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Book 1981 "Book1981" (London)

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A Spot of Bother
A Spot of Bother
by Mark Haddon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Spot of Bother indeed....., 15 Sept. 2012
This review is from: A Spot of Bother (Paperback)
George has found an area of irritated skin on his hip and he is convinced he is going to die of cancer. Which is inconvenient, as his daughter is about to get married and he was planning to enjoy his retirement. Instead he has to deal with increasingly severe panic attacks and the brutal realisation that his wife is having an affair. It is going to be an eventful few weeks.

Brisk and brutally honest, Haddon wastes no time on sugar-coating life. His characters are displayed flawed like an episode of Eastenders, where emotional maturity or selflessness features barely at all. Each chapter is narrated in turn by the different family members, so we get an almost three-dimensional view of events. Which could possibly have worked quite well, had the characters been a little more developed, and a little less like cartoons.

Because that is the strongest impression I have of this book - Over-simplified, almost childlike characters, reduced to something so unlike complex human beings that they resemble an Idiot's Guide on How To Be a Human. I know it is meant to be funny, and sometimes the matter-of-factness is so bizarre that it does force a chuckle - Something along the lines of; Oh my husband is on all fours in a corner moaning to himself. Better make a cup of tea and book the caterers for the wedding. But for a book which from the start presents itself as a very honest warts-and-all family story, it falls surprisingly short of the mark. Maybe it can produce the defence that it is meant as a caricature of a modern family, all normal feelings and events exaggerated for comic effect at the same time as trying to address some serious issues faced by families in the 21st century. But to me that does not change the fact that it is about as subtle and clever as a sledgehammer, and about as entertaining as one too.


The End Of The Affair (Vintage Classics)
The End Of The Affair (Vintage Classics)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The End of the Affair, 14 Sept. 2012
Sarah and Maurice are having an affair. Sarah is married to dull but faithful Henry, and Maurice finds himself falling in love in spite of himself. The End of the Affair is about exactly that - Maurice looking back on his years with Sarah after their affair has come to a dramatic end.

Jumping back and forth in time, this is a story about love and faith, a how destructive these two forces can be to each other. Sarah struggles with her faith and her vows to Henry, Maurice struggles with jealousy and trust. Deceit feeds jealousy, and lust tempts away from duty.

All in all I found this book a little irritating. Becasue it addresses very personal issues such as religion and fidelity, I think that you have to identify with the character's feelings in order to enoy it, or even to understand their actions. It did not speak to me. I found it old-fashioned, sometimes too slow and over-analytical, other times strange and even depressing.


Pereira Maintains
Pereira Maintains
by Antonio Tabucchi
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pereira Maintains, 24 Aug. 2012
This review is from: Pereira Maintains (Paperback)
Set in pre-war Portugal, Pereira Maintains is about Dr Pereira, editor of the culture pages of a mediocre weekly newspaper, ageing and lonely and struggeling with his health. By a series of coincidences he meets Monteiro Rossi, a young man on the edge of the Spanish resistance movement against Franco. The times are tense, Europe is about to erupt into a bloody war and these are not the times to be associated with young vagrants with doubtful political affiliations. Yet Pereira find himself drawn to Rossi and his friends, an attraction which will eventually lead this little story to a brave and dramatic conclusion.

This is a small book which might feel slow and uneventful at times, but suspense it not Tabucchi's motive. It is a hearbreaking glimpse into Dr Preira's life where we get a very human perspective of the choices he makes. We meet a man who, at the tail end of his life, is desperately lonely since his wife died. He is mourning for the children they never had and dreaming wonderful dreams of his youth while his overweight body slowly lets him down. Pereira is a lost, weak and vulnerable old man.

The narration is unique - it reads alost like a witness statement. The phrase 'Pereira maintains' is repeated throughout this book, giving us the sense that he is being pressed on the accuracy of his account. At the same time, it has a finicky, tentative tone of an old man. It pays attention to the weather and what he is eating, how he sleeps - all things an old man would be concerned with. It fits Pereira perfectly - He is hesitant and timid, he prioretizes his comfort and is startled by small changes in his routine. It is a perfect process of character creation, which makes his final act of rebellion even more impressive.

This book has a slow build and a quick finish - As long as you take it for what it is, and as long as you are not expecting a fast-paced political thriller, there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy this book as much as I did.


Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China
Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China
by Paul French
Edition: Paperback

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Midnight in Peking, 18 Aug. 2012
In the harsh Peking winter, the badly mutilated body of a young western woman is found abandoned in the shadow of the Fox Tower. This young woman is Pamela Werner, 19 years old. Her face has been stabbed so many times that she is beyond recognition, her clothes are ripped and her internal organs have been crudely carved from her body. Midnight in Peking details the investigation to find her murderer, against the backdrop of pre-war China in 1937. The Japanese invaders are lurking, the political relationship between the Chinese and the Western settlers is tense and the opium-fuelled debauchery of Peking threatens to swallow any hope of finding the guilty ones.

French's tone is straight forward, matter of fact and remote. The reader is immediately drawn into the heady world of European settlers in Peking, but the overall reading experience is confusing. Though it is well researched and filled with facts, I quite often found that I lost interest. I also found myself wondering whether I was reading a novel or a piece of historical research. Feelings and thoughts are super-imposed on real people, but far from making it read like a historical novel, it just feels like guesswork, something which is massively at odds with the detailed, thorough image it tries to project of itself.

Half-way through there is also a disturbing shift in perspective. We have just spent the first 150 pages looking through the eyes of, and sympathising with, DCI Dennis and Colonel Han, the two officers in charge of the investigation. Then it suddenly changes to Pamela's father's view, and the reader's allegiance suddenly has to change. Were the officers in charge of the investigation corrupt and incompetent? Did they deliberately ignore and hide essential evidence? Just a few pages ago we were reading about how DCI Dennis was making himself sick with his obsession with bringing Pamela's murderer to justice. The lack of consistency both irritated and confused me.

No doubt this is a thoroughly researched book, and no doubt Pamela Werner's story is a tragic one, but there is also no doubt that writing is not one of French's strongest talents. As if I needed further proof of this, the book is liberally sprinkled with terrible phrases such as 'Werner seethed'.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2013 12:46 PM BST


The Secret Scripture
The Secret Scripture
by Sebastian Barry
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Scripture, 10 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Secret Scripture (Paperback)
Roseanne is a hundred years old. Living out the last few days of her life in an Irish mental hospital, she starts to write down an account of her life. From time to time she is visited by Dr Grene, and as their two sad stories unfold in tandem, many sad secrets are exposed. Slowly we learn how the extreme and polarized religious society in Ireland at the time had catastrophic consequences for Roseanne and the few people she ever had the opportunity to love.

Roseanne's description of life in Ireland in the 1930's is touching, vulnerable and sweet. She has a charming voice, both childlike and wise. Her passions and tragedies are heartbreaking, but a prevailing sense of peace lets the reader get immersed in her story without too much discomfort. Dr Grene provides a more modern and practical voice, but no less sensitive than Roseanne's own.

This book is slow, introspective, melancholy and wistful. It might take a little effort to get into, and the absolute authority of the Catholic faith might feel a little unfamiliar and strange. But it is hard not to grow fond of Rosanne and Dr Grene, or fall under the spell of this sad little book.


Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Norwegian Wood, 28 July 2012
This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Norwegian Wood is the retrospective narrative of middle-aged Toru Watanabe as he looks back on his life as a student in Tokyo on the 1960's. It is a story of love, conflict, loss, self-destruction and trying to find oneself as an adult. Watanabe is a loner, in love with the beautiful, but damaged Naoko. Their love seems cursed from the start as the only thing they have in common is the grief they feel over their mutual friend's suicide. When Watanabe meets Midori, a head-strong, lonely, honest and fragile creature, he has to choose between old and new love.

This is the first book by Murakami I have read, and I understand that Norwegian Wood is a break from his normal writing style. To me, it read like a very simple love story, and though I recognise that simplicity in a love story can be very powerful, that is not the effect achieved here. Maybe it is the translation from Japanese or maybe it is a naÔve style of writing which does not appeal to me, but it felt juvenile and one-dimensional. One example is that the characters always 'munch', 'chew' or 'swallow' their food, they never just eat it, just like they 'guzzle' or 'sip' their drinks. It makes me feel like the extra words have been added to give weight, where as if there was more content, how they eat their food would be of no relevance.

Emotions are either black-and-white or over-analysed to the point of almost cryptic interpretations. Overreactions make almost no sense at all and the mental torture that drives so many of the characters to suicide feel artificial, like they have been ineptly created for extra drama and weight. I'm sad to say that my first encounter with one of Japan's most popular novelists has left me a little disappointed.


