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morellomole
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Member since: 03.11.2009

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      08.03.2011 04:23
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      Pretentious nonsense which occasionally tickles the funny bone.

      It is quite hard to know where to begin with this book, as it is quite an oddity. The easiest way I think would be to explain some sort of background, give a loose explanation of a plot, and put down some thoughts about the overall work.

      To begin with, the author is Leonard Cohen. If you are not sure who he is, then I am pretty sure you will have heard at least one of his songs. He is the Canadian singer songwriter responsible for a lot of moody songs over the last 40+ years, working with the likes of Joni Mitchell and Andy Warhol amongst others. If nothing else, he is responsible for authoring 'Hallelujah', the song with more covers than a book shop. Before he made all these recordings (he is still working now to the best of my knowledge - certainly he was touring in 2010), he wrote a couple of books. This is the second of those.

      Published in 1966, the plot is somewhat thin on the ground, and roughly involves the love triangle of the narrator, his wife, and their friend. It also follows the sainthood of a Native American woman, Catherine Tekakwitha, whom the narrator is an authority on.

      However, this book is not really about the story. Many of the biographical 'facts' are clearly made up, sentences sometimes run to a lengthy paragraph, and at least one of the characters probably does not exist anyway. Confused? You will be if you read this book. Cohen himself seems to acknowledge this, and dependant on the version you may read, you may get to see his sleeve liner which is fairly apologetic about the whole affair. He actively encourages you not to pore over details in a lingering fashion, but to drop in and out of the book in a way that suits you at the time. In the end I found this was probably the easiest way to get through the book. In doing so, you take in themes of death, sex, constipation, self-flagellation, religion, independence, power, love - your average walk in the park I'd say.

      The book has been described as 'coarse, rhapsodic and bitingly witty', 'revolting', 'challenging' and many other things besides. Some have even gone as far as comparing him to Joyce due to his 'stream of consciousness' style employed intermittently in this work. I personally found some comparisons to William Burroughs and his 'Wild Boys'. The thing is, despite this being described as the first Canadian post-modernist novel, I personally believe he has just used style and ideas already employed by the afore-mentioned authors, and made a mess of them. It is very sexual in nature, and to be fair, quite funny in its own way - I am particularly reminded of the Danish dildo which takes on a life of its own when it learns to feed on its activities, and is last seen heading for the ocean. There is also the occasional idea which doesn't seem to have been plagiarised from others, and actually works well enough. However, for me, this does not justify the self-indulgent nonsense that is the mainstay of the book.

      If you are a fan of Cohen's musical work, and think this would broaden your understanding of his material, then I would definitely think twice before committing any time to reading this book. This is different in style, and is much more experimental, and it is probably more realistic to classify this as a long poem than a novel. All said and done, if you fancy something very different from your average novel, don't mind explicit sexual content, and are happy to roll along with the language without really knowing what is going on, then maybe this could add some texture to your reading life. Certainly, Cohen has been bold, if nothing else.

      For myself, I think Cohen says it best himself - 'dear reader, forgive me if I have wasted your time'.

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        07.03.2011 13:29
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        Excellent and mature offering from Oregon's finest

        One of the first reviews I wrote on dooyoo was the last Decemberists album. I loved that album with a passion, and over a year later I am happy to report that their newest offering is equally excellent, although a completely different beast.

        *Who are The Decemberists anyway?*

        They are a musical outfit from Portland Oregon that originally formed in 2000. Since they started recording in 2001 they have released approximately 6 albums and 5 EPs using varying styles of music, loosely described as indie folk. Amongst their other credits they have delivered a song for Nickleodeon's Yo Gabba Gabba, while their singer Colin Meloy has produced a solo album of Morrissey covers.

        *What is this new album like?*

        For those who have heard their previous offerings, it is less intense than the last album, but has many of the familiar trademarks of their previous albums.
        For everybody else, this is a collection of really good songs with extremely poignant and beautiful lyrics. The last album the band offered up had strong prog-rock leanings with complex lyrics and an epic 'concept album' feel about the whole thing. There was clearly a very strong British folk influence at work for that album. This time around, they have simplified the lyrical content, removed the distorted guitar, and gone for a very American sound. This is helped by the appearance on 3 songs of Peter Buck of REM fame, and the REM influence on this work is probably not to be underestimated.

        I won't quite break down the album song by song, but I will certainly try to give the reader of this piece some idea of what to expect when listening to this album.
        Straight away on the first track you have a lovely chugging acoustic guitar and harmonica number with overtones of Neil Young. This sort of quality permeates through the next couple of tracks.
        By track 4 'Rox in the Box', the pace has moved to a slightly stomping folk number that wouldn't be out of place as an anthemic Levellers number.
        'Down by the Water' is a good strong track which could easily hold its own on a Springsteen album and has that American feel stamped on it with some authority.
        Similarly, 'All arise' is a great song complete with country fiddle and tinkling piano.
        The Smiths have always had a strong influence on the band, and 'This is why we fight' has the near magical effect of using Marr style guitar riffs and picks but somehow still in keeping with the rest of the feel of this album.
        The final track on this album is an absolutely gorgeous number of great maturity and lyrical beauty. Lines such as '...long arms listing lazily on the cusp of your teens' demonstrate some of the imagery and alliterative power that Colin Meloy uses so effectively. The sound of this track is quite phenomenal taking in Fleetwood Mac style harmonies, lilting steel guitar, fantastic chord progression and gently themed piano binding it all together.

