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The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics)
The Ministry Of Fear: An Entertainment (Vintage Classics)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ministry of Fear is Within as well as Without.............".If one loved one feared ", 18 April 2014
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Even a Greene novel written before he flowered into his middle and later period of novels about more metaphysical and existential concerns, and described by him as one of his `For Entertainment' novels, is a master-class in how to combine a page turning thriller with stunning psychological nuance, interesting character, believable and immediate time and location setting, and the darker waters of `what it means to be human'. (which is always what I am most aware of with Greene)

The Ministry Of Fear, published in 1943, could be regarded on one level as a propaganda novel - beware, look out for `The Enemy Within' and, like the equally page-turning, jolly-good-read A Gun For Hire, is a dazzling example of how to do pot-boiling with something much more substantial, and much less just formulaic, a-bubble in that pot.

This was a very pleasurable re-read for me; Greene is a writer I do return to, and can always find new, and more, to engage with, whilst sinking into the comfort of knowing the narrative journey, subsequent reads give more time to enjoy the view.

In brief, Arthur Rowe, a man with a fatal flaw - pity, an inability to bear either his own, or another's suffering - and how this is a flaw for him (and others) will be revealed - visits, by chance a fete in war-torn London. Immediately we are in Greene-land - the complicated, thoughtful, damaged and introspective hero, walks back into the golden memory of childhood safety, the sweet remembered goodness of a golden age - and discovers this is only patina, there is no safe space. Chance, the perfidy of fate, has brought him an encounter which was never meant to be his. He wins a cake in the raffle which is somehow linked with espionage for Germany. And the whole plot proceeds, from here, tying Rowe further and further like a fly caught in a malevolent spider's web of `only connect' as the sticky threads of connection proceed for ill, rather than for benevolence.

Typical Greene that plunges the reader into perfidy and betrayal, not through espionage in high places, with sophisticated protagonists, but through the most prosaic surface of little, local England, peopled with kind bobbies and paternalistic vicars.

He rips the surface away, and builds, right from the start, the creeping growth of fear, and nothing to be trusted. As a kind of comment on the world he leads us into, are small excerpts as chapter heading, quotes picked from a book by the Victorian writer Charlotte M. Yonge, called The Little Duke, which Rowe picks up second hand at the fete, as part of that romantic golden glow misremembered simple world of childhood. Yonge wrote `homilies' for the young, about high ideals, simply expressed. Greene's characters yearn to achieve those ideals, but are spotted and stained by the complexity of living in the real world, where morality is not always so clear

"A murderer is regarded by the conventional world as something almost monstrous, but a murderer to himself is only an ordinary man - a man who either takes tea or coffee for breakfast, a man who likes a good book and perhaps reads biography rather than fiction, a man who at a regular hour goes to bed, who tries to develop good physical habits but possibly suffers from constipation, who prefers either dogs or cats, and has certain views about politics.

It is only if the murderer is a good man that he can be regarded as monstrous"

This is what Greene does so superbly - makes the extraordinary ordinary, and the ordinary extraordinary.

"Happiness should always be qualified by a knowledge of misery...........Knowledge was the great thing.....not abstract knowledge, the theories which lead one enticingly on with their appearance of nobility, of transcendent virtue, but detailed passionate trivial human knowledge.......One can't love humanity. One can only love people"

This book positively sings with all manner of......'now I really need to reflect on this'....all delectably wrapped up in a page-turning espionage plot which positively suggests a Hitchcock noir film.

In reality, The Ministry Of Fear was turned into a film by Fritz Lang. I have not seen the film but the fact that by all accounts it had a jollier, Hollywood wrap ending completely misses the point of Greene's book, where even the obvious wrap which we might see coming from fairly early on, is nuanced by the sour sadness of accommodation and compromise. High ideals are rarely achieved with full untarnished glitter, there is always, `in real' a spot of wear and tear, a small stain which is pervasive.

