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Michael Murphy (Glasgow, Scotland.)
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My Life as a Fake
My Life as a Fake
by Peter Carey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars My Life as a Fake., 9 July 2005
This review is from: My Life as a Fake (Paperback)
Using a notorious Australian literary hoax of the 1940's and Mary Shelley's gothic novel "Frankenstein" as a springboard, Peter Carey's powerful creative imagination produces "My Life as a Fake", a stylishly written, extraordinary, modern literary horror story with a wildly inventive, fantastical plot and wide-ranging settings across continents from London to Australia to Malaysia. The stage for the novel is set when prankster Christopher Chubb cons his friend, editor David Weiss into believing that the poetry of Bob McCorkle, an imaginary figure dreamed up by Chubb, is a work of genius. Subsequently, a mysterious wild-looking figure appears claiming he is Bob McCorkle. Is it possible that Chubb's poetry could have brought McCorkle to life?
There are lots things to enjoy in this inventive adventure story where the narrative spirals into the realms of the bizarre in the second half of the novel. Carey acknowledges the value of entertainment, piling one wacky adventure on another as he transports the reader from Australia to Bali to Sumatra and thereafter into the Malaysian jungle. Carey particularly excels in his atmospheric descriptions of muggy Kuala Lumpur.


Bad Land
Bad Land
by Jonathan Raban
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreams turn to Dust., 6 July 2005
This review is from: Bad Land (Paperback)
"Bad Land" is a captivating account of the great con perpetrated by the USA government and big business, working in cahoots, primarily against emigrants from Britain and Europe who were deceived by the prospect held out to them of a new life in eastern Montana as homesteaders farming free, fertile land. The reality was that the new railways running through the dry prairies of Eastern Montana depended on passengers and freight for survival and this required the land to be populated and worked. The stark truth was that the promised land was dry and dusty, with little rainfall - land you couldn't grow a toenail on, totally unsuitable for farming. Unbeknown to the emigrants, they would end up owning "all the dust, rock and parched grass you could see, and more." Thousands of attractive, glossy brochures were distributed far and wide across the USA and Europe promoting the golden dream of riches and prosperity as being there for the taking, just waiting to be snapped up. James J. Hill, the notorious railway magnate, lauded the homesteader scheme as "opening the vaults of a treasury and bidding each man help himself" People were so taken in by the prospect of riches in the new world dangled before them in glossy "golden" presentations and pictures that they were prepared to uproot their lives and their families and risk their lot on "a landscape in a book." They had no conception of what they were letting themselves in for.

Raban is at his best re-creating the great adventure west to eastern Montana, his imagery of that vast, forbidding terrain capturing the landscape in all its moods. He recaptures the arrival of the emigrants by train, taking us into their lives as they try to live out their dream, building their homesteads, fencing their land, borrowing to fund the buying of stock, seed and gasoline tractors and struggling to farm their barren land. Raban brings to life the difficult years that followed the early optimism, reliving how the homesteaders - against the odds of the raking north wind, the cold of Montana "like a boot in the face", the dust, the dry land, the drought years, the dying cattle, the swarms of grasshoppers ("For every hopper killed it seemed like an entire family came to the funeral") - battled in vain to build a fragile, ordered world only to see it crumble rapidly around them within the space of a decade or so. Defeated, most homesteaders quit in the period 1917-1928 and headed further west. It was like coming out of a bad dream. Their bible, "Campbell's soil culture manual", the bestselling guide to husbanding dry land had proved to be a piece of absolute twaddle but too late, did the truth finally dawn that it was the "half-baked theory of a pseudo-scientific crank."

By the 90's, when Raban visited eastern Montana, the homesteads were reverting back to nature: odd fenceposts, rusty harrows and derelict houses the only visible remnants of the homesteaders' hopes and dreams. "Bad Land" could, and should have been, a pure, undiluted five-star classic account of the homesteaders tragic experience and for the most part it is but it occasionally, irritatingly, strays into unnecessary technical detail and lengthy digressions on, for example, "Campbell's soil culture manual", Photography, and Ismay's attempt to re-invent itself under the new name of "Joe" (Montana), rather than remaining firmly yoked to the central theme of the homesteaders' tragic experience - the last part of the book is a further illustration of this kind of distraction. Still recommended though!


