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The Outsider "Muso" (London)

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J: A Novel
J: A Novel
by Howard Jacobson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You Always Hurt the Ones You Loathe, 23 Oct. 2014
This review is from: J: A Novel (Hardcover)
You Always Hurt the Ones You Loathe

Howard Jacobson has hit a late career hot streak, a bit like Philip Roth. The Finkler Question won the Booker Prize and this effort was shortlisted. While Finkler sparkled with wit and ideas, this more allegorical work draws you into a unusual mystery - trouble is, you almost know what the secret is from the opening pages. It does raise Jacobson's inevitable question about anti-Semitism - why do Christians need it so? And that is the pleasure and pain of J.

Set in the future in a place we can recognise but not know, the unnamed J's have been finally wiped out - this time for sure, by the Christians. The survivors are so guilty for the crime, they cannot mention it and have adopted funny Jewish surnames. The place is horrid, violent and charmless - because, you guessed it, it is Juden-frei. Jacobson builds the tale around a romance between two unlikely (and of course, Jewish) characters, and ramps up the mystery of who they are and why they are the focus of so much outside attention by the supporting weirdo gentile characters.

It is dense, funny, dark and not totally unrewarding, but it is a bit of a trip to the dentist. You know he means well with that drill, but it doesn't half hurt, with or without novocaine. Jacobson's core belief is that Christians need the Jews to beat on because they stole their religion, took over the world and hate themselves for doing it. The Jews, he reminds us, are funny, self hating, complex, clever, materialistic, etc - all standing for the 'other' in the eyes of the Christians. It is a bit like the old Mills Brothers song - You Always Hurt the One You Love'. Trouble is, the tale is devoid of charm, the protagonists are too one-dimensional and the clues a bit obvious. The final twist is good, but what else could have happened? A happy ending? Pull the other one. I was glad when I finished it - a bit like a trip to the dentist.

Complete Greatest Hits
Complete Greatest Hits
Price: £18.20

4.0 out of 5 stars Not a Crash, 8 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Complete Greatest Hits (Audio CD)
The Cars had a window of fame. Their debut album was their high point and this collection features the best of that. This Boston group had very fine musicians, a good writer in Ric Ocasek - who looked Bowie- ish. They made a few very good pop singles - Just What I Needed, My Best Friend's Girl and You Might Think- and this is the way to hear them. They have little depth, but they did not pretend to.

Braun Multiquick 5 kitchen machine K700
Braun Multiquick 5 kitchen machine K700

5.0 out of 5 stars it is still the best machine on the market, 8 Oct. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Yes, it is still the best machine on the market.

Price: £5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ball of Confusion, 8 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Orfeo (Kindle Edition)
Richard Powers continues to impress with his collision of art and science to reveal human nature. Orfeo is the tumultuous tale of Peter Els, a devotee of avant garde classical music who becomes a 'person of interest' to the US government when he starts working with dangerous bacteria is his home, trying to literally marry art and science. The paranoia that pervaded Generosity has now exploded with this tale, and it is the individual who is being squashed like a bug.

Els is an unlikely hero. He is misanthropic, selfish and more than slightly detached from reality. He is an extreme version of a man, and it is this man Powers identifies as 'at risk' from the modern world. Els is dedicated to finding new sounds to the exclusion of almost everything else, including friends, family, success, you name it. That it all comes crashing down in his old age is no surprise, but the way it comes down, is a surprise.

For those new to Powers, try The Echo Makers and Generosity. The intensity of his writing makes your head swim a bit in this novel. He loves his subject matter, and you won't love it as much. It seems deliberatively off-putting at times, as if he is saying, this is so arcane, you will be repelled. And we are sometimes repelled.

But his grand theme is once again visited in a novel way. Powers is unique, and his approach is unique. The Booker Prize put this on its long list, but it was not short-listed. I am not surprised, not because Powers is American, but because the book is very difficult. It would not fit the mould of literary novel with popular appeal. Not this one, not even close.

by Richard Powers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human Nature, 14 Sept. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Generosity (Paperback)
Many reviewers are taken with the topicality of Power's books - his interest in science and music, his command of detail, his obvious research and intellect, his clever writing. My belief is that Powers is a master of trying to unravel human nature and that his novels are his canvas for this.

