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The Outsider "Muso" (London)

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Tender is the Night (Penguin Hardback Classics)
Tender is the Night (Penguin Hardback Classics)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Diver Sinks, 12 July 2013
F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece is the story of the incredibly named Dick Diver and his fall from grace that occurs over a 6 year period after the First World War.

Diver is a young psychoanalyst (dives into the unconscious) who rescues young heiress Nicole (both Americans abroad in Europe) from madness, and then dives down into alcoholism and ultimately, into the lower classes by the end of the book. Diver falls from the matinee idol, supremely intelligent up and coming Doctor into an abused and self-abusive victim in a few short years.

Brilliantly structured (it starts in the middle, goes back to the beginning and ends tragically) and written with skill and assurance that simply takes the breath away, this tale has transformed my already high opinion of this writer into one of great reverence.

Nicole Warren Diver transforms from a victim rescued into his independent persecutor, while Dick mutates from super-special hero into pathetic victim. It happens so gradually, you hardly notice. You see the corrupting influence of too much money and too much leisure and wonder how anyone can life such stupid, idle, wasted lives.

As Dylan said, 'you've read all F. Scott Fitzgerald's books' - well, now I have, and I declare myself, blown away.


The Great Gatsby (Collins Classics)
The Great Gatsby (Collins Classics)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.50

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Class War, 6 Jun 2013
Elegantly written and disturbingly realistic, TGG is almost as good a novel as people say. Throughout the unfolding story, the underlying theme emerges like an exposed bedspring - class war.

James Gatz is an everyman from the Mid West, but a self improver, and maybe more than little shady. His pre-War affair with the rich Daisy has touched the nerve of his lust and ambition, and the War wipes his moral slate clean. Hooking up with mobsters (the pernicious Jew, so obviously an anti-Semitic trope of the age) Gatz becomes Jay Gatzby and becomes a celebrity party thrower. He has a plan to lure Daisy away from her rich brute of a husband. How things go wrong is the stuff of the novel.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about the world he lived in, and there is the constant rubbing of the classes, much to the ruin of all. The rich are the envy of all - Jay does whatever he needs to do to join their company - which they disdain. The rich mingle with the masses merely to exploit them in some manner, and get away with murder with greater alacrity than the poor who may do the killing. The moral universe is in disorder. Seen through the eyes of young Nick Carroway, a cousin of Daisy who tells the scandalous tale, it is not a happy life for anyone, rich or poor.

Please don't be put off by the book's fame - it is so well written the pages fly by. And it is short and purposeful They told you it is a great book, and for once, they're right.


Bear Season
Bear Season
Price: £6.17

4.0 out of 5 stars Superb Storytelling, 31 May 2013
This review is from: Bear Season (Kindle Edition)
Bernie Hafeli is an old friend, so that's out of the way. I knew he had a novel in him 30 years ago, and presto! Here it is. The story is tender, elegantly written and great fun. It is about a boy going on an adventure with his uncle, a wayward Polish immigrant called Izzy, who beguiles everyone with his tales of a bear that became an army mascot during the war. The boy and his uncle venture from booming Detroit to Cleveland and then on a journey to Scotland to meet up with the bear.

In Bernie's fable, the real and fanciful is sublimely mixed, and this allows him to confront the consequences of the war on this family with a human, knowing intelligence that involves the reader completely. It shows so much promise, it almost gets the full five stars. It is ideally paced and plotted and never outstays its welcome.

Welcome a new American writer of great skill and merit.


The Silver Linings Playbook (film tie-in)
The Silver Linings Playbook (film tie-in)
by Matthew Quick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Silver Touch, 31 May 2013
Having seen the excellent film, I decided to see if the source novel had the same punch. I'm delighted to say that it did.

The film foreshortened the original plot, as films often do, but worked very well dramatically. I was expecting the book to be more complex and elaborate, maybe different in style and tone. I'm happy to say that the novel is very readable, well written without being a literary novel, a sort of souped up rom-com, like the film. For those coming new to it, SLP tells the story of two fractured people - Pat(male) and Tiffany. Both are depressed and delusional, and yet, together, they find a new life in the end. You know where it is heading, but you read on. The characters are all well drawn, weird and wonderful, and none of it is so pat and predictable that interest is lost. It is a complex tale about what is real in life, but it is told simply, and that makes it so enjoyable.

I don't know how I would feel about it if I read it first, but this is one of the most enjoyable light books and well worth reading.


