually, in my opinion, the product of the fundamentally religious perspective that encloses this whole fictional world. The religious, Catholic, aspect of the novel(s) is strung throughout the trilogy and in this novel Mr Crouchback's advice to his son that only the qualitative matters, turns out to be a clue to the meaning of the whole novel. The proliferation of voices in this and all the novels speaks to the ultimate significance of the individual and singular struggle and quest of each soul. Just as Guy looks and asks for the way he can become a good man, no longer a so-called 'honourable man', and finds it in a few singular acts of compassion, so it is the cornucopia of individual and distinct voices that each on its own create the human truth that emerges from this (and indeed these) novel(s). The unconditional surrender, I feel, is the ultimate acceptance that the whole war is a farce, and that seeking for honour in it is and has been a delusion. Guy, by the end, is liberated from his earlier state of confusion, his sense of purposelessness, and has finally accepted his life and its contents and no longer struggles against them. Through the dissolution of the concern with self that started the trilogy, his zeal for honour and his sense of purpose, he finally emerges liberated of the delusion of the self. We have the feeling at the end that he has finally surrendered unconditionally to the world, the other, as well as the ultimate and most fundamental other, God. The hero of the trilogy achieves peace. And we, the readers, are grateful for it. This trilogy ranks as one of the most moving and masterful works of the twentieth century. Read it and you will never, never regret it.


Officers and Gentlemen (Penguin Modern Classics)
Officers and Gentlemen (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Evelyn Waugh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Waugh puts you in the picture, 6 July 2004
I enjoyed this novel even more than the first in the trilogy. As ever, the dialogue is absolutely brilliant, hilarious at times, and creates extremely memorable, colourful and complex characters. Among my favourites are the amiable Mr Crouchback, Jumbo and the dry yet soulful Ludovic.
However, there is one aspect or theme of the novel I'd like to highlight here, because I think it is the most important in the novel. Book Two is titled, 'In the Picture', and the phrase crops up quite a lot in the novel, usually meaning being filled in about what's happening and what stage the war effort is at. However, the narrator at one point early on in the novel highlights this phrase for comment himself and finds it ironic that this war catch-phrase should come into fashion just when art had begun to lose its realism and 'lucidity'- in other words when the abstract in art had become ascendant. And I think this is a vital clue for seeing one of the main messages of the novel. A good third of the book is set in crete and one gets an intimate sense of the chaos of war through the rattling and shifting narrative. In fact, it's quite possible to get confused during this part of the book. But I think this is one of the successes of the novel- it captures the chaotic experience of war. In this sense, war is where all sanity and lucidity, all narrative with beginning, middle and end, becomes disjointed and loses form. Towards the end of the novel, Guy Crouchback, the main protagonist is recovering from his escape from Crete, and has been mute for a long while, when he reflects: 'Could there be experience without memory? Could there be memory where fact and fancy were indistinguishable, where time was fragmentary and elastic, made up of minutes that seemed like days, of days like minutes? He could talk if he wished to. He must guard that secret from them. Once he spoke he would re-enter their world, he would be back in the picture'. This thought, a reaction to his experience of war, accurately sums up the reader's sense having just read what (s)he has. But by using this phrase in the context of trauma, it also accurately suggests my earlier point, that narrative and meaning dissolves and becomes slipshod during the chaos of war. This I feel is Waugh's main message, soaked as it is in fine and subtle humour and masterful prose. A superb, complex, and as ever thought-provoking novel. Waugh is definitely one of the all time greats.


Men at Arms (Penguin Modern Classics)
Men at Arms (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Evelyn Waugh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, 2 July 2004
Men at Arms is a curiously thought-provoking novel. I enjoyed it tremendously for many reasons, a few of which I shall outline below.
Firstly, despite not being its primary attribute, the characterization is quite evocative. This isn't due to the author's intrusive narrative on motivation etc., but is effected through quite brilliant dialogue. In fact the subtle humour that pervades this novel, a kind of kind-hearted and sorrowful satire, is produced by the brilliance of the dialogue and the way nuances of tone, character and conflict are secreted therein. There is something very authentic, immediate and alive, natural, about the writing in this book. In these respects Waugh here is a bit like Dickens, Dickens on sedatives that is.
Another thing I liked about the novel was that despite the moments of genuine anger and darkness (bubbling below the surface in characters such as Apthorpe and the Brigadier), there is a general air of comedy or good-feeling that surrounds what must be assumed as dreadful realities to anyone, especially someone such as myself who has never been near a war. In a way, this is suggested by the implicit satire of English schoolboy fantasy, which seems to set the tone for the attitudes towards war in the novel.
Except, that is, for Guy. Guy Crouchback, the main protagonist, is a mystery to me, and all the more real for that. Unlike, say, a character in a Greene novel, where the inner world and its significance is flagged all the way throughout in quite a didactic fashion, the world of Guy Crouchback is somehow more distant and enticing to the reader. We get to know this character as the story progresses, by the way he acts and reacts in the changing situations- not by any interior dialogue. This, in its way, provoked a lot of sympathy in me, and a lot of curiosity.
Finally, and this will be obvious to anyone reading it, the prose is flawless. It is clearly a work written by a master at the height of his powers. At no time does one question the writing itself. It is fluid and rich without in any way being overbearing.
If there is one fault with this novel, it is that it seems to me slightly formless. Loose ends remain unresolved, glaringly so. But then I have not read the sequels in the trilogy, which I will begin doing in a few minutes, so this objection may be mistaken.
I recommend this novel whole-heartedly!