A marvellous book, highly entertaining, absolutely disciplined, and solidly `about stuff'
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 22, 2014 3:24 PM BST

Inside Llewyn Davis: Original Soundtrack Recording [+digital booklet]
Inside Llewyn Davis: Original Soundtrack Recording [+digital booklet]
Price: 8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sweet melancholy folk., 17 April 2014
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The music (of course!) in the Coen's film of Inside Llewyn Davis [DVD] [2014] was absolutely integral to its charm, and with images from the film spooling in my mind's eye and music tantalisingly playing, half remembered, ditto, getting the soundtrack was a must

Oscar Isaac, on both CD and film is stellar. Though I found myself wondering what Oscar Isaac himself naturally plays and sounds like; as a clearly consummate actor, I suspect what we may have here is Llewyn Davis as musician and singer - Isaac himself may have quite different musical qualities. One of the hallmarks of the film is its loving steeping into the style of the times, both vocally and instrumentally - listening to Dave van Ronk's playout track of Green Green Rocky Road, and the penultimate track of an unreleased studio recording of Dylan singing `Farewell' in the context of the other 12 tracks shows this. There is a similar plangent, dourly tender quality to Isaac's voice as in that early Dylan track - adding a nice little irony to the use of the Dylan at the end of the film, as a reminder of `then everything changed' -- Llewyn Davis SOOOO close but not quite there!

I couldn't QUITE go the full 5 star on the soundtrack, only because there are 3 tracks I skip over, as not to my ears for listening to outwith the film - the `joke' Please Mr Kennedy, the very traditional old bouncy folk Roving Gambler, and The Storms Are On The Ocean (hope no one punches me for this - see the film!)

The rest are fabulous, as songs, as arrangements by the performing artists and T Bone Burnett, and as instrumental and vocal renditions.

But.........I do agree with the CD sleeve note compiler that standout of many standouts is the rendition of Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song) with Isaac and Marcus Mumford, who is co musical producer. This is ineffable! Isaac's darkly honeyed, anguished vocals woven with the sweeter, lighter quality of Mumford.

There are so many little teasers to performers of that time and slightly later, in this music - from the Peter, Paul and Mary of Stark Sands, Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan, the on-the-verge-of early Simon and Garfunkel on the Isaac, Mumford track, and the quality of an almost but not quite there early folky Dylan from Isaac himself. Stark Sands rendition of Tom Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind is also a real delight.

The album is definitely a fuller experience if you saw the film, but pretty darned fine on its own.

TIAMO Ceramic Burr Coffee Grinder (Black)
TIAMO Ceramic Burr Coffee Grinder (Black)
Offered by Trader Chas
Price: 25.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At last! Stunningly fresh coffee, ground very fine by me for a modest outlay, 15 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Firstly, thanks must be paid to an Amazon reviewer for a different brand, but i suspect broadly similar product - Go see the first reviewer of the Hario Medium Glass Hand Coffee Grinder with Ceramic Burrs, Clear - in case her review ever slips from its spot I'll add the link in a comment, since i think this can't be done within this review without Amazon carefully scrutinising the link in case it is of a 'found one cheaper elsewhere' competitor!

Claire Jordan has produced an absolutely brilliant video review which guides the user into properly assembling, and, most importantly, properly ensuring that you get the fineness of ground you want (instructions a little vague, on the box, or even, with the Hario, I believe missing entirely.

The reason i went for the Tiamo is that when I bought it it was in stock, fulfilled by Amazon, whereas the Hario is out of stock at this time, and available only from Japanese sellers, with a hefty import postage charge to pay, and moreover a wait of a couple of weeks.

This looks to be identical, but is Taiwanese. The final star is deducted only because the tightening ring on my particular model would not screw absolutely plumb straight into its housing, and I suspect the thread itself may be minutely off kilter. However it works absolutely perfectly, though needed a little bit of finesse and jiggle to straighten it up.

Maybe the made in Japan (I assume) Hario is a little more precise. Maybe not. Who knows

There are some excellent design features - if you want to really have fresh fresh coffee you do need to grind your beans when you want the coffee, rather than buy pre-ground. The problem with normal, reasonably priced electric grinders, or coffee grinders as part of a food mixer/processor bundle of attachments, is that all they do is cut the beans up into small-ish pieces - the way they are constructed means you can't get really fine grind.

Enter the ceramic burr mechanism, where the coffee beans are fed from above and can only get into the collecting vessel when ground finely enough, as if by a pestle and mortar, or table salt grinder pot

That gives you no wastage, as the surface area of the coffee exposed to the water in your coffee pot will be as large as possible.

