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nigeyb "nigeyb" (Hove, England)

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The Implacable Hunter
The Implacable Hunter
by Gerald Kersh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A vivid reimagining of Saint Paul's early years, 16 Dec 2013
This review is from: The Implacable Hunter (Paperback)
I have only recently discovered the wonderful world of Gerald Kersh. Prior to this book I had only read two others, The Angel and the Cuckoo, and Fowlers End, both are filled with numerous colourful and distinctive characters, and some wonderful dialogue. Writer Paul Duncan, who is writing a biography of Gerald Kersh, stated "I have learnt there is a sizeable number of people who think that they are the only ones who read Kersh. You can always spot a Kersh reader - they have this inner light, this twinkle in their eye, that says 'If only you knew what I know.' They know about Kersh. It's their secret. The world is foolish and chooses to ignore him. Bad luck for the world. Good luck for us." Is that now changing? Perhaps there is a revival underway...

The Implacable Hunter is one of six titles that were republished by the wonderful Faber Finds imprint in October 2013 and November 2013. The others are The Best of Gerald Kersh, Sergeant Nelson of the Guards, The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories, The Song of the Flea, The Thousand Deaths of Mr Small, and this one, The Implacable Hunter. According to the London Books website, they will be republishing Prelude to a Certain Midnight too. Nightshade & Damnations was republished in April 2013 by Valancourt Books in the UK. Truly there are heady days for the Gerald Kersh cognoscenti. I hope his readers will expand with so many of his books being republished.

Unlike the other two books I have read by Gerald Kersh, The Implacable Hunter is not set in twentieth century London. Indeed it couldn't be further removed from that milieu. In this book Kersh attempts to gain a psychogical insight into the new testament figure of Saint Paul by reimagining his early years as Saul of Tarsus, the scourge of many Christians. The story is narrated by Diomed, a colonial Roman officer stationed at Tarsus, who becomes an increasingly worried friend and mentor to Saul.

Unlike my previous two books by Gerald Kersh, I found this book something of a struggle, and for that reason I would not recommend it to the first time reader. I was glad I stuck with it but ultimately was less enamoured by this book than the others I have read. That said, if you are interested in, or excited by, a vivid reimagining of Saint Paul's early years, then you will probably find much to love in this book. Anthony Burgess, in a 1961 review for the Yorkshire Post, was very fulsome in his praise. Either way, I would urge you to investigate Gerald Kersh and help the long overdue revival gain pace.


The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family
The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family
by Mary S. Lovell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting biography, with plenty of conflict (both familial and global) to keep the story moving forward, 15 Dec 2013
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Before reading "The Mitford Girls: The Biography of an Extraordinary Family" by Mary S. Lovell, I had already read Hons and Rebels: The Classic Memoir of One of Last Century's Most Extraordinary Families by Jessica Mitford, Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford, and the first two novels by Nancy Mitford.

Mary S. Lovell does an extraordinary job of condensing down the lives of the Mitford girls, their parents, their brother, and numerous partners, children, grandchildren, and various other notable relatives, all of which takes place against some of the most momentous historical moments of the twentieth century. In a sense the family's story mirrors that of the century they lived in.

The parents known to their children as Muv and Farve, aka Lord Redesdale and his wife Sydney, represent the early twentieth century aristocracy. Both, to varying degrees are appalled by the changes wrought throughout the 1920s and the emergence of the post-WW1 generation of young people, dubbed Bright Young Things, who erupted into society determined to change the world for the better now once the war to end all wars was over. Oldest daughter, Nancy, and her arty friends were an anathema to her father.

Three of the daughters were split across the two political ideologies that wreaked havoc on the twentieth century: Unity (who unbelievably was conceived in a Canadian town called Swastika) and Diana both being unapologetic fascists, and Jessica (aka Decca) a staunch communist. Not only were Unity and Diana fascists but both formed a close friendship with Hitler and other leading Nazis in pre-WW2 Germany, and Diana married British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Shortly after Britain declared war on Germany Unity unsuccessfully tried to kill herself, and Decca ran away to help the Republican cause in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. These events, along with Nancy's success as a writer, are what make this book so fascinating for anyone interested in this era.

I was slightly less interested in the early childhood years, and in the post-WW2 era. After the war, the book details how each life played out. This is all worth reading but of less interest to me than the extraordinary events detailed in the 1930s and 1940s.