        I have used references to other artists throughout the above paragraph, simply to help give some sort of picture of what sounds the newcomer may expect from this album. In reality, they have taken all these influences and continue down their own unique path, with an overall sound all of their own.

        *Why should I bother getting this album?*

        If you have never heard anything by this band before, then it is about time you did. The songs are of excellent quality with well considered lyrics. The musicianship is varied and well blended to produce a strong accompaniment to the song structures. Don't just take my word for it; this album reached number one in the Billboard chart. It just seems to be in Britain that they are not a well known outfit.

        *How does it compare to their other work?*

        Song-writing quality of a more mature and stripped down nature than previous offerings. Usual range and use of instrumentation. Slightly less quirky in style, and apparently less paranoia about drowning which somehow seems to be a consistent theme in their other albums.

        *Can they do it live?*

        I saw them on their last tour and was very impressed at their ability to hold together a very complex arrangement. They are in Britain in March 2011 as well as later in the year for the Bonnaroo festival, so now would be a good time to check them out. I will be going to see them at least twice in this period, and am expecting them to be excellent.

        *Where can I get it?*

        All usual stockists - currently £7.93 at Amazon, but easily available everywhere.

        *Track listing?*

        1. Don't carry it all
        2. Calamity song
        3. Rise to me
        4. Rox in the box
        5. January Hymn
        6. Down by the water
        7. All arise
        8. June hymn
        9. This is why we fight
        10. Dear Avery

        Label - Rough trade

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        21.02.2011 19:55
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        Very funny and very enjoyable.

        I first heard about this show when Haydn Gwynne (Billy Elliot/Drop the dead donkey) was talking to Claudia Winkleman about it on the Radio 2 arts show. Written by Gina Gionfriddo and originally staged in America, it is now showing at the Almeida theatre in Islington. I liked the sound of it, and immediately got myself a ticket. A good choice as it turns out.

        Synopsis:

        Newlyweds Andrew (Vincent Montuel) and Suzanna (Anna Madeley) arrange a blind double date with family friend Max (David Wilson Barnes) and co-worker Becky (Daisy Haggard).The date doesn't go quite as planned as there is a mugging and Becky turns out to be a very clingy personality. Underneath all this we have the sexual tension between different characters. We also get thrown into the mix the straight talking mother Susan (Haydn Gwynne), who is not afraid of shooting from her less than perfect hip. What doesn't help with the state of mind of many of the family, is the reasonably recent death of the father. This is reacted to in a variety of ways as certain 'facts' about the father come to light. The play ticks along revealing little inner secrets about all the individuals concerned, while blasting the audience with a barrage of one-liners.

        So what is it actually like:

        A lot of very mixed up individuals have a lot of intense conversations. That probably sums up what really happens quite well. Along the way we have a script that is intense, very funny, clever, with some interesting characters and ideas and the odd line that will stay with you for some time - 'Your husband is not the Red Cross. The last time he started consoling a cute, suicidal chick, he married her'.

        The performers:

        David Wilson Barnes as Max probably steals the show. Not only does he get the best lines, but in many ways he gets the most interesting character. He is the wise-cracking successful business man who gets things done, and has little time for those who are not on board. However, what feels like a cold character, softens as the play goes on as you realise the depth and intention of his motivation, and the fact that he has an apparent inability to commit. This is in part due to the writing but is helped considerably by the timing and the style of Barnes' delivery.

        Anna Madeley as Suzanna is pretty solid. Well as solid as a neurotic psychology phd student is likely to be. In terms of length of time on stage, hers is the biggest part, and indeed hers is the character on which all else pivots. At times I wasn't sure if Madeley was forgetting her lines, or playing the desperate and confused Suzanna with perfectly irrational timing. I am going to opt for the latter as it seemed to work.

        I wasn't entirely convinced by Haggard as Becky Shaw. The character of Becky Shaw is apparently inspired from Vanity Fair, and is an emotional wreck. This is given some texture, and it is difficult to love a character that is such an emotional tyrant. However, I didn't feel that Haggard delivered the inner strength and twisted satisfaction of this needy character to the extent that was intended.

        Haydn Gwynne was sour and superb as the mother who always seems happy to live a white lie, and even recommend it to others for the sake of surviving reality. Vincent Montuel was efficient as the soft husband who foils the other characters and allows them to shine.

        The setting:

        I have never been to the Almeida before and found it a cosy environment. It is a fairly small theatre (325 seats), and the small bench seating was certainly something I wasn't used to. The stage itself had a simple divider which turned around to fade in and out of scenes. Both the theatre and the sets seemed to be perfect for the show. The run is only on until Saturday 5/3/11 so if you want to go, you had better get your skates on. Ticket prices vary from £8-32, and the viewing angle is acceptable from pretty much the entire theatre.

        In Summary:

        Very funny, cynical and enjoyable, if slightly lacking in believability. Worth a watch.

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        21.02.2011 16:07
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        For a low price bag, surprisingly adequate.

        I have been playing the mandolin for over a year, and for some reason never bothered to get a case. This has resulted in the odd scratch, and has made it difficult to carry the instrument anywhere. I put it off partly on the grounds of not wanting to part with any cash for such a case. When I found the Kinsman bag for £10.67 I thought it was time to give it a try.

