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Mr. T. Harvey (Norwich)

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The Soul of Discretion: Simon Serrailler Book 8
The Soul of Discretion: Simon Serrailler Book 8
by Susan Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2.0 out of 5 stars Depressing and unpleasant, 4 Mar. 2016
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

The final novel in the Simon Serrailler series is a bleak affair. A policeman goes undercover in order to flush out a paedophile ring and a woman is raped by a man she regards as a friend.

The business of Serrailler going inside a prison to form a bond with a convicted paedophile, Fernley, is unconvincing both in the speed with which the bond is formed and the willingness of Fernley to include Serrailler in his escape plans.

There is a sense of matters being tied up too quickly, or not resolved at all. The questioning of Fernley ends abruptly and the proposed purchase of the bookshop is also left hanging in the air.

And Hill's lucid prose style has deserted her as well. There are just too many one word sentences.

Perhaps Hill was getting bored with the Serrailler series* – I think this comes through in the way the book is written.

I would recommend readers try others in the series which are better than this one, and certainly, whilst the subject of child abuse should be addressed, it makes many parts of this book a difficult read.

*Susan Hill has indeed confirmed that this will be the last of the Serrailler books.

Brighton & Hove on This Day: History, Facts & Figures from Every Day of the Year
Brighton & Hove on This Day: History, Facts & Figures from Every Day of the Year
by Dan Tester
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.98

1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good idea which fails to deliver, 16 Dec. 2015
I started browsing this publication with enjoyment, but the more I looked into it, misgivings began to emerge.

There is too much straight lifting of text from Carder's 'Encyclopaedia of Brighton'. As Tester acknowledges this publication at the beginning of his book, I presume that Carder is happy about this appropriation of his work, but it would have been better if Tester had used his own voice more.

Too many entries deal with Brighton & Hove Albion football club: three in March, eight in May, four in September, three in October.

There are factual omissions which fail to stress certain entries' relevance to Brighton & Hove: the entry for 20 March 1945 records the death of Lord Alfred Douglas, but no mention is made of his residence in Hove during the last years of his life. 9 June 1911 records the birth of playwright Terence Rattigan, but says nothing about the fact he was a Brighton resident for many years.

Some entries have a curiously convoluted link to Brighton & Hove. 22 January 1966 is the premier on East German TV of 'Smokescreen', a film shot in Brighton two years earlier. A showing of 'Heidi' on television for 27 October 1974 is an excuse for a potted biography of Flora Robson and her connections to Brighton. The inclusion of the entry for 16 June 2007 marking the saint's day of St Richard, patron saint of Sussex, is stretching a point. The prize for the bizarrest entry has to go to that for 1 June 1981 which refers to Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister, Richard Hove. Apart from his surname, I cannot understand why this entry was included.

Some grammatical howlers have slipped through the net. I particularly liked the crowd who "dissipated" (p70).

An enjoyable book to dip into; good as far as it goes, but with thorough research and more variety of subject matter, it could have been so much better.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 17, 2015 11:15 AM GMT

Amongst Women
Amongst Women
by John McGahern
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Truth in fiction, 30 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Amongst Women (Paperback)
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

This is a powerful, absorbing novel written in spare, precise prose, the author occasionally coming up with a phrase that stops the reader in his tracks, eg: "When they moved away from the fire to the outer rooms the steady constant drip of rain from the eaves in the silence was like peace falling," (page 84).

McGahern captures the daily rhythm of life in rural Ireland, often repeating text to emphasise the continuing unvarying round, the daily saying of the Rosary, the meals (often sandwiches and tea), the harvesting, the evenings spent playing cards.

This snapshot in the lives of the Moran family during the 1950s and 1960s in Ireland is based on the author's own life and many of the themes and events will be familiar to readers of McGahern's book of reminiscences, 'Memoir'.

And yet I found myself admiring rather than liking the novel, mainly because few of the major protagonists engaged my sympathy. The father, Moran, is a self-pitying, sarcastic bully who takes to his bed when he cannot get his own way; his wife and daughters are ciphers, speaking in whispers for fear of upsetting 'Daddy'. Moran's two sons have fled the nest on account of the beatings they received from their father. It is significant that one of them opines that only women can live with Moran, the unspoken fact being that women will subjugate their personalities and opinions to keep him happy.

