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Eleanor (Oxford, England)

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The Restless Supermarket
The Restless Supermarket
Price: £4.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and unsettling, 17 Feb. 2017
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From the etymological wordplay of the opening sentence (which is too rude to repeat here) "The Restless Supermarket" plunges the reader into the mind of a narrator obsessed with definitions, etymologies, and orthography: the "Concise Oxford Dictionary" is ever on his person and he delights in bouts of ‘lexical fartlek’.

Aubrey (‘from the German Alberich, ruler of elves’) Tearle is a retired proofreader who likes to think of himself as a modern-day Derrick van Bummel, the schoolmaster in Washington Irving’s story ‘Rip Van Winkle’, who Irving describes as ‘a dapper learned little man, who was not to be daunted by the most gigantic word in the dictionary’ (Tearle omits the ‘little’ when quoting these words). Tearle spends his days on his grand project, a meticulously-catalogued collection of typographical errors and other corrigenda, plucked from the likes of menus (‘wanton dumplings’), packaging (‘petit poise’), newspapers (‘How real is the threat of Muslin fundamentalism?’), and obituaries (‘till we meat again’, 'safe in God's cave', ‘knowing you enriched our livers’, 'I will always remember your simile'). Many of these are genuine examples gathered by Vladislavić who works as an editor as well as a writer. Aubrey’s narration is overlaid with a commentary (often pompous and pedantic) on the language he is using and people and things are reduced to the language with which they are described.

As someone who spends a portion of their time poring over proofs, I loved Tearle’s statement that proofreaders ‘generally have suspicious minds and long memories’, whilst his description of the act of proofreading is spot on:

"The proofreader is a tightrope artist, managing the difficult tension between momentum and inertia, story and stock, sentence and word. As soon as he becomes too engrossed in the sense of what he’s reading, he loses sight of the unitary word; on the other hand, the failure to register sense at some level, however rarefied, will lead to harrowing technical misjudgements. If he is to survive this hazardous passage without falling, he must find the still moving point between the excitement of the chase and the rapture of possession."

However, although aspects of Tearle resonated with me, he is an unlikeable and ultimately pitiful character. Tearle’s obsession with order and correctness in language has an unsettling corollary in the outside world. The novel, first published in South Africa in 2001 and re-released in Britain in 2014, is set in Johannesburg in the early nineties: Nelson Mandela is to be released from prison and Apartheid is on the way out. The prospect of a post-Apartheid South Africa is something the conservative and racist Tearle cannot countenance, and he longs to be able to correct what he sees as the destabilization of his country with a swipe of his blue pencil. This makes for uncomfortable reading, as Charles Boyle in The Warwick Review puts it: ‘Vladislavić lures readers who love wordplay into sympathy and then brings them up short’.

It is this combination of linguistic richness, astute characterization, and a particular political and geographical landscape which makes "The Restless Supermarket" such a challenging yet satisfying read.


Jaybird Freedom Micro-Sized Premium Wireless Buds - Ocean
Jaybird Freedom Micro-Sized Premium Wireless Buds - Ocean

4.0 out of 5 stars Great headphones, 17 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been using these headphones regularly for a month or so now and I can't imagine life without him. They are incredibly easy to set up and I was immediately able to stream music wirelessly from my phone.

The headphones can be controlled from buttons on the control module by one of the earpieces (skip, go back, volume, off/on) or from your phone, and these buttons are easy to use on the go. Voice alerts let you know, in increments of 20%, how much charge is remaining and give advance warning of when the headphones will need recharging.

The best thing about these headphones is the charger. To charge the headphones you attach the charger to the control module. The charger is small enough that you can continue using the headphones while it is charging and each charge gives about 4 hours of music. The charger is then itself charged using the USB attachment provided. Therefore, as well as being small and convenient, this arrangement also means you should never find yourself out of charge.

The headphones come with a choice of earbuds in various sizes (silicon and foam) as well as ear wings which anchor the buds more firmly in your ears and allow them to be used when running or working out. It may just be my ears but I found that I couldn't get the earphones to stay in without the wings (however, they are very snug with them). I also found that the foam buds sometimes came away too easily from the metal ear speakers and so I have already lost one.

Finally the headphones come with a clip which means you can shorten them to the appropriate length and another clip with which you can attach them to clothing to provide extra attachment when running or working out. A small magnetic pouch also provides a convenient and secure means of carrying everything.


The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fresh novel, 13 Jan. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"The Underground Railroad" tells the story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia plantation, and her attempts to find freedom. As one would expect from such a plot, and the historical events from which it is drawn, "The Underground Railroad" is often grim, upsetting, and incomprehensible. However, I also enjoyed the characterization, the detailed evocation of various households and communities, and Whitehead's fresh approach. This is because Whitehead takes a number of liberties with history, not least making the railroad of the title real rather than metaphorical. At times I found this disconcerting, having to google whether North Carolina really did try to become a whites-only state, for example. However, although the shameful situations Whitehead describes may not always have happened in the antebellum period, they were definitely a feature of post-slavery America, as the Tuskegee experiment and the racial cleansing in Forsyth County, Georgia, show. All in all I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading Whitehead's other novels.


