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Tracey (Essex, UK)

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My Family and Other Freaks
My Family and Other Freaks
by Carol Midgley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A daughter's review, 16 July 2012
My 11-year-old devoured this in a day. Her verdict: "This book is awesome! It's very funny and I love Danielle and her reactions to everything, especially because the diary style makes you feel like she is talking to you. I give it five stars."


Netherland
Netherland
by Joseph O'Neill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Difference between grandiosity and thinking big, 29 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Netherland (Paperback)
Towards the end of Netherland, the protagonist Hans cuttingly tells his friend Chuck: "There is a difference between grandiosity and thinking big." This is something the author Joseph O'Neill would have done well to ponder. Time after time, the cover plaudits speak of this novel being brilliantly written, and in places it certainly is. Far too often, however, the narrative gets bogged down in self-consciously clever phrases which felt to me like wading through treacle. Hans can't just look at ice on a window; he has to be torn "between a ridiculous loathing of this obdurate wintry ectoplasm and a equally ridiculous tenderness stimulated by a solid's battle against the forces of liquefaction." Far from being moved or inspired by the image, I was simply left to wonder quite how long it had taken O'Neill to craft that one. There are worse examples, but they are so long and and have such tortuous sub-clauses that it seems unkind to inflict them on others.

According to the cover, Jeremy Paxman feels the novel captures the cultural diversity of New York ( or "that ideal source of the metropolitan diversion that serves as a response to the largest futilities," as Hans would have it), but does Netherland really do this? Hans' sense of being an outsider looking in is clear but he is Dutch, for goodness sake. The Trinidadian Chuck is well drawn within the rather limited part he plays, but characters from elsewhere in the world have only cameo roles and do not contribute to a meaningful portrayal of a multi-cultural city. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to learn something - anything - about the other members of the Staten Island cricket team rather then the finer points of grass cultivation?

Meanwhile, Hans must be the least driven banker in history and he drifts through the novel letting things happen to him, while his wife Rachel is one-dimensional and deeply irritating.

There are some interesting ideas and images among Hans' episodic memories, the stream-of-consciousness structure does work and O'Neill never intended there to be much of a plot, which is fine. However, there's a much better novel lost somewhere among all the treacle.


Into the Darkest Corner
Into the Darkest Corner
by Elizabeth Haynes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plot holes, 2 Nov. 2011
Four stars for this debut novel because it is unputdownable, brilliantly atmospheric and a convincing portrayal of Catherine's personal descent into the hideous spiral of domestic abuse and its aftermath.

However, there are a number of significant plot holes and this took the edge off the book for me. It's vital to the story that Cathy's long-standing friends desert her. This they do in a heartbeat following one word from Lee (who, charming as he is, they barely know), despite the fact that Cathy is clearly acting oddly and has recently confided in them that Lee is too intense. Would ALL her friends really abandon her just like that? One even tells enormous lies about Cathy in a witness statement and, though we see this friend succumb to Lee herself eventually, at the witness statement stage she could not possibly have been so much in his power that she would do that. The OCD and violence in the book are vividly given to us in absolutely forensic detail. Surely we could have had a more thorough and convincing explanation of the breakdown of every single one of Cathy's friendships?

Also, Lee gets a surprisingly short sentence - partly, apparently, because he manages in court to portray Cathy as a mad woman. Yet the injuries from the final attack as it is described would have been absolutely horrific. It is clear to us that he nearly kills her - regardless of her mental state at the time, how is that passed off as self-harm or the result of her violence towards him? Plus, she is discovered moments after the attack by a neighbour who has seen Lee leave the house with blood on his shirt.

Finally, Lee says no-one raised the alarm about Naomi. No-one? Really?

Miss Haynes' attention to some details - the OCD and the actions of an abuser and his victim - is fantastic, but the overall story arc needs a bit more of the same treatment.


The Tiger's Wife
The Tiger's Wife
by Tea Obreht
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book groups, beware, 14 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Tiger's Wife (Paperback)
This novel is hugely frustrating. An ambitious and clever concept with some elements of superb storytelling, it is ultimately too baggy and disjointed to be properly engaging. The same is true of Tea Obreht's writing; some of it is hauntingly beautiful and evocative, but she is horribly prone to overblown descriptions and subclauses.

The Tiger's Wife is a natural choice for book groups, but I would urge them to avoid the suggestions for discussion at the back of my edition (a Phoenix paperback). If "Why, in Darisa's dream, were the tiger and his wife always eating heads?" is one of the most pertinent questions raised by the novel, then I really have missed something.


The Night Watch
The Night Watch
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Back to front, 15 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Night Watch (Paperback)
Sarah Waters is an excellent writer, but I've thought before that she would benefit from tighter editing (The Little Stranger is about 100 pages too long, while even Fingersmith is repetitive in places). The Night Watch only confirms this view.