It is also significant that the characters that display any kind of assertiveness are both male and live outside Ireland. There are Moran's sons Luke and Michael, as well as his prospective sons-in-law, Sean and Mark.

I suppose McGahern is saying that the only way for an Irishman to have any kind of life where his opinions matter and where he can have a sense of self-esteem is to escape to England.

There is an acceptance about events and people in the novel; the author is saying this is how it was like for us at that time and in that place.

Brother Sun, Sister Moon [DVD] [1973]
Brother Sun, Sister Moon [DVD] [1973]
Dvd ~ Graham Faulkner
Offered by alentertainment
Price: £19.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Francis of Assisi gets the schmaltzy treatment, 28 Nov. 2015
This biopic tells the story of Francis of Assisi who, returning from war finds God, relinquishes his possessions and devotes his life to caring for the poor.

As portrayed by Graham Faulkner, Francis has all the personality of a plank of wood; it is difficult to believe that he would have had the charisma to draw a group of followers to him.

Generally, character development lacks credibility. At one point, the villagers are attending mass with their upper class employers. Suddenly, in the next frame, they are attending a service in San Damiano, the church that Francis and his followers have rebuilt. We are meant to assume that Francis has persuaded them to join him there, but we as we have not seen Francis preaching, their sudden conversion to his cause is unconvincing.

Equally unconvincing is the young girl Clare's decision to join Francis' band; seemingly, all it takes is a few meaningful glances between her and Francis and then she is having her long hair shorn. Similarly, Bernardo returns from the war and is immediately drawn to Francis's new life – just like that.

And then there is the worst aspect of the film: the soundtrack. The music is by Donovan who also sings his own compositions. Only one word will do: dreadful. (Leonard Bernstein was originally slated to write the score, but withdrew from the project. Perhaps he had seen the rushes).

Are there any redeeming features? Well, the costumes of the gentry are elaborate, the Italian scenery is stunning, but then all you have to do with Italian scenery is just point the camera. The final scenes where Francis has an audience with the Pope are impressive mainly because of the art design and a typically gravitas laden performance from Alec Guinness as Innocent III.

There is a cloying sentimentality overlaying this awful film.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2016 11:54 AM GMT

Ann Veronica (Penguin Classics)
Ann Veronica (Penguin Classics)
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A plodding read, 9 Nov. 2015
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

The eponymous heroine of this novel by H.G.Wells, first published in 1909, feels stifled - 'wrappered' is the word Wells uses - in her dull lower middle class environment.

Unfortunately, Ann Veronica lacks the maturity or life experience to carry out successfully her plans to break free.

She ends up in lodgings in London with no money and no idea about how to earn any. She borrows money from a friend of her father's and does not realise that she is expected to offer sexual favours in return for the loan.

Although some aspects of the naÔve character of Ann Veronica are dawn convincingly, others are not so. For example, on a whim she becomes involved with a women's suffrage organisation and is immediately involved in a rush on the Houses of Parliament, which subsequently leads to her imprisonment. This just doesn't ring true; surely a new, inexperienced recruit would not have been permitted to take part in such a dangerous enterprise.

Ann Veronica has several suitors inclduing the earnest and, frankly ludicrous, Capes. Towards the end of the novel, he tells Ann Veronica: "…there are moments when my head has been on your breast, when your heart has been beating close to my ears, when I have known you for the goddess, when I have wished myself your slave, when I have wished that you could kill me for the joy of being killed by you…."

Finally, Ann Veronica sets up home with the already married Capes, but we do not witness the scene in which she tells her father and aunt that she is doing so. This is a serious omission on the part of Wells and would have added some much needed dramatic punch to a dull, earnest novel, which is not helped by the curiously flat, 'washed' out style in which it is written.

Unconvincing and unsatisfactory on so many levels.

