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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars completely captivating : Miss Garnett's Angel for 2006
Elizabeth Webster, former French teacher at a girls' school, is a Miss Jean Brodie well past her prime. Ordered abroad to North Africa after a devastating nervous breakdown which has left her half-dead and needing sticks to walk, she has become "everything she most despised: querulous, forgetful, indecisive." Her suffering is brilliantly described, but the Moroccan...
Published on 27 April 2006 by A. Craig

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a contractual obligation sort of novel
This book was a disappointment. I'd read and enjoyed The Deadly Space Between and Hallucinating Foucault and had high hopes for this. But it seems hastily written, badly patched together, and altogether inconsequential.

The plot has been summarised; what hasn't been mentioned is that the major twist in it is given away in a terribly heavy-handed way half way...
Published on 3 Nov 2009 by monica


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars a contractual obligation sort of novel, 3 Nov 2009
By 
This book was a disappointment. I'd read and enjoyed The Deadly Space Between and Hallucinating Foucault and had high hopes for this. But it seems hastily written, badly patched together, and altogether inconsequential.

The plot has been summarised; what hasn't been mentioned is that the major twist in it is given away in a terribly heavy-handed way half way through. And in places the writing was quite awkward, particularly in dialogues in which the interlocutors misunderstand each other: More than once Duncker repeatedly shifts point of view in these and repeatedly resorts to telling us what he thought she meant and what she thought he meant. Doesn't make for smooth reading.

Moreover, Duncker all too often settles for stereotypes: the discounted aging person who is to boot a plain-spoken indomitable type with beneath it all a good heart who lives in a village where (oh, my aching sides) residents are in dispute over whether a lane should be paved. British writers really do need to acknowledge that neither adorable tough old birds in tweeds nor petty village ructions are uniquely British. Nor, for my money, are they particularly endearing or humourous. Throw in a Romeo and Juliet romance, an understanding doctor who has himself suffered, a black chap of immense dignity, and a rejuvenation wrought by contact with youth and whizz bang that's pretty much the lot. The descriptions of Morocco are very good, but the Moroccan aspect of the story is all but irrelevant.

I suppose I'd give the book 2 1/2 stars for those descriptions, because Duncker seems to see (can't swear to this, because by this point I wasn't reading closely) another side to the Twin Towers attacks, and because while the book is sloppy it's never really stupid.

If you like slightly fluffy, heartwarming, not-really-stupid books like The Yacoubian Building or The Elegance of the Hedgehog, you might like this. If you're more in for the dark and strange, try the other Duncker books I mentioned.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars completely captivating : Miss Garnett's Angel for 2006, 27 April 2006
By 
A. Craig "Amanda Craig" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Elizabeth Webster, former French teacher at a girls' school, is a Miss Jean Brodie well past her prime. Ordered abroad to North Africa after a devastating nervous breakdown which has left her half-dead and needing sticks to walk, she has become "everything she most despised: querulous, forgetful, indecisive." Her suffering is brilliantly described, but the Moroccan desert, and the people she meets at a luxury hotel there begin to restore her to herself, a process furthered when the hotelier's exquisitely beautiful son, Cherif, appears on her doorstep back in Little Blessingham.

Who, or what, is Cherif? Set in the year after 9/11, this question becomes increasingly pressing in what is both a mystery story and a comedy of manners. Miss Webster defends him against all comers partly because it is in her bloody-minded nature to do so, and partly out of a genuine, growing affection. Cherif - gentle, respectful, undemanding - gets a place studying Maths at the local university, and becomes her lodger when turned down by mean-spirited locals. A natural anarchist who believes that all forms of government should be blown sky-high, Miss Webster is alert to her own possible deception by a terrorist. Beautiful Cherif is, however, someone to share her extreme loneliness, to introduce her to her first rock concert, Sky TV and fasting at Ramadan.

The clash between English and Berber culture, described in Duncker's lucid, elegant prose, is funny and touching, ranging as it does from Cherif's bewilderment at motorway signs telling them to use the "hard shoulder" to his belief that Miss Webster, like Miss Marple, is unmarried because she was a lady detective. With only popular film culture in common, their approximate communications bring out the best in both of them, and even softens the hearts of the villagers who have hated their neighbour for years. Only connect, as Forster said.

This is not, however, just a feel-good novel like Miss Garnett's Angel. Duncker, author of prize-winning novels such as Hallucinating Foucault and The Deadly Space Between has excelled at exploring ideas through eccentric personal relationships while not gaining wide readership. Here, her intelligence is modulated into a story of real charm and compassion. Just how much should we trust strangers from an alien culture? Can we continue to live according to ancient beliefs in a darkening world? Can duty and desire ever be accommodated, or must they, like the opera Carmen, head for a fatal clash?

