Are we there yet?

15 07 2017

This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell

A reclusive ex-film star living in the wilds of Ireland, Claudette Wells is a woman whose first instinct, when a stranger approaches her home, is to reach for her shotgun. Why is she so fiercely protective of her family, and what made her walk out of her cinematic career when she had the whole world at her feet?

Her husband Daniel, reeling from a discovery about a woman he last saw twenty years ago, is about to make an exit of his own. It is a journey that will send him off-course, far away from the life he and Claudette have made together. Will their love for one another be enough to bring Daniel back home?

I love Maggie O’Farrell’s writing and her form in this novel is pretty impressive, demonstrating her customary style and flair. The intentionally disjointed narrative, whilst excellent in places, is though challenging at times and the overall effect is, I have to admit, a bit disappointing. It’s pretty good but, by the high standards of previous outings, not her best.

 

 





Fearful

8 07 2017

The Fear Index by Robert Harris

 

 

Meet Alex Hoffmann: among the secretive inner circle of the ultra-rich, he is something of a legend.

Based in Geneva, he has developed a revolutionary system that has the power to manipulate financial markets. Generating billions of dollars, it is a system that thrives on panic – and feeds on fear.

And then, in the early hours of one morning, while he lies asleep, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of his lakeside home.

So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts – with increasing desperation – to discover who is trying to destroy him – before it’s too late …

It’s not one of his best but nevertheless Harris delivers a gripping and pacy thriller. Not really sure how accurate the portrayal of financial market operations is but felt realistic enough to me.





Fusty, musty, dusty

1 07 2017

The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernieres

 

In the brief golden years of King Edward VII’s reign, Rosie McCosh and her three very different sisters are growing up in an eccentric household in Kent, with their neighbours the Pitt boys on one side and the Pendennis boys on the other. But their days of childhood adventure are shadowed by the approach of war that will engulf them on the cusp of adulthood.

When the boys end up scattered along the Western Front, Rosie faces the challenges of life for those left behind. Confused by her love for two young men – one an infantry soldier and one a flying ace – she has to navigate her way through extraordinary times. Can she, and her sisters, build new lives out of the opportunities and devastations that follow the Great War?

There are some brilliant passages and some outstanding characters. There is some really evocative wartime recreation, emotional highs and lows but really could have done with a strong editorial hand. Just a bit flabby and overlong but nevertheless worth a read.





Red Wedgy

24 06 2017

 

 

Walls Come Tumbling Down by Daniel Rachel

 

Walls Come Tumbling Down charts the pivotal period between 1976 and 1992 that saw politics and pop music come together for the first time in Britain’s musical history; musicians and their fans suddenly became instigators of social change, and ‘the political persuasion of musicians was as important as the songs they sang’. Through the voices of campaigners, musicians, artists and politicians, Daniel Rachel follows the rise and fall of three key movements of the time: Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone, and Red Wedge, revealing how they all shaped, and were shaped by, the music of a generation.

Composed of interviews with over a hundred and fifty of the key players at the time, Walls Come Tumbling Down is a fascinating, polyphonic and authoritative account of those crucial sixteen years in Britain’s history.

 

 

Pop, politics and nostalgia collide in this rather unusual book which documents the development and disintegration of three big musical and political movements of the 70s and 80s. Commendably, the author has recorded and combined a series of first person accounts from all those who were there at the time (apart, I think, from Paul Weller who is represented by quotes from back in the day) and through these stories we learn about the remarkable force of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge. Inevitably perhaps participants want to claim these movements genuinely changed society and, while there are some reasonable claims about impact (with the anthemic ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ arguably the strongest), music and politics can’t coexist successfully for long. Did anything really change? Yes and no, but there are some great stories on the way and some great memories too. Slightly disappointed about the limited coverage of the Red Wedge shows in Edinburgh which I can remember distributing leaflets for but you can’t have everything.

 





Human Racing

18 06 2017

The Humans by Matt Haig

 

After an ‘incident’ one wet Friday night where Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge, he is not feeling quite himself. Food sickens him. Clothes confound him. Even his loving wife and teenage son are repulsive to him. He feels lost amongst a crazy alien species and hates everyone on the planet. Everyone, that is, except Newton, and he’s a dog.

What could possibly make someone change their mind about the human race. . . ?

A really clever, inventive and witty tale told from the perspective of an alien sent to earth to carry out a very particular task. An easy and entertaining read which nevertheless manages to cover some of the big issues about what it really means to be human.

 

 

 





Selling out fast

10 06 2017

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

 

 

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game.

Born in Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in his father’s racially charged psychological studies. He is told that his father’s work will lead to a memoir that will solve their financial woes. But when his father is killed in a drive-by shooting, he discovers there never was a memoir. All that’s left is a bill for a drive-through funeral.

What’s more, Dickens has literally been wiped off the map to save California from further embarrassment. Fuelled by despair, the narrator sets out to right this wrong with the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

An unusual Booker winner perhaps. It’s funny, brutal and pretty shocking at times. Reminiscent of Joseph Heller it is genuinely dark and challenging satire which takes on the big current and historical issues of racism in the USA in the most extraordinary way.

 

four stars





Trumpville

3 06 2017

How the Hell did this Happen? by P J O’Rourke

No comedian could have written the joke this election cycle has been. The punch line is too ridiculous (whoever the punch line is going to be). Celebrated political satirist, journalist, and diehard Republican P.J. O’Rourke brings his critical eye and inimitable voice to some serious risky business.

How The Hell Did This Happen? covers the whole election process from the pig pile of presidential candidates circa June 2015, the dreadful key primaries and candidate debates through his come-to-Satan moment with Hillary – ‘She’s the second worst thing that could happen to our nation. I endorse her.’ – to the Beginning of End Times in November.

How The Hell Did This Happen? answers the key question of the 2016 presidential election: Should we laugh or should we cry or should we hurl? (They are not mutually exclusive.)

It’s all a bit Covfefe. Some amusing essays here from the sporadically sharp wit of O’Rourke but some pretty throwaway stuff too. Have always thought he was worth reading despite his political standpoint but unfortunately he is, perhaps unsurprisingly, not quite as funny as he used to be.

 

 








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