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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'On the other hand the critical exegesis has only just begun'
`Joseph Nagel slumped forward, head in hands'

The first line of An Anxious Man, the first story in James Lasdun's collection It's Beginning to Hurt, describes the state of angst which investing a sizeable sum in the stock market can induce. This story won Lasdun the first National Short Story Award in 2006 and it is a gem, perfectly describing `how wearying,...
Published on 8 July 2009 by purpleheart

versus
1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing for me here.
I bought this book, admittedly as I liked the cover, I like the name, it summed up a very complex situation I was in and I wanted to read something that may give my brain something else to think about other the contents of the day.

I was let down, I feel very let down.

So maybe it helped a little, the stories were very easy to read, very American...
Published on 28 July 2010 by J.L.W.B


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'On the other hand the critical exegesis has only just begun', 8 July 2009
By 
purpleheart (UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: It's Beginning To Hurt (Hardcover)
`Joseph Nagel slumped forward, head in hands'

The first line of An Anxious Man, the first story in James Lasdun's collection It's Beginning to Hurt, describes the state of angst which investing a sizeable sum in the stock market can induce. This story won Lasdun the first National Short Story Award in 2006 and it is a gem, perfectly describing `how wearying, how humiliating it was to have so little faith in anything, to be so abjectly at the mercy of every tremor of fear in one's mind'.

This is a brilliant collection of short stories; intelligent, enlightening, and well written. I was impressed with Seven Lies, his last novel, which had a brilliant opening. In this collection Lasdun dazzles with his endings. It is also remarkable just how quickly he can conjure up a recognisable world: a man worries about a tumour and his worsening relationship with his sister, another man starts to question his own fidelity whilst wondering at his colleague's promiscuity, a neighbour witnesses a family breakdown. The title story on the end of an affair is just two perfect pages long.

These short stories leave you with lasting visual images - an abundance of blossom on a tree, writhing caterpillars, fine jewellery on a woman's neck as well as great turns of phrase - `Here was Broadway; billboards and scaffolding and more billboards over the scaffolding'. Lasdun is great on titles also - from Totty to The Natural Order to The Incalculable Life Gesture. I've enjoyed everything by Lasdun so far and I'm looking forward to reading the next book as he just gets better.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "So, do you always wear your wedding ring?", 6 Mar 2011
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: It's Beginning To Hurt (Paperback)
A marvellous collection of short stories by James Lasdun, this is increasingly compulsive as you read on, from one finely judged story to the next. Lasdun's stories can span decades, as with 'A Bourgeois Story', where a man receives a letter from a friend he knew in the 1970s when his politics were very different from what they are now. Meeting again the fiery revolutionary, Dimitri, the narrator discovers he must live with the guilt he irrationally(?) feels and is punished when his friend's defiance erupts in a terrible simile:

"I read a book about ants recently," he said. "Made me think of you. There's a species called Honey Pot ants who feed off honey-dew. They have a whole class called `repletes' - compulsive eaters who've evolved this pouchy gullet that can be distended to gigantic proportions. The workers hoist them up and hang them upside down from the roof by their back claws, and in the dry season just tap them for a snifter whenever they're thirsty, by stroking their heads. Easy as shoving a tumbler up an optic." (Nb. Narrative shortened for review purposes)

Gloriously right-on although this story is, the fierce Marxist Dimitri has equally few humane qualities, still living in a squat, selling pamphlets with his pride vauntingly intact. Yet the simile haunts. Bankers/Politicians - put forward your own favourites for the `repletes' of the current crisis.

These stories are deeply, often brilliantly perceptive of their subjects and the writing is superb. Never lavish with descriptive moments, when they do come in a story, you pay attention - as here from 'Totty': "His hands were very large; the long, angular fingers each with a glint of gold hair below the knuckle, the upper joints bending a little backwards, as in the hands of angels in old paintings, as he pressed and twisted the lemon halves on the ridged glass cone of the squeezer."

You do not get too much, with James Lasdun in this collection. What you get is exactly the right amount of everything.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written & Very Moving, 15 Aug 2010
By 
R. Ahmed "Raz" (Avalon) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: It's Beginning To Hurt (Paperback)
This is a wonderful collection of short stories. I finished them all in a matter of days in awe at what a great writer Lasdun is. I liked the stories so much I find myself going back to them over and over again.

