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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "What kind of person can take photographs like these?"
Returning from central Africa where he photographed a massacre in which three thousand innocent women and children were hacked to death, forty-year-old photographer Clem Glass finds himself too stunned to function in the "normal" world of London. Dividing his life into the "time before" and the "time after" the horrifying event, Clem is...
Published on 2 Jan 2006 by Mary Whipple

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing
A weak book from a strong writer, The Optimists is a misstep into Graham Greene territory. A news photographer shoots the aftermath of an African massacre, his sister has a nervous breakdown, he seems to be having one himself--none of it is compelling or fresh, and, at time, it's even somewhat ludicrous. The imagery, obvious metaphors about sight and pretty juvenile stuff...
Published on 26 April 2006 by expatina


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "What kind of person can take photographs like these?", 2 Jan 2006
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Optimists (Paperback)
Returning from central Africa where he photographed a massacre in which three thousand innocent women and children were hacked to death, forty-year-old photographer Clem Glass finds himself too stunned to function in the "normal" world of London. Dividing his life into the "time before" and the "time after" the horrifying event, Clem is "without desire," a man unable to work or think about the future. When his older sister Clare, an art historian, suffers a breakdown, Clem, with no assignments or job to occupy his time, offers to become her "primary carer" in Colcombe, a remote village where his aunt has a cottage.
Imposing some sort of order on their lives, he helps Clare to become less fearful, and begins to confront his own memories and face his own problems. A trip to Toronto where he meets the journalist with whom he shared the African nightmare, followed by a trip to Brussels, where he pursues the architect of the massacre, "the Bourgmestre," Sylvestre Ruzindana, whom he hopes to bring to trial, lead to Clem's realization that people and issues are far more complex than he has previously believed--that Ruzindana, despite his crimes, is a real, complex human being, not simply a "monster."
Miller is an exceptionally clear writer with the ability to create unusual and engaging characters facing unusual, but understandable, problems. Clem's inability to cope with the magnitude of the slaughter (based on a real event in Rwanda in 1994) parallels the similar inability of the comfortable reader, and the western world in general, to do so. Wisely, Miller never describes much of the massacre, leaving it up to the reader to imagine the horrors which would drive a professional photographer to such despair. Through the personal terrors of Clare's much smaller but no less frightening world, he puts her psychological trauma into a perspective that allows the reader to understand and care about her recovery, too.
The use of symbols enhances the themes--the faint outline of leaves in paving stone is a reminder of the miracle of life superimposed on stone. A swim becomes a sort of baptism and rebirth. The trying on of a pair of glasses suggests the seeing of life from someone else's perspective. These details are gracefully integrated, broadening the novel's scope without being ponderous. In a surprising conclusion (and like the proverbial snake biting its tail), Clem harks back to an early event, revisits it, and ultimately learns something new and important. Rewarding on many levels, The Optimists is carefully written and well-developed literary fiction in which every detail adds to the psychological tension and to the development of themes. Mary Whipple
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars engaging and stylish, 18 April 2006
This review is from: The Optimists (Paperback)
The book never reaches the excitement promised by the sexy cover photo and in fact the anti-plot structure leaves both reader and narrator receding ever further from the evil drama that kicks the story off. But his style is remarkably engaging, beautifully underplayed, and there are passages of description that are like painting: vivid and yet coolly detached. If there was a sense of purpose or any depth - deeper than paint - in the characterisation, it would be stronger for it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A cracking read, 25 May 2008
By 
A. Furse "mrs_ratbert" (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Optimists (Paperback)
I got this book a while ago for no reason other than that I liked the title, and I picked it off my shelf last week for nothing other than it's incredible cover. I was quite put off by the blurb, as I think it's a premise that could so easily become either a gush of mush and not a lot else, or a chance to wallow in the horror and gore.

It's actually one of the subtlest novels I've read in a long time: I found myself constantly being surprised and unsure where the author was going, although there nothing here that was implausible. There's nothing too pre-destined about the plot and (thankfully) nothing trite about the outcome, yet there is something very "real" here - and an almost claustrophobic atmosphere that Miller manages to maintain for pretty much the entire novel. Although there's not a lot of heavy stuff to wade through, there's more than enough substance to leave a lasting impression.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 26 April 2006
This review is from: The Optimists (Paperback)
A weak book from a strong writer, The Optimists is a misstep into Graham Greene territory. A news photographer shoots the aftermath of an African massacre, his sister has a nervous breakdown, he seems to be having one himself--none of it is compelling or fresh, and, at time, it's even somewhat ludicrous. The imagery, obvious metaphors about sight and pretty juvenile stuff about optimism, is hackneyed. And when his companion at the massacre site, a supposedly hard-boiled journalist, turns up voicing platitudes and dedicating himself to feeding the Toronto homeless, it's definitely one cliche too far. Even the family's name is worn out--they're (accidentally?) named after another of the more annoying families in literary history, the Glasses. Read Miller's first two books: they're so good it's hard to believe the same writer brought us this. Or maybe this one is actually that first novel he couldn't sell before, which is what it reads like.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved reading this..., 31 Aug 2006
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This review is from: The Optimists (Paperback)
Clem, a freelance photo-journalist, is traumatised by something he photographs, so when his sister falls ill he willingly leaves his work to take her down to Cornwall to help her recuperate. I found the novel touching, insightful and quietly compelling. It's a thoughtful book about the capacity of humans for both love and atrocity. Andrew Miller writes beautiful, accessible prose, so his words are a joy to read.

