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Turbulence: Foden
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on 25 November 2014
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on 2 July 2009
The book was delivered on time and was well packed. I enjoyed reading the book. I recommend it.
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on 26 May 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'm not going to repeat the plot since that is adequately covered by other reviewers and the Amazon blurb, and, anyway, this isn't a plot heavy novel. Intelligent and thoughtful, at heart this is a meditation on the impossible search for coherency and an overwhelming meaning and stability in life.

The narrator, Henry Meadows, is a young Cambridge academic caught up in the war effort and the attempt to predict the weather to facilitate the D-day landings. He believes in a formula which can neutralise the unexpected, the arbitrary messiness of real life, but learns that it is only the unpredictable which is predictable.

I'd never read any Foden before, and was impressed with his ability to convey character and the nuances of personality through his narrator's voice. Meadows is awkward, intellectually intelligent and yet somewhat socially inept, and seems to fit the period perfectly.

The research is also extremely impressive. Foden walks the tight-rope of conveying the intricacies and impossibilities of high-level maths/physics, without alienating the reader. In fact the way we (most of us, I would guess) cannot engage with the maths is itself important, conveying the impenetrability of the problem and, by association, telling us something about Meadows himself.

But if the atmosphere, register and tone of the book is flawless, sadly the novel as a whole isn't. While this is quietly compelling it lacks that certain something which turns a good novel into a great one. Perhaps it's that the characters aren't quite gripping enough, or that the scenario is ever so slightly artificial, an attempt to write up the importance of Meadows' work? I'm not sure, but while I enjoyed this book greatly, I could easily have stopped reading at any point without having a compelling need to finish it.

So overall a fine work with some excellent writing. But it didn't make me desperate to read the Foden back catalogue.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 July 2009
Having neither read Giles Foden before, or seen the last king of scotland, I arrived at turbulence without preconceptions. I was interested in the subject and had never really thought about the detail that went into the planning of the D-Day invasion.

So it has all the right ingredients for a brit to enjoy, war, intrigue, conflict, weather and a sort of bumbling hero type.

I will leave other reviewers to go into the detail of the story ... what I found was an enjoyable (if sometimes heavy going) factual novel that manages to fill in some of what it was like to live during the war. My wife is doing her family tree and was interested in some of the snipets I read out.

I quite like the bumbing 'anti-hero' approach that obviously comes good in the end (with a little help).

I read the book on a two week holiday on the beach ... I thought it was perfect for that and has been returned to my bookshelf covered in suntan and sand stains. If you are expecting deep and insightful, maybe this isn't the book for you. If you want an entertaining read whilst gently toasting on a beach ... I thought it was great.
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VINE VOICEon 5 December 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Turbulence, published at the time of the D Day anniversary commemorations, casts a weather eye over the invasion.
It's told from the perspective of Henry Meadows, a meteorologist writing his recollections on board an arctic research ship in the 1980's of his part in Hitler's downfall. Sent on a Heart of Darkness type of mission by the military to track down an enigmatic and mysterious scientist of value to the war effort, whose allegiances may be uncertain and who the military would like Meadows to persuade to side with their cause, Meadows finds himself in the wilds of Scotland (Kilmun) where Wallace Ryman aka `the Prophet' lives.
The book builds its sense of mystery and tension slowly. Meadows often takes refuge in scientific analysis when he feels the turbulence of uncertainty threaten to unleash the turbulence of his own inner life. There's another Heart of Darkness parallel here. Its central character, Marlowe, takes refuge in `facts' when the chaos of Africa threatens to impinge. And Meadow's inner turbulence also has a strong African connection. Africa is where he spent his childhood. Africa is where, in one of the book's most striking and shocking passages, Meadows saw his parents killed in a mudslide, the external turbulence of natural disaster leading to the inner turbulence of suppressed trauma.
The sense of place in the scenes in Kilmun is admirably invoked; the lowering climate and landscape, details like steel logging chutes descending the hills like children's slides, and the strange juxtaposition of a mighty military machine in this landscape, warships in the loch. Meadows eventual encounter with the Prophet, after a long slow burn, reveals a prototype Richard Dawkins who seeks a wholly rational breakdown of the mysteries of the universe. Ryman seems an enigma though and can't easily be categorised as a rationalist humanist.
The titular turbulence, the unpredictability caused by the clashing and merging of different systems, be they lives, ideas or weather, begins to quicken. Events in Kilmun build to a highly shocking and abrupt tragedy that removes a central character with more than a quarter of the narrative to go. This event is a skilfully written jolt, all the more effective because of the preceding slow burn of tension.
There are thematic parallels with Foden's `Last King of Scotland.' Both feature idealistic and naive young men seeking to make their mark and floundering in the shadows of characters larger than themselves, and the impulsive actions of both lead to unexpected tragedy that marks them for life and ultimately leads to a more redemptive path.
The last quarter of the book is a big gear change and a little frustrating, as the preceding tension has been released, and we start again. This time the narrative focuses on the meteorological preparations for D Day, with the turbulence of conflicting views of meteorologists and the partnership between science and the military. This leads to Meadow's breakthrough as he learns to intuitively apply Ryman's theory to his forecasts, and to his physical presence at the actual D Day landings, which gives us a climactic rush of violence, action and imagery.
The novel weaves big themes of science and faith, uncertainty and the human attempt to reduce it and deal with it, the ethics of the partnership between science and the military, and the turbulence of the inner life including the violent internal weather system of suppressed trauma, in a turbulent mix. It's an intelligent and satisfying read and a fitting additional tribute to the efforts the men and women in science and the military who contributed to the success of the Normandy invasion.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
weather forecasting is something that we all rely on, but at the same time we very probably take for granted. And yet it has a major influence in life, from telling us whether we need a coat when we go out or not, to bigger things such as back in 1944 when the allies had to get lots of troops across the channel in one piece.

