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Bob Ventos (UK)

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The Green Mile
The Green Mile
Price: £3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Memories of the Electric Chair, 15 Oct. 2017
This review is from: The Green Mile (Kindle Edition)
In his old age, Paul Edgecome remembers his job in a Southern US prison, as a prison guard in charge of death row, which in the 1930s means the electric chair. As the convicted murderers come in, he has to manage their last weeks or months and then perform the execution itself. The three he remembers most were all present at the same time: one psychotic, one fearful, and one, John Coffey, who seems perfectly peaceful. Quite angelic, in fact. But is he…? Terrific stuff.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The Monster Species, 15 Oct. 2017
I won’t repeat in detail what everyone else has already said, but wanted to make three points. First, how delightful and surprising to find arguments about the vicious way humans treat and have always treated animals in a book other than an animal rights or ethics one. It’s a subject that, if not exactly taboo, still remains under-discussed considering its vast effect. Second, that the argument about how humans were better off as hunter-gatherers than as farmers is actually mainstream in academia these days (see Graeme Barker’s ‘The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory’) but hadn’t previously reached public attention. Third, for all its iconoclasm in many areas, it still has its blind-spots, its points where it uncritically reiterates received mainstream opinion: in its knee-jerkedly dismissive but unargued references to socialism, for instance. Overall, though, I’ll just agree with everyone else: what a fantastic book!


Winesburg. Ohio (Oxford World's Classics) by Anderson. Sherwood ( 2008 ) Paperback
Winesburg. Ohio (Oxford World's Classics) by Anderson. Sherwood ( 2008 ) Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Quiet Desperation in America, 15 Oct. 2017
Published about 1919 but generally set in late 19th Century, these short stories generally don’t have much plot: typically, their main character’s background is narrated and then something small but significant in their circumscribed lives happens to them. Basically, they’re Modernist, in the way of Katherine Mansfield’s or Joyce’s Dubliners, with climaxes as epiphanies. The style though has that distinct American feel of the time, generally doing without complex sentences and subordinate clauses: instead of ‘Having finished his tea, he went out’, it’s ‘He finished his tea and went out’ – giving a less obviously rhetorical feel. Commas are sparser than usual; narration is plain and without much antithesis (‘But’ rarely begins a sentence).

The stories build up into a picture of a Midwestern American town of the era: farming, small businesses, religion; gossip, drink, sexual repression. People carry on in quiet desperation through minor sadnesses, major losses, missed chances and long regrets. Put like that it doesn’t sound very exciting, but I was drawn in and sometimes moved, and enjoyed reading it.


The Girl with the Golden Eyes
The Girl with the Golden Eyes
by Honore de Balzac
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.98

3.0 out of 5 stars So Melodramatic It Was Comic, 15 Oct. 2017
Paris, 1830s. Henri de Marsay is wealthy, handsome and jaded – and welcomes the adventure of trying to seduce the well-defended Paquita Valdes. She seems willing, but has a fearsome manservant who insists on Henri wearing a blindfold before being taken to their rendez-vous. And it’s not quite what he expects…

A seduction novel in the genre of Liaisons Dangereuses, but I was a bit disappointed in the outcome, and at the bizarre behaviour of the protagonists, which sometimes became so melodramatic it was comic. It’s quite a short book with a huge section at the front about Paris and the Parisians, full of Tacitean phrasings and immense, evidenceless generalisations. Henri too is prone to long disquisitions to his friend Paul about Woman, so totalising and inaccurate that I wasn’t sure whether or not they were supposed to be a joke. But some moments of excitement, and the seduction plot kept me reading nonetheless.


Jane And Prudence (Virago Modern Classics)
Jane And Prudence (Virago Modern Classics)
by Barbara Pym
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Not Cut Out To Be A Vicar’s Wife, 11 Sept. 2017
Jane has an active, speculative and original intelligence which continually gets her into trouble in her role as a vicar’s wife in a small village. She never says the correct dull thing, but keeps taking the conversation to interesting but inappropriate places. Her husband is kind but occasionally exasperated by her, and so is her 18-year-old daughter Flora, for different reasons. However Jane has a much younger friend, Prudence, who is single and lives in the city, with whom she can be herself. Prudence has many boyfriends (in the respectable 1950s sex-free way), and in order to distract her from the latest one (who is married), invites her down to the country to meet attractive local widower Fabian Driver, or perhaps Edward Lyall the personable local MP, or, well, there must be someone around for her…

Humorous cleaners, jokes about High and Low Church, flower arranging, tea – it’s all extremely genteel, but also quite funny and very likeable.


The Grand Sophy
The Grand Sophy
by Georgette Heyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Grand Regency Comedy, 11 Sept. 2017
This review is from: The Grand Sophy (Paperback)
Sophy’s unconventional upbringing – motherless, and trailed around Europe by her loving but inattentive father – has made her competent and confident, but totally lacking in the conventional behaviour appropriate for upper-class young Englishwomen of the 1820s. Charles, meanwhile, has managed to save his family’s finances from his dissolute father, and is busy – with the help of his austere fiancée - trying to keep the rest of the family out of trouble (his brother Hubert seems to have the same gambling tendencies as his dad). When Sophy comes to stay with the family, will she help sort things out, or cause more trouble? Oh, and she needs to find a husband too…

An easy and hilarious read, imho – even if the supposed Regency cast mostly sound rather frightfully, darling, like they’re straight from the 1930s…


