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chris105

chris105
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Member since: 17.01.2001

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      13.08.2003 07:46
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      Those who haven't been around for long will not ahime' remember me... I used to spend quite some (considerable) time dooyoo-ing and reading and rating and posting... Then this book came along, which seemed worth returning from (self-imposed) exile for - I must shout about this book to all dooyoo-ers if any who might still be interested in books. Every now and again a book comes along which is very good indeed. You recommend it to your like-minded friends. You try not to loan your copy lest it never returns. ... Then, every once in a blue blue moon, a book comes along which is not merely very good but mind-blowingly brilliant (all those who are still in thrall of the decade-old 'Secret History' raise your hands here). One such is Margaret Atwood's (her of 'Blind Assassin') latest oeuvre 'Oryx and Crake'. Now I've read online and offline reviews that, like me, praised her to the high heavens, and others that poo-pooed it. Frankly, I couldn't care less: I L-O-V-E-D this (and those who remember me will know that I don't rave about books easily). Basically we're looking at a 'Handmaid's Tale'-revisited - but then again not: although set in a hypothetical (or not?) future, and although this future is BAD, the sheer inventive force of this new novel is staggering. It isn't merely the genetic/scientific details thrown in (which could per se easily have come out of a thorough research), but it's the way these are blended. Imagine a whodunnit, but very oh-so-very sophisticated, blended with a science fiction (but not too science fiction, if you know what I mean) theme, with a romantic sottofondo thrown in for good measure. Then sprinkle liberally with mythological throwbacks. And in a nutshell you have the spirit of 'Oryx and Crake'. The protagonist, known initially as 'Snowman' but in another life also as Jimmy, is at the end of a jour
      ney when we meet him next, and on the verge of embarking on a new one. All the novel progresses, he takes us back to his meeting with Crake, and to the whys and wherefores of when the world as we/they know it was altered forever. dooyoo mores seem to have changed since I last visited - it doesn't seem fashionable any longer to write at infinite length (as was my wont, at times) - so I'll try to keep this short and sweet: SHORT: "Go buy, read this book." SWEET: "You'll l-o-v-e it!" Ta Chris PS I'd love to hear from any "old" (no offence meant) dooyoo-ers, if any still survive.

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        19.09.2002 16:11
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        I'm meant to be working at this time; not that I should be unless I want to turn into one of those hated workaholics (it's well past midnight, in case you're asking). Really, though, I can't complain as I've been having my fair share of hols over the past year or so... so much so, in fact, that I haven't kept up with me dooyoo-writing. Shame on me, lad ("lad" metaphorically speaking)... Of course, being in this category I'm meant to be writing about Zurich "in general"... I'd gladly have written about some specific part of the city but there were no further sub-categories to the Zurich cat - oh well! Zurich, though not the capital of Switzerland, is - together with Geneva - referred to as synonymous with Switzerland. It's the postcard version of "money, money, money, honey", and being home to the all-powerful all-dancing all-singing Swiss mega-banks this comes as no surprise. The Bahnhofstrasse, first mentioned in any travel guide on the place, is the gentlemen's club of Switzerland, as it were - lined with the headquarters of all the aforementioned banks, and interspersed with all the ultra-expensive fashion outlets that make you bleed any bank account you might have in the neighbourhood. This doesn't, needless to say, deter all sorts of tourists (including meself) from having a saunter up and down the street, pretending to window shop as if this were really "our kind of shopping experience". Ahem! At one end of the Bahnofstrasse is Lake Zurich (which is a pretty sight though nothing like, say, Lake Lucerne), while at the other end stands the main station. Now THIS is a sight - an old, majestic high-ceilinged building having more airs of a library than a station. We arrived in Zurich by air, however I can imagine the impression the station gives to those getting to it by rail. The fabled cleanliness and reserve of the Swiss is all there. On the ot
        her side of the Station, we get to the Old Town which, as any European-city goer will know, often offers the best part of any city. And here indeed we spent the most of our time in Zurich. Not a huge Old Town, I might qualify, however well worth the visit and meandering. Relatively quiet streets all over, and interestingly scores of not-so-bohemian cafes and nightclubs and restaurants and peep shows... yes, quite unusually for an Old Town this part of Zurich once served as the racy red-light district. Mostly gentrified nowadays, of course, although the peep shows and late-night cabarets survive! It's curious to see a would-be raunchy nightclub sharing street frontage with its next-door wholesome family-oriented pizzeria (complete with Italian flag and misspelt Italian pizza names and ingredients). Some of the shops here are worth a visit too, especially if you mouth watered during your walk down Bahnhofstrasse. The prices are much more reasonable here, and while definitely not a steal by any definition (except Queen Bessie's, perhaps), there are some worthwhile buys to be made. There's even an Apple Mac dealership! One other trove of Zurich is the plethora of antique bookshops around - the Old Town especially is dotted with them! There are some high-quality and mint-condition antique books to be found, including respectable collections of English-language books. I actually found two excellently-preserved titles: a collection of Byron poems and a lavishly-illustrated Gulliver's Travels first edition... Further up into the Old Town, the two cathedrals of Zurich are interesting buildings, though nothing to write to dooyoo about when compared to Italian and French masterpieces: the Fraumunster and the Grossmunster. Further afield, the Kunsthaus was one of the most diverse art museums I've seen in recent years - I spent a fascinating morning there in the company of the likes of Picasso (to whom a whole room is dedicated
        ), Kl ee, Monet, and including an impressive photographic exhibition. Zurich would be well worth a visit just for this museum, believe me! Overall, Zurich city centre isn't such a huge place - and in fact I spent just the couple of days there before heading to Lucerne and the mountains. Yet I have to admit that Zurich was way different from what I'd expected, yet special in many ways. I definitely recommend a (short) stay there. [As you might have realised, I've refrained from commenting about the Swiss themselves - there's a reason for that: I was less than impressed or amused by the snottiness of the few Swiss, mostly working in the tourist business, I met. However I wouldn't like to generalise so I'll keep mum about that aspect...] PS. Oh, by the way, there's some pretty decent nosh to be had in the Old Town, too - just (as always) avoid the blatantly tourist places and you'll do just fine. Bye bye

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          30.06.2002 17:56
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          Bumble-zee-boo! I'm actually back on dooyoo! Don't get too scared, I'm just dipping my fat toes into it, see how it goes kinda thing. Tuscany then - me last holiday so far, and the perfect pick-up point for me dooyoo-ing seeing as my earlier dooyoo-days came to an end with that trip. Awwww, what a break that was (Tuscany, that is, not the dooyoo-abstinence). We flew off to Tuscany in early May, when it wasn't yet SO hot as to impede movement. In fact, we got more than we bargained for coz it rained for most of our stay. Having both of us been to Florence before, we opted for the out-in-the-country stay, with a hired car for easy and schedule-free roaming about. We stayed at a place -particularly charming and cozy, I might add- just outside Siena [yes Malu you were right, Siena was the right base for our explorations]. You know the type, vast gardens, immense quiet all around, rooms overlooking tended gardens with picture-perfect Tuscan countryside on the horizon. And casual breakfast. But more on food later. Tuscany is vast, with countless tiny and not-so-tiny villages and towns speckled all over the countryside. The rolling hills seen in films and postcards are really and truly there, in all their glory. The rule of thumb with towns is: the smaller the better. I used to think that San Gimignano was the epitome of a small town - only to find much smaller and much less tourist-infested towns (I shouldn't be giving out names here, to ensure their continued quiet living till my next visit, but seeing as it's you my faithful dooyoo readers, I'll drop one name: Pienza - vedere per credere, as the Italians would say). I believed that the laid-back way of life of small Italian villages, where the baker knows the butcher knows the grocer knows the pastry-man knows the commissario and all meet and chat every day under the benevolent gaze of the parroco of the inevitable church in the piazza, had gone the way of the dodo
          after the Second World War. But how wrong I was! Not only are these villages thriving, but most of them (well actually it's thanks to this that they're still thriving) are ignored on most travel guides. Heee heee Che panorama! Che pace! Yes indeed, bring out all those dusty cliches, sprinkle with a couple of internet cafes (ahime yes, even in the remotest village you'll find one - which is actually kind of charming in its own way, if you think about it), and you have Tuscany the unexploited bits in 2002. And further, one hopes. Obviously, the larger Siena, Pisa (and of course Florence, though we didn't go that far out into touristdom) have the usual tourism-itis, consisting of strategically-placed souvenir shops selling bric-a-brac of the more or less fake kind, junky cafes with inflated prices and impersonal service. The lot. But then again, you also get the treasure-trove of museums and works of art that make Italy, and Tuscany in particular, the beating heart of art in the world. The breathtaking amount of inestimable works of art, some lying unnoticed in a secondary piazza, for the laws of relativity (not the physics kind, the common sense kind) impose that where there is such over-abundance of art, works that would in any other country be the centrepiece of an art collection are in Tuscany relegated to second- or third-class status. How can you compare to a Michelangelo, even if you're an otherwise-esteemed Renaissance painter yourself? aaahhh So that's the roaming. Indeed, do yourself a favour and hire a car when you're in Tuscany, the better to find all these charming places (you don't even need a travel guide - although that'd help - just drive and stop at any small village that tickles your fancy). Good luck. But hey, you didn't think I'd made my grand return to dooyoo without mentioning food, glorious food, didya? I live for food as a matter of course, figuriamoci in
          food-heaven Italy. It is said that it is impossible to find a bad meal in Italy, no matter how low in the restaurant-cafe chain you go. Well, not really - bum deals will be bum deals, wherever you go. But let's just say that it is infinitely more difficult to go wrong. On the other hand though, when you don't go wrong, you go right alla grande. Food in the humblest of osterie or cafes is blindingly divine. Rule of thumb, here again, would be: the farther from a tourist area the place is, and the more unpretentious the decor, the better the food will be. One of our best meals there was an osteria in Pienza, where we ravaged dish after dish of their specialities, which were scribbled here and there on the walls of the place. Pienza being the birthplace of pecorino cheese, we gorged ourselves on varieties of cheese fondues we didn't even know existed, on platters of cheeses and hams to kill for, and on heartbreakingly fabulous wine. Please, please take me back to Tuscany. **** PS Hi to all my dooyoo friends - I hope to be around more often. Hopefully when work is a teeny weeny bit more sorted out.

