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Bob Ventos "Bob Ventos" (UK)

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Flirting at the Funeral
Flirting at the Funeral
by Chris Keil
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Just incredibly brilliant, 8 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this because I liked the title - but it was a great and surprising find. In fact, it's the best novel I've read in several years. In 1974, young students Morgan and Matty went to Portugal to participate in the revolution, but split up when Matty went off with another man from their commune. Matty married him, stayed in Portugal, and became a minor pop star there, while when the novel opens, Morgan, after various relationships and jobs, is working as a tour-guide. Morgan's friend Howard finds a play set in a similar '74 Portuguese commune, and sends it to him. Morgan meets now-widowed Matty in London and passes the play onto her. Matty in turn passes it onto her early-twenties daughter Luisa, who decides to use it for her film-school project. Matty is being kept by Otto, the super-rich but wheelchair-bound owner of a New-Agey health clinic in Southern Portugal, but wants to regenerate her singing career. Luisa and her film-making friends come over to stay at the expensive clinic, with its pool, haute-cuisine and inscrutable staff, and Otto pays all their expenses. Morgan joins them, then Howard and his sickly wife Anne, and then Dave, the play's author, and still an ardent revolutionary. How long will the charming but sinister Otto keep funding them, and what does he want out of it? The contrapuntal dialogue is smart, the tension builds, the glamour is repeatedly built up and then undercut, the characters are varied, real and often amusing and the philosophical and political issues (has revolution just become another form of nostalgia?) are distinctive and intelligent. It felt like Chekhov. Who is this Chris Keil? Why isn't he famous?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 26, 2014 12:05 AM BST


The British Seaside: Holidays and Resorts in the Twentieth Century (Studies in Popular Culture)
The British Seaside: Holidays and Resorts in the Twentieth Century (Studies in Popular Culture)
by John K. Walton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh, to be beside it, 30 July 2013
The history of the seaside begins with 19thC industrial workers getting a week's holiday and taking the train to the coast - because sea-bathing was 'healthy'. Local coastal landowners started acting as developers, leading to rapid growth of resorts and infrastructure (sea walls, piers). The rise of holiday camps began, then the post-WWII rush back to the beach once mines were cleared, increasing 60s and 70s competition from foreign holidays and the growth of seaside retirement, 80s resort decay with sea and beach pollution, and the late C20th attempts at regeneration.

Each chapter of this book considers a different aspect or theme of the seaside, so parts of the same story recur with occasional and inevitable overlaps. It looks first at the types of resort: the brash (Blackpool, Margate); the genteel (Eastbourne, Broadstairs); the quaint (Southwold) and the wild (various Cornish). It examines the journey to the coast (trains and charabancs, then cars), and how north Norfolk and Cornwall and west Wales developed only post-war, when cars were more common. Next, the holidaymakers themselves (almost everyone eventually, thanks to paid holidays); the types of pleasures (bathing machines, fairgrounds, sports facilities, pierrots, piers, shows and arcades); and the types of accommodation (grand hotels, b&b full board with landladies, camping, caravan sites, Butlins). Finally resort economics (un-unionised poor pay, other seaside industries like fishing) and resort politics (seaside towns were always Conservative - until 1997).

Published in 2000, it nonetheless mentions the start of the most recent developments: attracting weekenders, and the creation of targeted festivals, arty environments, 'signature buildings' and marinas. The book uses a lot of statistics, and after a whole long paragraph of them, I sometimes wanted a graphic instead. Overall it appears that the seaside with its freedoms contributed to the gradual unbuttoning (literal and metaphorical) of Britons over the century, which is something to celebrate. A terrific and interesting read.


