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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 23 January 2015
A thoroughly unusual tale about a man who chose to lock himself away in an attempt to record the existing contents of his brain for future scientific analysis.

It's an especially clever and heart-warming book. I really can't explain to you HOW the writer made this story work, it just does - and I loved it!

To briefly give you an idea of the story, during a project that was supposed to last just 3 years, the young Maximillian Ponder has decided to isolate himself from the outside world to recall and write down every memory he's had, every person he's met, food he's eaten, places he's visited, conversations he recalls - well, you get the idea!

Don't be fooled that this is some boring, straightforward run-of-the-mill diary - Maximillian Ponder's random 'ponderings' are anything but boring.

It's an outpour of everything the man has ever experienced, or to be precise, what he remembers. Travelling through the pages of the book with Max and his good friend, Adam Last, you sense his past, present and future. The timeline flits back and forth to allow the story to be told by both Max, via his journal, and Adam, who's telling the story. Yet there's an odd order to it all. The writer really knows how to draw you into this 'pondering' world he's created.

I'm not going to say anymore about the plot, as the whole experience will be YOU reading Max's ramblings. It's funny, even though it's heart breaking in places, and it's thought provoking without losing its 'entertainment value'. Some upsetting moments are tackled by John Ironmonger's brilliantly quirky writing style. For this reason alone he's quickly becoming a favourite author of mine (see The Coincidence Authority, also fabulous)

Well then, if you like something different without it being totally bizarre then try this. I'm very glad I did.
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on 24 March 2013
Very good. Tried after seeing it in the Costa shortlist, couldn't resist based on the synopsis! Very clever idea, though it does seem pointless (what would the use be of the disgorged corners of one's entire brain?).
A sad and ironic ending, but a funny and very entertaining read on the nature of memory/memories. An author to look out for - and not just because of his name!
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on 30 May 2012
The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder has made me ponder many things. Could someone really catalogue their own brain? Could a friendship be so strong that someone would do as Adam for three decades? Is it really possible to swallow a fifty pence peace? I shall follow the authors sage advice and not try any of these things at home.

This book is thought provoking, yet hugely entertaining. It takes the reader on a journey through colonial Africa, to the boarding schools of England, to the home counties. It does so in such a way that you do not want to put it down, forever curious about what the next eccentric recollection will be. The book is charmingly British, which is a nice tonic for those of us away from Blighty. My only sadness was on finishing, I wish there was a further 400 pages. I shall await the author's follow up with bated breath.
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VINE VOICEon 11 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The book starts with Maximilian Ponder lying, dead, on his dining table in his front room, on a Henri II-style, French, walnut, extending dining table. This is chronicled by his best friend, Adam Last, who has catalogued all of Max's thoughts since the project to map out the human mind (Max's) began. This is a distinctly weird and wonderful book. Although I rather enjoyed it, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it - it keeps you on your toes, as it flips back and forth in time, as Adam recalls their friendship, which started when they were both boys. I think you would have to read it yourself to see what I mean, and decide whether you enjoy it or not. Sometimes the extreme detail gets to you and drives you mad, and sometimes the detail you wish was there, isn't. Very different.
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VINE VOICEon 9 May 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
At the age of Maximilian Ponder decided to shut himself away to devote his life to writing down the contents of his brain.

This book provides insights into Max, excerpts from his journals and a whole lot more, courtesy of the narrator and his lifelong friend Adam Last.

This is one of those tough books to categorise - a bit of a curate's egg, if you like. There's a whole load of whimsy, some entertaining facts and information about forgotten history, plus some thought-provoking riffs on the futility and instantly forgettable nature of human life.

JW Ironmonger writes with a light touch, often harking back to an era where life was more innocent and less complicated.

I really enjoyed this and am keen to see what the writer comes up with next.
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on 27 February 2013
It's probably going to take half this review to explain the damn thing although on the face of it, it's quite a simple concept. Maximilian Ponder is a recluse - thirty years ago he closed the door on the world in an attempt to record everything on his brain for scientists of the future to unravel. He compares it to a neurological Rosetta Stone - experts may be able to compare his brain with his notes from The Catalogue, and thereby finally unlock the secrets of the brain.