The Brimstone Wedding
The Brimstone Wedding
by Barbara Vine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly powerful, 31 Oct. 2015
This review is from: The Brimstone Wedding (Paperback)
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

This novel has two central characters: Jenny and the lady she cares for in a nursing home, Stella. Events in Jenny's present day life are intertwined with events from Stella's past. Both characters share the first person accounts and Vine (ie Ruth Rendell) consciously differentiates between the narratives to reflect the characters of the two women: Jenny's relaxed, conversational approach contrasts with Stella's more controlled, formal style.

Vine can summon up a place, person or relationship in a few words. She is very good at differentiating class differences and her insights about life in the country are spot-on. The local drinking club, Jenny's mother or Jenny's sterile marriage leap off the page without the need for descriptive passages. And yet, when she has to, Vine can call on those descriptive powers. The bleak fenland where the novel is set and the final pages where the stubble is burning in the fields are good instances of this.

Her psychological insights give pause for thought: for example, most heterosexual men are more relaxed in the company of other heterosexual men than with women, or falling in love at first sight is not love, but lust.

The heart of this novel is the nature of intense sexual love and the power it has to destroy people. Play acting is also another important theme which is reflected in Jenny's relationship with Ned, the character of Gilda Brent and, most dramatically, in the final pages where Stella and Alan play out the last scenes of their doomed relationship.

'The Brimstone Wedding' is a masterpiece. It lingered in the mind days after I had finished reading it and displays the writer, Ruth Rendell, at the very height of her powers.

The House on Cold Hill
The House on Cold Hill
by Peter James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't quite hit the mark, 28 Oct. 2015
This review is from: The House on Cold Hill (Hardcover)
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

The latest novel from Peter James is a supernatural story which displays many of the virtues of his Roy Grace crime novels. Lean, concise prose, a sense of forward momentum, a straightforward approach to events, a well structured plot leading to an enthralling conclusion.

However, James' prosaic, matter of fact style which suits the police procedural ethos of his Roy Grace series so well, does not translate as effectively to a story dealing with the supernatural and the uncanny.

There is a distinct lack of atmosphere; the house at the heart of the novel does not have the sense of foreboding that it should. The village, its houses, church and pub lack any sense of place. One does not read James for his descriptive powers as a writer, but, in a supernatural story you do need something to create that indefinable frisson.

There is much to enjoy, however. It is a real page turner of a book – I read it in a day. It is also good to have a ghost story that has modern technology such as email and social media as an important part of its plot.

My Policeman
My Policeman
by Bethan Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dour and bleak, 19 Oct. 2015
This review is from: My Policeman (Paperback)
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

This novel is about a love triangle: the wife, the husband and his lover of the title, a policeman. The novel is set in the late 1950s when homosexuality was illegal and when gay men and women had to lead secret lives. It was, literally, the love that dare not speak its name.

The novel is about deceptions and lies, perpetrated through necessity. The buttoned-up attitudes of the 1950s regarding sex and sexuality are conveyed well; the constant need for gay men and women to be on their guard in case their behaviour gave any clues as to their true nature.

The character of the wife, Marion, does not ring true and her naivety does stretch the bounds of credibility. Wouldn't a wife question the presence of another man (who happens to be her husband's lover) on her honeymoon?

Clichés are not avoided either. We have the older, cultured, gay man who introduces his younger lover to the delights of art and classical music.

It is, ultimately, a depressing novel, which I found unconvincing.

The Classic Serial on Television and Radio
The Classic Serial on Television and Radio
by Robert Giddings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £40.00

2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity, 16 Sept. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Dramatisations of 19th century classic novels in serial format have always been a staple part of broadcasting in the UK, so a book examining such an important strand in television and radio history is to be welcomed.

The title is a misnomer in that radio's contribution to the genre is only mentioned in terms of pre-World War Two programming. After that, the authors, Giddings and Selby, hardly mention radio. Whilst it might not have as high a profile as its televisual counterpart, Radio 4 has steadily produced classic serials, even when television briefly lost interest in doing so. 'War and Peace' was dramatised two years before the television version of 1972. 'The Herries Chronicle' (1972) did much to re-introduce the novelist Hugh Walpole to listeners and readers. The highly regarded 'Chronicles of Barsetshire' (1993-1998) is also ignored.