All told though, a very interesting biography, with plenty of conflict (both familial and global) to keep the story moving forward. 4/5


Christmas Pudding (Capuchin Classics)
Christmas Pudding (Capuchin Classics)
by Nancy Mitford
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and humorous early novel from Nancy Mitford, 8 Dec 2013
I have recently bought all of Nancy Mitford's novels, and intend to read all eight. Christmas Pudding (1932) follows on from Nancy Mitford's first novel Highland Fling (1931). Some of the same characters appear in both books. I enjoyed the continuation, however Christmas Pudding works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

In Christmas Pudding, which, despite the title, contains only a limited amount of Christmassy content, the usual array of colourful aristocratic characters converge in various settings. The younger Bright Young Things displaying their usual mix of homespun philosophy, bored affectation, and commenting on each other's love lives, and other gossip, whilst the older generation do much the same whilst also despairing about the younger generation, declining standards and the dangers of Bolsheviks.

When it's good it's wonderful. At the outset there's a character called Paul Fotheringay who is dismayed by the acclaim for his book. What he thinks is a serious work has been acclaimed as a comic masterpiece. There are other very amusing moments in the book too, and all told it is a light, easy, short and amusing book. As in Highland Fling, the book is best at bringing her various privileged characters vividly to life. At times this feels like reportage.

What I think the book lacks is any commentary or contrast. This is a hermetically sealed world where everyone is immune to the consequences of their actions, and the faceless domestic staff are there to smooth the way ahead. At least with P.G. Wodehouse the servants are given a voice, and also frequently used to highlight the idiosyncrasies (and occasionally the stupidity) of those above stairs. The story is very much told from the centre of Nancy Mitford's world. I am reliably informed that this changes as Nancy Mitford develops as an author, and there is a discernible change between her first four novels, and her second four novels. I am looking forward to moving through her work and observing her development first hand.

Christmas Pudding is a better book that Highland Fling, and both are very enjoyable. I laughed more during Christmas Pudding. So, in summary, another enjoyable and humorous early novel from Nancy Mitford.


Christmas Pudding (Capuchin Classics)
Christmas Pudding (Capuchin Classics)
by Nancy Mitford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.89

3.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable and humorous early novel from Nancy Mitford, 8 Dec 2013
I have recently bought all of Nancy Mitford's novels, and intend to read all eight. Christmas Pudding (1932) follows on from Nancy Mitford's first novel Highland Fling (1931). Some of the same characters appear in both books. I enjoyed the continuation, however Christmas Pudding works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

In Christmas Pudding, which, despite the title, contains only a limited amount of Christmassy content, the usual array of colourful aristocratic characters converge in various settings. The younger Bright Young Things displaying their usual mix of homespun philosophy, bored affectation, and commenting on each other's love lives, and other gossip, whilst the older generation do much the same whilst also despairing about the younger generation, declining standards and the dangers of Bolsheviks.

When it's good it's wonderful. At the outset there's a character called Paul Fotheringay who is dismayed by the acclaim for his book. What he thinks is a serious work has been acclaimed as a comic masterpiece. There are other very amusing moments in the book too, and all told it is a light, easy, short and amusing book. As in Highland Fling, the book is best at bringing her various privileged characters vividly to life. At times this feels like reportage.

What I think the book lacks is any commentary or contrast. This is a hermetically sealed world where everyone is immune to the consequences of their actions, and the faceless domestic staff are there to smooth the way ahead. At least with P.G. Wodehouse the servants are given a voice, and also frequently used to highlight the idiosyncrasies (and occasionally the stupidity) of those above stairs. The story is very much told from the centre of Nancy Mitford's world. I am reliably informed that this changes as Nancy Mitford develops as an author, and there is a discernible change between her first four novels, and her second four novels. I am looking forward to moving through her work and observing her development first hand.

Christmas Pudding is a better book that Highland Fling, and both are very enjoyable. I laughed more during Christmas Pudding. So, in summary, another enjoyable and humorous early novel from Nancy Mitford.


The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club
The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club
by Peter Hook
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars "How Not To Run A Club" is spot on, 6 Dec 2013
"How Not To Run A Club" is spot on. This is a highly readable account about how Manchester's Factory Records launched a nightclub called The Haçienda, in Manchester, that traded from 1982 to 1997, reinventing UK club culture in the process. After a slow start, which saw the club half empty for most of its events, it finally became a symbol of the Madchester era, a global phenomenon, with the club's legendary nights packed out with people from far and wide.