In essence, it's a story of a man's perspective upon witnessing either genius, madness or both. It gets quite philosophical at parts and clearly there's a psychological aspect there as well. That said, it's never difficult to read. The narrator, Max's long-term best friend, talks in an informal style as if he's simply explaining his friend's eccentricities over a cup of coffee. Intermixed are excerpts from The Catalogue, the form which the project begins to take.

It's this that really makes the book. Mr Ironmonger has clearly put an awful lot of thought into exactly how somebody would go about this ambitious project and then ensures that we understand perfectly. There are three parts to it - firstly, in the main part of The Catalogue, Max details his memories. He can only write down what is actually in his head and cannot check details with anybody else, even if he thinks he may be misremembering. Secondly, the Appendix contains Max's knowledge. Lists of dog breeds, for example, or every film he can remember. People he has known also feature here and as much of a profile on them as he can put together. Finally, there is Max's Day Log. Here he details everything that happens to him as he is actually doing the project, although it may only consist of conversations with Adam and his meals.

Entries from The Catalogue itself and the Appendix feature in the actual novel, sometimes relating to Adam's narrative, sometimes not. It gives a very jumpy feel to the book, especially as Adam doesn't really attempt any kind of chronological order either. Normally this would annoy me, but it works so well here. I mean, what's more inconsistent than the human brain?

It's clever. So very clever. There are sometimes tiny but deliberate discrepancies between Adam's account and Max's Catalogue entries to emphasise the core point that two people's experiences of the same event may be very different. As the book itself points out, no man steps in the same river twice, nor two men into the same river. It also brings up the point of false memories - how much of what Max remembers is correct and how much was 'filled in' by his imagination?

The ending is one of the best I've read, ever. I wasn't sure whether to cry or throw up or what, but my heart was hammering and my fingers were gripping the sides of the book so hard I left permanent indentations. It's just perfect. It's a slow build-up, but it makes so much sense and left me absolutely desperate to know what happened.

This is the book that the words 'modern masterpiece' were created for.
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on 11 January 2013
The title and synopsis of this book grabbed me straight away. I enjoy books that are a little off the wall and this certainly fits into that category. The style of the book reminded me a little of Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the dog in the night time" which is a definite compliment.
The characters are definitely not your every day run of the mill people and despite (because of?) some particularly odd choices endear a lot of sympathy and are incredibly likable.
The story weaves its way geographically from Africa to England as we follow Max and Adam. The other characters adding humour and intrigue as it goes. Max's eccentricity and complete immersion in his project are incredibly engaging.
The concept of trying to catalogue every thought in your brain is brilliant writing and if you love making lists you will love this book.
Fascinating reading, great story telling this book feels fresh and original.
Somewhere between four and five stars.
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on 17 June 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For a book that starts with the titular character lying dead on his own dining table this is a surprisingly warm story of friendship and the events that unfold in life. It is very well written and despite being told to the outcome at the beginning the reader happily moves on to hear the rest of the story. There are lots of interesting characters but the story is mainly focussed on Max Ponder and his efforts to record the contents of his own brain.

Plenty of detail and thought has gone into it, and like any good book this one actually sets you thinking about your own thoughts and decisions in life. In the year of the jubilee and the UK Olympics it was good to find a book that it so quirkily British in style. It was very engaging and hard to put the book down - I highly recommend it.
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on 15 July 2014
This book is a marvel in many aspects. It is an amazing mixture between comedy and tragedy, has incredible insight into human nature and tells us a story about rare friendship and life in general. This is a very humanistic book, as it says that weirdness is beautiful and that perhaps we should let people choose for themselves what is normal and what is not.
Finally, this is one of the best ever written books I've ever came across and should be a must for all writers who begin to write. One can sit down with it and learn the beauty of the craft while enjoying a beautiful story.
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on 3 September 2012
I had just read a few books about people unsuccessfully trying to avoid painful memories before I picked up this one. It is about a middle-aged guy who has spent the last thirty years of his life in isolation, trying to remember and catalogue every single memory of his life. The idea itself is brilliant. The novel reads a bit like a modern version of Tristram Shandy. The story is full of surprises, witty, sometimes poignant, always fascinating. And it is told in a fresh and convincing language. There are a couple of logical errors, but they didn't put me off. I loved this book!
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