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Valentine Gersbach

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Pure
Pure
by Andrew Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Grave matters., 8 May 2012
This review is from: Pure (Paperback)
I'm very much between two stools in my opinion of this novel.I found the opening chapters engrossing and vivid,especially the semi surreal evocation of Versailles and the precise quality of language used in the descriptions of Paris,the lodgings of the chief protagonist and his macabre workplace.There also seemed to be a subtle,symbolic drive to the writing expressed in the putrefaction and stench which pervades the atmosphere and the early stirrings of revolt.

For me,at least,direction was lost about two thirds of the way through when the author's attention seemed to drift towards the development of Jean-Baptiste's personal life, the introduction of violent melodramatic episodes and descriptions of happy domesticity,none of which seemed particularly to lead anywhere.There was a brief revival of the memorable atmosphere evoked at the beginning in the final chapter but,by then,I'd found myself finishing the novel more as a chore than a pleasure.

I was very impressed by the early chapters and by the success in creating historical setting in intelligent and inventive prose but I must say the later sections of "Pure" left me disappointed.


The Way [DVD] (2010)
The Way [DVD] (2010)
Dvd ~ Martin Sheen
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Worthy attempt., 23 April 2012
This review is from: The Way [DVD] (2010) (DVD)
I found the opening sections of the actual walk in this film to be the most attractive because of the detail-the kit,going the wrong way in the morning, the waymarkers and sore feet which are so much part of walking to Compostela.

As the film progressed,I was in turn pleased and irritated by its characters and its storyline.The Dutch guy struck me as being entirely believable and well conceived while I thought James Nesbitt was just a little too caricatured although I liked his stick twirling.Martin Sheen's early misanthropic turn convinced and I thought D.K.Unger managed well with a rather bland role.The tension that comes with group walking is here,along with the camaraderie but the some of the moments of confession and at least one over-heartwarming incident involving a stolen bag detracted from the overall authenticity for me.

I'm not a Christian and for me walking to Santiago has,so far, been more about a physical challenge combined with a way of seeing beautiful landscape and fabulous architecture at a slow pace.The sense of purpose and of achievement is addictive and the simplicity of just getting up in the morning and walking to the next bed is very calming and productive of contemplation.I thought the film touched on these aspects fairly often and generally maintained a concentration on the simple act of walking which was laudable in a "Hollywood" production.I had the feeling throughout that this film may not have been great cinema but that it was made with decent intentions.


Between the Assassinations
Between the Assassinations
by Aravind Adiga
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief lives., 18 April 2012
I share the disappointment of those readers who expected this to be a novel but I'm glad that my ignorance led me to buy what is a deeply thought-provoking and skillfully written collection of short stories assembled within a loose geographical and chronological frame.

The stories present the experiences of a number of characters of varying social class and religion living in the same town at the same time.There are odd moments of linkage but by and large,there is no direct intersection between the stories.Each one gives a different perspective on life lived in India at a particular time.Many of the central characters are desperately poor,some are middle class and there is a least one spoiled rich kid amongst them.

What the frame allows Adiga to do is to present a society existing in various ways:there's no easy poor/rich,good/bad paradigm here although all the characters exist within a system which values individuals in terms which have little to do with character,talent or decency.Because of this,some characters are shoved into misery or madness but some also make choices which bring about their downfall or a small measure of triumph.However,none of this is clear cut:the endings of the stories are often inconclusive and enigmatic implying that a lack of "ending",happy or otherwise is part of real life.

I didn't think that any of the stories in themselves were especially brilliant but all of them were well crafted vignettes which effectively presented life in a world which is foreign to me.By the end, I found myself becoming familiar with Adiga's version of this world in much the same way that I was with Joyce's depiction of his city in "Dubliners", although I make no comparison between the two in terms of quality of writing.

In the end,I enjoyed the collection a lot and turned eagerly from one story to the next but life is so much easier, for this reader at least,when he is not asked to acquaint himself with a new set of characters and circumstances after every twenty or thirty pages of a book.Give me a novel every time.


Blood Count
Blood Count
by Robert Goddard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.58

3.0 out of 5 stars Stop picking it,Robert., 21 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Blood Count (Paperback)
I found this to be pretty well your average Goddard-decent bloke gets caught up with a bunch of baddies,spends a fortune on plane and train tickets escaping from or chasing them across the globe and getting into one improbable scrape after another in the process.There's usually a bit of violence in the books but nothing nasty and virtue generally triumphs.

