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JAW "JAW" (Surrey, England.)

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Lifeform Three
Lifeform Three
Price: £3.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A style all her own., 2 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Lifeform Three (Kindle Edition)
Ms Morris's work has a distinctive style all her own, such that I think I could readily pick it out in any `blind tasting' comparison with other contemporary writers. If pressed to characterise her literary voice I'd say it was redolent of `fable' - though not the Tolkien, round-the-tribal-campfire sort, but of a distinctly modern form. There's also a subtle dream-like quality to this and her first book too, in that the `real world' is plainly still there and going about its business, but the story at hand is the all-consuming thing to the exclusion of matters mundane. So: a hybrid of strong storytelling, fable and dream - a `fabream' perhaps, or a `dreable'...

But all that's mere labelling. The story is the thing and this story engages from the start, never falters and carries the reader to their destination with startling strength and speed. Which (far from coincidentally I suspect) is also a parallel with the powers of the marvellously realised `Lifeform Three' creature described within these pages.

If Ms Morris can continue in such assured and idiosyncratic style with her next book then she'll have firmly established a literary voice all her own. Whatever subject she then chooses (and her two extant books vary greatly in subject) will come with the guarantee of that unique authorial voice. And will therefore merit buying even if she decides to write about accountants - which is high praise indeed.

In short: a wild ride. Highly recommended.

Dark Actors: The Life and Death of David Kelly
Dark Actors: The Life and Death of David Kelly
by Robert Lewis
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr David Kelly - a meditation., 30 Sept. 2013
Within this book, topping and tailing it, is an excellent meditation on the Dr David Kelly affair. Measured, reflective and restrained in its judgements, it is clearly both a labour of love, derived from nigh obsession with its subject, and finely written to boot.
However, between that beginning and end there is a long (and overlong) general treatment of the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq and elsewhere. That - and even the author's partisan position on Iraq - could be borne, were it not for the consistent use of lofty 20/20 hindsight. The result reads akin to a history of WWII saying, for instance, `of course, the Germans were never going to invade Britain in 1940, and therefore, obviously, the British should have diverted all resources to the North Africa campaign - the idiots.'
Maybe so, but it probably didn't seem that way then - and the present, with all its imperfections of perspective, is where most of us mere mortals have to dwell. Cumulatively therefore, this portion of the book's analysis comes to seem unfair and, at times, arrogant. Ditto the occasional tetchy `just-gagging-to-be-indignant' tone. Indeed, on p289 the author candidly confesses to feeling resentment and even occasional bitterness (`in the early hours') prompted by his commendably exhaustive researches, and I get the impression that much of the author's original sympathy for Dr Kelly evaporated in the heat of commitment to a particular view about sanctions against Iraq and the conduct of the WMD search. Equally disenchanting to me was the author's apparent chagrin about the tormenting of, and lack of absolutely strict fair play towards, Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. For some reason this last mentioned feature signally failed to register on this reader's sympathy-meter. Perhaps the batteries have gone again.
And yet, considering it in its entirety, this is a fine and well-intentioned book, which achieves its purpose despite some self-indulgent (particular in the `Welshness' portions) imperfections. It sensitively incorporates a highly personal view into both the `Dr David Kelly question' and still wider political issues. Some of its assertions also seem admirably fearless. I would therefore definitely recommend it, particularly to readers with some prior knowledge of the events who now wish to read a reflection upon them. It (just) earns its five stars.

Hotel Elisio
Hotel Elisio
by Harry Eyres
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and enjoyable 'slim volume' of verse, 11 Sept. 2013
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This review is from: Hotel Elisio (Paperback)
I came to this collection via Mr Eyres' 2013 book 'Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet' (which I also thoroughly recommend). And, armed with that prior knowledge, I do detect something of the Horatian style to the poems here: that is to say relaxed and humane sentiments, expressed in an elegant but readily understandable way.

That said, if pressed to find parallels, I'd also say there's something of the 'Larkinesque' to this book (i.e. Philip Larkin 1922-1985) - which I intend as high praise indeed. The similarity lies in that Mr Eyres' verses concern the preservation of events, memories and emotions, and that they are comprehensible on first reading but then also repay re-reading, offering additional meaning and depth with each visit. In other words, high matters expressed in plain (but precise) language. Another similarity is the unforced but profound feeling of Englishness in the verses.

