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enthusiast "enthusiast" (sussex, uk)

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The Savage Detectives (Picador 40th Anniversary Edition) (Picador 40th Anniversary Editn)
The Savage Detectives (Picador 40th Anniversary Edition) (Picador 40th Anniversary Editn)
by Roberto Bolaño
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I have read in a very long time, 26 Jan. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I understand that hype can mislead some people to read something that is not for them so let's be clear this is an avant garde novel with an unusual structure and a meandering (to say the least) sense of narrative. A large part of it is made up of anecdotes by a range of people about encounters they had over several decades with the main characters, two avant garde and thoroughly disreputable poets (the savage detectives), one of whom is perhaps less of a poet and barely sane. These anecdotes, some extended, are thoroughly readable and each of the voices is distinctive and alive. Bolano's range here is impressive and he is adept at invoking a very wide variety of characters and situations, cultural and social, in masterful detail. He is a miniaturist of considerable skill. Most of these pieces are set in Mexico and Spain but we also have Israel and a number of African situations.

This long section of voices, anecdotes, is sandwiched between a straight narrative telling the story of a group of wild young radical poets in Mexico City and of the escape of the two main characters with two characters from the first part to search for a lost poet (who may not have written any poetry) from an earlier generation.

It seems only in a very sketchy way that all this - the narrative sections at the start and the end, and the long section of anecdotes in between - come together to tell a wider story but you do get a strong sense of time. And between the apparently disjointed parts you can slowly piece together the lives of the lead characters - as they age and as they go about their sometimes chaotic lives. By the end a wonderful portrait of them has been revealed.

The action includes vivid sex (the first part of the book is a coming of age story), playful discussion and not a little violence. The book is incredibly alive. It's characters are incredibly alive. I can't even begin to describe why it had such a powerful affect on me. Perhaps I feel a little sentimental about my own roughly contemporaneous wild youth? The period is caught marvellously. But it cannot be that alone. I find Bolano's writing enormously satisfying. It is complex and extremely rigorous. Yet it delivers and is extremely readable. I will read this book again soon and have no doubt I will find more in it.

Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by  Solomon Volkov
Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov
by Dmitri Shostakovich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.38

4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars As it is not true why read it?, 8 April 2012
This book presents a compelling picture of Shostakovich but it is almost certainly a fake and even if it were true it would say more about the way he chose to remember (and justify) himself than about what was actually going on with him. So this book is fiction but then so was Amadeus. The difference was that in Amadeus Schaffer created a real work of art that told a truth about life even if it misrepresented Mozart's story. Volkov has merely written a fake. So why read it?

Shostakovich is currently very much in fashion and the reservations we had about his output - about it being mixed and filled with works designed to please an oppressive regime, with even many of his better works tending towards being bombastic - are now a thing of the past for most of us. His place as the last great symphonist and a master of the string quartet is deserved and seems secure. But we seem to have a parallel need to see him as a political hero, a dissident rather than a mere survivor. The funny thing is that we probably wouldn't revere his music half as much if he hadn't pandered to the Stalinist critics' insistence on it being accessible!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 19, 2016 3:09 PM BST

Igor Stravinsky (20th Century Composers)
Igor Stravinsky (20th Century Composers)
by Michael Oliver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.95

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent non technical analysis of works, 6 May 2011
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I bought this to accompany the 22 disc Sony CD set and it does that job brilliantly. It is an attractive and brief book - 230 pages, filled with photos (probably less than half the pages are text) - that is very readable and (obviously) very brief. But it manages to take us through Stravinsky's life in sufficient detail for describing, in context, his most important works (most or perhaps all the works included in the Sony set are covered as are works that are not in that set). The desriptions of the music are not technical but they are effective and memorable - they do help you to listen out for new aspects or to listen afresh. The impact the works had on the world at large and on Stravinsky's career is covered but none of the works is subject to a musical analysis (look elsewhere if that is what you seek). The author - Michael Oliver - has also written a two volume biography of Stravinsky that is generally considered recommendable. This little book certainly is.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 13, 2015 6:49 PM GMT

Wolf Solent (Penguin Modern Classics)
Wolf Solent (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Powys
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Special, 3 Oct. 2010
What to make of this book? It is not at all politically correct (as one reviewer here points out) and may even seem immoral but it is, for all that, somehow convincing as true to life ... all be it life in a very different time to our own - I can think of few books that make the relatively recent past seem such a long time ago and so much of a different world. Cowper Powys' writing is made up of paragraphs that if quoted out of their context would seem impenetrable and very contrived. I suspect that you would never buy this book if you sampled a few passages in the bookshop. But somehow all those weird descriptions of Wolf's thought processes are miraculously transformed into the most convincing stream of consciousness that I have ever read. Wolf is one strange guy but his strangeness is described as thought processes that seem to me extremely authentic. Add to that the sense of place - a great outdoors that is as vivid a character as any in the novel - and you have something (much more than a mere glimpse) really special.

This book is heavy going but it lives in your mind. You can read twenty pages and then put it down for a week and have no difficulty picking up where you left off. You can even read other books in between, I suspect. It comes to such vivid life in your mind. Wolf Solent, somehow, lives outside of "the tradition" - as if such a concept of linear development could ever help us to make sense of what happened to literature the Twentieth Century - but it is an essential work for all that.

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