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on 20 August 2017
A really interesting book - particularly about suicide and literature.
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on 27 May 2017
A difficult read that neds some thinking
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"After us the Savage God" so wrote Yeats on seeing Jarry's 'Ubu Roi' trash the rules of drama. This is the tutelary deity of the ultimate choice, like a work of art created in the silence of the heart, as Alvarez notes Camus saying. This is one of my favourite books and I have read it every year since I bought it in Penguin in 1977. IT draws on and begins with the sorry tale of Alvarez's friendship with the doomed Sylvia Plath in the lethally cold winter of 1963. From there it opens into a discussion of all aspects of a necessarily ineffable matter - the 'successes' do not speak; the deads' messages are never unambiguous - and draws on Camus and legal lore, history and folk-ways to try to explore a difficult area with a skill and deftness that make it irresistible. The anecdotes are moving and, written when to be Confessional was a rare mode indeed, this poet and keen climber succeeds admirably, he is sympathetic and writes well. Of course, there is much sadness in the matter, but that has to be. It is an utterly compelling exploration from that undiscovered bourne to which we all will go. As readable as anything I have read and free of jargon ( I HATE JARGON!). It is a subject one must do justice to and he does.
A footnote: I read that Alvarez and Plath had an affair shortly before she killed herself. I must say that this rather disturbed me, not because it contributed to her suicide - if anything this was a symptom of her malaise not cause - but because it rendered the author's account as unreliable in one respect thus taking the carpet from under this reader's feet, a peculiar experience, but I DID first read this some 40 years ago!
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on 19 August 2003
There are a lot of expectations going in to reading this book. You might expect a self-conscious act of catharsis, with Alvarex trying to exorcise the facts of his own failed suicide attempt. Fortunately, it is a literary quest through the attitudes, myths and mystiques that have been built around this intensely personal act from the time of the Greeks to the sixties 'extremist' poets, as he calls them; Plath, Hughes, Lowell.
The points of interest are mainly in the historical information he produces; before this I was unaware of the frequency of artistic suicides. Moving from period to period, this book is invaluable as an overview of changes in the English Literary tradition, all the time tied to the act of suicide.
So we are treated to chapters on Donne, Chatterton, The Romantics, and most interestingly for me, the Dadaists. The only low point comes in the very last chapter, when the writer becomes all 'confessional' regarding his own suicide, and seems to neglect some of the points he has made in treating other peoples attempts. Still though, a surprisingly relevant and informative book, of interest for anyone who has read the poetry of the last 400 years.
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on 26 March 2003
An author who knows his subject from the inside is either a blessing or a curse. In the curst of The Savage God, it brings A. Alvarez closer to the subject and gives him insights into it that would never occur to normal people. His close relationship with Sylvia Plath, mentioned in detail during the opening "chapter" is also fascinating.
Begining each section with a quote from a notable source ("Dying is an art/Like everything else/ I do it exceptionally well/ I do it so it feels like hell/ I do it so it feels real/ I guess you could say I've a call") sets the mood rathar than acts as eye-candy or space filling.
As someone who hasnt read widely around the subject of suicide, it seems that Alvarez has presented the views of many many people in this book. Obviously he cannot mention all the views of eveyone but most groups, religious and historical seem to be at least nodded to. most are examined in some depth. Conclusions on the subject of suicide are frequent. Unfortunately, it is up to the individual reader how convinced they are. To someone who has read alot of essays on suicide, it may seem a little basic, perhaps, but to the rest of us, it is easy to read whilst maintaining a pleasing technical vocablury which allows us to acces the subject in question easilly. The Savage God is an introduction to suicide that allows people to understand the motivation behind it. If that is what you want... buy It. Simple.
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on 19 September 2013
I came to it, in my almost obsessive study of the lives of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Three women left their lives (two lovers and a mother) because of his all-encompassing desire to create great poetry and , while his mother didn't commit suicide, it seems that she no longer wanted to live for the shame that two other women had.
Al Alvarez was one of those "onlookers" who saw some of the "game," and had also had his demons to deal with.
Well worth reading, and thinking about... very deeply.
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on 22 December 2014
The problem I have with this book is that throughout it, the author draws conclusions that he simply does not have the evidence for. For example, on page 149, "A suicide of this kind is born, not made."

The sections about Plath are interesting as are some of the historical sections but i would not describe this book as a study, instead I would call it an opinion.
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on 11 June 2015
It remains a challenging insightful book from an historic perspective on a complex ethical matter which is especially pertinent as the discussions of assisted suicide proceed.
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on 25 January 2016
This book had to come from the States as it is a rare find in the UK now. It is brilliantly written by A.Alvarez. The copy I received was in good condition.
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on 16 September 2016
glad I got a copy. I read it years ago and want to reread.
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