The Dud Avocado (VMC)
The Dud Avocado (VMC)
by Elaine Dundy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Young American's Year Off in France (in the Fifties), 9 July 2013
This review is from: The Dud Avocado (VMC) (Paperback)
Sally Jay Gorce kept running away in search of adventure when she was a girl, but since her rich uncle when she was thirteen promised her two years out after college, she's been as good as gold and has instead read lots of books. (I'm sceptical of the psychology here: when you're thirteen, isn't twenty-one the impossibly distant future?) Now she's twenty-one and in Paris, the lover of a rich diplomat who meets her at the Ritz and the friend of a wild group of left-bank artist-intellectuals. Although she has a sort of friend, Judy, who's always ill, she spends all her time and energy on men. She falls in love with a not-so-rich theatre-director, acts in his plays and goes on a bender with him, but ends up the girlfriend of a kind (and rich) young painter. However, still in love with the director, she goes off to St Jean de Luz with him and two others, and gets involved with people making a film about a bullfighter. Finally she discovers the director is horrible and has stolen her passport, goes back to New York and marries a rich film-director.

The style's a skazzy, Catcher-in-the-Rye-inspired first person, with some show-off-ness and puns ('foule-ing around'?) that make it feel as if it really were written by a twenty-one-year-old. Plotting is sometimes dodgy - Judy's abrupt improvement at the end, for instance, felt throwaway? - and despite its brilliant start, it seems to run out of steam. But the glamorous settings help, and I felt sympathetic to Sally Jay as someone desperately trying to have a good time amid the sheer nastiness of the fifties, a period when, for instance, it seems that if you saw a woman systematically being beaten up, you didn't even _consider_ reporting it to the police.


Vestal Fire
Vestal Fire
by Compton Mackenzie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars See Capri and Die, 25 May 2013
This review is from: Vestal Fire (Paperback)
This 1920s novel is set in the early years of the century on Sirene - a fictitious island with the exactly same geography, beauty and fabulous view of Vesuvius and Naples as Capri. The place is full of mostly middle-aged and elderly ex-pats, who spend their time throwing parties for each other and pursuing their own interests in the arts, scholarship and home decoration. The locals tolerate them and make money out of them. Tourist visitors come by for the day and, enchanted by the place, stay for months or years. One day the very wealthy Count Marsac appears, falls in love with the place, throws parties to outdo anyone else's, donates to the English church and builds himself an incredible villa on the cliff-top. His popularity is unaffected by his self-centredness, his habit of declaiming his terrible poetry and his gay relationship, since the ex-pats are all quite used to these things. But gradually, nasty rumours about his past begin to surface, and split the hitherto happy community between his friends and enemies... With a huge and eccentric cast of characters, a humorous but sometimes poignant tone and a terrific setting, it was easy to enjoy it.


Jane Eyre (Popular Penguins)
Jane Eyre (Popular Penguins)
by Charlotte BrontŽ
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Classic of classics, 11 May 2013
Orphaned Jane gets brought up by her hostile aunt and cousins, who find fault with her unfairly, till she rebels, and is sent away to a school so depriving that many of its pupils die. However, after this it improves, and she later becomes a teacher there until, in search of something new, she advertises for a governess post and is taken on by Mr Rochester of Thornfield. They fall in love, but are about to marry when it is discovered that Rochester already has a wife, who is locked in the attic of his house. Jane runs away, and is taken in by a kind brother and sisters, who - by an outrageous coincidence - turn out to be long-lost relations. Meanwhile she inherits - by a great stroke of luck - a large amount of money, and with this, goes in search of Rochester, who has been blinded in a fire started by his ex-wife. She is now dead and Thornfield burnt to the ground.

This is a classic that, for me, lived up to its reputation. The plot drives along, I felt suitably sorry for Jane, who is `'lucky' and upright (if a little proud), and even Rochester seemed less one-dimensional than the male lead in this genre generally is.


Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts
Bohemians: The Glamorous Outcasts
by Elizabeth Wilson
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Rough Guide to Bohemia, 30 April 2013
This wide-ranging survey locates the origins of the Bohemian with Byron and the Romantics and the emergence of the idea of the 'unique creative individual' at a time when artists stopped merely 'celebrat[ing] the glory of the Prince' and were thrown into the open market. At the same time, the belief that the bourgeois class (who were the market's new buyers) had no taste meant that artists who succeeded commercially were deemed to have failed artistically. 'Real artists' had to starve and be misunderstood. They'd club together in urban cafes, smoke, drink and 'perform', and find 'a wild and strange beauty in the sublime desolation and ugliness of the industrial city.' Their commitment to individual freedom encompassed alternative spirituality, sexual exploration, drugs, outlandish fashion, political radicalism and a greater tolerance of diversity. The book examines famous Bohemian districts like Montparnasse, Fitzrovia, Schwabing, Greenwich Village and Venice Beach, and shows how the 'seedy, marginalized' locations that Bohemians colonise 'by an inexorable law' end up gentrified. It provides case studies of characters like Rimbaud, Gross, Modigliani, Jarry, Hamnett and MacLaren-Ross, and shows how Bohemians of one generation - especially if they die young - become inspirations to the next. It contrasts the 'doomed' Bohemians with the lighter Bohemians of 'picturesque poverty', and the Bohemian 'serious artists' with the ones who just like the lifestyle. It looks at the hangouts: salons, cafes, galleries and the street; the even tougher lives of women and ethnic minorities; how 'in their search for the new, [Bohemians] paralleled or even parodied the [mainstream] ideology of continual progress and innovation', although their lifestyle 'challenged the bourgeois insistence that art was a realm apart.' Finally, it deals with Bohemia's meeting with mass culture in the 60s, and how much today's mainstream lifestyles owe to Bohemian pioneers. Overall, it does an invaluable job in locating many of the creative individuals of the previous two centuries not merely into their cultural context, but into their subcultural one, and in the process makes important points about the strange love-hate relationship between art and respectable society in the period.


The Custom of the Country (Vintage Classics)
The Custom of the Country (Vintage Classics)
by Edith Wharton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.75

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shopaholic's Grandmother, 23 April 2013
1910 or so, New York. Undine Spragg comes from somewhere out West. She's socially ambitious, easily bored and extremely beautiful. She spends her time shopping for clothes, hats and jewels in order to make herself more beautiful still. She practices attitudes in the mirror and bullies her parents. It all pays off when she lands the son of one of New York's leading families. It turns out though that he's not really rich enough, so it's time for a divorce and to move on up. There's a French aristocrat who's mad about her. But will even he have enough money to keep her in the custom she requires?

This marvellous comedy of manners is impartially satirical about its era's battle between ineffectual and repressed Old Money, and tasteless and spendthrift New Money. The settings are mostly New York and Paris, with Siena, St. Moritz, Beaune and the Riviera. There are endless hotels, parties, dinners and trips to the opera. Even the men, supposedly hard-working in Wall Street, seem to be able to spend months at a time on holiday, and the women live it up fabulously. The fascinatingly awful Undine is just the most extreme example of a society that's losing all values other than those of money. Terrific! Horrible! But mostly terrific!


The Wedding Group (VMC)
The Wedding Group (VMC)
by Elizabeth Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars England in 1967 seems so alien..., 20 April 2013
Comedies of manners in the fifties and sixties had the dullest titles, as if they were camouflage against male onlookers who might otherwise suspect that they were racier inside than they looked. Cressy, eighteen, rebels against her patriarch grandfather's closed-in community with its homespun clothes, outdoor work, communal eating and Catholic doctrine. (Although it sends its kids away to boarding school, and employs a cleaner?) She meets the much older David, and - this is about 1967 - encourages him to introduce her to the wonders of Wimpy Bars, fruit machines and television. 'He even had to take her into a launderette on their way home one night, to have a look round.' Her sheer youthful enthusiasm wins his heart, and they get married and have a baby. But David's lonely and doting divorced mother Midge wants to keep them nearby: not such a bad idea since Cressy is hopeless at motherhood. A formula comedy might sort all this out by having Midge and her ex-husband finally get back together, and Cressy reconcile with her community, but this novel ends in a more downbeat way when the extent of Midge's manipulations to keep her son close by have been revealed and the slim chances of her getting back with her ex are cut off by his death. The wedding group itself is a Wedgewood ornament bought from heartless antique dealers Alexia and Toby, which smashes in a patently symbolic way. The point of view switches skilfully to make us sympathetic to all the characters, but I did have some frustrations. Why doesn't Midge just get some friends or a lover? Why doesn't she just move to London too? I wasn't sure if the problem was with her, with a 1960s home-counties England whose attitudes seem so much ancient history now, or with both. But I didn't find this as brilliant as the other Elizabeth Taylor I've read.