The Screwtape Letters: includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, Sixtieth Anniversary Edition)
The Screwtape Letters: includes Screwtape Proposes a Toast (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, Sixtieth Anniversary Edition)
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Demons make the best moralists, 5 Jun. 2004
This is an imaginative tour de force, full of humour and goodness. For a book of informal moral psychology, teaching on human vice and virtue and their part in human well-being, the form is very original. We have before us a series of letters from one senior devil to his nephew, a tempter lower in the infernal lowerarchy, written with subtlety but with crystalline lucidity as well.
The subject of the book is not only morality in the sense of good and evil, but the 'moral' in the sense of the human person, its integrity and well-being. And because of this one does not need to read this work beside Lewis' 'Mere Christianity' (as believers really should), but can enjoy the fiction or allegory while at the same time revelling in wonderfully rendered insights into the human soul or mind.
This work not only teaches but it entertains, and it does both simultaneously without letting the one impinge on the other. It is Lewis' answer to Chesterfield's letters. A joy to read.


The Heart of the Matter (Vintage classics)
The Heart of the Matter (Vintage classics)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pity is the Password, 20 May 2004
'"Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil- or else an absolute ignorance."'
There are two main elements that make up this novel: the spiritual struggle of the protagonist, and a rich description of the circumstances in which this struggle takes place- embodied in other characters, the setting and the plot. With regards to the first this novel is weaker than The End of the Affair; and with regards to the second, The Power and the Glory succeeds far more. But The Heart of the Matter is nonetheless an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
Pity is the central theme. It can be a great and heroic burden on the shoulders of the responsible person, the person who feels obligation in the marrow of his bones, who knows duty. For all his spiritual turmoil, Scobie, the Catholic anti-hero of the novel, has a character as strong as granite, bearing on his shoulders as he does plural responsibilities, some self-imposed, towards others. We are made to feel that it is his spiritual strength that makes him such a soft touch- in line with Christian teaching.
But all his responsibilities, to others and to God, prevent him from achieving any peace of mind. Scobie damns himself and the question we are meant to ask on completion of the novel is whether he has indeed damned himself, or whether a miracle has occurred giving him his peace. Throughout the novel Scobie feels not only that he is responsible to God, as all Catholics and indeed all religious people do, but that he is responsible for God as well. This is the most interesting idea in the novel; the idea that God needs us and is almost pathetic in his giving of Himself to us. Scobie, we feel, must pity God especially, as he knows full well how much God gives and shows himself, and yet even knowing this he sins.
Scobie feels he is damning himself as a favour to God. He thinks that once he is damned in the other place God won't have to worry about him anymore. This, the culmination of all Scobie's communions with God, is what is meant at the end when Father Rank says that he loved God tremendously- a form of paradoxical martyrdom.
Belief by itself is not enough. Scobie believes throughout. But we feel that Scobie's inability to follow the rules of his Church will not be punished. We feel that where he fails, he fails due to certain, or even a life-time of ephemeral circumstances. 'If one knew, he wondered, the facts, would one have to feel pity even for the planets? If one reached what they called the heart of the matter'. Yes, I think, and God always reaches the heart of the matter, for He is the heart of (the) matter.
Faith is not enough, but Scobie's life, stripped of the many obstacles between him and God, reveals to a sensitive reader a virtuous man. Suicide is the mortal sin, but did he really despair? I feel it was rather an act of humility- feeling he wasn't up to the job of living in this, God's world. For all the pessimism of the quotation at the top of this review, this is an optimistic novel, full of love. The world is Good; it is fallen man who isn't worthy of that goodness.


