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50 Ways of Saying Fabulous: Book 1  20th Anniversary Edition
50 Ways of Saying Fabulous: Book 1 20th Anniversary Edition
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who shot Dante?, 2 July 2015
Billy is a 12 year old boy in a small farming community in New Zealand; the son of an uneducated, primitive father and a frustrated, repressed mother. They barely raise an eyebrow when he dons a fake ponytail and announces that he wishes to be called 'Judy'. His schoolmates are less obliging. When one tells him that he is 'acting the poof', Billy is uncertain whether this is a compliment (since he knows that he looks fabulous), but quickly decides that he must attempt to repress his nature. This is complicated by his regular furtive fumblings with the new boy at school, and his obsessive attraction to the muscular 19 year old farm-hand hired by his father.

Yes, this is another novel about gay adolescence, and there is little here that hasn't been covered before: anxiety in the locker room, ineptitude on the sports field, attraction to the popular guys at school, etc. Nonetheless, this portrays reality for many boys, and there are numerous features that combine to make the book a highly worthwhile read. In particular, Billy's incredibly authentic voice holds an all-too clear mirror up to the confusion, anguish and torment of gay youth's self-awareness. Billy's plight is genuine, and conjures up feelings and memories experienced by many of us in childhood - not to mention anger at the knowledge that millions of young people still suffer this treatment daily. It is also refreshing to see a somewhat more-realistically aged protagonist experiencing sex, desire and first love, rather than the implausibly naïve and virginal 15 or 16 year old teens that tend to emerge from many coming of age novels. Further, by presenting Billy as an (initially) unlikeable character, the novel offers an interesting opportunity to revisit those aspects of our own characters that we despised about ourselves as we grew up.

An engaging and seamlessly-penned début novel. Highly recommended.


50 Ways of Saying Fabulous: Book 2  20th Anniversary Edition
50 Ways of Saying Fabulous: Book 2 20th Anniversary Edition
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who shot Dante?, 2 July 2015
Billy is a 12 year old boy in a small farming community in New Zealand; the son of an uneducated, primitive father and a frustrated, repressed mother. They barely raise an eyebrow when he dons a fake ponytail and announces that he wishes to be called 'Judy'. His schoolmates are less obliging. When one tells him that he is 'acting the poof', Billy is uncertain whether this is a compliment (since he knows that he looks fabulous), but quickly decides that he must attempt to repress his nature. This is complicated by his regular furtive fumblings with the new boy at school, and his obsessive attraction to the muscular 19 year old farm-hand hired by his father.

Yes, this is another novel about gay adolescence, and there is little here that hasn't been covered before: anxiety in the locker room, ineptitude on the sports field, attraction to the popular guys at school, etc. Nonetheless, this portrays reality for many boys, and there are numerous features that combine to make the book a highly worthwhile read. In particular, Billy's incredibly authentic voice holds an all-too clear mirror up to the confusion, anguish and torment of gay youth's self-awareness. Billy's plight is genuine, and conjures up feelings and memories experienced by many of us in childhood - not to mention anger at the knowledge that millions of young people still suffer this treatment daily. It is also refreshing to see a somewhat more-realistically aged protagonist experiencing sex, desire and first love, rather than the implausibly naïve and virginal 15 or 16 year old teens that tend to emerge from many coming of age novels. Further, by presenting Billy as an (initially) unlikeable character, the novel offers an interesting opportunity to revisit those aspects of our own characters that we despised about ourselves as we grew up.

An engaging and seamlessly-penned début novel. Highly recommended.


Gods of the Steppe
Gods of the Steppe
by Andrei Gelasimov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.64

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Culture in transition, 14 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Gods of the Steppe (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"Gods of the Steppe" is a difficult novel to review; translated from the original Russian, it is inevitably hard to judge the extent to which the nuances of the original have survived. Unlike many novels addressing the War experience, "Gods of the Steppe" focuses not on the frontlines or the wife-left-behind, but instead offers a portrait of the context of WWII through the voices of 12-year-old Petra and a Japanese prisoner-of-war, set in a small town close to the Russian/Chinese border.

While the book's synopsis hints of a coming-of-age novel, the work is instead rather a portrayal of the cultural forces operative at a particular moment of history. As such, it is more a novel about abrasive tensions - rural/city, old customs/modern ways, State hierarchy/village community - than about the War, or about characters or personalities. Understood and read as such, the novel could be rewarding in its bleak evocation of culture in transition, dying spirit and the institution of a different, modernist order.


Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation (PCVS-Polity Conversations Series)
Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation (PCVS-Polity Conversations Series)
by Zygmunt Bauman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For a wider audience, 16 May 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The notion of liquid modernity, expounded by Zygmunt Bauman in various texts, at its simplest, is the idea that the world of solid, defined structures is morphing into a seamless web of flows, and are consequently less visible and harder to theorise. This notion can be applied in an analysis of any realm of cultural theory; in the present text, Bauman joins with a prominent theorist within the relatively new field of surveillance studies, David Lyon, to consider the thesis that, as people are increasingly tracked via new technologies, surveillance is better considered as a liquid flow seeping into every realm of life, rather than as a vertical or hierarchical power technique.

The text itself takes the form of a 'conversation' between the two authors - unconvincing at times, but certainly offering the readability that aims to extend the ideas discussed to an audience beyond the Academy. Inevitably this intent tends to result in a less conceptually demanding text, although perhaps the potential of a broader audience is worth this sacrifice. Certainly, the detailed discussion of social media forms such as Facebook is liable to attract the attention of readers who may not otherwise have picked up the work.

On the question of the surveillance aspect of the discussion, it should be said that the text offers little in the way of modification to the theories already laid down by the great thinkers, such as Foucault, Deleuze, and Agamben. The most interesting aspect of the work is perhaps the reiteration of the idea expounded at length in Bauman's fascinating Modernity and the Holocaust - that the concentration camp and the Gulag have been "widely though wrongly viewed as rebellions against, rather than loyal to, the essential precepts of 'modern civilization'. Instead, they brought to its ultimate consequences the logic of the modern passion for order-building...". The point that is frequently forgotten is thus that the Nazi and Stalinist episodes of the twentieth century were fully in accordance with post-Enlightenment modernity - the same principles of modernity that continue to orient us; one need only consider the existence of Sex Offender Registries to understand that the values that built the concentration camp are still fully operative in contemporary culture.

Overall, the text is interesting so far as it goes - which is to say, insofar as it opens up new avenues of thought to readers outside the critical cultural theory tradition. Where readers may well be left wanting more is perhaps in the realm of the concluding discussion on 'what is to be done?'; if we accept the authors' thesis, has the seepage of 'liquid surveillance' reached a point of no return? As frequently occurs, the glimmer of optimism that is offered feels more of an platitudinous after-thought than a convincing line of potential.


Alexander's Choice
Alexander's Choice
by Edmund Marlowe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.87

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contemporary tragedy, 29 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Alexander's Choice (Paperback)
A stunning beauty, thirteen year old Alexander arrives at Eton naive and optimistic. He soon develops two special friendships: one with Julian - insecure, withdrawn, and three years his senior; the other with Damian, a young, newly-arrived English teacher. A personal tragedy, combined with his love of Ancient Greek history, propels Alexander to reconsider his relations with Julian and Damian against the framework of the ancient, ethical practice of 'Greek Love' - and the physical consummation that was considered a quintessential aspect of pedagogical mentorship (at least, prior to the subversion of that practice by Plato and other 4th century BCE intellectuals).

Transported to the 1980s, however, age-stratified relationships are not merely frowned-upon, but pose a threat to hierarchy, and more specifically to the carefully-cultivated image of The Child which serves as the rhetoric of every acknowledged politics; the phantasmal beneficiary of every political intervention. The image of 'The Child' is not simply the last taboo, but also the last possibility of taboo, the last universal mechanism for imposing order upon a decaying world. To contemporary culture, then, Alexander is not a living swarm of affections and passions, but rather an inert categorization, a strategic image - one which must be protected at any cost. Consequently, the irony of the novel's title is that the 'Alexander' visible to society is not entitled to 'choose' anything: as a fixed image that operates in the service of culture, he is always-already stripped of voice and life.

