Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Fitbit
Profile for lexo1941 > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by lexo1941
Top Reviewer Ranking: 3,093
Helpful Votes: 4174

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
lexo1941 (Edinburgh, Scotland)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
Real Time
Real Time
Offered by HLRecordsEU
Price: £9.52

3.0 out of 5 stars Good stuff-but..., 27 July 2011
This review is from: Real Time (Audio CD)
Richard Lloyd may or may not be resigned, at this point in his career, to being known to most music fans as The Other Guitarist from Television, but Television fans know that there's a solo career there that provides an interesting contrast to Tom Verlaine's more critically praised work. Lloyd's songs are pleasing and, at best, genuinely expressive and heartfelt, and his playing is always skilful and exciting. His usual songwriting persona is that of a sincere, sensitive, stand-up guy who's got a rather loud guitar, and who would quite like his baby to understand some of the pressure he's been under (but he doesn't want to beat her over the head with it).

If there's a downside to this record, as to most of Lloyd's solo stuff, it's that it's almost impossible not to compare him to Verlaine, and to find him a bit wanting. Lloyd even sings a little like his sometime bandmate, in a rather strangled nasal voice. If anything, he's actually a better singer. Verlaine's pitching can sometimes be alarmingly uncertain, but Lloyd, whose role in Television was to be the fiery professional foil to Verlaine's nerve-wracking musical explorer, always hits the notes. If you're in the mood, Lloyd is great. There's a relaxed, kick-back-and-have-a-beer feel to this album, even on the angrier cuts like 'Soldier Blue'. 'Field of Fire' is the standout track because it's where Lloyd really comes into his own; besides being an epic stretch of Lloyd's characteristically singing guitar, it's also one of the most openhearted and appealing songs that anyone associated with Television has ever written. The other songs are enjoyable enough, but apart from the almost primal 'Pleading' they tend to be a bit forgettable. And in the end, that's the problem with Richard Lloyd's stuff. Verlaine's worst solo work couldn't have been written by anyone else (except his hordes of imitators), but Lloyd's worst solo stuff could have been written by nearly anyone.

One-Way Street and Other Writings (Penguin Modern Classics)
One-Way Street and Other Writings (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Walter Benjamin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bad selection of a great writer, 14 July 2011
This Penguin selection of Walter Benjamin's work is a rip-off. It has the same title as an earlier Verso selection, but the Verso selection was far bigger and had an illuminating and generous essay by Susan Sontag. The Penguin selection has fewer essays and a somewhat less helpful introduction by Amit Chaudhuri, which is quite interesting about Amit Chaudhuri but not so useful about Benjamin. If you really want to experience Benjamin's work and have time and money, you need the four-volume Belknap/Harvard Selected Writings (or else learn German and get his complete works from Amazon.de for slightly under £150.)

The Verso selection is far better value for money, if you can find it. The Penguin selection is definitely bad value. The only selection of Benjamin's work that everyone needs is Illuminations, although One-Way Street itself is a wonderful work - but you're better off getting the Verso version.

Rhapsody in Blue
Rhapsody in Blue
Price: £13.32

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz is not dead, it just smells...pretty darn good, 8 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Rhapsody in Blue (Audio CD)
...To paraphrase the great Frank Zappa. Actually, one of the things the SNJO's rendition of Rhapsody in Blue is, is funny, but we'll get to that later.

For those who don't know anything about this recording or those taking part in it, a little context may help. Scottish sax player Tommy Smith is, it's generally agreed by those who know about these things, one of the finest musicians of his generation. Not only is he a demon sax player and an ambitious and gifted composer, he's also extremely generous in terms of what he's given back to the music. His most conspicuous achievement outside of his own music is the creation of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, arguably the best big band in Europe; since Smith and his collaborators put the thing together, it's been a proving ground and a showcase for some of the finest Scottish jazz musicians. Anyone who deals with Scottish jazz on a regular basis notices the same names coming up over and over again, because the best of the younger generation have all passed through the SNJO at some point or another. (Of the older generation of Scottish jazz musicians, a rather depressing proportion of them are determined to play nothing but the most pedestrian kind of trad; musicians of 40 and under tend to be significantly more eclectic, daring and creative.)