Pure
Pure
by Andrew Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pure, 18 July 2012
This review is from: Pure (Paperback)
Paris, in the 1600's. The Cemetery of Les Innocents is overflowing, the result of hundreds of years of over-use. Bones litter the ground and thousands of decomposing bodies foul the air, water and people living in its proximity. Miles away, in the cavernous depths of the Versailles Palace, a decision is made to empty Less Innocents of it's human remains and tear down the church. Jean-Baptiste Baratte is the engineer given the task of purifying this pocket of Paris.

The year of working at Les Innocents will be a year like no other of Baratte's life - Friends, loyalties, love, sickness and obstacles are all encountered as if for the first time, all set against the Gothic backdrop of Paris and her decomposing population.

This is a sweet, rather simple book - A historical novel and a tale of self-discovery. Essentially this is a journey to manhood for Baratte, and though he lacks the complexity to make him a truly interesting and memorable protagonist, he is likable enough. It is beautifully written, horribly eerie and grim at times, touching and acutely observant at others.


Holy Fools
Holy Fools
by Joanne Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Holy Fools, 10 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Holy Fools (Paperback)
When we are first introduced to Juliette she is living as Soeur Auguste - A nun, a mother, a healer, a fugitive and a keeper of secrets, both her own and those of her fellow nuns. Life at this remote island convent is simple and safe - Until, that is, their elderly and lenient Abbess dies, leaving the Abbey of Saint Marie de la Mer vulnerable to the fervour of religious reform in 1600's France. The Abbess is replaced by the pious and aristocratic Mere Isabelle, only 13 years old and guided by the sinister but enigmatic Pere Colombin. Juliette's past as a glamorous travelling acrobat is about to catch up with her, and strikes at the one thing she left that life to protect - her daughter Fleur.

Atmospheric and haunting from the start, this book is a true example of Harris's skill as a writer. Her trademark undercurrents of spirituality and magic are here, though this novel is darker than her other books. Pere Colombin is a more sinister harbinger of change, though, cleverly, it is never completely clear whether he is a flawed, redeemable charmer or a manipulative, evil villain.

The nuns give Harris plenty of material for humour, deceit, heartbreak and chilling hysteria, and all the time Abbey life contrasts starkly with the colourful life of Juliette as the travelling circus performer - A life of music and glittering costumes and few moral obligations. The ending is a little untidy and far-fetched in some parts for my tastes but it is a minor observation on a very good book indeed.


Westwood (Vintage Classics)
Westwood (Vintage Classics)
by Stella Gibbons
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Westwood, 2 July 2012
Margaret Steggles is a teacher in her early twenties who has just moved to London with her parents during the Second World War. She is bookish and plain, a romantic who 'feels too much.' Walking one day on Hampstead Heath, she finds a ration book, and upon returning it to its owner she is drawn into the glamorous and artistic world of playwright Gerard Challis and his family. Unbeknownst to Margaret, however, her close friend Hilda (sunny and pretty where Margaret is dreamy and awkward) has also been drawn, somewhat reluctantly, into Gerard Challis' world as well.

Gibbon's signature sense of humour is very much in evidence in Westwood's characters; Margaret's brittle, nasty mother, the careless arrogance of the Challises, the explosive, hysterical passion of Zita the Jewish refugee, Gerard Challlis's arrogant sexism, Hilda's breezy disregard for anything remotely unpleasant. Against the evocative backdrop of North London, the world of brilliant, cheating husbands and charming, bohemian wives is expertly drawn and very entertaining.

I feel I have to issue a warning though - A quote from The Times on the back of the book suggests that Gibbons is the Jane Austen of the twentieth century. If that's what you're expecting, you will be disappointed. Gibbons is clever and funny, but also incurably light and frothy. Cold Comfort Farm is her best work, and Westwood is very clearly inferior. The characters often seem compromised for comedy value and the story feels rudderless and unstructured. Too much time is spent on one thing and then too little on another. Doubtless this is a funny and sharp book, but it lacks substance and form, which ultimately renders it rather forgettable.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2015 6:58 PM GMT


Hunger Games Trilogy - 3 Books Collection Set
Hunger Games Trilogy - 3 Books Collection Set
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars If you haven't already, start now!, 2 July 2012
Utterly addictive, great fun and brilliantly original; this fast paced, post-apocalyptic series has something for everyone; romance, action, fantasy, suspense and drama. Katniss Everdeen is the perfect reluctant heroine and underdog, and the Hunger Games concept is an interesting commentary on what might happen in a society such as ours where our apetite for reality entertainment seems to know no bounds.

Forget page-turner - These books will make you miss your stop on the way to work, rob you of your sleep because you can't stop reading and leave you bereft when the last page has turned. I envy everyone who has not yet read this trilogy... They still have it all to look forward to.


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