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on 13 September 2013
This is a very good novel but not a great novel, although, two weeks after finishing reading it aspects of the story have stayed with me. The connections between the parallel characters and their relationships is both credible and fits in with the time sequence. I liked the eighteen month progression between segments which required joining the threads of what might have occurred in-between. Although there are similarities to some other recent English novels (In the Kitchen-Monica Ali, The Finkler Question-Howard Jacobson, The Northern Clemency-Philip Henscher to name a few and one about a city stock broker This Bleeding City-Alex Preston that my review of on Amazon appears to have dissapeared) about the comfortably well off and/or employed living post Thatcher, Blake Morrison carries the life and story of his characters with compassion, wit, insight, warmth and some kernel of hope and still reveals the flaws that make people of all persuasions ordinary, engaging, interesting. Woven through the story is the image of the fox. It works, sometimes mythologised at least it adds to the narrative rather than dominating it or undermining it. I read it on the train to work, 30 minute bursts and it is easy to pick up and put down. And the Blair era? Although the politics barely seep through, the post modernist, selfish society's breath is all over the lives of the protagonists. Recommended.
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on 3 June 2015
Alas not at all to my liking.

Too fragmented. South Of The River is not so much a story as a catalogue of events some of which the reader only becomes aware of some time after they have occurred which only adds to the overall confusion. The synopsis is at least right in that this is not so much a 'state of the nation' novel as a novel of middle-class adultery.

Never have I been so indifferent to a novel's characters. Unable to like/dislike them - yes, I found them that mediocre. The nearest I came to having any feelings about them one way or another was when one of the characters whilst acknowledging that she was partly to blame for her children (seven and five) being unable to read ('if only she had more time, if only when she did have time she wasn't so exhausted') laid the blame firmly with the school.

And then what is it with the odd little asides, the fox theme that ran throughout? Like the subjects at the revealing of the Emperor's new clothes I'm afraid I was left wondering just what exactly was happening.

Copyright: Tracy Terry @ Pen and Paper
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VINE VOICEon 23 July 2009
The book is written how a soap opera should be with all the day to day minutiae of life - showing how people deal with the big issues and that they are usually swamped by the little issues. Often the characters in the story are unable to see the consequences of their actions today (like real life) but the annual updates throughout the story show the consequences effectively.
The social and political setting was used well and (being in my 20s at the time) it felt familiar and comfortable.
The stories are intriguing and complex, leading the reader in one direction then turning you around to face the real story.
All the way through there are clues about the characters meaning that you are continually wanting to know more.
I was hooked to this book right to the last page and thought it could have gone on for another 500 pages.
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on 30 June 2008
I really enjoyed this book and I also thought that it was very funny in parts. I was engaged in the stories of the five characters who are all inter connected in some way particularly Nat and Libbys story. Nat has absolutely no insight at all in respect of his selfish and narcisstic behaviour and I found him horrifyingly believable. I also liked the structure of the book which follows the characters over 5 years dropping in each year, it shows how their lifes and expectations change. The novel starts on election night 1997 and the initial surge of euphoria and optimism that followed New Labours coming into power. I would thoroughly recommend.
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on 23 May 2008
Rarely have I struggled as much to finish a book or been so indifferent to its main characters. The novel starts off promisingly but descends into a meandering plot (and I use the term loosely). I could not have cared less about Nat, Libby and Anthea; frankly they deserved one another. For me, Nat especially had no redeeeming qualities at all. The plot also jumps certain events and the reader only becomes aware they have happened sometimes a year later which did not help the continuity of the tale. It is as if the author is enjoying witholding the information and delighting in his own imagined cleverness. It simply does not ring true that a woman like Libby would put up with Nat without complaint and then move on to the even dodgier Damien who might as well have warning lights over his head. In my opinion, the rambling contributions by Nat's deceased father are an irritating distraction that add nothing to story and can be skipped. The only character that seemed half human was Uncle Jack. I could not understand what the author was trying to achieve with the underlying fox theme throughout. I thought Harry's character surplus to even the meagre requirements of the novel and found him a cliched racial stereoype. All in all, for me this book was an excercise in writer's smuggery and possibly anti-hunting propaganda. I cannot imagine who these characters or indeed this disjointed novel would appeal to.
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on 4 August 2008
`South of the River' is an insightful and often moving novel revolving around the lives and loves of several inter-connected, mostly South London-based characters. It looks specifically at the changing fortunes of these individuals against the backdrop of New Labour and Tony Blair, from the landslide election night to the post-9-11 period. While contemporaenous politics, particularly the fox-hunting ban, play a part in the novel, they are neither the focal point nor dipicted in an overtly impartial way. Rather, the novel deals in timeless themes of love, responsibility, family, professional success and failure, and class, in a way that Tony Parson's described (helpfully, on the front of the paperback edition) as "intimate and epic".

Despite a terribly flat start, the characters tend to ring quite true, even if they are not always especially likeable. For the first few chapters, as the characters are intially introduced, I didn't think I could make it through 500-plus pages of such aimless vacuity, but my perseverence rewarded. Each character has a first person voice in the novel and gradually gains colour and credibility through their self perception and the perception of them by others. Often brutally candid (particularly in its warts-and-all descriptions of sex) it spares few characters by making explicit their prejudices, pretentions and insecurities. But, in a way that recalls John Updike for me (and particularly his `Rabbit' series), there is something to like - or at least identify with - in all of them. Admittedly, a couple of the characters - particularly pro-hunting country conservative Jack and his failed playwrite nephew Nathan - often veer towards characateur, but Morrison tends to get away with it with cutting wit.

What is particularly interesting and unusual about `South of the River' is that it combines this well developed human drama with experimental tangents. The fox theme bubbles up in some highly unlikely places, and there are some short-story-within-a-novel devices that allow Morrison to break out of the first person formular and make playful digressions. He manages to pull this difficult trick off without - as these enterprises often do - seeming pretentious or sacrificing the overall mood of the novel. Funny, heartfelt and believable, `South of the River' restores your faith in modern Britain as an interesting literary landscape.
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on 19 July 2008
I really found this book difficult to finish. In a word, it's boring. While the characters are interesting, the plot is slow and doesn't really lead anywhere. The ending, for example, was ridiculously abrupt and just left me confused as to what the book was really about.
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