        External Features:

        Overall length approx.28" (70cm).
        600 denier rip-resistant fabric which seems perfectly standard and fit for purpose.
        In the main this is black all over with 2 tone piping. There is also a 4" square segment on the front with the kinsman logo all over it (if you have a high pride level and don't like the name this may be an issue for you).
        Bag unzips so that the entire top portion of the bag can be folded back out of the way. I thought this was standard but have heard of bags where the access granted by the zip is minimal.
        The zips themselves are described as high quality durable 6mm. They seem perfectly standard to me with metal pull tags which haven't broken yet and don't look in a hurry to either.
        Front zip pocket approx 5" (13cm) x 11" (28cm) which is certainly big enough to hold spare strings/plectrums etc.
        Adjustable shoulder strap with flexible plastic supports - not padded which can be slightly uncomfortable if you carry the instrument this way a lot; but then, unless you have a lead-lined mandolin the instrument isn't really heavy enough to necessitate padding on the shoulder straps anyway.
        Twin carry handles with a padded wrapover handle with Velcro fastening - standard stuff these days but very useful.
        Hanging loop at the top of the case - weak looking plastic but then I repeat my previous comment about instrument weight.
        Protective rubber grip strip 1.5" (4cm) x 5" (13cm) on the bottom.
        There is also a label pocket on the neck of the bag - not sure what this is doing there really but maybe if your instrument is regularly mixed in with others, it may have a use.

        Internal Features:

        10mm padding - not particularly thick so if your mandolin gets thrown around a lot, you may find this inadequate.
        Nylon scratch proof inner liner with fabric pads which should help guard against internal bag rips around the bridge and neck.

        Overall, a perfectly serviceable bag for the money. It doesn't have the mark of a top quality bag with supreme protection, but then you are not paying for that. In short, from a value for money point of view, you would be hard pushed to get much better. The price I mention of £10.67 included postage and was through an Amazon seller, but you can find similar deals elsewhere for this item. Anywhere under £20 and I still feel you have good value for money.

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        21.02.2011 14:59
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        Good, solid hard wearing strings

        I recently needed a new set of strings for my bass, and ended up with these Elixir strings as a trial really. Compared to many other strings available, they are quite expensive. The initial cost of buying the strings was in theory offset by the fact that they last longer than your average string. This is due to a micro-thin polymer coating on the strings which prevents any harmful contaminants getting stuck in the winding. This in turn prevents rust/grease and other damage occurring to the strings.

        I have now had these strings on a few weeks and am in a position to make reasonable comments on them. When I first put them on, I didn't quite get that rewarding sound of ultra-fresh crispness I expect from new strings. If your style of play largely includes 'slap' then this may be an issue to you. Also, if that is your style of play, the chances are that you may break strings quite often, and accordingly will not gain the full financial benefit of the longevity of these strings. In other words, if you keep breaking strings, then there is no point in getting a more expensive string that only comes into its own after repeated use.

        However, what I do find pleasantly rewarding about these strings is that they still sound the same now as when I first put them on. They do have a lovely tonal quality which hasn't diminished, and overall I am very pleased with these strings. If you use your bass regularly for gigging and need strings that provide consistently good sound without reducing quality over time, then these may well be for you.

        Another pleasant surprise I had with these strings, was that there was reduced friction on the fret board. This took some getting used to, to be honest, but definitely has some benefits for sliding hand positions etc.

        These Elixir strings are available in different gauges for different instruments. At the full RRP of over £40 it would be a tricky decision to decide if they are worth it. However, I bought these at a discounted price at the time from Amazon, and feel they were worth the price.

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          16.02.2011 14:32
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          Worth a watch, but not the best show in town.

          After all the television selection procedure for the new Dorothy, there was a fair amount of anticipation around this new production. In many ways, this was justified as this is certainly a striking show.

          With a classic tale such as this I am not sure I need to give a plot summary, but I shall do so briefly. Dorothy and her dog, Toto, get caught up in a tornado and end up in a land called Oz squashing a wicked witch in the process. Dorothy then travels to see a great Wizard in order to find a way home. Along the way she makes a few friends, gets in a few scrapes, and sings a few songs.

          All the old favourite numbers are still intact, and performed reasonably competently. There are also a couple of new Lloyd Webber songs in place which although not instantly memorable, certainly have some style to them

          The set is quite an affair to behold. As well as the revolving yellow brick road, there are segments of houses, castles, fields etc. all waiting to be unfurled from the complicated stage mechanism. At times this works really well and seems almost effortless. At other times, you can actually hear machinery cranking, and people moving around making the magic come together - which can be quite distracting. Similarly, there is a screen which drops down on which images are shown to help tell the story. Sometimes, this gives the whole stage an extra dimension, making the show more an audio-visual spectacular than a West End musical. At other times you can almost feel the imagery being dragged out beyond its natural impact requirement, just to buy time for the afore-mentioned scenery to be dragged into place.


          As far as the performances are concerned, most of the supporting roles are pretty well filled (Hannah Waddingham as the witch was stylishly melodramatic - almost sexy which was an interesting twist). Michael Crawford still has enough presence to keep the audience entertained, even if the vocal performance was not as powerful as he once was. Danielle Hope I found slightly disappointing, as the accent slipped here and there, and she didn't really have enough charisma to make you care for her. Add to that a tap routine or two which was passable if not outstanding, and you have most of the makings of an adequate show.

          To be fair, I saw the show on the second night of a preview run, meaning that the final show that is in place by official opening night, may be a much more polished affair. I will find out as I have tickets for public opening night, and I will be taking my children this time. The night I went there was a high percentage of children present who seemed to be enjoying the show. There is certainly enough going on to keep them entertained. As well as the songs, intricate staging, dancing, image screen, pyrotechnics, sound effects and witches on wires all over the theatre, there was a lot of clapping along to old favourites. I should imagine they could get quite involved as some of the show is quite frightening - blasts of fire and the Wizard's room being great examples of this.

