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. "remotecontrolleddust" (London, UK)

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The Power and the Glory (Vintage Classics)
The Power and the Glory (Vintage Classics)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A subtle, intelligent story about a man on the run, 4 Jun. 2016
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This book tells the story about a priest on the run from the authorities in 1930s Mexico, during a time of state persecution of the church, and set in a "wild west"-type state where getting the wrong side of the police chief can easily end up in torture and summary death. Despite this premise however, this novel is not one of Greene's thrillers, and whilst absorbing reading, it's also the kind of novel which requires some effort at times, though the clear prose and vivid, cinematic descriptions of Mexico add colour and make it enjoyable to get through. Despite the priest-on-the-run theme, the dominant feeling is one of residual tension, and perhaps foreboding and general menace, rather than gripping excitement, and those looking for light entertainment would do better to pick up one of Greene's lighter novels.

In taking us on this warts-and-all journey into the world of the "whisky priest", Greene is exposing the complexities of human character, gently showing us the contradictions inherent in peoples' lives and views of ourselves and others. Yes, we can be drunkards, arrogant and weak-minded, but also full of compassion, humanity and responsibility. We can be vengeful and murderous, but also coherent and pure. Who is the better person - the honest, incorruptible lieutenant who won't flinch at taking hostages and killing innocent people in order to create a better world for their children, or the corrupt, affable police chief who causes less damage through his laziness and incompetence? The priest who gives up his honour and everything he believes in for a cushy life, or the one who refuses to hand himself in, thereby causing huge pain and suffering to those whose help he is dependent on?

Greene has beautifully crafted a book looking at human frailties and strengths with great subtlety and tact. The protagonist of this novel - the sinner priest - is so real and multifaceted that I ended up recognising parts of him in countless people, not to mention in myself. This is a book I enjoyed reading and which I am sure will stay with me for a long time yet.


L'Education Sentimentale (Folio (Gallimard))
L'Education Sentimentale (Folio (Gallimard))
by Gustave Flaubert
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £25.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human condition, 6 Dec. 2014
After the excitement of finishing a good book fades away, we often forget about it and move on to the next one. L'Education Sentimentale is one of the few which bucks the trend, and gets higher in my estimation the more I think about it. It's got a bit of everything in: a good story, fabulously colourful characters, love and heartbreak, delightfully subtle irony, dry humour and social observations in bucketloads. The intelligence and quality of the writing is as good as I've read in any novel.

Often in my (limited) experience reading books written in 18th-to-early 20th century France, I've found the main story to be a turn-off. Especially in novels dealing with the lives of the upper classes, it's hard to feel much emotional interest for their lives, with their endless conversations in salons and other insignificant comings and goings. In L'Education Sentimentale, the colourfulness and complexity of all the characters banishes such problems. All of the protagonists are portrayed as complex, layered human beings, with often contradictory qualities of good and bad, strengths and fears. It's how I would imagine myself portrayed if someone were observing me all of the time, objectively noting down my good intentions but also my moments of weakness and the nasty actions I might carry out and then hide from myself. This startlingly realistic portrayal of humans allows us deeply into the story, and also leads us to forgive many of the more unpleasant things some of the characters think and do.

In passing, I should mention this is a far cry from the woodenness and one-dimensionality of the characters in a Stendhal novel. In Flaubert's world there are no heroes, only people, some perhaps worthier than others, and the circumstances of their lives which generally decide their ultimate fate.

Some of the descriptive passages in the novel are almost mesmerisingly good. Out of nowhere, we get a metaphor which absolutely hits the nail on the head in terms of describing an air full of melancholy, a peaceful landscape, or a strong, lingering emotion. At times the scenes of Paris seem to come to life in full technicolour, with wild, debauched parties taking place in front of us so vividly we can see the beads of sweat on the dancer's forehead, or the elegant dinners with a tension so thick it seems to fill the room you're in.

This is not, however, purely a novel for the senses. Throughout the book, Flaubert shows upper class Parisian society exactly as he sees it. Alongside the elegance, the sophistication and the civilisation which undoubtedly reaches its peak in this layer of society, he exposes the hypocrisy, the arrogance and the stupidity pervading all through it. He is essentially trying to be an objective observer, showing us the reality of society as he saw it. He doesn't directly condemn it, but merely shows, with a highly intelligent subtlety and a sense of almost amused irony, the hopeless superficiality of the human condition he sees around him.


Boule De Suif Et Autres Histoires De Guerre
Boule De Suif Et Autres Histoires De Guerre
by Guy de Maupassant
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £2.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable stories about 19th century society, 19 Oct. 2014
A very readable collection of diverse short stories set in 19th century France. Together they have a very lively cast of characters, and are great to read both as simple, enjoyable short stories, and for the sharp observations on society and the human condition which are contained in them. Maupassant writes very clearly, cleverly, and without wasting words superfluously, so the stories are all very direct and immediately accessible.


