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on 9 January 2018
Christmas presents
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on 3 November 2010
What a great book. It's very well translated, with a fantastic style: flowing along effortlessly. It feels modernist almost, building up scenes through memories and dialogue and not sticking to a linear plodding plot. It's funny too. The characters are full and well-drawn, and you get into their heads without even realising as the pages rush by. And it's a historical novel as well, in its way, a story of the years 1914-1991, from the hopes of the Edwardian era being dashed by WWI and through the great disappointment (to those travelling that road) of the failure of the experiment of communism.

Ignore the other two reviews and try it; it is a gripping read, and unlike anything else you'll read this year.
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on 27 November 2009
This is one of only a tiny handful of books which I have started and never finished.

For me, the main problem was that the blurb implied it's an espionage story. In fact, it's a literary work about French political thought and communism from WWI to the present day. If you're interested in that, or you're a fan of Hedi Kaddour, you might possibly enjoy it. If you're looking for an Alan Furst style read (as I was), you should probably steer well clear.

Out of 660 pages I read the first 400 and the last 50 (hoping that something interesting might happen), so I think I gave the book a fair trial. As another reviewer has pointed out (and wittily lampooned), it contains some monumentally long sentences. This stylistic approach is an attempt to present each character's take on the world as a stream of consciousness. We visit the characters at several different times between WWI and 1991, hearing their inner voices and chunks of dialogue (actually monologues with responses only being hinted at). It all makes for a heavy read and I honestly don't think I missed much by skipping those 100 odd pages!

Unlike most espionage thrillers, very little actually happens. To give you just one example, two chapters (roughly 90 pages) are taken up describing a dinner party in 1965 in which the main events are: a) one of the main characters flirts with a guest b) there's an argument between another characters and André Malraux, the (real) French writer, which I couldn't understand (I think if I'd known something about the history of French communism it would have helped) and c) a discussion about a kangaroo that may, or may not, have appeared (I honestly can't work out which!) in one of Malraux's books.

Fortunately I borrowed this book from our local library. Before you shell out and buy it, I'd make sure it's really the kind of thing you want to read.
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on 1 October 2009
Contained somewhere within the hundreds of pages of this is an interesting spy novel, probably, but finding it is a puzzle of its own, for, as with too many schoolboy essays, the writing is far too rambling, with asides thrown into the middle of paragraph-long sentences, so that plot points are hidden within what, frankly, is fluff and the reader (or at least this one, anyway) is left counting words in sentences to see which is the longest and, after finding several of more than two hundred and fifty words (including ghod knows how many clauses) decided to give up reading this twaddle and attempt to write a sentence at least as long in an Amazon review - as you can imagine it is not easy, because any sensible person is, by now, begging for a full stop to appear (I know I am) but perhaps just maybe the original author had chemical assistance, I don't know, but here we are at one hundred and sixty something and I am going to give up before the end of this too.

Phew.
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