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3.6 out of 5 stars
Speak For England
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on 3 February 2016
This is an interesting and unusual idea, and contains great potential. It is well written, and recreates the world of the 50's very ably. I did feel it could have done with a bit more 'tidying up' as it felt scrappy in places, and I found the ending weak in the light of what had gone before. However if you like the sound of the plot, it is definitely worth a read and it gets full marks for the originality of the story.
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VINE VOICETOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 April 2007
Once again the guy grasps the zeitgeist and does something new and unexpected with it - for my money the best and most underrated popular novelist we have. A great book which subtly contrasts the false images of 'the good old days' with the equally pernicious lies about how great life is now. As in 'White Merc' etc, Hawes remains concerned about the gap between the shiny lives the media constantly present as the norm and the stressed-out relative failures we all feel ourselves to be. Very talented, insightful writer, shamefully ignored IMHO.
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on 24 May 2017
I wish this would be made into an Audio Book. Its one of my favourites.
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on 9 May 2006
So what would happen if we took a groups of 1950s public school educated men and women, brought up on a diet of Eagle comics and scouting manuals, empire and reds under the beds, and dropped them into Noughties Britain: the last surviving bastion of imperial "Great Britain" unceremoniously dumped into the right-on politically correct chaos of Cool Brittania?

That's the basic premise of this story and it is done very well; very snappy and very funny. The whole story is relayed through our anti-hero, Brian Marley, a mid-life, intellectually unchallenged, emotionally abandoned and permanently destitute English teacher. When the opportunity arises to win a fortune by surviving the latest, and most depraved, reality TV show he decides his life is too dull to miss the chance. He wins the show of course, due only to the onset of temporary insanity, and so begins an hilarious chain of events that has profound consequences for the thinly disguised New Labour party back home in blighty.

Definitely worth the read.
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on 7 March 2006
Mid life crisis-riven divorced father Marley goes on desparate last throw jungle reality TV show, survives slaughter of crew and contestants to be rescued by a tribe descended from British public school survivors of a 1950s plane crash, who return to our addled more-or-less present, bringing with them a promise of simplicity, truth and a self-confident Englishness. This very funny novel works by welding Marley's yearnings for lost promises and unmet expectations with the parallel yearnings of a clapped-out social order. The Headmaster, a wonderfully realised villain/hero, initially satisfies both - but can we really stop being knowing and critical? And doesn't it all end up rather horrible if we try? Underpinned by a sort of Waugh-ish sensibility, this novel fizzes and hisses with ideas, with wonderful riffs of polemical rhetoric. And for a really funny set-piece, the scene where Marley explains to the public school boys and staff what has happened since 1957 beats just about everything written by an Englishman since Gussie Fink-Nottle gave the prizes at Market Snodbury Grammar School.
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on 7 November 2005
I had my doubts that Hawes could attempt to spin a tale that, in some ways, tended towards an imaginary 'golden age' of 1950's English culture. I was expecting much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the British Decline. I was expecting simplistic, gung-ho idealism laced with good, old-fashioned jingoism.

What I got was an expansion of Nevil Shute's 'In The Wet'. What I got was an offering of brilliantly satirical, pin-sharp observations about England in the early 21st century, and how low she had fallen in 40 years. This contrast was wittily, and believably, done. Hawes's characters are entirely believeable, although The Headmaster strays dangerously close to being a braying archetype, and his situations did not strain the credulity.

My only criticism, without spoling the plot, is that the ending feels a little too rushed, with too many details compacted in too few pages - the denoument has also been used as the central premise in other novels.

How many folk might wish to see the practical solutions in this story put to the test? Was Hawes's tongue firmly in cheek or is there a sense of conservative wishfulness here? Perhaps an afterword might have been in order, the better to offset the Brian Rix-ish "My trousers!" ending.
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on 19 December 2010
This is a great piece of writing. Placing the main character in a reality tv show (a symbol of the depths that 'moden' culture has plumbed), then throwing him into a lost isolated land of forgotten yet still functioning 1950s England & then taking that isolated community back to the current day and allowing much of what were considered lost values of that previous time to retake modern society is a rare chance to explore many questionable values on both a societal & personal level.

The story roars along at a great pace and the characters are superb. It is funny, shocking and all the time probing ideas of nostalgia and just what has been lost and gained over the last 50 years both in terms of the state's function and in personal attitudes.

A 'be careful what you wish for' musing delivered in a quite ripping yarn. Brilliant.
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on 20 January 2005
"Speak for England" has been my first exposure to the work of James Hawes.
The story starts off with the books' hero Brian Marley being the last surviving participant of a British reality TV show located in Papua New Guinea. Things are not looking good for our hero as due to the TV shows helicopters crashing, he is now hopelessly stranded in a hostile Jungle awash with hungry crocodiles and equally hungry cannibals. Just when he has resigned himself to the fact that imminent death is unavoidable, he stumbles into an extraordinary English settlement and his life is saved. This English Settlement in the heart of the Jungle has been created by the survivors of a De Haviland "Comet IV" which crashed in and isolated valley in the late 1950's where they have been unable to reach the outside world ever since.
Due to lack of exposure to changing social attitudes of the outside world and a good supply of "The Eagle" annuals, this regimented community has produced descendents, continued to observe 1950's values from when the British Empire was still pretty much intact, has organized schooling (where corporal punishment is perceived to be a useful learning tool) built rugby and cricket pitches, encouraged games, with a prevailing emphasis on the importance of everyone "doing ones bit". Everything is successfully run by the imposing figure of the "Headmaster" whose no-nonsense approach to "getting the job done" (whatever it may be) has held the community together for the last 50 odd years.
Eventually Marley and the rest of community are rescued and the "Headmaster", unimpressed by the "wishy-washy" status of Modern politics declares that he is prepared to have a crack at running for prime minister and begins to woo a disillusioned British electorate who are lacking vision and crying out for change and so the book continues....
On balance I liked James Hawes book, it really is very readable. My only slight criticism is the ending which although it works, I feel it was a little weak and could have been better (the "Headmaster" certainly wouldn't have liked it!). However, this is certainly not a reason to NOT buy the book.... I will now start hunting around on Amazon and see what else Mr Hawes has written.
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on 4 June 2006
Hilarious parody of an English teacher who takes part in a depraved reality tv show. He ends up stumbling across a tribe of forgotten plane crash survivors from the 1950s. It really is an hilarious book that had me laughing out loud just reading the blurb.
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on 26 May 2011
As already noted in one of the other reviews this book starts off reasonably well and then descends into yawn-inducing cliche. I bought it after reading a recommendation by Jonathan Coe. If only Hawes had a fraction of Coe's talent! The device of the fascist school master implementing a bit of 'back to basics' might have worked in the Thatcher or Major era, but seems at least a decade out of date in ultra liberal modern Britain - even the Tories have become right on these days. The central figure and the premise of the reality TV show had some mileage but even this all feels a bit laboured by half way through. At times this seems less an interesting take on contemporary Britain and more of a self-parody - a 'jokey' exercise in non-humour. Apparently Hawes is very popular in France, where he is regarded as an insightful critic of modern British society - a sign, if any were needed, that the French need to get out of France a bit more.
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