Had RG found the moral fibre to reject the temptation to throw in the last two or three plot twists and shorten the whole thing by a hundred pages while developing one or two of the earlier situations in a little more depth,I would gladly have awarded him another star,but he just couldn't,could he.Some still,small voice egged him on to add another plane trip,another mysterious contact,another deadly encounter and he gave in like the plotaholic that he is.

Still,I waltzed through the whole farrago in quick time and enjoyed the first half.At least the author's heart seems to be in the right place and he lacks the creepily sadistic under and overtones of some of the darker thriller writers around.And to those reviewers who found this to be the bottom of the barrel,I must say he has produced a lot worse.


The Troubled Man: A Kurt Wallander Mystery
The Troubled Man: A Kurt Wallander Mystery
by Henning Mankell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grown up gloom., 19 Mar. 2012
I've never been that enthralled by the plots in Wallander stories,either on TV or in book form.They always seem to be a bit earnest and predictable. I didn't find this one much different and it took a long time to get where it eventually went.

However, Wallander is not just a detective, as many of his fans would agree. He's also a man,approaching old age and struggling with the worries and regrets that come with it. I think Mankell balanced this novel firmly toward the non cop aspects of his hero and in doing so gave us more of an investigation of ageing than of a crime.The meandering nature of the plot allowed him scope to examine Wallander's fears and troubles at some length and with some success.The crushing final moments of the novel gained emotional force as a result.

Perhaps being the same age as Wallander is in the book made me receptive to Mankell's theme and therefore too willing to forgive the shortcomings of the detective element but,for whatever reason, I found this an interesting and humane piece of work.


The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick deWitt
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Predictable violence., 12 Mar. 2012
This review is from: The Sisters Brothers (Paperback)
I will admit from the start that I may have missed some symbolic element that transforms this novel from being a fairly run of the mill catalogue of savagery couched in cod 19th century cowboy speak into a work of rare quality but I doubt it.

The plot dragged its way through various Coen Brothers' style incidents of gratuitous violence to a schmaltzy denouement narrated from the point of view of the marginally less psychotic of the eponymous brothers. There are moments of rough humour and western colour,oddball characters who drift in and out of the story with little outward justification and a parade of female characters employed to flesh out the antagonism between the main characters.

There seems to be some attempt to differentiate between the some times righteous anger of the less violent brother from that of the depraved Charlie and some suggestion that both are in some way redeemable. Unless this or "the love of money being the route of all evil" motif passes for the intellectual underpinning of the novel,then I'm at a loss to discern what does.

The whole gold panning section I found tedious,the fate of the shadowy Mr Big predictable and the gold rush atmosphere cliched and sketchily realised.I've read a lot better western adventure recently in the form of "True Grit" and I've read a lot worse but to suggest that this novel had claims to being outstanding enough to be in the running for a Booker genuinely surprises me.


Rules of Civility
Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lots of talent searching for a plot., 3 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Rules of Civility (Paperback)
I found this an exasperating read.I thought the prose style generally witty and cleverly of the time of its setting.It was a little like reading a sassy version of a thirties screwball romantic comedy at times with the odd excursion into Gatsby territory.Seemingly authentic slang bobs up pleasingly in the narrative alongside some striking and perceptive observation of New York City and its inhabitants.

The trouble for me was that after the wisecracks and the off-beat,oddball but lovable behaviour of the main protagonists,there was not much else to get my teeth into.Leading men seemed to come and go with such dizzying regularity that I found it difficult to keep up.By the end,although I had most of the characters pegged down,I found that I couldn't care less what happened to them or even to the irritatingly named narrator.

I began to find some of the scenes developed in the later stages of the novel rather twee,the worst being the embarrassingly gooey paper airplane escapade that almost caused me to stop reading.I also started to tire under the burden of what might be termed Significant Moments in the novel where characters said or did something Heartrendingly Romantic,Totally Selfless or Shockingly Unorthodox, usually when they quit the stage in order to go off into oblivion.

