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Trevor Coote "Trevor Coote" (Tahiti, French Polynesia)

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Cocaine Nights
Cocaine Nights
by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars `But to die in bed with his employer's wife showed an excessive sense of duty', 4 Aug. 2009
This review is from: Cocaine Nights (Paperback)
Yes, there is plenty of humour in J G Ballard's caustic dig at British ex-pat life on the Costa Del Sol but despite the claims of `dazzling originality' and `exhilarating imagination' it is instead a good but fairly conventional detective novel, very much in the English vein. Charles Prentice arrives in Estrella Del Mar, an outwardly genteel community of retired British professionals, where his brother Frank has confessed to starting a horrific fire which kills the Hollinger family. Frank was the manager of Club Nautico, the nerve pulse of the community, and nobody believes his confession, not even the police. As the Spanish police are ineffectual and disinterested Charles plunges into some clumsy amateur sleuthing to try and save his brother. However, he discovers that behind the façade of respectability the town is a hotbed of decadence and crime peopled by amoral and feckless egoists.
There is a popular tradition in English writing that enjoys depicting tranquil and genteel rural communities as a veneer for all manner of nefarious and murderous activities. An apposite comparison to Cocaine Nights would be ITV's Midsummer Murders series where deranged psychotics hell-bent on revenge lurk behind twitching net curtains or in watercolour classes. In Estrella Del Mar the principal force for good or for evil - depending on your point of view - is the implausible, floppy-haired, tennis playing Bobby Crawford who doubles as a burglar, high-powered drug dealer and pornographer. Charles is fascinated by the man and his motives and gradually becomes sucked into the dark underbelly of Estrella Del Mar and nearby Residencia Costasol forgetting about his brother languishing in jail.
Cocaine Nights is a pretty fast moving book, crisply written and not too deep, but the author does investigate the link between crime and creativity, demonstrates the danger of unbridled hedonism, and cleverly satirises the brain-dead, security-obsessed gated communities that were springing up in the 1990s.


Genetics and the Extinction of Species: DNA and the Conservation of Biodiversity
Genetics and the Extinction of Species: DNA and the Conservation of Biodiversity
by Laura Landweber
Edition: Paperback
Price: £46.95

4.0 out of 5 stars The molecular and theoretical techniques have moved on but the threats have intensified, 1 Aug. 2009
When this book was prepared at the dawn of the new millennium it was an attempt by leading experts in the field of conservation biology to review the role that genetics could play in conservation and management decisions given the recent developments in molecular techniques (PCR, automated sequencing) and population genetic theory (coalescence theory). However, since then there have been even more rapid advances due to automation and many of the molecular techniques have been sidelined by the rush to sequence DNA for a multitude of species currently on the threshold of extinction or requiring intensive conservation focus.
But what role does genetics play in the extinction process itself? Are populations really likely to die out simply as a result of dwindling genetic variability, through either a reduction in heterozygosity or a loss of rare alleles? A loss of genetic variability can be the result of demographic events, and in turn genetic uncertainty can alter the survival and reproductive probabilities of individuals, leading to a decrease in population size. Sometimes it can be difficult to unravel cause and effect. However, ultimately it is deterministic anthropogenic activities that impact most unfavourably on the health of species and their habitat through pollution, overexploitation, land development and the introduction of alien and pest species. Stochastic ecological and genetic factors that occur in nature are intensified by the activities of man and can then further threaten the persistence of populations and species. These extinction risks are clearly and concisely explained in the opening chapter by theoretician Russell Lande.
By definition, species that are endangered are rare and persist in small populations. It is these small, often highly fragmented and/or isolated populations that are of interest to conservation biologists. The problems inherent in small population size include: loss of genetic variation; inbreeding depression; random events in the survival and reproduction of individuals; and increased susceptibility to environmental factors (e.g. changes in climate, food supply and the nature and numbers of competitors, predators and parasites). These are all factors that conservation managers must take into account when managing endangered species or populations. Therefore, though genetic data must be considered in the decision-making process, there is a need to explain to non-geneticists what sort of information is required, how it can contribute to practical conservation and the means by which it can be applied in real situations. This is the aim of this anthology of papers from the leading experts in the field of conservation genetics.
The contents are wide-ranging if some chapters are a little esoteric. For example, the chapter by Paul Harvey and Helen Steers in which they describe the method for inferring population dynamic history directly from DNA sequence data acquired from individuals in the field is quite conceptually difficult, though the use of historical data and phylogenies has become increasingly important since then as more and more sequence data is forthcoming. As with the other authors (and all good scientists) they also deal with the current limitations of the technique, limitations and problems arising from unrealistic assumptions in the model and possible solutions.
Today, the practical application of phylogenetic information is clearer as stark choices have to be made by conservation mangers as to what to save, often at the expense of another species. How best to measure the allocation of genetic diversity among taxa? How best to conserve different amounts of biodiversity? Bill Amos tackles two problems associated with the measurement of genetic diversity and genetic distance, with the emphasis placed on microsatellite of short-tandem repeat data. There are two case studies concerned with the extinction, endangerment and conservation of Hawaiian birds and a fine chapter on the use of genetics in plant conservation. Kathryn Rodrìguez-Clark takes a critical look at some past assumptions and methods in captive breeding, notably the classical view that loss in population heterozygosity should be proportional to loss in adaptive variation. This has resulted in misplaced emphasis on slowing the loss of neutral variation and inbreeding depression without taking into account the ultimate goal of retention of adaptive potential. The book concludes with a contribution from one of the editors, Laura Landweber, who gives an overview of the then relatively new technique of extracting DNA from museum, zoological, archaeological and palaeontological specimens.
This excellent series of papers places genetics at the forefront of biodiversity conservation while dealing with its current limitations. It is recommended for conservation managers with limited genetic knowledge who wish to better understand the role of genetics in the extinction process and how genetic information can be exploited for use in both ex-situ breeding programmes and in-situ conservation projects. However, it is a little out of date now.


