33 Revolutions per Minute covers the history of the 20th century protest song through 33 songs from different eras, covering a period of roughly seven...more33 Revolutions per Minute covers the history of the 20th century protest song through 33 songs from different eras, covering a period of roughly seventy years. A passionately told socio-cultural history of the music and the times it was written for, it does, as the author notes toward the end, feel like something of an elegy. That political music has no place in our contemporary cultural landscape feels like something of a loss, no matter how commercially co-opted the protest songs of the past have become, that lack of urgency, that seemingly innate generational apathy is disheartening. It's difficult to think of any song post-"American Idiot" that speaks its politics as loudly and proudly as anything covered in these pages.
Each chapter focuses on one particular song, from the well known to the relatively obscure, and covers a period of history that that particular song spoke for. Within these chapters, Lynskey also contrasts and compares the song, or the artist themselves, with other artists or songs of the time which creates a greater sense of cultural enmeshment, a dialogue with history and culture, as well as highlighting ideological inconsistencies and contradictions. Though a largely Western representation is on offer here, the few chapters on world music never feel tokenistic, especially as these artists and their music go on to influence the bands and artists of the chapters to follow. It's a great narrative set up, which allows the book to be read either one chapter at a time or as a whole. This running narrative thread breaks somewhat in the chapters from the late 80s onward, as the music seems to diversify and have less of a story in common with the next song. Later chapters are far too short to contain entire subcultural histories - especially the rave chapter, something I never would have expected to be interested in - nonetheless offering an interesting summary of events, using the song as a sort of basic touchstone for the period.
Despite covering the major social and political movements of the 20th century, feminism doesn't really get a look in until much later in the piece in a chapter on riot grrl. An interview with the author I heard on the radio mentioned this oversight, stating that feminist songs were less forceful, more attuned to the personal. The beauty of the instant response the internet gives us, Lynskey responded to gender bias criticisms on his 33 Revolutions blog by posting a list of personal-is-political songs by female artists.
My main interest in 33 Revolutions per Minute however was the Manic Street Preachers chapter, a surprising entry but a well deserved one. I loved how the Manics chapter is comparatively insular, with only passing reference to the politically ambivalent Britpop musical landscape that the Manics' charged third album The Holy Bible was released into. They seem to be completely alienated from the rest of the music world, their revolution, their message, their protest is solely their own. This is one of the many reasons why I love them so, and Lynskey's chapter on "Of Walking Abortion", the disappearance of Richey Edwards and the Manics continuation in his absense is eloquent, respectful and elegiac.
33 Revolutions per Minute is for those interested in a history of social protest movements of the 20th century, the powerful combination of politics and pop, with a vaguely leftist political sympathy, and music history in general. It may have taken me about five months to get through it but I loved it, it introduced me to some new artists, as well as reigniting my love for some musical favourites. Brilliant, engaging, important.(less)
While travelling in Berlin taking photographs of architecture, Clare meets the charming Andi, a German English teacher. What seems to be a tale of hol...moreWhile travelling in Berlin taking photographs of architecture, Clare meets the charming Andi, a German English teacher. What seems to be a tale of holiday romance quickly turns sour, as Clare comes to realize that Andi is not what he seems and finds herself being kept captive in his apartment. During her captivity she submits to Stockholm Syndrome, simultaneously hating and desiring her captor and her situation. Most interesting about Melanie Joosten's debut novel Berlin Syndrome is that the story is told from the perspective of both characters.
Told mainly through internal monologues of the two central characters, we become aware of the ambivalence of both: Clare wanting to escape and not wanting to escape, Andi knowing what he is doing is wrong, but not knowing how to stop it. There seems to be a very vague suggestion that the situation in Andi's apartment is meant to mirror the experience of the divide in post-war Berlin, a similarity between feeling trapped in by the walls and The Wall. I don't yet know enough about the history of Berlin to sense if this is applicable here, but I did pick up on a parallel being drawn.