In his début novel, author Edmund Marlowe offers a voice to the movements and sensations, affects and percepts, that are concealed by this image. He quite literally creates a life: Alexander. Thoughtfully-crafted, insightful and compelling, ALEXANDER'S CHOICE is thus a courageous work of creation. Perhaps it is telling, however, that the work becomes (and can only become) an exemplification of how those satellite figures who invest heavily in constituting and maintaining the illusory image of The Child - parents, teachers, politicians, social workers, law enforcers - do so irrespective and heedless of that which always escapes their grasp. As Zarathustra predicted, "the earth has become small, and upon it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His race is as inexterminable as the flea...". Thus, the lingering sadness acknowledged in, and encapsulated by, the novel, is perhaps the suspicion that we no longer have ears for ALEXANDER'S CHOICE.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 18, 2013 8:36 AM BST


Ali and Ramazan
Ali and Ramazan
by Perihan Magden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.94

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Monotonous and passionless, 7 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Ali and Ramazan (Paperback)
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Ramazan, discovered as an abandoned baby, has been in institutions since the age of five. He is thirteen when 12-year-old Ali arrives at the orphanage. The two boys develop an immediate emotional and physical bond, which persists throughout the passing years. They remain together after they are turned out onto the streets of Istanbul at the age of 18 when, uneducated and penniless, the dynamics of their relationship begin to chart a new course.

It is difficult to offer an adequate review of ALI AND RAMAZAN, without knowing the extent to which the English translation reflects the original Turkish language. In any event, these comments must be taken to only refer to the English translation.

The novel is written entirely in free indirect discourse, which - in the hands of a skilled writer - can be an effective technique. Here, however, its deployment is also the novel's overwhelming failure. The authorial voice is the only one that can be heard, whether she speaks as Ramazan or as Ali - thus rendering both principal characters empty puppets, capable of issuing only the most trite and repetitive tabloid banalities. In short, the work is stripped of all passion, feeling and affect. Despite the potency of the subject-matter, the offered work is poorly-crafted, lacking originality and devoid of vitality - and consequently cannot be recommended.

For a truly powerful working-though of the idea that 'the true colour of love is blood', readers are advised to consider the Eric Jourdan masterpiece Wicked Angels.


This Beautiful Life
This Beautiful Life
by Helen Schulman
Edition: Paperback

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unfulfilled premise, 2 Feb. 2012
This review is from: This Beautiful Life (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A 13-year-old female, Daisy, sends an explicit video of herself to a 15-year-old male, Jake. Jake forwards the video to a friend, who forwards it to others, and soon the video has become viral. Jake is suspended from school and his parents must deal with the fall-out.

Readers intrigued by this admittedly tantalizing synopsis may find themselves disappointed. The substance of the novel in fact focuses upon the dynamics between Jake's parents: a frustrated New York housewife and an ambitious businessman, and in particular the former's struggle to be something other than 'wife' and 'mother'. The apparent catalyst - Daisy's video - feels something of a sideline amid the laborious self-reflections of Jake's parents. A BEAUTIFUL LIFE certainly does not attempt to confront questions surrounding the cultural problematization of Daisy's performance art (a youthful expression of sensuality, of the type constituting the vast majority of that which the abuse industry and media hysterically decry with their tedious neologism "images of abuse"), nor does it directly address social questions surrounding family life and new technologies.

If A BEAUTIFUL LIFE has some value, it is in the complication of the figural 'child' whose mythical and spectral presence detrimentally haunts public policy. To the extent that this seems barely to dent the tiresome bourgeois values of Jake's parents, however, it is doubtful that this complication will receive the notice it deserves. For a more engaging and direct confrontation with some of the issues promised by this novel's synopsis, readers are advised to consider instead Sarah Schulman's The Child.


Brothers' Lot, The
Brothers' Lot, The
by Kevin Holohan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.41

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Impotent, 17 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Brothers' Lot, The (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A Catholic institution, the Brothers of Godly Coercion School, forms the setting for the social critique offered by THE BROTHERS' LOT. The sadistic Brothers inflict old-school forms of violence upon the pupils, while the building seems increasingly to be caving in around them.

Portraying this implosion as a percept of the building itself is an interesting mechanism, and indeed demonstrates the author's potential. Sadly however, there is an absence of corresponding affective charge, such that, much like the School, the novel ultimately falls flat. The necessary caricatures are unable to bear the load placed upon them such that THE BROTHERS' LOT reads like a fairly-tale, in which the death of the dragon is understood as an all-too-neat and contrived cathartic end. All that has been accomplished, however, is the decapitation of one head of the Hydra.

A society encounters precisely those 'monsters' that it deserves. There is a continuity in Western culture, deriving from a transcendental foundation in the image of Western thought, that has produced, and continues to produce, major fascist atrocities (the Inquisition, the Concentration Camp, Hiroshima, Sex Offender Registries) as well as the 'minor' emanations of these same fascist desires (here, the violence of the Godly Coercion School). In conceiving of a particular institution as a standalone target, Holohan is unable to construct a powerful critique, side-stepping as he does the very culture that the institution in question expresses.

