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A. Amison "nelsdorter" (Italy)

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Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide
Ingmar Bergman: A Reference Guide
by Birgitta Steene
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £80.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A book worthy of its subject, 6 Jun. 2011
I bought this book as a gift for my partner. His review follows below...

In his works Bergman held up a mirror, not so much up to nature but to human existence, reflecting its folly, hopes and ultimate futility. In reflecting relationships, doubts, disillusion he has no equal in his cinematic masterpieces. He is mainly known for his films, and there is surely no director from whom so many stills are instantly recognisable: Professor Borg looking into the cradle where his own infant self lies; the two sisters and the child in the stifling railway carriage and most iconic of all the knight playing chess with death against a background of a lowering ominous sky.

Yet Bergman was much more than a film director: writer, stage director, novelist, script writer and producer so this exhaustive book is essential for anyone either wishing to know more about the films and for those aficionados (surely too weak a word for his devoted admirers) for whom Bergman and his oeuvre are some of the greatest by a twentieth century artist

Bergman was a man of immense energy and industry and anyone looking at this book cannot be unaware that the huge effort involved in producing it matches that of the Master who is its subject.

So often with books of this nature, that seek to be an all encompassing compendium of an artist's output, confusion about what information is where can lead to frustrations as one tries to cross reference from one section to another. No such problem arises here as the complex information presented is a model of clarity and lucidity. Exhaustive cast lists and reviews, including foreign reviews, contemporary opinions (The Silence almost didn't pass the censor and changed the criteria by which films should be judged) radio scripts, stage production; all is laid out clearly. Not only that, but there are pointers to places where the reader can follow up collateral information that has a bearing on the work of Bergman.

Within an hour of receiving this book as a present there were numerous `post-it' notes sticking out from the pages as I sought to pin point where a particular piece of information was. I had no need. It's not often that one can find information in a book of this complexity without even having to look at the index, but such is the case here. At this point I set myself the task of finding information about Bergman's 2000 stage production of Ghosts: without using the index it took me approximately six seconds.

Ingmar Bergman was born on July 14th 1918, surely a year that resonates not only through European but world history signifying as it does rebellion and protest. In 1918 that date fell on a Sunday and according to Swedish folklore, those born on that day are gifted (cursed perhaps?) with second sight. A rebellious seer is an apt description of this genius. In his review of Bergman's novel Söndagsbarn, John McGahern of the New York Times quotes Chekhov's definition of writers and artists, "they have one important trait in common: they are going somewhere and call you with them...

If you purchase this book you will be led and guided into the mind and genius of one of the 20th century's greatest artists.

The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street
The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street
by Charles Nicholl
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary man, extraordinary genius, 25 May 2011
I would recommend this book not only for readers with an interest in Shakespeare, but for anyone wanting to get a glimpse what life was like for "people like us" away from the usual historical subjects of Kings, Queens and courtiers.

The research is meticulous, and it gives a vivid picture of lower middle-class life at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries, which often has a very modern resonance: the constant struggle to hold on to an often precarious social position through networking and making the most of wealthy and influential contacts.

The family with whom Shakespeare lodged were Huguenot exiles from France, so there is also a sub-text about immigration and alienation. I particularly enjoyed the section on how this experience gave Shakespeare an inside knowledge of what it is like to be an outsider, and how this translated into his work with his ready sympathy for underdogs such as Shylock and Othello.

My only slight criticism would be that there is perhaps a little too much authorial speculation at times, but that is in part Shakespeare's fault - like true love, he leaves no traces. Charles Nicholl finds many references in the contemporary plays to his life in Silver Street, whether throwaway mentions of tire (or head-dress) making, the "family business" at Silver Street; or events which had a more complex influence on the plots of Shakespeare's plays, such as father-daughter quarrels over inheritance, dramatically transformed in King Lear. Shakespeare the man, however, slips like Prospero from the stage and we catch no more than the breath of the air he disturbs in his passing. This cannot be blamed on Nicholl, any more than on any other author over the centuries who has tried to track down Shakespeare the man, but is, in my opinion, a deliberate policy of Shakespeare himself - he knew exactly what he was doing and wanted to be anonymous. All the speculation ever since about who wrote the plays and was it really the Earl of Oxford would probably make him laugh like a drain.

In Byron's Footsteps (Literary Traveller)
In Byron's Footsteps (Literary Traveller)
by Tessa de Loo
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, 24 April 2011
The subject of Byron's travels in Albania provides the basis for a very good book. Unfortunately, this isn't it. Despite claiming that she has been passionate about Byron since her schooldays, Ms de Loos shows very little in-depth knowledge of her subject, and places too much reliance on the oft-repeated myths and half-truths about homosexuality and club feet. In fact, the book could almost be about a different man with the same name.

There are a number of basic errors about early 19th century English history and politics. For example, Ms de Loos refers to the highly aristocratic Whigs as the "lower class" party, and her summary of British politics in the early years of the 19th century, when Byron took his seat in the House of Lords at a time of political ferment at home and a long-running war abroad, is cursory to put it mildly.

Some chapters are addressed as letters to Byron. However, the author refers to him as "Dear George," which would have been an appalling solecism in his own time. To the best of my knowledge, no-one - including his wife and sister - ever addressed Byron by his Christian name. Even his nephews and nieces called him "Uncle B."

What interest the book has lies in the re-visiting of places seen by Byron, a great opportunity to compare and contrast the changes - or otherwise - brought about by 200 years of socio-political upheaval. Sadly, Ms de Loos says little of interest on this topic. She seems to lack both empathy and cultural curiosity. So, for example, she never bothers to find out why many Albanian women cover their heads, and fails to explore their social position. She visited Albania in the mid-1990s, just as the country was emerging from many years of Communist rule, yet all she is able to comment on is the quality (or otherwise) of the bathrooms in the private homes where she is kindly invited to stay, while remaining blissfully unaware that people who have very little are offering her the best that they have. Her inability to speak to anyone she meets in their own language is a problem - why on earth didn't she learn a few words of Albanian before setting out?

The author often reports that she photographed some breathtaking scenery. The failure to include these photographs in the book is a missed opportunity, leaving the reader to create mental images of Albania from the descriptions of Byron's friend and travelling companion John Cam Hobhouse, on whose travel journal Ms de Loos places quite heavy reliance. Alas, Hobhouse's ability to describe landscape rarely moved beyond "hilly" or "flat" whether he was writing of Greece, Albania or Italy.

On the positive side, this book has made me want to visit Albania and learn more of its history, so that I can experience at first hand what Byron saw and which this book is sadly unable to convey.

By co-incidence, I have recently read a book whose writing was almost contemporary with this one, On A Voiceless Shore by Stephen Minta. Mr Minta's descriptions of Greece and Albania, both in Byron's day and in the 1990s, and his analysis of Byron as a person,are far superior to those of Anita de Loos. if you want to read a book on Byron's journey of 1809, read Minta!

Golden Pavements (Blue Door)
Golden Pavements (Blue Door)
by Pamela Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and nostalgic, 4 Jan. 2010
I have literally been waiting to read this book for forty years!
I first read Pamela Brown's first book, The Swish of the Curtain, when I was about 11 years old, and have re-read it periodically over the years. I knew that she had written other books, and at last I have been able to read two of them, this one and Maddy Alone.
Both books are very much for fans of The Swish of the Curtain, and would make very little sense unless you had read that first. The six young people are still irredeemable snobs, and are still seventeen going on forty, but it was a tremendously enjoyable read.
I'm now hoping that the publishers will bring out the two remaining books in the series very soon.

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