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Catherine Murphy "drcath" (Norway)

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The Wild Places
The Wild Places
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Hardcover

218 of 239 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as Wild as Wildwood, 23 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Wild Places (Hardcover)
Is it a coincidence that Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane were both writing a book with "wild" in the title at roughly the same time? Deakin, a friend of Macfarlane's, died shortly after completing "Wildwood", Macfarlane was completing his manuscript when Deakin died.

"Wild" is big book business at the moment and why not? 21st century European life seems to guarantee a divorce between self and environment and people turn to books, if not their walking boots, to fill the gap. Macfarlane visits the wild places of the British Isles and tries to capture their essence in prose for those of us who don't want to stir from our sofas (that includes me by the way). It is an admirable endeavour and an enjoyable read, but I reserve the fourth star for the following reasons:

It is repetitive - there are 3 things that Macfarlane does on every trip: bathe somewhere cold, pick up a stone and sleep in the open. There are only so many ways to describe this routine, without reader fatigue setting in.

There is a distance between the writer and the rest of us he does not care to bridge. Who is he? Why is he qualified to write about the wild? What relevance does it have to the rest of his life? Without answers to these questions, I can't connect with the writing and it becomes chilly and perhaps a touch preachy.

The anecdotes that provide the contrast with the description of place tend to be perfunctory and, again, repetitive. The Highland Clearances and the Potato Famine both figure. There seem to be several poets who keep mental illness at bay/achieve inspiration by walking in the countryside. There are probably general lessons about the historical reasons for some areas being people-free and our relationship with nature, but Macfarlane is coy about drawing them out.

In summary: worth reading, but Deakin is better.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 7, 2015 12:34 PM BST

Be Near Me
Be Near Me
by Andrew O'Hagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disgraced Again, 24 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Be Near Me (Paperback)
I liked J.M. Coetzee's "Disgrace" and "Be Near Me" follows a similar theme: a middle aged man commits a catastrophic error of judgement which causes him to reflect upon his life. In O'Hagan's book the man in question is Father David Anderton, a Catholic priest recently arrived in the small Ayrshire village of Dalgarnock. Father David is not a popular man. Even his staunchest defender, his housekeeper Mrs Poole says of him, "Father David is not a bad man. I don't think he knows very much about people." She is right. Father David knows about literature, Chopin and wine, but people are not his speciality. Religion is also almost an irrelevance to this man and, like the protagonists of Banville's "The Sea" and Murdoch's "The Sea, the Sea" (I'm not trying to be funny here), he is in a state of profound detachment from the world. What begins the process of his re-engagement, is his meeting a teenager, Mark McNulty, what finishes it, is a moment of redemption, when Anderton finally admits the reality of what he has done and spares Mark a brutal cross examination.

"Be Near Me" is a beautifully written description of a man so profoundly lonely that when he is trapped in his house with a mob bent on revenge crashing up the stairs, he says, "No saving grace. The only person in these moments was my oldest acquaintance - myself - waiting as usual for a creak on the stairs, the feel of the cotton against my ear drawing me back to the sound of my own blood turning." This is a man for whom the only reality is himself and a past where loss is the key note.

And this is the novel's greatest weakness. However well written the book, the sense of disengagement is pervasive and it deflected me from caring very much about David Anderton and his predicament. I cared, strangely perhaps, more for Mark's friend Lisa, whose life is so terminally restricted that going to court is as exciting as being on the telly and even more for Mark himself, both innocent and knowing, who meets Father David by chance once the trauma is past and asks the priest if he knows any soldiers, because he is going to join the Army and learn a trade.

The same is true of what the book centrally attempts to convey: it can be read as an indictment of mob politics and small town bigotry; it can be read as a critique of the emptiness of young peoples' lives (although what else can young people be but empty when they haven't actually done much living yet?); it can be read as a poetic description of a wasted life, but the strength of O'Hagan's prose is also it's weakness. The very subtlety that is so appealing when conveying detail, acts to blunt the effect of the larger messages, so I was never very sure what conclusions I should or could draw. You could say the same of "Disgrace" but its ending packs a punch while "Be Near Me" misses the mark, not by miles, but by enough for it to drop from 4 to 3 stars for me. In the end, perhaps O'Hagan fails to bring David Anderton near enough.