If the novel fails as an indictment, what remains? The Brothers, the pupils, the parents - caricatures, all - cannot themselves be engaging. Overall, then, the result is humdrum. Vaguely entertaining in a laborious way, THE BROTHERS' LOT otherwise has little to recommend it.


Dirty One
Dirty One
by Michael Graves
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New trajectories, 17 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Dirty One (Paperback)
The inherent queerness of The Child is gay culture's secret shame. In its post-1970s scramble for assimilation, queer culture has collaborated in sustaining the last bastion of foetid hierarchical structure: the nuclear family. The child's queerness is locked away in the attic like a mad aunt, only to be suddenly born as the archetypal 'confused' seventeen-year-old high school senior whose mythical presence saturates coming-out novels. With DIRTY ONE, author Michael Graves joins the exalted rank of those (very) few writers who dare to offer an authentic voice to the queer child.

In this collection of standalone short stories, loosely based around the Larry Clark-esque 1980s post-industrial wasteland of suburban Leominster, the populating voices are anything but archetypes. In "Comb City", a Hefty Smurf provides the connection for 7-year-old Philip's need for intimacy; in "From Kissing", 6th grader Butch fears that he has contracted AIDS from his dalliance with Milo; in "Do It", 12-year-old Denise worries that her boyfriend seems to prefer intimacy with his teddy-bears; in "Dirty One", 12-year-old Noah shaves his pubic growth to maintain resemblance to his love, Ben...

DIRTY ONE features nine stories in all, each working to decompose the images of child and family that foster dominant cultural homogeneity. These are not coming-out stories, nor even coming-of-age narratives, since they operate from the understanding that queerness is a fluid state of affairs, rather than a stable identity or state of being. In this exhilarating, iconoclastic collection, Michael Graves's sparse, fearless, and unapologetic writing carves out a new direction for queer culture; unreliant on imagery of the past, the voices that unfold are of spectacular and haunting immanence. Highly recommended.


What I Did
What I Did
by Christopher Wakling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Banal, 6 Aug. 2011
This review is from: What I Did (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A simple premise: a six year old, Billy, out with his father, runs into a busy road. His father pulls down his trousers and beats him. A woman who is passing-by attempts to intervene. Social Services become involved, and Billy's family's life faces upheaval.

This premise certainly had potential, invoking the oppressive and deceitful invocation of "protection" that has, since the 1970s, arisen as the rancid heart of every social policy 'initiative'. The battlefield laid out by WHAT I DID posits this notion of 'protection' as a struggle between the Nuclear Family on one side, the State on the other, with Billy as the putative subject. This is reinforced by the novel's choice of narrator: six-year-old Billy himself. Indeed, the most remarkable feature of the novel's format is Billy's relentless voice ("Have you ever put your finger in a plug? ... Can you ride a bicycle? ... Do you like soft-boiled eggs? I do.") - vaguely charming at first, though very quickly becoming tedious.

Unfortunately for WHAT I DID, this triangular presentation (family - child - State) underscores the failure of the novel to generate any new sensations or sensibilities. Over two centuries ago, the fledgling capitalist State and the nascent nuclear family carved a territory out of the body socius - this territory they named 'The Child'. The two parties divided up ownership of this territory between them, each exploiting it for their own purposes. Hence it becomes clear that 'protection' refers never to the putative subject (here, Billy), but only to securing the respective parties' vested interests.

Accordingly, any presentation of a 'struggle' between family and State (whether that be over sex education in schools, compulsory education, child labour laws or - as in the case of WHAT I DID, corporal punishment) is a false problematic, portraying only trite, and inevitable, territorial skirmishes at the borders of two controlling interests. Billy-as-narrator is consequently a hollow device. Freeing the potentiality of the forces long ago territorialised in 'The Child', and returning them, undividuated, to the full collective body of the socius whence they were mined, would in fact necessitate neutralising both State and Nuclear Family.

Sadly, therefore, with its limited grid of intelligibility, WHAT I DID can only paddle perfunctorily in the shallow waters at the edge of a lake, unaware of the ocean that lies outside its field of vision. As such, this novel unfortunately has nothing interesting or new to offer.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 7, 2014 11:47 AM GMT


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