Peter Hook, aka Hooky, the bassist of New Order was one of the investors. This book is his version of events - and it's an engaging, and lucid account, and it's well written in a conversational style.

Whilst New Order were being paid a modest weekly wage, the huge revenues they were generating for Factory Records were being ploughed into The Haçienda. By 1985, The Haçienda owed New Order £2 million. Pretty much everything the band earned went into the club. Finally Hooky, and the rest of the band, had to take more of an interest in the way the club was being run.

As Hooky concedes at the book's conclusion, ultimately he and his colleagues didn't want to run The Haçienda as a business - they wanted a playground for themselves and their friends. This amateurish and haphazard way of running a club resulted in some jaw dropping tales. Ludicrous and short-sighted business decisions, extraordinary drug consumption, violence, and local gangs terrorising the door staff and the customers, and so on. It all makes for a great read. The extent to which you might enjoy it will probably be related to the extent to which the subject matter interests you. I am interested in Factory, New Order, and youth culture generally, and thoroughly enjoyed it. 4/5


All The Young Punks - Punk Rockers In Their Own Words
All The Young Punks - Punk Rockers In Their Own Words
Price: £4.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For the fans, by the fans, about the fans., 3 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A very enjoyable romp through the golden age of punk rock as seen through the eyes of the participants - not the bands, not the movers and shakers, but the everyday punk in the street.

George Berger has come up with a very simple concept - basically ask volunteers a few simple questions about their involvement in the punk scene, a then and now photo, and then collate it, and Bob's Your Uncle. All done very much in the DIY spirit of punk.

The fact that I am *ahem* one of the participants in no way influences my positive feelings towards this book.

For the fans, by the fans, about the fans. Well done George. 4/5


Wired Up! - Glam Proto Punk and Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves 1970-1976
Wired Up! - Glam Proto Punk and Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves 1970-1976
by Jeremy Thompson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.93

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect way to celebrate Glam Rock, 3 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
"Wired Up!: Glam, Proto Punk, and Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves, 1970-1976" is a gorgeous artefact. 384 pages that lovingly chronicle European glam rock seven inch single sleeves of the 1970s.

Whilst boring old Britain used to sell seven inch singles in plain paper sleeves, until the advent of punk rock changed this practice for the majority of single releases, in the rest of Europe the picture sleeve was standard throughout the whole of the 1970s.

So, along with covers for Sweet, Slade, and T.Rex singles, and other familiar names like Rubettes, Hello, Mud, Suzi Quatro, there are covers for a host of other acts that frequently sound too perfect to be true. Many of these acts are now highly collectable and celebrated on so-called JunkShop Glam compilations.

Be honest, if, to pluck a few favourite examples, Sandwich, Toggle, Shag, Zipper, Crunch, Hobnail, Pantherman, Clutch, Streak, Tiger, Stud Leather, and so on, had never existed we'd have to make them up.

Many of these singles have fabulous designs, with garish colours, great glam outfits and 70s typography. They are very beautiful, and this book is a wonderful thing if you are attracted to such things.

Not only do we get the single covers, there are also short interviews with members of Iron Virgin, Hector, The Jook, The Hammersmith Gorillas, Milk N'Cookies, and Brett Smiley. Most of these detailing thwarted ambition, mismanagement, and some great memories.

This book is the perfect way to celebrate Glam Rock - one of the great musical scenes. 4/5


Weirdo
Weirdo
by Cathi Unsworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Tense and exciting - with a strong sense of place, 3 Dec 2013
This review is from: Weirdo (Paperback)
This is the third book I have read by Cathi Unsworth and Weirdo is even more page-turner-y than The Singer and Bad Penny Blues. I raced through the second half of the book as the story became more tense and exciting.

In common with both The Singer and Bad Penny Blues, Cathi Unsworth excels at creating a strong sense of place. In the case of Weirdo, this is the Norfolk seaside resort Great Yarmouth (here called Ernemouth). There are two interlinked narrative threads running concurrently, one set in 1983, and the other in 2003.

In common with a lot of Victorian and Edwardian English seaside resorts, Great Yarmouth is a tawdry, deprived and slightly unsettling place. This atmosphere is perfectly evoked, along with a bit of local history. The less you know about the actual story, the better, suffice it to say that the tale revolves around a horrific murder and a reinvestigation following new DNA evidence.

Some of the narrative takes place at the local school, and the music and fashions of the early 80s are perfectly evoked, along with the dynamics at the school and the different families.

