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Passing (Modern Library)
Passing (Modern Library)
by Nella Larsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Confined by race, class and gender in 1920s America, 2 Mar. 2015
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Nella Larsen's Passing was originally published in 1929, and is a chilling, chilly account of the politics of race, class and gender. Larsen was an African American, seeing with a rather steely eye into some of the uncomfortable accommodations which might be made in order to best gain the riches and rewards which America offered the educated and wealthy - at least, those who were white - or could `pass' as such

Irene Redfield, involved in charitable foundation work to advance her race, married to a doctor, could indeed `pass' for white, but would regard this as a betrayal of her race. She only uses `passing' in order to gain anonymous access to comfortable places such as tea-rooms in elegant hotels, where, if she didn't `pass' she would be unable to enter.

A chance encounter brings her in contact with another `passing' woman whom she has not seen since their girlhood. Clare Kendry however, made different choices through her ability to `pass' Clare has been living as white for some years, married to a white man who is casually racist, she is a part of that wealthy white urban middle class.

Irene and Clare have taken very different approaches. Irene has lived more comfortably, protected from harsh economic realities through her husband's position. She is upright, disciplined, correct, gracious and inflexible. She is also, it seems, a person of principle but her principles are arrived at through rationality. She is actually, a little chilly, and very controlling.

Clare, by contrast, whose early life was less privileged, lives as an accomplished survivor, exploiting her extraordinary beauty and grace, and the fact that no one in her present milieu dreams she is anything other than one of them. The challenge for Clare though, is that this has led to her losing all contact with `her' people.

"It's funny about `passing' We disapprove of it and at the same time condone it. It excites our contempt and yet we rather admire it. We shy away from it with an odd kind of revulsion, but we protect it."

This is a short, most interesting book, rescued from being purely sociological observation by a believable, developing story. The challenge I found was that the writer's style is a little too structured and measured - whether this is because this fits the rather chilly controlled manner of her central character, Irene, I'm not sure, but this is told in the third person, so I suspect it is the author's voice. I do have a preference for more lyrical writing - Larsen is an Enlightenment voice, rather than a Romantic one

And.......for those hoping to get a version with textual notes and analysis - the Kindle edition does not come with these

Logitech Wireless Combo MK330 - UK layout
Logitech Wireless Combo MK330 - UK layout
Price: £27.34

3.0 out of 5 stars Logitech moves backwards - irrationalsemitech?, 2 Mar. 2015
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I've been a big fan of Logitech, for years. However, this might just be my last outing with them. The accumulated debris of several years of cat fur biscuit crumbs and the like finally prompted a much older keyboard in a wireless keyboard and mouse combo, to expire in dusty exhaustion.

Confidently I ordered the obviously updated version of what had served me so well before, expecting that, cat fur aside, I would be happy again

First black marks to this newer model is that the little nano receiver without which this will not work was so stupidly packed (why not inside the mouse, for heaven's sake, where it would live if you ported it with a lappy in a case?) that on opening the box to lift out the keyboard and mouse it fell out, un-noticed, and led to wasted time frantically searching through packaging on its way to be recycled.

Second, there is no manual AT ALL - just pages and pages of guarantee and safety info in a trillion languages, and a pretty silly piece of paper showing you where to put things, on-off button switches

Okay, the nano USB once in a port downloads the drivers, and you have simple use of a keyboard and mouse. But what about the vaunted setting 12 hotkeys etc

What Logitech completely ignore is the fact that you need to download the SetPoint software from the logitech site to do this. But do they tell you this?? Not at all. Not a whisper. It will only be, in frustration, when you log on to the Logitech site in the vain hope that there will be a user manual to download which tells you how to activate your hot keys, (no useful user manual, just those silly pictures again) that you discover that you must download the SetPoint software. Why couldn't this be indicated on the box/on the silly pictures paper.

And.............sadly, it turns out that you can't programme unique things for your PC with the combination of Fn and ALL the function keys - you get just 4 of them, F5-F8, and there are 6 other keys with set single touch function. Many years ago, an earlier keyboard had let me bring up some of my individual folders on different function keys.