The story of Generosity is this - a nerdy writer takes a college class in creative non-fiction and meets two unusual women. His student, an Algerian refugee seems afflicted by permanent happiness despite her terrible personal story. He brings this up with a student psychology counsellor, Candace, and the pair decide to explore whether she is 'suffering' from a medical condition. They turn to a famous Ventnor type to test her and the ensuing action turns her life upside down and miserable.

In all this, Powers demonstrates his prowess at exploring what is natural in human beings. The writer stands for the arts and human nature, Candace for reason and science - and they fall in love. It is obvious role reversal. Thomas Kurton (the Ventnor character) is pure masculine science - let's improve on mother nature - and the female science reporter who breaks the story is conflicted and changes sides from science to nature in the course of the plot. None of this feels contrived.

At the heart of the drama is the lovely Thassa - the ultimate woman - a natural uniter, a charismatic lover of life who seems unstoppable until her encounter with science almost destroys her. She is not a real person, you think while reading, yet she sets off this amazing tale and keeps you involved.

The Echo Makers is one of the finest novels I've read, and Generosity, though slightly behind it, contains enough stunning writing and intelligence to make me recommend the book warmly.

Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams
Price: £5.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Left To Say, 14 Sept. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Ryan Adams (Audio CD)
On 3 separate songs, Adams insists he has nothing left to say, but then why say it on this outstanding self-titled effort? Of course, he is only pulling our leg as his long awaited return to the fray demonstrates. His aural issues are over, or have been abated, so he can play electric and does so.

I have no doubts of Adams writing talents - he dashes off quality melodic songs - and don't have issues with his attitude. He plays lots of quality guitar on this album and his angelic voice is nothing short of fantastic on every track. His song selection is near faultless, the album is wonderfully paced, and the production restrained and tasteful. As he gets older, he is more personal - not always a good thing. Most of the material is personal and the writing is austere, not as poetic as the previous Ashes and Fire, but still superb.

Onto the material. Gimme Something Good is a Tom Petty-ish slow rouser - Benmont Tench on kevboards is a notable plus. Kim is a great Adams jealousy song, simple, hurt and believable. Trouble is one of the finer tracks, combining the expected and unexpected, an Adams characteristic. Am I Safe? is lovely, a bit like an Ashes and Fire track. My Wrecking Ball - Adams is a Springsteen fan but this title? The song is better than that. Stay with Me, also a very good track, is Pettyish, and contains terrific background vocals. Of the remaining tracks, I like Tired of Giving Up best, but all of them are interesting, detailed and meticulously constructed.

There are people who think Adams is overblown and overpraised. I disagree. He is one of our best living singer songwriters, with an outstanding writing talent. That his life is up and down can only be expected. He is not bland, he is not trendy, he is not showy and he is not bereft of ideas.

If you think this guy has nothing left to say, you are dead wrong.

Scenes From A Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood
Scenes From A Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood
by Mark Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars New Hollywood, Old Bitchiness, 25 Aug. 2014
Mark Harris is the wife/husband of author Tony Kushner, and his brilliantly detailed book about the 'revolutionary' year of 1967 makes a good read if that's your era - it is my era. It cannot be faulted for research or conclusions, and yet... It is also full of bitchiness, gay rumours and endless smugness about it's subjects that I felt like having a quick shower after reading it.

He takes the 5 films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and tells their stories from the roots up. 4 of them are very distinctive pictures - two genuine New Hollywood (The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde), two Old Hollywood (Guess Who's Coming for Dinner and In The Heat of the Night) and one super-weird choice (Doctor Doolittle). It is hard to find anything wrong in his conclusions - that the New Hollywood films deserved to win Best Picture but lost out because of the racial conflicts of the time and the transition wasn't fully complete. Some of the inside detail is genuinely fascinating, especially concerning the neurotic Dustin Hoffman, the eccentric Kate Hepburn, the frustrated Sidney Poitier, and the egomaniacal Warren Beatty. The directors also come across very clearly, and the one you'd want to have dinner is definitely Mike Nichols.