          Overall, I was entertained enough not to regret going, but not as gratified as I was hoping to be. This is possibly summed up best by the fact that the biggest cheer by far at the end of the show was for the dog - who for me stole the show along with the crows (pointless for me to tell you anything the dog did as I suspect if it has a mind to, it will give a thoroughly different performance every night).

          A short note on the theatre itself. To view this production in the upper circle, you would miss a few parts of the action and the top of the set,while seeing more of the mechanics of the set than you may like. To view this from the stalls would give a good view overall. In my opinion, the dress circle is probably the best place of all to watch this though.

          Update 7/3/11 - I went to see the finalised production on opening night last week. Although a slightly smoother affair, my opinions of the show are much the same. A few changes had been made to the show, but nothing significant. Michael Crawford was better - I think he has been suffering from laryngitis recently - meaning at least one human star of the show (the dog still gets the biggest cheers). My kids seemed to love it, so I am happy I took them, and they didn't seem to get bored. What I did notice even more this time, was the lack of inspired dance routines, however. I have also spoken to people about the view from the stalls. It would seem that if you are in the front few rows, you are unlikely to see anything at all.

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            16.02.2011 13:31
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            Laugh cry and marvel at the performances

            I got tickets for this show with a vague understanding that it had won some awards, and that it was about Judy Garland. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, it was one of the best shows I have ever seen. What helped to set the scene nicely was seeing a preview of the new Wizard of Oz production the night before. The beginning of the road, and the end of the rainbow in 2 nights so to speak.


            The setting of the show is 1968, with Judy Garland booked in for a 5 week season at the 'Talk of the Town' as part of a planned comeback. A great proportion of the show takes place in a hotel suite, and occasionally switches over to radio studio/stage show. At the start we have Garland appearing reasonably clean and drug free with a new fiancée (Stephen Hagan) in tow who is managing the tour. We also have her pianist (sensitively played by Hilton McRae) trying to keep things together. It doesn't take long to see exactly how many cracks there are in the set-up and Garland's state of mind. So in short, we get to see the behind the scenes behaviour of Garland and her small entourage, and some complete songs sung in stage style by Tracie Bennett. This plays out until Garland's death by the end of the production.


            From the basic plot description, you couldn't really get a very fair picture of what to expect when you see the show. Well I can tell you it has pretty much everything.
            In parts it is very funny - usually very darkly so, but sometimes just laugh out loud funny (I am reminded of a desperate Garland taking dog pills for mange just trying to get some sort of drug hit).
            It is also tender and painful to watch (watching Garland struggling to remember her lines on stage is a fine example of this), as Garland's personality follows the path of so many stars - she has a massive ego which needs to be satisfied constantly to fill the black hole which seems to continually swallow her self-confidence.
            The songs are performed powerfully and beautifully (although I heard somebody afterwards saying there was something of the Shirley Bassey in the singing style).
            The stage construction is by and large kept very simple as the hotel suite dominates the style. The exception to this being when the back drop is set aside for a full band performing behind Bennett for the stage show. I have seen some productions recently where the set changes have been integral to the show - slickly and quickly changed over as events unfurl in some cases (39 steps and Jersey Boys spring to mind). However, in this case, the backdrop could have been an alley and a couple of dustbins to sit on, and it still would have worked - you simply cannot keep a good story with good performers down.
            The interesting twist in the way this stage setting works is that when Bennett is singing the stage show numbers, you actually become the live audience at the Talk of the Town as well as the back stage audience watching it all happen - a very clever yet simple trick.

            By the end of the show I am not ashamed to admit there were a few tears welling up in my eyes (I doubt there were many who did not feel this way). A standing ovation was entirely justified for this magnificent production. How Tracie Bennett can perform this intensely and flawlessly night after night is completely beyond me - usually I just take it for granted that the performers do what they do best on a regular basis. The fact that I am left feeling this way just drives home how comprehensively Bennett tackles this role - you almost feel that you are watching her own decline in front of your eyes.

            Absolutely fantastic

            One final note - I think it would be unfair not to remark on the language used in this show. Although I do not imagine anyone would consider taking children to a show about a drug addicted has been, let me reassure you that children are not an option. The language used throughout would make the proverbial navvy blush. I was personally not at all offended by this and felt it necessary, but some may feel differently.

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              30.03.2010 02:51
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              The end of the world has never been so enjoyable.

              How on earth this book was not in the dooyoo catalogue before I suggested it is quite astounding. A seriously great book, by a seriously great author. Well I say serious, but that is one of the key dichotomies of this book and Vonnegut in general. Everything here is serious stuff, and yet none of it is taken seriously.

              About the plot:

              Vonnegut's protagonist in this book is a journalist searching for details of Felix Hoenikker, one of the creators of the atomic bomb. While researching the family he becomes aware of a substance created by Hoenikker known as 'ice-nine', a chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The trail of events then leads him to encounter the remaining family members and many other key characters, all the while leading to the somewhat inevitable and disastrous conclusion.

              About the themes:

              If you are previously aware of Vonnegut's work, then you will be familiar with the tone with which he writes, and his favourite targets for attention and ridicule. If not, this is as good a place as any to start. The style of Vonnegut's writing could certainly be described as black humour. It could also reasonably be described as ironic, bitter, funny, cynical and witty. Considering some of the content of the book, it could easily become a painfully pessimistic and drudging look at the futility of life. However, the style is so light and enjoyable, it is almost impossible not to enjoy the journey which takes a swipe at many major issues. There is a made-up religion which is so full of holes it is ridiculous, which even uses its own preposterousness as a selling point. There is also the major theme of the power of science, and more importantly, how the future of the planet can pivot so fundamentally on whose hands this power falls into. Politics, the cult of personality, and human weakness are also among the many themes that flow throughout the book. Considering this book only contains just over 200 pages, it is a testament to Vonnegut's writing prowess that he manages to cram all this in so smoothly and easily in such a short space.