Self-Consciousness
Self-Consciousness
by John Updike
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.23

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insight, eloquence and originality, 14 May 2013
This review is from: Self-Consciousness (Paperback)
It is fashionable among some intellectuals and critics to deride dead white authors, but reading John Updike's unusual and revealing memoirs reminds me of his now past greatness. As an avid reader, Updike is one of the great stylists I have read, a chronicaler of ordinary lives and times, a man who sees through the detail of everything he confronts with a clarity that defies comparison. He was great, and this memoir, strange as it is, is great.

Updike chooses to tell fragments of his life story in six highly unusual chapters. The first is all about his upbringing in Shillington PA. It is told through an anecdote about waiting for lost luggage in his birth town much later in life, while his spouse and daughter watch a film he has alredy seen. The second is all about his psoriasis - the bane of his life. All his life, he was uncomfortable in his own skin, and this chapter explains, in part, his awkward and detailed observational style. The third chapter is about his stutter and asthma - it too displays the humility and wisdom of the author. The idea of an autobiography driven by ones own faults cuts the egotism - or magnifies it. Who cares about these odd faults? But that is his magic.

Chapter four is odd too- his relative support for the American war in Vietnam made Updike stand out in the 1960's and caused great bitterness in his personal and professional life. His defense is stunning - he is a moderate, loyal man, brought up to vote and believe in morals - and he found his world gone mad. In this, he is like the great Saul Bellow, who also embraced the classics and other vestiges of old, white civilisation when the world spun out of control. Chapter five is a long letter to his racially mixed grandsons, an amazing and quite detailed sketch of the white Updike clan, who had been in America since the early 17th Century. I found it fascinating but not as much as the other chapters. He confesses his liberal feelings - he was an early supporter of civil rights, and he has nothing but love for the boys.

The last chapter, is, of course, the best - all about death. Updike is a relgious man - and I am not. That said, he puts his faith driven worldview out in front of the reader, and it is beautiful. This chapter is worth the cover price alone.

So no more output from Updike - that means, read all that is published. He wrote so well about nothing but life itself (critics accuse him of having nothing to say about big issues). He was great at this, one of the best writers in English to ever grace a blank page.

Stunning and memorable, quirky and revealing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 5, 2014 2:23 PM GMT


Darkness, Take My Hand: 2 (Kenzie and Gennaro)
Darkness, Take My Hand: 2 (Kenzie and Gennaro)
by Dennis Lehane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dress Rehearsal, 3 May 2013
'Darkness' is a Lehane dress reheasal for the superior Mystic River, using his Kenzie and Gennaro detective vehicle and Silence of the Lambs as an inspiration. This is an inferior book to Mystic River. The writing is florid, the plot crude - it is not even a good example of his earlier, genre novels. It is no Gone Baby Gone, for example. There is too much crazy killer/Hannibal Lector in this one - maybe Lehane thought he could cash in?

Yet Lehane is good enough to keep you in the game througout. I knew the killer early, as the plot closely follows what Dashiell Hammet laid out in his classic, The Dain Curse - you meet the killer early and he is nice. So that bit was easy to spot, despite all his best efforts. This did not put too much of a damper on enjoying what followed, up to a point. The plot still shimmied its dance, the killings were plenty gruesome and shocking, and the tone, as hard boiled as a ten minute egg.

There was the usual 'all men are bastards' and 'all women are saints' stuff that mars a lot of Lehane - he is a victim of the misandric zeitgeist, full of Cathoic guilt for man's sins (women are too nice to sin). One of the major/minor characters had to die, and this time, of course, it was a man who was once married to Angie (and shockingly, Patrick's former best friend). A wife beater and a drunk, the victim. Kenzie's dad gets it in the neck - a fireman who beats his son and actually burns a man alive withouth grimacing. The climax is pretty satisfying, considering what preceded it, as Kenzie does what Kenzie does best - stand up to evil and vanquish it (again!)

I am glad Lehane matured and has now written a number of truly excellent noir thrillers and even better, more serious novels. This is a mere dress rehearsal for the writer he would become.


Capital
Capital
by John Lanchester
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Meandering Mosaic, 20 April 2013
This review is from: Capital (Paperback)
Just as the ancient Hebrews wandered around the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land, John Lanchaster's Capital meanders around the mosaic of modern London for 577 digital pages (my eyesight made it quite long!)only to arrive at no particular place.

There are a disconcerting number of stock characters in this series of barely related tales, everyone from the Polish builder, the lady who lunches and her gormlesss City husband, the old lady meant to represent dying old London, the Banksy artist, the Pakistani immigrant family whose son gets stiched up on terrorism charges, etc. Each tale is kind of interesting, kind of funny and kind of resolved by the end. It is well written, light, superficial in a kind of Nick Hornby way and vaguely entertaining without being that funny.

It is also meant to be more than the sum of its parts, a kind of Ship of Fools type tale. In this, I'm afraid, it fails. It is in no way profound, and I'm not sure why the author wrote it. I was hoping for more and got less.

