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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: June, 2013

Review: Hazel Rowley’s “Tête-á-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre”

hazel rowley tete a teteRowley, a highly acclaimed biographer, takes on the romantic lives of the two famous philosophers: it could only entertain. Alas, it could also make one writhe with distaste. Rowley’s writing and research were clearly good, no qualms there – although there is comparatively little on Sartre’s inside perspective (perhaps his journals weren’t available?). The distaste is entirely caused by her subjects: Sartre, the nasty little man who uses charm and language to entice beautiful, gormless young women into his permanent fan club; and Beauvoir, his intellectual peer, bastion and head-wife to his harem, among those who procures/introduces/passes on said gamines to be his mistresses and protégées. And, of course, the bevy of simultaneous mistresses and acolytes to both, who are generally lied to and often slept with by both of the great couple, who often don’t know of each other’s existence or status, who are financially supported by Sartre for life to be formless, aimless and “contingent”. (And, to share the blame, who don’t choose financial or structural independence from SdB and JPS). Such was the Sartrean “family” (their term). Eww. Gross. My polyamorous friends would be horrified at the deceit Sartre and Beauvoir practised to maintain their supposedly model open marriage, and clearly so was I. No contesting the intellectual stature or impact of either Sartre or Beauvoir, but by lawdy, best to stay far from their circle of duplicitous dalliances. Good book, though.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and evening reading, often with a moue of disgust
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Great people do not necessarily – or often – lead great lives – OR – good lives are often too boring to read or write about
Who I’d recommend it to:
MOD & readers after a bit of socio-literary melodrama
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Alison Jay’s “ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book”

alison jay abcThe illustrations in this alphabet book are just gorgeous. Fantastic (in the sense of ‘fantasy’) paintings of critters and the real world, looks like cracked-veneer oils, simple enough for the kiddies’ to play Spotto and rich enough for the adults to linger and wonder about the connections between the images. Just lovely. Recommended.

Where it came from: KT’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Intra-socialising read at KT & JT’s house
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Sometimes beauty is enough
Who I’d recommend it to:
Kiddies’ adults who want a book with something for them
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Tête-á-Tête by Hazel Rowley

Review: Therese Bohman’s “Drowned”

therese bohman drownedThe plot came as no surprise so I feel no qualms about giving it away: younger sister Marina has affair with older sister Stella’s older husband Gabriel, discovers he is violent, abusive, possibly a serial killer, definitely drowned the older sis. But what a hot meanie he is! And what a fascinating obsession he has with Ophelia and drowned Pre-Raphaelite beauties! RANT ALERT: How can the author put her efforts into creating a seductive killer, who the younger sister is too thick to condemn or escape before it’s possibly too late? How can reviewers be so enamoured of a “gorgeous gripping read…thick with erotic tension” [Emily Maguire], which is about domestic violence? Deserves to not be read, disrecommended.

Where it came from: Random library grab
Time and manner of reading:
Evening in the armchair
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending”

julian barnes sense of an endingThis book was so banal that even 149pp was too many to get through. I think I made it to p100 of this riveting tale of a 60+ year old getting drawn into a memory war with his ex-girlfriend from university. Puh-leese. Despite respected recommendations that Barnes is a good novelist, I should have known what to expect: the chair of the Booker Prize in the year this novel won (2011) commented on the importance of literature being “readable”. No further comments, Your Honour, and possibly no further Barnes.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Town-waity sample and failed armchair attempt
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Kazuo Ishiguro’s “When We Were Orphans”

kazuo ishiguro when we were orphansI felt like I’d read this Ishiguro novel before (cf. The Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World). The structure and principle is the same in all three: a deeply repressed, slightly-to-hideously pompous man contemplates his earlier (self-)delusions and the error of his ways, with his story revealed by the ellipses in his own narrative. Ba-doom ching. This one was well written but quickly revealed that it was true to mould, so I only persevered because of the high regard I’d developed for KI as a writer – let’s not forget Never Let Me Go. This one, however, just got frigging ridiculous: the hero’s delusions of self-importance in investigating his parents’ disappearances 20 years previously lead him to drag assorted strangers into *live combat* in search of a random building where, he is convinced, his parents have been languishing for decades. Farcical. No empathy. Just wanted to slap ass of a hero across the face. Infuriating. Disappointing. Don’t bother.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Bedtime sample and utterly irritating lie-in
Where it went: UPB
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Merle Collins “Angel”

merle collins angelMy first Grenadian novel. It covers the 30-odd years leading up to the US invasion in 1983, with the attendant political and social changes wrought by the fall of the plantation system, the end of British rule and the coming of Black Power and feminism to small, exploited Grenada. Partly written in Grenadian English, it takes a while to get into the rhythm – but I enjoyed reading about a country and history which had never crossed my life or reading before. Interesting and recommended.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
A few days of kaleidoscoping
Where it went: Farm bookshelf
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Cultural explorers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Peter Hedges’ “An Ocean in Iowa”

peter hedges an ocean in iowaScotty Ocean turns seven in the summer of ’69 – and what a (non)year seven turns out to be! This is a banal white-bread novel about banal white-bread characters living the quintessentially banal white-bread American life in Dulltown, Iowa. Don’t bother.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Evening and morning
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Angel by Merle Collins