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          • amazon.co.uk / Online Shop / 2 Readings / 49 Ratings
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            04.04.2002 07:00
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            Love it or loathe it, amazon changed the way we buy and relate to books. Those of us who love it see it as the ultimate empowerer, giving us instant click-and-pay access to vast libraries of titles unbeatable by any corner store. Those of us who loathe it, generally do because of the firm's perceived vulgarisation of the noble and high art of reading. So free marketeers and elitist snobs - both from their opposite ends - find that amazon.com (and its various siblings, including the above-mentioned amazon.co.uk) winds them up. There's no doubt that, before the onset of amazon as a book-selling force to be reckoned with, less people thought of books and reading as a live pastime. Music was hip, as were movies. But not books - those were for socially-challenged nerds. Then, suddenly, with the advent of the internet and the first tentative steps of e-commerce sites, amazon made book-buying trendy and cool. Everyone was browsing; some were buying. Sending book gifts to people living far (and near) was the "in" thing to do in the Christmas of 5 years ago or so. People who had never set foot in a bookstore in their entire lives were cheerfully clicking away and awaiting their postal delivery. If only for this reason, amazon is to be commended. Anything that promotes reading, albeit for its own commercial reasons, is to be welcomed. And we haven't mentioned prices yet. Contemporaneously with the liberalisation of prices in brick-and-mortar bookstores (which some say was speeded by the advent of amazon itself), amazon was offering ridiculous (up to 50% or 60%) reductions, not on end-of-stock remainders, but on today's hottest bestsellers. Fancy a Grisham? Chop 40$ off the recommended retail price! Want to meet Harry Potter? Pay half price! This enticed many a surfer to buy. On the other hand, amazon is renowned for its notoriously high postage and delivery rates, so that in the majority of cases the savin
            gs made through amazon's generous discount structure are wiped out by the exorbitant postage and packing charges. And this is if you live in the UK. If you're unlucky enough to be an overseas customer, then the rates shoot up even more. In my experience, it's been very rare to find a book that didn't finally work out more expensive via amazon (taking into account delivery charges) than via a traditional offline bookstore. But that's marketing for you. The attraction of amazon is undoubtedly its instant availability, its ability to browse and impulse-buy without leaving the comfort of the living-room/study chair. And that counts for a lot in all e-commerce... The site itself, amazon.co.uk, is as sleek as they come. (Of course, nowadays amazon sells books and almost everything else, however this op falls under the "online book shops" category so I'll limit myself to books. Suffice it to know that the other options do exist.) Upon entering, a welcome page provides a taste of what's on offer, trying to tempt with an array of slashed-price bestsellers. And if you've previously registered with amazon and bought something (and as long as you've got cookies enabled in your web browser), smart amazon will customise your welcome page to your tastes. So if you've ordered Jamie Oliver from amazon, be prepared for an onslaught of Nigella Bites, Delia et al on your welcome page! Searching for a book couldn't be easier. Books are clearly and intuitively sub-divided into categories; alternatively there's a powerful search facility where books may be searched for by title, by author, by publisher or by ISBN - and searches may be limited to paperback or hardback editions. Once found, a click will bring up all the relevant (and some irrelevant, truth be told) details on the book in question: price, publisher, ISBN, number of pages, availability as well as a short description and, in most cases, an ima
            ge of the front cover. Availability is, from my experience, somewhat hit and miss. Books marked as being in stock are the only ones with a reasonably truthful delivery date, in that these are despatched from amazon's own warehouse immediately upon confirmation of order and verification of credit card details. Where books are marked as "should be available in x days/weeks", beware - these are standard phrases that reflect anything but the real situation. What that phrase means is that amazon does not stock the title but has the publisher's details. What amazon staff do is order the book from the publisher, who will then send it to amazon from whence it will be forwarded to you... ...Assuming, that is, that the book is still in print. Should the book be out of print, or even temporarily out of stock or reprinting, amazon will not necessarily know beforehand. In fact, unless someone else has ordered the same book earlier and amazon has had the opportunity to update its records accordingly, chances are that the book will be marked as "should be available..." irrespectively. And you will be the guinea pig who'll find out for amazon that the book is temporarily unavailable. So I would suggest, do not order a book from amazon if you require it relatively urgently and if it is not in stock. Otherwise, be prepared for a potentially long wait... Another interesting feature of amazon is the peer review facility. While nowhere as comprehensive or reliable as dooyoo, it does provide paragraphs written by consumers (not necessarily buyers, though - anyone may post a review) discussing the book. These contributions, though, are of varying quality, more often than not being of dubious impartiality. They are nothing near the objective assessments found in sites such as dooyoo. By far more reliable is amazon's own critique of the product, which is often (not always) found to precede the readers' reviews.
            Once you have decided on the book you want to order, ordering itself could not be simpler. A series of clearly-guided clicks will have you indicating a delivery address, an invoice address (if different from delivery, say in the case of a gift), and credit card details. I believe amazon also provides the opportunity to pay by cheque, however this delays the process immensely since amazon will obviously await receipt and cashing-in of cheque prior to despatching the book/s. Finally, two practical features offered by amazon are the option to gift-wrap a present (at extra cost), having it sent accompanied by a personalised note, and the admittedly gimmicky "wishlist" feature. In the latter, anyone who has registered with amazon may set up a wishlist where s/he indicates the books s/he'd "like to receive"... It's a kind of electronic hint, hint method to relatives and friends. Can be useful, though... Bottom line for the amazon shopping experience is that the site is undeniably addictive and eminently browsable, and is very useful for ordering that hard-to-find book or gift to far-flung friend/relative; however for personal shopping, nothing beats the actual physical browsing of a book prior to buying. So make your choice. Then, most importantly, have fun reading. ******* And for the moment, it's "a bientot"!

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            • Moulin Rouge! (DVD) / DVD / 0 Readings / 40 Ratings
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              02.04.2002 07:37
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              Every so often a something comes along which we go absolutely uncontrollably ga-ga about. It could be a new gadget, a trendy (or not so trendy) restaurant, a revolutionary song, a mega-magnificent-fall-off-your-chair good book, a mind-blowing play, or - as in my case over the past few months - a film. You know when you're in the ga-ga stage, as against "mere" infatuation for something new and exciting (also known as a "craze"), when the ga-ga-ism (with apologies to the painting school) lasts for over five months. Now let it be known that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a film buff. I enjoy films, immensely, however I consume them as a gentile, in blissful ignorance of the trends and depths of the filmmaking industry. So when I say that MOULIN ROUGE, the film, I have watched for about 10 times, you should be amazed. Really you should. I don't usually watch a film twice, no matter how exceptional, let alone 10 times. For crying out loud... I made my acquaintance with MOULIN ROUGE while on holiday last October. Inexplicably curious at this much-touted phenomenon, I had been dying to watch it, but was otherwise engaged and did not get round to having a sneak preview. So it was already doing the rounds in the cinemas when I finally got to see it (on the other side of the globe, I might add!). To say I was mesmerised from the first instant seems like the exaggeration that it would otherwise be.... otherwise, that is, than for this film. MOULIN ROUGE marks the come-back of the musical genre in film. Basically, from my very limited knowledge of films, it seems the musical as a film style was stuck in 'The Sound of Music' and 'My Fair Lady' days. Charming, of course, but quaint by today's exigent standards. The musical film territory seems to have been claimed and cordoned off by the MTV generation of music videos. Film had concentrated on high-octave special effects and/or intense pathos
              (with varying degrees of success and originality, one might add). Until MOULIN ROUGE. 2001 and along comes Baz Luhrmann, director of highly-acclaimed and hardly conventional films. Discarding all the established conventions of what a musical should be like, he single-handedly brought to life, in an updated - nay, reinvented - form, this genre. Musical is back. With a bang... or rather, if you'll pardon the facile play on words, with a can-can... The plot of MOULIN ROUGE doesn't bear close scrutiny, of course. It's your classic unattainable but achieved against all odds love situation: 'he' is penniless but charming, and falls for 'her' - who is glamorous and higher in the echelons of society (albeit within the confines of a parallel underworld society in this case). Their love is ambushed by all and sundry, and the affair proceeds in secret, while another more "worthy" suitor suspects zilch. Until things are brought to a heady climax, and one of the lovers has to make a life-changing decision. Oh yes, and finally tragedy threatens to strike. Amen. That's it, really - the plot. But one does not fall in love with MOULIN ROUGE for the plot. It's good enough to hold water while the rest of the ship does its thing. Which it does marvellously. The direction, lighting, costumes, and camera-work should have, in a fair world, swept away everyone and everything at the Oscars. MOULIN ROUGE has been called "Romeo and Juliet meets MTV". The whole film is seen as one long breathless music clip. Fast-moving scenes, vibrant colours, exotic and sometimes erotic shots, extravagant costumes, impossibly kitsch decor - this, and much much more, is MOULIN ROUGE. Scenes such as the first night when Satine (the showgirl) meets the Duke (the rich and devious suitor) and Christian (the penniless but love-struck poet) will remain in the history of the cinema, long after Russell Crowe is reduc
              ed to reruns of B-grade sitcoms on syndicated TVs and 'Beautiful Mind' is the slogan for Pamela Anderson's latest makeover. The chaos and immorality of turn-of-the-century (19th-to-20th) Paris is perfectly brought out. Many people at the cinema where I watched it the first time just walked out at this point. I was falling in love. At the same time, while music and colour are exploding all around, bedroom-farce situations worthy of Fawlty Towers are taking place. The boudoir scene, set - of all places - inside a giant elephant (!!!! - try and beat that!), is side-splittingly funny. Humour, music and tragedy are carried along hand-in-hand, without at any point losing their balance. Unexplainably (or explainable probably by the snobbish attitude often shown at such occasions) MOULIN ROUGE, though nominated for an avalanche of Oscars, carried home only 2 minor ones. I would of course have given it Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, et al... but that's just me! THE CAST The 'her' of the situation, nightclub glamour-showgirl Satine, is played divinely by Nicole Kidman. I firmly believe that her turn as Satine will never be forgotten, and I for one have become a devoted fan and follower of this incredibly talented actress. Her penniless 'him' is none other than Ewan McGregor, he of (of all improbable combinations) 'Trainspotting'. They both sing their way through the film, incidentally, and although McGregor has been accused of "screaming, not singing", I think they both did a fine job (albeit assisted greatly by sumptuous orchestrations and deluxe backing vocals... one name for all: Placido Domingo!). Harold Zigler, the manager of the nightclub Moulin Rouge, is played by Oscar winner (best supporting actor in 'Iris') Jim Broadbent. And the devious hideous Duke is Richard Roxburgh. Apart from these three main characters there's a plethora of other talents scatter
              ed throughout the film. As I said, I'm no film buff, so I shan't give you statistics on each and every actor and make-up artist. Look them up if you want to. In this op I wanted to give you a taste of what I felt watching MOULIN ROUGE. THE MUSIC As in any musical, the music played and sung forms the backbone of the film. And in MOULIN ROUGE, with very few exceptions, the score is not original but adaptations/covers of famous "trashy" pop songs, incredibly blended into each other to form a coherent storyline. At one point, no less than three completely different songs are being sung contemporaneously. Unbelievable... Of course, for many the hilarious climax of this repartee is the Duke's interpretation of Madonna's cheesy 'Like a Virgin'. Brought the house down at one of the cinemas I watched it in. [no, not literally...] And walking out of the cinema, I guarantee (nearly - caveats and all that, you understand!) you'll be humming 'Come What May'... But don't take my word for it. Rent it on video (it's out now) or DVD. You might hate it and ask for a refund. Or you might, like me, fall in love - irreversibly and for ever (and I don't use these phrases lightly). Come what may...