The Testament of Gideon Mack
The Testament of Gideon Mack
by James Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I fought the devil and the devil won, 18 Sept. 2007
This is the third James Robertson book I have read. I will definitely read the fourth, if it arrives and probably continue to read this author if he maintains the same standard.
In a nutshell, Gideon Mack is a man who lives the greatest lie of all - he is a priest who does not believe in God. Like most of the rest of us, he lives other lies; he marries a woman he does not love, he ministers to people he secretly despises, he betrays the trust of his best friend.
Then the truth arrives. Gideon discovers that the devil is real. We are left to guess if that means God is too. When he goes back to tell everyone else the truth, they don't want to believe him. They would rather carry on believing their own half-truths instead.
Robertson manages the difficult trick of writing almost all the book from a single point of view, but allowing us to posit different interpretations of what is actually going on. Sometimes we believe Gideon is mentally ill, sometimes that he is making the whole thing up, sometimes that the story is the literal truth. He uses iconic forms like the mysterious stone that Gideon sees, as metaphors to create an atmosphere of unreality. The scenes with the devil itself are especially well done - no horns or tail, no torturing of small animals, just a sense of a deadly coupling of power and anomie, exactly the fatal union that leads to acts of great evil.
Robertson pulls off a similar trick in "The Fanatic", blending present and the historical to create an effectively creepy ghost story and his second book, "Joseph Knight" is equally fine, if more firmly grounded in reality. His style is accessible and peppered with lovely, accurate observations. The research informs the prose without overwhelming it - none of the showy "intellectual" references I hate so much.
I don't know if "Gideon Mack" will set off any debate, but it deserves to: read it and think.

The Time Traveler's Wife (Vintage Magic)
The Time Traveler's Wife (Vintage Magic)
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Hardcover

82 of 102 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 30 Something meets The Time Machine, 18 Sept. 2007
It's a great idea - a rare genetic disorder means a man will unexpectedly revisit his past and occasionally his future. However it's a great idea around which is piled a large heap of nonsense. Henry, the time traveller, is repeatedly drawn back in time to visit his future wife, Clare, first meeting her when she is 6, creating scenes which smack of paedophile grooming. Equally disturbing and absurd are the characters themselves - Henry is a librarian, but not any librarian, he is also into punk rock, looks like Egon Schieler and is handy with his fists. He has to be, because he arrives in the past naked and is often forced to wear odd looking, stolen clothes, which make other men want to beat him up. Clare is a rich girl with Daddy issues. We are supposed to feel sorry for her because she and Henry cannot afford a large enough studio for the grandiose paper sculptures she creates. Fortunately, Henry is able to lay aside his scruples and obtain a winning lottery ticket so they can buy the kind of place her art deserves. Henry and Clare's love is illustrated by the fact that they have a lot of sex, but this is highbrow sex - their favourite poet is Rilke.
There are several scenes which compete for excruciating awfulness, but the one where Henry lectures a teenager on which punk records to buy deserves special mention. In real life, the boy would tell the old bloke to get stuffed, in this book, he earnestly writes the list down.
Do not be fooled - this book is not about time travel - the neat circularity created by Henry teaching his younger self how to pick pocket is proof of that. This book is about lurve with enough half baked philosophy and literary references thrown in to make you feel like you're an intellectual for reading it.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2012 5:03 PM BST

Flicka [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Flicka [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Price: £4.28

5.0 out of 5 stars A "must buy" film, 30 Jun. 2007
Flicka is a great family film. It's about wild mustangs and a girl who tries to tame one. It really is a must buy film, I got alot of pleasure out of watching it.

Horse Racing Manager (PC CD)
Horse Racing Manager (PC CD)

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's a complicated but fun game, 30 Jun. 2007
Horse racing manager is for someone who is interested in horse racing a either owning their own stables, being a jockey or betting. It is complicated, but will keep you busy and interested. I found that after a few tries it got better and better. The graphics arn't perfect, but i thought they were to my satisfaction. This game really shows what the world of horse racing is like.

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