Book review entries

July 09, 2006

A slightly dull dystopia

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

Never let me go - Kazuo Ishiguro

I was slightly surprised that this one was actually on the 2005 Booker shortlist. It is very well written and the narrative does have a certain energy which pulls you along nicely, despite most of it being in recollective mode.

The three main problems with it though (and am trying to avoid giving too much away here) are that:

  • first, the central idea of Ishiguro's "darkly skewed" version of contemporary England just isn't terribly clever (it feels like a second–rate scifi notion);
  • the 'real' history behind the central shocking premise, which is only revealed to the protagonists at the end, is, unfortunately, somewhat of an anti–climax;
  • finally, despite the excellent writing and pace, it doesn't, I feel, really live up its ambition to tell us something profound about the fragility of human existence.

So, a bit of a disappointment really.


July 04, 2006

Accidentally on purpose

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

Family on a break at a Norfolk cottage are visited by Amber, a bizarre individual who invades their lives, shakes them all up and then leaves, leaving them in fragments.

Nice premise, well written, entertaining in some parts, insightful narrative and some great characterisation but ultimately unsatisfactory I felt. The switch of perspectives is at times irritating but nevertheless, for some of the characters, it does work quite well.

But, overall, just doesn't quite cut if for me.


July 02, 2006

A truly exceptional work

Follow-up to Incomparable from Prole Art Threat

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

As with Sebald's other works, this is just an absolutely first rate piece of writing – both particular and world–encompassing, it is both a real and intellectual travelogue. The Amazon review, see:

link

captures it rather neatly I think (although they do seem to have the wrong sleeve shot!) but it is a tough book to do justice to in a pithy review.

Anyway, do read it – the translation seems to me to be superb in capturing the magic of the ideas in a powerful, almost poetic, manner.

And then you can read his others too – it is so sad that there won't be any more. But what a body of work to leave!


June 26, 2006

Darwin was right (not exactly news)

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

(Still catching up on some recent reading…)
I'm not a great fan of the popular science section in the bookshop but thought that I should give Dawkins a go given how impressive he sounds on the radio.

This one does not disappoint as a straightforward yet extremely cogent – indeed masterful – presentation of the Darwinian view. Lots of wonderful vignettes which explain evolution articulately to the lay reader (ie me). The best bit though is a very direct challenge to the 'science is just another viewpoint' gang:

Show me a cultural relativist at thirty thousand feet and I'll show you a hypocrite. Airplanes are built according to scientific principles and they work. They stay aloft and they get you to a chosen destination. Airplanes built to tribal or mythological specifications such as the dummy planes of the Cargo cults in jungle clearings or the bees–waxed wings of Icarus don't.

Lovely!


Less espresso, more skinny latte

Title:
Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

A neat and quite entertaining follow up to 44 Scotland Street, again produced originally as a daily serial for the Scotsman. It follows the lives of a small and diverse group of inhabitants of this address in their somewhat, but not excessively, taxing existences. Some nice little tales of a nudist picnic, an insufferably vain ex–surveyor turned wine merchant and pushy parents and their pushed prodigy, little Bertie.

The episodic approach works extremely well for holiday reading and the characters are sufficiently engaging to keep you involved. Light but not completely slight.


June 22, 2006

Norwegian Woodiness

Title:
Rating:
2 out of 5 stars

Having read a couple of other Murakamis I felt I knew what to expect here – morose quasi–philosophical musings on love, loss, death and loneliness – and it doesn't fail to deliver. The setting is different – Watanabe is a student in late 60s Tokyo and there are student riots and dorm–based craziness in the background – but the feel of the novel is pretty similar to the Murakami norm.

Having said that it is a not uninteresting and reasonably entertaining read but, as one critic has put it (OK, my hyper–critical friend, Steve) absolutely nothing of any consequence happens. To some (including Steve) this is something of a minus but I can't say I was that disappointed by the lack of real action.

However, I do have to say it is not a patch on 'Kafka on the Shore'.


June 03, 2006

Embers

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Embers

Really simple idea – love, loyalty, betrayal, a long delayed meeting. All culminates in a final meeting 41 years later for the ultimate reckoning.

A really good and suspenseful yarn, brief but utterly compelling


May 29, 2006

'A Faustian masterpiece'?

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Under the Volcano - Malcolm Lowry

This does seem generally to be regarded as a masterpiece, including by Burgess. Recounting the last day in the life of the former British Consul (Geoffrey Firmin) in a fictional Mexican town at the foot of Popocatapetl, it is a quite remarkably intense and stylistic exploration of an alcoholic descent during the celebrations on the 'Day of the Dead'. The Consul's ex–wife and his brother join the party but prove unable to divert Firmin from the inevitable and indeed Yvonne Firmin dies too.

Whilst not the most cheering of reads, this does deserve significant plaudits although I suspect the time of its peak popularity, the 60s, had more to do with some kind of druggy/mescal alignment than anything else.

Anyway, pretty great stuff and certainly one of the most compelling and hellish descriptions of extended drunkenness I have read.


May 16, 2006

1001 books – at least several hundred too many

Title:
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I was given this book for my birthday recently.

I am slightly overwhelmed.

I reckon I've read at most 15–20% of these.

If I read one a week for the next 16 years I'll be there.


May 13, 2006

Lanark: Undoubtedly top 10

Writing about web page http://www.lanark1982.co.uk/lanark.html

Title:
Rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Lanark by Alasdair Gray

(Am in the middle of rather a long and 'difficult' book at the mo, so a catch up is offered)

Essentially, Lanark is one of the best contemporary novels in English that I have read. Although Burgess recommended it in his somewhat idiosyncratic list (see link) this should not be held against it.

It is Gray's finest work (although his other books are great too) and well worth the effort.

Am also quite entertained by the website set up by someone to promote the book.

Anyway, regardless of other canoncial exhortations, just read it.


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