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Tuesday 25 March 2014

Blog is Moving

I decided to meld my two blogs together as it was too much to try and maintain two blogs. So all reviews on my 'Voyage Out' blog are now on this blog,
You can find my 'Voyage Out' reviews on the left hand side column of the other blog by hovering your mouse icon over the pages marked non Bailey's Prize book reviews. All reviews are categorized by author.
Thank you to all those who follow this blog. Hopefully you will pop over to my other blog and follow me there.

Sunday 16 March 2014

All the Rage by A.L. Kennedy.

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥

Published by Random House UK, Vintage Publishing

Published March 2014

     Here are twelve short stories whose primary theme is love. But that large, pristine, smooth block of marble known as love, is, in the author’s hands, chiseled into monuments to lust, heartbreak and loss. Scattered around these monuments are small chunks of hope and humour that have been allowed to remain intact and which the reader stumbles over every so often as they look up at misery sculpted large.
                The writing style is staccato like and too often obtuse and dense. There is a stream of consciousness that permeates most of the stories with internal dialogues that at times feel like their pushing the reader away with their repetitive, minimalistic style of narrative.

                “And meanwhile you, there’s you and you were, you really, you absolutely – I absolutely – in all of the ways I would like to – in all the ways I would like
                But I
                But I
                But I
                But I
                Phone would be better.”

                                                                From, A Thing unheard of.

                But this repetitive, minimalistic style though at times distancing is honest. People’s external and internal dialogues are full of repetitious phrases and words that are used to make a point, or to make sure a word or phrase was heard by those listening. We look to validate a point and/or our place in our discussion group by repeating words and phrases. We repeat words or phrases in our internal dialogue so that when we have to repeat them out loud they will hopefully make sense.
                There are moments of laugh out loud humour. The story, Baby Blue, finds the protagonist in a sex shop surrounded by disembodied vaginas and penises.

                “Chocolate-flavoured condoms. They had chocolate-flavoured condoms.
                  You like penises, you like chocolate, why not both?
                  There are many whys for not both...
                  If I like penises, might I not be assumed to hope the flavour of a penis will be penis, which is to say not too much of a flavour, ideally just this subtle, unflavoured pleasantness and that isn’t a problem, how could that be a problem?”

                The author creates some joyous imagery that remains in the mind well after having moved onto the next story. Here Ms Kennedy is describing falling snow,

                “This is the style of fall that doesn’t seem it’ll be a problem, but it’s deceptive. The stuff doesn’t stop and tenderly eats up your street, your views, and settles, and being out in it will make you end up cold – cold in the lungs – and still it keeps on and overwhelms and then the fun’s gone.”

                These joyous moments of literature’s equivalent of a gravitational singularity are welcome in what at times feels like a dense quagmire of a narrative. The joyous moments feel like tree branches thrown to us readers to keep our head above the gelatinous mire, but all too often these branches were retracted and this reader began once more to sink into a literary quagmire.

Number of pages - 224
Sex Scenes - Yes
Profanity - Yes

This was sent to me via Netgalley pre-publication for an unbiased and honest review.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Why do so many books go unread? BBC radio 4 short discussion transcript.