Ostensibly this is a crime novel, however - and in common with the best genre fiction - there is a lot more going on here than just a thrilling story. It's also an exploration of an era, of local politics, of corruption, Norfolk, alienation, magic, evil, youth culture, fashion, and I still haven't covered it all. 4/5


Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky (Vintage Classics)
Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky (Vintage Classics)
by Patrick Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant - but very, very bleak, 29 Nov 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy is an amazing achievement, originally published as three separate books: The Midnight Bell (1929), The Siege of Pleasure (1932) and The Plains of Cement (1934).

In 1935, these books were first collected in one volume as Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky.

The Midnight Bell (1929)

Patrick Hamilton's protagonist Bob, the waiter at a Euston pub called The Midnight Bell, has saved £80 (worth several thousands of pounds in today's money) in the bank through prudence and maximising his tips. Following a chance encounter with Jenny, a prostitute, and with whom he becomes obsessed, and believing he can change her, he becomes ever more reckless and desperate. Towards the end, Bob, realising the folly of his misadventure, concludes "that it had all come from him, and only the hysteria and obsession of his pursuit had given a weak semblance of reciprocation". Basically he'd been played.

As with all the best books by Patrick Hamilton, in addition to a riveting drama, The Midnight Bell also provides a powerfully evocation of London - 1920s London in this instance. The character of Euston, the West End, Soho, and Hampstead, still recognisable to the modern Londoner are beautifully captured, especially the various pubs and cafes which feature so heavily in the story.

The other aspect that rings true so authentically is the dialogue: whether this be the conversations between the regulars at The Midnight Bell, or the somewhat stilted and love lorn conversations between Bob and Jenny, or most powerfully a dreadful scene when Bob visits Jenny in the room she shares with two other prostitutes. The true horror of his situation dawns on Bob, who remains powerless to escape. Frequently these experiences are accompanied by boozing, and then appalling hangovers and self-loathing: clearly something about which Patrick Hamilton had already gained a thorough knowledge.

The Siege of Pleasure (1932)

The Siege of Pleasure is essentially a prequel to The Midnight Bell and the story describes Jenny's drift into prostitution.

In common with Bob, Jenny is the architect of her own downfall. Patrick Hamilton again allows his characters moments of reflection and self-insight during which there are ample opportunities to escape their downward trajectory. It's a clever technique that had me hoping first Bob, and then Jenny, might escape. Like The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure is superb at bringing the era to life via numerous little details. In this novel, Patrick Hamilton wonderfully describes the household where Jenny gets a job as a live in maid and housekeeper. The two older sisters, Bella and Marion, who employ her, are fabulous creations.

One of the novel's longest scenes takes place over a night out in a pub in Hammersmith. Needless to say, Patrick Hamilton nails both the pub's atmosphere, and the way the evening evolves as two women and two men, first meet and get to know each other as inebriation takes hold and inhibitions melt away. Jenny's descent into drunkenness is one of the best descriptions of getting drunk I have ever read.

Patrick Hamilton also works in an incident of drunk driving - this following his own horrific accident at the hands of a drunk driver. In 1932, whilst walking with his sister and wife in London, Patrick Hamilton was struck by a drunk driver and dragged through the street. His injuries were devastating. After a three-month hospital stay, multiple surgeries (the accident ripped off his nose and left one arm mangled), and a period of convalescence, Hamilton suffered physical and emotional scars that would continue with him for the rest of his life. Some claim this contributed to his alcoholism. It certainly badly affected his self-esteem and he became very self conscious about the visible scars and loss of mobility. (His second play, To The Public Danger, commissioned by the BBC as part of a road safety campaign, was also an account of the carnage caused by drink driving).

The Plains of Cement (1934)

As with the other two books, The Plains of Cement works as a stand alone story, however the reading experience is even richer, for those that read the trilogy in sequence.

When writing this book, Patrick Hamilton saw himself as a Marxist, and, in common with the previous books, part of the book deals with the limited options for someone with no capital. Ella, in addition to herself, has to support her Mother, and Step Father, from her meagre earnings at The Midnight Bell. She also acknowledges that she is a plain looking woman.

Unexpectedly, she is courted by one her customers, Mr Eccles, an older man. Mr Eccles is at pains to point out he has Something Put By, and for Ella's benefit He's Letting Her Know (Patrick Hamilton again employing his customary "Komic Kapitals" to emphasise key phrases, and/or cliches, homilies etc).

