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P. T. Smith "Paul T. Smith" (Wigan, England)
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The Handmaid's Tale (Vintage Classics)
The Handmaid's Tale (Vintage Classics)
Price: £6.31

5.0 out of 5 stars A Transfiguring Work of Fiction, 28 July 2014
The Handmaid's Tale is a transfiguring work of fiction. Imagine that you are a young college-educated woman in mid-1980s America. You have an affair with a married man. You settle down together, have a child together. You argue
about the cat, about trivial things - because that is part of the texture of normal, happy life. You take your liberty for granted. But, as the text points out, freedom can take many forms. There is freedom to and freedom from...

For as night follows day - imagine that you are the handmaid of the title, the brood-mare of a commander in a revolutionary state. Your child has been taken away from you. Your husband is one of the disappeared. In this state women have no rights and no freedom. As a handmaid you are maintained for the purposes of reproduction.

Any flicker of insubordination, any whisper of sedition, is met with sickening violence unto death. And as a handmaid, a brood-mare, a young fertile woman, you must wear blood-red robes to identify you, to anonymise you, to make you indistinguishable from the other handmaids. And you must lose your own name and take the name of your keeper, Offred or Ofglen or Ofwarren. And you will copulate with your keeper in the presence of his wife and of other female servants in order to bear him children - for children are in short supply.

And because this is one of the roles of women in society - either a Wife, tied to one of the new commanders; or an Econowife, tied to one of the poor; or a Martha, a dull servant tied to kitchen chores; or a Handmaid, a prostitute tied to one of the middle-aged commanders for the purpose of child-bearing; or an Unwoman - I leave it to your imagination. Because isn't that how men compartmentalise women?

You may say this is all fantasy, this totalitarian state of Gilead, all Gullivers Travels stuff.

But look at northern Iraq today, look at Afghanistan in 2000 under the Taliban, look at Argentina in the 1980s when the children of the disappeared were adopted by the wealthy middle-classes of the establishment. And you will see that these obverse societies where no freedom from tyranny is the norm, where women are utterly subordinated, these societies recur throughout human history. They include but are not exclusively limited to fundamentalist Islamist societies governed by sharia law.

So the Handmaid's Tale is an angry, passionate book; it is a prescient tale and a moral tale.

The moral is this: As you play in the sunshine, do not take your freedom for granted because it is not guaranteed.

And incidentally play more Scrabble! because it is words and language that humanise us. (I told you that it was written for college kids of the 1980s. But the lesson remains potent and universal.)

Any more questions?


Ken Loach at the BBC [DVD] [1965]
Ken Loach at the BBC [DVD] [1965]
Dvd ~ Ken Loach
Price: £20.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ken Loach's observations on 60's British society still relevant today, 4 Oct. 2013
Watch for example "In Two Minds" on Disc 4.

Ask yourself how often schizophrenia has been dealt with as a subject for drama on British television in the last 50 years.


Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Penguin Education Specials)
Teaching as a Subversive Activity (Penguin Education Specials)
by Neil Postman
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic educational text, 22 April 2013
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Sadly now out of print, this remains a seminal text.

Speaking as someone who has taught in North Carolina and in England, I can report that Mr Postman's lessons have not been learned. And will therefore now never be learned. Thus does Western culture tend to entropy.


Various Pets Alive and Dead
Various Pets Alive and Dead
by Marina Lewycka
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As a comic novel, it succeeds, but as a social satire, it fails., 27 Mar. 2013
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Initially I thought we were in for a sharp-toothed satire with this novel. Ultimately I was disappointed.

Two clues are contained in the author's Acknowledgements at the end of the novel:

"Many brains have contributed to this book, most of them much better than mine."

"Finally thanks to my agent and my editor - who between them killed off several minor characters, pruned out weedy subplots and generally sharpened things up."

The mathsy bits in the first half of the book are very good; but by half way through the satire has been lost and the book seems to be all about comic sex.

We have the idiot character called Oolie-Anna constantly going on about shagging. We have central character Doro rolling in the allotment shed with slick and wicked councillor Malcolm Loxley. We have some incomprehensible sado-scenario involving Serge the city-boy.

And the plot? The plot just remains unresolved.

So yes the labels on the cover apply: "riotously entertaining", "comic romp", "hilarious".

As a comic novel, it succeeds, but as a social satire, it fails.


If It Bleeds
If It Bleeds
by Duncan Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If It Bleeds, 12 Jan. 2010
This review is from: If It Bleeds (Paperback)
This is not a world classic. But it fizzes with energy and humour.

The author ploughs his furrow at the rich and murky frontier where traditional journalism meets old-fashioned crime. The myriad plots and sub-plots twisting and turning are hilarious, the observations on modern life pithy and well-judged.

The narrative voice is authentic and seasoned, derived no doubt from the author's long experience as a crime correspondent.

All in all, a very entertaining read, and, as the previous reviewer says, we await the next one with glee.


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