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Harry O'Carpus

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Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics)
Finnegans Wake (Penguin Modern Classics)
by James Joyce
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of fun at Finnegans Wake - and some advice/warnings to the curious, 30 Jan. 2011
To start: I love this book. I love its music, its humour, and its pathos. I love its poetry, puns and sheer beauty.

However, you may not.

I would imagine that if you pick up Finnegans Wake, read a few pages, and begin to think "this is really annoying, what does it all mean?" then it's simply not the right book for you. If, by contrast, you read a short section and find yourself thinking "wow, this is amazing, but what on earth does it all mean?" you're in with a chance of enjoying it. If you're interested in reading Finnegans Wake, and are not sure whether you'll get on with it, I'd heartily recommend either borrowing it from a library or skim-reading a few pages in a book shop. Now that it's in Kindle format you can even download a sample to try it out - although watch out for the occasional typo in the electronic version! It does seem to be a book that makes readers who are unsuited to it very angry - so, save yourself wasting money and try it before you buy it.

Another word of advice, if you've read earlier Joyce but not Ulysses or FW, try Ulysses before the Wake. If you don't get on with Ulysses, you're unlikely to enjoy FW.

I first read the thing from cover to cover without recourse to any other materials like the A Skeleton Key to "Finnegans Wake" or Roland McHugh's amazing Annotations to Finnegans Wake, and it took me much longer than any normal book. I'll be honest and say I had absolutely no idea what was going on in places. But gradually the sense does filter through. It's a dream, not an instant thrill-a-minute page-turner, and if you're worried about the absence of linear plot, you'd be better off looking elsewhere.

If you know at least one other European language, that will help, as will - perhaps most importantly - patience, memory, and an enjoyment of puzzles and puns. One of the great pleasures of the Wake is the way that phrases lodge themselves in your brain as you work them over and decipher all the possible meanings - illumination can come at the strangest and most unexpected times. My opinion is that arguments regarding the book not standing up because the reader requires other materials to work it out are nonsensical - it's simply that you or I are mere mortals and not as erudite as Joyce so it takes more effort to assimilate all the different layers of meaning.

Good bits to start with are the scene with the Washerwomen ("O, tell me all about Anna Livia!"), and Anna Livia's final monologue. I'd also suggest investing in the abridged audio version read by Jim Norton (who played Bishop Brennan in Father Ted) - it's wonderful, and hearing it read aloud makes sense of many things that seem obscure on the page: Finnegans Wake

To return to a more personal note, I think it's a wonderful book which, for me, has made most other books seem a lot less exciting. It isn't an exaggeration to say that for me, reading it was life-changing, and I suspect I'll be reading it, chuckling at it, and occasionally getting infuriated with it for the rest of my life. I hope you will, too.

EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia
EIMI: A Journey Through Soviet Russia
by E. E. Cummings
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece, 25 May 2010
If you are a lover of Cummings's beautiful and human poetry, EIMI is unmissable. His enthusiasm for the flexibility of language is evident throughout, and the novel/travelogue/extended prose poem is a marvellous cubistic exposé of what Cummings saw as the absurdity of Soviet Communism, despite having been willing to observe with an open mind.

There's a glossary of the Russian words used, and an outline plot summary by Cummings himself, but don't worry - EIMI is nowhere near as opaque as Joyce's Finnegans Wake, with which I've seen it compared. It is dense, admittedly, but it's riotously good fun, and once you adjust to Cummings's use of changing nicknames for central characters it's perfectly clear what's going on. If you don't speak French you might want a French dictionary handy too.

It's one of the few books I would recommend without any reservations. Please read it.

Feldman; Fox - Works for Clarinet and String Quartet
Feldman; Fox - Works for Clarinet and String Quartet
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 16 Mar. 2010
Feldman's clarinet quintet, "Clarinet and String Quartet" is pretty standard late-period Feldman. However, this is an unusually lyrical reading of this kind of material - if you prefer Feldman recordings with a harder edge you may want to look elsewhere. I find it entrancing.

I was completely unfamiliar with the work of Christopher Cox; this disc is actually worth buying just for his clarinet quintet, which is a piece of real microtonal beauty. Highly recommended.

End Times
End Times

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A rush job from Mr. E?, 2 Feb. 2010
This review is from: End Times (Audio CD)
We've come to expect the unexpected from E and chums. Each of the previous albums has been very different from its predecessor. It's an ironic surprise, then, that End Times inhabits sonic territory very similar to that of Hombre Lobo.

To these ears, the songwriting feels forced and tired. There are few laughs and even fewer bits that make you think "wow, what a line!" like that marvellous moment in Susan's House ("That must be her sister... right?").

I wasn't keen on Hombre Lobo, but gradually grew to like, but not love, its sparse yet humorously hormonal songs. End Times feels too dreary for me to want to bother persevering with it.

The Fountain
The Fountain
Price: £11.72

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Temporary aberration? Actually, no..., 19 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Fountain (Audio CD)
I've felt the need to come back and edit my review. Here's what I wrote originally:

If "The Fountain" isn't a temporary glitch, then this may be the point at which I jump off the Ship Of Fools into the Ocean Rain... It's not all bad, but it certainly isn't a good record, by any means. And for a Bunnymen album, it's distinctly poor - and rather a shock, coming after a career highlight such as Siberia.

I've no problem with the glossy, radio-friendly production per se. It's not to my taste, but Mac and Will have to eat, and if a modern production job gets them airplay, then who am I to argue? However, a much bigger problem, unfortunately, is that there's only really half an album's worth of half-decent songs here. If you weren't too keen on the single, "Think I Need It Too", then to be honest you're unlikely to like the rest of the material on offer, as that's easily the best song on the album.