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              • Atonement - Ian McEwan / Fiction Book / 3 Readings / 43 Ratings
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                29.03.2002 06:30
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                What can one say about Ian McEwan that won't be cliched or, worse, seen as Jill-bashing? We can roll out cliches till the sheep come home (or was it the cows? Englishmen and -women, please come to my rescue... enlighten me!): "McEwan one either loves or hates"; "McEwan's writing is lush, metaphoric"; "McEwan's cruel streak shines again"... Yet cliches, as I so love to repeat in my every other op - and as adapted from Kurt Andersen's novel 'Turn of the Century' (which reminds me, I should write an op on that excellent book one day) -, very often are true. That is why they become cliches. And truly, truly, truly, there's no other way I could think of to start off my ATONEMENT op but by saying that Ian McEwan is an author one either loves or hates - there's no middle way. [Ok, now do I get the award for the longest-winded getting-to-the-point introduction in the history of dooyoo? Do I or don't I? Don't say I don't else I'll replace the above with an even longer-winded intro - you have been warned.] My all-time McEwan favourite is 'Amsterdam', so let's be clear about that. And please do not even attempt to debase said novel unless you want a hysterical red-eyed fellow charging up your doorstep with murderous intents...the Crowns debate will be the least of your worries at that point, believe me... 'Enduring Love', probably his most successful novel, sales-wise, is a close second. So it should come as no surprise that as soon as his latest, much-hyped novel, ATONEMENT, was published in hardback, I couldn't wait for the paperback and bought it. Or rather, to be precise, got it as a present from my prescient and loving wifey. [Thanks a million!] For the record, ATONEMENT was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2001 - although having won a couple of years back with 'Amsterdam' there were no lollipops for guessing McEwan wouldn't get a se
                cond 'jaggy bonnet' (with apologies to Ken) from the Booker gurus. It was also nominated for a host of other, lesser and not-so-lesser, awards. And in case you're wondering, the paperback is due out in May. So there. In typical McEwan style, ATONEMENT picks as its focal point a seemingly trivial insignificant detail, out of which nothing much could plausibly happen, and proceeds to construct around this detail an intricate web of consequences and counter-consequences, resulting in some dramatic event which totally overshadows in scope and gravity the original detail. However, and this is McEwan's great talent, in so doing he makes the whole affair seem logical and real. The reader's disbelief is suspended so that, reading of the cataclysm - which incidentally becomes as inevitable as it is clearly foretellable - one cannot but think "wow, such scary things may happen from such a small detail". Wow! Ian you're magical! Actually - and here I'm mixing the sacred with the profane, if all science buffs will forgive my impertinence - this McEwanism reminds me of a popular colloquialisation of chaos theory (an item of quantum physics): If a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, a storm breaks out in India*. Well folks, McEwanism is just that! [*acknowledgement to dooyoo-er sgrup] The trivial event in ATONEMENT is the spying, by young Briony, in her parents' luxuriant country manor in England of 1935, of her elder sister Cecilia stripping off and jumping into the garden fountain in front of bystander Robbie Turner, the low-class neighbour's well-educated son. Briony, who at her tender age can interpret and understand and reason out the entire gamut of human emotions (or so she thinks, conceited brat that she is) except love, misinterprets totally and disastrously the situation. From there on, a series of events and coincidences lead to a momentous heat-infested evening in the manor, when Ce
                cilia's and Robbie's futures, together and individually, are placed at the absolute mercy of Briony. The mistake Briony makes (but was it a mistake? the author, after all, calls it "Briony's crime") has such incredible consequences that she spends all the rest of her life trying to atone (hence the title, of course) for her error. The book is divided into three parts (and an epilogue). The first part, which sets the scene and re-enacts the misunderstood event and the mistake/crime of little Briony, is easily the longest and least eventful. Reading through the first ten chapters or so, one could be forgiven for abandoning the book for want of anything happening. Oh, the undercurrents are there all right - but otherwise, it's basically watching a pendulum swing... Things get moving in the last chapters of the first part. Then the second part brings a total change of ambience, character and mood. This is perhaps the best part of the novel, for sheer intensity of writing. The third part, set on the eve of the commencement of the bombings of London by the Nazis, closes the circle... nearly. Loose ends are finally tied up in the epilogue, with the usual McEwan twist (though it's more of a bend than a fully-fledged twist, to be honest). Who should read this? All McEwan fans, of course. But beyond them/us, those who like to immerse themselves in luxuriant writing will enjoy this.... although, truth be told, McEwan could legitimately be accused of slightly overstepping the mark in this novel, and showing off his admittedly incredible mastery of the English language more than was stricly necessary. The writing in 'Enduring Love' and 'Amsterdam' was more natural than this. Those who enjoy a gripping, no-holds-barred plot, the page-turner so to speak, will not be too overjoyed with this book - especially with the first third of the novel. Those, on the other hand, for whom reading usually
                includes a dose of psycho-analysis of characters, their behaviour and its consequences, will devour ATONEMENT. Briony's lifelong process of atonement is brought out masterfully. 'Tis the touch of the master, to translate literally an Italian expression. And with these words of ...ahem... wisdom, I leave you to your reading. Au revoir...

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                • Public Notice / Archive Internet / 1 Reading / 45 Ratings
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                  27.03.2002 23:40
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                  This is going to be a short op, so don't worry, you don't need to take any particularly deep breaths. Relax (and read...) I realise this is probably the strangest category for me to write in, for the following reasons: (1) I'm not a Londoner so I don't make use of the Tube regularly; (2) this is a very old (or should I say defunct?) category on dooyoo, and (3) the adverts are no longer up... as far as I know. Yet, my migration to dooyoo (where I've been a faithful for 14 months and counting now) owes everything to one of these Tube adverts. In January 2001 I was in London for a few days, and while on the Tube back to Heathrow I stumbled upon this poster. Picture the scene: a sweaty straitjacket-effect compartment, a long trip (for one used to minuscule distances, that is), a suitcase to drag along, a flight back home to catch, and the prospect of work the next day. And, to top it all, boring adverts plastered all over the Tube: pay your ticket, or else... / Buy insurance "kilcem" and you'll never pay a penny extra again... Suddenly I come across this bright and cheerful dooyoo advert. A funky question-mark drawing. Doowhat? Never heard of that before. Writing? Mmmm, sounds interesting... Get paid for writing? Whooah, even better... So what's this website all about? Where's the catch? There and then I made a note of the site, and moved on to the next advert (or to the next passenger to stare at, I'm not quite sure which one it was). But back home, safely ensconced into my chair before my faithful Mac (yes folks, this is a subliminal advert for Macs), I checked out the site. And, as they say, from there on I never looked back... What am I trying to say here? Simply, that given the present brouhaha over the lack of interest among dooyooers and the defection of a few, and repeated comments around the site that dooyoo could do more to attract new readers, I'm sure the dooyoo-meisters co
                  uld do worse than to re-instate this promotional campaign. I'm not aware of why this was stopped: was it deemed to be ineffectual, or were the Tube rates prohibitively expensive? It surely cannot be as costly as a television advert campaign, which is the only more effective means of marketing I can think of. All I can say is that stopping the Tube advert seems a pity, since if the advert could attract a blase' tired and uninterested passenger, it could potentially attract many more. Tube passengers are a captive audience waiting to be exploited (as it were... with apologies to all you tube-users out there!), and the bright and fun-looking dooyoo advert sure stood out among the barren wasteland of insurance and fines adverts. Not to mention that the dooyoo advert was the only one that promised to pay money, instead of take it! Another advantage of Tube adverts, in my view, is that most passengers are repeat passengers, who will thus be re-exposed to the same advert until the name dooyoo leaves some sort of impression in their minds... Who knows, one of those passengers might be in the market for a new car, or even a new mobile or (dare I say it?) a new book - and the name dooyoo might click when they're clicking away at work (while they should be working, of course...) and land them in this corner of virtual-paradise... Just a suggestion, folks... Anyone to second this?

