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Stewart (UK)

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L.A. Noire (PS3)
L.A. Noire (PS3)
Offered by Game Dealz
Price: £6.92

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars LA(cking) Noire, 26 May 2011
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
This review is from: L.A. Noire (PS3) (Video Game)
I've enjoyed the storylines in L.A. Noire but can't help thinking that, overall, the game is not really that great. It's arrived on a wave of hype that almost looked to fulfil its promise, as most Rockstar games (with the exception of State Of Emergency) do. However, this game is on rails the way arcade efforts like House Of The Dead are and, for all its touted MotionScan technology (which does look fantastic in the game), the actual implementation of it is terrible as, regardless of the quality of your interrogative powers, you're guaranteed to solved the case. You could question every suspect, get nothing from them, and still manage to put the criminal behind bars. This is not good. In one case, I was tasked with interrogating two suspects and charging one: I charged the wrong guy and all I got was a dressing down from the superior before being given the next case to play with.

I don't want to compare it to games like Grand Theft Auto 4 or Red Dead Redemption, as it's not really the point of the game. But since it uses the same style of gameplay as these - the open world - I am going to compare it anyway. The game is full of missed opportunities. Aside from the static missions, there are only a couple of side games: the 40 brief - sometimes ridiculously brief - calls over the police radio to attend; the collecting of 95 cars; the passing of 30 landmarks; and something about 50 film reels (though I've not found any of them yet).

The thing about the other games is that your character is of variable moral fibre: it all depends on how you play them. As John Marston, in RDR, you can play good cowboy or bad cowboy, and the game responds accordingly. (And we all know how much more fun it is to play the baddie in a game.) In L.A. Noire we are stuck with a goodie two shoes copper that shows no signs of swaying to the dark side, and so the game deprives us of the ability to make decisions about the way we want to play it. We can drive or run around the city, but we can't knock people down; we can't draw our weapons as we please; and we can't interact with the actual city unless its pertinent to the case we're working. The car collecting sub-game becomes redundant when you take a car, it goes to a cut-scene, and then you're stuck back with your original car. The whole driving element of the game, with no world to explore beyond the cases' confines, becomes a bit redundant too. I could drive from one place to another, but if the only reason to drive is to get from A to B, then I'll just get my partner to do it, and save time; rather than waste time pretending the large map offers me anything beyond the fixed storyline and a couple of measly treasure hunts.

Overall, it's repetitive and the gameplay element is ill considered and plays second fiddle to the storyline. It's got the potential to be a good game and perhaps the mob behind this will learn that in this sort of game, there's no point in giving the player the freedom of the city if they can't do anything with it. Let's hope that, in future releases, they can pack some depth of gameplay alongside the currently extant depth of story. It's Heavy Rain without the variety; it's Grand Theft Auto without the variety. It's almost like Team Bondi have focused in on the MotionScan element and the story and then, at the end, tacked on a few other elements to falsify the scope and depth of the game.

The Poison That Fascinates
The Poison That Fascinates
by Jennifer Clement
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars's in their eyes!, 27 Jan. 2008
Woman, divine woman, you have the poison that fascinates in your eyes, goes the song by Augustin Lara from which Jennifer Clement takes the title to her second novel, The Poison That Fascinates (2008), and it's a more than apt reference point for a novel full of intriguing women who have, at their core, something toxic. Veteran of a number of previous poetry collections, Clement brings a lyrical treatment to prose that evokes the Mexico of the setting, the Mexico in which she's resident, the Mexico she knows so well and no doubt loves.

Emily Neale lives with her father in Mexico City, her mother having abandoned them years before. They are collectors of sorts, her collecting strange facts, notably newspaper cutouts of womens' nefarious deeds, typically murders; him gathering his lists of Mexico City's lost things ("trolley cars, pepper trees, garter snakes, rivers and lakes, bats, and the forests") - truly they are an odd pairing.