In the end,I finished the book but it was a damn close run thing.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 1, 2012 7:50 AM BST


Last Man in Tower
Last Man in Tower
by Aravind Adiga
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How evil happens., 23 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Last Man in Tower (Paperback)
I read "White Tiger" a while ago and remember being impressed even though I can't recall anything about it now.I doubt that I'll forget this engrossing novel very quickly.

The story is a simple one about how decent people can,given the right circumstances,do terrible things.Adiga's talent is to trace the descent into evil with meticulous care and observation.No one in this novel is without flaw,just as no one is totally without redemptive features.Even the central heroic character is marked with pomposity,vanity and self deception.All the characters are given the time and space to develop themselves,all are realised as personalities,not cyphers, because of the length of the novel and its concentration on one central theme.

Perhaps the true villain of the piece is the city of Mumbai,shown here as a mixture of aching poverty,slick wealth,glamour,greed,envy,stunning beauty and teeming humanity.Where you live here is what you are to the world.What you have is what matters about you.Destitution means living on the pavement and scrounging a living from the filth around you.Wealth means existing in glamorous otherworld made all the more sumptuous by its existing within sight of human misery.Maybe this explains the devastating impact that the prospect of wealth has on the characters in the novel or maybe we're all capable of inhumanity, given the right circumstances.Whichever way you look at it,this is a novel that transcends its time and setting even though Mumbai is vibrantly and fascinatingly a major player in it.

If I read another novel of this quality this year,I shall count myself lucky.


Told By An Idiot
Told By An Idiot
by Rose Macaulay
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What's it all about?, 16 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Told By An Idiot (Paperback)
I have some sympathy with the previous reviewer of this odd book.It is one of the strangest novels that I've read,being by turns a kind of desultory family saga,a social and political history and a work of philosophy.MacAulay's breezy,dismissive tone drives the whole thing along at speed,picking up and dropping characters,storylines and historical events with gay abandon. In the process,some of the protagonists are neglected for periods of time and therefore become marginal in the reader's mind while others solidify into major players.MacAulay appears oblivious to this,seeming to see most of her creations as equally important to her scheme.For me,Rome,Stanley,Imogen and Mr Garden remain as clear personalities while Vicky,Irving,Una and so on never really take on definable characteristics.

Having said this,I found the book to be consistently interesting for its presentation of the cultural and political life of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century through the life of an admittedly conveniently diverse family.Fashion in dress,speech,politics and sexual relations are set in a human context and aspects of life at the level of the individual or family are revealed which might never appear in a conventional history.The Edwardian passion for riddles is a frivolous example and the changing attitude to women's suffrage one of far more moment but there are many of them.To read that the Jameson of the eponymous raid was known to Victorian society as "Dr Jim" somehow gave the raid far more contextual meaning than it had had before.Although the characters aren't brilliantly drawn,they are characters existing in a historical environment and reacting believably to it.

MacAulay may well be too idiosyncratic a guide to the period covered by the novel to serve as an impartial historian but she has the ability to give a flavour of how real people might have felt at Victoria's Jubilee,or the departure of troops for the Boer War or the launching of a dreadnought.She also has an abiding notion that,despite all the toing and froing,the politics,the frocks,the religious schisms and wars,people essentially don't change and none of what they get up to matters very much.Whether she's right or wrong about that,she certainly expresses her opinions with wit and gusto.Hers is a voice from the past that I'm glad I came across.I think I'll give "The Towers of Trebizond" a go next.


Hotel World
Hotel World
by Ali Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soft hearted modernism., 4 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Hotel World (Paperback)
I've had this book for ages but only gave it a real go when I ran out of Agatha Christie in the middle of the night recently.I'm usually put off by anything which hints at the supernatural but I persevered with this and found it to be an interesting read.

Smith is a clever writer with an idiosyncratic eye and a good ear for dialogue.She produces moments of experimentation and stream of consciousness which tend to shake the reader into concentrating on meaning quite sharply from time to time but she's also capable of humorous moments like the walk around town with Penny and blatantly sentimental sections such as the last chapter but one.While I think this larding of humanity makes the book more acceptable than it might otherwise have been,some may see it as revealing the soft underbelly of its challenging form.

I enjoyed this novel for its invention,its curiously skewed viewpoint and its humanity.It's not cosy reading but it's not bland stylism either.


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