Then I was further unamused to discover that the battery compartment cover on the back of the keyboard did not fit properly and needs sellotaping to hold it in place as typing causes it to fall out otherwise!

Finally, Logis product description claims the keyboard uses AA batteries (which I wanted, as I have a job lot of these) - alas, no, its AAA.

I think it might be time for logitech to change their name -irrationalsemitech??

What I DO like as so many wireless keyboards seem to have dispensed with the caps lock num lock etc warning lights, is that once the unannounced SetPoint software is installed, you can set it to flash onscreen when changes in cap and num lock are made, and also (hurrah!) to get a warning light that batteries are running low, so giving ample time to recharge some more.

Final gripe, for the company formerly known (in my mind) as logitech, why did my keyboard batteries come as 'fully charged' but the mouse battery is partially used and on 'good' levels only - I suspect, that like the stupidly packed nano receiver, and the improperly fitting cover, that the paper guard preventing battery from making contact with the conducting strip was probably not properly fitted, so that the battery has been gently using charge since assembly

Yepal PVA Chamois Towel, Size at 26"*17", Super Water-Absorbing(5 Times Absorbing Than Normal Cloth) ,Durable Quality , Dot-Embossed Surface, Bright Color, Machine Washable , Cooling&Soft Dry, 1 Towel Per Round Tube Pack,Ideal Used As Car Clean Cloth, Sports Towel, Travel Towel, Pet Towel,Household Cleaning Cloth,Glass Cleaning Cloth
Yepal PVA Chamois Towel, Size at 26"*17", Super Water-Absorbing(5 Times Absorbing Than Normal Cloth) ,Durable Quality , Dot-Embossed Surface, Bright Color, Machine Washable , Cooling&Soft Dry, 1 Towel Per Round Tube Pack,Ideal Used As Car Clean Cloth, Sports Towel, Travel Towel, Pet Towel,Household Cleaning Cloth,Glass Cleaning Cloth
Offered by YorkimBay
Price: £19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars For those who love the practicality of a chamois - without the cruelty, 1 Mar. 2015
I was delighted to be offered this product for review. Nothing seems to leave windows as smear-free as a polish with a chamois, but as a vegetarian I won't use such things, as if I won't eat an animal it seems particularly pointless to wipe windows with its skin

So I was very happy to see how this PVA version would perform. And the answer is - brilliantly

This very generously sized cloth of course has a range of uses, not just as a cleaning and polishing cloth. It is indeed a voraciously thirsty absorber of liquids, so perfect for spills

Washes very well (don't use conditioner, don't wash above 30 degrees)

Although no doubt it could be used as a towel, due to how well it absorbs water, for me it would be a bit too chunky and stiff to feel good. I do have a dinky rucksack roll up sports towel, and prefer that, as it is soft. But, certainly, the generous size of this one at 26 inches by 17 inches, mean it could certainly be used this way. I decided to cut mine in half though, giving me 2 generously sized cloths for various household tasks.

It comes in a nifty plastic tube, into which the washed clean cloth, slightly damp, is rolled up and stored. Keep it slightly damp and it is immediately fit for use again, but if you forget to pack it away whilst still damp, a quick dunk in water and wring out has it ready again.

Great product, and thanks for offering me the chance to try it, Yepal

Crooked Heart
Crooked Heart
Price: £9.04

4.0 out of 5 stars A warm-hearted, well written story: Unusual friendship in World War 2 on the Home Front, 27 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Crooked Heart (Kindle Edition)
I had enjoyed, with reservations, Lissa Evans earlier book, Their Finest Hour and A Half, also set on the Home Front during World War 2, which featured a film crew turning out Ministry of Information Films. Evans has a nice line in both humour and pathos, but my reservations of that earlier book were that characters verged a little into caricature, and the book could have withstood a lot of cutting and paring back

In this later book she has done that paring back, and turned her attention to a smaller number of characters and central relationships

Noel is a 10 year old precocious orphan. Fiercely intelligent, a loner, a bit undersized and easily bullied. And he has a godmother whom he adores, and with whom he lives, rapidly heading for dementia and desperately trying to keep it together. Mattie is home schooling him, in rather anarchic fashion - particularly in left-wing politics, abhorrence of war, and feminist politics (she was a suffragette who was imprisoned and force fed for those pains) Both Noel and Mattie are desperately trying to avoid the authorities finding out how bad things are, and, particularly, neither want Noel to be evacuated to a safer place as the blitz begins to bite.

