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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, she just gets better and better
I know Marina Lewycka's new releases are eagerly anticipated by a lot of people, so I'm pleased to report that this fan wasn't disappointed and found this latest one to be full of her trademark colourful characters and wonderfully witty observations.

Marcus and Doro are a couple of old hippies who lived the communal good life in the 1970s and tried to bring...
Published on 29 Feb 2012 by Denise4891

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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining in parts, but overall a dip in form
From the same author I really enjoyed 'A short history of tractors in Ukrainian' and 'Two Caravans', both of which I found original and witty, especially her first novel, the stories of which revolved around immigrants from Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Her third novel 'We are all made of glue' was still good but didn't quite reach the heights of the first two...
Published on 21 Mar 2012 by John M


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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, she just gets better and better, 29 Feb 2012
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
I know Marina Lewycka's new releases are eagerly anticipated by a lot of people, so I'm pleased to report that this fan wasn't disappointed and found this latest one to be full of her trademark colourful characters and wonderfully witty observations.

Marcus and Doro are a couple of old hippies who lived the communal good life in the 1970s and tried to bring their children up to believe in their leftie wholegrain values. As is so often the way, however, their children Serge and Clara (named after revolutionaries) have rebelled against their parents and taken very conventional paths (City trader and primary school teacher respectively). There's a real sense of time and place about the description the lifestyle of Marcus and Doro's and their fellow commune-dwellers, from the swinging and banner waving of the 60s and 70s through to their support for the miner's strike in the 80s, mixing their own brand of leftie intellectual politics with the rough and ready survival philosophy of the locals. It's all observed in a very nostalgic, affectionate manner with only the very slightest hint of gentle mockery. Indeed, when one of his fellow commune kids (now an IT whizz) admits that he envies their parents for at least believing in something, Serge (the City trader) jokes "I know, values and stuff. It all seems a bit retro".

The more contemporary storyline is played out against the background of the financial crisis of 2008 with banks collapsing, share prices falling through the floor and, of course, the demise of Woolworths. Serge is in the thick of it, while Clara's troubles are closer to home as she battles to educate the children (and parents) of a Doncaster council estate. Their sister Oolie-Anna, who has Down's Syndrome, comes across as the most grounded and least politically-correct member of the family - and is very funny.

In fact I laughed out loud several times throughout the book, and nodded with recognition a few more - her characterisation and ear for dialogue (whether it's Eastern European or broad South Yorkshire) is, as usual, spot-on. Oh and a word about the pets; the emphasis is definitely on the `dead' (animal lovers should brace themselves) but there's nothing anywhere near as bad as the infamous chicken scene in Two Caravans!
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wry Smiles of Recognition with Hoots of Laughter, 2 Mar 2012
Marina Lewycka has a wonderful and delicious way of seeing and hearing the world and people around her. Then she writes her story with the type of humour and situational placements that embellish storytelling so well.

I read this book as soon as I could and was as delighted as with her first book which entranced me. She is at the top of her form in this quirky and wonderful novel about idealistic naivete of the 'flower power' days and life in the harsh economic reality of today.

She runs the stories of two generations side by side and both dip into each other. I am old enough to recognise the parents in this book with wry humour and am insulted with Doro at being called an attractive woman 'for your age'. Lewycka draws on her considerable talent to clearly describe the confusion of political ideals and communal living styles that abounded in the 60s and 70s and embodied by the twenty somethings while bringing up their children to be non materialistic.

Of course, those children grew up into their own political and financial reality and looked at their anachronistic parents with fondness and a little embarrassment, but that does happen with every generation. It is just that Lewycka is so very good at juxtaposing these things and showing us a well drawn perception that has all her characters leaping off the page at the reader.

She deals with social tension extraordinarily well and can bring everything crashing down with humorous slapstick. A treasure of a book.

Thoroughly recommended.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining in parts, but overall a dip in form, 21 Mar 2012
By 
John M "John M" (UK) - See all my reviews
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From the same author I really enjoyed 'A short history of tractors in Ukrainian' and 'Two Caravans', both of which I found original and witty, especially her first novel, the stories of which revolved around immigrants from Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Her third novel 'We are all made of glue' was still good but didn't quite reach the heights of the first two.

'Various pets alive and dead' is Marina Lewycka's fourth novel, and although by no means bad, it didn't hit the spot in quite the same way as her first two novels. The story involves Doro and Marcus, who lived in a neo-Marxist style commune in the 1960's and now find themselves in the modern world with three grown up children; Clara, a primary school teacher, Serge, a mathematician and investment banker, and Oolie-Anna who has Down's Syndrome. Much of the humour juxtaposes the values and morals of the 1960's generation against that of the moderm world, and also the traditional values of the northern community in Doncaster with that of the City of London.

