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Peter Compton

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Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental, 9 July 2010
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Hardcover)
Wolf Hall really is an amazing work. Hilary Mantel brilliantly succeeds in plunging the reader into the universe of Thomas Cromwell, so that for most of the book, one feels almost as if one is Cromwell. The reader is completely immersed in his family life, his political career and his relationships with all around him, most notably Henry VII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas More. Mantel paints her work with subtle nuances, so that it is only at the end that we really appreciate the way in which Cromwell has evolved over the course of his life. His humanity and competence shine through throughout the work, but certain characteristics, and especially his overriding ambition become more and more evident as the story progresses.
This period in English history was in any case a fascinating and pivotal era, but the way in which Mantel succeeds in relating this through the prism of Cromwell's life makes this book a privilege to read. I cannot praise it too highly.

Lush Life
Lush Life
by Richard Price
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could try harder..., 16 Oct. 2008
This review is from: Lush Life (Hardcover)
I tend to agree with the previous reviewer, although I did finish the book. This is definitely a case of style over substance. Lush Life is well written, and I am sure is an insightful look at the workings of NYPD. However, the novel really meanders along rather aimlessly, there is not much going on in the way of plot, and the denouement is rather unconvincing.

The same thing is true about the main characters. Although the main protagonist, Eric Cash, is well depicted, it is difficult to really get into any of the other characters, and much of the success of a book like this depends on the reader's ability to sympathise with the characters.

Having just read Right As Rain, I also have to agree that Pelecanos seems on the strength of this a much more engaging author.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2008 6:03 PM BST

The West Wing - Complete Season 1 [DVD]
The West Wing - Complete Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Martin Sheen
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £8.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TV drama at its best, 26 Jan. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Television rally does not get much better than this. In a time when we are lucky enough to have a whole host of excellent TV dramas available to us, the West Wing neverthless stands out. What makes it so good?

The characterisation is strong and convincing. Unsurprisingly, all the people surrounding the president are extremely bright, very forceful and have egos the size of the Empire State Building. The show manages to convince us that they also have the drive to work the long hours required and to advise, and even contradict the president on matters they believe in. What makes them bearable is their humanity, by which I mean their attachment to certain basic principles and, to an extent, the flaws in their character also. Heading up the team is Leo, the Chief of Staff, an old soldier whose marriage is heading for the rocks ever more swiftly as he devotes himself more and more to the service of the president. There is Sam (arguably the least successul of the main characters) whose intellectual brilliance does not prevent him from being hugely naive in certain respects. Josh and Mandy make a great double act, helped by the fact that they used to be partners, and a certain amount of unresolved sexual tension remains. Toby is a towering success as a character - a very strong sense of personal morality coupled with doubts about his personal self-worth. And CJ is a feisty, intelligent but lovable character who holds all the other together. One of the show's finest achievements is to show how this bunch of over achievers do not overwhelm the President, who, while taking their counsel, always remains resolutely his own man, deserving all their respect.

Over and above the characterisation and the acting (also excellent), however, it is the skillful and sensitive writing that makes this show stand out for me. The writers clearly set their stall out as Democrats with Democrat values running through the show like a stick of Brighton rock. They also show the machinations of the White House - one of the most telling lines is "You should never let people see how two things are made - laws and sausages".

All in all, an excellent series that I thoroughly recommend.

This Is England (2 Disc Edition) [DVD]
This Is England (2 Disc Edition) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Thomas Turgoose
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £7.20

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex picture of 80s England, 5 Jan. 2008
This is not only a very good film, it is also a very courageous one, that attempts to go into the shades of grey of a very black and white world.

12 year old Shaun (played by the amazingly talented Thomas Turgoose) has lost a father in the Falklands, lives alone with his mother, and is a helpless victim of bullying inside and outside school. He lives in a world that is even bleaker than the surrounding environment, and it is not altogether surprising that he ends up making friends with an older group who spend their time hanging around in an underpass. This is where we see real warmth, humour and charisma, and the England where a cup of tea could solve most problems.