Summer In February
Summer In February
by Jonathan Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love Among the Art Colonists at Lamorna, 13 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Summer In February (Paperback)
In Edwardian times, the West Cornwall art colonies at Newlyn and Lamorna were, it transpires, more famous than St Ives. The rise in Cornish art colonies was inspired by those like Concarneau in Brittany and followed the example of Jules Bastien-Lepage, highly celebrated in his day but eclipsed now - for his sentimentality? - by the usual Impressionist names. Rather than studio-based historical or mythological subjects, the artists chose to paint ordinary people, in the open air, in all weathers - apparently a revolutionary idea back then. This novel - 'based on a true story' - concerns the love triangle between Florence a pupil at Stanhope Forbes' art-school at Newlyn, Alfred Munnings an ebullient, larger-than-life painter on the make, and Gilbert Evans a shy but efficient land-agent for the local landowner. Background interest and amusement is supplied by painters Laura and Harold Knight ('Lamorna' Birch gets a couple of mentions but never appears), Florence's brother Joey, the local pub and hotel owners, and the wild beauty of the location. The characters often act and talk in ways that seem rather modern, but perhaps this atypicality for its era is due to the Bohemian nature of the colony itself, with its parties and drinking and nude modelling on the rocks shocking the locals. But the plot moves at a good pace, deftly switching points of view so that I felt sympathy with all sides in the conflict; the real villain being, I suppose, the patriarchal repressiveness of the times, which even the best attempts at alternative pastoral and artistic utopias couldn't overcome.


Foe
Foe
by J M Coetzee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Apeskin Crusoe, Tongueless Friday, 6 April 2013
This review is from: Foe (Paperback)
Having recently enjoyed 'Robinson Crusoe', this book promised an interesting new slant: a woman, Susan Barton, arrives on Crusoe's island, stays a year, and becomes his lover before they are rescued. On the island, everything is very unlike Defoe's book. There are no cannibals, no corn, no goats, and they live on fish and birds' eggs. Crusoe (here called Cruso) has no muskets, no paper and ink, and moves stones pointlessly into terraces for something to do. The additions look flagrantly symbolic: Cruso wears apeskin and Friday has no tongue. Cruso is still the 'lord' of the island. But he will `brook no change' and doesn't want to leave. Susan and Cruso have some set-up conversations about law and slavery, and Crusoe's former lengthy discussions of Providence become, 'If Providence were to watch over all of us... who would be left to pick the cotton and cut the sugar-cane?'

Most of all, hardly anything happens on the island, and then they are rescued, also without drama. Crusoe dies on the way home, Susan Barton takes on Friday, and writes a narrative of her experience which she sends to Daniel Defoe (here called Foe, his original name), in the hope he'll rewrite it and make them some money. The next section constitutes her letters to Foe, whom she seems to have got obsessed by, but which are even duller than the island section. She finally meets him and they have sex and ponder the hackneyed issue about how far true stories have to change for commercial purposes. There's an unresolved subplot about Susan seeking her daughter and more desperately symbolic stuff as Friday adopts Cruso's robes and wig. The novel's opening sentence keeps getting repeated in that bromidic way that's supposed to supply resonance. Overall, I think Coetzee - who's normally a terrific writer - must've written this while having a nap.


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