Each story is brilliantly plotted with some utterly jaw dropping scenes - the descriptions of the caterpillars in the final story will leave you breathless. In a sentence Lasdun can usually say more than most good writers in a whole chapter - he is one hell of a prose writer!

Don't listen to the reviewer below - all short stories are short (doh!) and therefore cannot deal with everything, but their focus is what what makes them lyrical.

This is a collection to savour over and over again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars powerful and believable, 20 Dec 2010
By 
Ben (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: It's Beginning To Hurt (Paperback)
James Lasdun is an English writer to savour. This is, firstly, realism of the highest order - characters whose psychologies and auras really come into being. But beyond that the stories accelerate, in a subtly deranged way, leaving you turning the pages quite furiously. Light, nature, love, food, thoughts and places are described in a beautiful, shimmering prose which leaves you nervously awaiting the next moment paranoia, humiliation, revenge and tragedy will strike.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Beginning to Hurt., 16 May 2009
By 
Leyla Sanai "leyla" (glasgow) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Good short stories are a joy to be savoured. They're a difficult form of fiction to get right - many writers leave you disengaged with the characters and events, so that you don't much care when the story ends - but when they work, they're pithy little dramas that leave you either sated or else hungrily wondering what happened next.

My favourite short story writers write mini gems that draw me in fully, involve me in the participants' lives, make me empathise with or shrink from the characters involved - indifference is the only reaction that signifies failure - and spin the whole into a tiny bundle of prose that transports me into another world for the duration of the piece. Chekhov is a classical master of the form, but my favourite contemporary short story writers include Michel Faber, David Foster Wallace, Lorrie Moore, John Updike, and James Lasdun.

James Lasdun has found success in many forms of writing. Born in London, he has published two previous books of short stories before this one, two novels - The Horned Man (which I raved about in a thread on novels on psychiatric illness in this blog) and Seven Lies, which was shortlisted for the Booker prize a few years ago, and three collections of poetry. One of his previous short stories, The Siege, was used by Bernando Bertolucci as the basis of his film Besieged, and another acted as the scaffolding for a screenplay Lasdun co-wrote for the film Sunday, whichwon two prizes at the Sundance festival in 1997 - Best Screenplay and Best Feature. Not bad for a writer who's barely begun to go grey.

Lasdun's latest collection of stories, It's Beginning to Hurt, was published by Jonathan Cape this year. As expected, they're delicious mini courses in Lasdun's taster menu of talent. Lasdun specialises in capturing, with unnnerving insight, the split seconds in which moods and emotions turn on triggers so fine and subtle that they're barely perceptible. He nails these moments perfectly, spiking the core of the microgram of fly in the ointment and thus catching the infinitessemal moment with starling perception.

In An Anxious Man, a man mired in petty worries frets about a windfall that should have been a bonus. Larger shadows loom, and he garbles deals with the powers above to let things be alright, promising to transform his life. In The Natural Order, a happily married man travels with a cocky young Adonis and the latter's behaviour gradually permeates his own mind, causing internal chaos. He meets a rare soulmate and spurns her out of duty, then compensates injudiciously. The Incalculable Life Gesture hinges on the bad news that dramatically refocuses life's priorities, spawning altruism and benevolence. The Half Sister is a masterful and funny tableau pitching money against ethics. In The Old Man, a wealthy man's perceptions of his fiancee shift on the basis of a few words. A Bourgeois Story pits a sucessful lawyer against a friend from his past, a Marxist idealist who refused to sell out. Totty is wonderfully vengeful, reducing a character to the base behaviour she's accused of. Cranley Meadows is achingly sad. Lime Pickle contrasts the sweet memory of first love with the indifference and even mild repulsion that can take its place. Caterpillars wonderfully depicts the sort of angry eco-warrior whose respect for nature preclude humans.

Annals of the Honorary Secretary is the only story that pushed credulity, dealing as it does with the supernatural, but even this was so well written as to be able to cause a flinch of discomfort and a slight chill in the air.

A couple of the stories left me wanting to know more. In Cleanness, the protagonist's deeply buried sorrow begins to lift, making me curious as to what happened next. In The Woman in the Window, the exploration of the motives behind the woman's actions are only nebulously explored, so that questions remain as to motivation and psychological wounds.

One of the joys of Lasdun's work is his sumptuous prose. Here he is on insomnia:

`He had barely slept since his visit to Dr Taubman. Some over-the-counter pills had given him a few hours of light oblivion each night, after which the feeling of dread they had held in precarious abeyance spilled back, filling his mind with a cold, pulsating wakefulness for the rest of the night.'

