Within an amusingly comic yarn about an English vacuum-cleaner salesman in pre-revolutionary Cuba lurks a well-observed satire about the bizarre and p...moreWithin an amusingly comic yarn about an English vacuum-cleaner salesman in pre-revolutionary Cuba lurks a well-observed satire about the bizarre and paranoid world of Cold War espionage.
Our mild-mannered hero only wants to raise enough money to indulge his daughter's love of horses - but who will buy a hoover when the rebels keep cutting the power? Recruited by MI5 to observe, he soon finds his meagre reports aren't enough for London.
Unfortunately, his efforts to supplement them with a few "harmless" embellishments create an insatiable appetite for more "information". Soon, like a fireman on a runaway steam train, he finds himself shovelling fantasies into the unquenchable furnace of the "intelligence" services' paranoia, unable to slow the engine down but desperately trying to keep it from running off the rails.
Graham Greene isn't supposed to be this funny or this subversive. He never comments, never takes sides and never reveals his author's voice. He trusts the reader because he knows he has given us all we need to work it out for ourselves.(less)
As a subtle insight into youthful arrogance and tribalism, The Secret History is peerless. It owes a lot to Lord of the Flies - the bespectacled insid...moreAs a subtle insight into youthful arrogance and tribalism, The Secret History is peerless. It owes a lot to Lord of the Flies - the bespectacled insider-turned-outsider-turned-victim is called Bunny; surely a reference to Piggy - but the protagonists are not children but university students and their isolation is not geographical but intellectual.
They study classics in an almost closed group led by a charismatic tutor. Having begun as misfits in one way or another, their 'otherness' becomes magnified in the closeness of the group, which becomes almost a cult where logic and morality are gradually twisted to justify murder. This psychological journey is the real story, which is why the central event - Bunny's murder - is never properly described, so it is a relief to find that the prose is so easy to read. And the themes of ancient Greek language and philosophy are not so central to the plot that ignorance or indifference will affect the reader's engagement with the plot.
The character of the tutor and his role in creating the situation could have been developed more, and Tartt's desire to show off her own learning is occasionally obvious. Also, it took me a long time to work out when it was set, but these are minor quibbles. It's not the epoch-making book that some claim it to be, but it is a very accomplished and enjoyable piece of work. (less)
The blackly comic insanity of large organisations - in this case the US military in WWII - is exposed in one of the greatest novels of the 20th Centur...moreThe blackly comic insanity of large organisations - in this case the US military in WWII - is exposed in one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century.(less)
A classic, but already looking dated. An accurate portrayal of shallow, selfish adolescents. Only problem is, they're so shallow that it's hard to car...moreA classic, but already looking dated. An accurate portrayal of shallow, selfish adolescents. Only problem is, they're so shallow that it's hard to care. (less)
Atkinson's books have been put in new covers now that her publishers realise that she's not just a women's writer. It's about time too.
Case Histories...moreAtkinson's books have been put in new covers now that her publishers realise that she's not just a women's writer. It's about time too.
Case Histories is as much a piece of literary fiction as it is a crime novel. Atkinson scores by weaving together several stories with characters who are so well crafted that the reader gets to know every one of them. She even manages to change her prose style for each one (not just the dialogue), so there is no flicking backwards to remind yourself who such-and-such a person is.
It's slightly unbalanced and the endings to one of the stories would be regarded by crime aficionados as a cheat, because an unknown element is introduced at the end. And one of the back stories has too many deaths in it: this wasn't supposed to be a gore-fest and by the time we learn of these extra tragedies three-quarters of the way through, they seem gratuitous.
But this isn't a detective story really. It's all about characters, and the living and the dead are all fully formed and totally believable. Even though she dies right at the start, Laura's death is always painful not because it is horrific but because she is such a likeable, believable character that we almost know her.
Case Histories isn't a good detective novel; it's a fine piece of modern literature. Don't be afraid chaps, you can read it too.(less)
This is a story of shallow, empty, plastic people in a shallow, empty, plastic world. So it's no real surprise that the book itself is shallow, empty...moreThis is a story of shallow, empty, plastic people in a shallow, empty, plastic world. So it's no real surprise that the book itself is shallow, empty and plastic: little more than a fictionalised description of celebrity lifestyle.
In Pop Tart, characters come and go, each more ghastly than the last and none of them with any depth to make the reader care two hoots what happens to them.
Kira Coplin - who I presume is the chief writer - seems to assume that, since everyone knows who these people are REALLY supposed to be, she doesn't have to develop her characters. But tragedy requires something important to have been destroyed or potential wasted and Brit… - sorry, "Brooke" - is such an empty vessel that her collapse only inspires indifference.
Nor does it make much sense because the writing is so weak. Coplin is a journalist and her style doesn't go beyond the 2000-word celebrity write-up, where the readers are assumed to know about the characters and the story already. By the end of the book, when some emotional depth was needed, I almost felt sorry for her as she grasped at platitudes to rescue her floundering prose. I don't like to be harsh, but these authors cannot write fiction and shouldn't try again.
Like a real pop tart, this book is unpleasantly sticky and unsatisfying. But if you like junk-food-literature, ignore my one star and gorge yourself. But it'll make you fat. (less)
"All The Pretty Horses" is a masterpiece, no doubt about it. It's also a tad pretentious, with all those 200-word sentences with a dozen "and"s in eac...more"All The Pretty Horses" is a masterpiece, no doubt about it. It's also a tad pretentious, with all those 200-word sentences with a dozen "and"s in each. But that's the way McCarthy writes, and if a great artist chooses to express himself in one style or genre, then you've got to go with him. You can even forgive him for putting so much of the dialogue in Mexican Spanish when you don't speak a word of it. Hell, you'll pick it up.
In short, it's a story of growing up and learning what it means to be a man. If Cody seems a bit too mature for a lad in his late teens, it adds to the dream-like unreality (dare we say magic realism?) of the story, in which two young men in c1950 Texas cross the border in search of the life they have lost in a changing USA.
Is it a classic? Yes it is. Is it an easy read? On the whole, yes. If you care about books, read it. (less)