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Harvest
Harvest
by Jim Crace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars death by a thousand iambs - Shakespearean, not, 20 July 2016
This review is from: Harvest (Paperback)
Somewhere long ago in old England, a village comes under threat from a trio of outsiders and from a new lord of the manor.
I’m going to be a heretic. The main thing about this “unquestionable masterpiece” that drowned out everything else for me was the relentless iambic rhythm and oblique wordiness e.g. ‘I am/ the high/est in/ ascend/ency/ that still/ inhab/its this/ discar/ded place’. Sub-Shakespearean, but lacking the Bard’s drama, humour and quick variety. It strains credibility that this is the voice of the townsman-turned-peasant narrator, Walter. The annexed extract from another Crace novel confirms it is the author’s own style, feeding the critics’ praise of his “beautiful writing”, his “intensely poetic prose”, and securing him a Booker-prize listing. Well, this reader found it distracting and intensely annoying.
And then there’s the story. Almost no scene or dialogue; all tell not show. Walter observes, muses and imagines endlessly without taking action. (Surely his wife, Cecily, must have died of boredom?) Events unfold at such snail’s pace that I know what they will be pages before Walter is surprised by them. And they resolve themselves without his help. The only characters I cared about (the trio of outsiders) are mostly off-page while he drones on. Only suspense for their fate and the fact it was a book group pick kept me ‘reading’, or, as Crace would redundantly put it, ‘plough/ing on/ through so/ much tur/gid prose’.


Brief Lives
Brief Lives
by Anita Brookner
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars engrossing account of an unassertive female life in the pre-internet world, 12 July 2016
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This review is from: Brief Lives (Paperback)
An ageing woman, hearing of the death of an acquaintance, looks back at her own unsatisfactory life and forward from a lonely present to a probably lonely future. Painstakingly accurate in its minute portrayal of Fay’s fluctuating moods and thoughts, with many wonderful character studies, this is an engrossing account of an unassertive female life in the pre-internet world. I often wanted to shake Fay, but I never lost interest in her. I wonder how I would have managed growing old on my own then. A little better, I hope! It strained credibility that she continued to visit the odious Julia, when both had become widows. I’m sure I would have stopped going, withheld the favours Julia assumed as her due, expanded my interests and activities, sought out healthier companionship.


The Admirable Crichton
The Admirable Crichton
by J.M. Barrie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.90

3.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable, quirky amalgam of play and novella, 5 July 2016
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This review is from: The Admirable Crichton (Paperback)
A butler who believes in the class system more than his master does upturns the hierarchy when he is shipwrecked for two years with the family of toffs, only to revert to subservience when they are rescued.
Lady Mary: You are the best man among us.
Crichton: On an island, my lady, perhaps; but in England, no.
Lady Mary: Then there’s something wrong with England.
Crichton: My lady, not even from you can I listen to a word against England.
First performed in 1902, this is essentially a comedy that doesn’t seriously question the status quo. Wikipedia reports, “Barrie had considered a more controversial resolution – particularly an upbeat ending with Crichton and Lady Mary continuing their relationship – but decided “the stalls wouldn't stand it”.
It was an enjoyable read at a time when I was in sore need of something light. Most of my enjoyment came not from the dialogue, but from Barrie’s lengthy, humorous introductions to each of the four acts, and ironic running commentary on the motivations of the characters. A quirky amalgam of play and novella.


Public Library and Other Stories
Public Library and Other Stories
by Ali Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

2.0 out of 5 stars I probably read it at the wrong time, 3 July 2016
This is not so much ‘stories’ as experimental creative writing pieces alternating with quotes from other writers about the value of public libraries. I may do Ali Smith a disservice in finding it unengaging and mildly irritating. I might have appreciated it more if I hadn’t been obliged to read it in the aftermath of the EU referendum. As it was, it failed to distract or console me. Sometimes one of the pieces began to engage me, but then it seemed to dissolve and go nowhere very much. And the interspersed quotes seemed repetitious: public libraries are wonderful; how awful that we are losing them. Well, yes, but I might as well have been scrolling through Facebook. The overall impression was of slight preachiness and literary cleverness, when what I needed, even more than I usually do, was escape into a thumping good story. The next book-group choice on the menu is J M Barrie’s “The Admirable Crichton”, and just the preamble to Act 1 has me hooked and smiling, phew.