Disgrace
Disgrace
by J M Coetzee
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In a State of Disgrace., 5 July 2005
This review is from: Disgrace (Paperback)
Post apartheid, South Africa is in a state of flux: a violent country in which a melting-pot of diverse cultures are struggling to come to terms with each other: a cauldron of conflicting forces and tensions bubbling to the surface as the balance of power shifts from one social system to another. Set in Cape Town, "Disgrace" is a painful, disturbing exploration of the fissures running through the new South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid. The novel sends out a dismal, discouraging message that political change in South Africa has had virtually no effect in eradicating human suffering.
David Lurie, Professor, on the carpet following a sexual liaison with a student, acknowledges his guilt before a Hearing, but is unwilling to express regret and consequently is dismissed. Disgraced, he finds a temporary haven working at his daughter Lucy's farm, also busying himself assisting at an animal welfare shelter. His settling-in period is shattered when Lucy and he are brutally attacked, and Lucy sexually violated, by three black men. Helpless to intervene and save Lucy, Lurie's downfall is complete. Bleak characters inhabiting a bleak landscape.
Written in spare prose, the novel works on a symbolic level: Lurie's fall represents the fall of legalised white supremacy in South Africa. The savage attack on Lurie and Lucy and the massacre of the dogs, suggesting that the cruel oppression of apartheid has been replaced by rampant lawlessness and disorder, brings to the surface the fractures in Lucie's relationship with her father. Lurie represents the old world: Lucy, the uncertain future of the new, post-apartheid South Africa. Lurie's regressive outlook is reflected in his efforts to persuade Lucy to leave the farm because of the potential danger of staying on and his suspicion that Petrus, her coloured neighbour and assistant, is conspiring to take over her farm.
Lucy flatly rejects her father's views. Committed to the land, Lucy reconciles herself to going forward with the forces for social change simmering in the new South Africa, refusing to adopt the siege mentality of reactionary farmers like Ettinger, by turning her farmhouse into a fortress. Petrus represents the transition between the old order and the new South Africa, the momentum for social change, (builds his own house, buys land which he couldn't do under apartheid), yet still retaining his traditional rights to polygamy in marriage. His relationship with Lucy reflects the shifting of power in the new South Africa. Lucy recognises that she is dependent on her neighbour Petrus for protection and that the way forward is to learn to live with him - uncertain though she is of his motives and intentions - and with the changes that are looming, if she is to survive on the land. Gripping - except for the stuffy bits on Byron!


The Clearing
The Clearing
by Tim Gautreaux
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sinking in the mire., 1 Aug 2004
This review is from: The Clearing (Hardcover)
The Clearing is a powerful, engrossing novel set in a remote logging camp deep in the treacherous swamps of the Louisiana bayou. Intensely atmospheric, the senses are saturated by Gautreaux's evocation of a humid, fetid, waterlogged hell-hole of a place teeming with all sorts of nasties that bite. Enclosing the Nimbus lumber mill clearing is the eerie, murky swampland. This god-forsaken backwater provides the backdrop for the suspenseful, expertly plotted story of the re-uniting of two brothers, Randolph and Byron Aldridge, sons of timber tycoon Noah Aldridge.
The year is 1923 and Byron has returned from the 1st World War sickened and traumatised by the mass-slaughter in the trenches. Remote and withdrawn, hardened and stripped of feeling by exposure to violent death, sinking in the mire of profound melancholy, his mind is full of festering thoughts of the horrors of war. A Drifter, Byron is now the lawman in the Nimbus logging camp meting out his own harsh brand of rough, tough justice to a motley crew of drunken, brawling, razor-swinging mill-hands and loggers who burn off steam by turning to the only saloon in camp for the solace afforded by alcohol, gambling and hookers, their only form of respite from the back-breaking, daylong slog of swinging saws. A more potent, sinister challenge to Byron's law in Nimbus is posed by a ruthless Sicilian group who control the saloon and its rich pickings. A savage, violent power struggle ensues, though Gautreaux never allows gratuitous violent to creep in.
At the start of the novel, Byron's whereabouts have been discovered and Noah authorises the purchase of Nimbus lumber mill, appointing Randolph as mill manager to exploit its rich potential but moreso to re-engage with Byron and shepherd him back into the family fold. For readers who wish to dig deeper, themes of violence, the futility of war, the destruction of natural habitat, racism, loss and the redemptive power of love are there to be explored. The Clearing is an excellent novel that opens a window on a bye-gone age. Recommended!


