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TAG Paperback – 30 Oct 2009

4.9 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Cinnamon Press (30 Oct. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905614373
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905614370
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 295,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A compelling and very readable first novel... May has a fresh, new voice."
-- Sue Brickay - Bedfordshire on Sunday, November 6 2008

"Fast-moving and powerful... TAG is a special book fully deserving of its place on the Welsh Book of the Year list." -- walesonline.co.uk April 22 2009

"Very funny and politically resonant." -- Katie Popperwell, Manchester Evening News, Nov 11 2008

Review

"Very funny and politically resonant."

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having read some of Cinnamon Press's publications (novels and their short story collections) I was anticipating an innovative, literary read, but even with such high expectations Stephen May's debut (yes, I'm late to it, I know, but so many books, so little time etc)totally and utterly pure blew me away. It's a cracking story, delivered in pacy bite-sized chapters, but it's the leads that will stay with me. Mistyann and JD are fabulous creations, each with their own distinct voice, sizzling humour and wry insights into the crazy world we live in today. I fell in love with JD and Mistyann: beautiful, flawed and impulsive creatures; two of the most unforgettable characters I've read in a decade or so. If you haven't read of any this small Welsh press's books, you'd do a lot worse than starting here. Brilliant.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Stephen May. Remember the name. You will certainly hear it again.

There is quite a thrill in finding a new writer that you admire (tinged with just a hint of mild envy). TAG is May's debut novel, and quite simply it is stunning.

I'll freely admit, with a hint of shame, that I had some trepidation about reading a novel where the main protagonist was called Mistyann. Now I can happily sneer at my misguided prejudice. Mistyann is a wonderful piece of characterisation.

TAG [acronym for Talented and Gifted] tells the story of fifteen year old Mistyann, a troubled, unpredictable, foul-mouthed yet gifted child who is selected to attend a residential course for teen prodigies in mid-Wales. She is accompanied for the week by her acerbic forty-something teacher Jon Diamond, a frustrated musician and dried-out alcoholic. In the confined setting of the residential course their lives both unravel through a series of unfortunate events which are in turn both comedic and emotionally-charged.

May eschews a linear narrative, and structures his book with deft precision through a series of careful time shifts. He alternates the first person narration between the two main characters, creating utterly believable voices for each of them. He also makes clever use of second person narration with JD effectively addressing Mistyann as if writing her a confessional letter. I'm certain that much of the author's own voice is used for the character of JD, but his real skill is in creating such a rich and authentic voice for the moody and belligerent Mistyann. However May's palette is wider still and even his minor characters crackle with life and realism. By getting under their skins he has an uncanny knack of making you care about his characters and their back stories.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is very rare that a character is so well realised on the page that you feel as if you've actually met them. That's what I felt about Mistyann. The other characters and situations and underlying realism of the story were also great. It's also a thought provoking book, dealing with boundaries being crossed: in deed, in thought and also others' perception. It is subtle in its point raising for example how differently men and women are viewed regarding inappropriate relationships, with the mention of Zak's blog. I'm really looking forward to reading more of Stephen May.
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Format: Paperback
I have a small shelf for books that I want to read again. It is deliberately small and therefore selective. TAG has earnt itself a place. I bought this book having met the author and am so pleased I did. The book has a fast pace and the two alternating voices give the reader a privileged insight into events from two perspectives. I was left pondering the reality of each perspective and wondering 'what really happened' on that retreat for Talented and Gifted children in Wales. There were echoes of Arvon courses, and I loved finding a parody of the speech the author used to make about cooking arrangements in communal living. There are two main characters in this story and a wonderful supporting cast. They are so real that they must be drawn from people the author has encountered. Will any readers of the book recognise themselves?
Overall an excellent read and one I relish re-visiting one dark winter evening.
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Format: Paperback
This is the question at the heart of Stephen May's TAG, the novel that was shortlisted for the Wales Book of the Year before going on to win the Media Wales Readers' Prize as the one most readers thought should have won. How should teacher Jonathan Diamond see his difficult pupil Mistyann, and how should he behave towards her? Politically correct answers become more difficult when he has to travel alone with her to an isolated manor house in North Wales for a special course aimed at helping Talented and Gifted children.

From the start May lets us know things are going to go wrong: we're just waiting to see how badly he could fall, or if it might all be a comedy of errors. We know Diamond has ended up in disgrace, so we're with him at every moment hoping that he won't do anything too drastic, and for a middle-aged man alone with a precocious teenager that's nerve-wracking. At forty-one, and almost good-looking with some sort of resemblance to Tom Cruise, he's obviously not of the right generation to be a friend to Mistyann. But he's a recovering alcoholic who could be stressed into taking a drink and he was also gifted in his youth, a musician who underachieved, so his empathy is with her rather than with the other staff. He's noncomformist enough to identify more with Mistyann than the system and the rules of behaviour that could protect them both.

The characters are drawn so vividly that readers will remember them as real people they watched through this darkly comic drama. It's not surprising to find that May is also a playwright, and he has obviously studied teenagers to create Mistyann and the others on the Talented and Gifted residential course.
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