Unfortunately, all attempts fail, and an officious relative of Mattie's steps in and Noel is evacuated to St Alban's.

He is a rather unattractive looking child, and has retreated, in grief, to stoic silence, leading to all concluding he is simple minded. As it is the prettiest, most spic and span children who get first picked by host families, Noel is the shop-soiled reject no-one wants. Until Vee, a desperately poor cleaner, on the verge of middle age, living by her wits, supporting her elderly mum and feckless adult son, sees an opportunity for a little extra cash coming her way, by taking in Noel for the duration. Much cleverer than Vee, who is actually possessed of a great deal of imagination and survivor instinct, given half a chance, the two slowly begin to make common ground, finding, for Vee, ways to avoid continuing to be the victim that class and some bad judgements have made of her, and, for Noel, putting his fertile intellect in the service of money making scams gives him the first small beginnings of escaping from grief.

Evans has created a couple of extremely likeable oddball, misfit characters whose relationship with each other, initially built on mutual dislike, slowly moves towards something bordering a kind of mutual respect based on what each can gain from the other, into a warm heartedness based initially on `being crooked' in order to survive. There is plenty of humour to be found in the sharp exchanges between the two, with Vee, especially having much to learn from the greater intelligence and wisdom of her young evacuee

"We're telling people you're my boy and then you're using words "original" and "hence" No one from St. Albans ever says "hence". And you should say "my mum" not "my mother" and anyway you just don't sound right. You sound as if you come from somewhere posh and I sound - `

`Common', said Noel.

Vee coloured. `You don't say things like that about people', she said. She fiddled with her hat. She thought she'd been looking smart and now she felt like a greasy rag. `You don't know anything about me,' she said. `I was at school till I was fifteen, I was clever. I wanted to be a teacher.' "

The nicely drawn supporting characters include Vee's dotty mum, endlessly writing letters to Churchill and Chamberlain, offering them advice on winning the war, her adult son Donald, exempt from call-up through a dicky heart (and scams of his own to pursue) and another very aged suffragette whom Noel befriends.

What I particularly liked, is that for all Evans' light touch, there are real emotions which the reader is confronted with. We end up rooting hard for this most unlikely pair of individuals, individually and together.

A definite feel-good read.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
Price: £3.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time speeding up, again and again, in a hi-fi, sci-fi, thriller, 23 Feb. 2015
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Claire North's (who she?) wonderful page-turning mind-mangle across, primarily, the mid to latter part of the twentieth century is dizzying, disorientating and dazzling!

North is already a successful author with a couple of pen-names, within particular genres - YA and fantasy. This book is so very very different that it seemed sensible to use separate names, for different audiences, and to avoid preconceptions

Harry August, is a `Kalachakra'. This concept (if not the word itself) can be found in philosophical thought from both the European Classical Philosophical Tradition, and, (where the term comes from) from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition (sometimes written as Kalacakra) It refers to the concept of time being circular, the wheel of time, as opposed to linear The circularity of time is a concept within which many ideas, from the nature of matter/time and their connections, to the idea of parallel universes, forking time/choice, re-incarnation and the transmigration of souls, can find a home. The Kalachakran is also aware, and has memory of their prior incarnations

North has taken the idea of a kind of repetition of time/choice (say, in filmic terms, Groundhog Day AND Sliding Doors) but has come up with a very clever and mind blowing concept - linking classical thinking and the future - that, from recorded history, there have always BEEN those who were reborn, again and again, within their own time frame - not, as it were, time travellers from the future or from the past - if you were born, as Harry August is, in his first life in 1918, and are then reborn, you are reborn into your own life and your own time - still, where you were born the first time, in the same place, but you will have awareness of that earlier life, and may perhaps make different choices, parallel choices, choices which may be occurring in a parallel universe. The clever twist is, there will be other Kalachakra, born perhaps half a generation or a generation later, who may be able to bring you awareness of the future - and `messages' can be passed, next generation child to dying elderly person back and forth through time. Confused? Dizzy? Its like walking in one direction on an escalator travelling in the opposite direction.