There are electric machines for home use with ceramic burrs, and they are expensive.

THIS nifty little mechanism gives you the satisfaction of grinding with your own fair hands, and, really takes very little time. It all adds to the ritual and means you savour your favourite fine beans even more.

Though the machine has a little non-slip base, so you can hold it steady on the counter whilst you grind, it is by far the easiest option to cuddle the jar to your solar plexus with one hand and grind from that position. As long as you don't overfill the top there won't be any problem.

Once ground, any excess coffee can be capped off, as the jar itself has a lid.

Things can easily be taken apart for cleaning, but another helpful Amazon reviewer on the Hario recommends cleaning occasionally by grinding a few grains of uncooked rice. Brilliant!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 15, 2014 4:59 PM BST

JJ Darboven Movenpick Cafe Creme 100 Percent RFA 1 Kg
JJ Darboven Movenpick Cafe Creme 100 Percent RFA 1 Kg
Price: 14.86

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bitter sweet orange marmalade coffee - tastebuds dancing with delight!, 15 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I still haven't got over the fact that my favourite coffee ever, Barbera Mago or Barbera Maghetto seems to have vanished from these shores outside one German supplier, but the steep postage costs render this out of range now for my daily hit. Barbera Classica Espresso 1000g Coffee Beans

Whilst living in hope that someone will once again start ordering this from the States in bulk, as they once did, so i can feed my habit, I have been trying other Italian coffees which by all accounts are in some ways comparable. Not really as highly enjoyed as Barbera, but still a good brew is Mokarabia - 100% Arabica - Ground Coffee - 250g, but I'm still casting around to see where coffee fancy takes me.

Movenpick Cafe Creme beans are a completely different taste, and at the moment, I am enjoying this, because it doesn't hint at all at the coffee I'm still missing.

And, at the moment, this is selling on Amazon for a really decent price, for a kilogram of fine quality Arabica - though i do note with concern it looks like it may be going out of stock, as Barbera did!

Anyway, the notes in this are to my taste distinctly bittersweet seville orange as an aftertaste, which works brilliantly for the fact that coffee, for me, means breakfast and morning only

Sip sip, gulp gulp - for my taste, I have 2 heaped scoops of beans to grind per 300ml mug of this, and its a great, smooth, wake-up. I'm half convinced I may have eaten marmalade without noticing, as this is the remaining, juicy linger rather than the more vigorous astringency I'm used to
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2014 9:07 AM BST

A Woman in the Polar Night
A Woman in the Polar Night
by Christiane Ritter
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.04

4.0 out of 5 stars "Now we are alone for a year", 14 April 2014
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I discovered after finishing this book that the author was a visual artist. At which point the particular sensitivity and refinement of her descriptions of the far Arctic landscape, particularly detailed gradations of colour in sky, snow, ice and water made even more sense.

In 1934 Ritter, an Austrian woman, came to Svalbard (Spitsbergen) to join her husband, Hermann, a hunter trapper (the fur trade) who spent long periods of time in the Arctic plying this trade. Hermann had a deep and abiding love for the Arctic landscape and its isolation. Perhaps more modern sensibilities are rather more disturbed by the trade engaged in. I did have to take myself rather out of that distress, reading of the trapping of Arctic foxes for fur. The killing of seals and bears by hunters, for food, did not arouse the same feelings of repugnance in me.

As I am fascinated (and terrified!) by the idea of isolation in a harsh, indifferent landscape, where there is remarkably little possibility for communication with the outside world, this was always going to be an entrancing, absorbing read. The mere fact that getting close enough to these areas to continue on foot, sled, or ski must always depend on vessels being able to come close before the pack ice and freeze prevents the ship being trapped, once dropped, rescue (in earlier times) becomes an impossibility. A very isolated community of trappers and hunters, living around a day's ski away from each other (if the weather is kindly) puts running out of supplies into a rather dangerous perspective.

Aspects of Christine Ritter's story were not really touched on, but did leave me wondering - she and Hermann had a child who was left behind in Austria (age not mentioned) whilst she was away for the year.