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                  • Embers - Sandor Marai / Fiction Book / 0 Readings / 25 Ratings
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                    20.03.2002 00:18
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                    A man... and a woman... and another man... all night long... together

                    Picture two male friends and a woman spending whole nights together, as one. And then, years later, the two men spend another all-nighter together, without the woman but feeling her presence nonetheless.

                    No, you have not stumbled into an adult channel review, nor is this my debut in the proposed (or has it materialised?) dooyoo Erotica category. I am talking about one of the most stunning and incredible books I have ever read: EMBERS by Sandor Marai.

                    I realise that, having just praised to high heavens another recent read, "Back Roads", I'm enthusing about too many books recently - but that makes a pleasant change, actually, from the too many disappointing books making the rounds at present. Yet EMBERS had me hooked, from beginning to end (admittedly it's not a long read, and for a hardback is not too convenient pricewise), to what is essentially a skeletal story. Now those attentive readers will know from my previous ops that I "need" a good plot in a book to enjoy it to the full. No matter how beautiful the prose, if this is not supported by a decent story then I'm bound to be disappointed. EMBERS is different, to a certain extent. Its story is very bare, in that not much happens; however the fragments of this story are brought to us tiny bit by tiny bit, as if it were an intelligent thriller, so we are kept gasping till the end, and we never feel that we're being dragged along by the author just so he can impress us with his vocab and philosophy.

                    And no, this is not a thriller. The genre is beyond classification really: it could conceivably be a love story; it could be, in certain parts, a classic thriller; it also examines some very pertinent facts of life, old age, experience, infatuation, classism, but always in a non-pedantic way. Especially for a Hungarian novelist.

                    Which brings me to the author. Sandor Marai, born in 1900 in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, lived and wrote during the last ga
                    sps of this dying empire. A fervent anti-Fascist, but subsequently chased even by the Communists, he fled his homeland first to Italy then to the United States, where he died - by committing suicide - in 1989. Considered during his lifetime one of the greatest authors of Hungary (apparently), he seemed destined to oblivion until his recent rediscovery in European literary circles, culminating in the translation of this first work, EMBERS (the original title would translate, roughly, into "The Candle Burns to the End"), first into other European languages (including German, from which the English translation has been made, incidentally) and then into English. Marai is fast becoming the literary sensation of the noughts (2000 onwards...)... and for good reason.

                    It has been said (I apologise if I'm plagiarising from a dooyoo op, but I can't for the life of me remember where I've read this) that Hungarians are a superior extra-terrestial race quietly and secretly infiltrated into Earth aeons ago, and successfully camouflaging themselves in a quaint land, their true nature betrayed only by their incredibly talented writers. Well, if Marai, is an example of this extra-terrestial race, then I subscribe to this theory!

                    In EMBERS we meet Henrik, a Count and a General, of inestimable wealth living as a recluse in an enormous castle at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, well into his seventies at the first rumblings of World War II. For forty-one years he has lived as a complete recluse, with his Castle being kept by his servants and by his old nurse, Nini, a woman who was there at his birth. This evening is special, though. Konrad - his one and only best friend, from whom he was inseparable for about 24 years - has written that he will be visiting the Castle for dinner. Preparations are made, and the dining area of the Castle - unused for 41 years - is restored to its exact semblance of 41 years earlier, awaiting the guest. For this
                    guest has been awaited by the lord of the Castle for all these years - his life has been consumed in the anticipation:

                    "A man who has signed away his soul and his fate to solitude is incapable of faith. He can only wait... He prepares himself for that moment for ... forty-one years the way one prepares for a duel... he practices... [w]ith his memories, so that he will not allow solitude and time to cloud his sight and weaken his heart and his soul. There is one duel in life, fought without sabers, that nonetheless is worth preparing for with all one's strength."

                    What Henrik (the General) and Konrad discuss during the evening - a one-sided discussion that lasts all night - brings to a close events precipitated in that very room one evening 41 years earlier. We travel with Henrik and Konrad on this journey of (their) self-discovery, as one of the protagonists peels off, layer after patient layer, all the secrets of that night and all the contemplations that ensued, while the other protagonist listens, in near total silence, all night long.

                    Rarely has a near-monologue instilled such magic in me. Admittedly, there is one point, half-way down the road, where the ponderings and meanderings of this protagonist's mind veer dangerously towards over-philosophising, and nearly had me disappointed. However, once this mini-obstacle is surmounted (so there, you are warned, stick that bit out, it's worth it), the beauty of Marai's racconteur-powers is unleashed on us. Rarely have I read and cried so truthfully on such topics as solitude - for EMBERS is among other things an examination of solitude and what it instils in the heart of a man. The flip side of the coin of solitude is death - for those who survive death remain alone, for Marai:

                    "Thus I understood that a survivor has no right to bring a complaint. Whoever survives has won his case, he has no right and no cause to bring charges; he has emerged the stronger, the more cunning, the more obstinate, from the struggle."

                    It is a sad book. Not the sadness of current affairs, nor that of the death of a character in a novel. But the profound sadness of a raw nerve being hit, repeatedly, with vicious exactitude but at the same time - and this is what makes Marai's prose magical - with a depective calm. Try the scene where one of the protagonists disposes, calmly and coldly, of something both protagonists have been holding on to and searching for, respectively, for 41 years... if you read that and remain unmoved, unchilled, then Medusa might have paid you a visit earlier...

                    Poetry? Well no, unless you'd like to compare it to another lushly evocative book, "Fugitive Pieces" by Anne Michaels, in which case you might be near. A well-executed violin piece perhaps? Ok, hot. Indeed, music is a central part of this novel, seeing as the General's mother was related to Chopin, and both Konrad and the chateleine of the manor are music connoisseurs. Music formed, presumably (for many things are not fully explained in the novel - which of course adds immeasurably to its charm), an essential foundation of two of the protagonists' meeting of minds (and more).

                    Marai's talent - even in translation - for putting music into his words is, dare I say this?, unequalled by any other author I've read. Ok, maybe I'm being precipitous with such a sweeping statement, and perhaps I'll regret this and be back to change this phrase, but at the moment I cannot think of anything or anyone similar.

                    Just to give an idea, I've recently finished "Atonement" by Ian McEwan, and was already penning a favourable op on it, but when I got into EMBERS I had no option but to delete the entirety of the draft op, in order to start afresh another day when the comparison with EMBERS won't be so inevitable on my part. Chi vivra', vedra'...

                    "And when the longing for joy disappears, all that are left are memories or vanity, and then, finally, we are truly old. One day we wake up and rub our eyes and do not know why we have woken... Nothing surprising can ever happen again: not even the unexpected, the unusual, the dreadful can surprise us, because we know all the probabilities, we anticipate everything, there's nothing we want anymore, either good or bad. That is old age... Gradually we understand the world and then we die."

                    Keeping in mind when this book was written, we have a rare insight into the waning of one world - the ancien regime of starched collars and strict class hierarchy - and the waxing of the "new" twentieth century, with its sweeping away of classisms (to a certain extent) and the levelling of the playing field. One cannot but hear echoes of the bohemian revolution idolatrised in the recent film "Moulin Rouge". Konrad the bohemian, with his ideals of music, revolution, love - and Henrik the Count, the General, the last of a distinguished line of the highest-ranking nobility in a defunct empire, and his belief to the death of honour, respect, fidelity and obligations. Of his father's generation, the General thinks thus:

                    "A good generation, a trifle eccentric, not at ease in society, arrogant, but absolutely dedicated to honor [yes, ahime', the translation has American spelling...], to the male virtues: silence, solitude, the inviolability of one's word, and women. If they were let down, they remained silent. Most of them were silent for a lifetime, bound to duty and discretion as if by vows."


                    I cannot recommend this book highly enough - whatever your persuasions, whatever your taste in literature, set this book aside and read it someday.