Technoline WS 9032-IT Weather Station - Silver
Technoline WS 9032-IT Weather Station - Silver
Price: £42.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the tin, 17 Mar. 2014
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I've been using this weather station for 3-4 months now and am very pleased with it. It seems accurate, it's very clear, and does exactly what I bought it for: to tell me the temperature and relative humidity indoors and outdoors. Nothing too fancy so not a lot to go wrong.

It also has a barometer and makes 12hr predictions based on pressure trends; as with most home weather stations I find its predictions leave something to be desired in terms of accuracy and prefer to rely on a proper weather forecast. There's only so much you can tell from looking at the pressure alone after all.

Other than that not much else to remark. It looks Ok, pretty much exactly as in the picture, slightly larger than I expected. On a side note, the batteries run down fairly fast in the main unit, so rechargables are probably a wise idea.


Runaway
Runaway
by Alice Munro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Windows into other peoples' lives, 17 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Runaway (Paperback)
Each time I reached the end of one of the short stories in Runaway, I felt like in a small way I had seen glimpses into the most intimate and important moments of other people's lives. These stories are charged with emotions, with delicate and subtle feelings, with characters that come out of the page with real naturalness, more than in any other book that comes to mind. Alice Munro is able to paint her characters with great depth, with all their imperfections, with real, natural emotions, and to open up their worlds to us.

These may be "short" stories but each one seemed to contain more inside it than most novels I've read. I didn't in the least share the feeling of a previous reviewer who stated that the stories 'left him wanting more'; for me if they were any longer they would simply be too heavy, too demanding. I found their length to be just right. They tell us everything Munro wants to tell us - and with great economy, as she barely puts a word wrong in her beautiful prose.


Man's Fate (Penguin Modern Classics)
Man's Fate (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Andre Malraux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Human spirit in a revolution, 17 Mar. 2014
This powerful novel focuses on the lives of four or five men during Shanghai's failed communist uprising in 1927, following the dramatic events as they unfold in the lives of the protagonists, and in the process offering an insight into their "human spirit", what drives the men to act as they do. It is a novel in turns gripping, as urban warfare unfolds in the streets, moving, as the events follow their inevitable tragic course, often beautiful and sometimes philosophical.

Exploring the cynicism of the rich and powerful, the shame of the weak (such as Hemmelrich, the Belgian communist sympathiser who cannot bring himself to act for fear of what might happen to his wife and child), the anger of the poor, Malraux gives us a very honest view of the interests driving the different groups of people in society. The characters are described with great depth but also subtlety, we are shown the forces that drive them but are also exposed to their sentiments and weaknesses, their fears (and sometimes their hopes), their "human" side.

I read the book having no prior knowledge of the revolution described, and indeed very little knowledge of pre-WW2 China, but quite frankly this was not at all necessary. If anything I am now much more interested in reading about this event. In any case, many of the themes treated in the novel transcend the specific historical event and have just as much relevance now as they did then. Malraux's ability to lay bare the forces driving his characters, their "human spirit", is for me what makes this book so great.


The Cloud Book: How to Understand the Skies
The Cloud Book: How to Understand the Skies
by Richard Hamblyn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More of a coffee-table book than a page-turner, 17 Mar. 2014
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First the good points: The Cloud Book is very professionally finished, with a large number of beautiful photos illustrating the different types of cloud described in the text. The introduction is well-written and interesting, and overall this is certainly an attractive-looking book; something I would definitely pick up and browse through while waiting at the doctor's surgery, or if I found it on a friend's coffee table.

The problem is that I wouldn't read it for much longer after that. The reason is that after the introduction (which is a few pages long) it has more the structure of a catalogue than a casual reading book, with most of the book given over to describing a list of different "cloud types", which doesn't really help you to "understand the skies", as claimed on the cover: it just gives you names to associate to different cloud forms. Unfortunately, reading through a list of cloud classifications does not really do it for me: it doesn't tell you a story, it just gives you facts. Put simply, there is no real reason to turn the page.

On top of this, the author uses a range of meteorological concepts without properly explaining them. As someone who has followed a couple of courses on Meteorology at university, even I struggled to keep up at times. Of course it is possible to not understand all the terms and still get some understanding out of it, but it makes you wonder why the author did not spend a few pages (at least!) explaining some basic concepts in meteorology, rather than diving straight into cloud classifications without giving the reader a solid base of knowledge to build on.

I would give it three stars still because as a coffee-table book for picking up and browsing it is very good, the problem is it's hard to keep interested after half an hour or so of browsing.