              Opinions:

              I loved this book for its intelligence, and its ability to mock just about everything. The fact that by the end I was almost laughing and crying at the same time, makes Vonnegut a fairly unique and special author. I have very little doubt that this would make an excellent candidate for re-reading, partly because I am still pondering over certain ideas in the book now, which I would like to flesh out. The whole concept of what a cat's cradle is, and how it describes the book, is still eluding me slightly, but I like the fact that it does. Something to chew over.

              Summary:

              Certainly one of Vonnegut's finest works. All life is here, with a little bit of death sprinkled over the top like hundreds and thousands. Everybody should read this book, and clearly I am not the only one who feels this way, as it features in the '1001 books you must read before you die' list.

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              22.03.2010 17:53
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              Great book. Read it before you die.

              I have picked this book up so many times, but only got round to reading it as I am making my way through the 1001 books to read before you die list. Without a doubt, this belongs on that list. I would say particularly so if you are a creative writer keen to explore various writing techniques.

              About the plot:

              In essence, the book centres around a boy and a girl (twins) and their part in a family tragedy, the tale then unpicks all the small things that make up this tragedy, and the connections that are made and broken along the way. A fairly simple plot, made interesting by a fractured structure, and the padding out of the history and motivations of all the family members.

              About the writing:

              The wealth of writing techniques employed here is quite simply astounding, in a fairly short book (340 pages): metaphors (extended and simple), similes, contrasts, poetry, recurring themes (developed and adjusted), pseudo words and phrases, flowing and descriptive prose, childlike rhythm. The list goes on and on. However, this never feels forced or overly smart for the sake of it, and the flow of the book incorporates this style seamlessly, as if there were no other way for the story to be told. Imagery is beautifully painted and the brushed over to reveal the complete portrait.
              Ideas and opinions are to be found in abundance too: communism and the inconsistency of its' protagonists, police brutality, the caste system and it's inflexibility to allow free will of lovers, the inevitability of fate/history which will be written and the relevant price paid. Again these are interwoven into the story, and all of it is relevant.
              You could probably dedicate a whole series of workshops to how these techniques are employed, and how effective they are. However, what this book manages to do is to be far bigger than the sum of these parts. It is a technically accomplished novel, and yet it remains a beautiful tale which rewards the reader in a variety of ways.

              Summary:

              If you like any of the following, and are prepared to pay attention, you will probably find them in this book to some degree:
              Laughter, irony, horror, filth, beauty, tragedy, good writing, childhood memories, ideology, bitterness, unrequited love...etc...

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                03.03.2010 02:18
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                Good book for a journey

                Something along the lines of fate led me to read this book. I had just finished 'The Sirens of Titan' which had an introduction by Jasper Fforde, when someone in my book club brought along the Eyre affair as a possible monthly read. As it happens, it wasn't selected, but the idea of a book in which the lines between fact and fiction became blurred in an amusing way appealed. I read it. I liked it.

                About the plot:

                The setting is an alternative 1985. By and large the world is as we know it, with a few significant differences. To begin with, the Crimean war is still going on, which does allow for a small amount of social commentary on war and whether the lives lost are wasted or for a greater end. Extinct animals are back in existence due to an interesting reintroduction scheme, in particular dodos which seem to have almost replaced dogs in the public's hearts. Literature has an entirely different level of importance in people's lives, with literary crime a serious concern (fraud and theft of manuscripts in particular), and audience participation either an entertainment in itself or legally punishable.
                Our hero, Thursday Next is a literary agent who deals with said literary crimes. Her career and life become inescapably interwoven with the theft of the Martin Chuzzlewit original manuscript. In trying to recapture the manuscript, she ends up in shoot-outs, car chases, and even manages to enter into Jane Eyre itself, which exists as a perpetual reality for the book's inhabitants. We have internal politics, a criminal mastermind, time travel, a love story, and a happy ending.

                About the writing:

                Mainly written in the first person, the narrative does occasionally drop into third person. Each chapter begins using a quote from an imaginary book which sets the scene for the following chapter. This does have a function as it helps to fill in any gaps in knowledge. Such gaps are also filled by segments written in the third person. Occasionally, these are justified by implying that the narrator finds out this information after the event and is helping the continuity. At other times, this makes the book inconsistent as these gaps could possibly have been filled another way. Such is the problem for any author wishing to cover the whole story from the point of view of all characters. The book is riddled with puns, which on the whole are slightly amusing, but are sometimes are so downright awful, it depends on your internal cheese monitor whether you can bear them e.g. Paige-turner, Jack Schitt. Overall the style is quite loose and amusing and written as a quirky and light-hearted sci-fi crime story. Character development is somewhat limited, but then this book never has any pretensions to that effect.

                About the literature:

                It would definitely help to know something about some classic authors and the texts discussed. That said it is by no means essential and can be enjoyed no matter what your reading background. It does have an ongoing reference about the true authorship of the Shakespeare plays, which in itself is quite amusing when you realise the depths some people in the book go to relive the books.

                In summary:

                It most certainly isn't a classic, but I may well read one of the follow up books just because they are fun to read. Consequently, I would recommend it to others . By the way, the book that was chosen for my book club that month was The Outsider by Camus, and this was about as far removed from that as is imaginable - a good sandwich read between heavier books.