I loved this book. It is written with the spirit of George Eliot presiding over it - liberal, sympathetic, beadily intelligent and passionate. I've already bought a copy for my mother-in-law and one of my best friends. Don't miss it!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 31 Aug 2010
I was induced to read this book by Sheila Hancock's endorsement on the front cover which describes it as: `Bittersweet, compelling and moving'. I'm sorry to say that I did not find this book any of those things. The main reasons being a poorly planned plot and a preponderance of one dimensional characters.

Miss Webster is a mixture of many literary Misses: Miss Marple, Miss Read, Miss Brodie and Miss Garnet, but she is not in the same league. She is a grumpy old woman par excellence and somewhat sadistic, too, such as in the scene where she burns an effigy of her sister. There is also an uncouth side to her which doesn't sit comfortably with the little we know of her.

Like Salley Vickers' Miss Garnet she was never a popular school teacher, and knows this. But whereas it is Miss Garnet's loss of her close companion which takes her to Venice, it is the advice of Miss Webster's doctor, which takes her to Morocco. Her doctor professes to be a cardiologist and a psychiatrist, and warns her that if she doesn't acknowledge what has happened (it appears that she has had a nervous breakdown) then she will die. Miss Webster then wobbles on two sticks to Morocco having recently been in hospital for several months. This is hardly plausible.

There is not enough good writing to vindicate the confused plot and weak characterization. Are we really expected to believe that a lady in her late sixties can push a car out of the sand in the desert when she has recently lost 3 stone in weight in hospital? She cannot have built her strength up that quickly!

Helping herself out of the slough of despond, by helping Chérif, offers Miss Webster some redemption, but because the whole story seems so unbelievable it fails to be compelling and moving. Perhaps if it had been more chilling, with more tension and more use of the terrorist backdrop, it might have worked.

Towards the end of the book there is a line: `It is a rare thing that has come to pass if a book fails utterly to speak.' For me that line sums up this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Compassionate story of an unlikely friendship, 1 Feb 2008
Elizabeth Webster the protagonist of this novel is a retired, single and extremely dogmatic lady. She is afflicted by an unknown illness which is a life changing experience for her. Many months later after recovering and travelling to North Africa for a holiday an unknown young man unexpectedly becomes part of life. Elizabeth and the young man Cherif are well portrayed characters and the story of this unlikely friendship is both sad and funny. However I felt this compassionate tale was somewhat stilted in parts with potential for much more development, had the author chosen to do so.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read, 7 Sep 2011
I had never read anything by Patricia Duncker and I was impressed. Judging by some of the disappointed comments here, this is not typical of the kind of book that she usually writes. I really enjoyed it because it was a warm, feel good sort of tale - probably not very realistic - but it hit the spot with me. I loved the character of Miss Webster and the odd but touching relationship she forms with the student, Cherif. The novel was very funny in places but it also made you think about the hostility many foreigners have faced since 9/11. I didn't really need the twist towards the end of the story during her return visit to Morocco and that's why I've given 4 rather than five stars. I shall certainly try to read more of her work in the future.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not her best ..., 22 Sep 2006
By 
Ms. A. Brooke "Anne Brooke" (Godalming, Surrey) - See all my reviews
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Hmm, I didn't really enjoy this one, which is unusual because I normally love Duncker. However, in this case, I felt the story didn't actually begin until Cherif turned up on Page 80 (in my hardcover edition). That was when everything really got going, and the first 79 pages are nothing but backstory. I think the information in them would have been better dropped into the real story here and there to build up the tension.

It's also interesting that the plot (such as there is) all seems to occur in the last 20 pages in one of those bizarre Agatha Christie-like denouements. This came across as rather clunky.

As this is Duncker, there are of course some wonderful turns of phrase, but I really think the sections with Cherif and Miss Webster in the UK getting to know each other are the only parts worth the read - and would have been far better on their own as a novella or long short story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I loved it!, 1 Aug 2013
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A brilliant tale with a clever twist at the end. The story is short and sweet, but it was refreshing to read something a little different.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Miss Webster and Cherif, 9 Mar 2013
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A wonderful amusing narrative with a lot of pathos hidden between the lines.. It made me laugh out loud whilst examining the literal translation of some of the expressions we use so often...e.g "pick your own"
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4.0 out of 5 stars The story of an eccentric friendship, 4 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Miss Webster and Chérif (Kindle Edition)
A middle class 60 + English woman has a breakdown, is advised to travel and goes to north Africa following this advice. She is brought back to life by the cultural differences between life there and the life she had in England which led to the breakdown. Whilst there she strikes up friendship with the hotel manager who wants her to meet her son, Cherif. Unfortunately, the meeting never takes place and Miss Webster returns to England to pick up her life post breakdown. Her life in England is settling back into post breakdown normality when she answers the door late at night to find Cherif, the son of the north African hotel manager on her doorstep. The novel encompasses the developing friendship between these opposite characters and leads to a surprising resolution back in north Africa.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Probably the worst book I've read in a long time, 22 July 2014
Probably the worst book I've read in a long time, simply badly-written with a thin and shaky storyline; what was the point?
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Miss Webster and Chérif
Miss Webster and Chérif by Patricia Duncker
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