Anyway, it seems that at some point someone suggested to Smith that he might have a go at doing Rhapsody in Blue. Over the next few years, he was too busy to arrange anything but he noticed that one of his musical partners, the pianist Brian Kellock, tended to quote the piece in his own solos with what seemed like increasing frequency. Finally, during a long stopover at Bristol Airport (not, as anyone who's ever spent much time there will testify, the most inspiring place in the world), the two sat down with Gershwin's score and began to figure out what might be done with the old classical-jazz warhorse.

Remember that Rhapsody in Blue is usually performed by symphony orchestras, and it's only fifteen minutes long. Even the first performance was by the non-jazz Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and the only recording made of their rendition, although quaint and with the composer himself at the piano, sounds remarkably stiff to our ears, with nanny-goat clarinets and an almost total lack of swing (except when Gershwin himself is playing). Subsequent recordings, with orchestras, conductors and soloists comfortable with the history and swing of actual jazz (as opposed to Paul Whiteman, who didn't know jazz from a cold fried egg) have confirmed the value of the work as a successful piece of concert music that draws on jazz harmonies and rhythms without actually being jazz itself. (In Ferde Grofé's original arrangement there is no space for soloing, even though Gershwin was by all accounts a pretty good jazz player who improvised a good deal of his own piano part in the premiere.)

Smith took the piece, rearranged it, used elements of it to provide plenty of harmonic bases for soloing, extended it enormously to just under an hour, and the result was premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh International Jazz Festival. This is a recording of that premiere performance. We're lucky to have it, because this band was on fire that night. The swagger and confidence of the SNJO can be measured by the fact that the piece doesn't even begin with the famous clarinet glissando - it's there, but it doesn't happen until about eight minutes in. So before we even get to one of the most famous opening passages in 20th century music, we've been treated to some fantastic solos and the sound of a big band out to rock the house.

In the first few weeks after I bought this album, I listened to it about a dozen times. It pays back, listen after listen. There is fantastically turbulent solo work from Smith himself, but he rightly hands the spotlight to Brian Kellock, whose mastery of many different kinds of piano style, from stride to post-bop, glues the whole performance together (of jazz pianists, only the late Jaki Byard strikes me as having Kellock's command of such a range of historical styles). All the soloists are excellent, but my favourite bit is the fantastically sassy 'Cuban Fantasia' section, in which Smith picks up on some of the suggestions in the original of Latin rhythms and expands them into a ten-minute groove with superb drumming from Alyn Cosker and a honking solo from tenorist Konrad Wisniewski.

I have only recently begun to discover the riches of Scottish jazz, but the SNJO Rhapsody in Blue is a recording that I would put up against anything. The SNJO is a company of brilliant players who play together with the kind of corporate coherence but effortless individuality that you expect from an ensemble like that of Duke or Miles. I can't recommend this album highly enough. If there is only one thing wrong with it, it's that it's all just one track. This is a problem because once you put it on, you won't want to take it off.

Reading Greek: Grammar and Exercises
Reading Greek: Grammar and Exercises

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Great book - but the Kindle edition is terrible, 27 May 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I should point out in advance that this is not a review of this book as such, which I have been using in my Open University course and which, as an introductory grammar, I have no problems with at all; quite the reverse. Capsule review of the book: it seems to me a great grammar, in that the basics are introduced in a logical way and you learn what you need to know in the order in which you need to know it. It's comprehensive but easy to use. One complaint: it's hard to find stuff. The index is not very good. I'm sure it makes sense if you know what you're looking for, but not if you don't, and since this is meant to be a book for beginners, most of us don't know quite what we're looking for. The result is that my copy is very, very much-thumbed, because I have to leaf back and forth a lot to find the bit that I want. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether a reference is to a page number, a section number or a part of speech. A grammar like this needed a really brilliant indexer to be put on the case.