in a stand alone novel complete in approx 350 pages we meet henry meadows, meterologist in the 1940's. he tells us his story in the first person, and it's set up as being something he wrote down many years later. thus the prologue describes the expedition he's on at the time of writing, and the narrative will occasionally jump about in terms of timescale as he describes the post war fate of characters and looks back with wistful eyes at what he was like in his youth.

he's a man with a mission. because the allies need to be able to accurately predict the weather in order for d day to go ahead, and the one man who can help them do that best is wallace ryman. a brilliant meterologist and also a quaker and concentious objector. living in scotland and working on peace studies it's down to henry to get to know him better. and to get his secret formulas out of him.

this is slow to start, thanks to the early present day setting and then having to describe what is required of henry and to get him to scotland, but slowly around page 50 or so it stats to become quite compelling. this is down to decent prose and descriptive text that really captures the 40's flavour well, with determined allied commanders and debutantes turned military personnel and the like. the fact that ryman doesnt even appear till page 100 or so doesnt matter.

as the two men get to know each other better and life progresses it's an intriguing read as you wonder what each will do next. and the book throws in a big surprise with a startling development around page two hundred that really does leave you wondering what will happen next.

unfortunately, not much does. things just happen exactly the way they did historically. all the science is very interesting but might go over your head if you're not mathematically inclined and the way things work out doesnt really bring any compelling drama, even in a major relationship between henry and another character.

things also end a bit abruptly, but there's an epilogue of sorts that does say what happened next to certain characters.

this never lays the metaphors on with a trowel and that's welcome. it contains interesting history and some memorable characters, but ultimately there's nothing much about it to make it live very long in the memory. if this book was the weather, then it would start out dull and grey, see sunny skies appear for a while before getting progressively darker, and then after a short sharp shower it would remain grey for a while before all the clouds dissipated away into nothing.
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VINE VOICEon 8 July 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I'll admit when I realised that Foden was currently fulfilling the role of Professor of Cerative Writing at the University of East Anglia (a department with a considerable reputation, I realise) my heart rather sank.

I didn't know whether to expect a sort of formula book ("Instant Bestseller - Just Add Water!" kind of thing) or something very obviously terribly clever but completely impenetrable (I can think of a few...) to a mere mortal like myself.

As it happens I was very agreeably surprised. The book is indeed clever - the imagery, narrative devices, ambiguities and little twists are all there, but it is an eminently readable tome.

The plot concerns the build-up to D-Day 1944 as experienced by a young meteorologist charged with extracting the method necessary to provide an accurate forecast five days in advance as required for the landings from the one man who is believed capable of doing so. Unhappily for our protagonist this man is a pacifist, disinclined to be helpful to the war effort.

The complex emotions - turbulence - experienced under severe stress by the narrator and by those with whom he comes into contact are elegantly examined, but this book is also a thumping good yarn, so from my point of view an ideal novel.

Foden competently blends his fictional account into the actual historical one, something that plenty of authors have tried and ended up looking slightly silly. He very clearly did his homework, which means that the book is also an interesting document with regards to the events leading up to the invasion of Europe. Certainly I learned a thing or two.

Overall a thoroughly enjoyable book which has left me determined to rectify the omission of never having read his earlier output.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very original and thoughtful novel, very different to your average bestseller but like all good reads, it has a beginning, middle and an end.

The central character is Henry Meadows, talented young Cambridge graduate who is drafted into the war effort to help pinpoint a fair weather window for the D-Day invasion of Europe in June 1944. He is initially sent to a remote part of Scotland to "befriend" brilliant meteorologist turned pacifist Wallace Ryman. His mission is to learn the secret of the Ryman number to aid the war effort, something Ryman is reluctant to give up easily as he preferred to give his time and intellect to peace studies.

Slowly earning his respect and a kind of friendship, Meadows' impetuousness and single-handed attempt at downing a German Junkers spy-plane ends in tragedy and he is recalled to London, probably just before he is lynched by the locals. He is then thrown in at the deep end, personal assistant to Group Captain Stagg, the man with the unenviable task of giving General Eisenhower the optimum day for the landings. Stagg's job is made no easier by conflicting views and theories from other experts and the strain takes its toll on all concerned with more than reputations at stake. Meadows' short stay in Scotland was not in vain however and he gradually began to interpret the Ryman number with help from an unlikely source and so played a big part in naming the day....