Comparisons aside though, Mr Eyres is 'his own man' in terms of subject matter and style and it is a matter of regret that there haven't been other collections subsequent to this 2001 book. I hope that there are others out there awaiting release, prompted by the commercial success of 'Horace and Me', and, if so, I shall certainly be buying them. Meanwhile this 'slim volume' is unreservedly recommended to all poetry lovers

Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger
Carnivorous Nights: On the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger
by Margaret And Crewdson, Michael Mittelbach
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A model 'natural history' book, 2 April 2013
This beautifully written and informative book take the reader on a tour of Tasmania, themed around a 'search' for the (possibly) extinct 'Thylacinus cynocephalus' or 'Tasmanian Tiger'. The tragic tale of its hunting to (again, possible) extinction in the early 20th century is gradually unfolded, not in any heavily didactic manner, but as part of the narrative and record of encounters with interesting creatures (human and otherwise) met along the way.

At the same time, other flora and fauna are effortlessly included, sneaking past this reader's fairly tepid interest in natural history, by dint of weaving them into the travelogue as integral parts of a wider quest. As stated, the writing is what I'd describe as 'effortless' or, putting it another way, always a pleasure to read, and by the end I found I'd learned (and recalled!) a great deal of Australian history and ecology. I also found myself involved with the fate of the poor Tiger and committed to the search for survivors (if any) and their conservation.

Interestingly, the two authors choose to make themselves pretty much ciphers in the narrative, far more detail being given about their companions and those they meet. Somehow this just seems right and in keeping with the spirit of the book.

The tale told is melancholic in itself - a record of mankind's selfish indifference to the other species it is supposed to share the world with; but there are also grounds for hope recounted here, and due prominence given to the good people met. The 'expedition artist's many illustrations also greatly add to the charm of the book.

In short: thoroughly recommended to both the ecologically interested and general reader alike.

The Odd Couple: The curious friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin
The Odd Couple: The curious friendship between Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin
by Richard Bradford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.59

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New light on Larkin & Amis - and more than the sum of its parts, 26 Jan. 2013
Professor Bradford's life of Larkin (`First Boredom, Then Fear') is probably the best compact introduction to the poet and his works available. Now, in this book he compounds that achievement by retelling the tale in conjunction with that of Larkin's lifelong friend, the writer Kingsley Amis. In so doing the sum is significantly greater than the parts. The record of their friendship and interaction sheds a lot of new (leastways to me) light on both men.

In particular, Bradford's detailed contextualisation and linking of the Larkin poems, 'Letter to a Friend about Girls' and 'Dockery & Son' transformed and enriched my understanding of each. Additionally, Bradford argues that `Dockery' marks Larkin consciously adopting a new `hardline' emotional stance in his `private life'. This stance was then determinedly maintained to the end of his life - be it for good or ill as regards himself or those near him. Given the chronology and background of the two poems given here, I must say I found this novel thesis of Bradford's very persuasive.

Connected with the above, I warmed to the fact that (to the best of my humble knowledge) Bradford is the first scholar to treat Larkin's long-suffering and stoical `girlfriend', Monica Jones, with sustained fairness and sympathy. Better still, he highlights her genuine contribution to Larkin's mind and work. That alone made this book a refreshing treat to read.

Also, Larkin's creepy post-mortem critics - the bandwagon-jumpers and would-be cultural commissars - get a hearty broadside from Bradford. Not before time too - though Bradford still shows courage in standing up to them, Literary Establishment figures that they are.

In summary: the book is well written in an easy to read style, with deep scholarship effortlessly conveyed. It is therefore unreservedly recommended to Larkin and Amis fans alike.

Destiny. Methuen Drama. 2005.
Destiny. Methuen Drama. 2005.

2.0 out of 5 stars Period-piece poison, 21 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Destiny. Methuen Drama. 2005.
In a nutshell: the 1970s, immigration and race relations, the unique wickedness of Britain, and the apparent near certainty of another Hitler arising here.

This play is well written - particularly the short narrative poems, which merit separate publication - but I'm tempted to then add: alas. `Alas' because obvious ability is devoted to a mean-spirited cause.