I was listening to the Radio 4 show, Broadcasting House, this morning and there was an interesting short interview with Dr. Rick Gekoski discussing why so many books go unread. The discussion was initiated due to a recent survey that showed their to be as much as 50% of books that are unfinished or unread or our book shelves.
Because no one outside of the UK can access BBC IPlayer or their listen again option I decided to make a transcript of the interview. I hope you enjoy it. The interviewer is Paddy O'Connell.
Paddy O’Connell: So, how do we end up buying so many books that lie unread forever? Joining me in the studio today is Dr. Rick Gekoski, rare book dealer and former Man Booker Judge and owner I believe of an immense number of books.
Rick Gekoski – Not as many as I would like to have. I would like to have many more and many of them unread.
PoC – And why do you like them to be unread?
RG – Well, if you have read every book in your library, what you’re looking at is a kind of mausoleum. You’re looking at your past. When I look at my books I want to be looking at my past and my future. So, every week I buy some more books. I see some reviews; I go to a literary festival, meet somebody who has a new book out. Just because I bought it, it’s not like a lamb chop; I don’t have to eat it in three days.
PoC – But you’re going to read them all sooner or later?
RG – I would bet against it but I am certainly going to read a lot of them. I like to be able to walk through my house and be tempted by things on my own shelf.
PoC – And what sort of book when you buy it do you read immediately and what sort of book gets pushed to the back of the shelf. Are they frankly, Rick, the ones that look to hard or a little too unappealing.
RG – First of all there are loads of books that we buy but don’t read. We buy encyclopaedias, dictionaries, almanacs, cookbooks, guidebooks, reference books, art books, photography books. These are not reading books.
PoC – Sounds like you have been in my house.
RG – These are consulting books. Has everybody read all of their books by Nigel Slater or Jamie Oliver? Certainly not. The books that I read immediately are the easy ones. If there’s a new Lee Child out I read it on the day it comes out. If there is a new novel by Julian Barnes I would hope to read it within a month. I love Julian Barnes’ work. So, the question is how much immediate gratification is a book going to give me. And the more likely I am going to read it quickly the less likely the book is to be of quality.
PoC – Do you know which one of your nooks has been there the longest and unread?
RG – Oh I thing some date back to my twenties which is a very long time ago and this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s not like prep school where you have to clean your plate.
PoC – So you’re quite comfortable with the idea that Britain seems to be full of presumably, tens of millions, of unread books?
RG – That seems to me a wonderful thing because that means tens of millions of extra sales. If the only books that sold were read immediately that means all the unread books wouldn’t have been sold. From an author’s point of view I would like to be read but I would certainly like to be purchased and not read than not purchased at all.
PoC – So what do the book that we put on our shelves sat about us? Are we trying to impress other people or are we buying them to say something about ourselves?
RG – Both. We buy and we read books for loads of reasons. We read them. We consult them. We are comforted by their presence. We look forward to seeing them. We use them to make a statement about ourselves. But we also use them as temptations. I absolutely adore walking around my house and seeing things that are tempting me off the shelf. Wonderful.
PoC – Rick Gekoski, thank you.

Friday 7 March 2014

Naked Cinema: Working with Actors by Sally Potter

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥♥

Sally Potter filmography

Feature Films
Shorts and Experimental Films

Published by Faber and Faber.

During the introduction to this book the director of films such as Orlando and The Man Who Cried, Sally Potter writes, “This book does not attempt to examine other directors’ ways of working with actors. It has no scholarly pretentions, no footnotes or references. I have limited its scope to my direct experience.”
Trying to write about the making of films either as director or actor without appearing pretentious is a difficult achievement. When film directors and actors attempt to discuss their art and the way in which they suffer for their particular slice of cultural this can, and more often than not does, come across as pretentious, pompous and earnest.

Incredibly, Sally Potter has managed to execute an unaffected, natural piece of writing on a art form that has as many detractors as it does admirers. Sally Potter the director of seven films proves her ability to write a compelling book on the world of cinema without cliché or blandness.

The first half of the book consists of Sally Potter discussing the how she has dealt with actors and how best to deal with the acting fraternity when creating a film. Part one deals with ‘preparation’: how she handles actors during auditions, rehearsals, finding the character and finding the look of the actor’s character through make-up, hair etc. Part two, ‘The Shoot’ deals primarily with how actors deal with the camera, fear of the actor and the directors, use of the monitor and how to handle divas. Part three, ‘post-production’, involves a look at the under-valued and under-appreciated work in the editing suite.

The second half of the book is interviews by Sally Potter with those actors whom she has worked with over the years: Joan Allen, Lily Cole, Julie Christie, Steve Buscemi and Judi Dench to name just a few.
There are some interesting answers to Sally Potter’s questions. When the director asks Judi Dench about her experience with directors she relates about being asked by Clint Eastwood to do a film and not meeting him until the first day of shooting, “I sat there and then just before we were about to start, I felt a hand on my shoulder. And that was Clint Eastwood.” Sally Potter is surprised that that was her first meeting with the actor-director but Ms Dench explains that she believes in being, “entirely in a director’s hands.” I found almost all the interviews of interest and it was interesting to read of each actor’s response to many of the same questions.