This book is thoroughly researched and is a real eye-opener as to the workings of the Met Office of the time. Huge resources of manpower were employed on land and at sea for weather forecasting without the benefit of computers or satellite photography. Correction, they did have "computers" in those days who were actually real people furiously processing the incoming data from weather stations and ships. Weather men even travelled into the war zones to send back their data...something you are unlikely to see John Ketley doing anytime soon.

I really did like this book. Meadows is a very likeable character, youthful, determined, exuberant and with a penchant for cigarettes and alcohol that was nearly his downfall. His character, failed romantic overtures and other antics provide some welcome light relief in parts from the serious matter in hand. There is a lot of science and high level theorising in here - you have been warned. Ryman somehow managed to combine peace studies with mathematics. In fact he could use mathematics for just about anything and I would be lying if I said I understood it all, but I found I could dip into most of it and rarely felt bogged down or bored to be honest.

At risk of sounding flippant, it's a sort of Ripping Yarns meets Saving Private Ryan meets The Discovery Channel but somehow it works and left a big impression. It is my favourite read of the year so far, along with Apache. I definitely think this would appeal more to the techie minded male reader. I'm not saying you need a beard (I don't) or a spend a lot of time in your shed to enjoy Turbulence, but it would probably help :o)
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VINE VOICEon 6 June 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Lewis Fry Richardson was a scientist of the first half of the twentieth century. A founding father of meteorology, he developed the concepts for numerical weather forecasting fifty years before the computing technologies became available to make this method practically useful. Richardson's number, the ratio of potential to kinetic energy in the atmosphere, is used today in a variety of fields.

Yet Richardson was also a Quaker and pacifist. A member of the Friends Ambulance Unit in the first war, and thereafter barred from subsequent academic positions, he destroyed his own work when he discovered it was being applied in chemical warfare labs. He later developed some of the first mathematical conflict models.

In Turbulence, Giles Foden has lightly fictionalised Richardson as "Wallace Ryman". Set in the months preceeding D-Day, the protagonist, Cambridge maths graduate Henry Meadows, is sent up to Scotland where Ryman is pursuing his pacifist modelling. In the infancy of scientific forecasting, Meadow's mission is to understand Ryman's meteorological theories to help produce a forecast adequate for D-Day.

Foden captures time and place well. The war has transformed everything: Scotland, near Holy Loch, is full of warships, submarines and American servicemen; down in the south of England, you cannot move for soldiers and supplies whirling in a logistical maelstrom.

We forget how critical the weather forecast was. A weather window of a few days was essential to land the troops by sea and air. Every allied country's weather forecasters were brought into the loop to politically share the fruits of success, or the blame for failure. Naturally they could never agree on a forecast.

Foden skillfully moves the plot along. Ryman is suspicious and uncooperative, Meadows is a brash young man at the mercy of his superiors' caprice, the randomness of events and the tantalising lack of cooperation from the girls he meets. And he has a back story, based (like the author) on a childhood set in Africa.

Will Meadows save the day? And how does it all turn out afterwards? These are the issues which drive the novel forwards.

Turbulence is the title of the book, and also the bane of forward prediction. Foden uses it as a metaphor for life itself, and its deployment does not always avoid a certain clunkiness. This is an arts person imagining how someone trained in science might use concepts from fluid dynamics to weave the kind of descriptive writing which literary fiction loves. But a lot of this book is first-person science-obsessed Meadows and he doesn't come across as the type. Nevertheless there is a lot to like about this book, not least that it introduces Lewis Fry Richardson to a wider audience.
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VINE VOICEon 10 June 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The traditional third-person novel is assumed to be presented from the point of view of an omniscient and objective narrator. In a first-person novel, however, we assume a subjective narrator who portrays events from an individual standpoint. In the case of Turbulence (a title unlikely to attract the casual reader, I would have thought) we are dealing with historical events with a mixture of real, semi-real, and fictional characters, which further complicates the reliability of the narrative, especially when we discover at the end that it is a "book within a book".

Published almost exactly on the 65th anniversary of D-Day, which may or may not be a coincidence, it is presumed to be written in 1980 by one Henry Meadows, a mathematician assigned in 1944 to ascertain the "Ryman number", a revolutionary method of weather forecasting devised by Wallace Ryman, a pacifist loosely based on Lewis Fry Richardson, a distant relative of the author. Richardson died in 1953, but his fictional counterpart dies rather horribly in 1944, halfway through the book. The only major character who is fully real is Pyke, one of the leaders of the forecasting team for D-Day, though Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Jan Smuts all make brief cameo appearances.

I do not know enough about the D-Day invasion to judge how accurate the events are. The book's title refers, obviously, to the uncertainty of weather patterns and the unpredictability of forecasting, and the author extends this notion in passing to many other fields. The many pages devoted to the arguments about when exactly to launch the invasion did, for me, begin to pall after a while, especially as we already know how it will end. Meadows' half-hearted attempts at seducing two young WAAFs, and then Ryman's wife, seem a little redundant to the story, other than establishing character. But the book is very well written, and will certainly be of interest to those involved in, or otherwise interested in, the D-Day invasion.
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