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M. Loveday (Hertfordshire, UK)

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The Dog of the Marriage: The Collected Short Stories
The Dog of the Marriage: The Collected Short Stories
by Amy Hempel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars reasons to live, 11 April 2010
It's a long time since I read a book of prose which contained as many wise and funny moments as Amy Hempel's collected short stories. It's written in sharp sentences which subvert cliches, and which move between the desperate and the miraculous. The opening lines of her first story provide a good example of her style: "My heart - I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God." (immediate, earnest, psychological drama, with a twist of language that is still completely right). The moments in her stories balance the commonplace and everyday with the intimate and private. Her narrators can describe self-destructive urges, and yet offer a celebration of daily existence. As if they have been in a car crash and survived (which in fact is a literal part of one or two stories), and are telling their story while wondering about the next drive - a compelling mix of despaire and determination. Her narrators can be deliberately unreliable, but we stay on their side - if they're lying about the facts, we know they're lying, and really it's a lie that contains or reveals or acknowledges emotional truth. There's playfulness, immediacy, and there are pop-culture references that make the stories pleasurable and easy to read. And yet there's complexity - whether from characters digressing into jokes or anecdotes which still connect at a tangent with the main narrative; or from a narrator jumping between descriptions, and the reader joining the psychological dots. The past, memory, the imagination and interpretation are important to Amy Hempel: "I don't know why looking back should show us more than looking at", and also the question of wisdom gained through difficult experiences: "how [do] we know that what happened to us isn't good?". Her stories are not really about places, or physical landscapes, though they do feature - she uses the details for psychological purpose instead, not out of pure interest in the locations themselves: "the pull of the old home, pulling apart the new". For that reason, for me, these are stories about American suburbia which describe general human experience. Other amazon reviewers have pointed out that animals feature strongly in some Hempel stories. They often offer consolatoin for poor human relationships. Personally I didn't find it in any way overdone at all, I think it's a red herring, and more importantly, I think her occasional interest in animals is largely because she is asking the reader: what is it that (good) human friendships bring that animals don't?. The stories range from one a half lines to seventy pages in length. In this book Hempel displays a distinct style and a distinct set of themes which she mines with humour and depth. If the reading experience is a little relentless at times, I think it's because the language is intense, incredibly sharp and concise, and Hempel never allows you to relax into lazy reading. And the beauty of a collection of short stories is that you can dip in and out with freedom. Here's an opening line from one of the stories that could act as a summary, for her snappy humour, her streetwise truthfulness, how she twists cliches, and intrigues you for the next development: " 'Something something something never / Love for an hour is love forever'. If that's true, I thought, then we're in business".

La Mezzanine de l'Alcazar Vol. 2 (2CD)
La Mezzanine de l'Alcazar Vol. 2 (2CD)
Price: £10.10

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars almost as good as volume 1, 9 Sept. 2008
I am a fan of the mezzanine de l'alcazar series - I own the first four albums. The first album's first disc in particular was sensational in a creeps-up-on-you-from-the-dinner-party-background kind of way. While volume 2 doesn't quite match volume 1 (certainly not volume 1's first disc), I disagree with the previous reviewer's "one star" verdict of this album, I feel it's too harsh a verdict. Volume 2 is more varied in mood and style perhaps, which means it's less likely to keep everyone happy all of the time. But I would say there at least fifteen fantastic tracks across the two discs. And those songs are exactly the kind of obscure, unexpected downtempo / electronica gems that this series is so good at unearthing. As with volume 1, disc two is filled with more of the more obviously dance tracks, and although it doesn't quite match disc one for consistency, the tracks by phonique, clement, metro area 4, and herbert in particular are superb dirty, funky house cuts to get your feet moving and entertain your ears too. In summary, if you liked volume 1, don't be put off, this album is still worth a try, especialy the first disc.

Antony and The Johnsons
Antony and The Johnsons
Price: £14.12

62 of 74 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointed, 5 Oct. 2005
This review is from: Antony and The Johnsons (Audio CD)
I bought this album after being amazed and overwhelmed by the subtle flair and haunting beauty of "I Am a Bird Now". Word of advice if you are thinking of buying this album for similiar reasons - don't expect the same as that later album. This one is much more melodramatic, almost operatic. For me, this a bad thing. It's a little over-the-top, and I found the album annoyed me as often as it impressed me. His voice is still excellent, and the song-writing is still good, I think a lot of my disappointment comes with the arrangements. Anyway, I would strongly advise listening before buying, and not rushing to get the album just because you liked "I am a bird now". To prevent disappointment!

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