Beyond their unusual interests, however, there's their benevolent side. Emily's great-grandmother founded the Rosa of Lima Orphanage to which Emily devotes her time, giving her a strange connection to the children living there since "they think she is half of what they if being left with one parent were somehow impossible". Running the orphanage now is Mother Agata, a woman so large "a man could get lost in her arms" and to the orphans "is a tree, a wall, and a church that casts shade." Agata provides Emily with her extensive hagiographic knowledge - recalling saints, their feast days, and their patronage - and her more morbid press clippings of murderesses, which include the infamous - Lizzie Borden, Belle Gunness, Báthory Erzsébet - amongst lesser known names.

Coupled with the narrative are a series of italicised interpretations of these press clippings, in which the prose sometime reaches its most poetic, such as this example describing Lucrezia Borgia's hair:

Her hair is wheat-hair to be eaten, desert-coloured to be cocooned inside, straw-hair that suffocates and leaves an elbow, ribbon of thigh, light moon moments of skin exposed out of the tangled thicket...

...In her black, stone-black, fairytale-black tower, she watches the white sails of sailboats move, and lilt and sway and swing, like empty wedding dresses.

The joy of these passages are that, like Emily and her orphans, there's a sufficient distance between them and the main narrative, that is until both paths come together in a satisfactory and pleasing manner. The treatment, too, is enjoyable as rarely do these passages cover the same ground stylistically, even when Clement is describing poisons, or making poetry of imagined ailments and superstitions.

Of course, living in a fantasy world of murderers and saints, Emily's connection to the world at large is scant and it's only with the arrival of her enigmatic cousin, Santiago, that she begins to come terms with who she is:

`Emily, you're not living inside a book any more. You thought the woods were green and the ocean was blue., but they aren't. You were happy in those books, buy you're outside now and you are not walking on paper...'

While the novel deals with the lives of its people in the here and now, the relationship between Emily and Santiago recalls Mexican history, a scene at the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuácan perhaps, like Emily's birthday being Saint Rita's feast day ("the saint evoked against bleeding and desperate situations"), hinting at a subversion of the Aztec Quetzalcoatl myth discussed there.

With The Poison That Fascinates being set in Mexico City, there's little of the city at large, allowing Clement to focus on her small party of characters and work only with a few choice locations, and this non-populous instance of the city, along with the poetic prose, lends the novel a certain Latin Gothic tone that gives the feeling of enclosure with the characters rather than observers passing through:

In Mexico City the sky is brown smoke. The sky is yellow smoke. The sky is green smoke. The sky no longer belongs to heaven. It is not a sky. It is a ceiling.

Working as a fable, The Poison That Fascinates entwines well the lives of saints and sinners, the past and present, spinning in a dark thread of Catholic themes to pattern an enjoyable novel showing the extremes of womanhood, leading to tragic circumstances. As Emily knows, "the weapons of women are in teacups, sinks, cabinets and thimbles - places where poison can be hidden"; as Augustin Lara knows, it's in their eyes.

The Lonely Londoners (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Lonely Londoners (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Sam Selvon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only The Lonely, 17 Sept. 2006
First published in 1956, Trinidadian born, Sam Selvon, began his London based fictions with a short novel called The Lonely Londoners. It's set during a time when many West Indians were emigrating from a life of sunshine to the British Isles, believing, like many emigrants, that the streets were paved with gold. Of course, this is London we're talking about; there's no gold.

The book, for the most part follows the fortunes of Moses Aloetta, a Trinidadian who has lived in London for years, as his life meets tangentially with others. His time is spent between his job, in which he is paid a meagre wage, and heading on down to Waterloo to meet the latest influx of West Indians.

There all manner of characters coming to London, and not only from the West Indies. Shiftless ladies' man Cap, for example, is Nigerian. But the majority are coming from Trinidad and Jamaica. Local prejudice tends to label all the black immigrants as being Jamaican, which rankles Moses. Other characters include Henry Oliver (nicknamed Sir Galahad), a young kid looking to start over in London; Tolroy, who on writing home to say he gets paid five pounds a week, wasn't intending the letter to be an invitation for his whole family to join him; Five Past Twelve, an ex-soldier always on the scrounge; Big City, who has always been captivated by urban living yet can't quite integrate; and Harris, a man who has found himself in London yet is still tied to the burgeoning black community.