Earth Abides (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Earth Abides (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by George.R. Stewart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars After the apocalypse a distinctly small-town America vision for the future, 10 July 2009
What would be your first instinctive act you if you awoke to find yourself apparently the last living human after some pestilential catastrophe? It seems that your/our reflex would be to search for someone else, some other survivors. In George R Stewart's thoughtful post-apocalyptic tale that is exactly what sole survivor Ish Williams sets out to do - by driving across America from California, via the South to New York. Along the way he encounters small pockets of individuals, none of whom he feels at ease enough to join. Of course, he does eventually find someone suitable which sets in motion a practical desire to recommence civilisation from scratch, beginning with a distinctly small-town America vision for the future. When Ish and his partner Em are joined by three other unrelated wanderers the possibility of building a community are greatly enhanced. So far, so good. But what happens if your burgeoning community lacks creative energy and prefers to live by parasitism off the remnants of the old? What do you do about education? How do you deal with a cessation of the water supply, for example, or of the arrival of unusual strangers, a crime, or an outbreak of disease? All of these impediments to smooth progress arrive in Ish's expanding community and the author deals intelligently with them all, while simultaneously reflecting on the ecological, Malthusian and genetic conundrums faced by a new population.
I would have loved this book had I read it as a teenager in the 1960s but the world has changed. It can no longer be assumed that the near extinction of the American people can be extrapolated to that of the human race in general. In addition, the old-fashioned edge to Ish's attitudes sometimes borders on unpalatable. Not only is he appallingly dismissive of the intellectual potential of his friends (he himself is an intellectual, a geographer) but even talks in terms of euthanasia when reflecting on the solitary girl in the community with learning difficulties. Overall, despite these flaws, and the writing being much too descriptive for Earth Abides to be considered in the pantheon of top literature, it is an excellent and engrossing work of imagination delivered with pleasing clarity. In the end, though, it is what it is: good quality science fiction.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 15, 2009 9:10 AM BST