Sally Potter writes with an unflinching, unapologetic didactic style. As a film fan I found the book illustrative and entertaining and it is hard to believe that film ingénues and media students will not feel the same.

Number of  pages - 400

This was sent to me via Netgalley for an unbiased and honest review.

Monday 3 March 2014

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman.

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥½

Published by Simon and Schuster

The story has two strands which will inevitably become entwined. One strand involves Coralie Sardie whose father owns the Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island, New York. The museum is a mix of people who are deemed as freaks; a man completely covered in hair, a girl by the name of Malia whose arms resembled a butterfly’s wings and jars of formaldehyde containing unborn babies with deformities. Coralie thinks of herself as a freak as she has the abnormality of webbed fingers. Her father also sees his daughter as a freak and on her twelfth birthday he shows her a large tank filled with water in which he wants her to be on display as a mermaid.
The second strand is about a young man Ezekiel Cohen a young man who with his father escaped the Russian pogroms in the Ukraine. Both live in abject poverty with Ezekiel’s father working in factories while Ezekiel sits under his work table. After an attempted suicide by Ezekiel’s father, Ezekiel loses all respect for his father and leaves, finding work with Abraham Hochman who is called the seer of Rivington Street. Hochman claims to be a mind-reader and interpreter of dreams and through his supposed talent he solves crimes and finds lost children. Ezekiel changes his name to Eddie and eventually finds a talent for photography.
“After the day when my father leapt from the dock, as if his life was so worthless he was willing to cast it away, I made a vow to look for pleasure in my own life...nothing made me happy until I’d stood in the locust grove and watched Levy with his camera.”
After swimming further down the Hudson River than she intended, Coralie espy’s Eddie sitting fixing a meal over a bonfire on the river’s edge. She immediately feels a ‘magnetic pull’ toward Eddie and later in the story Eddie falls in love with her on first sight.
This fin de siècle novel is a tremendous tale of a New York on the cusp of becoming a modern city. The consolidation of the five boroughs to form what would become the modern day New York, the opening of the subway, the construction of magnificent buildings sat incongruously with the streets being covered with 2500 tons of manure daily from over 200,000 horses that were still being used as transportation. Central Park once a boggy area and populated by squatters now remade into an opulent playground for the rich.
Mixing factual events with fiction to bring the city to life, Alice Hoffman has created a remarkable account that not only informs but entertainments but never becomes boringly didactic. The author shows the city at its worse and its best. Its worst is the true event of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory where girls as young as twelve worked as seamstresses. The nine storey building catches fire with doors chained and the fire escape melting. Reminiscent of 9/11, with people jumping to their deaths from the ninth floor window ledges most of them engulfed in flames.
Eddie Cohen’s time as a photographer includes time photographing criminals being arrested and the dead bodies of gangsters for tabloid newspapers. With his bribery of local police officers and his photographing of dead criminals it is very reminiscent of the 1940s freelance photographer, Arthur ‘weegee’ Fellig.
Coralie’s story is tragic and pathetic in equal amounts. Coralie struggles to extricate herself from her  life as a freak show attraction but cannot find the strength to disobey her overbearing and cruel father who is not above stitching human and animal parts together to ‘create’ a new exhibit for his museum.
The story of Eddie and Coralie is fascinating and told with great aplomb but the Romantic story arc is ridden with clichés with dialogue lumpen and bordering on the Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon.
“Coralie kissed him quickly, then whispered that she had given him her heart. It was not possible to live with one’s heart, yet she was smiling when she backed away.”
“The housekeeper lifted Coralie’s chin so they might look into one another’s eyes. ‘If we had no hurt and no sin to speak of, we’d be angels, and angels can’t love the way men and women do.’”
One feels that the novel has been written by two different people and I wish that the person who wrote the main story of New York, Eddie and Coralie stories (before they met) had written the whole novel as the Romantic element of the novel is at once bathetic, incongruous and detracts from what could have been a great novel.

First Line - "You would think it would be impossible to find anything new in the world, creatures no man has ever seen before, one of a kind oddities in which nature has taken a backseat to the coursing pulse of the fantastical and the marvelous."

Memorable Line - "I saw owls in the locust trees and wondered if these creatures were the spirits of the dead, for they were so many murdered in our homeland there was not room enough for all of the ghosts. I half believed they had turned into birds instead."