In short, `Destiny' is just another 1970s recreational-radical rant, suffused with a spirit of patraphobia (Britain and the British can do no right) and the usual nasty atmosphere of (sublimated) desire for firing squads. In other words, state-subsided theatre, BBC `Play for Today' and Arts Council boilerplate stuff.

It is the author's great misfortune that to be a conformist child-of-the-times in his time was to squander your gifts.

Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain
Commander: The Life and Exploits of Britain's Greatest Frigate Captain
by Stephen Taylor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and much needed biography of a deserving subject., 14 Nov. 2012
The title of this review pretty much says it all. It is astounding that a worthy and inspirational figure like Edward Pellew has found only one previous biographer in modern times (if 1934 counts as such). Accordingly, Mr Taylor's well-researched and well written and sympathetic (but not slavishly so) account is as welcome as it is long overdue. Additionally, the writer's style is what I might term 'effortless', i.e. polished and highly readable such that the pages fairly flash by. Indeed, I regretted finishing the book and could have happily 'done' with more - particularly a longer 'Epilogue' about Pellew's well-earned retirement in the bosom of his large family in his beloved West Country. But that is to raise a very minor cavil.

A slightly more substantial caveat is that in his researches the author seems to have accepted the inflated claims of Cornish nationalist propagandists. He considers it likely (p65) that Pellew and many of his Cornish recruited crew spoke the Cornish language which, he claims in a footnote, only died out in the 1890s. That is to extend the life of the language (as far as fluent speakers are concerned, as opposed to individuals knowing odd words or phrases) by a good century and a half. The impenetrable 'jargon' of his Cornish miner recruits can probably be attributed to just that: a close-knit mining community's slang and work-terms. However, I almost feel bad in mentioning the above: it is the only false note in the entire book and hardly detracts from the overall achievement.

One other recommendation: readers not acquainted with the period or naval matters need not fear bewilderment. Mr Taylor explains all that needs to be be explained without labouring points or impeding the narrative thrust.

In summary, this highly readable 'life and times' of a likeable, humane and heroic English naval hero is highly recommended to general reader and period/subject specialist alike.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2013 8:12 PM GMT

Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
Boneland (Weirdstone Trilogy 3)
by Alan Garner
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A sad disappointment and lost opportunity. `Not what it says on the Tin', 26 Oct. 2012
I persevered with this book and gave it continual benefit of the doubt because it was by Alan Garner. I suspect that the publishers felt likewise. It is hard to conceive that it would have made it off the `slush pile' and seen publishing light of day were it by a first-time author. I finished `Boneland' only with effort (and relief) and the sense that my faith had been misplaced.
The continuity elements of this sequel volume could be summarised in half a page with room to spare (and have been in other reviews here). Otherwise it might as well have been a `stand-alone' story. The balance is self-indulgent to the point of incomprehensibility and, paradoxically enough, comes over as a lot less 'adult' than its supposedly intended-for-children predecessors. Those had the imagination-fuelling effect of revealing another just-as-real (and unsafe) reality beyond and below the mundane world. Whereas I felt that `Boneland' disrespects and subverts both `Brisingamen' and `Gomrath' in abandoning all that. The `deep England' and living, breathing, far-from-mythological, elements are gone. Are we meant to take it they were all just a dream? Certainly, the supporting cast in 'Boneland' give that impression (and are unconvincing and irritating to boot).
In short, this wasn't the conclusion to the series I and many others had yearned for over many years - not even remotely so. The earlier books are Mr Garner's invention and property and so he has the right to do with them as he wishes. I in turn wish he hadn't bothered. I realise it is unreasonable to ask or expect him to create as if it were still fifty years ago. However, in his evolution as a writer he seems to have painted himself into a very tight conceptual corner - a claustrophobic and intensely personal corner where I'd rather not join him or linger. For me, sad to say, 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' (1960) and 'The Moon of Gomrath' (1963) remain as they were before: tantalisingly incomplete and awaiting resolution.

