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RachelWalker "RachelW" (England)
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Carthage
Carthage
by Joyce Carol Oates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carthage - Joyce Carol Oates, 25 April 2015
This review is from: Carthage (Paperback)
The best book I've read in months. Moving, deeply emotionally invested in its characters. A meditation on the effects of war, violence, the morality of the death penalty, the treatment of soldiers after war, the effect of grief on families, etc etc etc. It's a big book with big themes. This is Joyce Carol Oates' best book since We Were the Mulvaneys. It's powerful, detailed, and relentlessly focussed on its tragedies (if that sentence puts you off then this is not the book for you!) I LOVED Cressida - never have I come across a more convincing late adolescent troubled girl. The whole book has the true, ineluctable trajectory of all great tragedies. It's wide in scope and tender in the treatment of its characters, with a sliver of ice at its core. A brilliant book.


The Wolf Border
The Wolf Border
by Sarah Hall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Wolf Border - Sarah Hall, 19 April 2015
This review is from: The Wolf Border (Hardcover)
I really, really enjoyed this. Sarah Hall writes beautifully about nature and landscapes, and captures very well the fragile relationships between people, and the tender bonds that keep people tethered to others, as well as to things and to places. It's passionate and moving, very heartfelt. The main character is strong, very tangible, very real. A recognisable human being, a mess of strength and weakness, as are we all. The parts I enjoyed most were the parts focused on the wolves (I did not expect to enjoy these most; I normally enjoy "specific" parts of books "about" very specific topics the least; I prefer the general): they command the attention as soon as they are on the page.To be honest they command the attention before that even, before they even make an appearance. They're the rangy, muscled, atavistic heart of the book. Survival in the rugged landscape is what they are about - and, really, what Sarah Hall's humans are about too.


Falling in Love: (Brunetti 24)
Falling in Love: (Brunetti 24)
by Donna Leon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Falling in Love - Donna Leon, 9 April 2015
This is my favourite of Donna Leon's book for some time. Operatic, dramatic, emotionally highly-strung. I loved the backdrop of the opera - you can tell Leon adores it, and that shines through the pages. This book was always going to be about the climax, and a great one it is. The best Brunetti in a quite a few years for my money.


A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
by Eimear McBride
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Girl is a Half-formed Thing - Eimear McBride, 1 April 2015
The worst book I've read (or tried to read) since Will Self's Umbrella.

Impenetrable nonsense. Couldn't get past the first 3 pages. Tortured sentences, nonsense. What?

There are people who like these kinds of books, and I am not one of them. Sentences that don't make sense, sentences that are just phrases, splintered language. Not for me. This is one of those books where reading the first paragraph in a bookshop before buying is a MUST. Unnecessary work. Not a pleasurable experience.


The Spinning Heart
The Spinning Heart
by Donal Ryan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan, 7 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Spinning Heart (Paperback)
Wonderful, wonderful wonderful. A beautiful as a short fresh spring shower on a sunny day. Short, poetic, full of emotion, pain and love. Each short chapter is related by a different character, and you find yourself loving every single one of them in their own way. I can't speak highly enough of this little masterpiece. Reminded me a bit of Tinkers by Paul Harding. Perhaps the shortest book I've ever read that says so much.


The Buried Giant
The Buried Giant
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro, 4 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Buried Giant (Hardcover)
I was desperate to love this. I've after all waited a decade for it. And while I liked it, I am sad to say I did not love it. I won't re-hash the plot - there's been a pre-publication bonanza of marketing, interviews and reviews the like of which I haven't seen for a literary fiction novel in a long time (perhaps ever), so that's readily available elsewhere if you want it.

I was very excited by the post-Roman setting of this book, in a boggy England steeped with mists and darkness. The idea of an elderly couple in that setting embarking on some form of quest across a shrouded landscape has a ring of genius to it. I was a bit less excited when I heard about the dragons and ogres, though I was open to it in theory. Having read the thing, whilst I greatly enjoyed the story, the fantasy stuff just doesn't work, and takes away from some of the great potential. Why could this not be a pure historical fiction novel, a la Jim Crace's Harvest or The Wake? I can accept that post-Roman Britons may have a fear of rumoured ogres and dragons, but I think Ishiguro should have left it at that - a fear, a myth, something spoken of but never seen. For me, the fantastical dimensions create a detrimental remove from the characters and the story, the close intensity of which is a critical element I enjoy in Ishiguro's work. I never felt particularly emotionally tied to Axl and Beatrice, did not know them so intensely, feel for them so intensely, as I did for the children in Never Let Me Go or for Stevens in The Remains of the Day. There is too much remoteness from them. Set so long ago, there would always be an element of remoteness, but I don't think it had to be this way - I think the fact that they stumble across dragons and knights, have old swirling memories of battles and magicians, means that I cannot achieve the closeness to them that is one of the joys of an Ishiguro book. I don't have an issue with the lack of clarity of their memories; unsurety of mind is something Ishiguro can convey in his sleep and has handled perfectly in the past. It isn't that characters have to be on sure ground in terms of their memory of their understanding of what is going on around them for me to feel close to them or engaged in their fate (Ryder from The Unconsoled proves that).

Ishiguro does handle the question of collective and individual memory very well, and the novel does achieve something here. Is collective amnesia good or bad? what about when considered at the individual level? But this seems to me too facile a way of answering/posing the questions he wants to pose. For me the book would have worked better if Ishiguro focussed on memory loss through the perspective of age, rather than caused by the breath of a she-dragon. It strikes me that there's a rich seam to have been mined here that wasn't. Never Let Me Go was about lives curtailed prematurely and the consequences on the human response to that, this is (or should have been) about lives lived to their full extent and the consequences on the human response to THAT. For me it should, anyway - but now I'm critiquing the book that wasn't written.