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                • The Lovely Bones (DVD) / DVD / 11 Readings / 10 Ratings
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                  27.01.2010 02:11
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                  Worth a watch as an appetiser. Now go read the book.

                  Like many people who will no doubt see this film, I read the book first. I read 'The time traveller's wife' and 'The lovely bones' in the space of five days and was captivated by both.In both cases I felt that if you just allow yourself to be carried along, tears and laughter were to be had by all. Although there are detractors of the 'The lovely bones' and its emotive tension which can be slightly melodramatic, I find it hard to believe that character development would be seen as one of its flaws. That is probably the pivotal point around which your view of this film will be decided.

                  The plot briefly - Susie Salmon (like the fish), a fairly typical teenage girl is murdered by the local serial killer. Her spirit then stops off half way to heaven to view the after effects of her disappearance on the rest of the family. Like any good ghost, she is waiting for some form of peace/justice before she can finally settle down to eternity in heaven. Before this can happen, the remaining family members and friends undergo all manner of problems coming to terms with their loss. Alongside this is the story of the murderer as he tries to cover his tracks, and the police investigation which seeks to unearth the answers.

                  The beauty of the book largely lies in the dramatic tension between the family members as they struggle to cope. For this to happen there is full deconstruction and rebuilding of relationships, the various facets of love explored throughout. The film however, has little time for this. In doing so, the pace of the film is kept comfortable, but without much emotive punch. The best example of this is around Susie's mother who leaves the home as she finds herself further and further removed from her obsessed and deteriorating husband. There is barely a gentle hint as to the affair she has with the policeman (if anything it is directed away from, except for a couple of moments where she visits the police station, and when Susie's father says what a great friend he has been). While I do understand that there is only so much time available to explore this theme, it's absence meant that her departure was more like a magic trick than a quest for solace and love (if only for herself). One minute she's there, the next she's gone. She repeats this trick later in the film when she reappears out of nowehere. This is not very convincing unfortunately, and gives little insight as to why she goes or even returns. There are several possible reasons for this sort of omission of detail - time/complexity/likeability of character/12 rating. However, it loses some depth as a consequence (Susie doesn't even appear to have been raped in the film, 'just' murdered).

                  That said, I really enjoyed the film. The cinematic quality is beautiful, and the means of representing Susie's view of the world is quite awesome. The scene of her father smashing the ship bottles as full size bottles crash upon the shore in Susie's in-between world was inspired and effective. Only part of the story is really told from Susie's point of view in the film, which makes comprehension easier but this means there is little bond between the audience and Susie herself.
                  I was also pleased to see that the really obvious path of turning this into a murder mystery wasn't followed. To have done so would have missed the point so much, it would have made the difference between this being a watchable cinematic experience or not. Although some tension is derived from this hunt (I actually felt my heart beating during the 'search' of the murderer's house), the peace to be found in Susie's family's lives, and indeed for Susie herself, ultimately has little to do with the outcome of justice for the killer (which the film rightly gives a cursory afterthought to, purely for the sake of audience closure as much as anything).

                  The performances are certainly acceptable - Tucci is excellent as the vile murderer - polite, seething, on the edge. Sarandon is entertaining as the grandmother who comes to help out (less volatile and cold than her counterpart in the novel, but without becoming film noir and morose which would spoil the film). Wahlberg is acceptable if lacking in some depth. Rachel Weisz is underused but competent.

                  Peter Jackson has always held a soft spot in my heart, since I first saw Bad taste and Brain dead (during which I found it nearly imposible to believe the BBFC had granted a certificate at the time). I wasn't even aware that he had a hand in this until the film started and I saw the words 'wing nut' on screen. If he had incorporated some of the bravery of his earlier films, this may have been an awesome film. If this film had been made by a director more comfortable with dramatic interplay, it could have been cathartic. As it stands, it was just a good film to watch, if a little unsatisfactory overall.

                  Am I glad I saw it? Yes.
                  Would I watch it again? Yes.
                  Is it a classic? No
                  Is it as good as the book? No

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                  • More +
                    21.11.2009 16:32
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                    Have no expectations, and you should enjoy the ride.

                    I liked this book enough to bother writing a review about it. It isn't the Time traveller's wife part two, nor should it be. Although it is inevitable to some degree to compare the two books, it is slightly unfair I think, and unnecessary. I could easily have compared the two in this review, and it may have been helpful for those who read TTTW, and wanted to see if this was similar and worthy. However, there are many other reviews about that do that. I aim to simply collate my thoughts on what I did like, and what I didn't like about this book.

                    I'm not going to give much of a plot summary, partly because they are easy enough to find all over the web, and partly because it is hard to mention much that is truly relevant, without it being a real spoiler. In short, two twin girls go to live in a haunted house, and all manner of skeletons come out of the closet, literally and figuratively.

                    What I did like about this book.

                    It's a ghost story and a love story, both of which I am naturally inclined towards. It is a genuine page-turner - I found myself continually going past the point I was going to read up to, drawn to find out how the story unravelled.
                    There are some interesting characters contained within the book - all developed to some degree.
                    There are many twists and turns, which help to keep an air of uncertainty throughout. Similarly, this book also has that great Hitchcock trait of laying a trail which you are invited to follow, so that even when you think you know where you are going, you enjoy the tension that goes with the ride, and revel whenever a crossroads indicates a split in the path.
                    The idea of what it is to be a twin is explored in many ways, with some interesting results (if a little extreme). In hindsight, the title itself is absolutely perfect for this work, although its relevance was lost on me prior to reading it.