One other thing: I see that a self-appointed 'guardian of the flame' has systematically gone through each unfavourable review on this site and placed a comment or comments implying that those who did not enjoy this book lacked the intelligence to do so. Anyone intending anything other than a five star rating be warned.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2014 1:19 PM BST

The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain
The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain
by Paul Preston
Edition: Hardcover

20 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Partisan Scholarship Is Not Scholarship, 16 Sept. 2012
This book ought to be the standard scholarly English language work on war crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War. Unfortunately, it views its subject matter from one, highly committed, viewpoint; a defect which (to put it mildly) mortally undermines its authority.

Previously in writing about the Spanish Civil War and related subjects, I thought that Mr Preston endeavoured to be neutral in assessment, if not in sympathies. This stance now seems to have been abandoned. As I read this book I was increasingly beset by a corrective editorial voice saying `Hang on: surely it must have pained a Rebel/Nationalist civilian - and their family/friends/descendents - to be murdered just as much as it did a Republican? A bullet in the brain of an unarmed man must feel pretty much the same to all humanity?' But that is not the prevailing spirit I detected here.

Instead, where Mr Preston does concede that vile atrocities were committed by both sides, there is often the subtle insinuation that one side could expect little more, by virtue of being inadvertently born into the wrong class and tradition. Or because of the actions of others in the past. As if anyone could help that or change their circumstances of birth. Likewise, there is frequent - and cumulatively distasteful - use of `scare quotes'; in which people outside the pale of sympathy are prepared for a bullet by being `quote' something `unquote'. Also, the old but cheap trick of having one side merely `say' something, whereas the other `trumpets' it or `rails' is employed.

Elsewhere, this book resorts to an objectionable numbers game, along the lines of `well, maybe they did do that, but the other side did it more often'. Surely it must have occurred to Mr Preston that his calculation of relative depravity is skewed by the fact that the rebels won the war and therefore were in a position to carry out post hostility massacres. How can there be any grounds for confidence that a victorious Republican Government (however comprised) would not have done precisely the same were the positions reversed? The record of Communist inspired or backed governments before and since suggests otherwise. Also, there is one particular objectionable passage which finds mitigation, if not excuse, for appalling acts in that only a relatively small percentage of the total nuns in Spain at outbreak of war were raped and murdered. Reading that left an nasty taste. Would it have been in any way better if more of the sisters have stayed put and got killed so as to even things up a bit? At times I felt like I was reading a contemporary dispatch for the `Daily Worker' by Claud Cockburn - with all that implies.

My eventual conclusion is that after so long studying the Spanish Civil War, and maybe nearing the end of his career, Mr Preston felt the need to not just get off the fence and declare his sympathies, but take to the field himself in an attempt to change the result of a war lost 70+ years ago. That much I can just about sympathise with -although what I wanted from this book was objective narrative. However, the prevailing spirit within is one where a whole swathe of innocent victims of an alleged `holocaust' don't figure as much (or at all) in any claim for posthumous compassion.

Finally, Mr Preston says he thought `long and hard' about terming his litany of bestial human behaviour as a `Holocaust'. Bad as the Spanish Civil War was it was not that - and to say otherwise belittles the beyond comparison real one. He should have thought longer and harder - and better.

In summary, by choosing the path of selectivity this book only selectively enlightens, and, in my estimation, it does not enhance the writer's reputation. Henceforth I'll consider his other works with far more caution.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2013 11:03 AM GMT

London In The Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing
London In The Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing
by Jerry White
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Bids to be 'the standard work', 10 Aug. 2012
A magisterial book. Mr White manages to tread the difficult line between comprehensive and excessive detail, providing in one (admittedly, dauntingly sized) volume a masterly summary of this massive subject. I especially liked the device of theming the chapters around representative individuals. In addition, he writes well, with an easy, elegant, style, leavened with occasional humour and wry comment.
Only one thing puzzled me - after apparently labouring on this vast project for six years, you might expect its author to have 'pulled out all the stops' for its conclusion. I certainly was hoping for a profound synthesis and insightful reflections, in keeping with the rest of the volume. However, the book bows out with a whimper rather than bang, ending in a few short pages reading like a below-par Guardian editorial. For the next edition (surely inevitable?) perhaps Mr White might redraft this and let us into his inmost thoughts?
However, that quibble aside, this book is highly recommended for both pleasure and enlightenment.

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