A club, (dating back thousands of years, reflecting all those thousand years back circular timers) the Cronos Club, a secret organisation, passing messages back and forth in time, exists to protect its own. The law, the rule, which must not be broken is that the large events of past and future must not be changed - to seek to bring future knowledge back into the past is to irretrievably change the nature of the past and thus the future, with potentially cataclysmic effects.

Unfortunately someone, or more than one someone, is subtly doing this. Small scientific changes begn to happen, from some time in the 1920s, which should not have happened at that time. Very very subtle technological changes, opening the possibility for earlier discovery of yet more changes. And some members of the Cronos Club are aware of this.

North keeps a wonderfully firm hand on her inventions, technologies, theories of physics, and marries this to a very human story. This is absolutely a `literary' novel full of authentic psychology, believable people and relationships in time and space, friendship, betrayal, greed, thirst for power and domination, with a very well thought through twist. There really is plenty for those who like their science fiction to have science within it, not just fiction. There are no aliens, no spaceships, no intergalactic battles - just us, within a period from 1918, comprising most the last century, and a little into this - but with a deeply unsettling, deeply plausible twist - the world is ending (as it will, one day) but, it appears that it will be ending faster as knowledge from a little in the future, gets used a little earlier.

The book is full of brilliant pull-the-rug-out twists, which had me absolutely shouting Oh NO Oh YES in shock and recognition. And, as a not so often used driver of `what is the central relationship here' - it is not a romantic one, not a parent/child - it is friendship, and its glues and sunderings.

This was, quite honestly, a book I could not bear to put down, It permeated my dreams two nights in succession, so much so that I woke and had to do some middle of the night further reading, driven by the page-turning (faster and faster, not just the world ending faster!) mind-mangling workout North was whipping up

5 star and then some! Hugely enjoyable, most entertaining, and with lots of really good stuff to chew on

The Offering
The Offering
by Grace McCleen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.39

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `All these years, there have been things I cannot remember', 19 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Offering (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In many ways I got more out of reading McCleen's harrowing, bleak and beautifully written book on madness and faith after finishing it, whilst the questions it raised continued to challenge and linger in my mind.

Madeline, the central character and narrator has been resident in a psychiatric hospital somewhere in England, for more than 20 years, since being admitted, bloodied and in wild confusion at the age of 14

Now a recently appointed new doctor, Doctor Lucas, has been appointed to clean up the asylum and its inmates, and produce meaningful statistics to show his methods work. He decides to fast track the long-term, seriously ill patients with combinations of treatment approaches designed to provoke catharsis

Madeline was the daughter of proselytising Christian fundamentalists. Her father, particularly, seemed more closely related to some of the American, separatist sects who hearken back to previous centuries. The family have moved to a small island, somewhere off the coast of Great Britain. Her father, a man who becomes progressively more fearsome and implacable to the young girl, is nonetheless a figure of derision to the local community, who, if believers at all, are of a more moderate and easy kind, and do not wish to be burdened by fervent attempts by what appear to be glassy-eyed zealots, to offer salvation

The reader knows from the start that something traumatic and terrible happened to Madeline, aged 14, and because she has been institutionalised, it was probably something she did, rather than something done to her. We know her mother is dead. We also know at the start of the novel that something......strange seems to have happened to the powerful new doctor, as the novel begins with Madeline meeting a NEW new doctor, who will be changing her treatment.

In many ways, enough hints are dropped during the book for the reader to spot the trajectory. WE might be fairly clear about the awfulness of the shocks and revelations to come - but the point of the journey isn't for the reader to discover `what happened next' but for us to discover how Madeline will be affected by what she discovers of her own, deeply buried and forgotten history, which was so traumatic that she has retreated from it into a twenty year amnesia.