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                      14.03.2002 00:37
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                      There's only so much propaganda a man can take before he falls for it. Or something of the sort, anyway (it sounded smarter before I wrote it down, somehow...). So after reading Trevor15's elevation to sainthood of this book, BACK ROADS by Tawni O'Dell, and then his recommendations in his profile page that we should do a favour to ourselves and read it, and then his stunning review in his (equally stunning) website, Book Realm Reviews, I just had to read it. For a change, a book that I had high hopes for did not disappoint. BACK ROADS is all that it has been made out to be, and more. If anything, the blurbs on the cover (and Oprah's seal of approval... [sigh!]) do not do it justice. Indeed, had it not been for Trevor15's recommendations, I would have skipped this book, seeing as the blurbs sounded suspiciously like the mass-produced mellowy "captivating read" sort. That's the power of dooyoo for you, ladies and gentlemen. Anyhows... BACK ROADS is the debut novel of one Tawni O'Dell, an American (shock! horror!) journalist by training who, as the St Petersburg Times tells us, "became a writer the hard way... [f]or ten years, her office was her kitchen table." Overcoming my guttural aversion to American novels, I plunged into the back roads of western Pennsylvania and was, to paraphrase a blurb, "captivated". Harley Altmeyer is anything but your average 18-year old. Living in near-abject poverty, he has recently been saddled with the responsibility (for which no 18-year old is equipped) of raising 3 younger sisters and taking care of their (unpaid-for) house, paying the bills/mortgage, cooking, since his mother killed his father and landed herself in jail. All his plans for the future are smashed as he holds onto 2 jobs to try to make ends meet, alternating (and at times juggling simultaneously) the roles of father, mother, guardian and elder brother, being both carrot and st
                      ick, to his sisters. Meanwhile, Harley's hormones are also screaming for attention, and an older married woman living nearby, mother to one of his youngest sister's friends, introduces him to a hitherto-unknown world. I'm afraid the summary will end here, since (as every review of this book seems to point out, and for obvious reasons) the plot - while not a thriller - is so full of 90 degrees turns and twists that any more information would totally ruin the story for any potential reader. Yet take my word for it, nothing is as it seems at first sight. Indeed, from early on in the story we start to realise that Harley isn't totally well-balanced emotionally and psychologically, and his court-appointed psychologist, Betty, is pivotal in bringing this out. I presume it must be very difficult to portray in writing the mental imbalances in a character without going over the top and ending up with a nutcase. O'Dell manages it though - which is even more astounding given that this is her first novel. The insights into Harley's mind, and his fantastic mood swings guaranteed to make alkaliguru jealous, are superbly described. Actually, "described" isn't a word I'd readily use about this book; "lived" would be more appropriate (excuse the cliche'...). O'Dell's journalistic background may account for the style of her writing, which reads very much like a well-woven mix of fiction and non-fiction. The themes of the book are journalistic too - though I can't reveal which themes these are (strange as it may sound for a book op!) since they are central to the twists in the book. The surprise element is the theme itself, as it were. What can be said, though, is that BACK ROADS can be read at so many different levels: it's part indictment of the American gung-ho attitude to gun ownership, part assessment of the "dysfunctional" (another blurb...) rural American family, part e
                      xpose' of the poverty still too rampant in the world's richest country, part overview of the inadequacies of the West's criminal-justice and penal system, especially when it comes to catering for innocent but nonetheless affected juveniles. And so on and so forth. But don't worry - you shan't be reading a sociological thesis. This book is a gripping page-turner if ever there was one. It's a particular book, and I daresay it shan't please everyone. To give you an idea, it's the kind of book I suspect Jill* would enjoy, though I'm not so sure whether it'd be up Malu's* street. And I'm curious to know whether pje* liked it (I've a sneaking suspicion he did). If (when) you read this book, please say hi for me to Harley, Amber, Misty and Jody... they're characters who linger long after the last page has been turned. Speaking of which, the ending is one of those achy endings where you're left with a tear in your eye and a wishful determination to know what will be of the Altmeyer family, post-BACK ROADS. ------------------------ * Oops! I've been name-dropping again! Sorry dooyoo-meisters...

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                        05.03.2002 06:46
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                        It's a rite of passage - one day, every dooyoo-er has to write one of these top ten ops. Well then, here's my initiation... and what better way to go than with a top ten that's not a top ten but a "hate" ten?! Lovely... Before I start shooting, I must tell you that until a while ago, I fervently subscribed to the idea that every book, once started, is worth finishing - if only to satisfy one's curiosity. All the while, a fellow reader and friend persistently stuck to her view that life is too short to read "stupid" stuff. It could be the passing of years, or not, but lately I've come to agree with her proposition, and I'm finding myself dumping the occasional rubbish book before I've finished it. So it is with some authority (ahem!) that I present to you my top ten of unfinishable/unreadable books. Some you won't have heard of (lucky you!), some you'll hate me for including, and some (hopefully) you'll agree with me on. Off we go. I. ** THE LORD OF THE RINGS - J.R.R. Tolkien ** What the heck, let's make enemies at once Chris! So, ok, I don't like Lord of the Rings, the book - so what?! Actually, I've tried - honestly I have - the first time around 15 years ago and the second time only last year. Each time I promised myself that if seemingly everyone and their dog could read / had read Lord of the Rings, then I could / had too. Yet each time, I couldn't get to the bottom of it. On my first attempt I gave up two-thirds of the way into Book II (The Two Towers), while last year my exhaustion with the book got to me earlier, barely two-thirds into Book I (The Fellowship of the Ring). Why can I not manage to finish it? I don't know - I'm sure the story is great (also judging by the fantastic film made from it), and the prose is elegiac in an old-world kind of way. But the oh-so-lengthy chunks of descriptions of lilies and drops of rain
                        and tussles of grass... no way could I get through those. Call me shallow and unromantic, but those endless poems and detailed descriptions left me yawning. So Lord of the Rings goes off my list of books to be read. For ever. II. ** TELL ME YOUR DREAMS - Sidney Sheldon ** Yes, that's right - I wrote an op on Sidney Sheldon last year, awarding him the magnanimity of one star. He deserved less, of that I'm sure. Tell Me Your Dreams is the latest oeuvre of his that I've read, which explains why I've chosen it for my top ten - but honestly you could pick any - and I mean ANY - of his titles and substitute them for this one. No-one'd realise. This book must have the most inane and idiotic plot I've ever had the misfortune to come across. And believe me, I've seen inane plots. To compound matters, this lack of creativity is accompanied by an abysmal writing style. Breakfast cereal box nutritional information would qualify for the Booker, compared to Sheldon's ramblings. If you feel like reading a senseless story, whose end you know with precision from page 6, related in an infantile English, then by all means help yourself to this gem of a book. III. ** TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES - Thomas Hardy ** From the mundane to the sublime. Yes I know Hardy is considered some sort of venerable institution in your country, right up there with the Queen Mother. And he is without doubt a master of the English language. However, the reason one of his titles found its way into my nefarious top ten has nothing to do with Hardy's style, but rather with the fact that Tess had the dubious honour of being a set text when I was at school. Admittedly, I did have some fantastic English Literature teachers in my time, who taught me to love and appreciate literature. However, Tess of the D'Urbervilles wasn't to benefit from such enlightenment. Let's just say we we
                        re not given the opportunity to appreciate the book at its best. Reading Tess brought me dangerously close to being put off literature for the rest of my life. Thankfully, I immediately turned to other books, and my future life was saved! IV. ** THURSDAY LEGENDS - Quentin Jardine ** Keep away from this book. Please. Health warning. I once made the mistake of choosing this book as my travel companion on a short London trip. Boy was I sorry! Imagine the most conventional "gruesome-murder-stuns-nation-baffles-police-except-our-hero" plot you could think of, then couple it with the flattest two-dimensional stereotyped characters imaginable... and you've only just begun to comprehend the immense boredom of reading this book. The police inspector, athletic, good-looking, James-Bond-level successful with women, effortlessly solves a crime when a high-ranking police officer is found brutally murdered. Yawn!! By the way, on the said trip, I trashed this book and bought Five Quarters of the Orange instead - best decision I could have made. Like going from a churner's op to a Jill-o op... V. ** THE MILL ON THE FLOSS - George Eliot ** Poor thing. I've never started this book, and I'm condemning it. In fairness, this is a very subjective and arbitrary judgement, seeing as I've hated this book, with a passion, for no particular reason other than that I compulsively hate its cover. Fickle thing that I am! We've had this book on our bookshelves at home for ages, and each time I see it I'm repulsed. Sorry Mr designer, and sorry Eliot, but I shan't read this book. I've never tried reading it (and I probably never will) so I can't comment on its contents. It might be the best thing since sliced bread. Give it the benefit of the doubt, will you? [I won't, though - not until they rejacket it.] VI. ** BLOOD HUNT - Jack Harvey **
                        Surprise surprise! Those who know me will be shocked that I've chosen an Ian Rankin title for my top ten (Jack Harvey is a pseudonym used by Rankin for his non-Rebus thrillers). Last year I read Harvey's re-released Bleeding Hearts, and I loved it. Good old-fashioned non-complicated thriller. This year, as soon as Blood Hunt was re-released, I ordered it - looking forward to a great relaxing read. Only yesterday, though - after much internal turmoil (at the thought of the infidelity I was about to commit betraying my Rankin... with {admittedly more gorgeous} Tawni O'Dell) - did I decide to quite reading it. It could be that Blood Hunt is one of his earlier novels. But it definitely is one of his worst. The dialogue (unusually for Rankin/Harvey) is stilted and contrived, the situations too extreme and artificial. When reading a thriller, I like to at least feel that this COULD have happened. With this book, there was no such illusion. Rankin/Harvey fans: stay away from this book. Read Bleeding Hearts or The Falls instead. VII. ** CRIMINAL LAW - Smith & Hogan ** Enough said already. Suffice it to mention that it was one of the required reading lists at University, and as such was duly snubbed by the whole lot of us - especially considering that it was darned relevant for our exams, meaning that we had to stuff the entire book (figuratively, of course) into our heads prior to exams. Burn this book! VIII. ** THE BRETHREN - John Grisham ** Still making enemies, huh Chris? Let me confess: I enjoy watching the film adaptations of Grisham's books. I especially loved The Firm. Grisham is one of those rarities whose books are actually better when transposed to film (which must say something about the guy's writing style, in my not-so-humble opinion). After all the Grisham hype over the years - and having managed to avoid reading any Grisham apart from the first ch
                        apter of The Firm - I tried The Brethren when it came out in paperback. Honestly I tried... in good faith. But I could not read beyond the first few chapters. Once again, the language was pathetically subservient to the plot, merely a functional appendix to the story. And one other thing: Grisham has preacher-syndrome. Was he a teacher in another life, or what? (...apriti cielo... or rather apritevi cieli tedeschi... I've asked for the flames now!) IX. ** ULYSSES - James Joyce ** Call me shallow - see if I care! I know this is an absolute immortal, a milestone in the revolution of English Literature. But I can not, repeat CAN NOT, seem to get through this book. I've tried, repeatedly - each time telling myself I'll find some hidden stratum of enjoyment. But no! I found absolutely no enjoyment in this book. And since, for me at least, reading has to be first and foremost enjoyable and engrossing, and preferably emotionally-involving too, I could not but include this book in my list. Ulysses the book merits clinical examination, no doubt, and is probably capable of withstanding the most detailed and severe of critical analyses, however there is nothing that inflamed me as I read. Maybe it's me ... who knows ... X. ** THE HIGHWAY CODE ** And, dulcis in fondo, this. I'm always amazed how this leaflet always seems to hover around the top ten books sold in the UK in any given week. I wouldn't even have deigned it with the appellation "book". But that's what it is, it seems. So I've duly consigned it to my top ten list. A highway code as pleasurable or interesting reading? Please! I'd rather watch paint dry. ** So these are my top ten unfinishable/unreadable books. Do not feel free to disagree.