Berlin Syndrome is a fast-paced novel told with claustrophobic tension. You feel as though you too are trapped in the apartment, staring aimlessly through the window at the television tower. As the violence, both emotional and physical, escalates, their relationship and Clare's entrapment becomes more complex, almost seeming impossible to resolve. Though the ending works on a thematic and symbolic level, I'm not sure if it is narratively satisfying. However, Berlin Syndrome is a powerfully taut examination of the psychology of captivity from both the captor and the captive perspectives and the tension and suspense created is more than enough to keep the reader hooked. (less)
In Judith Armstrong's War & Peace and Sonya, the domestic realities of the writer's life are revealed through the eyes of Count Leo Tolstoy's long...moreIn Judith Armstrong's War & Peace and Sonya, the domestic realities of the writer's life are revealed through the eyes of Count Leo Tolstoy's long suffering wife, Sonya. Through diary excerpts and prose that recounts the often banal happenings of the household, War & Peace and Sonya attempts to straddle fiction, literary criticism and biography, never really settling comfortably into either form. The adherence to historical dates and fact often reads very dryly, and the moments of genuinely inventive and emotionally resonant prose are few and far between.
Frustrated by her role as a devoted mother to thirteen of his children, and perpetually refused the emotional intimacy she craves from her husband, here Sonya's dissatisfaction is given a voice, albeit a stilted and unappealing one. Here we see a Tolstoy who, despite the insight into human relationships displayed in his fiction, did not always translate that knowledge into his real life relationships. The brief glimpses of Tsarist Russian society and culture are interesting, but most of the action is relegated to the Tolstoy's country estate. As Sonya begins to search through the manuscripts of Anna Karenina and War & Peace for clues about her distant husband and their relationship, the novel begins to feel like little more than a lengthy recap of that superior work. The comparative analysis between the fictions, the Tolstoy diaries and their imagined life together are unsubtle in their conclusions, conclusions which are perhaps too easily drawn here. Armstrong doesn't seem to trust that her readers will understand the parallels in the stories presented.
In the end, it is difficult to empathize with a character who is almost driven to madness by her husband's "abstract infidelity" to a fictional character of his own creation. Though the great writer may not have always been a great man, War & Peace and Sonya does little to redeem Sonya herself, in the end reducing her to a petty, paranoid and melodramatic harpy. (less)
Karou is a 17 year old art student in Prague. Between classes, social activities and trying to hide out from a persistent ex-boyfriend, she runs erran...moreKarou is a 17 year old art student in Prague. Between classes, social activities and trying to hide out from a persistent ex-boyfriend, she runs errands for her guardians in secret chambers hidden throughout the city, gathering material for dark magic that is connected to a place she knows only as Elsewhere. As she struggles to reconcile her identity between the two very different worlds, she meets the mysterious Akiva, who connects her to a history and a self that she never knew. Persevere through a slow, but engaging nonetheless, first half of Karou's life in Prague for an enchanting and original second half.
Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone features a richly drawn fantasy world, one of wishes, magic, angels and chimaerical beasts, with enough inventiveness to make it a unique stand out in a marketplace saturated with weakly told fallen angel romances. A strong mythological bent in the stories surrounding the history of the warring angels and chimaera, beautifully poetic and vibrant prose and truly startling imagery make Daughter of Smoke and Bone a fantastic read, even for those who may shy away from the paranormal romance genre.(less)
Paul Auster's Invisible, a novel told in four parts, flirts with ideas of authorial mutability and the blurred lines between fiction and reality, betw...morePaul Auster's Invisible, a novel told in four parts, flirts with ideas of authorial mutability and the blurred lines between fiction and reality, between fantasy and truth, all the while maintaining a strong narrative within this experimentation.
Largely character driven, Invisible mainly focuses on an autobiographical interpretation of events by American student Adam Walker of how his life changed upon meeting an eccentric French professor, Rudolf Born, at a party in 1967. This memoir is then given to an old college friend, now a successful writer himself, who encourages Walker to write the second part. Though shocked by the revelations of this continuation of Walker's story, mainly due to Walker's detailed descriptions of an incestuous sexual relationship with his sister, the writer is moved to rewrite from Walker's brief sketching the third part of the story after Walker's death. Finally the writer confers with the other individuals who played a significant role in Walker's story to try and get to some element of what was truth and was elaborate fantasy in his story. It is, at times, a rather convoluted structure, but one that Auster effortlessly guides the reader through.
Invisible, for all its incestuous fantasies, becomes genuinely suspenseful in the second half, where the truth, well maybe the truth, of Rudolf Born's life and his deceitful, retributive behaviour comes to light. Intriguingly complex characters - especially the conflicted Walker and the possibly dangerous Born - and an engaging structure make for a compelling, though often disturbing, read. (less)
In Snowdrops, Nick Platt, a British lawyer, recounts his moral downfall while working as a corporate lawyer one winter in post-Soviet Russia. Written...moreIn Snowdrops, Nick Platt, a British lawyer, recounts his moral downfall while working as a corporate lawyer one winter in post-Soviet Russia. Written as a letter to an unseen fiancée, he tells her how he fell in love with a beautiful Russian woman, Masha, and was pulled, half knowingly, into a property ownership scheme.