It is Doctor Lucas, a man in his own way as deeply fanatical and fundamentalist about the implacable rightness of his methods and ideologies about psychiatric medicine as Madeline's father was about religion, who begins to push down the barriers of Madeline's forgetting

What fascinated me about this story was the unspoken questions and answers about the psychology of those with unshakeable beliefs in their own rightness. McCleen (who was herself brought up in a Christian fundamentalist family) for sure shows us that Madeline and her parents are damaged and damaging by the fierceness of their beliefs. But there are clear parallels between the damage caused by the man of religious faith who cannot be wrong and the man of scientific methodology who cannot be wrong. There is a kind of pathopsychology which is equal and opposite in both.

Hypersensitive to something transpersonal and numinous, Madeline is fragile by both nurture and by nature. She hears too much the hidden voices in wind and water, as it were, and is not enough aware of the materiality of wind and water.

This is, without a doubt, a deeply lacerating, sorrowful, and painful book.

However, it is also stunningly beautiful in places - Madeline's fragility and sensitivity give her a sense of wonder and poetic engagement to that which cannot purely be reduced to matter. She has a kind of joyous, romantic, Pantheistic immersion in life-in-the-landscape.

"The land was glowing at the edges, catching light here and there as if someone was running with a burning branch and touching life into it. That morning, I felt it was being presented to me, and each day, for quite a long time after that, waking up was like being a gift that I tore open again and again. We each tore it in our different ways"

McCleen's book has left me thinking a lot about the particular dangers of an implacable sense of rightness, the midline of complexities and discomfort which are the lot for those who accept a world without unswerving certainties, and, on the other end of the spectrum, those for whom the absence of any possibility of any certainties may be such a terror that it drives them towards and under the influence of those who admit no questions or doubts at all.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 26, 2015 6:33 PM GMT

No Book But the World
No Book But the World
by Leah Cohen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looking on at life, rather than wrestling with it, 17 Feb. 2015
This review is from: No Book But the World (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Looking on at life, rather than wrestling with it

Neels Robbins and his wife June, twenty years younger, are both like relicts of the sixties: teachers, suffused with the ideals of A.S. Neill, and, in Neels' case in particular, a strong belief in the ideas of Jean Jacques Rousseau, particularly in the educational field.

The title of the book is from Rousseau's Emile: a treatise on education:

"Let there be no book but the world"

Experience itself is to be the teacher, and the child - a kind of noble savage, with innate and inherent goodness an humanity - is not to have its potential confined, restrained, restricted by the strait-jacket of formal education.

Neels sets up a school and a community to further these ideals. June is a teacher at that school. They have two children, Ava and Fred. However, even within the community of children and adults who are allowed to be free to express themselves without restriction, and who might be considered to be eccentrics by the 9-5 society, Frederick is strange. Very strange, disturbed and disturbing. As labelling with a diagnosis, and, having labelled, treating, is counter to Neels' philosophies, as it implies a judgement on Fred's strangeness as wrong. Had he been diagnosed, his symptoms would most probably have put him somewhere on the autistic spectrum

Ava is more `normal' and indeed, yearns for a more normal childhood, a more normal school, to Neels' annoyance and disappointment. But she too has a kind of disenganged, dissociative quality to her nature. As do both her charismatic father and her less-hard-line in view mother.

Twenty years after the childhood experience, which might be seen, by some (Neels' view) as having been idyllic, but might be seen by others (and this, at times, is Ava's view) as having not served them that well, not helped them to fit into the world and into relationships with others, Neels and June have died, through illness and old age. Fred and Ava drifted away from contact with each other.

In fact, Fred has become a drifter, a loner, earning his living here and there in unskilled labour. Ava is a peripatetic music teacher, `The Singalong lady', and is married to Dennis, the brother of her closest, her only, childhood friend Kitty.

And the story begins thus: Fred is arrested in connection with the disappearance, and later death, of a young boy. It seems likely that Fred kidnapped the boy, and, once his body is discovered, possible that Fred killed him

Ava, in first person narration, sets out in shock on a journey both actual and in memory, to try and understand what has happened. Everything she knows about Fred tells her he cannot be a murderer. She believes he is innocent - but, if he isn't, who is responsible for what he has become. Are her parents, particularly her father, to blame. How responsible is Ava herself, for not taking sufficient care of a younger brother difficult to love.

