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Flibertigibbit (Ireland)

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No Great Mischief
No Great Mischief
by Alistair MacLeod
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely, devastatingly brilliant, 28 Mar 2008
This review is from: No Great Mischief (Paperback)
MacLeod is a Nova Scotian Canadian. All of his work centres on the Highland Scottish exile experience in Cape Breton (and to a lesser extent, that of the Irish both there and in Newfoundland). This is a beautiful, elegy about being in exile and the longing for one's old country. The exile is not merely geographic, but spiritual and temporal. The clan of Calum Ruaidh is out of time and anachronistic, whilst its struggle for survival and the force of its courage and spirit is utterly timeless. Always in MacLeod's work there is an unsentimental presentation of what people need to do to survive, heightened of course by the cruel and harsh environment of the coast of Cape Breton. The tensions between past and present, tradition and modernity are always at the surface but the spirit of the highlanders is unbreakable. There are parts of this book that will send a shiver down your spine or make your eyes well up with tears, it is that moving. After reading MacLeod's collected stories, Island and now this you almost believe there is no point in reading anyone else. I pray that MacLeod will write another novel and more short stories before long. It will be a cause for celebration when he does.

by Marilynne Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.36

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 28 Mar 2008
This review is from: Gilead (Paperback)
The author's first work of fiction since Housekeeping, published in 1981 (which won the PEN/Hemingway award). The book takes the form of a long letter/diary written in 1956 by a Congregationalist Minister, the Reverend John Ames, some time before his death. It is set in the (fictional) town of Gilead in the state of Iowa. At the time of writing, Rev Ames is 76 and late in life, has become father to a son. This long letter is intended in a way, as a legacy to his son, in which he imparts his wisdom and his philosophy on how to live a Christian or maybe more accurately, an honourable life. It is a very wise book. So much so, that even the narrative voice in my head as I read it, was that of Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption. Freeman's iconic voice used so much to great effect in film, has become synonymous with wisdom gained from experience. For a father, it is a wonderful reminder if needs be of the blessing that children are and how one should honour ones children. The Rev Ames remarks at one point that the love that you feel for your child is the love that God feels for mankind. The Rev Ames gives his views on life, theology and the scriptures, and the horror of war through the telling of various stories. What comes to dominate the book is Rev Ames' doubts about his best friend's son, Jack Boughton and his struggles with his own conscience about his feelings towards him and his distrust of his character. Difficult questions of theology abound like "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". This is very much a book about fathers and sons. Ames is in a way, a father to more than his own son and reminds us in any case that we are all ultimately the sons of God. This book is beautifully written in a very biblical style as befits its narrator, the Rev Ames. It is also tender, wise and in parts, very moving - the ending particularly so, as Ames and the reader come to a surprising realisation about Jack Boughton. Ames is perfectly and fully realised as a character. The writing of this book must have been its own reward, but it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 and the PEN/Hemingway award.

Fasting, Feasting
Fasting, Feasting
by Anita Desai
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected treat, 28 Mar 2008
This review is from: Fasting, Feasting (Paperback)
This is in part, a compelling portrait of a post- colonial Indian (Christian) family and the ruinous effect of India's rigid and feudalistic social conventions - exemplified perhaps by the custom of a bridegroom's family requiring a (usually) extortionate dowry from the bride's father.

The first part of the novel follows the misfortunes of Uma, whose education is cut short by her parents when they decide that she must help to raise an unexpected first son, Arun. Uma's parents' attempts to arrange a marriage twice end in disaster and both times, the bridegroom's family swindle a dowry from Uma's father (Papa) but renege on their promises of marriage. In the first part of the novel, Uma's patriarchal; Anglophone father is an especially memorable character. There is for example, a wonderful scene - lasting no more than three quarters of a page - where Uma and her mother, attentive to the last detail of his needs, go through the ceremony of peeling and feeding him an orange, piece by piece. It is like a slow, wordless but vivid cinematic close-up in which the part of the father might easily be played by Om Puri - the brilliant, veteran Indian actor. Papa believes in fact that the only way forward for Indians is for them to abandon vegetarianism (one source of their weakness) become meat eaters and adopt the English tongue.

The deeply conservative values and preoccupations of this middle class Indian family are so familiar that, being from Ireland, I felt I could be reading about their landed, rural Irish counterparts. There is a ruthless, financially-driven pragmatism at work, reminiscent of John McGahern's disturbing short story, Korea.

I was not surprised to see this novel described as in fact, two novellas. Part two of the novel is almost a different work. It is I think, also better written. This is a novel that gets better the more you read of it and by part two, Desai has moved on to even, deeper and darker territory. Arun, only a fleeting figure and still a child in part one, is now a young adult and sent by his ambitious father to study abroad in Massachusetts. Through the outwardly impassive person of Arun, we witness the perverse American nightmare - the American dream gone wrong and nothing that Arun would have expected before he arrived. We see the stark contrast between affluent, free America and impoverished, socially rigid India. Both societies share inherent contradictions, but what they have in common is that they are both sick - albeit, the causes and symptoms of their respective malaises are different. India's woes are largely a result of its poverty while many of America's are due to a surfeit of wealth and an excess of consumption.