Although the book does have its humourous moments, the story cuts around between the characters, and back and forward from the 1960's to the present day, many of the characters are caricatures (as to be expected in this type of novel). Picking the City of London wide-boy culture as a target for satire is really a rather easy one, and again although some of this was amusing, it seemed rather obvious in places. I found some of the stories and scenes from the 60's commune rather uninteresting, and the story lines didn't really go very far. The amoral Maroushka, the Ukranian ex-cleaner and maths-whizz, seemed contrived beyond belief (I guess there had to be a Ukranian in there somewhere!), and some of the threads didn't seem to resolve themselves, eg. did Serge liberate his funds or not? Who started the fire? Also, I wasn't sure the humour around Oolie-Anna and her constant references to shagging was in particularly good taste either. I guess the reader will have to decide that for themselves.

The end result was something of a hotchpotch for me. I had high hopes for the book, and although I didn't actively dislike it, found it weak compared to Marina Lewycka's previous novels.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but not her best, 20 April 2013
By 
P. Haynes (Maidstone, England) - See all my reviews
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I've read and enjoyed Lewycka's previous books and was really looking forward to this one, but it doesn't quite deliver. It's still a good read and I would recommend it, but I found the ending rather unsatisfactory, and it left me feeling vaguely like I'd been mislead and then let down.

The good news is that Lewycka has improved tremendously as a writer. Her style is easy to read without being simple, she writes convincingly about things that you are pretty sure she can't really know THAT much about, and she knows how to tell a story so that you want to keep turning the pages.

And, for most of the time, this book doesn't disappoint. It is written in three intertwining threads, from the points of view of three different characters - a mother and her son and daughter. And this is very well done, with just enough left unexplained, but, at the same time, little nuggets of explanation scattered just often enough to keep you turning the pages.

In this way the story progresses nicely, both amusing you and keeping you interested, as the pace and complexity gradually builds up to (hopefully) a climax. Except that it doesn't. And this is the real disappointment with this book. There is an ending, a bringing together of threads, of sorts, but it left me both confused about what exactly had happened (and why!) and feeling unsatisfied that I'd lived with that story for so long, only to find some of my questions still unanswered.

She also includes a sort of epilogue, written from the perspective of a fourth character (the father/husband) who has only appeared on the periphery of the story until then. This could have been a very nice touch, a chance to tie up the loose ends as he looks back over how things ended, and a chance for a surprisingly different take on what happened. But, unfortunately, it doesn't really work. This epilogue just adds to the confusion, and it is so brief and confusing it makes the ending even less satisfactory, when (presumably) it was intended to do the very opposite.

One other comment - I didn't find it as funny as her previous books. I very rarely find myself laughing out loud at books that are described as `laugh out loud', but I do at least usually find them pretty funny and occasionally do embarrass myself on the train or bus. But I think I actually only laughed once with this book, and most of the rest of the time I didn't find it particularly amusing. Indeed there are one or two places where it feels like she is rather too desperately trying to write comic farce, and she just doesn't pull it off (which is a pity, because we know she can do it).

But, all in all, a mostly good read, and well worth reading - just not her best, I'm afraid.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing after her previous hits, 21 Jun 2014
By 
A. Hunt "book review watcher" (Glasgow, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I was one of the original fans of A Short History of Tractors, a definite 5-star comic read written with affection and sharp observation. I've enjoyed the subsequent novels too, though perhaps none so much as the first. Four stars for some, with maybe a 3 in there.

This one, however, is a dud. For a more insightful take on communal living and its fallout, try Ewan Morrison's Close Your Eyes, which makes this book look ludicrously sentimental and superficial - even allowing for the fact that it's intended as a light comedy. I really didn't believe the relationships within the family members and their fellow communards and exes. They came over as trite, and the characters hugely simplified stereotypes.