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                        • Anything Left-Handed / DIY Store / 5 Readings / 45 Ratings
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                          01.03.2002 05:33
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                          Eat your hearts out - I've found the shop that proves my superiority (not that I needed independent confirmation, of course... but it helps!). I confess, I'm one of those immensely talented and rare objects of perfection in nature, otherwise known as left-handed individuals. Yes, I'm left-handed, and proud of it. We live in a world dominated by inferior creatively-challenged people, who go by the appellation "right-handed", condemned by nature to be impotent in their left hand and having to use the spare wheel, as it were, for their day-to-day functions. I feel sorry for you guys, really I do. Your lives are dominated by the left side (aka the boring unimaginative side) of your brain, while your creative, intelligent, versatile right side lies in disuse and ignorant abandon. But I'm one of the select few. I've been ordained to a higher order in the ladder of evolution. I am, if you like, what you guys could have become if you'd had the benefit of another 600 years of evolution and genetic fine-tuning. I pity you :( At long last, in my quest for adaptation to life among the inferior species, I came across a shop dedicated entirely to the royalty of nature - a shop by left-handeds for left-handeds. ANYTHING LEFT-HANDED has its head office in Surrey (18 Avenue Road, Belmont, Surrey SM2 6JD) in the UK. However, its best-known branch is perhaps that in London (57 Brewer Street). A small, unassuming corner shop, in the traditional mom-and-pop form, holds a veritable treasure-trove of paraphernalia for left-handed people. You might not be aware of the horrible injustices and discrimination perpetrated daily by all (yes, even by YOU - you're guilty too...) with all kinds of household utensils. Ever tried to use a knife with the left hand? Or a scissors? Or even a corkscrew? No? Then try it - not only is it atrocious torture, but it's ineffective too. No matter how hard we try, we can neve
                          r decently cut a loaf of bread with a knife. The reason is simply that the blade on a knife is placed on the left side, so that right-handed persons can cut the bread "from their side", as it were. The same holds for the blade on scissors, saws and the like. We, left-handed people, not only have to see our inherent superiority go unrecognised by the great unwashed, but also - throwing salt onto our collective wound - have to grow up thinking that we're not capable of using tools and any other physical object. It's a common plight for left-handeds to be told at school that they don't have a "knack" for art or crafts or DIY - all because they can't operate a knife, scissors, pen, saw or hammer properly. Little do the teachers know that the tools are improperly built (ie. built for right-handed people). Imagine a school where the classes are inaccessible to wheelchair-bound students. It would be unthinkable in this day and age. Yet, no allowance is made (with a few enlightened exceptions) for left-handed people. Actually, if we were to nit-pick, it's the right-handed majority who suffer from a "disability", not being able to use the nature-ordained left-hand. But life is unfair. ANYTHING LEFT-HANDED provides the solution for us: all possible and imaginable tools customised for left-handed people. Just to give you an idea, on my visit to this shop I bought 3 or 4 knives, a corkscrew (which turns to the left instead of right), a peeler (which peels the proper way... at last!) and various other household objects. My culinary skills seemed to improve ten-fold overnight... and no, it wasn't my exposure to Jaime Oliver on BBC that made the change - it was the utensils I was using. [Of course, you can imagine the stares of security personnel when I turned up at the airport to go back home, with a suitcase laden with sharp kitchen knives and a corkscrew!!!!!] Apart from kitchen e
                          ssentials, though, there is much much more at the ANYTHING LEFT-HANDED shop. For those of a younger age, there's a whole set of writing tools, from left-handed ball pens and fountain pens to left-handed sharpeners and rulers (the numbers start from the right, so we can see the measurements we're supposed to be marking - obvious when you think about it!). Unfortunately for me, in my school years I'd been made to learn to write in the abnormal right-handed way, so that this deformity is now ingrained in me. But for those lucky enough to treat and cure this disease at a young age, timely intervention with a left-handed pen can improve a left-handed child's handwriting and writing ability a hundred-fold. Believe me - I've seen it happen. I only wish I had those pens when I was a kid. Leisure equipment is catered for as well. ANYTHING LEFT-HANDED provide left-handed guitars, cricket gloves and thigh pads (whatever these may be - I'm reading from the catalogue here), computer joysticks and manicure sets. The whole shebang. Should you, like me, not live in the vicinity of one of their branches (there's a whole list on the company's very informative website, www.anythingleft-handed.co.uk), ANYTHING LEFT-HANDED operates a mail order facility with delivery to anywhere in the world. They produce an attractive catalogue (rigorously bound the proper way, ie. starting from the right and turning the pages forward in the way that you infidels would call "turning backwards") from where you may order any such item as tickles your fancy - or your necessity! Prices are reasonable, especially considering that the alternative is wallowing in a world of inferiors making do with their inferior tools and utensils. However, one word of warning - ordering by mail order you'll miss out on the fantastic community spirit in the shop, where the strictly left-handed staff provides an oasis of support and shelter in t
                          he midst of the right-handed oceans of people around us. I'll leave you with two definitions contained in the company's catalogue: "left-handed adj. 1. (person) more comfortable with & capable of using their left hand for complex acts eg. writing, cutting, drawing, but prone to discomfort, awkwardness and injury due to inappropriate (ie. right-handed) tools. 2. Belonging to the select 10% of the human population commonly considered more adaptable, creative, artistic & intuitive than their right-handed contemporaries (also, among themselves, agreed to be more intelligent, attractive and modest)." "anything left-handed n. 1. Specialist company which provides properly designed, fully left-handed versions of over 200 everyday items which, in their original and common form, are far easier to use in the right hand. 2. Sanctuary for left-handed people, where daily tasks can be performed without adaptation or deference to (right-handed) majority dictate." And here I rest my case. Geniuses of the world, unite!

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                            20.02.2002 05:39
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                            This will not be one of my mammoth opinions. Not because there isn't much to say about Adeline Yen Mah's FALLING LEAVES, but because the outline of the book, and indeed its theme and style, is describable in a nutshell... the rest, I'm afraid, can be lived only by actually reading the book. So off we go. FALLING LEAVES is a modern classic, one of those books that have to be read sooner or later, if for nothing else to be able to judge for oneself what the fuss is all about. It is the true story of a Chinese girl, born to a well-to-do Chinese family in pre-Communist China, who grows up through her childhood, adolescence and pre-adulthood in the successive regimes of Communism, the international settlements in Shanghai and World War II, the exile in Hong Kong and successively in America, and the hesitant return to a newly-opening-up China. However, the political upheavals are merely the backdrop to this story. What Yen Mah is aching to tell is HER story, that of the fifth-born daughter who is believed to bring bad luck since her mother died giving birth to her. Her first few blissful years come to an end when her father marries Niang (step-mother), who from the start to the bitter end systematically neglects and emotionally tortures her step-children, with a sadistic predilection for Adeline, all the while blatantly preferring to them her two "real" children. The first part of the book relates the lonely and loveless childhood of Adeline, scorned not only by Niang and, through neglect, by her father, but also by her elder brothers and sisters, and by her two younger step-brother/sister. Her childhood is a roller-coaster of taunting, deliberate cruelty (albeit not physical) and character mutilation. Her only anchors of strength are her grandfather (who later dies) and her great-aunt Baba. Even her pet bird, to whom she gets immeasurably attached, becomes a victim of Niang's obsessive hatred of the girl.
                            The second part of the book covers Adeline's youth and middle age, from her medical studies in America ? where she gets her first whiff of freedom from The Family - to her three successive internships in different hospitals and different countries, her first doomed marriage to Byron, born of inexperience and naivete, her secrete liaison with a professor, and her second blissful marriage to Bob. All the while, even from afar, The Family makes its presence felt, in ever more subtle ways, insinuating its divisive influence into Adeline's adult life, and ending with Niang's final masterful manipulation of all her children. FALLING LEAVES is not the kind of book I would usually opt for. The have-your-hanky-at-hand sob-stories are not my first choice, especially if they are true stories. (Yes, I confess - I know biographies are all the rage, but I'm afraid they're just not my cup of tea.) And as I mentioned above, what got me going on it was (apart from the constant nagging of friends who'd read it...) the morbid curiosity that the sated look of its readers aroused in me. What was attracting such diverse readers to this book? Was there anything beneath the word-of-mouth phenomenon that has made this book's fame? I was surprised, though. I tried to hate this book... honestly I did! I smugly hoped I'd be able to write an op for dooyoo saying what utter crap this book was, yet another example of over-hyped sensational writing. Alas, I could not. I did not manage to hate it. On the contrary, like a persistent infection it grew on me the more I tried to shake it off. I read it in my spare time, between other reads, hoping the casualness of my reading and the span of time between reads would aid disinterest. To no avail. I actually liked it. It wouldn't be my choice for Book of the Year, granted, but still it made for compulsive reading. And what better could you ask of a book, at the end of the d
                            ay? Yen Mah's writing comes from the heart, its genuineness is felt with every word. While not being a story of outright violence and deprivation, it is a compelling story of emotional deprivation (perhaps even more damaging to a young defenceless child) and utter loneliness. No wonder the children's version of this book is called "Chinese Cinderella". Read it whenever you have some spare time between books. It's a worthwhile read. *** FALLING LEAVES is available in paperback from Penguin, in their Essential Asia series.

