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gordon henry (Northern Ireland)

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Jagannath: Stories
Jagannath: Stories
by Karin Tidbeck
Edition: Paperback

0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing other worlds, 19 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Jagannath: Stories (Paperback)
Thirteen short stories from a Swedish writer writing in English. One - "Some Letters for Ove Lindstrom" - is worth reading because it is plausible and well-told. The rest aren't. They are fragments of invented worlds that fail to convince. There's nothing wrong with telling strange tales but these are largely pointless: "Pyret" is tedious; "Aunts" is just daft.

Somebody who earns a living from writing once told me that young writers lack the experience to deal with many of life's issues so they rely on inventing imaginary worlds as a substitute. That acurately describes this collection: inventing odd scenarios that go nowhere and leave nothing behind. If the author matures as a person and a writer she may use her imagination to write about people, with their problems, emotions and attempts at solutions. But there's a long way to go between here and there.

The Pastures of Heaven
The Pastures of Heaven

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An early work, and not his best, 17 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Pastures of Heaven (Paperback)
Steinbeck wrote this loosely- connected collection of short stories in his late twenties, near the beginning of his writing career; he'd had his first novel published the previous year. Named after a real valley in north California, these fairly ordinary stories were based on the idea of the dull and dated "Winesburg, Ohio" that set stories in the same place. All are tragedies and the first five involve families with children who are retarded or afflicted in some way. The best story - about a schoolteacher afraid that her past may catch up with her - is slightly different from the rest which all have the theme of difficulties endured despite an idyllic setting, but nothing here suggests the power and lyricism of the novels that later made him famous.

Read the novels first and save this for later only if you feel the need to read everything Steinbeck wrote. It probably wouldn't still be in print if it wasn't for his later works.

The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake
The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake
by Breece D'J. Pancake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

0 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Toss this aside, 10 Feb. 2014
Every awful book I've ever read has had a collection of wonderful reviews on its cover; this one does, too. Published posthumously after the author killed himself at the age of 26 its content is typical of a beginner trying too hard to impress the reader. He may have thought that by focusing on the grim dreariness of his characters he would overcome the lack of substance in these pieces but he was wrong: his fixation with murder, joyless sex, death, ageing, decay, fighting, drinking, disillusionment, and more murder, didn't do him or his stories any good and no amount of contrived prose can hide the fact that there's nothing much happening here. There's one decent story - "Time and Again" - which works because it is understated, in contrast to the rest of the book. (It's about a serial killer.) "The Salvation of Me," "The Way It Has To Be" and "The First day of Winter" are tedious because the author lacked the ability to realise his ideas.

Most are fragments of dreary lives rather than stories; you can tell me that these pieces are realistic because life isn't like stories but real lives have some ambition, hope, optimism and even the possibility of redemption. These pieces don't, which is why they are one-paced and unconvincing. It was a challenge to finish the book but I'll never finish another one that is as unrelentingly grim as this. Life's too short.

The Pugilist at Rest: and other stories
The Pugilist at Rest: and other stories
by Thom Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An uneven collection, 24 Oct. 2013
This collection of eleven short stories is divided into four sections: the first section of three stories is about serving in Vietnam. Focusing almost entirely on the grim details of the war and its aftermath, its not so much warts-and-all as warts only. If you want to read about unrelenting brutality here it is. I preferred Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" as a much more balanced and believable first-hand account of fighting in Vietnam.

The second section of three stories - about relationships and sex - works best, and contains the most convincing stories. Unfortunately the last two sections don't reach this level with their contrived situations and unconvincing characters. Jones has read some philosophy and wants us to know it: every story contains unnecessary quotes from philosophers that he wants to shoe-horn into them. When ordinary people such as soldiers and boxers quote Nietzsche and Schopenhauer - like they do - you know that the author is trying too hard, and this goes for his general approach throughout the stories: he seems to believe that excess is the way to impress.

There are some great sentences, and some clunky ones, in this collection. The overlapping nature of some stories give a feel of limited scope at times but it's well worth reading even though you'll have to take the good stuff with the less convincing and contrived.

by Graham Mort
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Out of touch., 13 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Touch (Paperback)
I prefer stories to poetry; this collection does neither well. I didn't finish it because the pieces were dull and implausible, with an obstacle course of unnecessary similes and pretentious poetic padding that would have got in the way of the "story" -if there had been a story. No amount of irrelevant verbiage can disguise the fact that nothing much is happening.

The cover blurb describes the author as a "master of the genre" of the short story. He isn't - he's a poet who is out of his depth attempting even the simplest of stories. For a story to succeed something has to happen and, usually, something has to change. Fragments of narrative, situations that don't evolve and prose poems in disguise are not stories. Imposing second rate poetry on a piece of prose serves neither well. Perhaps the author should stick to poetry.