The idea of a "back to front" novel is brave, interesting and has the potential to work well, but Waters doesn't really pull it off. The first section is of course the end of the story, but for the readers it's still the scene-setter and goodness, it's a long one. It's probably supposed to be tantallising but in fact is at best languid, at worst a bit tedious.

The middle section is excellent - much better paced and packed with meaningful incident. The ambulance scenes are superb and the description of the medical drama unforgettable.

However, the much shorter last part (our ending, the story's beginning) feels rushed and perfunctory, as though Waters had simply run out of energy. Perhaps she didn't really care how the characters first crossed paths. I'm not sure I did.


Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

5.0 out of 5 stars superb, 4 May 2011
This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
Cut to its bones, this is the thoroughly depressing tale of a series of unsympathetic characters. However, Yates' extraordinary writing, deep insight and subtle manipulation of tone lift this wonderful novel far above its basic bleakness. It's a small story, in time, place and even action, but nevertheless manages to transfix.

Quite superb.


Brixton Beach
Brixton Beach
by Roma Tearne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivid and beautifully written, but..., 20 July 2010
This review is from: Brixton Beach (Paperback)
This is an elegant, elegaic book which confidently straddles two very different worlds - Sri Lanka and Britain - and then shows how both can be torn apart by terrorism.
Roma Tearne writes like the artist she is, colourfully and evocatively, though just occasionally she overdoes it. The falling in love scenes towards the end of the book, for example, feel pretty schmaltzy.
The trouble is, as one or two other reviewers have said, many of her important characters just aren't likeable. Grandpa Bee and Janake are fine people, but you lose patience with her mother and father and even Alice sheds the feistiness she showed during her childhood when she arrives in England. So she would, you might argue, but honestly - she really wallows in her worlds apart-ness, despite having lived in the UK for 30-odd years. So much so that she drives her son away and when she meets Simon, it's quite hard to understand why he finds her so captivating.
Nevertheless, it's a very good read because Tearne really is a storyteller.


I, Coriander
I, Coriander
by Sally Gardner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting, 19 July 2010
This review is from: I, Coriander (Paperback)
This wonderful book completely captivated my nine-year-old daughter and me. It's a highly imaginative story - set against the backdrop of the Interregnum, it has an other world thread which is so skilfully told that it fits the narrative perfectly.

Sally Gardner writes beautifully in an accessible way and, best of all, had my daughter begging me to read further every night.


An Education [DVD] [2009]
An Education [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Peter Sarsgaard
Offered by b68solutions
Price: £3.29

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too old, 22 Mar. 2010
This review is from: An Education [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
I did enjoy this film greatly, but couldn't quite get past one obvious flaw.

Wonderful actress as Carey Mulligan certainly is, she's several years older than the 16-turning 17-year-old that Jenny is - and it shows. Much of this is down to the script and, presumably, the direction.

I know Jenny is supposed to be a self-possessed young lady, but even so she is just too poised and immediately comfortable in the company of the much older, far more urbane David and his two friends. Even in the early stages, when she is still make-up free and slightly frumpy, her personality is incredibly assured.

Bright as Jenny is, surely this schoolgirl from Twickenham (who at the start of the film seems to be accepting the attentions of a shy, immature young man her own age) would have been just a little more gauche.


The Outcast
The Outcast
by Sadie Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not flawless but a compelling read, 11 Feb. 2009
This review is from: The Outcast (Paperback)
It's been a long time since I found a book so hard to put down. The Outcast is a truly compelling read and Sadie Jones a very gifted writer. Her style is deceptively simple - spare prose which manages to convey an awful lot. The way she draws her characters by going into minute detail about their everyday actions is particularly effective.
Lewis is an interesting and believable protagonist - a very damaged young man who doesn't get the help and understanding he needs because this is the Stiff Upper Lip Fifties. How well Sadie Jones conveys that horribly pent-up feeling. However, I do wonder whether the unbearably hot weather (as others have said, very like Atonement) which mirrors and exacerbates the stultifying atmosphere is a bit of a cliche. If she'd set her story to boringly average weather and still maintained the sense of represssion, that really would have been clever.
Two things stop this from being a five star novel. Firstly, Sadie Jones is a screenwriter and one or two scenes (particularly the crucial Church scene at the end) are over-theatrical. They'll work very well in the inevitable film or TV adaptation, though. Secondly, a couple of the characters - especially the relentlessly dreadful Dicky Carmichael and his vacuous daughter Tamsin - veer dangerously close to caricature. While I've no doubt that the Fifties upper middle classes were buttoned-up, it would have done no harm to introduce a little more light and shade here.


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