L'Americain (Folio)
L'Americain (Folio)
by Franz-Olivier Giesbert
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £15.29

5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful portrait of a paternal relationship, 11 Feb. 2014
I had never heard of Franz-Olivier Giesbert before I read this book, and wasn't in the least aware of his high public profile in France. In fact I bought it quite casually, initially thinking it might be a WW2 memoir due to the cover. In actual fact it is a powerful portrait of the troubled relationship between the author and his father, which is both highly readable and strangely involving.

Giesbert is not afraid to expose the strong emotions he felt, and, I get the impression, still feels to some extent towards his parents: contempt and hatred for his violence-prone father, love and compassion for his mother, and profound regret for never building bridges with his father whilst he still could. He describes his father's violent episodes in chilling detail, but this is not an account which dwells unduly on paternal violence. We see the squalid effects of this violence on the young Giesbert, how he makes his life's aim the mental destruction of his father, how he extracts his vengeance in every important choice in life he makes, how his desire for revenge made him blind to his father's pleas for reconciliation, and the possible father-son relationship he was shunning. There is a profound feeling of regret which runs through the entire book and seems to colour every page and every memory.

Giesbert writes very clearly and eloquently, he is clearly gifted at portraying sentiments and impressions, as well as in creating a narrative which pulls the reader in, with a good economy of word: very little here is superfluous. The net result is a highly readable and engaging text. The account is roughly chronological but the author doesn't hesitate to spend time colouring scenes of everyday life, giving body and personality to the characters in his account, and adding touching and very human glimpses into his family life in rural Normandy.

This book is highly charged with different emotions: pain, hatred, contempt, love, compassion, all imbued with a deep sense of regret and guilt. This is a highly personal account of one particular man's youth and his relationship with his father, but the themes are common to all men, and as such it's an account I think many people can engage with.


Caesar Must Die [DVD]
Caesar Must Die [DVD]
Dvd ~ Cosimo Rega
Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £8.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Shakespeare transported to the prison cell, 23 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Caesar Must Die [DVD] (DVD)
This is a singularly intense, original film about the production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in Rome's high-security prison Rebibbia. The actors in the production are the prison's inmates - drug dealers, gang members, killers, and they play themselves in this film.

This is not an east film to pigeon-hole. On one level it is a film about the bleak reality of life in a high-security prison, with the actors, the inmates, searching for some kind of redemption through art, the only escape available from the squalor of prison life. On another level it's about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar itself, brought to life with an incredible intensity by the inmate actors. Some scenes take on a special resonance when performed in the high-security surroundings: the talk of betrayals and of deceit, of liberty, of plots and of killings, all seem particularly relevant to the prisoners themselves, and the play seems to take on a new lease of life in the prison surroundings.

The film follows the prisoners rehearsing for different key scenes from the play in various parts of the prison, in what is a very clever artistic move. Betrayals and plots are planned in the prison's grim corridors and alleyways, Brutus and Mark Anthony stand in the middle of a sun-scorched basketball court to address the crowds cheering and shouting from their overlooking cell windows. The scenes are beautifully filmed, and the use of black-and-white serves only to emphasize the hauntingly symmetric brutality of the prison buildings. The use of colour is reserved for scenes from the final showing of the production, showing art bursting out of the confines of a black-and-white prison existence.

All of the action occurs in just 76 minutes. We learn very little directly about the prisoners, a move which avoids the creation of much pity between the viewer and prisoners (who let's not forget are incarcerated for violent and unpleasant crimes), but which also gives the film a very focused feel, keeping it absorbing all the way through. A few days after watching this film, I am still often thinking back to some of the scenes, and feel that I have a deeper understanding of the themes of the play than I did before.

This film is creative, intense, beautifully filmed, excellently acted, and one which I would particularly recommend to anyone who is passionate about cinema, theatre and art, the key themes of the film.


Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics)
Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics)
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great work of art, 14 Nov. 2013
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Crime and Punishment is a book which contains a huge amount of humanity. The story of a sordid and violent crime, the mental breakdown of an impoverished, excitable student drop-out, all set against a backdrop of a colourful and crime-riddled city teeming with shady characters, warm-hearted women, violent drunks, destitution, suffering, depravity, humanity.

The story follows the different phases of mental anguish suffered by Raskolnikov, the young Russian ex-student at the centre of the novel. With his dreams of greatness dashed by poverty and destitution, Raskolnikov dreams up a terrible crime which would allow him access to the funds he craves in order to, as he sees it, fully realise his potential. The novel follows him as he struggles to come to terms with the consequences of the crime and his grappling with the idea that his justification for it may not be as solid as he thought. All the while he is trying to protect himself from the long arm of the law in a game of cat-and-mouse with the police investigator.

There are lots of different themes to the novel, which makes it an immensely rewarding read for anyone who likes food for thought in their books. It is highly readable as a story and as absorbing and rewarding as a great work of art.


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