I feel very disappointed not to have loved this more. I liked it, sure. The story is engaging, intriguing, at times very touching, and the ending is very very poignant. But it lacks the sharpness of psychological perception, the wry knowingness, the intensity, that makes some of Ishiguro's works masterpieces. The fantasy elements help detract from this, and I don't think they need to be there or add anything to what he's trying to achieve; (just for the record: I'm not a pooh-pooher of fantasy or genre-writing; I love it when it's done well (I love anything when it's done well)) The fantasy stuff just makes all the rest of it far too oblique for me, it feels like I am getting it too much at an angle, distorting/obscuring my view and perception.

I can't fully put my finger on what I found to be lacking with this book (poor reviewership, I know), but I think it has to do with the fact that it just didn't make me smile at any stage. I enjoyed it, it was a pleasant experience, it's clever, and has interesting themes. But Ishiguro's sentences, what he says about his characters, what they think, how they think, the things they do, the perceptions that they have, can normally make me beam with the pleasure of receiving great insight. That never happened here, whether as a result of the fantasy elements or whether just because it isn't his concern this time round. The only times I got that sense was in the first and final chapters, which for me were the great highlights of the book.

I give it four stars because amazon tells me four stars equates to 'I like it". While this may not sound like a four star review (and that is probably caused by my disproportionate disappointment after a ten year wait), I DO like it. You should read it - though I think it's definitely a book more for readers who have not tried Ishiguro before and like the sound of the plot than readers who are attached to his previous work. Time till tell, I suppose.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 8, 2015 6:07 PM GMT


Dark Road: A play
Dark Road: A play
by Ian Rankin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Road - Ian Rankin & Mark Thompson, 22 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Dark Road: A play (Hardcover)
I've only read a couple of plays, so I'm not very conversant with what makes a "good" play script (and I've probably seen even fewer than I've read!) however this was a very enjoyable experience.

I enjoy new mediums, new things, new experiences. Obviously some people don't, some people prefer only what they already know they like - this is clearly a very different kettle of fish to his usual Rebus novels, and anyone who is dogmatically rigid in their appreciations of things will patently not enjoy this. However, anyone with a bit of open-mindedness to them should give this a fair chance, and hopefully they will find it enjoyable. It has a good story, tension, twists, and good dialogue. I'd like to see it performed live.

And, to everyone who bought this not eve realising it was a play (despite it being stated on the cover and in the description)... how dumb.


Great Expectations (Vintage Classics)
Great Expectations (Vintage Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great Expectations - Charles Dickens, 22 Feb. 2015
Really, I'm a little astounded. I read this with an increasing sense of surreal disbelief - THIS is regarded as a classic? Why?? What of beauty is there in it, what suspense or excitement? What lessons does it tell of life? What profound illuminations does it bring to the human condition? None, as far as I can tell. The book began well, with an atmospheric scene among the marshes - but there the excitement ended. For the next 250 pages at least, which was all I could be bothered to read. I really truly do not get the reverence in which this book is held. There are some colourful characters and scenes but one thing simply follows another in a "so what?" kind of way that none of it is particularly exciting. There is no suspense, excitement, nothing that drives the plot forward. One event simply follows another. The moments of excitement that there are are quickly dispatched with (Mrs Joe's assualt, e.g.). In a novel (particularly one of this length), there surely always has to be something at stake, for the reader to want to read on. As far as I can tell, there is nothing at stake here. None of the characters seem to care about their fates, so why should I. The thing at stake doesn't have to be a great deal, it can be the littlest of things. But here I could locate nothing. I really did have great expectations for this, but they proved to be unfounded.

Maybe it's me. Wilkie Collins is a hundred times better, on this showing. Consider me mystified.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 25, 2015 1:49 PM BST


Dead Simple (Roy Grace)
Dead Simple (Roy Grace)
by Peter James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Dead Simple - Peter James, 22 Feb. 2015
Where do I start. This book has the most completely ludicrous plot I've come across for some time. And I read a lot of books. You just sort of have to go with it and suspend disbelief. However, it's relatively engaging and I managed to read it all the way through (if not very attentively). That is, despite the fact that the detective reads the daily mail, the writing is rife with a latent misogny, and the final pages hinge upon the successful intervention of a psychic! As far as I'm concerned, the final chapter should have been expunged entirely - it comes close to bringing the whole book into complete disrepute (which wouldn't have been hard to start with).

The reason I give it three stars is because, bizarrely, it was at least fun and entertaining. It's nowhere near the best example of it's genre, but it's probably a good holiday read. And it seems they may get better, from what I read here. Which is good because I foolishly bought four of them at once...


Happenstance
Happenstance
by Carol Shields
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Happenstance - Carol Shields, 8 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Happenstance (Paperback)
Shields is one of the unsung heroes of the novel, as far as I'm concerned. I am sad to see her books slowly slipping out of print.

She is a championer of the remarkable in the normal, she gives weight to life, to the mildly contented among us. This novel (or two novels) treads the same kind of lines. It's a novel about a marriage, about how everyday lives are as historic as a won/lost battle. It's knowing and beautiful. She knows men and women and their internal lives so very, very well. Indeed, she writes men better than any other female novelist I've read - the first novel here, and Larry's Party, are my favourites among her work, and I think this is in large part due to the quality of the way she illuminates male minds. Indeed, the second novel here did drag a bit (all that quilting!), but the masterly first part more than made up for that.

She was a great novelist.


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