Other strands of the story are told as from the point of view of her husband Dennis, from Kitty her best friend and sister in law, now a therapist, and, finally from Freddy himself

This is a slowly unfolding, very thoughtful book, and if some of the events are hinted at, signalled, - and some are surprising and shocking, it is more an exploration of understanding (for Ava) and a series of further reflective questions, not always answered, for Ava and for the reader.

Cohen writes carefully, reflectively and well, and I settled in with interest and absorption to this book as it deepened and revealed itself.

This was a very satisfying read, though something about it meant it is a book I enjoyed, a lot, but was not in the end unstoppably grabbed by.

The reason for this lies in the fact that all the central characters have this sense of detachment, observation rather than engagement, in the worlds they live in. As I haven't read any other books by Cohen, I don't know if this is a symptom of her writing more generally, or specific to this book only.

I am most engaged by those writers who can not only credibly show me other lives, and make me understand them and be interested in them, as Cohen absolutely does, but can do this not by a mere observation of those other lives, but, somehow, by getting me to inhabit them. Because that is where their own writing springs from, a kind of inside of the other empathy, rather than a dispassionate, more aloof observation.

Cohen's characters, are all observers rather than inhabiters, with the possible exception of Kitty

Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book)
Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book)
by Jacqueline Woodson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.03

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely not only for the children, 16 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I discovered Jacqueline Woodson's autobiography-through-poetry book through the blog of an American writer and champion of excellent books for children

Woodson is a black American, and tells her story as a `brown girl' born in 1963, both as her own, individual family story and the wider story of black history from a particular time and place. She is an award winning writer for children and teens, but her reach goes way beyond being confined to appeal `only to children'

In many ways, I think the challenge involved in recognising that children are completely capable of understanding great and subtle complexity of meaning, but that they may not have quite the sophistication of adult vocabulary, is a brilliant discipline for a writer - it hones their craft. Some writing about complexity for adults leads to writing becoming over fussy, even designed to confuse or show off dexterity, but the really excellent writer who chooses to write for a younger audience - like Woodson - somehow keeps all the layers of meaning held within simply arresting, clear images, clear language

I had to take this clear and pared down book extremely slowly and very carefully, anxious not to miss anything.

Woodson's words are spoken softly, but they are powerful, and her images rolled unstoppably over me, leaving me, many times, breathlessly weeping

The starting point, is a poem by Langston Hughes, the rest of the story is Woodson's

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow

Born in Ohio, but raised also in South Carolina, where her mother and her father's mother were from, she tells of an experience from the North and the South.

She reminds us that in 1963:

In Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr.
is planning a march on Washington, where
John F. Kennedy is president.
In Harlem, Malcolm X is standing on a soapbox
talking about a revolution

meanwhile :

In Montgomery, only seven years have passed
since Rosa Parks refused
to give up
her seat on a city bus

She recounts the confusing experience of marital break-up, from the child's viewpoint, and the pain when families are torn apart, the conflicts when the people you love are no longer all living together - a sense that `home' is forever lost because it now belongs in several different places

Our feet are beginning to belong
in two different worlds-Greenville
and New York. We don't know how to come
and leave
behind us.

To set against the pain of loss and breakup as relationships end and the older generation who were strong and powerful become frail and the ones to be looked after, is Jacqueline's secret excitement at beginning to master words, to discover that she is, she will be, a teller or stories

For days and days, I could only sniff the pages
hold the notebook close
listen to the sound the papers made.
Nothing in the world is like this-
a bright white page with
pale blue lines. The smell of a newly sharpened pencil
the soft hush of it
moving finally
one day
into letters

This would indeed be a wonderful book for a child, and probably an even more wonderful one for parents and children to find delight in together.

The Slaves of Solitude
The Slaves of Solitude
by Patrick Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tender, tragic and darkly comic account of small lives on the margins, 13 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Slaves of Solitude (Paperback)
The Slaves of Solitude is set in 1943 in a suburban boarding house, in `Thames Lockdon' (loosely modelled on Henley-on-Thames) There is a seedy, penny pinching respectability, a po-faced rather right-wing sense of little-England righteousness which stalks the pages and the mean, soulless little rooms of the `Rosamund Tea Rooms'. Rosamund is no longer a tea-room. The economies of war have turned the tea rooms into a boarding house, where those of more than slender means have found possibly their final resting places - several of the residents are quiet elderly spinsters or widows.

