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The Secret Scripture
The Secret Scripture
by Sebastian Barry
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.92

26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Betrayal and tragedy in old Ireland, 15 Jun 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Secret Scripture (Paperback)
Don't accuse Sebastian Barry of lacking ambition. The Secret Scripture, a novel based around the reminiscence of a 100-year-old woman who has spent most of her life in a mental asylum, is an extraordinarily bold piece of writing. Roseanne McNulty, the daughter of Protestant policeman, sets out to document her troubled youth in west Ireland, amongst poverty and the turbulent politics of the early Free State. Meanwhile, the mental hospital's senior psychiatrist sets out to discover the history of this ancient, forgotten woman left in his care. The story is tragic and in some parts very moving, and the ending is genuinely shocking. Barry seizes at difficult subjects, such as the nature of mental illness, and the unreliability of memory. Unfortunately, I found that the ambition overextended the book, stretching it in too many directions. Some of the writing is prosaic and poetic, but it can also be dry, because the first person perspective limits the vocabulary and metaphors available to the characters. The book is carefully plotted, but the unreliability of the narrator sometimes makes the story seem unreal. Roseanne and the Doctor are given authentic voices, at the price of drifting towards the banal. The Secret Scripture won the Costa book prize, probably should have won the Booker, and is definitely a better book than The White Tiger, but I didn't feel completely satisfied. It is a novel that I can admire but not love.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2010 9:29 AM GMT


The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse
by P D James
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Murder on an offshore island, 15 May 2009
This review is from: The Lighthouse (Paperback)
Is there a writer who has pursued their craft with greater longevity than Phyllis James? It is extraordinary to think that she has diligently produced carefully structured whodunits for five decades, and The Lighthouse bears the familiar hallmarks that established her as the pre-eminent British crime writer of our time. In the Lighthouse, her poet-detective Adam Dalgliesh is sent to investigate a suspicious death on a offshore island. A murder in a closed community, an island with a sinister history, and a limited number of suspects, most of whom are revealed to have an opportunity and a motive. What raises James's books above the typical whodunit is her ability to depict the disappointments and passions of everyday people, at once ordinary and tragic, as she nimbly changes perspective between suspects. By my estimate, Dalgliesh must be ten years past retirement age. He is still struggling to resolve his love life, but James's writing continues to delight.


Nineteen Seventy Four (Red Riding Quartet)
Nineteen Seventy Four (Red Riding Quartet)
by David Peace
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "This is the North. We do what we want!", 13 May 2009
So declares one of the characters in David Peace's debut novel, as he pushes the protagonist out of a moving van. Just the type of thing that happens in David Peace's dark, gritty Yorkshire, where men are men, where women know their place, and where poofs and southerners get what's coming to them. A cynical journalist searches for a scoop by linking a series of child disappearances, but quickly finds himself out of his depth when he asks questions to the wrong people. 1974 is a brutal and violent crime story, loosely based around real events in the recent past, but essentially bringing the classic Raymond Chandler detective story into a modern setting. Well, James Ellroy isn`t writing much these days, so I suppose someone has to fill the void. I also sense an echo of Colin Bateman's Cycle of Violence. If you saw Channel Four's all-star adaptation in early 2009, you'll notice that they managed to capture the tense, pessimistic atmosphere of David Peace's book, where even the `heroes' are essentially perverts or rapists. Unfortunately, the book is as confusing as the screenplay (perhaps more so, as 1974 and its sequel, 1977, were clumsily spliced together for the purposes TV), and Peace's plot ultimately culminates in a number of illogical and curious twists. This leaves a bad taste. But the book moves so quickly, you may not notice. An okay crime story.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 6, 2014 6:48 PM GMT


Hawksmoor
Hawksmoor
by Peter Ackroyd
Edition: Paperback

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Never ending story, 27 April 2009
This review is from: Hawksmoor (Paperback)
"There is no light without darknessse and no substance without shaddowe," declares a seventeenth century narrator in Peter Ackroyd's peculiar story of psychogeorgraphy. Time and space amalgamate, and the tale of Nicholas Dyer, a fictional baroque architect constructing churches that were actually built by Nicholas Hawksmoor, becomes entwined with the story of a modern day detective investigating a series of murders that have taken place in the same churches. That detective is named Nicholas Hawksmoor. Confused? You will be. Peter Ackroyd's alternative world is completely bonkers, and while I sense he is trying to make a serious point about the relationship between the past and the present, and the enduring qualities of London geography, I feel that this isn't particularly well suited to the medium of a detective story. The seventeenth century story is written with the style and the vocabulary of the period, which makes the novel atmospheric but difficult. A writer who demands such an effort from a reader should provide a greater reward, but there is little to delight or excite in Hawksmoor. The novel has one redeeming characteristic - it is completely unusual. Bonkers, but unusual.


Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road
by Richard Yates
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth crossing the road for..., 6 April 2009
This review is from: Revolutionary Road (Paperback)
There is something elusively magical in this novel about a young married couple trying to be happy in 1960s America. Every page is wonderfully written. Has anyone ever written a more eloquent homage to suburban disenchantment? Frank and April Wheeler are disturbingly real characters, learning the hard way that we don't grow up to become the people we wanted to be, and that ultimately we are all disappointingly ordinary. Sad and beautiful.


Gorky Park
Gorky Park
by Martin Cruz Smith
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Back in the USSR, 6 April 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Gorky Park (Paperback)
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is easy to forget that there was a time when Russia was considered a frighteningly futuristic society: organised, disciplined, crimeless and technologically advanced. We have become used to regarding the post-soviet Russia as a country travelling backwards, characterised by territorial disintegration, (dis)organised crime, shortening population lifespan and economic failure. President Putin has reversed this trend somewhat, but it takes time to shake a reputation, and reading Gorky Park today is like stepping into a lost world.

In Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith takes the classic Raymond Chandler detective thriller and transposes it into the USSR of the early 1980s. Three bodies are found in a Moscow Park, the bodies have been mutilated to hide their identities, and Militia investigator Arkady Renko is given the task to finding the killer. The regular Chandler stereotypes all make an appearance: the femme fatale, the false friends and the bogeymen. The plot moves quickly and unexpectedly. Smith's depiction of the USSR is vivid and convincing, a fascinating world of paranoia, informers, state ideology and bureaucratic conflict. The unusual context puts an intriguing accent onto the standard detective thriller - this is a world where the investigator has one eye on the crime and another on abiding to communist party politics and ideology.

Smith writes excellent entertainment fiction, building suspense gradually and crafting an exciting and engaging story. My only criticism is that he seems unsure of how and when the end the story, and the overextended plot developments at the end somewhat stretch the novel's credibility. The final part of the novel seems unnecessary. The decision taken by Renko at the conclusion of the novel seemed to me, well, disappointingly ridiculous. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

As a fun thriller, Gorky Park is worth revisiting. It occurs to me that Robert Harris's novel Fatherland owes a strong influence to Gorky Park, but Smith is a better writer.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 10, 2012 3:06 PM GMT


Ivanhoe (Penguin Classics)
Ivanhoe (Penguin Classics)
by Walter Scott
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The return of the king, 1 April 2009
Walter Scott is a much neglected writer who has fallen out of fashion, and I read this novel with little knowledge of Scott and no preconceptions about his writing. I found Ivanhoe surprisingly refreshing. Ivanhoe is an epic tale of adventure set in a highly romanticised twelfth century England, in which a loose alliance of renegade knights, Saxon underlings, outlaws and persecuted Jews come together to oppose an attempt by Prince John to usurp the English crown from his brother King Richard, who is being held prisoner of the Duke of Austria.

Scott is a fantastically entertaining writer. He is a man who would have no difficulty writing modern thrillers. He understands that to keep the reader's interest, the plot must develop steadily and something must always be happening. Scott maintains the readers excitement with skilful changes perspective. His prose is sophisticated yet accessible, and he switches effortlessly between drama, romance, action and comedy. It is a very modern approach to entertainment literature, and it is difficult to believe that this book was written 190 years ago. The credibility of the plot is sometimes stretched by an over-reliance on coincide, but the narrative was too exciting for me to care much about such flaws.

Scott seems heavily influenced by Shakespearean drama, and he intelligently employs the difference between appearance and reality for dramatic effect. Scott's England is full of people hiding their true identity, travelling in disguise and misleading those around them, including the reader. The characters are somewhat Shakespearian, such as the jester who emerges as less of a fool than he pretends to be, the Jewish moneylender, and the villainous barons. At some points, characters even speak in monologue, as if they were actors on an empty stage.