The Line of Beauty
The Line of Beauty
by Alan Hollinghurst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars `...sex, money, power: it was everything they wanted', 30 Jun. 2009
This review is from: The Line of Beauty (Paperback)
But then wasn't that what the eighties were supposed to be about? Certainly if you take Alan Hollinghurst's squalid but stylish retro-blast at the greed decade at face value. We follow naïve and self-obsessed Nick Guest through his post-Oxford days after leaving and lodging with the family of his best friend Toby (with whom he is secretly in love) in Kensington Park Gardens. With a penchant for black males he finds `love' (in reality a clandestine bunk-up in the garden) for the first time with Leo, a black homosexual council worker, and later with Wani, a coke-snorting closet gay and son of a ruthless Lebanese tycoon. This second relationship leads to his downfall.
Nick is at ease living with Toby's family: his monstrously ambitious and egotistical father, a typical 1980's Thatcher-worshipping Conservative MP (cf Alan B'stard), his mother, a rich woman in her own right and his sister, a dangerously unbalanced bipolar depressive. They tolerate Nick's homosexuality by virtue of never mentioning it. But then this work is also a study in the hypocritical attitudes of the governing classes of the day; their obsession with morality only in the sexual sense (though all of them are indulging in extra-marital affairs) while blatantly sanctioning much more damaging immorality: the tobacco industry and arms dealing to unstable regimes. There are a host of other equally - and even more - obnoxious upper-class characters whose ostentatious displays of aesthetics and genteel accents are a veneer for their true philistinism.
So what's wrong with the book? Well, to begin with the author appears to be too comfortable with the social world about which he writes and as a result it fails as satire. Secondly, it is too long and for a large part there is not much to suggest that it takes place in the 1980s apart from the name-dropping and the comical and slightly eerie appearance of the Iron Lady herself at a party. Thirdly, it is difficult to feel sympathetic towards any of the characters (normally you need one in a novel) as they all barge through their lives without the least thought for the consequences of their actions and without any concern for the welfare of those around them, let alone the less fortunate. However, that criticism leads onto the best part of the book and where the writing compares favourably with any in modern English fiction: the later chapters when the AIDS issue arises, the one subject that cast an even darker shadow over the decade than Mrs T. Suddenly, as the reality hits home for Nick and his friends the prose brims with poignancy and compassion. That is enough to upgrade what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary novel to a four star one.


Barry Lyndon (Oxford World's Classics)
Barry Lyndon (Oxford World's Classics)
by William Makepeace Thackeray
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.18

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Barry Lyndon, the not so lovable rogue, 11 Jun. 2009
Following in the footsteps of Fielding and Smollett, William Thackeray attempts to relate the tale of a lovable rogue, Redmond Barry, in the picaresque style. Narrated in the first person, distinctly unlovable Barry is the classic `unreliable narrator'. Born into insignificant Irish gentry the vain, narcissistic and self-deluding Barry is forced to flee from his native Ireland at the age of fifteen after apparently killing a man in a duel. First joining the British army and then pressed into the Prussian army during the Seven Years War he fights a few battles, deserts and then travels around Europe hobnobbing with the imbecilic European aristocracy and passing his time womanising, gambling and amassing a fortune. He finally returns to Ireland, cons and marries a rich widow and becomes Barry Lyndon. His downfall, when it comes, is not only inevitable but welcome because, rumbustious fun as the novel undoubtedly is, the incessant boasting and name-dropping eventually become somewhat tiresome.


Amsterdam: Winner of the Booker Prize 1998
Amsterdam: Winner of the Booker Prize 1998
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When best friends become bitter enemies..., 30 May 2009
Ian McEwan is a popular author because in the main he writes good stories and he writes them well. However, he writes in a style that I find condescending and I sometimes get the impression that he is talking down to his readers. Amsterdam begins - like many novels in recent years - at a funeral. Molly Lane, vibrant and unfaithful wife of publisher George has died young of an unspecified illness. At the funeral are three of her ex-lovers: `hang `em and flog `em' right-wing Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, unprincipled journalist Vernon Halliday and gratingly self-opinionated orchestral composer Clive Linley. Vernon has in his possession some compromising photographs taken by Molly that could destroy the career of the hated Garmony. His best friend Clive disagrees about whether or not he should use the photos and a rift develops between them. Then, when out walking in the Lake District Clive is faced with a moral decision and fails to act, Vernon finds out, gives his name to the police, and the two friends become bitter enemies. Because of a pact made early in the book between them, the denouement - as so often in McEwan's novels - appears staged and somewhat contrived. A disappointing work, though with one or two nice touches, but another ordinary Booker winner.