Very little of a personal nature is revealed in this book, - for example, she discovered when she came, as arranged, to the Arctic, that she would be sharing the small and primitive hut for most of the year not just with her husband, but with a friend of his, another hunter trapper. My curiosity was aroused but not really satisfied, wanting to get some insight into the emotional connections between the 3. But Christiane makes no mention at all, even of the initial shock of finding she would not be on her own with her husband.

The outstanding relationship which develops in this book is that of Christiane with the land itself, her writing often becoming elegiac, transcendent, and devotional

The interesting introduction by Lawrence Millman points out that many books written about polar exploration or life, by male authors, often appear to have some sort of underlying theme about a sense of conflict with the landscape, about somehow mankind dominating, battling with and overcoming and subduing the environment. Christiane in many ways writes the language of a desire to be subsumed by, absorbed by, surrendered to. It is a lover's language, not a warrior's. And interestingly she does have anxieties and feelings for the animals being trapped, at one point even consciously befriending a young fox and trying to ensure it does not end up trapped by the hunters.

She even elects to stay behind in the main home hut, rather than travel on hunting with the men - in fact, all three of them are drawn to undertake further isolation for weeks or months.

"I myself stand forlornly by the water's edge. The power of this worldwide peace takes hold of me, although my senses are unable to grasp it. And as though I were unsubstantial, no longer there, the infinite space penetrates through me and swells out, the surging of the sea passes through my being, and what was once a personal will dissolves like a small cloud against the inflexible cliffs.

I am conscious of the immense solitude around me. There is nothing that is like me, no creature in whose aspect I might retain a consciousness of my own self, I feel that the limits of my being are being lost in this all-too-powerful nature, and for the first time I have a sense of the divine gift of companionship"

I was steered towards this book by another reviewer, (thank you Keen Reader) who intrigued me by informing me that in some ways this book had clearly acted as a springboard for Michelle Paver, when she came to write her magnificent, chilly book, Dark Matter - there is a point where Ritter first comes to this landscape she later falls so in love with, where she hints at a brooding sense of menace and presence, which Paver works into, and works up, in her novel. She even ever so slightly changes the name of the Ritter Arctic home Grahuken, to make it into her fictitious Gruhuken.

Christiane Ritter was clearly a most remarkable, redoubtable woman. She has a mild obsession with vitamins - well who wouldn't when you are snowbound without fresh vegetables for a year! - and it clearly served her well, she only died in 2000, at the age of 103!

The Great Beauty [DVD]
The Great Beauty [DVD]
Dvd ~ Toni Servillo
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: 7.43

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flowers of Beautiful Emptiness, 13 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Great Beauty [DVD] (DVD)
Paolo Sorrentino’s much lauded, multi award winning film about La Dolce Vita, the hedonistic, excessive, stylish – but ultimately exhausted ennui of Roman high-life is itself a feast of beautiful, empty, melancholic ‘so what’ exhaustion.

The conundrum at the heart of this, is: how can you make a film about a group of sophisticated, pretentious, self-indulgent excessive artists or, more properly, for the majority, pseudo-artists, without your own art-work being subsumed into the gorgeous soft porn, sated, over-indulged luscious skin and vision-fest you are portraying?

I was not completely certain, despite the wit in the script, the gorgeousness of the vistas and especially the stunning, stylish women, which the camera lingers lovingly over, in their often naked voluptuousness, whether what I was watching was art, or merely another excuse to show beautiful women naked, and a parade of ageing powerful men clustered like vampires in a feeding frenzy round succulent female flesh.

The central character, through whose eyes we ingest Rome’s beauty, fiddling whilst – not necessarily Rome, but life itself, burns and is destroyed, is Jep Gambardella, a 65 year old journalist, of acerbic, mordant pen. Jep is lionised by his society, he is, as he always wanted to be, a mover and a shaker, and delights in being the sort of man who attends the best and wildest and excessive gatherings, but is not only the man who attends those parties – but the man whose dismissive words can make those parties FAIL. Once, many years ago he wrote a novel which was praised high, now he makes and unmakes reputations.

