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Animals
Animals
by Emma Jane Unsworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

1.0 out of 5 stars She thinks her friends think she is hilarious, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Animals (Paperback)
Simply too bad to read more than about 40 pages. Loud mouthed arrogant writer who thinks her friends think she is hilarious.

Chances are she’s wrong, but if she isn’t, they are.

Revolting story of ‘modern young people’ living in shared apartments, taking drugs, drinking, being angsty and having long distance romances with imaginary Mr Darcey’s. The only skill here is having succeeded in making two dimensional characters so revolting instead of just flat. She should not have written this book; she should have it tattooed in runes on the small of her back.

She puts word together like she is bailing hay.


Born Bad: Original Sin and the Making of the Western World
Born Bad: Original Sin and the Making of the Western World
by James Boyce
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.21

2.0 out of 5 stars Born Pompous and Dreary, 11 Feb. 2015
Non-fiction straight out the 1970s drawer. A slightly engaging academic with no writing talent, who has not read any popular non-fiction ever, attempts to jolly his students (readers) into being as fascinated by his subject as he is. He’s the kind of writer who might be thinking about investing in a television. Absolutely no space whatsoever for this pompous drear in the modern library. This is for a university press, not for the mainstream at all.


The Planner
The Planner
by Tom Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Just as you might expect... BORING, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Planner (Paperback)
A boring and bored local government employ – a town planner - is not quite making it in London and before he has the chance to bolt off to Nottingham, a old acquaintance convinces him that he could ‘plan’ his way through London, instead of just being a dullard who lows with the herd.

What this book needs is Kafka, but unfortunately Kafka has already written this book several time before and is dead. So what we get instead is something like… Anthony Powel. Turgid, tedious, long winded, talentless, boring. At least it succeeds in capturing the atmosphere around any given Southwark Council photocopier.


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Revolting maudlin trash, or hours and hours in the jovial company of old friends? You decide., 11 Feb. 2015
Despite the horribly gushy introductory letter to the reader (to `fans') THE LOVESONG OF QUEENIE HENNESY is completely inseparable from HENRY FRY and will make almost no sense to anyone who has not read the latter. It will also excite the same emotional response in the reader as HENRY FRY, which in my case was wrestling with sixty pages or so of revolting trash, but for many others will be hours and hours in the jovial company of old friends.

It is hard get an proper angle on the book without haveing swallowed HENRY FRY but what I can say is this. Queenie was a minor, but crucial, character in HENRY FRY and this is her story written in pencil by arthritic hands in the last few days of her life: a rambling conglomeration of `memories' and regrets.

Described by Joyce as `a book that needed to be written' (perhaps the worst thing any writer can say about their own work), there will be no shortage of critics that describe it as a book that needs to be pulped: exactly the reaction Joyce and her fans probably enjoy gloating over. What this book desperately needs is Richard and Judy drooling on the cover.

Apart from the necessity of reading another horrible book in order to be able to understand this one, and apart from the cloying style , apart from having been written as a purely commercial venture to fleece the lovers of this drivel, there is one huge flaw which, in my opinion, hugely damages QUEENIE's potential in ways that mere carping by the likes of me can't.

QUEENIE will sell just as widely and just as well to the HERNY FRY demographic, but the sociological positioning of the works will leave it open to genuine criticism by impartial critics and readers. The book "needed' to be written because we live in a world where so many people are living so much longer than ever before and spending long periods of their so-called lives engaged in a long lingering death attended to like queen bees by hives of carers and supporters. That book (about the whole new nature of the end of life and death itself) certainly needed to be written, and happily still does. As a social commentary, QUEENIE is roughly the equivalent of describing a cholera epidemic through the confessions of Queen Victoria as she lay dying in Osborne House. Nothing could be more inappropriate. Very few of Joyce's readers will have aged parents dying in Elysian luxury, attended to by McMillans and nuns, with views of the flower garden and the absence of chemical coshes. The death of QUEENIE is one that less than one percent of us can afford or even aspire to.

It's the kind of books that in a just word would precipitate a French revolution. Surely Joyce has noticed this?
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 13, 2015 5:23 PM GMT


The Paying Guests
The Paying Guests
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Dangerously pigeonholey, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Paying Guests (Hardcover)
It's the early 1920s and Francis Wray and her mum are living in a substantial house somewhere in south London. The district is already in a slow decline and the Wrays are going down with it. Old age, the Great War and random happenstance have emasculated their home leaving it fatherless, brotherless, sonless and husbandless. They have no choice but to take in boarders, the Barbers, Len and Lil. The Wrays would like to look down on the Barbers, but war and necessity has squeezed all the snobbery out of Camberwell. Len, though the weakest of the four, simply becomes the `man of the house': voids must be filled.

Len and Lillian's marriage is based on a pregnancy that never came to full term and the two `rub along' together - external dalliances with "shopgirl" Billie for Len and isolation for Lil. With Francis and Lillian isolated together in crumbling Camberwell, there is only one way for Sarah Waters to flow.