The Bonfire of the Vanities (Picador Books)
The Bonfire of the Vanities (Picador Books)
by Tom Wolfe
Edition: Paperback

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars `I'm already going broke on a million dollars a year.', 25 May 2009
The decade (and the city) that gave us Wall Street and Gordon Gecko, and American Psycho and Patrick Bateman, also gave us The Bonfire of the Vanities and Sherman McCoy. However, Tom Wolfe's best seller is more than just another lacerating satire on the frenzied money-making culture of the 1980s; it is a visceral attack on human greed, hypocrisy, double standards, political expediency and blind ambition.
Sherman McCoy, son of a respected Wall Street lawyer, top bond salesman and self-acclaimed `Master of the Universe' lives the high life with his interior designer wife and beloved daughter in a multi-million dollar Park Avenue apartment. He also has a mistress, femme fatale Maria Ruskin, married to a millionaire three times her age. One night, after picking her up from the airport, he misses the route and finds himself hurtling out of Manhattan and into the `jungle' of South Bronx, a community at that time imploding through drugs and violence. In a nebulous incident where they believe they are about to be attacked by two black boys after they had stopped, Maria takes control of the car and somehow manages to knock down one of the boys. More concerned about being discovered than about what had happened to the victim McCoy believes that he has got away with his misdemeanour when matters take an unexpected downturn. It turns out that the boy has not only been knocked down but is in an irrecoverable coma. There is a witness who has seen a white man and a white woman in a luxury Mercedes and has caught the first part of the number plate before it sped away from the accident. The community is then up in arms when it is discovered that the hospital had sent the boy, Henry lamb, home with an `injured wrist', and even more so when members of the legal profession state that `there is no case'. Is the life of a black boy in the Bronx worth less than that of a Wall Street trader? Through carefully-crafted propaganda `honor student' Henry Lamb is elevated into a beacon of community hopes and aspirations, and McCoy (when he is uncovered) demonised as a truculent and vitriolic racist, a symbol of the Wasp power structure. It is the clash of two contrasting worlds, which exist side by side by side but barely see each other, expressed in two manufactured extremes.
The Bonfire of the Vanities is a terrific account of a man's life in meltdown, the life of a shallow and egotistical narcissist. As a result of his arrogance and casual racism Sherman McCoy becomes trapped in a corrupt and cynical criminal justice system, arrested in a media circus and turned into a political football. We watch him flounder and come apart at the seams with barely a modicum of sympathy from anywhere; certainly not from snooty but sleazy alcoholic English journalist Peter Fallow, ruthless Abe Weiss coming up for re-election and desperate for black votes, fiery, silver-tongued Episcopalian pastor Reverend Bacon, self-appointed spokesman for the black community, nor unscrupulous and ambitious Assistant District Attorney, Lawrence Kramer. The Bonfire is exciting (the chapter where McCoy and his mistress lose their way in the scary backstreets of the Bronx), hilarious (the chapter where through fear and guilt he virtually implicates himself when two detectives arrive at his apartment to make routine enquiries) and moving (his realisation of the effect that his humiliating downfall will have on his little daughter).
There have been criticisms. It is true that many of the characters in Wolfe's epic novel come across as caricatures but that is fine when so many people are self-parodies, anyway. And there is some risky stereotyping of communities. That may be politically incorrect, but it must be remembered that stereotypes are based in truth or they would not stick. It's just that they should never be used against an individual. Besides, it is more than just stereotyping. It is the convincing portrayal of the fragmented communities of New York and how their history and inherited problems and concerns eventually colour their perception of American justice. There is no bias or prejudice; Wolfe leaves no skulls un-cracked. He is particularly astute in recognising the petty niggles that occur between the Brits and the Yanks (two cultures divided by a common language). And finally, it must be said that the racy, journalistic style of this work is entirely apposite. It suits the subject matter and does not in any way detract from the literary quality of this outstanding piece of fiction; an iconic work for the little lamented era of gleaming Porsches, brick-sized mobile phones, junk bonds and money men in red braces.


