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Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)
Great Expectations (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably his best, 13 Aug. 2003
There are many things to dislike about Dickens. He has a tendency to go for novels of overblown length (one review on this website of his shortest novel ‘Hard Times’ seems to think that bigger means better, which I am inclined to disagree with). His characters (especially the women) are either innocent virtue or wholly malevolent. And then of course there’s the lachrymose sentimentality…
With ‘Great Expectations’ all this gets reined in. It tells the story of Pip, apprenticed to kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery, who is provided with an unexpected opportunity to become a gentleman. He shuns his working class roots and goes off to fulfil his ambitions in London, the primary motivation presumably being his desire to impress the beautiful but cold-hearted Estella.
From this premise, Dickens weaves a simple but hugely effective yarn that contains an important moral lesson. In true Dickens style it is exercised in a preachy manner; but considering the time Dickens wrote it in, it was the only way to get across his radical social criticism. ‘Great Expectations’ has all the positive aspects of the ‘later’ Dickens novels, whilst managing to dispense with the usual criticisms applied to his writings. It is tightly and deftly plotted, but doesn’t take time to flourish into something gripping (hello ‘Bleak House’). There are complex characters too – such as Pip, who is subject to a voyage of self-discovery, and Jaggers, who isn’t as sinister as he seems. Even some of the female characters are interesting, like Biddy, who is sweet-tempered and pious, but not afraid to stand up for herself either. And when Dickens goes for the emotional jugular he genuinely moves you – the chapter in which Joe (the novel’s true gentleman) visits Pip for the first time in London, and behaves awkwardly but manages to emerge with dignity, is absolutely heartbreaking.
‘Great Expectations’ is a novel with acute social commentary, populated with a cast of unforgettable characters and featuring a plot that gets all the more exciting as it reaches its denouement. It is a typical Dickens novel, but one that neutralises the factors that so often blight his writing, thus elevating it above the rest of his (mostly excellent) works.


Rings Around The World
Rings Around The World
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.50

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Furries off form, 13 Aug. 2003
This review is from: Rings Around The World (Audio CD)
SFA’s fifth album is, to crudely borrow a footballing cliché, an album of two halves. Well, perhaps that’s a bit unfair – it’s good for about two thirds actually. Basically, the latter stages of the album are relentlessly mid-tempo. Which is fine if you’re into Bon Jovi, but we expect far greater things from this quintet of musical geniuses than to produce an album that falls completely flat on its face at the end.
Shame really, because the first half is very strong. OK so the title track resembles THAT Status quo song, but in-itself its an enjoyable little blast. Ditto ‘Sidewalk Serfer Girl’, which effortlessly marries folksy strumming to crunching guitar riffs before leading to a joyous chorus. ‘It’s Not the End of the World’ features impressively understated strings and fine high-pitched vocals from Gruff, whilst ‘Shoot Doris Day’ is an excellent epic orchestral number that builds to a truly stirring climax.
The rot sets in with ‘No! Sympathy’, an inferior re-tooling of ‘Mountain People’ that comes across as so turgid that any merit in the electronic wigout towards the end is lost, as the listener no doubt would have skipped it by that stage. Fittingly enough, the album then proceeds to fall asleep. Yes ‘Juxtaposed with U’ and ‘Run! Christian, Run!’ are fine songs in themselves; in fact the latter is probably the best on the album. But they are hampered by the tedious cabaret of ‘Presidential Suite’ and the truly underwhelming album closer, ‘Fragile Happiness’.
If this were an album from a lesser band it would, on the basis of the good songs, probably deserve four stars. As it’s by a band of SFA’s quality, it deserves nothing more than three. Fortunately, they’re back on track with latest offering, ‘Phantom Power’.


Down and Out in Paris and London (Essential Penguin)
Down and Out in Paris and London (Essential Penguin)
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative insights, 2 Aug. 2003
In ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’, George Orwell sets off to undermine our taken-for-granted perspective on the homeless.
First, though, are his struggles as an overworked ‘plongeur’ in various hotels in Paris. He and his colleagues are permanently stressed, work impossibly long hours and have barely enough to afford a ramshackle roof over their heads. The tone is one of tragi-comedy, especially as Orwell accounts how, between jobs, he and his irrepressibly jovial Russian friend Boris get involved in increasingly desperate schemes to raise cash. Many colourful characters are met along the way, and the clear, knuckle-bare prose is damning of the whole capitalist system. He works harder than the manager and customers of his hotel in one day than they have in their lives, and all he has to show for it is a bug-strewn blanket.
Things really take off in when the action moves to London. The ordeals endured by our narrator increase tenfold – now he is out on the streets with the ‘tramps’, his only shelter coming in the form of ‘spikes’, which are little more than Victorian workhouses. The experience Orwell undergoes forces him, and us, to re-assess our views of the homeless. They are people, he says, no different to us – it is society, with its principles of material gain and rugged individualism, that have taught us to see these people as failures. Rather, they are people who have been stifled, their opportunities negated because they are the victims of an unjust society which affords privilege to those with the most money. Sounds like an obvious point. But how many of us can honestly say we wouldn’t be alarmed if a dishevelled tramp shambled towards us in a dark street?
In short, Orwell is as radical as ever, pointing out the moral wrongs that our society continues to promote.