The novel follows their fortunes as they come to Moses for help, as they crash in on each others' lives, and flirt with the white women who see them as a novelty; all the time wondering if they will ever return home. Through all this, though, there's a sense of unease. For the native Londoners there are too many black people coming for work; the immigrants also share this resentment, in that the other immigrants are seen as competition for what little jobs are available. Most jobs, when the person is discovered to be black, tend to offer lower wages too.

What makes The Lonely Londoners special is the narrative. Rather than a straightforward English narrative, Selvon has opted for the third person narrator to tell the tale in creolised English, which give the effect of bringing the reader into the immigrant community:

"When he get to Waterloo he hop off and went in the station, and right away in that big station he had a feeling of homesickness that he never felt in the nine-ten years he in this country. For the old Waterloo is a place of arrival and departure, is a place where you see people crying goodbye and kissing welcome, and he hardly have time to sit down on a bench before this feeling of nostalgia hit him and he was surprise."

Selvon's characterisation works well with this creolised style but it's more than a tragi-comedy of the life in fifties London as immigrants try to find work and settle. Life is hard, the people reduced to living in small rooms. Jobs are scarce. And there is much racism coming from the local people and businesses, which Galahad struggles to understand when, still hoping for a job, he says:

"'The Pole who have that restaurant, he ain't have no more right in this country than we. In fact we is British subjects, and he is a foreigner.'"

Galahad takes this further when he addresses the colour Black itself:

"Why the hell you can't be blue, or red or gren, if you can't be white? You know is you that cause a lot of misery in the world. Is not me, you know, is you! I ain't do anything to infuriate the people and them, is you! Look at you, you so black and innocent, and this time you causing misery all over the world."

The Loneley Londoners doesn't follow a conventional storyline, opting instead to collect a bundle of stories about its characters adapting to life in London, using Moses as their backbone. This method actually gives the story more direction than one would expect and also blesses it, for its size, with an epic feel.

For all its sense of community, The Lonely Londoners, as you would expect from title, isn't a bunch of laughs. Sure, there's much comedy to be had, but an undercurrent of sadness runs throughout. Employment, racism, immigration, relationships, personal ambition, and nationality all come under Selvon's spotlight in a book that is anything but black and white.

Fascination of Evil
Fascination of Evil
by Florian Zeller
Edition: Paperback

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Fascination Of Zeller, 13 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Fascination of Evil (Paperback)
Florian Zeller, from what I can gather, is the latest darling of the French literary scene. At twenty-six, he is a novelist, a playwright, and a lecturer. And, for one so young, he has received a number of literary awards. His third novel, The Fascination Of Evil, was recently published by Pushkin Press, a publisher well known for producing quality books from international authors, new and old. And, as novels go, it's a mature work with hints of Kundera, dealing with the decline of morals in both Islamic nations and the West.

The story begins with the unnamed narrator preparing for a flight to Egypt for a literary conference. He is due to meet and travel with Swiss novelist, Martin Millet, of whom he is aware but not acquainted in person or in work. And while the narrator, with his girlfriend at home, is looking for a quiet life, Millet is more interested in kicking up a fuss within Egyptian society, spouting his opinions on Islam, and, for most of the novel, finding local women who will have sex with him. This latter desire is inspired by letters Flaubert wrote about his time in Egypt. And, as Millet's obsession grows, the narrator finds himself dragged further into the author's world. Then, without warning, Millet vanishes. The narrator, of course, can do nothing but fear the worst for his companion.

The Fascination Of Evil concerns itself, at a deeper level, with the diminishing power of words. It looks at the suras of the Koran, at their hold over the devout, but then, as Millet learns during a meal, there are those who claim to hold true to the tenets of Islam yet, the minute they head to a more liberal nation, the words that dictate their faith are soon forgotten:

"They're not Egyptian women. They are often Lebanese or Moroccan, but they are not Egyptian. And they only sleep with Saudis, I believe. In any event, for Egyptians, there is no prostitution and no sexual freedom."