Historical fiction is `in vogue`, having become a major genre in its own right, and I suppose Ivanhoe must be one the earliest `historical novels', although Scott's depiction of Medieval England is fantastically inaccurate.

Yet the novel Ivanhoe reminds me of most is The Lord of the Rings, another epic adventure with a boldly drawn cast, set in a vividly imagined world. I don't know whether John Tolkien was influenced by Scott to any extent, but if you like The Lord of the Rings, Ivanhoe is worth trying.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2011 12:52 AM GMT


Ivanhoe (Penguin Popular Classics)
Ivanhoe (Penguin Popular Classics)
by Walter Scott
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The return of the king, 1 April 2009
Walter Scott is a much neglected writer who has fallen out of fashion, and I read this novel with little knowledge of Scott and no preconceptions about his writing. I found Ivanhoe surprisingly refreshing. Ivanhoe is an epic tale of adventure set in a highly romanticised twelfth century England, in which a loose alliance of renegade knights, Saxon underlings, outlaws and persecuted Jews come together to oppose an attempt by Prince John to usurp the English crown from his brother King Richard, who is being held prisoner of the Duke of Austria.

Scott is a fantastically entertaining writer. He is a man who would have no difficulty writing modern thrillers. He understands that to keep the reader's interest, the plot must develop steadily and something must always be happening. Scott maintains the readers excitement with skilful changes perspective. His prose is sophisticated yet accessible, and he switches effortlessly between drama, romance, action and comedy. It is a very modern approach to entertainment literature, and it is difficult to believe that this book was written 190 years ago. The credibility of the plot is sometimes stretched by an over-reliance on coincide, but the narrative was too exciting for me to care much about such flaws.

Scott seems heavily influenced by Shakespearean drama, and he intelligently employs the difference between appearance and reality for dramatic effect. Scott's England is full of people hiding their true identity, travelling in disguise and misleading those around them, including the reader. The characters are somewhat Shakespearian, such as the jester who emerges as less of a fool than he pretends to be, the Jewish moneylender, and the villainous barons. At some points, characters even speak in monologue, as if they were actors on an empty stage.

Historical fiction is `in vogue`, having become a major genre in its own right, and I suppose Ivanhoe must be one the earliest `historical novels', although Scott's depiction of Medieval England is fantastically inaccurate.

Yet the novel Ivanhoe reminds me of most is The Lord of the Rings, another epic adventure with a boldly drawn cast, set in a vividly imagined world . I don't know whether John Tolkien was influenced by Scott to any extent, but if you like The Lord of the Rings, Ivanhoe is worth trying.


Viridiana [1961] [DVD]
Viridiana [1961] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Silvia Pinal
Price: 6.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A forgotten masterpiece worth discovering, 25 Mar 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Viridiana [1961] [DVD] (DVD)
Its a great shame that this film has become obscure, because I think its one of the triumphs of European cinema of the last century. Luis Bunuel turns the story of a novice nun visiting her reclusive uncle into a viciously funny attack on the Church. The film sways wonderfully between comedy and tragedy, and while there is a great deal of symbolism and surrealist humour, it is extremely accessible with interesting characters and a fast, engaging story. A film that will make you laugh and think.


Torn Curtain [DVD] [1966]
Torn Curtain [DVD] [1966]
Dvd ~ Paul Newman
Offered by WorldCinema
Price: 4.90

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A late great from Hitchcock, 20 Mar 2009
This review is from: Torn Curtain [DVD] [1966] (DVD)
1966, and Paul Newman and Julie Andrews are nuclear scientists defecting to East Germany in a film that seems somewhat influenced by John Le Carre's The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.

Standing against this film is some poorly judged incidental music, some lame background film, and a complete lack of chemistry between Newman and Andrews.

In its favour are half a dozen imaginative and extraordinary scenes that would stand out in any Hitchcock movie. The film takes a while to warm up, but when it does the tension is outstanding. My favourite is the 'dual of the blackboards'.

Don't let anyone say that the man's last good film was The Birds. Hitchcock's talents were fading, but he still had it.


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