My Salinger Year
My Salinger Year
by Joanna Rakoff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars funny and poignant, 22 Jun. 2016
This review is from: My Salinger Year (Paperback)
In 1996, aged 23, the author moved to New York, moved in with her wannabe-writer boyfriend and landed her first job: assistant to the literary agent for J D Salinger, none of whose work she had read. My sister gave me this wonderful book for Christmas, I’ve been willing it to come to the top of the pile... and I loved it. The characters are fabulous, funny and poignant, and the book beautifully catches that time when some workplaces were resisting computer technology and the young began to out-wise the old. It has made me want to re-read Salinger. I see Joanna Rakoff has since won a prize for her novel ‘A Fortunate Age’, which I shall definitely check out.


Last Stand at Saber River
Last Stand at Saber River
by Elmore Leonard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Leonard's 4th novel shows his developing skill as a writer, 14 Jun. 2016
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The next Elmore Leonard finally rose to the top of the pile. A Confederate army veteran returns home to Arizona with his young family to find the Union army have commandeered his land. Just a Western, but I always enjoy Leonard’s clear, terse style. The plotting of this novel (his 4th, 1959) is more satisfying than the first three, the villain has psychological depth, and the women characters have substance and drive the story as much as the men. Authorial habits that slightly jar: his habit of moving the POV about quite a bit, sometimes mid-scene, and the way he has his characters addressing themselves in the second person in their interior monologues.


Ghana Must Go
Ghana Must Go
by Taiye Selasi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Self-conscious writing, no story hooks, 8 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Ghana Must Go (Paperback)
I couldn’t get on with this book group pick. The writing is so self-conscious it gets in the way of itself. Everything is endlessly, repetitiously explained, with ‘poetic’ expansiveness. And the story? Well, the first sentence starts, ‘Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise...’ By page 30 he still hasn’t died, only reminisced as he stands dying, and I have begun to wish him dead! Looking ahead, I find he finally succumbs on page 92. My own remaining life is too short for this, so I’ve stopped reading, and I’m headed, with guilty relief, for my next Elmore Leonard :-)


The Death of the Poet
The Death of the Poet
by N Quentin Woolf
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.13

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 7 Jun. 2016
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This review is from: The Death of the Poet (Paperback)
An American radio talk host falls for a violent, unbalanced woman. A naive young Englishman sets off for the WWI trenches. 400 pages of brilliance, not least in the two, completely authentic voices from the same writer. But be warned. Awful things happen; this is not for the squeamish. I’m not squeamish, couldn’t put it down. Five stars from me.


Away From You
Away From You
by Kay Langdale
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars great story, beautifully written, 30 May 2016
This review is from: Away From You (Paperback)
I was given this book, so had no particular expectations. A mum hires a nanny/housekeeper to fill her shoes while she is away from her husband and two children for three months. But forget the clichés about nannies gone wrong; this story has a different twist, and Kay Langdale writes beautifully, with “psychological intelligence” says the Times reviewer. I was drawn in from the start and engrossed throughout, especially by the very engaging nine-year-old, Ruby.


The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans
by M L Stedman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

3.0 out of 5 stars has its moments, but too sentimental and far, far too long, 26 May 2016
When a crying baby washes up in a boat on their remote island off the South West tip of Australia, the lighthouse keeper, Tom, and his wife decide to keep her as their own. I can see why so many readers have loved this debut novel. It has its stylistic moments and Tom is a well-drawn character. However most other characters, particularly the idealised child, feel two-dimensional, and the story was too contrived, tediously overwritten and cloyingly sentimental for my taste. It was easy reading, so I persisted for the book group discussion, giving only a week to its 461 pages. It would have been much better trimmed to 261.


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