New Reviews

January 3, 2009 at 10:17 pm (General) (, )

There will be a couple of new reviews up during the week. You can expect, Good Omens, Small Gods and Split.  I didn’t read as much as I expected over the break possibly because I spent alot of time either getting drunk, actively drunk or so hungover my eyes were bleeding (thus making reading difficult). Some how I’d managed to forget how much drinking is involved in an Irish Christmas, possibly due to alcohol related brain damage.

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TV on the Radio – Golden Age

December 29, 2008 at 10:15 pm (Music) (, , )

Just deadly. I’ve been pootling about over the holidays listening to these guys, whose Dear Science Album I got and the MGMT album that my sister got. Yay for Christmas gifts you really want. They’re both worth investing in.

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Happy Christmas

December 23, 2008 at 2:18 am (General) ()

Hope you all have a good one. I will be reading a plenty over the holiday but may or may not post. See you in the New Year

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Book 9: Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

December 19, 2008 at 11:44 pm (Review) (, , , )

This is an easy read. It is a travelog of Bryson’s trip around Britain prior to his departing sometime in the early 90’s I would estimate. It is light hearted and good natured (which I suspect is probably an apt description of the author). It gently explores the quirks and foibles of Britain’s towns and cities and it is clear that Bryson likes the place a great deal even if some aspects clearly drive him nuts. The most entertaining passages of the book are, predictably, when he is being driven nuts. These occasionally being laugh out loud funny. Even outside of these he manages some interesting and acute observations about British life.

If you are in need of something to read while it is likely that you will be repeatedly and unpleasantly interrupted then this is ideal.

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Book 8: Tar Baby by Toni Morrison

December 16, 2008 at 10:31 pm (Review) (, , , )

This will be short.  I have read a few other novels by Toni Morrison and have read some of her poetry. I have always admired the strength of both her voice and lyricism. The words flow from the page with elegance and grace. You know you’re reading something IMPORTANT, which can some times overwhelm the grace and make it feel a bit portentous.  What I liked about Tar Baby is that it lacked this portentousness and instead had a blunter tone. 

As always Morrison’s examination of race and how it affects each character is interesting and challenges any obvious or easy conclusions. This is the best sort of writing on this subject in that it doesn’t allow people (no matter what their political colour) off the hook for making stupid assumptions about others. It was especially interesting to read this is in the wake of Obama’s victory. It made me wonder had anything really changed at all, I still haven’t figured out the answer.

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Sorry

December 15, 2008 at 10:09 pm (Uncategorized) ()

Hey all sorry for the lack of reviews I feel I am slacking on the canonball (tho not for lack of reading) but my aunt is very unwell and so I’ve been in the hospital frequently. I hope to have a couple of short reviews up tomorrow.

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Elbow, Grounds for Divorce

December 3, 2008 at 8:55 pm (Music) (, , )

Short samples from this are being played on several ads on TV at the moment, particularly the one for the Devils Whore on Channel 4 and an annoying sports one on Sky. Mostly they make me want to listen to the whole song which is excellent like the whole Seldom Seen Boy album, so here it is.

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Book 7: Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon

December 3, 2008 at 8:51 pm (Review) (, , , )

Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of my favourite books ever. It breaks my heart and uplifts me in a new way every time I read it. So Gentlemen of the Road was going to have a lot to live up to for me and in many respects it does. The story centres round three charachters Zeilkman, who is traumatised by seeing his Mother and sister killed, Amram who has been searching for 20 years for his kidnapped daughter and Fliaq who is seeking revenge for the murder of his family. Amram and Zeilkman attempt to rescue Fliaq’s against he will and become embroiled in a civil war in the Kingdom of the Khazars. It’s a strange, lightly convoluted plot that I enjoyed an awful lot.

This novel is both a road story and an adventure story, with a little bit of Gulliver’s Travels about it in the way that it looks at fictive societies to make a comment about real. Chabon sets it in what feels like our world geographically, there is a nominally middle eastern feel to the location. He uses this to explore how Jews, Muslims and Christians share the land and the divergence in their views and ways of living. This makes comparisons to modern day politics almost impossible to avoid. I think that he is pretty even handed in his attitudes to each group. I know that some people find this sort of fictional commentary off putting but you really shouldn’t in this case because Chabon’s skill as a writer stops it from ever becoming hectoring or belligerent.

If you discount the political/religious aspects the book you are left with a delightful adventure, with all sorts of derring do and spectacular rescues. I love this sort of quasi-fairytale type of fiction. When they are well written like this one I am taken out of myself and the world I inhabit in a way that is like reading when I was a kid. It’s fun to recapture a bit of that magic when you’ve found yourself growing in to a old cynic.

