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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars engaging "the discomfiting strangeness of our period . . .", 23 Jun. 2013
By 
Stanley Crowe (Greenville, SC) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America (Paperback)
I highly recommend this humane and varied collection of essays, apparently a selection from almost twenty years of a writer's life. As an essayist, O'Hagan is a cultural observer in the Didion mold, although the eye he casts on our follies isn't as consistently cold as Didion's. There's a bit more variety too in the subject matter, and he has a fine sense of finding the right tone for the different subjects he engages. The first paragraph of "Four Funerals and a Wedding" is simply marvelous, and the essay itself doesn't let us down. The overall quality of attention to his subjects, however, is generally a bit more serious. There are two fine essays, written 17 years apart, one opening the book and the other near its end, on the James Bulger child murder case -- essays in which O'Hagan, remembering his own childhood in the wastelands of the Glasgow Catholic suburbs, insists quietly on a respect for the humanity, the mystery, of the young killers, not all that much older than 10-year-old James himself. There's no question of O'Hagan's excusing or minimizing the horror -- but he resists the implication that to slap a moral label on actions like these is tantamount to understanding them. And he writes this hard sentence about the victim's mother: " . . . grief is not an achievement, doesn't confer power, and Denise Fergus (James's mother) should have no say at all in the fate of the boys who killed her son" (324). And his essay gives you reason, not particularly through argument, to say that he's right. In another essay about his childhood and his family, "Guilt," O'Hagan makes no mention of the Bulger case, but the second of his two essays on the Bulger case follows this essay, and readers can make of the juxtaposition what they will.

However, most of the essays do not have O'Hagan and his life at the center. There are fine appreciations of Baldwin ("Go Tell it . . ."), De Lillo (the failure of his 9/11 novel), Forster, and Styron. He recounts his experiences as a beggar in London (he was acting the part), he writes on the Beatles and Marilyn Monroe, and Andy Warhol, relating their iconicity both inward towards their sense of themselves and the particular circumstances out of which they came, and outward towards the post-WW2 culture that they faced and to some extent transformed. There are two extended, reticent essays on Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq war -- reticent because O'Hagan, while a participant as reporter in both essays, leaves the speaking to others. The Iraq essay, "Brothers," is about two men, one American and one English, who died on the same day in Iraq in totally separate missions. They are thus figuratively brothers of a sort, but they are also brothers to their siblings, and we hear a lot of these siblings' voices. This is a reticent essay too in O'Hagan's refusal to reach for generalizations, cultural or psychological or sociological -- he lets us see and hear the impacts of these lives and deaths, and leaves the rest to us.

The only essay that I thought not totally successful is the ambitious "On the end of British farming." Here O'Hagan attempts a John McPhee-like essay, but I think he need more space for all the political, historical, ecological, and economic information that he is trying to weave together with the words of the struggling small farmers themselves. The essay isn't incomprehensible -- it just feels a bit cramped, and one wonders what another twenty or so pages (the subject is worth it) would have allowed O'Hagan to do. But all in all . . . interesting, informative, humane: what more could one ask? Oh, one thing . . . a writer who can use accurately the word "swither," a word my grandmother used all the time. O'Hagan can do that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars rare bird., 15 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America (Paperback)
quality prose,lots to learn here.good thinker.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent essays, 24 Oct. 2009
By 
Mr. J. C. Macdonald "jezm" (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America (Paperback)
Really interesting, well written essays - though if you read London Review of Books some will be familiar.
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The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America
The Atlantic Ocean: Essays on Britain and America by Andrew O'Hagan (Paperback - 6 Aug. 2009)
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