Giddings and Selby are happier when we get to the BBC's Sunday teatime serials of the 1960s, with discussion of the major Dickens dramatisations; but, even here, there are surprising omissions. There is no mention of 'The Count of Monte Cristo' (1964) regarded by many as the definitive dramatised version of Dumas' novel.

The advent of BBC2 led to an emphasis on longer episodes for each serial's instalment and a widening of the literary net to include French and Russian novels. The difficulties of translating Tolstoy to the small screen are touched upon, but, once again, the authors do not pursue a topic more thoroughly. They discuss the first serial to be broadcast in colour ('Vanity Fair', 1967) but ignore other landmark serials such as 'Point Counter Point' (1968), 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' (1968/9), 'Nana' (1968) and 'Germinal' (1970).

Due attention is given to the novels of Henry James which began to be sourced for dramatisations at this time, but the authors wrongly imply that 'The Spoils of Poynton' (1970) was the first of his novels to be dramatised; no mention is made of the critically acclaimed 1968 version of 'The Portrait of a Lady' with Edward Fox and Richard Chamberlain. The authors are at a loss to explain the sudden interest in James' novels; perhaps the advent of colour television had something to do with it, they opine. I would have thought the fact that James' works coming out of copyright in 1966 was the more likely reason.

The authors really get into their stride when discussing the resurgence of broadcasters' interest in the classic serial in the 1980s and 1990s and these chapters are the best parts of the book. ITV got in on the act with the high profile 'The Jewel in the Crown' (1984) and the importance of the classic serial was reflected in kudos for both ITV and BBC as well as strong overseas sales.

I suspect the contents of this book were originally a series of lectures (both the authors work in higher education) which have not been written up properly. The writing lacks polish: for example, the authors seem unaware of the conjunction 'and' when compiling lists. There is repetition of subject matter and commentary, particularly in the last pages of the book.

The depressing number of factual errors throughout further confirms my theory that the book was rushed into publication without being properly edited and proof read. Some of the more glaring mistakes are: there has never been a British TV serial called 'Henry VII' (px); it was John Martin-Harvey, not Marion Harvey who appeared in 'The Only Way' (p19); 'Upstairs, Downstairs' ran to 68 episodes between 1971 and 1975, not 13 (p40); 'The Small House at Allington' is not one of the Palliser novels (p42) and I'd like to view the classic serial 'Charlotte BrontŽ' if it only existed (p197).

Overall, this is an unsatisfactory book. There is too much padding with unnecessary plot descriptions; there is little original thought and a too great reliance on secondary opinions culled from newspapers and other media outlets. The authors are more confident when talking about the later dramatisations which are more readily available for viewing. The dearth of material due to the wiping of videotapes should not, however, be used as an excuse for the failure to discuss earlier serials.

Breakfast In Brighton: Adventures on the Edge of England
Breakfast In Brighton: Adventures on the Edge of England
by Nigel Richardson
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Rather a dog's breakfast, 5 Aug. 2015
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

I strongly suspect that this book, in its final form, is not the one that its author Nigel Richardson originally set out to write.

I think he planned to rent a flat in Brighton for a few months, make contact with some of its quirky residents, get them to tell him their stories and then he would write it all up.

It doesn't quite work out like that. Yes, Richardson does come across some quirky residents but he is as much rebuffed as he is welcomed. When he does succeed in making contact with willing participants, he produces some interesting copy. The account of the life of a former rent boy, Graham, is harrowing and probably the best part of the book.

In the absence of new material, he falls back on anecdotes about old Brighton which have been rehearsed before, for example, the tourists gawping at Rudyard Kipling as he sat in his garden at Rottingdean.

Richardson is also curiously disengaged from some of his encounters. He embarks on a fish catching expedition with local fishermen but spends most of the time below decks. He also spends a lot of time in the company of clairvoyants and mediums whilst ridiculing them.

And his research is sloppy. He speculates on whether the Blue Gardenia murder might have happened (p126). Well, it did, in 1962. On page 186, he makes the claim that Vita Sackville-West was cremated in Brighton. She wasn't, but her mother was.

The book is an enjoyable read and Richardson has a nifty turn of phrase, but, for me, there is a phoniness about the whole construct.

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