Where the film really takes off, however, is with the apperarance of Combo, a Scouser just out of prison, superbly played by Stephen Graham. Combo seems like a good guy at first, until he starts dragging Shaun into the world of racism and the National Front. The meeting of these two and their respective extreme emotional fragility is explored with delicacy and courage by Meadows. Meadows shows that even "good" people end up doing very bad things with tetrrible consequences.

This Is England manages to be moral without being moralistic - a major achievement, and one of the best movies of 2007.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2011 9:14 AM BST

Little Children [DVD]
Little Children [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kate Winslet
Price: £3.95

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No sympathy, 1 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Little Children [DVD] (DVD)
Little Children is directed by Todd Field, who also directed In The Bedroom, and in common with In The Bedroom, it is a slow burning and emotionally charged film. It's the story of two frustrated parents, neither of whom work, and both of whom are married to rich and successful spouses who play little part in their lives or those of their respective children. Just as was the case with In The Bedroom, there is a feeling of Greek tragedy as the sexual passion between Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson reaches its seemingly inevitable (and unsurprising) denouement.

However, it is not the awful predictability of the film that destroys it so much as the fatal flaws in the characterisation. Both Winslet and Wilson live dull, unfulfilled lives, but do nothing about it, and indeed even seem to conspire to prolong the situation. Meanwhile, their partners, the de facto enemy, are too caricatural (Jennifer Connelly as the archetypal power hungry ball-breaking American career woman) or simply too absent (Gregg Edelmann as the management conultant with a slightly disturbing line in perversion) for us to really care at all. This quartet are universally unloveable and unconvincing.

Field also tacks on a sideshow involving the neighbourhood flasher, ultimately one of the more appealing members of the cast, and his disturbing vigilante nemesis, but there is still a feeling that he is directing by numbers a film about "How-Middle-America-Views-Social-Misfits", so ultimately the viewer can't really get too excited about this either.

Field's intention is clearly to make a drama based around the lives of the main protagonists, but when the protagonists are as empty as this lot, who cares?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 18, 2008 3:39 AM BST

Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia
Bring Me the Head of Sergio Garcia
by Tom Cox
Edition: Paperback

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Nearly but not quite, 1 Jan. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a good book, and a clever book, but I could not bring myself to love it, although I really wanted to.

It tells the true story of Tom Cox's attempt to make it as a pro golfer on the Europro tour, only for him to find out that even in these relatively humble surroundings, being able to drive the odd par four is nowhere near enough to cut the mustard. What's frustrating (particularly speaking as a very enthusiastic but talentless golfer) is that one gets the feeling that Cox is really in it just for the kicks, at least until the end is in sight and he realises that he needs to knuckle down a bit. The feeling of underlying flippancy makes it rather difficult for the reader to sympathise with him.

On the plus side, the book describes all sorts of golfing experiences ranging from meeting Lee Westwood right through to playing urban golf in East London (the only thing that Cox wins in the end!)

All in all, a curate's egg of a book. Some very funny and touching stuff, but a certain amount of frustration for the reader (and probably for the author as well).

Post Captain
Post Captain
by Patrick O'Brian
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine sequel to Master and Commander, 1 Jan. 2008
This review is from: Post Captain (Paperback)
Master and Commander was an excellent start to the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels, and the going gets even better with Post Captain. We find Aubrey and Maturin living ashore for a period, which gives O'Brian the chance to show us a romantic side to both their characters that we have not previously seen, with a depiction of early 19th century bourgeois society that Jane Austen would have been proud of. Far from weakening the book (as some reviewers below have suggested), this strengthens it and the series in general, as it fills out the characters and prepares us for what is to follow, not least the jealousy that arises between the two men, the flight from the bailiffs, and Stephen's spying activities.

O'Brian of course serves up the usual fare of sea battles, both at sea, in a French harbour, and on land between Aubrey and the malicious Admiral Harte. What captivates in these books is that O'Brian is not describing perfection. His heroes are clearly flawed and compromised, but this does not prevent us from becoming deeply attached to them. Even the ships in which they sail are far from perfect - in fact, in the case of the Polychrest, it is exactly the opposite.