"What do they do?" lamented Martin.

"They bugger each other."

Apart from that, the food was excellent."

Zeller, however, is not like Millet and is not out to upset Islam. Indeed, aside from pointing out the hypocrisy inherent with some Muslims, he also takes a swipe at Europe. The continent has allowed freedom to send it into decline. Political correctness has reared its ugly head and when religious groups (say, Muslims) protest at novels (Rushdie gets an honourable mention), we seek to remove the offence rather than staunchly support it. By seeking to be inoffensive we are watering down our own culture. Such subtexts lend the novel an impressive depth and you can't help but agree with Zeller's observations.

The book's title, as it would be giving nothing away, relates to the feeling of fearing the worst. The narrator comes to feel the fascination of evil when Millet vanishes after a night out hunting women. But the true fascination, as implied by the denouement, is the fear of what is happening to the west. There are many facets in which our continent, the narrator believes, is falling apart, one such example being letter-writing:

"It's the telephone, and in particular the mobile, that has killed off the art of letter-writing once and for all. I often think of those women who lived in hope, with the pledge of one single love letter, when the other person, for example, went off to war. Back then, words had a formidable strength, since they decided lives. People waited, and trusted, even without news of the other person, for infinite lengths of time. Today, you start panicking the moment you can't get that other person on your mobile. What's he doing? Why isn't she answering? Who's he with? Anxiety has gained ground. We have entered a period of no return that signals the end of waiting, that is, of trust and silence."

Zeller's prose style is not florid - to an extent it's simplistic, realist. Each sentence serves to make a point or an observation and does so without decoration. If I were to have a criticism it would be the sheer volume of exclamation marks used where they were wholly unnecessary, although that may be a quirk of a translator who had a quote to use up, especially when they would appear in the narrative rather than within speech.

Although The Fascination Of Evil, at times, reminded me of Kundera because of the sporadic digressions the narrator would make, the ending was more reminiscent of Houellebecq's Atomised in that the narrator goes beyond the original narrative and aims to provide a conclusion to all that has gone before, something, I admit, for which I'm not a convert. But, overall, Zeller succeeds at producing a great tale that offers up some interesting points that merit consideration.

And, while he's still young, The Fascination Of Evil showcases the wisdom of an fantastic talent who must surely be deserving of an great future in literature. And, since I've already been looking into his previous novels, it certainly looks like this novel could just be the beginning to my fascination of Zeller.

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (Vintage Classics)
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (Vintage Classics)
by Yukio Mishima
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea, 8 Jan. 2006
Yukio Mishima's 'The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea' is a short novel but, due to its tight plot, brevity is not an issue. Published in 1963, seven years before he committed ritual suicide, the novel explores motivation and the factors that can cause someone to abandon their passions and resume their life embracing the dreams of another.
Noboru Kuroda, a thirteen year old on the cusp of an adult world, is part of a savage gang whose members, despite their exemplary grades at school, have rebelled against the adult world they deem hypocritical. Under the tutelage of Noboru's friend, also thirteen, they condition themselves against sentimental feelings - a goal they call `objectivity' - by killing stray cats.
Ryuji Tsukazaki, a merchant seaman, has been granted two days' shore leave and has spent the time romancing Noboru's widowed mother, Fusako. Noboru likes the sailor at first, his commitment to the sea and all the manly stories he has to tell. But, as Ryuji falls for Fusako, Noboru feels betrayed by the man's burgeoning romanticism and, with the help of his gang, feels that action should be taken against the man who has replaced his father.
The first thing I noticed while reading this novel was that the characters are rich with life and history. Noboru, at thirteen, has strong feelings for his mother that manifest through voyeuristic sessions at night when, peeking into her room through a spy-hole, he watches her undress, entertain, and sleep. Ryuji, the sailor, knows he has some purpose at sea and continues his life off the land in the hope that one day he will learn his place in life. And Fusako, five years widowed, displays certain strength as she runs her own business, mixes with a richer class of citizen, while trying to raise he son as best she can.
The way the characters develop from this introduction is fast yet believable - the book, in fact, is split into two sections, 'Summer' and 'Winter', to show that enough time has passed to be plausible. Noboru's respect for Ryuji wanes as he becomes the worst thing, based on his gang's beliefs, a man can be in this world: a father. Ryuji's abandonment of his life's passion is, of course, the main thread of the novel and it is a tragic decision he makes to give up the destiny waiting for him at sea in order to embrace the world of Fusako and the new direction she has planned for him.
The best thing about this novel is the language. The translator, John Nathan, has done a wonderful job and not a page passes without hitting you with a warm wash of sea-spray. Metaphors and similes are drenched with watery goodness as they add to the novel's appeal. The prose is warm during the 'Summer' section but as the book turns to 'Winter' the turns of phrase become icier and tend to sting more. The dialogue is nice and realistic and doesn't smart of stereotypical Japanese honour; the way the characters interact completely plausible.
I hadn't heard of Mishima until I picked up this novel and, given that he had three Nobel nominations in his lifetime, I will certainly look out for more of his work. His concise prose, realistic characters, and the way his voice carries the sea makes him a rare find. If books were shells, I would hope to hear Mishima in every one.