The Tin Drum (Vintage War)
The Tin Drum (Vintage War)
by Günter Grass
Edition: Paperback

2 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious, rambling, over-rated., 8 Aug. 2013
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Hailed by some as a masterpiece, you have to question their judgement. Grass's work may have lost something - possibly a lot - in translation but no translator could have invented such a tedious, rambling narrative. No detail is too irrelevant to exclude; no aside is too pointless to omit. Grass obviously loves the sound of his own voice in the way that bores think their every utterance is somehow interesting to others.

His prose ranks with the worst I've ever read and no amount of padding - which seems to make up most of the writing - can disguise the lack of storyline. A better writer may have made the main character, Oskar the dwarf, believable but Grass is more concerned with his "tortuous and labrynthine" ramblings. Oskar could understand what people were saying at the moment of his birth, chose to stop growing at the age of three and contrived, when three years old, to fall downstairs and injure his head to do this. A better writer may have succeeded at convincing magical realism but Grass turns it into implausible drivel.

I could be wrong. Maybe it is a masterpiece. Maybe Grass deserved his Nobel Prize for Literature. And maybe the Emperor's New Clothes fit really well.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2013 9:34 PM BST

Farewell, My Lovely (Phillip Marlowe)
Farewell, My Lovely (Phillip Marlowe)
by Raymond Chandler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dated and over-rated., 15 July 2013
Said to be one of Chandler's best novels, I'm just glad I haven't read the others. An over-complicated plot with red herrings, irrelevant action, implausible characters and at least one unnecessary simile on every page, which boils down to a fairly simple idea that could have been far more effective if Chandler hadn't got carried away with over-elaborating.

At times it's difficult to follow because of Chandler's insistence on using 1940's slang and because the writing isn't very clear. Some of the similes work but many don't: the overall effect is of somebody trying too hard to be clever and failing, to the detriment of the story. It's dated and sloppy; none of the characters are convincing, from the cartoonish Moose Molloy to the implausibly flirtatious Mrs Grayle. It's hard to believe that such a flimsy work would be published today, or that it is still in print.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 6, 2016 8:28 PM BST

Get the Life You Want
Get the Life You Want
by Richard Bandler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.38

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Would you buy snake oil from this man?, 22 Mar. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Get the Life You Want (Paperback)
The author describes this book as a toolbox but it only has 2 tools. One is gibberish called "sub-modalities" and the other is a bizarre technique called "swishing." Both rely on the beliefs that the intellect can solve emotional problems and that the conscious mind can control the unconscious. Most people have tried variations on these approaches all their lives and have realised, at some level, that they don't work which is why they are looking for better answers. They won't find them here.

Bandler has cut his hair and even wears a collar and tie on the cover but this can't disguise his arrogance and conceit: he keeps telling you how wonderful his methods are, how he despises other approaches and even those who have sought help from him. Self-aggrandisement and belittling others are classic features of low self-esteem. He states in his book that he had a stroke but has no apparent insight into its cause - can't he recognise messages from his own unconscious, even one as drastic as that? The accompanying CD is laughably bad: it sounds like a creepy used car salesman trying to convince himself that he can convince you.

Albert Schweitzer said that teaching by example isn't the best way - it's the only way. If so, Bandler has taught me that he is an unhealthy, sneering man, contemptuous of those that couldn't solve their own problems and needed help. He is happy to make money from ignorance - theirs and his. Maybe that's the life he wants.

If you want to make real changes try reading "The Pathwork of Self-Transformation" by Eva Pierrakos. You may find its ideas difficult - and putting them into practice even more difficult - but it offers more insight and usable truth than a shelf full of books by Bandler, McKenna and the supporters of NLP - self-help authors who have helped themselves at the expense of those who know even less than they do.

Life's real problems don't have quick fixes and easy answers, and neither does this book.

Selected Stories From Kipling
Selected Stories From Kipling
by Rudyard Kipling
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid this mess., 20 Mar. 2012
The publishers - General Books - have put together a collection of misprints, wrong spellings and badly punctuated pieces by Kipling that run into each other - one story finishes and the next starts on the following line. Obviously thrown together without an editor or spell-checker, the result is an unreadable insult to a great writer.

Don't waste any money on this rubbish.

Eddie Murphy - Delirious [DVD]
Eddie Murphy - Delirious [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bruce Gowers
Price: £6.74

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a classic., 13 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This hasn't aged well. A young Murphy, recorded with a large audience, may have been cutting edge in 1983 but it all looks very dated now. His delivery - impressions, movement, enthusiasm and physicality - are brilliant and formed the basis of his successful acting career, however bland the films sometimes were. But his material is crude, obvious and rarely funny: the sort of stuff about farting and homosexuals that kids in a school playground like due to its initial novelty and rudeness; most grown-ups have heard it all before and moved on. Despite this, the audience are wetting themselves at his every move.

It's a sad reflection that the biggest laugh of the act is provided by an audience member. Richard Pryor must have turned in his grave at this pale imitation of his groundbreaking style.

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