Mr Eccles is another of Patrick Hamilton's monstrous males (which start with Mr Spicer in Craven House (1926), continue with Mr Eccles, and which reach its apogee with Mr Thwaites in The Slaves of Solitude (1947) (although perhaps Ralph Gorse tops them all in The West Pier (1952); and Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse (1953)).

I digress, Mr Thwaites at first appears absurd, but quickly becomes more sinister, using his creepy and evasive conversational style, along with this financial independence to trap and coerce poor old Ella. He is lecherous and exploitative. However, Ella is not the naive fool he assumes, and is able to see through him. Some of the book's most appalling scenes are a result of Ella's internal thoughts on Mr Eccles' absurd conversation, conduct and attitudes.

Anyone looking for a happy conclusion, to the trilogy, should look elsewhere. The final story continues the tragic arc of the previous books, and perhaps more distressingly - and unlike Bob and Jenny - Ella is not the architect of her own situation, she's a victim of circumstance.

Ella is one of the most sympathetic characters ever created by Patrick Hamilton and this makes her tale even more affecting. This story confronts the loneliness and sorrow of existence and concludes that all we have is our humour and humanity to confront and counteract this cold truth.

Conclusion

Whilst Hangover Square may be Patrick Hamilton's best-known London novel I think that Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy (in particular The Midnight Bell) is a key book in understanding his world view and the way he used his own life to inform his fiction.

The Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy is a masterpiece. Each story works well on its own terms, however when combined it creates one of the ultimate London novels. The twilight world of ordinary Londoners, trying to get by, yet all too easily seduced or distracted by the capital's temptations before coming crashing back down to earth. Beautifully written, it unerringly captures the world of the London pub, and the desperate lives of many ordinary people in the 1920s and 1930s, from a writer who was familiar with this world and sufficiently skilful to capture its every nuance.

Brilliant - but very, very bleak. 5/5


The Plains of Cement
The Plains of Cement
by Patrick Hamilton
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Confronts the loneliness and sorrow of existence, 29 Nov 2013
This review is from: The Plains of Cement (Hardcover)
The Plains of Cement (1934) is the third and final book of Patrick Hamilton's Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy - the other two are the first one, The Midnight Bell (1929), and the second one, The Siege of Pleasure (1932).

Each book focuses on one of three different characters. The Midnight Bell (1929) is Bob the Barman's book, The Siege of Pleasure (1932) is Jenny the Prostitute's book, and The Plains of Cement (1934) is all about Ella the barmaid.

As with the other two books, it works as a stand alone story, however the reading experience is even richer, for those that choose to read the trilogy in sequence.

When writing this book, Patrick Hamilton saw himself as a Marxist, and, in common with the previous books, part of the book deals with the limited options for someone with no capital. Ella, in addition to herself, has to support her Mother, and Step Father, from her meagre earnings at The Midnight Bell. She also acknowledges that she is a plain looking woman.

Unexpectedly, she is courted by one her customers, Mr Eccles, an older man. Mr Eccles is at pains to point out he has Something Put By, and for Ella's benefit He's Letting Her Know (Patrick Hamilton again employing his customary "Komic Kapitals" to emphasise key phrases, and/or cliches, homilies etc).

Mr Eccles is another of Patrick Hamilton's monstrous males (which start with Mr Spicer in Craven House (1926), continue with Mr Eccles, and which reach its apogee with Mr Thwaites in The Slaves of Solitude (1947) (although perhaps Ralph Gorse tops them all in The West Pier (1952); and Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse (1953)).

I digress, Mr Thwaites at first appears absurd, but quickly becomes more sinister, using his creepy and evasive conversational style, along with this financial independence to trap and coerce poor old Ella. He is lecherous and exploitative. However, Ella is not the naive fool he assumes, and is able to see through him. Some of the book's most appalling scenes are a result of Ella's internal thoughts on Mr Eccles' absurd conversation, conduct and attitudes.

Anyone looking for a happy conclusion, in this the final part of the trilogy, should look elsewhere. The final story continues the tragic arc of the previous books, and perhaps more distressingly - and unlike Bob and Jenny - Ella is not the architect of her own situation, she's a victim of circumstance.

Ella is one of the most sympathetic characters ever created by Patrick Hamilton and this makes her tale even more affecting. This story confronts the loneliness and sorrow of existence and concludes that all we have is our humour and humanity to confront and counteract this cold truth.

Is it a masterpiece? On its own, perhaps not. The answer is a resounding "Yes" however, when considered alongside the rest of the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy.


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