by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Saturday, 26 Sept. 2005
This review is from: Saturday (Hardcover)
Ian McEwan's Saturday is the story of Henry Perowne, a London based neurosurgeon, as he reflects on his life via the events that happen during his day off. Mixing organised chores with random incidents, the novel provides a great character study, one of a man coming to terms with his advancing years, although the book is low on action.
One morning, Perowne wakes early to witness an aviation accident, which troubles him throughout the day. As the day progresses he makes love to his wife, gets involved in a traffic accident, gets beat at squash, buys fish, visits his sick mother, listens to his son's band perform, argues politics with his poetess daughter, and settles down for a family meal in the evening. While all this happens, the London march against the impending war in Iraq gathers momentum.
The characters are extremely well done with the exception, perhaps, of Daisy, Perowne's daughter, who simply argues her anti-war stance and hides her own little secret. Daisy and Theo, his son, are, unlike their father, creative souls, and at the age where they are ready to flee the nest. Baxter, the novel's main antagonist, is a young man rendered emotionally unstable by a degenerative brain disease, embarrassed by his condition yet unable to prevent its detriment to his life. And Perowne, through all this, meditates on everything, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and the author presents him as emotionally ambivalent man; a man slow to take sides, but always willing to consider the wider picture.
The plot is small but the emotional and philosophical conclusions drawn from each observation or incident serves to complete the picture of Henry Perowne's day. In the evening, Baxter returns to cause havoc with the surgeon's family, a scaled down metaphor for the impending invasion of Iraq being an example of how one event, no matter how minimal, can lead to big changes in one's life.
Overall, McEwan has crafted a novel worthy of praise, but its meditative assault can be overwhelming at times; the use of neurosurgical terms is difficult for the layman, but our protagonist is a neurosurgeon so it's more than appropriate. It's certainly relevant to the current political climate, and probably serves as a slightly autobiographical account of McEwan's feelings as his own family grows up and becomes independent. Saturday is worth the read, for an interesting study of making sense of the world, and of growing old; or, as Perowne says, Saturday will become Sunday.