Phantom Power
Phantom Power
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £8.47

6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Their best yet!, 24 July 2003
This review is from: Phantom Power (Audio CD)
SFA’s previous album, '(Drawing) Rings Around the World', was the band’s first real attempt to make a cohesive album as opposed to their previous efforts, which were all simply collections of great songs. But it misfired; the attempt to create an ‘epic’ sounding album petered out toward the end as all passion was sucked out of the album and they ended up sounding like Crowded House at their most gentle.
'Phantom Power' succeeds in all the ways its predecessor failed. In plumping for more variety, whilst maintaining an overall tone of summery mellowness, the whole thing gels together fantastically well. There is one duff track – ‘Bleed Forever’, in which the band inexplicably transform into floppy fringed, shoegazing purveyors of dadrock – but the memory of that is banished by the snarling rock of ‘Out of Control’, the song that the latter half of 'Rings…' was crying out for.
There is a dearth of great tunes on this album. Lovely opener ‘Hello Sunshine’ is pure good-vibe chillout bliss; lead off single ‘Golden Retriever’ an exercise in insanely catchy toe-tapping funk. When the songs resemble ones on previous albums they beat their progenitors hands down. ‘The Piccolo Snare’ is loosely related to ‘No! Sympathy’ but is actually fun to listen to, whereas ‘The Undefeated’ is a beefier, bouncier ‘Northern Lites’. But best of them all has to be the euphoric, transcendental ‘Slow Life’. It’s the perfect send off for this accomplished album: epic in every sense of the word, certainly as good, if not better, than that other gem of an album closer ‘Mountain People’ (which ended 'Radiator'). 'Phantom Power' is simply their best album yet, and certainly trumps a lot of these ‘new rock revolution’ bands publications like the NME are falling over themselves to gush over.


The Gormenghast Trilogy
The Gormenghast Trilogy
by Mervyn Peake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Appeals to the darker side of human nature, 24 July 2003
This trilogy is a brilliant fantasy-cum-gothic voyage charting the adventures of reluctant lord Titus Groan, the most "normal" character, amongst a gallery of startling eccentrics. Peake's style is a little confused in places (like the very first sentence of "Titus Groan"), but we can forgive him that due to his ability to craft such a fine story with delightfully dark events. It's a testament to his fine eye for strong characterisation that we find ourselves sometimes sympathising with the cruel and villainous Steerpike, probably because he's a martyr of revolution (although he seeks power himself), fighting a desperate battle against the decadent ruling body that is the Groan dynasty.
The last book does suffer from his absence, although Titus himself is interesting enough to make "Titus Alone" good; but not as good as its predocessors. Nonetheless, the first two installments alone make this an excellent fantasy saga .


Wuthering Heights
Wuthering Heights
by Diane Long Hoeveler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, 24 July 2003
This review is from: Wuthering Heights (Paperback)
After a slow start, this book soon lifts off the ground as the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange become intertwined in explosive romantic liasons amid frequent violent incidents (especially when Heathcliff is around).Of course, this is where some have indicated a weakness: the violence is so OTT that it occasionally lacks credibility. But then the potent transcendence of Catherine and Heathcliff's love is equally hard to fathom (especially for Bronte's contemporaries I imagine), and this aspect of the tale is definitely the most fascinating. Not least because in Heathcliff, purely evil and heart-meltingly brooding, we have arguably the greatest male romantic lead of all time.
The pace is electrifying and the overall tone is overdosed with vicious passion. Older sibling Charlotte needed to take lessons in writing fascinating and breathless novels from her younger sister methinks.


Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk [Extra tracks]
Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk [Extra tracks]
Offered by Great Price Media EU
Price: £3.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Patchy but alluring, 13 Jan. 2001
It's inevitable that this was not going to match "Grace": not many albums can. But what really gripes is the fact that the majority of the glittering highlights that see Buckley scrape the heights of his debut album are nestled in the four track recording section. "Gunshot Glitter", "Your Flesh Is So Nice" and "Jewel Box" are all Buckley at his best (although "Murder Suicide Meteor Slave" is almost impossible to get into), and yet they are hampered by the poor sound quality. The completed work (mostly on the first CD) is competent, but with the exception of "The Sky Is A Landfill" and "Satisfied Mind" not a patch on the incomplete stuff. A shame really, but at least we can live safe in the knowledge that had he lived to finish the second album it would have at least almost stood up to the first.


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