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Page: 1
by Emma Donoghue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Exploitative but not entirely unentertaining, 10 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Room (Paperback)
Others have praised the fact that this book was based on an original premise - but it self-confessedly wasn't, was it? It was inspired by the Fritzel case, and I came to it wanting to like it, but finding it exploitative, poorly characterised nonsense; I am now convinced that its success is as a result of it tapping into the public consciousness of the case via the newspapers, and, essentially, being published at the right time.
The plot, as far as it goes, is straightforward and captivating enough (rather like the story it is based on, funnily enough..) - no problems there. But I was amazed when I discovered that the author had children of her own - children simply don't speak like this - was she ever really listening when her children started to formulate sentences, did she pay attention to the types and frequency of errors that children actually make as they start to tackle the langauge?

At some points the language is laughably (mock)childish, at other points far too advanced for the child who is the supposed narrator of this book. You know you're in trouble when you physically wince as you read a book on the tube - and when you wince not from the horror of it, nor because it stirs in you feelings that you had tried to keep buried, convinced yourself you didn't really feel, but when you wince from the sheer crassness of the language, the grating mis-fired crunch of a sentence that would never be spoken (all the more jarring for being spoken in the context of a horrific context, one where you yearn to feel empathy but are cruelly prevented from feeling it).
Very glad that the Orange Prize judges didn't take the obvious route, and were sensible enough to award the price elsewhere.

Crimea (Allen Lane History)
Crimea (Allen Lane History)
by Orlando Figes
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crimea, 18 Oct. 2010
Assured, vivid and well-written. A complex subject made comprehensible and brought to life by the lucidity of the writing and breadth of source material and perspective. And on top of that, it's a rollicking good read.

A Journey
A Journey
by Tony Blair
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.00

9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Journey: Tony Blair, 23 Sept. 2010
This review is from: A Journey (Hardcover)
How to be objective...
Most people already know whether they love him or hate him. But, love him or hate him, it's a fascinating read (and I say that as someone who is probably further into the hate than the love camp). The important thing, I found, when reading this book is to try and divorce preconceptions about the man and to focus instead on the facts and encounters as they are presented, and the emotional angle which inevitably plays some part in the difficult political issues that had to be tackled. On balance, and I approached the book with a great deal of cycnicism, the impression is one of frankness; some have said that the frankness is manufactuerd, disingenuous, but I'm less sure. And I came to the conclusion that, even if those critics are right, I am not sure that it really matters. What makes the book so interesting is that in many ways it defies categorisation - is it political history? or a straight autobiography? (at times it almost reads like a novel in the first person, until you remember that this is a very real man, talking about all too real decisions taken and obstacles faced). It is an insight, certainly, into the mindset of one of the key figures of the last 10 years, and reminds you as you read it that ultimately decisions are taken by real people, on the basis of their own belief systems. For this reason alone, and because love him or loathe him this man was in charge of our country for 10 critical years, I think people should read this book.
Whether you obsess over the illegality of war with Iraq or not, the fact is that decisions have to be taken and the insight into the context in which they were taken and the background to that can only help you to stop seeing one event, "the war", in isolation. It was true, at least for me, that the Iraq parts did smack slightly of an attempt at self-justification, but I suppose that that is understandable in the context of the criticism that he faced on account of the choices he made on his country's behalf; we were hardly going to get an autobiography that didn't dwell on this in huge detail. My view is that reading the book is unlikely to change people's minds about the wisdom or il/legality of the war in Iraq - we all know what we think already, and the most lucid account of the reasoning in the world is not going to change that (and I agree with previous reviewers who say that they felt which section of the book 'went on a bit'). I am not sure, anyway, that there is anything in the book on the Iraq question that most of us who follow rolling news coverage and read the newspapers do not already know. But what the book will do is to provide a greater insight into the mindset of the man who made those decisions - and may well persuade people that, whether the decisions taken were right of wrong, they were nonetheless taken in good faith.
Ultimately there is much more to this book than the sections on Iraq, even though many might expect to be more interested in those than the other parts; I think, though, that they would be missing out if they limited themselves to that part of the book alone (in fact, it's probably the least interesting part of the book - possibly because Blair felt so strongly that he needed to make his motivation and justification so very clear to his readers). But there is much more, and much more enjoyable and interesting material presented here.
Early chapters of the book, when Michael Foot was leader and Blair a young MP under him are fascinating - and critical. It is here that the book sets out, for the first time in context (for me at least), the beginnings of the evolution of 'new labour'. It's clear that Blair is closing rooted in the labour and socialist ancestry, but his presentation of the doomed way the Labour party was then headed is persuasive - he manages to capture the momentum of an out of control socialist train, heading wildly and quickly away from rather than to the public whose imaginations it thought it was trying to capture and whose interests it thought it was trying to protect - but whose affections and trust it was actually losing. The parallels drawn between this left of left Labour party and the defection to the Tory party might go some way to explaining why it is that he felt so strongly that something needed to be done, but also to explaining why it is that by the time Labour lost power in 2010 the observation that politicians are 'all the same' had become almost a mantra - and, indeed, the differences between the parties had become shaded. This part of the book, then, does two things - it makes you see that (Blair thought) Michael Foot's labour party was almost on a suicide mission, carrying itself along with the force of conviction of its own rightness, and that something had to be done to rescue it - whilst simultaneously making you worry that Tony Blairs solution - new labour - injected a certain blandness that while it made the Labour party electable again, started the invitable blurring around the edges as between one party and another.
That said, the individual characters which formed the central core of Blair's circle in Westminster are far from bland, and there are laugh out loud moments recalled with John Precott and Alistair Campbell (and Bush, of course). What was also very interesting to me was that if you only read the parts of the book that were serialised or summarised (or quoted out of context in the newspapers) you would have a very skewed idea of what the tone of this book is like, particularly in the way it describes the interaction with other people and personalities in Government. Brown, for example, is not maligned to to anything like the extent that has been presented. Again, this is where the book slips between truthful account telling and self-justification - but the impression of the relationship is more one of equals than I was expecting. It is clear that Blair and Brown were rivals, but we all know that. But there is also a certain level of mutual respect (albeit grudging) And what we see here gives an added dimension to that rivalry - and it would take a much more skilled writer than Blair is to be able to bare a troubled relationship in such minute detail without accidentally giving us more insight into his own part in the duo than perhaps he intended.