Another great quality is that one is completely immersed in O'Brian's universe. Although most of the technical descriptions of sailing are beyond my knowledge, it is still a joy to read them used without compromise. Similarly, the descriptions of 19th century medical practices and beliefs are both erudite and fascinating.

The quality of the writing, the delicacy of thought and the narrative drive and excitement in the heat of the action mean that these are not just good historical novels, they are excellent as novels of any genre. I look forward to the next volume!

The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars When does the film come out?, 16 Jan. 2004
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Da Vinci Code (Hardcover)
Rarely have I read a book that reads so much like a prospective screenplay. The Da Vinci Code is an exciting, page-turning read, but despite its pseudo-intellectual pretensions, it cannot aspire to be much more than that.
The story revolves around the murder of an eminent Parisian curator. Following the crime, a visiting American academic and a beautiful and intelligent French cryptographer are drawn in, against their will, to solving the crime. (Has anyone identified the oh-so-obvious love interest yet?) In their quest, they are pitched against an entertaining selection of baddies, in particular the French police, and gallivant between France and England solving puzzles, some more straightforward than others, and getting out of scrapes in the rather improbable manner that is usually associated with James Bond.
The book is certainly exciting, but it is also rather predictable. In the genre, my own opinion is that the novels of Arturo Perez-Reverte (e.g. The Dumas Club) and of Umberto Eco (both The Name of The Rose and Foucault's Pendulum) have much much more to offer.

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Essential Penguin)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Essential Penguin)
by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Edition: Paperback

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Please get a move on..., 16 Jan. 2004
With One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez put a certain kind of novel on the map. This was probably not the first such novel, but rather the first to reach a worldwide audience.
The book is a sprawling, rambling, tangled tale of the Buendia family and the fictional town of Macondo, over one hundred years. The family's history and that of the town are intimately intertwined, and laced with magic, wars, disasters, and invasions.
For the book to work for you (and I confess that it didn't really work for me), you have to actually care about Macondo, the Buendias, and all the other rather surreal characters in it. Furthermore, you will have to buy into the magical, unreal atmosphere that pervades the book. I could not find enough sympathy for any of the characters to really care, and I guess that I only really finished the book because I felt that it was a monument that I should read.
This may work for some people, however. I confess that I have a lot more time for some of Marquez's other novels, notably Love In The Time Of Cholera. As far as magic-imbued novels of this kind are concerned, One Hundred Years of Solitude is often compared to Midnight's Children, which I believe is a far superior work of fiction.

After You'd Gone
After You'd Gone
by Maggie O'Farrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.79

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and brilliant, 12 Jan. 2004
This review is from: After You'd Gone (Paperback)
As its title suggests, After You'd Gone deals with loss, and with change in people's lives, most notably that of Alice, a young woman who has tried to commit suicide and who is now lying in hospital in a coma. As her friends and family gather round her bedside, we are taken through her life, that of her mother and that of her paternal grandmother, and we see the many intricate ways in which these three lives are interwoven.
O'Farrell writes with tremendous intelligence and sensitivity. One of the great strengths of this book is that she not only brings out what they know about themselves, but sometimes what they are not aware of also. In this respect, one of the major themes of the book is the way in which the behaviour and decisions of parents and grandparents can impact upon chidren and grandchildren, even when those actions were taken before the children were even born. And even Alice, a strong-willed and intelligent woman, cannot necessarily resist the force of history in her family.
Another aspect that O'Farrell explores is that of belonging, in particular in the context of a family. We see Alice's family, especially through the person of her mother, simultaneously trying to draw together and at the same time doing everything it can to be torn asunder. At times, her mother's behaviour is almost feral, and this picture of an Englishwoman who has found herself almost by accident in a small Scottish community is utterly convincing.
The men in the book are less prominent, but have important roles to play, and are also skillfully depicted. The difficult relationship between Alice and her mother has its counterpart in that between John, her husband, and his father, although the difficulties are of a totally different nature here.
O'Farrell is to be congratulated on a book that never avoids the difficult questions, and that seeks to show all the love and pain that can exists within a family at the same time.

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