While not quite the "psychological drama" that the cover blurb promises, Snowdrops is nonetheless a fast paced look at corruption in post-Soviet Russia, viewed through the lens of an expat who gets caught up in the possibilities the establishing capitalism offers. It is atmospheric, painting post-Soviet Moscow as a city that is beautiful, especially in its deep winter, but fraught with danger and excitement. In fact, the Russian setting is probably stronger and more well-drawn than any of the human characters, most of whom, especially Masha and Katya, appear rather flat, without much to them and their motivations, other than pure greed. Maybe they just appear this way because that's how Nick has come to see them? While the novel does attempt to build intrigue through the narrative device of Nick writing about his past, dropping hints about the bad things to come, but it never quite feels urgent. Nick himself doesn't seem to be truly affected by what he had done, and how he was duped.
I liked how the deep Russian winter works as a metaphor throughout; the snow thawing out bringing to light all sorts of secrets and Nick's self-deception and eventual realization of how far he has fallen. The multi-million dollar corporate corruption that Nick's firm is fooled by and Nick's entanglement in similar schemes on a personal level run parallel, without positioning them along some sort of moral hierarchy, but I'm not sure what a reader is supposed to take from these parallels. That this sort of moral corruption, lies and opportunism is rampant at all levels of society, perhaps? Nonetheless, Snowdrops is a quick read, and the Russian backdrop sets it apart from the standard story of moral confusion.(less)
Reading Andy McSmith's No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s one is struck by how alarmingly similar our current climate is to t...moreReading Andy McSmith's No Such Thing as Society: A History of Britain in the 1980s one is struck by how alarmingly similar our current climate is to that of the 1980s presented here: high unemployment, stock market crash, riots in the streets, economic downturn, conservative politics, fraught inner-party politics, an unpopular war, a changing media culture, a royal wedding. This is, however, not a conclusion that McSmith encourages readers to take, but is something that seemed apparent to me.
This is a broad, and maybe sometimes too general, history of Britain during the 1980s - covering everything from the Miners' Strike to Live Aid, from the Royal Wedding to television comedy, from the Falklands War to the Yorkshire Ripper. It works as an interesting introduction to many historical events and figures that are probably best understood and appreciated when looked at in more detail, but No Such Thing as Society provides a sound starting point for anyone wanting to gain a general perspective of the era. It's a bleak, dismal picture presented here, but fascinating nonetheless thanks to McSmith's easily digested writing style.
McSmith covers a wide range of topics in No Such Thing as Society but his strength lies in outlining and analyzing, in enough detail even for those without much previous knowledge to comprehend, the political dramas of the day. Thatcher's government policies and ideologies - and the social and cultural impact of them - aren't exactly lauded here, but the opposition doesn't come off lightly either. Be sure to read through the end notes as well, McSmith drops in some more personal anecdotes about the various politicians mentioned from his time as a political correspondent. (less)
A short but powerful punch of a novel, The Sense of an Ending explores the fallible nature of memory, misinterpretation of events and others, and comi...moreA short but powerful punch of a novel, The Sense of an Ending explores the fallible nature of memory, misinterpretation of events and others, and coming to terms with the fact that the mutability of the self. Tony Webster and his group of friends meet the intelligent and serious Adrian Finn in high school, and now a retired man living a "peaceable" life, Webster is shocked into looking back and delving through his past when he receives a letter from a lawyer.
Barnes writes gorgeous prose, which frequently makes philosophical diversions between major plot points. Webster appears to be self aware, confident in his interpretation of the past, only to have the emergence of people capable of corroboration crumble that delusion. What he eventually discovers changes not only his image of himself, but of how he interpreted the acts of others, how he perceived their lives from the outside. It is quietly devastating. The failure of memory to accurately retain the past completely, the unconscious edits we make to our personal histories to make it more palatable to our sense of self. The Sense of an Ending is intelligent, powerful and perceptive, leaving the reader with much to mull over after reading.
Barnes was never really a writer I was interested in before, but I am keen to check out more of his writing after reading this wonderful book.(less)