Scale Construction and Psychometrics for Social and Personality Psychology (The SAGE Library of Methods in Social and Personality Psychology)
Scale Construction and Psychometrics for Social and Personality Psychology (The SAGE Library of Methods in Social and Personality Psychology)
by Mike Furr
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life is hard for Proulx's people in Heart Songs!, 29 July 2004
Excellent collection of short stories by one of the very best short story writers, set in a rural community where life is hard for Proulx's people struggling to eke out a living. Tough, gritty stories focussing for the most part on hunting and fishing, activities that give full play to the author's gift for capturing the rugged, rural landscape in all its moods and also provide an unusual backdrop for the human dramas played out. Revenge, ill-will, greed, infidelity, passion and jealously, violence and death are all strong presences in these stringent stories so don't be misled by the tame hunting and fishing reference. Annie Proulx creates a cast of vivid characters - eccentric, downtrodden, down and out, malicious and conniving - bringing them alive in the space of a striking image or phrase!

A strong theme threading through several stories is the clash of values of two very different worlds: big-city hobbyists with ready money who show up in the country sporting their flash hunting gear and their brand new boots - their rifles shiny and new, just like their cars - bringing unwelcome improvements impinging on the land, customs and traditions of the poor rural community, the actions of the outsiders often appearing nave, clumsy, even foolish. My personal favourite is Stone City: a hunter stumbles on a remote, derelict farm high up on the snow-covered wooded hillsides but senses an atmosphere of evil pervading the abandoned ruin, Stone City, once owned by the Stone family, old man Stone and his brood of wild, unruly offsprings. Gradually, more shocking revelations about the Stones and the grim past of Stone City come to light. Try also Annie Proulx's other superb short story collection of Wyoming stories, Close Range. Both books highly recommended!


A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
by Gil Courtemanche
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rwanda ravaged by Tutsi Genocide., 28 July 2004
Rwanda 1994:Genocide: every Tutsi man, woman and child targeted for murder. In the collective imagination, Rwanda's Hutu-Tutsi conflict conjures up images of cruel barbarity: the crunch of machete into bone; the smash of hammer and club through human skull; the putrefying bodies piled along the roadsides; bloated corpses floating down rivers; jam-packed churches set on fire; victims tossed alive onto piles of burning tires lining mass open pits. The mass of Rwandan Hutus were incited to the genocide to come by the Hutu Power radio station, the Hutu Power leaders using the broadcasts to coerce every Hutu into complicity in the genocide, the object being that every pair of Hutu hands be steeped in Tutsi blood. Spurred on by Hutu Power broadcasts and led by examples of Hutu militia massacres at countless roadblocks, the Hutu people of Rwanda - with machetes, knives, hammers, spears, clubs studded with nails and any other murderous weapon that came to hand - rose to the call to kill the "cockroaches", their friends, neighbours and workmates. Churches, where thousands of Tutsis fled for sanctuary, became the largest slaughterhouses.
Set in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, in the days preceding the genocide, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali is a searing indictment of the inaction of the international community - the finger of accusation pointing at the Belgians and French - turning a blind eye to the appalling massacre of the helpless Tutsi minority population who were abandoned to certain annihilation. The novel is a stylishly written blend of fact and fiction, a combination of love story and powerful political reportage giving a terrifying and convincing portrayal of Rwanda in turmoil. Gil Courtmanche confronts the tragic spread of Aids and the genocide that ravaged Rwanda in a bloodbath that snuffed out 800,000 Tutsi lives - and those moderate Hutus who refused to participate - over a period of a hundred hellish days as the West stood around twiddling its thumbs. The scathing moral voice of Courtemanche denounces the hatred, sexual culture, powerlust and global apathy that brought Rwanda to its knees.
Based in the upmarket Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali, a house of refuge for many wealthy-connected Tutsi's targeted for murder by Hutu death squads, Bernard Valcourt, a Canadian journalist on assignment in Rwanda to produce a film documenting the Aids epidemic, falls for Gentille, a Hutu waitress at the hotel, often taken for a Tutsi. There is a sense of impending disaster in the air, pressure building, as Valcourt and the hotel's clientele of international officials, aid workers, expatriates, prostitutes, UN soldiers and a group of upscale Rwandan residents play out the days prior to the genocide around the hotel swimming-pool in a Kigali on the brink of becoming a mass Tutsi killing ground. Valcourt is aware that doom is fast approaching and his sword of truth exposes government corruption, police cover-ups, UN officialdom that blocked the seizure of massive arms cachements (that would later be used in the slaughter), inaction by impotent UN forces, and a heedless media. Recommended! For deeper insight, try Philip Gourevitch's classic account of the genocide, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.