At the same time, Harris cannot stop speculating about everyone's sexuality. I wonder if this is anything to do with his own sexuality (duh!). Of course, Spencer Tracy was a bi-guy. Everyone knew that, right? Of course, Clyde Barrow was also a bi-guy, famous for having it off with the get away driver. The three ways with Bonnie had to go, much to the screenwriters' chagrin. There is an bitchiness to the character sketches that are more than annoying - otherwise, another star would be added. Also, Harris believes his own hyped premise - that these films represented a New Hollywood. Maybe they did, for ten years. Star Wars killed that off. For me, even Bonnie and Clyde looks dated piffle now, and only The Graduate still plays.

Inferior to Easy Riders, Raging Bulls (the 1970's - much better films!), but still a good read if you love movies.

Augustus: A Novel
Augustus: A Novel
by John Edward Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Citizen Augustus, 11 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Augustus: A Novel (Paperback)
John William's Augustus is the Citizen Kane of historical novels. Rather than telling the story through one single character, like the Emperor or his daughter, or even his servant, as Robert Graves might, Williams chose the mosaic approach. The action progresses throughout the accounts of a number of actors directly or indirectly involved. This is no mean involves learning a great deal more history than usual, and a writing skill to convey so many different voices.

Yet he succeeds brilliantly and the book is a classic of 20th Century writing. John Williams spent his life teaching, and wrote only 4 books. This makes Augustus stand out even more - it is clearly a labour of love. Only in the last section do we hear the voice of Augustus, on his dying voyage to Capri. The enigmatic ruler makes himself clear, and it is certain the Williams revelation of the wise, pragmatic and accomplished Augustus lifts the book to great heights.

Highly recommended.

by Nic Pizzolatto
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Cady's Redemption, 21 July 2014
This review is from: Galveston (Paperback)
Nic Pizzolatto's first novel is a foray into noir, but with a decided religious undertone. Roy Cady is a shady tough who finds himself in the crosshairs of his sadistic New Orleans boss for reasons to numerous to mention (especially screwing Carmen, now the boss's moll). He is set up to be killed in a shootout but comes out on top, and escapes to Texas with a recued waif. To make matters worse, he has just found out he has terminal cancer.Raquel the teenage prostitute(called Rocky) has more baggage than Samsonite, and Cady falls into saving her (and her three year old daughter) from a life beyond awful. As you can imagine, it ain't easy.

But it's not the whole story. Like his debut short stories, this novel has a deep spiritual side. This makes Galveston different from most other noir novels which occur in a totally immoral world. Pizzolatto's world is full of sinners and not many saints. But Cady reveals himself as a good man underneath his murderous exterior. He decides to do right, and is severely tested in the process. He does not die, as foretold, but comes close to death. After 20 years, his good deeds pay dividends at last, and he is redeemed. To tell more is to ruin the story.

Pizzolatto writes beautifully throughout without touching the elegance of his short stories. It's a different genre, one that is blunter and tougher. Galveston comes across as less intellectual that True Detective and his short stories. But the talent is there, the sheer writing ability, and so is what he has to say about people. We are all drawn into sin, and its up to us how we deal with it.

Between Here and the Yellow Sea
Between Here and the Yellow Sea
Price: £3.30

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars True Craftsman, 16 July 2014
The author of the compelling True Detectives cut his teeth on short stories, and this is his first published book. While not as dark as that slice of noir (his first novel, Galveston from 2010 IS), this volume features compelling stories, beautifully wrought by a writer of some accomplishment. This volume contains a prize winning story from the Atlantic Monthly (the title story), a fascinating tale of a washed up football coach and one of his now grown students on a mission to rescue the coach's daughter from a life appearing in hard core porn. It is told in simple, elegant prose, and is moving and insightful.

The collection kicks off with a tale of a base-jumping park ranger who is joined by a young girl who also wishes to soar above St. Louis. Love grounds him, forcing him to realise the danger of his hobby. It ends with a wonderful tale, set in the 1920's, of a stained glass artist who becomes the love interest of a visiting English girl in mourning over the loss of her unnamed husband in the First World War. All of the stories are interesting, and some have the now familiar mystic flavour of True Detective.

Pizzolatto is a name to watch - at once literary, but as we have seen in Galveston and True Detective, a talent for pulp, or at least noir subject matter. I have added him to my list.

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