The unseen presence which stalks through the film is the grim reaper; death. Although it is hearing of the death of his first love which brings existential despair up close and personal for Jep, we see through his eyes, as he plunges into the swings and roundabouts of parties, sex, and spectacle that he (and all around) are doing this to stop awareness of the knowledge that we are all on that journey to the grave.

The film swings constantly between the overindulgence of spectacle, movement, noise and distraction, and silence, emptiness, spaciousness, some kind of surrendering acceptance, as exemplified by the presence of a 103 year old nun, soon to be canonised. However, the spectacle of the lizard-faced, decrepit nun crawling in suffering penance on hands and knees up a flight of stairs as part of her spiritual, saintly journey, is no particular solace either.

The performances, (especially Toni Servillo as Gambardella) are all impeccable, the whole filmic quality of the piece is lush, wonderful, artful, but at the end I was left looking for something which I’m not certain I found – something to value, some quality of heart. In some ways, though the characters in this piece have a sophistication and finesse, and a stylish wit and brio, which makes them at least knowingly witty company, I was left with the same feeling of distaste for humankind which reading Bret Easton Ellis’s The Laws of Attraction gave me. And the point of that comparison, is that this is as partial and incomplete a view of humankind (very little that is kind, in this) as the other side unreal saccharine view of traditional Hollywood. This was a world peopled pretty well by only the stunningly beautiful or the Fellini-esque grotesque. It missed the extraordinary of ordinary itself.

As filmic spectacle, it is indeed splendid, but is it more than just a very finely lacquered mind-game to be dissected and debated. And is that enough?

The Tin Roof Blowdown
The Tin Roof Blowdown
by James Lee Burke
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Bleak, dark, suffused with simmering and often righteous anger: never a comfortable read., 10 April 2014
This review is from: The Tin Roof Blowdown (Paperback)
James Lee Burke is far from my usual reading fare, out of self-preservation really. A too deep and often immersion in this world of constant perfidy and violence, where the oppressed are for the most part so savagely handled that becoming the oppressor seems the only way out, leaves this reader too closely believing that the brutality of our species is all there is, and that the survival of kindness and compassion is an impossibility.

Yet, from rare time to time I do foray into Burke’s books, lured by the power of his writing, and the complex multifaceted layers of his characters.

Dave Robicheaux, Lee Burke’s central and continuing character across a series of Louisiana set books, presently works as a sheriff’s deputy. He is a Vietnam vet, whose experiences in that war and his own early family history took him into some very dark places. He is an alcoholic in recovery. His best friend, a former cop, now working for a bail bondsman, is a still-suffering alcoholic, Clete Purcell.

There are deep and sometimes potentially dangerous bonds of friendship between the two, as their shared history of violence and addiction simmers below the surface for both, erupting most often for Purcell, consciously struggled with through his recovery programme, for Robicheaux, who also is supported by a strong relationship with his wife and adopted daughter. Purcell particularly strays often outside the strict letter of the law, yet there is always some basic honour in him.

The Tin Roof Blowdown has a complicated plot involving a psychopath and sexual predator, a horrific gang rape, and a burglary from someone with Mob connections. This is all played out in New Orleans whilst Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastate the area, and much of the unleashed violence and law-breaking happens against a backdrop of aid coming too little, too late, and the poor and powerless are left defenceless.

Much of the anger expressed in the book is righteous, with Robicheaux expressing his understanding that systems of governance which favour the haves, and deprive the have-nots, sow the seeds of criminality, that deprivation and lack of justice and opportunity, dysfunction in society, covert and overt racism, will only breed more of the same.

This is a strongly written, apocalyptic book and does not hold out much hope, other than the small, local bonds of kindness and understanding that individuals may be lucky to find with each other, whilst outside, in the world at large, hell seems to be up and running.

To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface
To the River: A Journey Beneath the Surface
by Olivia Laing
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walking the river flow, 9 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Just as some people have perfect pitch, which they can then learn to tune even more finely, and some have eyes which are attuned to see ever finer gradations of tone, colour and shade, and can then further train and refine this gift, some, I believe, resonate with a precision and refinement towards words, language itself, and are capable of conceptualising and describing the world new-minted, fresh, present.