The style can grate at times - as other reviewers have pointed out, it is colloquial, chatty, almost blokey. But the insight is into the mind of a very real man, who seems (to me, anyway) to be trying pretty much honestly, albeit with sometimes obvious attempts at self-justification, to present the events of 1997-2007 as they happened. I would strongly recommend this book - and particularly, perhaps, for people who already know that they don't rate Blair, who are entrenched in their views, who feel that no book could change those views; because while I doubt it would actually change anyone's views, it puts them into a far clearer context. And it's always better to be able to argue from an informed standpoint.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2010 7:27 PM BST

by Tim Parks
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truest book, 21 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Goodness (Paperback)
Some books are a good read and keep you turning the pages. Some books you consciously feel are trying to improve you, or are making you a 'better/cleverer person'. Others, like this one, strip the reality of human thoughts and motivations bare, and in doing so send a chill through you but waken you up to what actually matters - people.

At first George comes across as unlikeable, cold. But as the layers of his thoughts are uncovered, it becomes apparent that in a way he is Everyman - which one of us, if other people could see our thoughts, wouldn't appal others? Tim Parks writes from inside the heads of his protagonist with such truth, such a disdain for artifice and gloss, that we know him utterly, and that is why the book is so utterly compelling. Some passages of this writing are heart-breaking in their honesty - the awful thoughts that go through our minds in moments of crisis but that never articulate are articulated here. This is a brave and a beautiful book which, by making you face the truth about human flaws, and come to accept them, is (ultimately) reassuring.

Pass The Jam, Jim (Red Fox Picture Books)
Pass The Jam, Jim (Red Fox Picture Books)
by Kaye Umansky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Years since I first read it ... and I still know it by heart!, 21 Sept. 2010
The pictures are vibrant and capture the imagination, and the flow of the dialogue and the different tones of voice mean that this book is such an interesting one to read aloud - and funny, too. It's absolutely true to say that years after my youngest was too old for this both she, and I, still remember big chunks of the text - and quote it back to each other at the breakfast table on a not infrequent basis.

I would have given it 5 stars. But that would be unfair to You Can Swim, Jim - which is surely the masterpiece. "Sore eyes, Doreen? That's the chlorine. Goggles are the thing for you" etc. etc. Classic. And now that my children don't want to read it anymore, I buy it for everyone else's.

The Swish of the Curtain
The Swish of the Curtain
by Pamela Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't want your daughter on the stage? (then don't buy this book..), 21 Sept. 2010
I wonder whether any child who read this at the right age (10 and upwards, I would think) would not want to work in the theatre. This book really captures the magic of being a child and the imaginative other worlds they create and live in. My daughter is now completely convinced that she wants to 'become Lynette' when she grows up. And the house is now full of half-written play scripts and costumes etc. The imagination of Enid Blyton but with three dimensional characters and no cliches - perfect (unless you'd rather your children didn't opt for a career on the stage!)

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