This novel was an unexpected treat, with quite a profound message that I immediately wanted to read again. Short listed for the Booker prize in 1999.

The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada [DVD]
The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada [DVD]
Dvd ~ Barry Pepper
Price: £3.55

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprising little gem, 22 Oct 2007
This film is quite a little gem directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. It is a contemporary western, set on the border of Texas and Mexico. The tale is simple, told simply and with a tiny dose of magic realism. A (working) cowboy of sorts, played by Tommy Lee Jones sets out to return his friend and colleague Melquiades, to his last resting place in Mexico after Melquiades is accidentally killed by an uncouth and trigger happy US border patrol officer. TLJ's direction is hugely assured. I normally can not stand his acting, employing as he does that bored, trademark drill sergeant type delivery. This however, is his finest performance alongside the one he gave in Heaven and Earth. He is thoroughly engaged but restrained. The actor who plays Melquiades also deserves to get lots of work, he looks to be a real find. You can probably buy this on DVD in a bargain basket for half nothing - well worth the investment.

Last Night
Last Night
by James Salter
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling art, 22 Oct 2007
This review is from: Last Night (Paperback)
A superbly original collection. I marvel at Salter's literary imagination and his economical, but lyrical prose. He is extremely sophisticated, nuanced and refined and his writing requires slow and careful reading. This collection is more accessible than his earlier collection entitled "Dusk" and also more satisfying. The title story is quite devastating.

Walk the Blue Fields
Walk the Blue Fields
by Claire Keegan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.59

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars World class, 22 Oct 2007
This review is from: Walk the Blue Fields (Paperback)
Keegan's stories are beautifully honed and sparse. Her first collection, Antarctica, is good, but this collection propels her in to the big league. All the stories here are crafted masterfully and speak of damaged people and lives and loves lost or regained. I really think she is a world class short story writer who, on this evidence at least, belongs in the same company as Raymond Carver, or Alice Munro. The great Irish short story has found a huge new lease of life with Keegan's emergence.

Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories
Where I'm Calling From: Selected Stories
by Raymond Carver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.49

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare greatness, 10 April 2007
The back cover quotes a review that calls Carver the American Chekhov. Even Chekhov could have learned from Carver. As others here have remarked, Carver's Spartan, beautiful prose recalls Hemingway. That and his devastating no nonsense, truthfulness and insights about humans. It has been well documented that Carver's style was moulded by his editor Gordon Lish. I think that is evident only in the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - possibly his most famous collection, but in my view his most uneven and flawed. Lish was a little bitter about Carver's success and talent and popularised this exagerration. I think Carver's achievement with the short story is astonishing. You get that feeling (hopefully temporary) of "...what's the point in reading anyone else now...?" (But then Tobias Wolff saves the day). The introduction by Carver is the best piece of advice about writing that I have read.The more you learn about Carver and his life the more attractive he is as a personality and then you learn some more and realise he was terribly flawed too. Human in other words. But truly, he has the charisma of Steve McQueen or John Lennon. This collection ends with Carver's legendary, dying tribute ("Errand") to his own hero Chevhov. This is one of my most prized literary possessions. It is not the complete stories of Raymond Carver, but a selection by Carver himself of what he estimated as is best work.It is a very well judged selection: Carver left out some of his cruder, less accomplished stories. However, none of these 30 or so stories hits a bum note.

Acting in Film: An Actor's Take on Moviemaking (The Applause Acting Series)
Acting in Film: An Actor's Take on Moviemaking (The Applause Acting Series)
by Michael Caine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insights by a master, 18 Dec 2006
Superb. A practical and honest insight in to the craft (rather than art) of film acting. Caine dispenses his wisdom liberally and one quickly begins to appreciate that professionalism and hard work are the key to any career. Caine has those qualities in spades - it is in fact his dedication to them that has also made him a great artist.

Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World  (Special Edition)  [DVD]
Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World (Special Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Russell Crowe
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £5.43

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best Seafaring Movie I've Ever Seen, 16 Oct 2006
I never read the books but accidentally stumbled on this on TV recently.

I had expected a brain dead shoot em up "Gladiator at sea" (not wishing to be too unkind to Gladiator). I was completely wrong. Had I known Peter Weir directed at the beginning, I would have realised. This is a hugely impressive film. The script bristles with intelligence and sophistication, deftly touching upon many themes, even though the primary narrative is the pursuit of the French warship. This is course gives the film continuous momentum and suspense. But the suspense is also dervived from the simmering tension (bordering on ouright mutiny) on board the ship. There is surprisingly little in the way of action scenes and the film is all the better for it - action and violence is used only sparingly and to great effect and the concerns at the heart of the film are far more interesting and sometimes profound. The photography is beautiful, the pace and direction are perfect and at the centre of it all, Russell Crowe displays (as a Captain should) poise, composure and huge intelligence in the role - he is literally, the ballast and anchor that holds the cast together. But in the final analysis huge praise must go to Peter Weir - the guy just can't help himself from making cinematic masterpieces over and over again.

It is often said that this movie was not a huge commercial success and that therefore, there may be no sequel - that would be a terrible shame.

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