Charles Dickens (Chesterton's biographies)
Charles Dickens (Chesterton's biographies)
by G.K. Chesterton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.40

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chesterton's Dickens, 7 May 2004
This brilliant book was originally published in 1906 (London:Methuen). It is generally regarded as G.K. Chesterton's best critical work and is still highly regarded by Dickens scholars.
It is not strictly speaking a biography in the normal sense of the word. You will find very few facts in the whole book, and these, or commonly related anecdotes, are used as launching pads for Chesterton's unique form of imaginative criticism and poetic reasoning. The best example of this comes in the first chapter. Chesterton starts with a general reflection (and this work can be called emphatically reflective) on certain words which are indefinable, which have no substitutes. One of these words he suggests is 'great'. Dickens was 'great' and there were other 'great' men in his day, but Chesterton complains that this evocative word cannot be rightly used on any of his contemporaries. He then goes on to explain this by saying that in the optimistic age of Dickens men could be great because it was believed all men were great. We have leaped from the atmospheres of certain words, like 'great', to the atmosphere of an age. This is typical of Chesterton's critical method; it ripples with imaginative semi-syllogisms like this.
Indeed, Chesterton, throughout, teases out series of matrices of implicit ideas, speculative reconstructions of ideas implicit in various aspects of Dickens's fiction. He conjures up atmospheres and moods, attacking aspects of Dickens wildly from the side by bringing to that which is there for us all to read, things unexpected and startling from the depths of his sharply opinionated mind- his own philosophy. This 'biography' emphatically tells the reader just as much about Chesterton as it does about Dickens, and its value is in now way lessened by this. We get two books for the price of one!
One aspect of the book that will strike the reader immediately is characteristic of all Chesterton's writing. He continuously makes comparisons between the 'optimistic' age of Dickens, still alive with revolutionary ideals, and the more pessimistic and sceptical age in which he himself is writing. This is the first way in which Chesterton implicitly reveals the supernatural sediment in all Dickens's fiction: the truly enlightening and imaginative way in which he reads his own values into Dickens. Optimism, when not vulgar and irrational, meant for Chesterton the religious sense of wonder at the naked fact of existence itself, the shriek of delight that we all sense within us, if for only a split second in our lives, at the miracle that there is anything at all and not nothing. Allied to this is Chesterton's claim that Dickens was a 'democratic' author. Democracy for Chesterton is about the irreducible individuality and personality of all of us. Dickens fulfills this by the sheer variety and exuberance of his fiction, his phalanx of legendary characters becoming increasingly themselves the more excited, grotesque and comic they become.
Chesterton also brings out his own views out of commentary on Dickens through notoriously insightful comments such as that Dickens was a 'mythologist', creating gods who have gained godly permanence in the popular imagination instead of ordinary human characters. This may be a sign of a lack of realism, but, Chesterton stresses, if we take into account the solidity and realism of the needs of the human imagination we will realise that Dickens is 'realistic' in a much more immediate and vital way. Dickens was a Creator; he did not imitate life, he added to it.
This book is remarkable for its depth and originality, if not for its rigour. It provides a wonderful introduction to Dickens and a wonderful introduction to Chesterton at the same time. If you appreciate a pellucid yet personal form of literary criticism you will find reading this work a unique intellectual experience.


Miracles
Miracles
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

44 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finding Reason in Miracles, 2 May 2004
This review is from: Miracles (Paperback)
This is wonderfully written book of apologetics. The best writing grows not necessarily out of right thinking, but out of clear thinking. You may not agree with its central thesis or the arguments expertly outlined and colourfully illustrated in the first half of the book, but if you, like me, get an almost sensual pleasure from good writing and clear thinking then you will certainly get your fix from this book. That is the first thing to say.
If you are reading this then you have directed your eyes to this page to read these lines. Whether you will find yourself conducive to Lewis' reasoning depends on whether you think my observation above is possibly a miracle. That is, whether you believe in free will. The very thought process and resulting choice that led you to read these lines is a product of your mind. If you think your mind is equivalent to your brain then you are a machine and I would ask you not to read on: you cannot understand what I have to say: please desist. But if you have been following my argument so far then I think you will have to admit that your mind is something quite special; it possesses reason. Reason is the divine spark in us according to Lewis, because it is what makes the difference between man and brute a difference of kind and not degree. Nature does not explain itself, it just is. Through physical science man has discovered some of the laws of nature, some of 'how's'. But physical science will never give you answers to the 'why' question, the question of meaning. And yet this question is implicit in the human mind, in reason- finding reasons, not just explanations, but justifications as well. It is this basic fact of human spirituality that corresponds directly to a reality according to Lewis: the supernatural ground of the natural, the first cause, the unmoved mover and so on.
If you accept all this as reasonable, if you find it meaningful, then you will enjoy the second half of the book, which discusses some of the Christian miracles. This work is not an attempt to verify miracles. It is simply a groundwork intended to clear the mind of pre-reflective prejudices, to allow room for the possibility of miracles. It serves its purpose admirably in this respect. Even if you are not convinced that miracles have happened you will be convinced at least that they are just as rational as not. This work broadens the mind.


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