What would have been side two if this was pressed on vinyl is - to my ears at least - unworthy of the name "Echo and the Bunnymen", both musically and lyrically. This record's made me quite sad.

I'm glad to say I misjudged this record quite considerably. As others have said, it does take a while to get under your skin. As it's sunk in, I've found myself smiling along with Mac's pun-filled lyrics, rather than cringing. Actually, there's a real and unexpected sense of fun here. When the emotional content is as scouring as it is in songs like "The Fountain" and "Everlasting Neverendless" - surely a reference to "Nothing Lasts Forever" - that's quite an achievement. A record of hope, and one that you shouldn't give up on too quickly.

Apologies if I put anyone off buying it. I was wrong. I cried the fountain dry... Hallelujah...
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 25, 2010 10:47 AM GMT

All Reflections Drained
All Reflections Drained
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £15.22

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "This music is agony, not entertainment", 31 July 2009
This review is from: All Reflections Drained (Audio CD)
...or so claim the liner notes. Actually, and rather disappointingly, it's just a bit dull. I couldn't help thinking, by the time I was about two-thirds of the way through, that it felt like I was listening to a bad (albeit very gloomy) prog-rock album.

I like the changes in production very much indeed. The drum sound, in particular, is idiosyncratic in the extreme, being all cavernous kick drum with the snare having seemingly been stripped of all treble frequencies to leave a hollow ticking sound. The slightly out-of-tune arpeggiated guitars have never sounded better, either.

The previous reviewer has already mentioned this, but I'll restate it anyway: M.H., the new Xasthur "singer", isn't bad at all, but he isn't Malefic. And this is one of the main bones of contention I have with this record. for me, a great deal of the power of previous Xasthur releases has been Malefic's utterly chilling burning-alive-at-the-bottom-of-a-well vocal delivery. You don't get anything like enough of that on this record.

Secondly, you know there's a problem when you find the short ambient "segue" passages, which are provided by M.H., more interesting than the album's main business. Put simply, the bulk of the material on offer here really isn't strong enough, and lacks both the focus and the frosty beauty of, say, Subliminal Genocide.

It's such a shame, because if the album matched up to the exceptional quality of the packaging, it'd really be something to treasure.

Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition. Volume II: Novels
Samuel Beckett: The Grove Centenary Edition. Volume II: Novels
by Samuel Beckett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I can't go on, I'll go on., 18 Aug. 2008
Sadly, when I first read Beckett I was a mildly pretentious English Literature undergraduate, attracted by a writer who I thought of as bleak and intense.

Revisiting him years later, I'm amazed by how often I laughed aloud while ploughing through this volume. In these days of "LOL" being used at the end of every sentence by anyone who thinks they've typed some sort of witticism, it's a thing of wonder to find oneself actually guffawing while reading such a brilliantly funny, yet substantial writer.

I think it's telling that I found the trilogy (Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable) hard-going when I was 18. I know full well why: I was trying to be too clever by half in my reading of it. Instead of being academic about it, read them as though you're reading them aloud, and if you can, with an Irish accent - it's then that the rhythms of the prose really come alive. These are wonderfully entertaining works that ruminate cheekily on the futility of human existence.

It's unfortunate that the box set of the four volumes of the Grove Centenary Edition is now unavailable; it's a lovely thing and beautifully presented. But really, you can't get better value than this. Amazon want just over eleven quid for a fine hardback edition of four novels by one of the great writers in English. Click the big yellow button. Go on.

The Relaxation Response
The Relaxation Response
by Miriam Z. Klipper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.73

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Explanation as well as instruction, 18 Aug. 2008
"A Customer" was clearly expecting a step-by-step self-help book, which is exactly what this book isn't.

While it does offer instruction in bringing about the relaxation response through meditation, there is also much supporting medical evidence, and examples of the approaches taken by practitioners of different religions through time. The idea is, of course, that you can take or leave whichever bits appeal to you, and it's emphasised repeatedly that meditation needn't be a faith-related activity and can be undertaken by those who are entirely godless (my words, not the author's!)

Overblown guff? Not at all. Stating the obvious? Up to a point. But it's so much easier to accept the necessity or usefulness of doing something obvious if it's backed up by some well-reasoned argument.

This book will take just a few hours to read unless you're a really slow reader, and if, like me, you've suffered from chronic depression I'd certainly recommend it - but as a complement to drugs rather than an alternative.

I've given it five stars for its potential beneficial effects; if I were to be hyper-critical, I don't much like the prose style, but it's easy enough to read. And in any case, it scarcely matters that the book isn't great literature.

12" Meat Saw
12" Meat Saw

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect, 14 Aug. 2008
This review is from: 12" Meat Saw (Misc.)
This saw will happily take on the most stubborn meat, straight from the freezer. If, like me, you remember being told in craft lessons at school to "let the saw do the work", then you'll be pleased to know that this meat saw requires little or no "elbow grease".

Perfect for its intended use, or as a home ornament for offending the vegetarians in your life.

Shankar: Sitar Concertos etc.
Shankar: Sitar Concertos etc.
Price: £7.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately unsatisfying, 14 Aug. 2008
This set is rather a curate's egg. The traditional raga performances are, as one would expect, excellent, and the added presence of Yehudi Menuhin is revelatory. Playing with Shankar, he adapts to the Indian classical idiom effortlessly. It's a joy to hear.

The concertos are markedly less successful. They're pleasant and inoffensive, but marrying an essentially melodic tradition to the bulk of a western classical orchestra in these instances simply doesn't work. The pieces drift along rather aimlessly and then stop, and are nice enough as background music, but don't repay repeated listening terribly well.

For the price, this set is worth buying for the extras alone, but don't expect great things from the concertos.

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