The central character is Enid Roach - how she hates both her names, and the spiteful sobriquet of Roachy, or even worse, Cockroach, which were hers as a not successful teacher. Miss Roach is teetering on the edge of 40. She is a refugee from London, where she still works as a publisher's assistant, though to be honest, more of her work involves accounts and clerical duties than reading manuscripts. Bombing flattened her rented accommodation in London; hence she has shored up here, commuting daily.

She is far less grey and nondescript and irretrievably spinster than she thinks. Various onlookers (some of them the elderly ladies and gentlemen in the boarding house) like her ability to be more free-thinking and less petty and insular than many. For example, she leans towards sympathy with Russia, and does not automatically assume that every German is a Nazi. She also has a certain something `a rather nice face' which makes some men see her as not quite past interest.

Unfortunately, the boarding house also contains a horribly blustering and opinionated bully in the person of Mr Thwaites, who embodies everything about little-England righteousness, and an unerring instinct to attack the tender and kind, who don't have the killer instinct to lash back. His victim, on a daily basis in the nasty boarding house dining room, is Enid.

Two other major movers of the novel's dynamic are a kindly, heavy-drinking American, one of the `over paid, over-sexed, over-here's, Lieutenant Pike, who has some designs on Enid, and a further nemesis, in the hands of Vicki Kugelmann, a German woman who has lived in England for well over a decade, and has been taken under Enid's kindly wing, in part because of her degree of being ostracised for being German, but, also for representing, like the Lieutenant, a wider world.

Hamilton captures, beautifully, the narrow world, the thinking processes, the pettiness and the glories of his characters. Although in many ways this is a dark, sad book, echoing Enid's sad cry:

`at last she put out the light, and turned over, and adjusted the pillow, and hopefully composed her mind for sleep - God help us, God help all of us, every one, all of us'

it is also horribly, viciously comic in its exposure of the nasty, small-minded petty tyranny of the Mr Thwaites of the world, who imagine their spiteful drivel and their pompous utterances against their fellows is `bluff humour' instead of the wearing, pointless savageness of its true nature:

`You know', said Mrs Barratt, I don't think you really like the Russians, Mr Thwaites. I don't think you realise what they're doing for us.' ....

Mr Thwaites was momentarily taken aback by this unexpected resistance, and there was a pause in which his eyes went glassy.

`Ah' he said at last. `Don't I?....Don't I...Well, perhaps I don't...Maybe I thinks more than I says. Maybe I has my private views....'

Oh God, thought Miss Roach, now he was beginning his ghastly I-with-the-third-person business. As if bracing herself for a blow (as she looked at the tablecloth), she waited for more, and more came.

`I Keeps my Counsel.' said Mr Thwaites, in his slow treacly voice. `Like the Wise Old Owl, I Sits and Keeps my Counsel.'

Hamilton is clear where his loyalties lie, and where he wants ours to lie. `Thwaiteness' is not the glittering crime-against-humanity which fills the news, which `the silent majority' may look at, and tut at, in horror, but it is instead, a relentless small spitefulness and viciousness, on a daily basis, which arises out of those small lives, as much as, on the other side, daily small kindnesses may arise from the lives of the nameless.

Revlon Blush Brush
Revlon Blush Brush
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A lovely brush, but needed to be retractable to be brilliant., 6 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Revlon Blush Brush (Personal Care)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is indeed a perfectly soft and effective blusher brush. And looks pleasing too, if you care about these things.

Brushes, however, for best life within a packed make-up bag need their own cases. And the bigger and softer the brush the more this is the case to avoid splay.

I have a wonderful blusher brush, still going strong, after many years of use, from The Body Shop. The reason it is still going strong is because it comes with a retractable case. The case now looks remarkably tatty and discoloured, but the brush has no splay, as the cover slides up and holds the head together.

This Revlon brush is less expensive, but I'm sure the brush itself will not last as long, because of the lack of protection. Sure, you could keep it in the plastic container it comes it, but that's quite large, and doesn't fit into any of my make-up bags

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