The Road
The Road
by Cormac McCarthy
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A devastating fable of post-apocalypse America that sears the heart, 10 May 2009
This review is from: The Road (Paperback)
Nothing stirs. Nothing breathes. Nothing grows. Everything everywhere is abandoned and left to rot and decay. There is no sun but there is smoke and there are fires. It is the end of the world after an unspecified catastrophe. There are a few human survivors but they are doomed to wander and scavenge, forever vigilant under threat from marauding bands of cannibals. The good guys lie low and rarely meet. A man and a boy - his son - walk. They do not know where. They just follow the roads always hoping to chance upon something to eat, perhaps some tins of food missed or dropped in looted houses and shops. They may live if they are lucky or they may die if they are not. They are prepared for each eventuality.
Cormac McCarthy's devastating fable of post-apocalypse America sears the heart with its elegant descriptions of a blighted landscape littered with the useless accoutrements of human technology and denuded of its life force. It is a simple, human tale of two lost souls wandering the face of the earth not in search of meaning or of God but simply because they dare not stop. If they do they will starve and, stripped of society, they simultaneously face the stark, basic dilemma faced by all living creatures: how to avoid being eaten. Father and son drift, constantly exchanging nervous words, trying to encourage each other when both live in perpetual, enervating fear. Deeply moving, and related in a prose at once both austere and beautiful, it is hard not to interpret The Road as a prophetic vision; a sharp warning that the unchecked arrogance, stupidity and hubris of mankind will ultimately lead us into an ecological nightmare followed by an extinction vortex. Maybe the finest novel written this century.


The Gathering
The Gathering
by Anne Enright
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

41 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This rambling sexual history of a dysfunctional clan of Dubliners falls squarely in the mediocre category, 4 May 2009
This review is from: The Gathering (Paperback)
I was always unwilling to align myself with the `Booker bashers' for I was convinced that the much-debated literary prize surely attracted the most accomplished fictional works currently being penned in English. I was right, of course, but having now read 13 winners and a number of short- and long-listed works I can only conclude that, as in all other spheres of human endeavour, mediocrity dominates and brilliance shines inevitably but rarely. For me, Anne Enright's rambling sexual history of a dysfunctional clan of Dubliners falls squarely in the mediocre category.
At the funeral of alcoholic Liam Hegarty who has drowned off the coast of Brighton, his sister Veronica probes the past for clues as to what really set in motion her brother's decline and demise. Equipped with a memory as dysfunctional as her family she uncovers (fantasises?) sordid goings on in previous generations and, despite the fact that her grandmother was a whore and some of the others possess the morality of garden frogs, the `revelation' when it arrives hardly seems an event likely to traumatise one of the Hegarty clan. Seesawing back and forth in time and between reality and fantasy, and replete with gratuitous and almost slapstick sexual descriptions, irritating single word sentences and single sentence paragraphs, the narrative becomes pretty confusing and none too interesting. Frankly, none of the characters are thinking human beings. As we learn more about their genitalia than their emotions (not surprising as that seems to be where their brains reside), it is difficult to care much about what happens and to whom (and nothing much does happen). It is not that The Gathering is a bad book, more that in the end it does not amount to much.


A Serious Man
A Serious Man
by David Storey
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The study of a man in decline against a backdrop of a community in decline, 29 April 2009
This review is from: A Serious Man (Paperback)
Richard Fenchurch, a collier's son from a Yorkshire village, aspires to and becomes a successful writer and painter but after two failed marriages he finds himself washed up and forgotten in a shabby part of north London. There, sinking into depression and dementia he is rescued by his daughter Etty and brought back to his old Yorkshire home in an attempt to stimulate his recuperation. David Storey's 1998 novel consists largely of Richard's reflections on the women who have shaped his emotional life as he wanders around the neglected haunts of his young days. He recounts tearfully the passionate, obsessive love he felt for Isabella, the mother of his wife Bea and over thirty years his senior, and then his second wife Isabella-surrogate Vivienne, an aging, unstable actress who commits suicide.
A (slightly too) long narrative on how our lives are moulded by society's expectations, it is a moving account of the difficulties encountered by an individual who knows that he has betrayed his family and class in pursuit of artistic creativity and who then betrays his wife by tumbling into an inappropriate and illicit relationship with her mother. However, the author is at his best - as always - when nostalgically describing the tough, grimy mining world into which Richard was born and the current terminal state of a community whose decline in the face of modern social, political and economic attitudes parallels his own.


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