Shame, because I really looked forward to the combination of ML's humour and wit brought to a subject I always find interesting. Until this time!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Generally enjoyed this book, 16 Oct 2014
Generally enjoyed this book,but I did find the last few chapters rather silly, and not quite believable compared to the rest of the novel. I found the City characters quite believable, and could well imagine Chicken running a financial organisation such as FACTA.I think the revolutionary background of the 1970's/80's works quite well, and you often wonder how people who liked the dea of share communities etc,adapt to later adult life, and Marina Lewycka states what happens as a possible scenario very well the charactus of Marcus and Dora work very well.I certainly feel that Marina Lewycka should be taken as a good novelist who has the ability to tell a good story, and add in the realism of life in the Sheffield/Doncaster area.Well worth reading.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A humorous look at life today, 18 Mar 2014
I finished this last night and can't quite decide what I think of it. I have read both 'A short history of Tractors ..' and ' the Caravans book . I quite enjoyed the quirkiness of 'Tractors' but was less keen on 'the ' Two Caravans' one as I felt it was rather too unrealistic.

This book annoyed me to begin with as the characters had stupid names Doro and Oolie Anna to name just two. I am probably being too critical but things like that, twee names just rub me up the wrong way.

I persevered though and at times I quite enjoyed the humour and poking fun at the politics and financial world during the banking crisis.

It was a bit of an eye opener to read about just how much the world of business is manipulated by the banking world. Quite scary in fact I know it is a work of fiction but the author obviously did a lot of research as she thanks specific people at the end of the book.

It was nice to have a person with Down's Syndrome written about in a positive way , in fact two in the book but one was a main character and in a gentle and humorous way the author does highlight the difficulties faced by a family when making life decisions for these vulnerable adults.

I think what I find a bit frustrating about this book is that nothing actually moves forward as a story. It is more a look at the lives of one family and those that they have touched throughout their lives. I want to know what happens to the characters. Does Serge keep his ill gotten gains or does he go back to just being a poor PHD student.

It is all a bit vague and fluffy . the story jumped around from past to present through flash backs of the different characters. We follow all the three children of the main two characters Doro and Marcus, Serge who they believe is doing his PHD is actually working for big money in banking in London, Clara is a teacher in a challenging school and Oolie Anna the Child with Down's is still living at home but wants a flat of her own in a sheltered housing complex.

In a way ends are tied up and during the book rather too many coincidences happen but I think that is part of the author's style. She writes in a slightly tongue in cheek way and has a dry sense of humour.

Serge is doing very well in baking and rather fancies a young girl, Maroushka from Eastern Europe and being of Eastern European descent Lewcka catches the accent really well and describes the young girl perfectly so you really feel you can see her.

I think this is a book to read with an open mind. Go with the flow and where the author takes you. You cannot read it expecting a story that follows through and tells a classic story that has a satisfactory 'happy ever after' ending so in that way it is kind of like real life.

The characters are larger than life really. they are caricatures of those they represent so in that way they are believable yet also amusing so you can't take them seriously.

I think on balance it was quite an enjoyable read. The title somewhat baffles me as although some pets are mentioned , really they are only one side story.

This is the kind of story that would translate into a good film as their is not really a traditional story, it is a more of a character study set in the time frame of my life.I would think I was much the same age as the parents, Doro and Marcus and the children around the same age as mine.

I never joined in the commune life style but i was not really greatly into politics but I do remember the miner's strike ( who doesn't?) and that commune and alternative living was big at that time.

The banking crisis is still being felt and so this book is pretty much current and up to date so that gives it more of a feeling that you are looking at a family today, more like chatting to a friend and picking up glimpses of things happening in their children's lives just as you might in real life.

If you enjoyed her previous two books then give this a try. Don't expect a deep meaningful book. It is a modern tale told with wit , observation and a lot of tongue in cheek humour.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A little bit disappointing, 15 April 2013
By 
J. HALL "jules246" (UK) - See all my reviews
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I was really looking forward to this book having read Marina Lewycka's previous 3 offerings but this was a little bit disappointing. The characters were good and well formed if a little predictable and the descriptive writing was great but the story just went nowhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read, 6 April 2013
By 
nelly know all (God's own County) - See all my reviews
Very enjoyable, well written book by this engaging author. I found it to be a real page turner, as all her books are. Cannot praise this & all her books highly enough. If you haven't tried this author you really are missing out. Don't be put off by obscure titles they add to the intrigue.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marina never disappoints, 26 July 2012
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Having read Marina Lewycka's previous books, I knew I was in for a treat and I wasn't disappointed. It's another fantastic, funny and heartwarming story for discerning readers ,from someone who is surely one of the finest living writers at work in this country today.
Her wry, witty and touching observations and her amazing cast of characters make her books literary treasures, and I cannot wait for the next one. I can't tell you that this is my favourite, because I love all her books equally. All I can say is - read them all !!
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