The Kindle edition, moreover, sucks. CUP have scanned most of the book as text, and included some tables as photo images but not others, with the result that sometimes the Greek is completely inaccurate, because it's been scanned incorrectly and not properly proof-read. But you would only know that it's inaccurate if you had the original to compare it to. It's also very expensive, for a Kindle edition. I bought it because although I already had the book, the book weighs a ton and I got tired of carting it around all day so that I could revise during my lunch hour at work; but now I have to cart it around anyway, because the Kindle version is utterly untrustworthy. If I were reviewing the Grammar as a printed book, I would give it four stars. But this is a review of the Kindle version, so I give it one because not only is it full of mistakes, they aren't even obvious mistakes.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 30, 2012 11:56 PM GMT

Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)
Collected Poems of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)
by Rudyard Kipling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great if hugely problematic writer who is being badly served by publishers, 24 May 2011
Kipling is not cool enough to get the VIP treatment from publishers, so we have to put up with cheap and badly edited editions of his work while loads of his books remain out of print. It's interesting, in that a few decades ago most households in the UK would have had a shelf-ful of his works. This edition of the poetry is no exception. The best edition currently available is probably TS Eliot's selection for Faber, still in print after 70 years, although it lacks notes. (And Eliot's introduction is not his best essay on another writer; it needs to be supplemented by, at the very least, the remarkable essays by CS Lewis from one point of view and George Orwell from a quite different one, although Edward Said has written some wonderful stuff on Kipling as well.)

A word on Kipling's stature: Kipling was certainly not a fascist. However, we can't just claim that he was neither a racist nor an admirer of imperialism; his work is much more complex than that. I don't think that anyone reading Kipling could have the slightest doubt that Kipling believed that it was the duty and, indeed, privilege of white people to rule over nations of darker-skinned people. Kipling had no doubt that the White Man's Burden (he coined the phrase, of course) was something that was for every white man (and woman - see a story like 'William the Conqueror') to shoulder. The trouble is that he had grave doubts about whether they were up to the task. Kipling admired imperialism almost more than anyone else has ever admired it. He had an incredibly exalted view of its duties and responsibilities, and the negative stuff in his books about empire is never about the value of empire as such, just about people who don't take it seriously enough, or don't work hard enough, or aren't good enough at the job of maintaining the empire. Over and over again, Kipling writes about the importance of work, discipline, subordination, training, learning to be a good cog in a great machine; it's his main theme as a writer. I'm not saying that he didn't write some wonderful stories and fine poems; he did, but I find myself disagreeing with the point of almost all of them (because they nearly all have a point), even as I admire the wizardry of his writing. When he leaves this theme, and writes about other things, I think he's actually at his best; think of a story as eerily touching as 'The Gardener', or as frightening as 'Mary Postgate', or as stoically moving as the 'Epitaphs of War'. It's not enough to claim that it's all nonsense that Kipling was racist and imperialist. It can be argued, at least, that he was both of those things, and the difficulty we have to face is how he can have been them and also have been a great writer. Imperialism had to have a poet laureate, and it happened to be him.

Just in case there's any doubt about what I think, I should say that I dislike imperialism on the grounds that nobody has the right to take somebody else's country just because they can, and I have no time for the Niall Fergusons who try to pretend that it was all a rather jolly jaunt that ended up improving everyone's lives, being (as one of my college tutors put it) a sort of gap year for the ruling classes. In common with most people who actually care about things like the rule of law, the value of democracy and the right to not be a slave, I think that people ought to be allowed to govern themselves. I also dislike Kipling's rather smug and narrow-minded obsession with the value of technical expertise alone, at the expense of the moral cost of whatever project the expertise is being exercised in. Kipling was a kind of empire geek. He fanatically admired people who were good at their jobs, no matter what their jobs were. This is his major flaw as a writer. He only intermittently glimpsed how narrow this outlook was. Luckily, there is still plenty to enjoy about his work, even if the only thing we can wholeheartedly admire is his sheer skill.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 2, 2014 1:10 AM GMT

Right Parenting: God's Way
Right Parenting: God's Way
by Lucy Adeniji
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.95

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Should Amazon even be selling this book?, 10 April 2011
It's entirely up to Amazon what books they sell, but I'm quite surprised that this book is even on sale, seeing as its author has been sentenced to eleven and a half years in prison for trafficking two girls from Nigeria to work as slaves in her home, and torturing them if they displeased her. She's an evangelical Christian, which goes a little way towards explaining how she had the nerve to write a book on childcare while being a child-torturer herself, but I would have thought that her criminal conviction for assault and her abuse of children would basically destroy her credibility as someone who can write a book on child-rearing. At any rate, if Amazon were to withdraw the book from sale I for one would not be standing up in defence of her right to free speech.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 24, 2011 10:27 PM BST

Clouds (Classical Texts) (Aris & Phillips Classical Texts)
Clouds (Classical Texts) (Aris & Phillips Classical Texts)
by Aristophanes
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great if troublesome play, good edition, 3 Mar. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Aristophanes' Clouds is most famous for being the play of Aristophanes that features Socrates as a character, and which Socrates alluded to during his defence as one of the things that stirred the people of Athens up against him. If Plato's record of Socrates' defence is accurate, then Socrates was being his usual disingenuous self; Aristophanes' picture of Socrates is so unlike any other picture of Socrates we have that hardly anyone can have thought that Aristophanes was trying to get at Socrates himself. The picture is complicated by the evidence we have (notably, Plato's own Symposium) that Socrates and Aristophanes were on generally friendly terms.