Hunger
Hunger
by Hamsun Knut
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.07

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Hunger Artist., 25 July 2004
This review is from: Hunger (Paperback)
This compelling novel will strike a chord with anyone who, for whatever reason or turn of circumstance, has found themselves completely isolated in life, knowing no one at all, suffering extremes of loneliness, virtually bereft of human interaction and discourse - stranded helplessly among people like a ghost doomed to wander in a phantom zone. Written in 1890, Knut Hamsun's novel Hunger is a disturbing journey into the mind and soul of a young writer. With no plot or characters (other than the young writer narrator) to speak of, the novel, written in the form of an interior monologue, recounts each moment-by-moment thought or impulse running through the young writer's mind. The reader observes in the interior monologue, the steady deterioration of the young writer's mental state as his thoughts swing erratically between extremes of elation and despair.
For the nameless young writer, clothes falling apart, existing precariously on the brink of starving to death, evicted from his room when rental payments lapsed, not knowing where his next mouthful of food will come from, pawning the vest off his back (but making rash, extravagant handouts as soon as he comes into any money), each day represents a vast desert of dead and empty time in which he wanders, lost, blown about the streets of the city like a paper in the wind, dogged by unremitting hunger - with brief periods of respite when his starvation is temporarily quelled with what little money he makes flogging the odd article to a local newspaper. In his drastically weakened state, on the verge of physical collapse, unable to eat without throwing up, only able to write in patches, the young writer begins to lose his reason, his irrational state of mind marked by wild impulses and violent mood swings as he slips into paranoia and despair. A relationship with a girl quickly fizzles out and in the end he leaves the city.
While the novel gives an account of the young writer's sufferings and privations, his desperate struggle with hunger and hardship, occupying a plane of existence on the edge of starvation, themes of loneliness and alienation lie at the heart of it - the young writer completely isolated, virtually existing inside his own head, his introspection developing thought-patterns grotesquely magnifying trivial events out of all proportion, manifested in bizarre and preposterous behaviour. Highly recommended!


Between Two Rivers
Between Two Rivers
by Nicholas M. Rinaldi
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Character-driven rather than Plot-driven., 24 July 2004
This review is from: Between Two Rivers (Hardcover)
Set within the walls of Echo Terrace, a flash New York apartment building, "Between Two Rivers" is a smooth-flowing elegantly written novel about the everyday lives of the inhabitants of a Condominium, residents and staff, tracing how their day-to-day lives cross and collide and become dramatically intertwined as they go about their daily business. At the centre, seated behind his oak desk in the marble lobby, concierge Farro Fescu is the pivot around whom the life of the building revolves. The building is Farro's passion as well as his work. Attuned to his charges every whim, Farro's intimate knowledge of their every custom, need and desire is such, it seems "as if there are wires running from his fingers to every room". Rinaldi uses Farro to pull the whole together. Through Farro, Rinaldi brings into play all sorts of extraordinary characters, a cross-section of society in fact, who breathe life into the building - and the novel, each with their own complex backstory to tell.

Character-driven rather than plot-driven, Rinaldi's narrative cross-cuts intermittently from one apartment to another, spotlighting first one character then another as the narrative focus switches up and down and around the building. The effect is to allow the reader to look through different windows, watching unseen as Rinaldi switches from one apartment to another, and from one scenario to the next - a widow whose apartment houses a collection of wildlife; an ex-Luftwaffe fighter pilot; a plastic surgeon who performs sex-change ops: a frozen-food "big cheese" who is dying of cancer - revealing in a series of vivid snapshots, the depth and complexity, the heart and mind, of each character in focus.

A series of powerful, dramatic set-pieces including et al, the rape of the Condo's young housekeeper on the subway and the attacks on the World Trade Centre, culminating in the terrible events of 9/11, had this reader's eyes racing through the velvet-smooth prose in what seemed no time at all; prose infused with surges of anguish and terror that resonates long in the mind. Elsewhere in the book, in contrast, Rinaldi's abundance of wit and humour leaps off the pages. Highly recommended! Try also The New Yorkers "Wonderful Town" and "The Time Out Book of New York Short Stories" for other perspectives on life in New York apartment buildings.


