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Joel Bateman (Brisbane, Australia)

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Dubliners (Box Set) (Modern Classics)
Dubliners (Box Set) (Modern Classics)
by James Joyce
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £25.52

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent version of Joyce's stories, 12 Dec. 2008
Nobody else has reviewed this, so I thought I'd chip in. I've read 'Dubliners' a couple of times, although not for a few years now. But I've started listening to audiobooks when I travel, and I thought this one might be an interesting listen. The stories are excellent, and if you've not read 'Dubliners' before, you probably should. Most of them convey minor incidents in the lives of minor people, but they do so in a remarkable way. For all of Joyce's later invention & imagination, he also demonstrates here (and elsewhere, for that matter) an incredible insight into the ordinary lives of unexceptional people, and several of these stories are heartbreaking. (Some are also quite funny.)

Anyway, onto the Naxos audiobook. This six-disc set contains the all the stories, over about seven hours. The reader is Jim Norton, best known to me as Bishop Len Brennan from 'Father Ted'. I initially wondered if that was going to be a distraction, but (thankfully) it turns out that his normal reading voice is nothing like that character's distinct style. Norton does the range of characters very well, even in stories like 'Ivy Day in the Committee Room', where I never had any problems telling the multiple characters apart during lenghty dialogues. He even sings a few times! Naxos has also used some suitable music to top & tail most of the stories here, which adds suitably to the atmosphere.

Anyway, whether you've enjoyed 'Dubliners' before, or are trying to start on Joyce with his most accessible work, I can highly recommend this version. I've now bought the Naxos version of 'Finnegans Wake', in the hope that an (abridged) audio reading of that book will make it even faintly comprehensible...

Omnibus: Albert Angelo, House Mother Normal & Trawl (3 titles)
Omnibus: Albert Angelo, House Mother Normal & Trawl (3 titles)
by B.S. Johnson
Edition: Paperback

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent publication, 1 Aug. 2006
I can't remember, to be honest, how I came to BS Johnson, but when I found this Omnibus, it was too wonderful to resist. (The book design is gorgeous, by the way.) Having not read any of his other works before these three, I was initially worried that his experimental style might prove a hard slog. Fortunately, I was wrong - all three of these novels are not only fascinating works of 'experimental' fiction, they are remarkably easy reading. Sure, they're not overloaded with plot, and there's little here for the students of the Dan Brown school of writing, but anyone with an interest in 20th century English-language literature will find much to enjoy/admire here.

'Albert Angelo' is a good introduction to Johnson, with a few quirks but a fairly straightforward storyline. The section that juxtaposes our narrator's thoughts with his words is very well done, and the cut-out (contrary to the other reviewer here, it seemed in the right place to me - but of course I've not seen any other editions) works a treat. The ending is, well, read it yourself...

'Trawl' was in my opinion the least-compelling of the three here. Not bad, mind you, but I just found less interesting either in content or form than the two either side. Still worth reading, though, for some lovely writing.

'House Mother Normal' is an astonishing idea - the same night at an old people's home, told by seven residents (in descending order of lucidity) and the house mother. Each of the eight characters is allocated 21 pages, all of which match up with the other seven chapters - so when two characters are conversing, you read one character's thoughts & dialogue in one chapter, and the corresponding responses in another - all typeset on the page to show where they're each speaking. There's little story, but the form & character studies of 'House Mother Normal' make it one of most interesting books I've read in a long time. And, as one of the other reviewers noted, a pretty quick read since the typography style means that there's not that many words on each page.

I've also bought - but not yet read - 'Christie Malry's Own Double Entry', also beautifully published by Picador. But it seems as if his other three novels are all out of print. I only hope that some enterprising publisher sees the market for another run through each of them...

Frames (Trilogy 2): The Book of Evidence; Ghosts; Athena
Frames (Trilogy 2): The Book of Evidence; Ghosts; Athena
by John Banville
Edition: Paperback

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fine, mesmerising read, 8 April 2006
John Banville's 'Frames' trilogy is centred around the charmingly unlikeable Freddie Montgomery. No, unlikeable is too strong - for, while he is not likeable in any conventional sense, it's hard not to be drawn to him. In 'The Book of Evidence', our Freddie steals a painting & kills a chambermaid; in 'Ghosts' he is released from prision and moves to a small island; and in 'Athena' he, well, falls in love. Perhaps. The first two are gorgeously rendered pieces, haunting (sorry, awful but unavoidable pun) yet compulsively readable despite their non-reliance on plot. I found 'Athena' harder to get into, perhaps because in the early parts Freddie (by this point living under another name) seems less present than the earlier two, even though he narrates all three. Still, the second half works better and it remains a worthy companion, and I suspect it will improve with re-reading.
Banville, in content, reminds me of Paul Auster & Milan Kundera, with the constant refractions of identity, art & the near-solitude of the main characters (though without the contemporary cultural references of either - Banville's characters always seem to live in a void in which the past exists but the present does not). In style, though, he is closest, as others have observed, to Vladimir Nabokov (though perhaps without as much a sense of playful puzzle-building). Most obviously this is manifest in his 'confessional narrative', unreliable narrators using their writing not so much to tell a story as to secure their own futures, allowing things to be remembered 'their' way. But I would also note that Nabokov and Banville are the two best users of brackets of any authors I have read - read any of the novels in this trilogy and Nabokov's 'Transparent Things', for instance, if you have ever doubted that a pair of brackets can be devastatingly employed. Anyone who has enjoyed any of these three authors' work would do well to investigate Banville, and this trilogy is as good a place as any to start.

Orwell and the Dispossessed (Penguin Modern Classics)
Orwell and the Dispossessed (Penguin Modern Classics)
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read, 20 April 2004
This collection contains Orwell's first major work, 'Down and Out in Parisand London', as well as a few hundred pages of letters, reviews, articlesand interviews Orwell gave on the general theme of poverty. Thiscollection is worth the price for 'Down and Out...' alone (though it canbe purchased separately), but the addition of all these other pieces makethis book a classic, compelling read. Some of the minor pieces here arealmost as good as 'Down and Out...', and there's not a boring piece to beseen.
The only complaint I would make is that some of the pieces seem to have apretty tenuous relationship to the theme of 'the Dispossessed'. However,they're all interesting anyway, so it's no real complaint. This book,along with the others in the series - '... in Spain', 'England' and '...and Politics' are all excellent collections for fans of Orwell or literarynon-fiction in general.

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