The Courage Consort
The Courage Consort
by Michel Faber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Courage Consort, 19 Sept. 2005
This review is from: The Courage Consort (Paperback)
Michel Faber's The Courage Consort is one of those books where you wish it were longer or part of a collection. A novella of 150 pages it follows the story of a group of singers sent to Belgium for two weeks in order to rehearse a new avant-garde piece for an upcoming event. As they spend more time in each other's company the group falls apart due to personality conflicts and personal problems.
Roger Courage is the founder of the singing group, named The Courage Consort, although the courage in their name comes from their willingness to tackle contemporary pieces in addition to the traditional standards. His wife, Catherine, is a manic depressive who, in preparation for the trip to Belgium, has forgotten her pills. Ben is an overweight bass singer who lives in his own personal world of silence. Julian is a seemingly bisexual vocalist with a love for Bohemian Rhapsody. And Dagmar, a young German, is the opposite of Catherine in her love for life; she has also, for the trip, brought along her newborn child, Axel.
The book begins with Catherine Courage sitting on the window ledge contemplating whether the four storey drop would be enough to kill her as her husband sit in the next room. As it continues the quintet spend the days practising Partitum Mutante, the avant-garde piece of Italian composer Pino Fugazzi, while the nights provide them with an over exposure to each other that leads to constant arguments about the direction the group should take. Their inability to work with each other leads to an incident that eventually breaks up the group, who are "possibly the seventh most renowned in the world", although there is some hope for the group as evidenced by the optimistic ending.
The prose is light, the vocabulary restrained, and the plot simple. There is humour in this book but it's not laugh out loud funny; the Brits' interpretations of European accents, and the way characters communicate with each other. The characters are nicely done although the woman were better drawn than the males, a common occurrence in Faber's work. Catherine, as the main character, is well conceived - her thoughts were realistic, her dialogue seemed right, and her mania added that extra bit of depth.
Faber's novella is a good read, although, like in The Crimson Petal and the White, he leaves a few things unanswered - the source of a recurring noise from the nearby forest being a prime example - but this does provide scope for interpretation. Maybe we can presume that some parts of the story are delusions of Catherine's. The Courage Consort almost succeeds as a standalone book, but I couldn't help but feel that the characters needed a little more to fully appreciate them. That said, the story is still worth appreciating.

by Bernard MacLaverty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lamb, 10 Sept. 2005
This review is from: Lamb (Paperback)
Lamb, by Bernard Mac Laverty, is, at 150 pages, a short read, but its brevity serves only to provide a perfectly told story without padding or exposition. It follows the story of a young priest, Michael Lamb (or Brother Sebastian), who runs away from the Irish Borstal that he works in, takes a deprived boy named Owen Kane with him. But, as his money dwindles, news of the kidnapping closes in on them, and Lamb finds himself running out of ideas on how to save the boy's life, leading to a dark climax borne of both necessity and love.
Beginning in the Borstal, aptly referred as "a finishing school for the sons of the Idle Poor" by its head, Brother Benedict, Lamb observes this to be an accurate statement as he believes it finishes their lives, providing them with little hope for the future. Upon inheriting money from his father's death Lamb resolves to rescue Owen, a misunderstood - and epileptic - boy, often made an example of due his stubborn nature, and give him the life he deserves. They break for London, and spend their time exploring the city and discovering each other, until the time comes when they have so few options that Lamb is required to make the decision that will affect their lives, but he believes to be right.
The characters, throughout, are developed sufficiently to create your own impression of them; although Owen's character could have done with further expansion with regards to his life before Borstal. Lamb, especially, as you would expect a title character, is well conceived and his decisions, at all times, appear believable. Brother Benedict, a sadist at heart, claims that he "was belted black and blue myself what harm did it do me?" without realising that it turned him into the one now administering beatings. Even the fringe characters: conmen, housekeepers, and perverts have enough splashes of colour to make them plausible.
The writing, while not being flowery, is engaging enough to spin the narrative on, making it a book you are not likely to put down until completion. It's a thrill to read as the escapes bond with each other, but watching as their world of opportunity caves in around them. The underlying meanings and symbols that make the book special, the many inferences of the book's title, for example, raise the scope of the novel, adding further richness to it.
Lamb, for its length, covers a number of topics, but the theme that stands out, for me, is love; that, and the things you would do for it. Sometimes, you don't even know you are doing it, Lamb discovers while trying to understand the fugues of Owen's epilepsy. But it's the grim denouement of the novel that questions how far one would really go, and it's this that adds the pièce de résistance to a wonderful and haunting tale.

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