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                            • Siemens M35i / Mobile Phone / 0 Readings / 30 Ratings
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                              13.02.2002 06:35
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                              MOBILE PHONE GUIDE FOR DUMMIES (LIKE ME...) When buying a mobile phone, my priorities were (1) good reception, (2) clear display, (3) vibration mode, since my work often involves meetings where phones ringing aren't such a good idea, and (4) ... ahem... ok I confess, I wanted a phone that looked stylish too. Well then, I said it. This priority list was drawn up nearly two years ago, when I bought my current mobile phone. After driving the shop salesman crazy, veering to and fro between models incessantly for what must have seemed (to him) like hours, I opted for a Siemens M35i, which although today may seem quaint, at the time had just been launched and was a pretty cool thingie. Becoming the proud owner of a brand-new Siemens M35i, needless to say I delved into it, experimenting with all available features. It definitely satisfied my preset criteria. Although its aerial is internal (adding immeasurably to its attractiveness), I've never suffered from lack of signal - unless this was due to the service provider, of course. The display, while not so cool and "trendy" when compared to today's latest gizmos, is fairly clear, uncluttered and user-friendly, if not always economical in getting you from one place to another. At times getting to a particular feature means clicking your way through an infinity of menus and submenus. Whatever... [I'm lazy, it's not my fault...] The Siemens M35i has a vibration mode, as requested, as well as the possibility of keeping both vibrate and sound mode active. This turned out to be particularly useful when in a noisy environment, since although I might not hear the beeps, I'd feel the vibration (seeing as I keep my phone clipped to my belt). Also, the volume can be set to increase gradually, starting off with a discreet sound (in case you're in church, say, and have forgotten to switch it off!). This once again is a very practical feature. Fourth on my
                              wish list: looks. I must admit, this smart little number was pretty impressive at the time, and even today it looks quite perky and trendy for its age (I'm told that in mobile phone time, two years are a generation apart). Fitting snugly in the palm of a hand, it has a slight curvature down the middle, making it very ergonomic and highly suited to one-finger dialling and typing (if you're that way inclined). Text messages are easy to send and receive on this phone, and this Siemens was one of the first phones to make use of the now-ubiquitous T9 technology whereby the phone tries to guess what you're trying to write, therein saving you a great many clicks. This is perfectly useless for those of us who communicate in a language other than English, of course, but afore-mentioned laziness has meant that I've taken to sending text messages in English... What is slightly irritating about the M35i's tackling of text messages is the loooooong time it takes to clear the screen of a message after you press "delete". The phone lingers on each "message is being deleted" screen, no doubt covering up for the phone's anemic speed. The four buttons just below the screen change contextually to provide different functions and features depending on the menu the user is in. As far as menus go, the M35i has practically everything (including a never-utilised WAP feature). There are the usual office gimmicks: calculator, converter (this is quite handy, actually, especially when I'm travelling abroad - what I do is assign a number shortcut to it and access the converter with the click of a button), alarm, games and chronometer. Other menu items include a facility for keeping track of call charges, the mandatory zillion ringtones (mercifully it isn't compatible with the downloadable trash available just about everywhere...), and a facility for setting profiles for different uses (noisy environment, quiet environment). <
                              br> It's also worth mentioning that the publicity for this phone proclaims that this phone is shock and splash resistant. I'm pleased to confirm that it really is. For a change, something which claims to be splash resistant is in fact so. I've dropped my phone countless times, yet it's always recovered nicely - at max sometimes requiring a tweaking to the SIM card in case this has become dislodged. So really, this phone does have everything you'll need. The whole works, basically. However - and this is where my complaints department opens its doors - there is one major glitch (and a few minor ones) in this phone, which nearly ruins an otherwise very good phone. The minor glitches, not really life-threatening but nonetheless irritating, include the absence of a receipt confirmation facility, an uninspired address book and a maddeningly uncomfortable battery/SIM cover at the back (basically, there's no slide-on/off cover as in other phones, but a screw that has to be undone with the help of a coin). The major fault with this mobile phone, though - a fault which will lead me to NOT recommend this phone to anyone - is its horribly and impractically short battery life. Without exaggeration, the battery for this phone has to be recharged every one-and-a-half days - unlike other phones that, with similar levels of use, will easily last between four and five days! In the mistaken belief that the fault lied not with my phone but with the battery, I had the battery replaced (at extra cost), only to find that the same problem occurred. Even moderate use (read: few minutes, no more) of the phone will result in the battery consuming itself faster than the lifespan of a Tory leader. This might not be a great problem for those who work from home or otherwise have their chargers always at hand. For me, however, this infuriating defect means that my phone is down many a time when I'm away from the office with no access to my
                              charger. I'm not too sure if this is a defect pertaining to this model alone, or whether it extends to all Siemens phones, however I'd highly recommend that anyone considering a Siemens check the *real* (as against POS-indicated) battery life. That's all, folks. In summary, the Siemens M35i is a very good phone, having all the features you're bound to need - and probably nowadays you can grab hold of it at a bargain price -, marred however but an abysmal battery life. Don't say you haven't been warned! ........ Oh by the by: of course there's no "fly" mode...