                    What I didn't like about this book.

                    You may feel that suspending belief would be the thing that makes this book difficult to digest and believe. However, it is the decisions and actions made by the humans which often defy belief. Even when there is some attempt at justification for these pivotal points of the novel, I felt that I wasn't convinced that things could really pan out that way.
                    Although there is character progression, it can sometimes feel slightly contrived, as though it were necessary to make the characters a certain way to fit in with the flow of the book. To put it another way it is as if the book had to be changed at the proof reading/continuity stage, just to ensure it all added up.
                    The descriptions thrown in seemed to be slightly formulaic, as though they were added afterwards to pad out detail. They did not always seem to be in the right place, and stated things apparently for the sake of being descriptive rather than being an aid to the depth of the book.

                    Do I recommend it to others? Yes, if you just want an interesting story to read, but not if you are expecting to be swept off your feet and carried off to fairytale land. I do not regret paying half price at Tesco for it, but may have begrudged paying the full whack for it.

                    Final thought - if you like to rubberneck at car-crashes, this might well be your cup of tea -).

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                    • More +
                      21.11.2009 15:09
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                      Overall, a great work, which should sit in everybody's '100 books to read before I die' type list.

                      This book is very, very good but by no means perfect.

                      Having read the book and all sorts of opinions on it, I would estimate that if you were to read this book, there is a 93% chance that you will agree with my opening statement. In this review, I aim to summarise why this is, with a few thoughts of my own thrown in for good measure.

                      This is a science fiction novel, a revenge novel, a futuristic depiction and a cartoon in novel's clothing. Written in 1956, it broke new ground in many ways, and still remains a classic of the genre (all of the above, but certainly sci-fi). The novel tells the tale of Gully Foyle, mechanic's mate third class, who gets space-shipwrecked for 6 months in a locker which is only twice the size of a coffin. Needless to say this has some effect on his mental state. The final straw comes when a ship floats past and ignores his signals for help. This is the catalyst which wakes Gully from his physical and mental slumber. He then spends most of the rest of the book seeking revenge upon those who left him to rot. There are a few twists and turns which I shall not disclose for fear of spoiling this book for any who have not read it. However, that is a fair synopsis of the lot.

                      Regarding writing style, this book has phenomenal pace. It goes from one action scene to another, fairly regularly switching from main plot to sub lot, but very rarely losing more pace than is necessary to breathe before diving headlong into the next turn of the page. The book starts with a prologue explaining the concept of 'jaunting' which is central to the whole novel. This could be awkward given that it is clearly setting the science fiction details in place before assuming knowledge of them. However, it sets the reader up nicely with the background, and if this were 21st century TV sci-fi it would contain lines like "previously..." "then....and now...". This should be remembered if one is to be critical of such details which are there for good reason. The language used is perfectly readable regardless of when it is read e.g. the 'gutter' language used occasionally has an element of the clockwork orange about it, which is clearly dated, but not so much so that it upsets your ability to read comfortably.

                      Certain critics of the book have insinuated that this is merely a comic book. To some degree this would be understandable given that Bester earned his crust for many years working a s a comic strip writer. The advantage of this is the afore-mentioned pace. The possible disadvantage of this is that some of the ideas and scenarios require a great suspension of disbelief, and that some of the characters are not exactly normal humans. In my opinion, the slightly comic book feel helps to make the book what it is - a grand tale with a few extreme characters(with a slightly unrealistic character development to be honest), who although heavily polarised never seem simply good or bad.

                      As a thought-provoking book regarding man's future as a life-form and as an intergalactic traveller, this book is almost unrivalled. It considers a few fanciful notions, and essentially says 'ok, well what if that is really possible - let's see where that could end up'. Surely this is what good sci-fi should aim to do, and as such this is one of the best sci-fi books I have ever read. When you remember that this is not purely a hollow technical book, and has rich imagery and depth throughout, Bester has scored on many levels. The use of the tiger mask is the most obvious example of this - it is a thread throughout the book which works well on a few levels in my opinion.

                      The ending of the book is one of the only things which really didn't work for me - the humanistic vision portrayed in the last few pages. If you are an idealistic person who likes the didactic message laid out simply as a moral tale at the end, then maybe this works for you. For myself, it felt a bit like a price tag placed on the end (not helped by the extreme character makeover that culminates here), as though it were putting a value on the work unnecessarily at the end. However, Heinlein and Sturgeon could have very similar accusations levelled at them and yet they also wrote books which are rightfully considered classics (I speak particularly of the hippy guidebook that is 'Stranger in a strange land', and the psychoanalysis entrenched 'More than human').

                      Overall, a great work, which I feel should sit in everybody's '100 books to read before I die' type list.

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                    • More +
                      16.11.2009 17:32
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                      Value is the operative word

                      Not too wheaty, and a bit too sweety.
                      Plenty of crunch, nice enough to munch.

                      That about sums them up. I thought I would try them as the Mcvitie half price deal had just finished. To be fair, they are a perfectly edible substitute if you just like the odd munch. However, that is exactly what they are - a substitute.

                      The biscuit itself is crunchy enough but not enough depth to the flavour You would presume that this is due to a high sugar content, although I am fairly sure that is not actually the case, as the value biscuit is lower in sugar than the Mcvitie one. Similarly with the chocolate, it is a sweet paste which ripples across the top but not really a nice rich chocolate taste. It all looks like the real thing, but somehow isn't quite there.