And here he is on receiving a noxious injection:

`The woman plunged a needle into his arm. A tingling, pressurised heat surged into him. Not painful exactly, but shocking. The word `insult', in its medical sense, came to him as the substance raced through his veins. Something in him seemed to flinch in corresponding outrage or mortification. Was he going to throw up? Were his bowels going to betray him?'

Here on a young manual labourer with responsibilities:

`..yet every day was a struggle. If it wasn't money, it was offences to his pride which was strung tight, like every other part of him.'

And here on a sneering womaniser:

`.. this particular man belonged to a type for whom she did have a certain weakness: confident, well-made, and with an interest in women that consisted, in her experience, of a generalised contempt in which a kind of aggrieved, violent desire was concealed like a stiletto.'

And here are the thoughts of the snotty eco-warrior Craig's long-suffering girlfriend :

`There were no pylons or cellphone towers to upset Craig, and for this Caitlin was grateful. Not that she liked these things any more than he did,but his diatribes had an unsettling effect on her. Since being with Craig she had found that it was necessary to guard, rather carefully, what remained of her affection for her own species.'

And

`She didn't even like him, she sometimes thought, observing his cold manner with people he disapproved of, which was most of the human race.'

There are also strong visual images evoked:

`A truck, turning, belched soot across a pool of white tulips.'

In his style, Lasdun is crisp and methodical. In Annals of the Honorary Secretary, he plunges in with a first person narrator who, like Ishiguro's characters, wipes small arcs of clarity in a foggy windscreen which eventually coalesce to gradually reveal the bizarre whole in logical, connecting steps. This style of getting in at the deep end - not starting with a traditional explanation of background and so on but diving headlong into a murky pool with an anecdote, involves the reader as Ishiguro did in Never Let Me Go: curiosity is slaked, and the reader slowly finds out about the strange circumstances.

Yet Lasdun's prose is never dry or humourless. He drops droll phrases in a matter-of-fact way. A wealthy woman is described like so:

`Like many very rich people, she worked hard at making one feel like an old and particularly dear friend from whom only the most extraordinary circumstances had kept her away in the interval that had passed.'

A righteous, religious and morally affronted cleaner's outrage is depicted thus:

`The woman's round, haggard face seemed to dilate in the grey air as though swelling on her own obscurely affronted rectitude.'

Here is a middle-aged would-be professional singer:

`Her voice wasn't bad - husky and surprisingly low - but to our fastidious, intolerant ears, the songs themselves (Broadway ballads mostly, as far as I can remember) were unbearable. While she sang them, which she did in an American accent, she went through a routine of stiff, exaggerated expressions. She batted her eyelids, tossed her head, puckered her mouth to look `wry', doggedly illustrating whatever the lyrics suggested, as if she had a foreign or perhaps deaf audience in mind.'

And here on a rich man's supercilious wife:

` `Oh?' Mrs Knowles adjusted her posture warily on the sofa. Her lips bunched together, little dimples of polite anticipatory amusement forming on either side of them.'

All in all, It's Beginning to Hurt is a delicious concoction of human foibles, weaknesses and vulnerabilities, vivid little packets of others' lives, related with vim and wit.
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1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Nothing for me here., 28 July 2010
This review is from: It's Beginning To Hurt (Paperback)
I bought this book, admittedly as I liked the cover, I like the name, it summed up a very complex situation I was in and I wanted to read something that may give my brain something else to think about other the contents of the day.

I was let down, I feel very let down.

So maybe it helped a little, the stories were very easy to read, very American naming places and in full USA schpeel you could almost hear the accent from the page, I am normally a very slow reader but this I flew through....and came to no conclusion.

Each story goes into the live of someone, some situation, some occasion. But thats just it, its as if yo just glance through the window and move right on- in a great many of the stories there is no real conclusion, your either left hanging wondering what happened next, sort of like watching a soap but they forgot the 'dun dun dun...' moment and just cut halfway through or other stories which never really went anywhere, never concluded as they never really said anything.

I could think, maybe this is just my super gifted experiences in life, maybe I just expect a book to be as good as my colourful life, only my life is dull, nothing really big happens, I am open to reading a book that teaches me something new, takes me to new places and helps me understand something from someone elses point of view. Not this book, nothing here is memorial for me.
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It's Beginning To Hurt
It's Beginning To Hurt by James Lasdun (Paperback - 1 April 2010)
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