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                                08.02.2002 06:17
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                                We are all fascinated by Awards, Prizes and Medals. It's part of human nature to exalt the winners, the top-achievers in life. Success begets success, kind of thing. Be it the MTV Music Awards, the Golden Globe or Oscars Ceremony, or even the office annual Best Employee Medal, we are enthralled - wearing the smartest tuxedos and designer gowns (ok, not for the latter example perhaps... at least not in the office where I work!) the contestants turn up feigning nonchalance but inwardly ready to sell their grandmother for a coveted statue. Slighly less glamorous, perhaps - but definitely increasing in importance and magnitude over the last few years, are the book awards. Besides the grand-dames of book awards, namely the Booker, Whitbread, Pulitzer and a few others, countless regional awards have sprung up, and each has been wholeheartedly embraced by the publishing industry, eager to have another accolade to print on the covers of their books. While there is much to be said about the merits of a few of these newly-sprung-up awards, there is no doubt that they serve as a powerful incentive to authors, who are otherwise neglected in the media circus (excepting the literary pages, of course... but that's hardly the point). Over the past couple of years, the Booker and the Whitbread awards have been gaining in profile and glamour. This has coincided with (or has it fuelled? it's a chicken-and-egg situation...) the increase in consumption of books and the multiplication of bookstore-clones (note the emphasis on clones, rather than independent bookstores, which are sadly on the decline... but that's another story). The general public is coming to see reading (ironically, in this age of internet and immediate consumption) as a valid and even ...dare I say it?... a fun form of entertainment. People are reading more books, and having read their favourite tripe they will turn to the bookstores for help in choosing their next book. On m
                                y last visit to London, I couldn't help but notice that virtually all the chain bookstores dedicated one or more of their prime front-of-shop shelving displays to the Booker and/or Whitbread Award nominees. This usually gives the buying public a fair indication of the validity and quality of a book. [Don't worry, I'm getting to the review of the book...] The flip-side of this situation is that quite a few authors are being tempted to write novels blatantly coiffeured to please the Prize-awarding juries. This made-to-measure kind of book is usually recognisable by the pretentious phraseology, the insightful asides meant to show the author's suave knowledge of "the way life is", and the invariably weak plot (on the assumption that a strong plot will turn a novel into an airport book, suitable for the masses but not for the cogniscenti...). Occasionally, though, one book slips through the net, in the sense that the reader is not quite sure whether the novel is indeed an intelligent, if not groundbreaking, oeuvre or yet another contrived attempt at Booker status. OXYGEN, the third novel by Andrew Miller (his previous ones were INGENIOUS PAIN and CASANOVA), is one such. OXYGEN was nominated for the Whitbread Award 2001, and although it did not bag the prize it received quite a bit of exposure, resulting naturally enough in increased sales. Of course, my professional deformity leads me to say that the attractive cover with its spot-laminated bubbles couldn't have harmed its appeal, either. The cover carries the compulsory blurb by an "Independent on Sunday" reviewer, who apparently said of the author "A writer of very rare and outstanding gifts". Umm, yes - but what those gifts are is subject to debate, I'd say. OXYGEN relates the parallel stories of a few days in the lives of three different men: the first is Alec Valentine, translator by profession, who is tending to his t
                                erminally ill Alzheimer-suffering mother; the second is his brother Larry, emigrated to San Francisco and a former soap opera star now fallen into oblivion, sporting a near-failed marriage and a kleptomaniac (very) young daughter. Larry is making his way to England to be with his mother during her last days of life. The third character, across the Channel in Paris, is Laszlo Lazar, a well-respected playwright who is a Hungarian exile with emotional scars from the failed 1956 uprising, whose latest play is called Oxygene (in French), and which is presently being translated into English by... you guessed: Alec Valentine. Lazar is a successful and well-off intellectual enjoying the good social life in Paris with his boyfriend and friends. This background is basically the pretext for a discussion into the real meaning of success, happiness, mortality, memory, and such other existential subjects. There are no cataclisms in the plot, and the story itself won't endanger any feeble hearts. A couple of red herrings are inserted, in the form of vaguely disturbing turns of events which could lead to something disastrous (it is hoped by the reader, rather sadistically - at least it was hoped by THIS reader...), but which invariably fizzle themselves out without any climax to note. After all, it is clear from the word "GO" that the plot was never meant to be the raison d'etre of this book. It merely serves as a skeleton around which the author could weave his characterisations and insights. I've chosen a few extracts to give you an idea: [Lazar contemplating] "...happiness was a subject as elusive as love, and one that required a similar subtlety of lexis and category. To begin with, it could be divided into two broad types: the happiness when you know yourself to be happy, and that which is only apparent afterwards... Then there was public happiness... And secret happiness, as when he was in love with Peter, almost a burden
                                , as though he had won the lottery yet could share the news with no one. Pure happiness was rare, confined in most cases to infants, drug fiends and religious ecstatics. More common, though just as disturbing, was... happiness woven into its opposite; that paradox of wars and revolutions when the heart is so inflamed it gives birth to entirely new emotions. Terror-bliss. Grief-lust." Personally, while having to admit the truthfulness of most of the assertions made, I found this spectacle a bit too in-your-face. Perhaps it's because I hate showing-off (unless I'm the one doing the showing-off, of course...), but I could have done with less of what I'd say verges on pretentiousness. On the other hand, it was a good read, in that the characters were three-dimensional and the disquisitions on life and mortality and success rang a bell. There are some truths in the book. And I must admit also that some of the moments were particularly touching, such as one of my favourites, when Alec realises, suddenly and without warning (as these realisations usually happen), the enormity of his mother's imminent death: "He knew now, with a certainty that bordered upon relief, that he wasn't going to manage. No labour of the intelligence, no artifice or soft voice could help him. Losing Alice [his mother] would not be difficult, it would be unendurable, and something in him would simply not survive it. With the others he would have to go on pretending for a while, but out here there were only bats and stars to see him, and he took off his glasses, folded them carefully, put his head in his hands, and wept." That paragraph is poetic, and is what makes me enjoy my reading. There are many such moments in OXYGEN, and one of the most powerful is the scene, towards the end of the book, of Alice's "birthday party" which is in reality a farewell party. As each of the guests takes their leave from Alice, there
                                is tremendous sadness imparted from the book as their goodbye is clearly understood by all, leave-taker/Alice/reader, to be a goodbye to life. Anyone who, like me, has lost a loved one to Alzheimer's, having assisted impotently at their slow irreversible decline, will feel a dull pain when reading parts of this book. Especially noteworthy is a chapter at the onset of the novel when Alice herself speaks to the reader, in what is presumably one of her last moments of lucidity. She perfectly evokes that horrible knowledge that her brains are shutting down, and that any moment now she'll be, to all intents and purposes, a non-entity. "He [Alec] had noted this recently, how people needed to communicate to Alice something intense and private, to give voice to the seriousness she provoked in them, as if her affliction flushed out the trivial from their lives and made them all mystics and philosophers." These passages - and many more - are heart-rending, poetic and powerful. However, too much of any good thing becomes irritating and heavy. And I'm afraid Miller in this book crosses that delicate line between poetry and heavy. I was/am very undecided about whether to award three or four stars to this book. Ideally it would get three-and-a-half. Having forked out on a hardback (albeit with a £4 off discount) might be making me stricter, although that's not fair since it wasn't the author's fault that I decided I couldn't wait for the paperback. I've got it. The word for what this book lacks to make it an excellent novel: the writing, although beautiful and insightful and all that, is not "effortless". Yes, that sums it up neatly: touchingly written but not effortlessly so. Wait for the paperback - but do read it if you're into this kind of stuff.

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                                  01.02.2002 05:35
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                                  Here I am again, writing about London and thereabouts. But this ain't an opinion on London [that's already been written, and an update is surely due now...]. 'Tis an opinion on what I saw (or, to be more pedantic and accurate, on one of the many things I saw) on my last visit there. Now before I proceed, though, here's some background knowledge on me for those who haven't yet had the pleasure (ahem..). I consider myself a seriously deranged theatre buff, with delirious ambitions of playing to West End houses... Okay, back to earth: I do love to go to the theatre, especially given that in my country there's only one play running at any given time - and that's if you're lucky. So imagine setting me loose in a city where there's a whole district dedicated to professional theatre... My first port of call in London (well okay, after lunch) was to the Half Price Theatre Booth in Leicester Square, where albeit it being a Saturday I managed two tickets for the evening performance of J.B. Priestley's DANGEROUS CORNER. Billed as "A Thriller of Sex, Secrets and Lies", and based on my previous acquaintance with Priestley's literary alter ego, I was looking forward to an uncomplicated enjoyable if perhaps conventional evening out. And boy did I get what I'd bargained for, and then some. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, the highs being even higher than I'd anticipated and the lows not so low as I'd feared. For those of you who are familiar with Priestley's far more famous oeuvre, AN INSPECTOR CALLS (also running at the West End), the plot and themes will, to a certain extent, be familiar. Place seven characters in a confined but comfortable space (same number of characters in both plays, intriguingly), embed them in a mundane relaxed social occasion, give them a shared history, then set off a spark in the form of a casual comment and let the fires burn, bringing crashing down se
                                  emingly-forgotten skeletons from the closets of the past. Robert and Frieda Caplan, a young upwardly-mobile professional couple, are having a dinner party at their trendy apartment. The guests are another couple and two singles, all six having known each other for years. The guest of honour is an American author, visiting the UK, who is published by the publishing house where a number of the other guests work. Absent but hovering in the six's minds is Martin Caplan, Robert's brother, who committed suicide a year earlier when it was becoming clear that he was somehow embroiled in a financial scandal. After dinner, with the American prodding them on and eagerly fishing for gossip snippets, an offer of cigarettes by the hostess and a casual comment by one of the guests that the cigarrette case had belonged to Martin sets off a series of suspicions and revelations. How did she know that Martin had it, if Frieda gave it to Martin the day he died? And why had Frieda never mentioned before that she had seen Martin that day? ... And so it goes on... This, in a nutshell, is the plot. Revealing more would be doing any future theatre-goers a disservice. So I'll abstain. Suffice it to say that the revelations pile up high, with each new twist taking the play into a more sinister dimension. The ending, finally, is pure Priestley - denouement followed by a sinister open-bracket, with no corresponding close-bracket to neatly tie up loose ends for the audience. We have to do the tying up ourselves... The structure of the play is of the classical type: clear beginning, insertion of mysterious element, climax at the end of Act One, reprieve at the onset of Act Two, followed immediately thereafter by a heightening of tension and fresh revelations, a "serious" if unavoidable ending, and finally the unexpected bit, the tail. So expect no avant-garde evolution of plot, no sudden lapses into the absurd. All is rational and linear. But that
                                  is a given if one opts for a Priestley play. Indeed, directors and theatre companies are so tripping over each other vying to outdo their neighbour in terms of outlandishness and "originality", that a trip down memory lane to what theatre used to be like is not amiss at times. As in AN INSPECTOR CALLS, though, the play is treated imaginately and unconventionally by the director, Laurie Sansom in this case, who plays her trump card in the stage design. The action is transposed to the present day, in a very trendy and minimalist sitting room of a young "in" couple - a house which, to paraphrase the programme, "radiates contemporary chic". Unlike a number of Shakespearean transpositions, which at times seem to have been moved to the present-day merely for the shock effect, this transposition actually brings renewed vigour and topicality to a play that could otherwise have come across as quaint. The actors move around and make full use of the set, imbuing the performance with an uncanny degree of realism even for a West End performance. I was surprised at how non-dated Priestley's dialogue could be, so much so that in certain exchanges I had the atrocious (but unfounded) suspicion that some text had been "tweaked". Of course, the delicious character of the American woman, interpreted by Jacqueline Pearce, with her over-the-top americanisms and over-elaborate American drawl, acted as a perfect contrast to the other members of the cast. Each of the actors would deserve a special mention, as they all played their part impeccably and imaginately, without derailing their characters. The actors on the night I was at the theatre were: Dervla Kirwan, Jacqueline Pearce, Rupert Penry-Jones, Patrick Robinson, Steve John Shepherd, Anna Wilson-Jones and Katie Foster-Barnes. The brilliant set was designed by Jessica Curtis, with lighting by Chris Davey. The play is presently running at the Garrick Theatre
                                  , Charing Cross Road, which is an intimate theatre ideal for this type of play. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) this is the same theatre where Priestley's other play, AN INSPECTOR CALLS, was staged for a number of years, before being moved to a different venue. Tickets are not too cheap (but then which tickets are cheap in London?), starting at £15 for the Upper Circle and maxing at £35 for the best Stall and Dress Circle seats. If you're in the Dress/Upper Circle, bear in mind that the theatre is small and circular, so seats at the side will have a somewhat restricted view (no matter what the ticket-person will tell you). If you happen to be in London and fancy a good old-fashioned solidly-constructed thriller with a tang of cool tossed in, grab a seat at the Garrick Theatre. And then let me know what you think of it.

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