If you like Dan Brown then this probably isn't for you, but if you seek excellent writing and a moving, intelligent plot then I'd highly recommend it. I'll certainly be ordering another of his very soon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars really good read, 14 April 2008
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This review is from: The Optimists (Paperback)
Really good book.
Clem is a single guy, alone and has photographed horrific images while working in parts of war-torn Africa. He has an ongoing fear of developing a tumour which affects his sight, and eventually kills him as it did his mother.
He finds himself becoming a primary carer for his sister who is taken to a Psychaitric Hospital before going to live with him in a family members country cottage.
Clem seems to have absorbed the guilt of all those responsible for the massacres he has photographed.
The Hypochondrial worrying regarding his eyes is never taken farther. One can`t help wondering if his sister; rather than suffering from a mental illness, has developed the tumour.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miller hitting his stride, 27 July 2005
By A Customer
This review is from: The Optimists (Hardcover)
This is a book full of eye-wateringly momumental ideas and emotions; its complexity and subtlety all too rare in modern British writing. Miller tells his tale beguilingly and manages to weave a web that emcompasses a breath-taking spectrum of human action and emotion; from African civil war and genocide to debilitating depression in a tiny English village. A must for fans of great British literature and an interesting accompaniment for anyone who has read A Sunday by the Pool in Kigali or We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Struggle to find meaning in modern world, 23 May 2005
This review is from: The Optimists (Hardcover)
Clem Glass is a photo-journalist used to working in the world's troublespots, but has returned to London shellshocked and traumatised after witnessing and photographing the aftermath of a massacre in central Africa. Clem is a fundamentally decent character, portrayed warts and all, trying to make sense of his experiences in Africa, rekindle his faith in humanity and get his life back on track. After weeks of simply not coping, Clem flies to Toronto to meet his journalistic partner on the African story, Frank Silverman, who is likewise struggling to move on with his life by becoming involved in ground-level community projects. Still struggling, Clem returns to Britain and pays a visit on his father William, widower and retired aerospace engineer, who, in trying to make sense of the world, has withdrawn to live in an island community of like-minded brothers. Following this visit, Clem visits his sister Clare who is voluntarily seeking care for a relapse of mental health problems, experiencing anxieties and powerful fantasies. As luck would have it, Clem's Aunt Laura rather conveniently happens to have a disused, rundown cottage on her country property, and Clem becomes registered carer for his sister, setting both siblings on the track to recovery. Meanwhile, Clem receives a lead on the possible whereabouts of the mastermind of the African massacre, Sylvestre Ruzindana...
Whilst the above synopsis makes 'The Optimisits' sound heavy-going, the novel's overall tone is lightened by many perceptive observations of human behaviour that bring a smile to the face, and it is easy to identify and empathise with the cast of real, fully-developed characters who just happen to be going through difficulties in their lives. Ultimately, 'The Optimists' is life-affirming, stressing that we need faith in ourselves and stubborn belief in the goodness of others - if only to stop us going crazy!! This is the third of Miller's four novels that I have read, and is every bit as good as 'Ingenious Pain', winner of the Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, and the Booker-shortlisted 'Oxygen'.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Andrew Miller can do no wrong, 31 May 2014
By 
Emmabemma (Southampton, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Optimists (Paperback)
Since the day Andrew Miller came into view with 'Pure' I have read all his work. Each book has a different style as does the Optimists. Read it. Read them all. You won't be disappointed.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Tiresomely earnest, 2 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Optimists (Kindle Edition)
The Optimists was a regrettable disappointment. Regrettable because I had recently discovered Andrew Miller with Pure and was astounded by the lightness of touch and the existential heft he could pack in without drawing attention to it. While reviews suggest that his other Enlightenment drama Ingenious Pain is as compelling, I thought about giving The Optimists a try to see him pen in a contemporary setting.

But it turns out that freed of bodices, corsets and frock-coats, The Optimists is actually as suffocating as a pretentious period piece. Miller takes us into the mindspace of a photojournalist, Clem Glass, who is scarred after being witness to a massacre in an African township, that has also, as is the norm there, gone unpunished and unnoticed. As a way of healing and escaping from the witnessed and photographed brutality, he revisits his family: a dad living an austere life within a secluded brotherhood and a sister undergoing treatment for depression in a cloistered care-home. While it's nice to see our protagonist channel his energies towards rehabilitating his sister and participating in a family marriage, there is little beyond this earnestness that defines him, and as a pivot of this over-written book, it plods along with endless passages of the everyday ins-and-outs at a remote cottage with little variation or insight.

After the lead-weight of the middle section, Miller does some damage control by morphing our righteous and sentimental hero into an investigative journalist. Some long overdue chastisement from the cynics and contrived sex scenes later, we arrive with Clem on an optimistic close (no surprise there!). There were probably two or three instances where the turn of phrase made me smile but overall, I hope Miller's written better books than this. Pure this certainly isn't.
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The Optimists
The Optimists by Andrew Miller
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