Such a one is Olivia Laing, as this marvellous book effortlessly demonstrates. When I say `effortlessly' I don't mean that its construction necessarily came trippingly and fully formed for the writer - maybe it did, I don't know - but that the reader has no sense of affect being striven for, no sense of `my, what beautiful writing in terms of showy flashness in description. It isn't that I read with a sense of `what a beautiful description of a sunset' - more, I read without effort, slowly, presently, observantly. Sentence followed sentence, and both the parts and the whole just WERE. This is authentic writing, and from first to last I just had the sense, which might often come with music which is balanced, and somehow winds the listener more deeply into itself, that `this is the moment; and this; and this'

Laing has written a walking journey the length of the River Ouse, which effortlessly weaves the long history of the planet, of geological time and evolution, with recorded historical fact, with the industry of place, with social history - and with the short lives of individuals, and how they connect to place. She renders all fascination, and the powerful presence of her writing had me reading with a kind of breathlessness, heart and lungs almost afraid to move on, so much did I want to ingest and inhabit each step of the journey, each sentence of the book.

Presiding over all, for Laing, and moving through the feel of the book, is Virginia Woolf, who, as we know, on a day in 1941 walked out into the Ouse with a pocket full of stones. Woolf was a woman perhaps too finely calibrated for the world, sharing with some other writers with an exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, a feeling too attuned to unsheathed nerve endings, unmyelinated. But what such writers can do is perhaps to waken and unwrap those of us who are too tightly sheathed AGAINST perception.

Laing solidly walks the journey, feet well on the ground, noticing, noticing.

I could have taken virtually any and every sentence from her book to illustrate the harmony, perception, reflection of her writing. I did start underlining, but quickly abandoned, as the book itself needs underlining

"The path spilled on down a long lion-coloured meadow into a valley lined with ashes. There the river ran in riffles over the gravel beds that the sea trout need to breed. I crossed it at Hammerhill Bridge, running milky in the sun, and climbed east again into Hammerhill Copse.The land had lain opento the morning and now it seemed to close up like a clam. There was a woman's coat hanging over the gate to the wood, the chain padlocked about it like a belt. Who drops a coat in a wood? The label had been cut out, and the pink satin lining was stippled by mould"

Reading this book, I feel invited, constantly by the writer, to both inhabit the presence of the time and place of her journey, and, in an echo of Robert Frost's poem, stay aware of the other paths and possibilities that might have been taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other,
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 10, 2014 10:52 AM BST

Inside Llewyn Davis [DVD] [2014]
Inside Llewyn Davis [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Oscar Isaac
Price: 9.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable, hilarious, poignant and musical is the brew, 4 April 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Coen Brothers film, about the burgeoning folk scene in the early 60s had me wincing, laughing, and absorbed for its 90 minutes. The film opens in Greenwich Village in 1961 at a precise time just BEFORE Dylan burst onto the scene.

Llewyn Davis (an excellent performance by Oscar Isaac) is an utterly self-obsessed, careless, narcissistic musician. He is however a man of talent, self-belief, and creativity. And also laziness, prickliness and melancholy.

So the nub of the film is the self-obsession and belief which the artist MUST have, if they are to be putting their creative vision out there - married with the fact that the person themselves may not be particularly likeable. We (the consuming public) half forgive the often careless and badly behaved artist if their WORK touches us.

The Coens present us with this - in many ways Davis is a rather unlikeable human being, careless of everyone else's feelings, tender of his own. At yet, there is a curious vulnerability about him which is attractive enough to allow him to use people, because they see something in that vulnerability which they want to protect, not to mention a sense that what the artist creates may be much finer than the artist himself. So, as that fineness of creation is IN the artist, this means they must, surely, be a better person than they appear to be. Well, that I think is the theory that has artists forgiven for what would be unindulged behaviour in non-artists.

Maybe we do believe, unlike what Orwell says, that an artist IS a special kind of man!

Davis stumbles through, journeying from New York to Chicago and back, in pursuit of fame and fortune, insulting people wittingly and unwittingly, coercing his way into places to stay, meals to be fed - and making at one point a terribly wrong decision around a recording session which the audience knows will sting. Davis is careless and selfish, sure, but he is also gauche and possessed of a certain gullible innocence - he both exploits and IS exploited.