                      All said and done, what do you expect at that price (33p)? If my rating was based purely on taste, they would get 2 stars. If it were based on value, I would give them 4. Overall, they get the happy medium of 3 stars.

                      Would I buy them again?
                      Yes, probably, while other items are at full price (my kids have not noticed the difference at all). However, any half price deal on the Mcvitie biscuit and I will stock up on those instead as they are easily worth a few pence more.

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                    • More +
                      11.11.2009 14:20
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                      My favourite album of the year by far.

                      This album is so good it makes me cry.

                      To call it ambitious would be an understatement, as it aims to tell a complete fairy tale, employing a wide variety of musical styles, instruments and vocals along the way. In doing so, it also incorporates traditional folk concepts and some awesome guest appearances. As a rock piece, this would happily be called a concept album. As a folk piece, it features some great songs and ideas. As a comprehensive package, it does much more.

                      As is usually the way with soundtracks (as this is in some ways - in fact a complete film piece was used as a backdrop for a couple of special live shows), the central theme is introduced musically right from the start. The rest of the album dips in and out of this theme, expanding on ideas and phrases throughout. Tried and tested in classical and jazz music, it is not a style that is often used effectively in rock/folk music. The use here is absolutely astounding, as the picture is sketched, then coloured and layered in beautiful phrases.

                      The story contained within the album is not an easy one to immediately grasp in depth. However, this is not a concern as it grows upon each listen, which I believe is the intended effect (as was discussed in an interview which I heard which was what sold me to this album in the first place). Roughly speaking, a shape shifting fawn falls in love with our heroine Margaret. As they meet some unsavoury and powerful individuals (a jealous queen and an abduction by a man who murders his own children)along the way, they are ushered towards the inevitable fate of death in each others arms.

                      Musically speaking, there is a broad range of sounds to enjoy here:
                      Prelude : The album starts so gently, it takes nearly a minute before you can really hear anything. A gentle throb of a keyboard sound builds with rising notes almost as though you are entering a church, rounded out by the introduction of some strings. This then gives way to the first proper song.

                      The hazards of love part one : Based around a lovely 12 string riff, it lays down the theme for the rest of the album.

                      A Bower Scene : It starts with a scream and has some serious guitar chugging to carry the song through. It almost feels like an old Deep Purple or Black Sabbath song in parts here, such is the heavy guitar backing.

                      Won't want for love : We now get to hear Margaret's vocal (Becky Stark), which has such a beautiful purity to it, I cannot see how anybody could fail to be moved by it. Accompanying it is the plodding melody which builds throughout.

                      The hazards of love part two : An assortment of guitar sounds pepper this lovely heartfelt tune. A well crafted love song in essence it still has that feeling of impending doom, helped in part by the delicate vulnerability of Meloy's voice.

                      The Queen's approach : And here comes the doom. A solo banjo repeating a simple phrase doesn't seem the obvious choice to denote one of the aforementioned hazards. However, it is so simple that in context there seems that nothing else would do the job as well. Throughout this album I found this to be the case. The changes of pace and the use of certain instruments do not necessarily make sense at first listen. However, on repeated listens it fits better and better until I found myself awestruck at how the whole thing pieces together.

                      Isn't it a lovely night : Steel guitar and accordion waltz their way through this little country evening number reflecting the post coital happiness of our lovers.

                      The wanting comes in waves : From the moment the harpsichord creeps in at the beginning of the song, the goose bumps rise up on my arms. By the time the voice of the Queen marches in, I am completely under her spell. Shara Worden provides the vocal here, and in doing so pretty much steals the show. It has power, authority and sex wailing over a sort of bluesy guitar riff.

                      Interlude : It does exactly what it says on the tin. It relieves the tension with a delicate piece of guitar work slightly reminiscent of early 70s Genesis.

                      The Rake : Such a despicable character, it is hard not to love him in a pantomime sort of way.. Booming drums announce the presence of the rake character and some twisted and smart lyrics -

                      " I was wedded and it whetted my thirst/Until her womb start spilling out babies/Only then did I reckon my curse".

                      The Abduction of Margaret : The song is essentially the Bower Scene developed to mark the next stage of the story.

                      The Queen's rebuke/The Crossing: As if the story didn't have enough depth, the history of the Queen and William is played out here accompanied by truly growling guitar noise. The use of the Hammond here to break up the phrases gives a lovely counterpoint to the wailing guitars. You would easily be forgiven at this point for thinking you were listening to a 70s prog rock album.

                      Annan Water : Jangling guitars carry along a good strong folk song, with the added texture of a haunting minor organ sound.

                      Margaret in Captivity : Some nice guitar picking accompany the sinister taunts of the rake as he has Margaret bound up after abducting her. This is alternated with the use of crashing cymbals and soaring keyboards as Margaret calls out to her lost love.

                      The hazards of love 3 : Truly haunting lyrically and musically. Harpsichord and eerie discordant strings mark the return of the rake's dead children.

                      The wanting comes in waves reprise : Lyrically gives the 'wanting comes in waves' phrase an added dimension to the rest of the album. I am led to understand this almost becomes a chant in the live shows. It does seem to denote an underlying obsession the band have with water based disaster and unrequited love (I dread to think where this comes from).

                      The hazards of love 4 : Everything comes together at the end superbly. The instrumentation used throughout makes a return for this finale which is one of the finest bitter sweet love songs ever penned. Mid tempo and somehow managing to sound like a funeral dirge, a love song and a celebration at the same time.

                      In summary, well-crafted progressive folk rock put together with sensitivity and some great songs along the way. I can see how this would not be everybody's bag, but it ticked nearly every box for me.

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