Not one sentence is contrived, bloated or pretentiously spare. Every word is necessary: no necessary words are omitted. What makes this novel great is a traditional plot, enacted by living breathing human characters, painted by a writer who has control over every syllable: incredible control. I can't really summarize that.

Waters has control of this book like nothing I have read since WINGS OF A DOVE or BLEAK HOUSE. Like Dickens, every one of her characters - every one - is forgiven; there are ways out everywhere, for everyone. Frailty, self assertion and redemption are huge. The introduction of an array of minor characters for the final trial scenes, the use made of them, the life breathed into them... Waters loves them all. You will too. Poor, poor Leonard: really did nothing wrong. Well, no more that you would expect.

The pacing is phenomenal. Phenomenal. Only James can do it like this. At every turn you are begging her to speed it up, begging her to slow down. The final few pages are just amazing. It is impossible to turn them fast enough. It is impossible to turn them slowly enough. Waters brings in ANNA KARENINA herself, so I can too: the final 100 pages of A-K when you read it for the first time, aged 19. Do you remember the joy of the approaching conclusion and the fear of the end? Waters slows it down better than Beethoven. She leads you at a Jamesian pace, slower than a bonsai, twisted and perfect: racing psychology in a gluey reality. I'm watching the page count go down and down. I can't turn the final page. Did I forget to mention Flaubert?

Waters has written a love story as 'lesbian' and Wuthering Heights is 'a heterosexual love story'. She has transcended and I am transported. These are free humans, making mistakes, in the garden of good and evil.

Unfortunately, hence 4* instead of 5*, this is a Sarah Waters novel. She's pigeonholing herself to a degree which a writer with this skill should avoid like the plague. I hope her next book is about a horse race in Malaysia in the year 2045.


The Prophecy of Bees
The Prophecy of Bees
by R.S. Pateman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for grown ups, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Prophecy of Bees (Paperback)
This is absolutely not an adult novel. It's more like a GCSE text, or more correctly, it's like a piece of course work.

You can't help feeling certain that Pateman has a doting uncle who works in publishing,


Preparation for the Next Life
Preparation for the Next Life
by Atticus Lish
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Cult-hood beckons, 11 Feb. 2015
Historically, wars actually don’t produce that many great books. Pick any give conflict and you’ll struggle to find more than two or three genuine great novels. WWII might be seen as something of an exception, but a lot of what came out of that war were holocaust novels rather than ‘war” novels per se. The various Middle Eastern/ Central Asian conflicts of the past 20 years seem to be some of the most rich soil for novelists and I think we can partly attribute this to 24 hr news coverage (you can fight a war from a bar stool and library carrel these days) to the abundant number of writers who are actually doing that – trying to break away from the vast MFA herd. I could go on, but…

PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE is a very scary title but the book itself is really quite simple. An illegal immigrant to the States from Xinjiang in NW China meets an Iraq vet and they go on a pretty standard “boy meets girl” scenario together, tempered greatly by who they are and what they’ve done.

What Lish has done to break away from the herd is basically stylistic. I found the content of the novel predictable and unexceptional. The parts set back in China p. me off quite a lot, partly because of factual inaccuracies that only people (like me) who have spent an extended time in the region (or can use google maps) will notice and partly because they just the same old China drivel you see anywhere. More or less the same can probably be said of the Iraq parts, but I lack first hand knowledge of that particular hellhole. Probably inaccurate, probably second hand, literary armchair stuff.

However, you don’t criticize BLEAK HOUSE because it’s not like a real lawyers office, because they don’t seem like real missionaries… You don’t criticize GONE WITH THE WIND because the civil war was nothing like that.

As a literary endeavor PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE is really gutsy honest attempt to produce a work which stand or falls on the basis of the author's skill. As a writing exercise, it gets about and 8 or 9 out of ten, The writing takes over and the characters and plot are left far behind. (They must be, they are dull). It so far out of my comfort zone to rate a book highly on style alone, but I’m going to do it. There is enough talent and gumption here to cover all manner of flaws and quibbles. Regardless of actual sales, cult-hood certainly beckons. Fifty years ago PREPARATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE would have been passed hand to hand by those in the know, with each copy read ten of more times – each of the 40 copies it actually sold. I’m not sure what happens to it today.


Mr Mac and Me
Mr Mac and Me
by Esther Freud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.49

2.0 out of 5 stars Something from the notebook when all the good ideas have run out., 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Mr Mac and Me (Hardcover)
In 1914, Scottish artists and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret moved to the village of Walberswick in Suffolk where they remained for several years. The events of the story are told through the eyes of the village innkeeper’s son, Tom, and culminate when Mackintosh was briefly arrested as a spy in 1915. It covers the life of Mackintosh in the period, the coming of age of the somewhat effete mummy’s boy Tom and the story of a Suffolk village during WWI.

