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sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk)
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May We Be Forgiven
May We Be Forgiven
by A. M. Homes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

2.0 out of 5 stars ...just too silly for words, 20 April 2014
This review is from: May We Be Forgiven (Paperback)
The first few pages were absolutely riveting: unpleasant TV executive George causes a fatal car accident and ends up in a psychiatric institute. While he's away, his brother Harry ends up in bed with his wife; George catches them and murders the wife.

But then it just went on for 500 pages in an incredibly silly and far-fetched plot.
Harry slowly evolves from a rather uninspiring academic, whose life revolves around his work on President Nixon and meeting women for no-strings sex ('there has always lived within me a rusty sense of disgust - a dull, brackish water that I suspect is my soul') into this uber-loving human. For not only does Harry take on George's two children (who he discovers to be much nicer than he first thought), but also adopts the boy orphaned in George's car accident. And takes on the old and feeble parents of a woman he's been having sex with when she goes AWOL. And comes to the realization that 'it seems pointless to go on for the sake of going on, if there isn't some larger idea, some sense of enhancing the lives of others.'

It's fast, snappy, puts me in mind of an all-action American movie full of smart responses. A M Homes is an extremely accomplished writer but this was one I almost gave up on.


Child Manuela: Novel of "Madchen in Uniform" (Virago Lesbian Landmarks)
Child Manuela: Novel of "Madchen in Uniform" (Virago Lesbian Landmarks)
by Christa Winsloe
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "You must not love me so much...that's what one has to conquer, what one has to kill", 18 April 2014
Set just before World War I, this is a beautifully written book, following Manuela von Meinhardis through her sunny childhood with her beloved mother and Prussian cavalry officer father. As she grows older, she begins to develop romantic feelings for a woman she has met.... (spoiler alert)
The second half of the novel is about Manuela's time at a harsh girls' boarding school. In the bleak surroundings, Manuela looks to the only pleasant member of staff, Fraulein von Bernberg, for affection.
The true sadness comes when the reader compares the first sentence - "Manuela was a longed-for child" - with the ending. Makes one consider the interplay of societal restrictions, dysfunctional family and one's own personality on turning a happy infant into a wretched teenager.


The Long Song
The Long Song
Price: 5.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but forgettable, 15 April 2014
This review is from: The Long Song (Kindle Edition)
Covering the transitional period in Jamaica's history - the end of slave plantations, gradual driving out of the white masters to full independence (not something I'd ever considered; you tend to think of abolition of slavery as a sudden overnight thing), this was quite an interesting read.
But somehow I failed to really care about July, our lead character, and although I quite enjoyed the read didn't find it anywhere near as memorable as Ms Levy's 'Small Island'.


The Debt To Pleasure
The Debt To Pleasure
by John Lanchester
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars The false friend has a more general applicability and usefulness than in the purely grammatical sphere.Not least in family life, 10 April 2014
This review is from: The Debt To Pleasure (Paperback)
Narrated by one Tarquin Winot, a snobbish yet brilliant foodie, as he travels to his home in France, this might seem at first to be nothing more than his musings (and highly entertaining these are) punctuated by recipes. But the reader soon observes a megalomania in Tarquin:
'I myself have always disliked being called a 'genius'. It is fascinating to notice how quick people have been to intuit this aversion and avoid using the term."
I was hooked from the first chapter where Tarquin so brilliantly recalls taking lunch at his brother's boarding school (which 'my father described as"'towards the top of the second division" ').
As we follow Tarquin, his thoughts on life (some brilliant, some quite mad), his recollections of childhood - parents, artist brother and servants - and much more, we start to see a lot more to him than was at first apparent...
Truly brilliant writing, Lanchester never lets Tarquin's personality for a moment. Like nothing you've ever read - well, maybe our narrator, Tarquin, has a passing (but sinister) resemblance in his pomposity to Ignatius in 'Confederacy of Dunces'


Grace Williams Says it Loud
Grace Williams Says it Loud
by Emma Henderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars "Institutionalize. Try for another child. this one's ineducable. A write-off", 9 April 2014
Grace Williams is handicapped; born to a middle-class family in the 40s, the received wisdom is to put her in an institution and pretty much forget her.
Narrated by Grace, to whom the author has given a voice, we read of life in the grim asylums of the past. But there is magic too as she forms a friendship with another patient - Daniel, a debonair epilertic who can type with his feet - that turns to something much stronger
A novel that has you reeling with the awfulness of life for the handicapped in 60s and 70s; and yet, as the novel moves into modern day 'Care in the Community', something almost seems lost for Grace in her bright, sanitized, busy world complete with carers. Grace doesn't emote much, so what she thinks is uncertain; her feelings are rather expressed through actions - tantrums or talking to herself. But the emotions between her and Daniel are clear and very beautiful.
Compelling read.


Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars 'We're all kind of weird and twisted and drowning,, 2 April 2014
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
A melancholy story set in 1960s Japan. When 17 year old Kizuki commits suicide, the effects on his girlfriend and on his best friend (Toru - the narrator) are long-lasting. The two become involved in a difficult and unsatisfactory relationship; meanwhile Toro is a solitary figure at university, until he meets a kooky and outspoken girl, Midori.
I found this a strange, depressing but highly readable novel, although with a slightly fatuous incident just before the end. But the impression of loneliness and gloom is beautifully drawn.


Bring Up the Bodies
Bring Up the Bodies
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars The order goes to the tower 'Bring up the bodies'. Deliver, that is, the accused men', 1 April 2014
This review is from: Bring Up the Bodies (Paperback)
Superb work, which I think was even better than 'Wolf Hall', perhaps because I'm now used to Ms Mantel's writing style and also feel I know Thomas Cromwell - a character who's usually in the background of Tudor histories where we focus on Henry VIII and his entourage.
This work covers Henry's disenchantment with Anne, as he falls for Jane Seymour, 'like a flower, head drooping, modest as a drift of green-white hellebore' . Meanwhile it is left to Cromwell to arrange the legal case for Anne's adultery and convenient execution:
'the process clear, logical and designed to create corpses by due process of law.'
The stream of consciousness style of writing puts the reader inside Cromwell's head - recollections from years ago float alongside current events and make him a character you understand. Can't wait for the final volume; although I feel I know him so well I can't bear for him to meet his end...


Our Family
Our Family
by Lennart Rudstrom
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars 'paintings sometimes tender, sometimes amusing', 31 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Our Family (Hardcover)
15 pages, each featuring a colour reproduction of Larsson's work - or sometimes 2 or 3 smaller pictures. On the opposite page is a brief page of text ('a fictionalised account of how Carl Larsson might have described his life, his family and his home) accompanied by b/w sketches.
This book really transports you into the Larsson's life in a turn-of-the-century Swedish farmhouse with their large family.....boys dressing up as soldiers, father with a little daughter on his shoulders, mother painting the wall, a cosy kitchen scene, and a cute one of little ones listening outside a door.
Perhaps the little sketches add even more reality to this account of family life; impromptu pictures of everyday occurrences, whether it's Esbjorn with a cloth round his head, suffering from mumps, a screaming newborn, or children riding a cow!


Babbitt (Dover Thrift Editions)
Babbitt (Dover Thrift Editions)
by Sinclair Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.60

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'His last despairing fling before the paralyzed contentment of middle-age', 27 Mar 2014
George F Babbit is a respectable 'pillar of the community' in the fictional city of Zenith. Married with kids, an increasingly successful realtor in a world of 'good little people, comfortable, industrious, credulous', a good social life...and yet beset by the realisation that:
'perhaps all life as he knew it and vigorously practised it was futile; that heaven as portrayed by the Rev Drew was neither probable nor very interesting; that he hadn't much pleasure out of making money; that it was of doubtful worth to rear children merely that they might rear children who would rear children. What was it all about? What did he want?' Whether Babbit finally breaks with his conservative and conventional life forms the story.

I really enjoyed Lewis' humorous touches, especially the characterization of his mundane domestic life:
' "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", he enlightened Mrs Babbit, for quite the first time in fourteen hours.'
Also his comic takes on advertising and religion (which he focussed on more fully in later work 'Elmer Gantry'.)
The realisation that this is all there is, is as relevant today as back in the 1920s, and this was an excellent read.


Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh
by Joan London
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable if implausible, 25 Mar 2014
This review is from: Gilgamesh (Paperback)
This started out brilliantly, following a family on a failing Australian farmstead in the 30s. But then it all started to feel terribly implausible, as Edith sets off for Armenia to seek her child's father...
Nonetheless it's very vivid and haunting writing.


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