Clouds is not as drop-dead laugh-out-loud funny as some of Aristophanes' other plays, most notably (in this reviewer's opinion) Lysistrata and Frogs; but the issues it raises are fascinating, and it contains some wonderful passages of, as is usual with Aristophanes, glittering poetry and utter b***s**t. By the latter term I don't mean that Aristophanes sometimes forgot how to write, just that he had a fantastic knack for making his own characters go so far up their own behinds that they start talking almost pure gibberish. What lies behind Aristophanes' fantastic ebullience is not really, as has been speculated, a rather uninteresting political conservatism - most conservatives are relatively humourless, anxious, angry people - but rather, as Nietzsche recognised, a profound sense of his own strength, that seemed to be threatened by nothing. Yeah, Aristophanes wasn't exactly a radical in his private beliefs; but he was a radical artist in the tradition of someone like Frank Zappa, who turned his satirical searchlight on everyone including himself.

This edition of the play is meant for students insofar as it has the Greek and a very good and extremely close translation on facing pages. If it lacks a star, it's because the font used in the Greek text is a nasty, cheap-looking and not very legible digital font that has not reproduced well. (The left-hand pages all look like they're photocopies of computer printouts.) Apart from that, Prof. Sommerstein has done a great job, with a long and helpful introduction, good textual notes and comprehensive endnotes that are lucid and full about all the play's textual and contextual difficulties.

If it were only reproduced in a nicer-looking edition, this would be a model of how to present a classical text to students of the language. I am a student of the language, and I greatly value this book, although I still deplore the crappy Greek font and generally cheap presentation by Aris & Phillips, especially since this book is far from cheap to buy.

The Colour of Memory
The Colour of Memory
by Geoff Dyer
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Geoff Dyer's first and best novel, although not his best book, 28 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Colour of Memory (Paperback)
Geoff Dyer is a very fine writer, although he's not (in my opinion) a very good novelist, as he himself would probably agree. He says in the foreword to one of his books - and therefore perhaps disingenuously - that he only writes novels because, in Britian, if you are a writer, you have to write novels in order to be taken seriously as a writer, although the kind of book he much prefers to publish are his unclassifiable book-length essays, such as Out of Sheer Rage or The Missing of the Somme, or his (excellent) collections of journalism like Anglo-English Attitudes and the recent Working the Room.

The reason why Dyer is not a great novelist is that you can, I think, tell that his heart isn't quite in it. His own favourite writers - Berger, Nietzsche, Sebald, Lawrence, Bernhard - tend to be either barely or not even novelists at all, or if they are novelists, they're hardly conventional ones. Dyer loves to write about things that he's interested in, or better yet, things that he's passionate about, and I don't think he's all that passionate about pretending to be other people, which kind of goes with the territory if you want to write novels. Having said that, his novels are interesting because they're by him, even if they have the quality of having been written by someone who knows a lot about novels, rather than someone who 'naturally', as it were, writes fiction.

This was Dyer's first novel and I think it's his best. It's been compared to Amis fils but Dyer, unlike Amis, doesn't have Grand Ambitions as a novelist, and so is free to actually like his characters rather than regard them as specimens of a general decline, or whatever. The structure is simple but smart and unexpected, and for all that the characters continually moan about their time and place (Brixton in the late 80s), Dyer's style makes you want to be hanging out with them, drinking beer in steaming, smoky pubs on rainy nights or on sunlit rooftops at the weekend, getting wrecked on wine and pot in each other's flats, fancying each other's lovers, listening to Coltrane. It's a great novel about being young.