A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
by Xiaolu Guo
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Chinese Girl in London, 11 Sept. 2017
Zhuang (called ‘Z’ because no-one can pronounce her name), early-twenties and from small-town China, comes to London for a year to enrol in an English-language school. She’s naïve and untraveled, and finds everything about London life confusing in mostly comical but sometimes alarming ways. Then she meets an older man, and begins a relationship with him. They are so different in age and culture, it looks like it won’t work – but at least her English is suddenly improving at an amazing rate…

The early cultural-confusion parts are especially funny – once Z becomes romantically-obsessed the focus narrows somewhat. Even when she goes off inter-railing on her own, she doesn’t seem that interested in the places she goes: they just become different backgrounds where she gets being picked up (or not, or sort of) by men. (And it’s a bizarre route – one minute she’s in Venice, then in the Algarve, then in Dublin…?) But the way her language develops almost imperceptibly, from the pidjin of the earlier chapters to the near-fluency of the later ones, is really brilliantly done. And it’s a cross-cultural love-story that taught me a lot about China, and it was interesting to read about London from a new outsider’s perspective.


Fight Club
Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not Enough Fighting In It, 11 Sept. 2017
This review is from: Fight Club (Paperback)
The unnamed narrator has an unexciting office job, seemingly no friends or family, and suffers from insomnia. He spends his free time decorating his flat. In search of some emotional richness to his life, he begins going to support groups - ‘Monday was testicular cancer...’ - even though he’s not ill himself, for the confessional intimacy, the hugging and the heightened sense of mortality. But his pleasure is spoilt on detecting someone, Marla, who’s also coming to the groups as a ‘fake’. Meanwhile his flat burns down, depriving him of his only other interest, and he meets Tyler, whose house he moves into, and who, shortly after meeting, asks him to fight him. This now provides his new form of release, and the two of them start ‘fight club’ – whose first two rules are that you mustn’t talk about it – but everyone does, of course, because it grows and grows. The impersonal, physical, one-on-one and half-undressed nature of the fights (no shirts, no shoes) is like a homoerotic thing, except that it’s very violent. And the violence starts getting worse.

I found this started well but later got a bit adolescent. (To be fair, I’d’ve probably enjoyed it more when I was younger.) I also thought there’d be more about actual fighting and how it feels: we get a lot of description of types of wounds but very little about the actual combat, how it feels to be about to hurt someone, impersonally, and then to hurt someone, and be hurt, in the moment. The club members mostly seem to revel in the ‘afterwards’ – the display of their wounds and mutual ‘tuffering’ that creates camaraderie. Then there’s the weird bit where the narrator reveal he’s Tyler – am I the only one to find that plot-twist a bit daft? How then are we supposed to reinterpret their meeting, Tyler’s invitation to hit him, and so on? I reckon there’s a lot of interesting stuff to be said about men and fighting, but I didn’t really find it in here.


Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics)
Epitaph for a Spy (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Eric Ambler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spy in a Riviera Hotel, 11 Sept. 2017
France, late 1930s. Josef Vadassy, stateless due to post-WWI boundary-changes and political discrimination, works in Paris as a language teacher. On holiday in the South of France, he accidentally comes into possession of some compromising photos and, because of his uncertain refugee status, is prey to blackmail by the French secret-service, who want to use him to catch a spy residing somewhere in the hotel where he’s staying.

This is a great holiday read: the lovely Riviera setting, the terrific cast of amusing and eccentric hotel-guests (and the hotel-owners), the likeable and put-upon narrator, the grumpy and capricious secret-service controller, and the various lively plot-twists and revelations. It’s a bit like a country-house whodunnit but without the initial murder, and with an inept ‘detective’. And beneath the entertainment, eye-opening stuff about refugees in the thirties.


Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (Oxford World's Classics)
Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (Oxford World's Classics)
by Fanny Burney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.93

4.0 out of 5 stars It’s Surprisingly Tough Being An Heiress, 25 July 2017
Cecilia (twenty, orphaned, beautiful, of a respectable but not ancient family), having spent her childhood quietly in the country, has just inherited vast wealth. It might seem that happy-ever-after is just around the corner, but in no time, a whole horde of fortune-hunters are encircling her. Family-friend Mr Monkton – already married but his wife is ill and hopefully won’t last much longer – has his eye on her and her millions. Young Mr Morrice will try his luck. High-born Sir Robert makes little effort but assumes his title will suffice. Furthermore, Cecilia can’t access her money for a year yet (till she’s 21) and in the meantime is under the care of three guardians: the spendthrift Mr Harrel; the miserly Mr Briggs, and the haughty and snobbish Lord Delvile. They themselves may not always have her best interests at heart – or else might think they know her heart better than she does.

Cecilia is kind-hearted, but in attempting to help out another young man, she finds that everyone assumes she’s in love with him. Then they suspect she’ll just marry the richest or noblest of the suitors to come along. She becomes a focus of gossip. ‘The world’ is filled with hilarious minor characters: rude aesthete Mr Meadows, silent Miss Leeson, voluble Miss Larolles, ironic Mr Gosport…

I enjoyed the first part, with the satirical round of London life the most. Later, once Cecilia has fallen in love, she stops being the sensible, sceptical young woman we’ve grown to like, and becomes as angst-ridden and tongue-tied-at-crucial-moments as any other fictional lover. Misunderstandings and family-objections follow that are very drawn-out for modern taste; and Cecilia is so high-minded, dutiful and scrupulous that she seems to be self-sabotaging her potential happiness most of the time; while her beloved is so incredibly patient and understanding that he rather strains belief. By the end I just wanted them to get it over with. Nonetheless, it’s mostly very enjoyable, with plenty of action - duels, balls, chases, heart-to-hearts, and a dramatic suicide - to keep you reading on.


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