The Shell Collector
The Shell Collector
by Anthony Doerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Power of the Natural World., 25 April 2004
This review is from: The Shell Collector (Paperback)
Doerr's very good collection of short stories transports us from the coast of Kenya to the Montana winter, from Liberia in West Africa to Oregon, from Tanzania to Ohio. Three of the best in my view are the title story "The Shell Collector", "The Hunter's Wife" and "Mkondo", where the characters Doerr creates exist in natural worlds suffused with a power that is palpable.

In "The Shell Collector", the blind collector trawls the beaches and coral reefs of Kenya, his retreat from the world, sifting through sand granules in search of rare shell specimens, his life-long study - but his private world is overturned when he happens on a cure for malaria and word quickly spreads about the miracle cure. "The Hunter's Wife" has the gift of psychic commune with the spirits of Earth's creatures and this poses a challenge to their life together in the harsh Montana winterscape. In "Mkondo", Doerr explores the theme of people caught between different cultures: a newly married couple from the rainforests of Tanzania and the suburbs of Oregon respectively, discover how love can first blossom - and then wither, depending on where they are; that peoples health, happiness, even love may be subject to the landscape they live in. Three mesmerising stories from a very powerful creative imagination!

Other 'goodies' in an all round high standard of short story include "For A Long Time This Was Griselda's Story" about two sisters who take divergent roads in life, one seeking her fortune assisting a metal eater in a travelling sideshow, the other remaining at home with their mother, and "The Caretaker", a refugee from civil war in Liberia, now in Oregon, struggling with the trauma of having witnessed atrocities and being forced to carry out an execution. Recommended!


Charlie Johnson in the Flames
Charlie Johnson in the Flames
by Michael Ignatieff
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Human Cost of War., 10 April 2004
Drawing on his first-hand experience of war zones, Ignatieff’s short novel, set during the war in Kosovo, is a moving, disturbing account of one man’s agonising experience of the evils of war.
Veteran TV war correspondent Charlie Johnson has decades of “holiday from hell” assignments behind him, covering harrowing events in the trouble-spots of the world. Jaded by the carnage he is professionally paid to witness and constant numbing exposure to all forms of appalling brutality and futile, violent death, Charlie thought he had seen more than enough hellish images of violence, terror and death for any man to bear – mutilated bodies, burnt-out buildings, fire-gutted villages, sobbing women, wretched orphans – until, returning from a risky cross-border trip into war-torn Kosovo, he sees a vision from hell, a horrifying atrocity of the kind that marks the moral malaise of our age. A young Kosovar village women who sheltered him and his sidekick cameraman, Jacek, is doused with a jerry-can of gasoline and touched to flame with the flick of a lighter of a militia patrol commander – the commander caught on film by Jacek and later identified as a Serbian army colonel. Attempting to put out the woman, Charlie scorches his own hand.
With sensitivity and insight, Ignatieff explores the human cost of war, showing how the effects of this shock-horror experience can blight the life of even such a battle-hardened war reporter as Charlie. The horror of seeing the young woman burned alive before his eyes – one senseless killing too many – gets to Charlie, penetrates his protective shell of detachment, his gut-reaction being to track down and wreak vengeance on the colonel … or at least confront him in person about his motivation for the killing. The theme of revenge resonates through this novel. Charlie himself appears to have ambivalent feelings about the subject: he is painfully aware that the burning compulsion he feels for retribution and revenge – and is powerless to check – is anachronistic and contradictory to his respect for human rights. Like a thriller, the plot creates expectation that there will be a day of reckoning for the colonel in a showdown with Charlie.
The inspired title, “Charlie Johnson In The Flames”, encapsulates all the troubles that afflict Charlie. For Charlie, being “in the flames” takes many shapes and forms: his bandaged hands have been literally engulfed in flames; metaphorically, flames of anger and revenge burn deeply within him; his dreams are haunted by images of the torched village woman; mentally, he is strung up by the weight of the incident pressing on his mind, and from the emotional fall-out of a marriage under pressure. For Charlie Johnson, being “in the flames” can mean many different things – as the dramatic, unexpected denouement of this novel reveals when the moment of truth arrives!


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