Not that it wasn't a fun read, and sometimes humourous, but it had the usual smug bastard tone I associate with British novelists that makes them a tad unlovable.


The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change
by Charles Duhigg
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tasty, but not very filling, 3 April 2013
The remarkably named Charles Duhigg takes his one idea - the habit loop - and runs with it and runs with it. Written in the pop science style of Malcolm Gladwell, the book contains a few ideas dressed up in some detailed journalism; human stories that bring slightly different aspects of the core message to life.

If you don't fancy reading the whole thing, this is it. We are creatures of habit. Habits have three parts, like a good story - a beginning (cue) middle (habit behaviour) and end (reward). Science has found that it's the middle that counts, the flexible part,the part we can alter, and if we do, we can lose weight, stop drinking, etc. But we have to believe that we can change this behaviour, or we can just about forget it. So, if that makes sense, the rest is art direction, window dressing, and human interest.

I don't know what to make of this book - it is interesting and well written, but it seems more like a silicon injected Atlantic Monthly article than a fully fledged book. Contrast it to say, Thinking Fast and Slow, and it really is a Chinese meal; tasty but not very filling.


The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
by Masha Gessen
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stalin 2 - the sequel, 24 Mar 2013
I finished Masha Gessen's evisceration of Vladimir Putin's neo-Stalinist regime the day after Boris Berezovsky's death/murder suicide - how timely was that? Gessen is a Russian journalist who has charted events since the demise of the Soviet Union. She exposes Putin as a mafia boss leading a mob state, all corruption, illegal seizures of money and business, state ownership of media fake elections, and clear suppression of freedom - and that Stalinist standby - the political murder. As a frequent visitor to the land of hookers and thieves, I read it open-mouthed, gasping in disbelief and recognition. Yes, it is yellow journalism, but very good indeed.

Charting Putin's rise from his humble beginnings, Gessen shows how the one-time, self confessed little thug has blossomed into a world class thug, killer, billionaire and - incredibly - world leader dedicated to restoring Soviet power and his beloved KGB to its former glory. The astonishing naivity of Yeltsin, Berezovsky and others, who wished to see good in this 'grey blur' reminds me most of Lenin's faith in Stalin. While others warned Lenin that Stalin could not be trusted in a position of power, no one seems to have warned any of these men that Putin was sociopathic. Wishful thinking lead everyone to believe this incredibly non-descript person could never be a danger to anyone, that he might be honest and liberal. You can forget that - this is a total slam-dunk destruction of that notion.

I have removed a star from this review because of the prologue, which deals with the 'white ribbon' revolt following the re-election of Putin. I took it away for the same wishful thinking Gessen accuses others of indulging in. Remember - Putin is in power and he has just murdered the man who picked him out to rule - Berezovsky - yesterday.

For the Western media and people who'd like to think Russia is not the pariah state of old, read this book. Better believe it - Putin is Stalin 2 - the Sequel. Don't expect anything from Russia except murder and politcal suppression until he goes. And those Russians living in Europe, spending their swag stolen from Russia - well, it amazes me that such people are allowed to become citizens of a 'civilised country' -makes you wonder about Britain.


The Social Conquest of Earth
The Social Conquest of Earth
by Edward O. Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ant-tastic!, 16 Mar 2013
Those who challenge EO Wilson's slow conversion to group selection over kin selection, obviously hate this erudite ode to eusociality, and rightly so. It demonstrates the wisdom of his careful and detailed demolition of kin selection as a limited and mostly irrelevant determinant of evolutionary behaviour. I would imagine it was Wilson's unchallengable mastery of the insect world - and his 40 year obsession to link the behaviour of man to insect - that finally swayed him to this new understanding.

Edward O. Wilson is a professor emeritus at Harvard University in entymology and a founder of evolutionary biology and psychology. He is one of the world's great intellectuals. He is as influential in his sphere as the Beatles were to mid-sities pop music. He writes with clarity and ease, and cares deeply about science. His long dissection of the group vs. kin selection rests on eusociality, the societies of insects and people, who rule the earth through group co-operation. One memorable idea is that, while a selfish individual might triumph over a co-operative one, a selfish group loses out to a co-operative group - all the time. Some of the detailed anecdotes about insect behaviour still astonish the non-scientists among us (me!)

I particularly loved the final chapters of this book, especially the one in which he evicerates religion. In this he makes Dawkins look hysteric without much effort. To Wilson, the natural world, with all its wonders, knocks the spots off the imaginary world of 'faith.' Be prepared to take another look at The Selfish Gene and other works based in kin selection. There is a better idea, and Wilson shows it to us.


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