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Book 6: Inishowen By Joseph O’Connor

November 26, 2008 at 8:49 pm (Review) (, , , )

This is a story about an alcoholic detective (Martin Aiken) and an American woman (Ellen Donnelly) who is searching for her mother in Ireland, she was one of the children of an unwed mother sent to America for adoption. Both parties have had recent traumatic experiences and are drowning the emotional fallout caused by them. Obviously their lives become intertwined.

I liked this novel in a general non-specific sort of a way but had a couple of specific problems with it. I found the conceit that drew the two main characters together more than a little contrived, there is a howling coincidence at its heart that I hated a bit. Also there is a little bit to much of ‘oh isn’t Dublin a small place always running in to people’. Dublin is small but the rule in Dublin is if there is someone you’d love to run in to accidentally you will not, ever. However if there is someone you’d like to avoid like herpes then you will meet them, repeatedly in the course of an hour. The book does not adhere to this. 

O’Connor also touches on the oposition between how some Irish born and some Irish Americans felt about the troubles in the North. I’d have liked him to go in to this more but he did what Irish born often do when this comes up with each other and with Americans, which is swiftly drop it and change the subject. I’d have liked this conversation to go on a bit longer, especially since one of the characters clearly has strongly held views on this. I don’t think he quite managed to say what he was trying to. 

Martin Aiken is well created he feels real and complex. A study in someone coming undone that manages not to be maudlin or pitying. Ellen is also well rounded, her motivation understandable my only proviso is that in the circumstances she finds herself I think that some readers will find the idea that she would leave her children unlikely or incomprehensible. Some of the supporting players are well drawn, the best of which is Lee, Ellen’s son. O’Connor creates a very convincing teenage boy. Less convincing is her husband, his internal life never seems consistent to me he doesn’t feel fully formed. 

At times O’Connor writes dialogue in the Dublin accent. Normally I find writing in accent brain scrapeingly annoying but it’s not that bad in this because O’Connor obviously really knows and understands the accent and so it flows well (not as much as when Roddy Doyle does it but well none the less).

Inishowen is worth a read and rips along at a fair pace, with some interesting characters. The twist you will likely see coming a mile off but in the context it doesn’t matter much as it’s less about the plot and more about characters. 

As a side note Inishowen is a small place in Donegal that is incredibly beautiful and feels like the very end of the world. If you get a chance go there.

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Book 5: The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke

November 19, 2008 at 9:45 pm (Review) (, , , )

James Lee Burke has set all his Robicheaux novels in the environs of New Orleans and Louisiana. There are about 10 books featuring this detective this one is set in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. If you are aware of the previous books then you will be aware of the affection that Lee Burke has for New Orleans and its people. While he never flinched from the less savoury aspects of the city, it was clear that this was a city he loved. It is therefore understandable that his rage at the hand fate dealt the city and then  the grotesque neglect of the government in the face of that fate, is palpable and at times jumps off the page so vividly that for a moment you’re that furious too. The vivid descriptions of a city destroyed by nature and neglect are powerful and form the true crux of this book.

The story centres primarily round the search for looters and the blood diamonds they stole from a local kingpin sort. In the process of escaping the neighbourhood they’re looting 2 of the looters are shot. The other two leg it to varying degrees. It is in the process of investigating the shooting that Robicheaux becomes ensnared in the plot. Which is to do no justice to the complexity of the story and the way the characters interlink. for the most part they are all linked well and elegantly my only reservations with the links  is the connection between the looter and one suspects in the shooting (a neighbour of the kingpin, Otis Baylor). It seemed a bit trite and contrived to me but otherwise they worked.

Far more interesting than the plot and how it is hung together, is how the story works as a morality tale. It looks at how when evil comes in to our lives it is how we find a way to live with that evil that is important. In the case of Detective Robicheaux when a PI who also has an interest in the diamonds threatens his daughter, he creates a ripple that affects the fibre of the family. In the case of New Orleans horror comes in the form of hurricane but how people both in and outside of New Orleans react to that is where the real tragedy lies. 

As ever Lee Burke crafts an interesting story with an immensely appealing if flawed central character. However it is the story of a city that raises this above his usual level. The story of New Orleans is devastating and Lee Burke does not spare us discomfort. He is unflinching and unrelenting and because of that elevates this story to something bigger and more important than merely a novel. It’s a historical document.

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