I'm sure I'm not alone is also rooting for the parallel ginger cat story, one of those wonderfully real Coenesque eccentricities, which left me, as a cat fancier, wondering and worrying about one development. (can't say more, spoiler avoider)

Llewyn Davis' has a Dylanesque musical style and voice, and indeed Oscar Isaac has some of that intense street-waif sexiness of the young Dylan, as in the album cover of the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and there is almost a sub-text of `could this be a version of Dylan'. There is a neat barbed moment around this in the film, which had me wincing and laughing in equal measure.

With a great musical trawl through, in terms of live performance and soundtrack music, this was a thoroughly enjoyable film

Other performances of note in the film are the sweet faced, sweet voiced, foul mouthed and angry character played by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman as a fairly obnoxious jazz musician and Garrett Hedlund as Johnny Five, a beat poet, in the road/Chicago section of the film.

The 40 odd minute `extras' have a certain rough-cut charm, probably particularly to musicians.

I have one small criticism of the sound quality of the spoken material, which seemed unusually quiet and muttery from some of the performers, so I had to have the volume turned up beyond normal levels to properly hear much of the dialogue.

The Quick
The Quick
Price: 5.31

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An interminable progression through an overcrowded, over-exploited genre. SPOILER ALERT, 4 April 2014
This review is from: The Quick (Kindle Edition)

I thought I was fortunate in being sent this as an advance copy by the publishers.

The high advance praise from two heavyweight literary fiction writers of craft, Kate Atkinson and Hilary Mantel, assured me (I thought) that this Victorian Gothic might be an absorbing read.


To this reader's sensibilities, what we have is a kitchen-sink writer, where everything is tossed into the stew, the writer being unable to refine into a clearer, more dynamic narrative, with fewer characters, asides, implausibilities (within its own rules) and subplots. This weighs in at over 500 pages, and I did not find it page-turningly immersive, only wearying.

And I am not a reader who prefers `short' I have found some 800 page novels deeply absorbing. But not this one

The first 50 pages or so are a slow, meandering introduction to the two major characters, James Norbury, a would-be writer, and his sister Charlotte, living in genteel near poverty in North Yorkshire village, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Just as I was on the verge of believing scenes were taking far too long to set and going nowhere, there were interesting developments which appeared to suggest that the book's theme was going to be around social and sexual mores in fin-de-siècle Victorian London. And this section of the book was interesting. Unfortunately, it then took a leap away from reality into the well-worn groove of a sub-genre of Gothic horror.

Merely to say that may be too much of a spoiler, but once the major `well THIS is the REAL META THEME' burst forth, I'm afraid I sighed noisily, and with bored inevitability.

There are various holes in the plot As an example given the genre's own reality, which the author reminds us of time and time and time again a certain hidden manuscript would immediately have been retrieved from hiding as where it had been hidden would be known to all. I have a horrid feeling a franchise awaits.

An implacable and incisive red pen could have shortened the meandering progression hugely and given this some page turning value.

By the time we got to the implausible introduction of the trapeze artist in order to give a particular person some reason to have certain physical skills, I was beginning to whimper in pain. Gang warfare amongst a certain group of let-us-call-them-specific-undesirables, coincidence after implausible coincidence piling up all around, and I was really becoming more and more surprised at the praise from Atkinson and Mantel.

Lauren Owen is not a poor writer, but she is a rather plodding one. Her writing, and her characterisation are not involving, absorbing or arresting enough to take the slow pace of The Quick. She is certainly inventive, and has a sense of narrative - but there is too much which is laboured and drawn out needlessly. I had the sense of various set pieces being written - for example `How-Charlotte-Teaches-James-to Read' , `how a trapeze or carney artiste trains', - perhaps because Owen herself had ideas and research knowledge she wanted to work into the story - which didn't really do anything except add plod, rather than spring, into plot.

After a section filled with the equivalent of the inevitable belief defying shoot-out at the Okay Corral section, a certain inevitable signalling limped towards the end, with the final page hinting what I had begun to suspect was a-lurking deep in future planning, all along.

I have not given examples in this review of writing style, it is not the writing itself which is problematic, it is the overworked and tired genre, and the padding surrounding it, in this outing.

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