No' of Pages - 385

Sex Scenes - None

Profanity - None

Advanced copy supplied by Netgalley.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Whistler: A Life for Art's Sake a biography by Daniel E Sutherland

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥♥♥

Published by Yale University Press

James Abbot Whistler (he would add his mother’s maiden of McNeill later in his life) was born in the busy mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1834 (though he would come to deny that place of birth in an attempt to remove, “the taint of Lowell” from his life when writing his biographical sketch for the American Who’s Who) to a mother whose family came from the plebeian North Carolina, (something else Whistler would deny stating that his mother’s family came from the aristocratic South Carolina).
The Little Rose of Lyme Regis

His father George Washington Whistler was a West Point graduate and that U.S. Military Academy made him an engineer. His excellence in the field of railroad engineering brought him to the attention of Tsar Nicholas I who hired him to build a railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow. The young Whistler spent five years in Russia and during that time his love of art bloomed. The renowned artist Sir William Allan, who was in Russia to paint the history of Peter the Great, told Whistler’s mother that her son had an “uncommon genius”.
Purple and Rose: The Lange Lijzen of the Six Marks

This ‘genius’ went on to become arguably one of the most influential painters of the 19th century. Whistler was influenced over the years by many artists, notably Velasquez and Courbet, and was also influenced by Courbet’s Realism and especially Oriental art which continued to fascinate him throughout his whole life. His style of realism became known as Naturalism. However, over the years he easily moved through different styles of art and also through different mediums of art becoming an expert and an innovator in anything he done. Walter Sickert declared to a friend, “Such a man! The only painter alive who has first immense genius, then conscientious persistent work striving after his ideal”. But Whistler “espoused no doctrine, proposed no laws, even though he spoke constantly the science of art.” The important factor in art, for Whistler was ‘delicacy’ a tenderness, neatly and nicety.

Not only is this the first Whistler biography in 20 years but it is the first to make extensive use of the artist’s private correspondence. That ‘extensive use’ shines through this book like light through stained glass. The author Daniel E Sutherland has taken the chiaroscuro printed page of Whistler’s private correspondence and thrown beautiful colours onto the page in the form of wonderful insights and satisfyingly brought the artist to life to such an extent as one feels that Whistler is the room as you read.
At The Piano

Being a lover of art I have to admit that like most people I believed him as nothing more than a  dandy, a dilettante, an egoist who ‘stole’ from other artists and created only one masterpiece, An Arrangement in Grey and Black colloquially and erroneously known as Whistler’s Mother. Thanks to Mr Sutherland my mind has now filed that belief under ‘short-sightedness’.
Beach Scene

One of the main raison d’êtres of a literary or artistic biography is to have today’s and future generations to not only re-evaluate the biography’s subject but to instill a need to read the books or see the paintings. This biography achieves that in the proverbial spades. I have already been searching online to see which paintings can be seen in Edinburgh and Glasgow. The author has achieved a wonderful biography that has been written in a clear, comprehensive and entertaining manner. Mr Sutherland has managed to achieve that difficult task of writing a biography that is at once both entertaining and intelligent. This has to be the definitive biographical work on Whistler and I pity and writer who attempts to write one in the future. I will leave you with the words of Arthur Symons;
Nocturne, Blue and Silver, Chelsea.

“He talked of art, certainly for art’s sake, with the passionate reverence of the lover, and with the joyous certainty of one who knows himself loved.”

Number of Pages - 432

This was sent to me via Netgalley for an unbiased and honest review.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Quiet Man

Just a short post to apologise for the lack of any new posts. This is mostly due to my mum being rather unwell over the past few weeks. This combined with her having a few falls, (determined as probably due to a new prescription of anti-bio-tics to cure an infection), and my having something of a mental malady has made things rather difficult. But we are both much better and so the reading has started again, At the moment I am reading a new biography about the painter James Whistler, a review of this will appear by the end of the week on my Voyage Out blog and I am reading the  an Orange Prize for Fiction shortlisted book, The Ventriloquist's tale. As a postscript, receiving two hateful, threatening posts didn't help my mood. Thankfully, I moderate my posts so I was able to trash them.