Ragdoll
Ragdoll
by Daniel Cole
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.99

27 of 43 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Terrible prose, 13 Jan. 2017
This review is from: Ragdoll (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It is incredibly rare that I abandon a book, especially one covered in such praise and with what should be a page-turning plot. However, Cole's prose is cliched, lumbering, telling us things we have already been shown, and clogged with redundant adjectives and adverbs. For example, within one page we read that a woman has 'red hair' (Cole likes describing hair colour), is a 'red headed woman', and a 'redhead'. On the same page a man is described as 'heavyset' and then a few lines later as "the large man'. I found myself frequently thinking of Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing, especially Rule 3 ('Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue.'). "Ragdoll" was originally written as a screenplay and it is something I would definitely watch. However, I found the book unreadable.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 14, 2017 12:39 PM GMT


The Transition
The Transition
by Luke Kennard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of the near future, 3 Jan. 2017
This review is from: The Transition (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Facing prison for various financial crimes, Karl is instead offered a place on a scheme called the Transition: for six months he and his wife will live with a slightly older couple in order to learn financial prudence, resiliance, and emotional maturity. Kennard's target in this satirical novel is partly the helplesness and self-absorption of Karl and his generation; however, these children of the 21st Century have also been let down by the previous generation, and as the novel progresses the reader begins to wonder whether the Transition is really as wholesome as it seems.

"The Transition" is an engrossing novel, reminiscent of Dave Eggers's "The Circle" or Black Mirror. I enjoyed the details of the world Kennard has created and the flawed character of Karl is very well drawn.


English Animals
English Animals
by Laura Kaye
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A clever debut, 29 Dec. 2016
This review is from: English Animals (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Mirka is a young gay Slovakian woman who has taken up a job with an upper-middle class couple in a large house in the middle of the English countryside. "English Animals" follows Mirka as she moves from discomfort and loneliness to something which begins to feels like home.

Laura Kaye skewers a particular type of Englishness perfectly and I frequently found myself laughing out loud at her characterizations. As an outsider, for whom English is not a first language, Mirka, the narrator, has a different perspective, and Kaye very cleverly conveys this.

All in all "English Animals" is a very enjoyable novel which I found myself eager to return to.


The Legacy: Children's House Book 1 (Children's House series)
The Legacy: Children's House Book 1 (Children's House series)
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable crime novel, 19 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A new Yrsa Sigurðardóttir novel is always a treat and "The Legacy" lives up to her previous books. This is the first of a new series involving the Children's House, a centre where children who have been abused or otherwise caught up in a crime are treated and questioned.

"The Legacy" concerns a horribly twisted murder in which the only witness is a little girl. The narrative focuses on cop Huldar, unexpectedly promoted to head the case, and Freyja, a psychologist at the Children's House. We also meet Karl, a lonely man with an obsession with short wave radio and especially the mysterious numbers stations.

This is a very enjoyable and well-plotted book which was so readable I finished it in two days. I thought I had figured out what was going on, but Yrsa was always one step ahead, right up to the satisfying final pages.


Black Wave
Black Wave
by Michelle Tea
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant novel, 18 Dec. 2016
This review is from: Black Wave (Paperback)
It's 1999 and Michelle is living a down-at-heel life in San Francisco's Mission district: drinking, taking drugs, mistreating her long-suffering girlfriend, and trying to make it as a writer. Michelle is not easy to like and the author, Michelle Tea, creates a thoroughly believable alter-ego and a brilliantly-evoked San Francisco. The gay bars, artistic scene, rickety apartments, and the streets of the city at the end of the last millennium all come vividly to life.

However, "Black Wave" is much more than this. It soon becomes apparent that there is something off-kilter with Tea's America and the novel opens out to become a horribly realistic dystopia, a meta-novel, and a moving portrait of one woman's development. This is a ridiculously readable, entertaining, and clever novel.

"Black Wave" has recently been published in the U.K. by And Other Stories; I thoroughly recommend it.


Earth-Shattering Events: Earthquakes, Nations and Civilization
Earth-Shattering Events: Earthquakes, Nations and Civilization
by Andrew Robinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.88

3.0 out of 5 stars The influence of earthquakes, 15 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In "Earth-shattering Events" Andrew Robinson describes, chapter by chapter, ten earthquakes* and their repercussions. Robinson's particular focus is on the effects of such earthquakes on the politics, culture, and economics of the regions affected by them.

This is a nicely presented book with each chapter introduced by an evocative black and white photograph or illustration. I learned some new things both about seismology and history and Robinson quotes well from primary sources.

However, I did find myself becoming frequently frustrated by the book. Primarily this was down to Robinson's quotation of secondary sources. The prose is frequently interspersed with quotations from other authors' books which just state facts or themselves paraphrase a primary source (for example, "As a result of Flamsteed and Hales theories, 'the term "airquake" then enjoyed a brief currency in the popular press', comments historian of science Frances Willmoth.") This quotation is distracting and seems lazy and contributes to a feeling of superficiality.

In addition, although Robinson does hedge his assessments of the influence of some of the earthquakes he descibes, he does sometimes make claims which I didn't really feel he managed to substantiate convincingly. For example, that the Lisbon earthquake 'exerted an influence on European life and thought in the 18th century as far-reaching as the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs in the 20th century'.

*London 1750, Lisbon 1755, Caracas 1812, Naples 1857, San Francisco 1906, Tokyo 1923, Tangshan 1976, Gujarat 2001, the Boxing Day tsunami 2004, Fukushima 2011.


Dove Pamper Me Washbag Gift Set
Dove Pamper Me Washbag Gift Set

4.0 out of 5 stars A good gift set, 11 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This large leather-like zipped sponge bag contains four full-sized products: shower cream, bath cream, a light body moisturiser, and spray deodorant. The products all have a lovely rich vanilla scent. This is a good luxurious collection that I would recommend. The shower cream (which is rich and moisturising) had a slightly offputting soapy smell at first, but it's grown on me!

The product description also mentions a candle and holder, but these weren't in the set I received.


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