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A Sentimental Education: The story of a Young Man (Oxford World's Classics)
A Sentimental Education: The story of a Young Man (Oxford World's Classics)
by Gustave Flaubert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars and for some unaccountable reason liked it. I now find the writing flat, 8 Oct 2014
A Portrait of the Good-for-nothing as a Young Man. I read it many years ago, and for some unaccountable reason liked it. I now find the writing flat, the characterisation shallow, the episodes tedious. It is nothing like as good as Madame Bovary.


One Summer: America 1927
One Summer: America 1927
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's like eating one of those whopping American sandwiches - you ..., 13 July 2014
Bill Bryson takes 600 pages of bland prose to narrate events that merit no more than 100. The Mississippi floods, flying across the Atlantic, baseball, boxing, a know-nothing president, all described in exhaustive and exhausting detail, without much in the way of analysis, but all too much in the way of building up anticipation and then letting the reader down. It's like eating one of those whopping American sandwiches - you think you'll eventually get to the tasty bit but you never do. And Bryson's usual wit seems to be missing. The edition aimed at British readers (presumably, since the spelling is British English) contains many baseball terms, such as 'sacrificial bunt', which most British readers won't understand, so why isn't there a glossary? We could google them, of course, but so we could for anything else in the book. It's the author who is supposed to do the work.


The Crossing: 2/3 (Border Trilogy 2)
The Crossing: 2/3 (Border Trilogy 2)
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Unfathomable profundity, 22 Nov 2013
As in All the Pretty Horses, much of the plot, such as it is, centres on stolen horses. Almost everybody the main protagonist meets has unfathomably profound things to say about the world and its workings. There are detailed (and, on the face of it, superfluous) descriptions of processes such as cleaning a wound, setting a trap, saddling a horse, catching a horse. The terminology is often obscure, some of it not even having made it to the dictionary (that is, if it isn't in Spanish in the first place). Much of the dialogue is in Spanish, and the reader loses quite a lot if he/she can't follow it. Some of the prose is Biblical-sounding, mainly on account of its polysyndeton. But for some reason it works and is very compelling.


English in Situations
English in Situations
by Robert O'Neill
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic book, 18 Nov 2013
This review is from: English in Situations (Paperback)
This is one of the books that launched modern EFL on its glorious career. The idea that language is used for communication, which scarcely seems to have entered the heads of previous authors, is exemplified by this book. The principle of the book is extremely simple: What would you say in a particular situation and how would you say it? Not: write a third conditional sentence about Horatio Nelson's aunt in which both clauses are in the passive, with the subordinate clause inverted and the main clause containing the word 'thereunto'. The only drawback of the book is that it isn't illustrated. It's a pity it hasn't been reissued. Although it isn't a coursebook as such, modern coursebook writers could learn a lot from it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 16, 2014 12:50 PM BST


Kenwood True JKP210 Kettle - White
Kenwood True JKP210 Kettle - White
Price: £29.95

2.0 out of 5 stars The water tastes of plastic, 9 Sep 2013
Although this kettle boils water very efficiently, that does not make up for the fact that the water often tastes quite strongly of plastic, which is somewhat unpleasant.


Bach, Complete Sacred Cantatas
Bach, Complete Sacred Cantatas
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £44.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A patchy performance, 26 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Some of the performances are quite good, but in some of the cantatas the soloists, particularly the male ones, are somewhat flat or otherwise out of tune.


The Pregnant Widow
The Pregnant Widow
by Martin Amis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Barren Witticist, 29 Jun 2011
This review is from: The Pregnant Widow (Paperback)
`The Pregnant Widow' is a relentless display of triviality, full of newly-minted clichés, arch literary references and empty gibberish masquerading as deep insight. It is self-regardingly knowing, its characters are paper-thin and emotionless, its humour is at best pubescent. Amis is 62, but his voice is still that of a fourteen-year-old `revealing' secrets about sex to his mates in the school playground (it's all about tits, arses and cocks, apparently - or is there something else, which Amis can't bring himself to name in the same colloquial way?). `It's a bit puerile, isn't it?' says one of the characters on page 84. Yes, it is.

Amis is often praised for his style, yet this book displays not so much a style as a series of tics: badly-chosen adjectives (`corpulent raindrops', `a percussive sky'), pointless use of italics (`The only link he could find between his two sisters was *low self-esteem*'), use of successive synonyms to convey the same idea (`Not right, not left - but aslant, athwart'), ludicrous personification (`I will never tire, the sun was saying. I am like the sea. You will tire. But I will never tire.'), outlandish metaphor (`And there it was suddenly, over the flank of the massif, God's red rooster.' - does he have a database for this sort of thing?).

Amis's sentences are said to be special and original, but no-one so far seems to be capable of saying exactly why. Let's analyse one of them: `In fact Keith found he knew Tommy's telegram by heart.' Is that a particularly good sentence? It's grammatical and conveys the information it wants to convey, very much like other sentences by other authors. Its clause elements are Adverb + subject + verb + direct object - nothing very remarkable about that. A large proportion of Amis's sentences are simple, consisting basically of subject + verb, with or without object or complement. A number of them begin with `And': `And then they were gone', `And we agreed.' Compound sentences feature quite heavily, but complex sentences are relatively rare, and those containing relative clauses are even rarer. Non-sentences are fairly frequent: `The pivot of the hips, the swivel of the thighs.' The reader doesn't have to do much work in order to interpret Amis's sentences on a structural level, and not that much on a conceptual or lexical level either. In this book Amis frequently introduces words and phrases of Italian, Latin or Greek origin and then proceeds to explain them, as if the reader might not know the meaning of 'hoi polloi', or be incapable of looking it up.

Of puns Amis has pompously said: `...they offer disrespect to language, and all they manage to do is make words look stupid.' (Eat your heart out, James Joyce!) But what about that other favourite of the red-top newspapers, alliteration? Amis apparently doesn't think that a string of words beginning with the same sound or letter makes words look stupid, as he employs this device himself: `slowly shuffling shoulders', `the pomp of its padded perch'. You could say that alliteration makes words look like dunces all wearing the same cap.

Let's suppose this novel was the subject of a literary Turing test: instead of trying to decide whether your interlocutor is a human or a computer, you have to decide whether Amis wrote The Pregnant Widow or whether it is the product of a computer programme (Deep Puce) which has been fed with all his previous literary works and the details of his life, plus a few random names and locations, and given the theme of tits and bums to work on. It's obvious what most people's verdict would be.


Great House
Great House
by Nicole Krauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars There's nothing in the desk, 17 Jun 2011
This review is from: Great House (Paperback)
I've just read Great House and The Tiger's Wife. It seems that Nicole Krauss was asked by her writing school tutor to write a novel about a desk and Tea Obreht was set the task of making something out of the idea of a deaf-mute pregnant by a tiger, with the added injunction to make their stories as complicated as possible, padding them out with redundant description and hyperbolic insights and including sentences which sound lyrical,rhythmical and deep but which make absolutely no sense. It would have been much more interesting if the characters in Great House were all linked by a tiger and the villagers in The Tiger's Wife were threatened by a desk. That would have been true magic realism. Both authors could do with not trying to be 'significant'. In between reading these novels I read Billy Budd. Melville has far more to say in a much shorter space than both these novels put together, and in a much more accomplished style.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2011 12:50 PM BST


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