Dyer went on to write another very good if somewhat darker novel about youth, Paris Trance, although The Colour of Memory has its own shadows and darknesses lurking around the edges; he's also written two other novels, The Search (an interesting but obvious pastiche of Italo Calvino) and Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, which is the only book by Dyer that I've never been engaged by enough to finish. His other books are much better, the ones that nobody else could have written. Maybe he'll write a brilliant novel one day, but he's already written enough brilliant books to qualify as one of the finest English writers of our time, and in any case, if I were him, I wouldn't be worried; the really great English writers of our time aren't (primarily) novelists.

The Modern Irish Novel: The Irish Novel After 1945
The Modern Irish Novel: The Irish Novel After 1945
by Rudiger Imhof
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Wretched, 4 Jan. 2011
Rüdiger Imhof is a German professor of, I think, English literature, specialising in Irish literature in the English language. He made his name with book-length studies of John Banville and Flann O'Brien. Here, he examines the work of twelve Irish novelists since 1945 and tells us what he thinks of their fiction.

There are a few problems with Prof. Imhof's approach. The first is that he can't really write English. The second is that he can't really read it. The kindest thing I can think of to say about his prose style is that it clanks; he has no ear whatever, and he writes about works of fiction that he apparently can't understand with the mandarin self-assurance of one of Nabokov's more unreliable narrators. I am not, myself, very enthusiastic about any of the writers Imhof is talking about, but I boggle at his extraordinary assertion that the work of Roddy Doyle cannot be considered serious fiction since it consists mostly of dialogue and everyone knows that all serious fiction contains extended passages of description.

I'm not making it up; Imhof actually says this, which makes you wonder if he has ever even heard of the work of William Gaddis, to name just one monumentally serious high modernist of the type Imhof normally prefers to go into raptures about. (Yes, Professor Imhof, you really are allowed to end an English sentence with a preposition, at least if the effort to avoid doing so causes you to write something staggeringly graceless.) I'm not a fan of Gaddis, but Imhof's massive ignorance of the broader arena of English-language fiction and of the Irish cultural & political context since 1945 makes him uniquely unqualified to write a book about English-language fiction written against the Irish cultural & political context since 1945. Another example: his ignorance of Roddy Doyle's cultural background means that he can't see that Doyle is taking his cue from a long tradition in American literature, via the specific example of Charles Bukowski, who Doyle has more than once cited as perhaps his major influence. I am no great admirer of Bukowski either, whose influence on subsequent writers has, on balance, been probably not that good; but the fact that Imhof can't detect the American rhythms and patterns of experience in Doyle's fiction is further evidence of his lack of qualification for the job. Imhof's impatient dismissals of much of the writing that he's talking about, on the grounds that it's just not modernist or European enough, are just some of the many reasons not to read this book; another is the inclusion of Julia O'Faolain, not a bad writer but hardly up there with people like John McGahern and William Trevor. (Even Jennifer Johnston, who is included here, can only have been included on the strengths of her first three or four books; the rest of her output has been a long slow decline into mannerism.) What Imhof has to say about McGahern, Trevor, O'Faolain and Johnston is mostly trivial, and it doesn't help that he has a ridiculously contemptuous attitude towards post-colonial themes and approaches in Irish literary studies, which have provided perhaps the most interesting and illuminating approaches to Irish literature in decades. Imhof seems to be interested in Irish fiction to the extent that it seems to him 'European'. Insofar as it harks back to American writing, he's not able to notice, and insofar as it remains determinedly Irish, he gets impatient and grumpy. You wonder why he wrote this book at all.

I've only read one academic review of this book, a bizarrely positive one in an Irish literary journal. It made me wonder if the reviewer had even read the book - or perhaps Imhof just has loyal friends. If it's the latter, then some of them ought to have pointed out to him that this sour, jaded book is a sorry end to a long and, for the most part, distinguished career standing up for one or two of the more interesting Irish writers.

The Silmarillion
The Silmarillion
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback

12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's amazing, but..., 9 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Silmarillion (Paperback)
Before fans of the book lay into me for giving it only two stars, I should point out that I've had a long history with Tolkien. Having been introduced to Lord of the Rings when I was 11 or so, it took me a while to get into it but soon I was addicted; I collected books about it (such as Robert Forster's now superseded Complete Guide to Middle-Earth and Pauline Baynes's Journeys of Frodo), I read all the appendices and the Silmarillion and yes, I learned to write some Elvish. (Strictly Sindarin, fans - Quenya was just too hard.) Middle-Earth was my playground, like it is for many kids. As I got older and started reading people like Camus, Joyce, Beckett and other Modern Masters, Tolkien was quietly forgotten; in any case, admitting that you still read him after a certain age was not a good idea, in the circles I was moving in at that point. I picked him up again in my early 20s, out of curiosity, and - stuffed full of literary theory and the sort of vague and groundless Marxism you develop after having been exposed to a lot of it - I hated Lord of the Rings for what I perceived as its dreary nostalgia, its absence of female characters and the generally fin-de-siecle exhaustion of the whole thing.