It’s a Beryl Bainbridge novel: well executed, tight, a curiosity and instantly forgettable. Freud has quite a pedigree these days and this is a novel by a very competent, but far from brilliant writer, with no real clear idea behind it. One gets the impression Freud heard the story of Mackintosh’s brief incarceration and decided to weave a whole novel around it, in a very workmanlike way. Something from the notebook when all the good ideas (Did she ever have any?) have run out.

When a middle aged, mediocre writer sits down to tell a simple story through the voice of an uneducated, 14-year-old Suffolk lad a century ago, you would expect that she would have accumulated enough literary friends for one to tell her to stop. The voice never convinces, not even for one single sentence. That’s not to say it’s bad—well it is—but why she chose the first person for this book, we will never know, because the book is going to disappear without a trace, in my opinion. Had she taken the far less conceited route – the third person reliable omniscient – we would have a book that was at least about something other than just page after page of writing.

Nothing goes on for vast sections of the book except the day to day activities of being a boy, in Suffolk, during a war, and a very sensitive lad, who appreciates, eventually, the finer things in life. Bore of the week, as Private Eye may once have said. Hardly surprising, really.


Getting Colder
Getting Colder
by Amanda Coe
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars No style, just hate, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Getting Colder (Hardcover)
If you are going to write a ‘family drama’, then you have a choice: write something vicious or write rubbish. Amanda Cole has gone down the vicious route and run a country mile. It’s set in Cornwall. I don’t know why, but I’m going to forgive that cardinal sin this time.

Sally/ Sara (Mum) dies after a week-long capitulation to cancer. Step-dad Patrick, lives on. Mum and step-dad got together in the misty backwoods of the children’s lives, 30ish years ago and before any of S/S’s offspring were forming complete cogent memories. Patrick was a bad playwright back in the 80s and is now, from the outside, is just a cantankerous old swine whose wife just died.

Abandoned by their mother at Patrick’s behest. Louise and Nigel now have to deal with their mother’s death and a very bad tempered and headstrong old man who is not related to them and whom neither has ever liked. Enter Mia, supposed grad student writing a thesis on Patrick, who turns up having made arrangements with Sara. Initially staying for a few days only, Mia remains as Patrick’s PA and eventually the old letch will ask her to marry him. In the middle of this, Louise decamps from Leeds with adolescent daughter, ostensibly to save her from her ‘boyfriend’ who is both older and Asian.

Amanda Coe has almost no style to her writing at all. What she has is acid. Acid of BRIGHTON ROCK proportions. The intricacies of hatred, misunderstanding and mendacity are a wide as the Sargasso Sea.

In a very low key way, GETTING COLDER is one of the best of the year. It’s unpretentious and for once the author has concentrated on the characters rather than just displaying her personal skills as if she was selling baubles in a souk or herself in a Dutch window, which is always where the best writing lies. The actual plot is just a stage for these ‘people’ to blame each other on and Coe has taken herself to a great distance from the whole thing.

While the novel works and is quite addictive for the first three quarters, the occasional flashbacks to Louise and Nigel’s childhoods don’t serve much purpose and the pychic stuff is a bridge to far. However, it has the genuine feel of a ‘real’ novel crafted by real skill and imagination rather than a contorted series of misunderstood personal anecdotes. It’s too short and too lightweight to call it Tolstoyian, but that’s what Tolstoyian means – no style, just hate.


Foreign Gods, Inc.
Foreign Gods, Inc.
by Okey Ndibe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Better luck next god, 11 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Foreign Gods, Inc. (Paperback)
FOREIGN GODS INC. is a big meaty book set in New York and Nigeria. The style is immediately recognizable as West African and one gets he impression that Ndibe will write a classic masterpiece one day. While FOREIGN GODS is good, it’s not great.

Ike has been driving a New York cab for thirteen years, since graduating cum laude in economics from Amherst. This somewhat curious career path is never fully accounted for. Ike discovers a ‘gallery’ called Foreign Gods which sell idols and anthropological specimens for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He resolves to return to his home village and steal their local god, bring it back to NY and make a fortune, believing (as one does) that his God is more powerful, and therefore more expensive than any other. The majority of the book is a well written, but somewhat unexceptional “homecoming” story.

The difficulty a writer like Ndibe faces if when you are writing, as he is he is here, at the highest literary level, readers and critics will nitpick to degree. I’d like to say that I have no complaints about FOREIGN GODS, but actually I have a number of reservations, set against the back drop of what is a quite good book.

All the conversation are fake and stagey, especially the first with the gallery owner. The gallery metaphor is huge, and doesn’t quite get the treatment something so huge deserves. Most of the ‘action’ is actually quite dull. Nonetheless, it’s probably a book that will cause something of a minor fuss, more through hustling that actual merit.


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