Then, when I was 30 and Fellowship of the Ring was about to come out, I decided to give it one more go. This time round, I was very surprised to realise that I enjoyed it. I did a little background reading (including Tom Shippey's 'Tolkien: Author of the Century') and found that I actually enjoyed the fact that Tolkien was so apart from the rather narrow and stifling mainstream of English literary fiction, and that he'd kept in touch with a tradition of heroic romance which had basically been suppressed, and indeed that he'd helped to found a new genre of fantasy fiction, not that I was much of a fan of any other fantasy fiction. I liked the theory of courage that Tolkien took from his own reading in medieval literature. I loved the films, too, and I remember that moment post 9/11 when we were watching it in the cinema and McKellen spoke the lines about not getting to choose what time you got to live in, but having to make the best of it; from then on, the film had all of us. It's now ten years later and I still enjoy and admire LOTR. One of the most seductive things about it, of course, is the air it has of being merely the final episode in a long saga which goes back thousands of years. And The Silmarillion is nothing other than the beginning and middle of that long saga, or at any rate a reconstructed retelling of it.

The problem is, I think, that this stuff worked when it was perceived through the screen of LOTR's characters and story as being the backstory to a more immediate contest. We can get involved in the LOTR story because hobbits are a way in for us. They resemble us more than the other races do, even the Men, who tend in Tolkien to be either evil and crooked or intimidatingly noble and brave, or else borderline crazies like Boromir and Denethor. The reason LOTR works so well is, I think, because of the mix of different genres - there's a bit of social comedy and lads' adventure with the hobbits, but it's constantly coming up against high romance and epic tragedy. Frodo is himself a tragic figure, an unassuming and not very adventurous guy whose desire to do the right thing causes him to be drawn into a quest that will ultimately tear him apart. There is nobody in the Silmarillion who's as ordinary and humanly (or hobbitishly) appealing as Frodo, Sam, Merry or Pippin. We read about these gods and sub-gods and heroes and heroines like we read certain bits of the Old Testament, or like Homer, with the difference that Homer is funnier and more earthy than Tolkien-in-Silmarillion-mode, and the Old Testament forms part of the living religion of many people and so has an immediacy and a practical reality for people that the Silmarillion, for all the skill of its composition and the amazing reach of Tolkien's imagination, just doesn't have.

What I'm saying is that LOTR works supremely well because you sense that the characters are acting and thinking against a background of traditional story and lore and ethics that's theirs, and as long as it's in the background we can believe in it too, insofar as we have to, a bit like an atheist listening to Bach's St. Matthew Passion can temporarily forget that there's no god as long as the music is playing. But as soon as Tolkien puts it in the foreground - and let's not forget that this is the book that he would have preferred to write instead of LOTR - the only thing we see behind it is Tolkien himself, thinking it all up. The suspension of disbelief is destroyed, and this tapestry of stories and legends seems merely like the work of a very skilled author. Since Tolkien was writing to reproduce the effect of high romance and epic, the stories lack the concrete detail and humour of LOTR or The Hobbit and so are less convincing, being essentially a kind of sincere pastiche. The relentlessly elevated tone means that it's difficult for individual characters to come to life, and only a few do, such as the wonderfully resentful and rebellious craftsman/warrior/elf Fëanor. The stories told in the Silmarillion may have been the engine of Tolkien's imagination, and as such it's interesting to have them around, but I vastly prefer it when they're half-hidden behind the scenes, powering the mighty narrative of LOTR. I can't honestly recommend this book to anyone except those who feel the need to explore Tolkien's work in depth, or else fans of fantasy fiction in general. More casual readers should be encouraged to have a go at LOTR, especially if they despise it based on little acquaintance, but The Silmarillion is not essential.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 9, 2015 11:44 PM BST

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20