If you think "IT" is a story about an evil clown, you're very mistaken. Whilst the Tim Curry made-for-TV adaptation was a fairly decent romp, it has nIf you think "IT" is a story about an evil clown, you're very mistaken. Whilst the Tim Curry made-for-TV adaptation was a fairly decent romp, it has nothing on the book.
"IT" is a story about friendship. It moves back and forth between 1958 and 1985, exploring how a group of 'loser' friends came together and, through the power of their unity, defeated (or so they thought) an ancient evil that had infested their native town of Derry, Maine. As with many King novels, the characterisations are rich and detailed. He moves, omnisciently, from character to character, exploring their inner thoughts and motivations. Scattered throughout are collected tales from Derry's troubled past, recounted by librarian Mike Hanlon in his journal - something I particularly enjoyed, as it gave the story greater depth and resonance.
Not everything about King's work is flawless. Some of the events jar a little, such as when (view spoiler)[ Bill Denborough and Beverley Marsh end up in bed together in 1985, spoiling the effect of Bill's reunion with his wife Audra in the Epilogue. I can understand why the TV adaptation took the editorial decision to shift the romance to (bachelor) Ben Hanscom instead (hide spoiler)]. The rather careless way in which (view spoiler)[Eddie Kaspbrak dies at the end and is just left in the sewers (hide spoiler)] felt wrong and ran totally against the spirit of friendship the novel had done so well to portray up to that point. As for the bizarre way in which the kids figure out how to exit the sewer in 1958, I can only assume Mr King was drunk when he wrote the passage and the editor was asleep at the wheel. It had the potential to wreck the entire story, its only saving grace being that up to that point it had been so strong that I still wanted to keep reading (and forget that sorry mess of a scene). It was unsurprisingly omitted from the TV version!
The ending of "IT" is perhaps its greatest triumph: there is a sense that it could have gone either way, and that only by their combined efforts as a close-knit group of friends was the monster finally defeated. All in all, a very strong Stephen King novel and one deserving of its pop culture status. Just don't think you know all there is to know about Pennywise the dancing clown if you haven't read the book. "IT" is much, much more than that.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I found this book fascinating. A lot of it I disagreed with, particularly the gushing praise of Gordon, Ed Balls and other Labour figures, but that doI found this book fascinating. A lot of it I disagreed with, particularly the gushing praise of Gordon, Ed Balls and other Labour figures, but that doesn't take anything away from McBride's frank, honest account of how he saw things whilst in government. His book is part memoir, part confession and I think the fact that he feels remorse for some of the things he did as Gordon's chief spin-doctor helps make him a more likable character, in spite of the dark arts he clearly practiced.
What this book also offers is a shocking insight into the way the media are managed and manipulated by the likes of McBride (and, I have no doubt, those who have come after him - both Labour and Tory). The sheer laziness of journalists ringing up McBride and asking him to write their own copy for them or expecting him to write up an interview when it didn't go the way they wanted it to is appalling. Not only that, but the way senior Labour figures around Gordon would literally keep policies in their 'back pocket' to use as counter-stories whenever something embarrassing might be about to break is hard to stomach. It demonstrates a terrible lack of respect for democracy and good governance, treating legislation as little more than PR.
McBride is unsparing in his criticism of certain figures (Alistair Darling and David Miliband both come off very badly indeed) but he continues to adore Brown and everything Brown ever did. This book is not an exposé of Brown or his clumsy, car-crash Premiership precisely because McBride fundamentally believes in Gordon and sticks up for him at every opportunity - even when, by McBride's own admission, Brown made mistakes. I suppose that kind of loyalty is a redeeming quality in a man who was in many ways a corrosive influence on politics - but it was loyalty misplaced, in my opinion.
It was good to read how McBride had reformed his ways post-2009, and I was actually quite sad to read about how his personal life suffered as a consequence of what he did. He takes it on the chin and calls it penance for his sins, but in spite of myself I can't help feeling a little sorry for him and the way he was effectively dumped by people who - up to his forced resignation - he had considered friends.
Whatever your politics, I strongly recommend reading this book. Credit where it's due to McBride for laying himself bare in the way he has....more
This is a good book by Ian McEwan, but I will say one thing about it from the start: (view spoiler)[if you've already read "Atonement", you're not goiThis is a good book by Ian McEwan, but I will say one thing about it from the start: (view spoiler)[if you've already read "Atonement", you're not going to find the twist in this novel particularly satisfying. I predicted how it was going to end the moment the final chapter began, and was extremely disappointed that McEwan had recycled an idea from another of his own books. It's one thing to borrow a character or a turn of phrase - but to import the ending, pretty much wholesale, seems quite dishonest. (hide spoiler)]
That said, the book itself is an enjoyable read. The central character, Serena Frome, is sufficiently interesting to sustain passages where one might otherwise drift off. The setting (MI5 in the 1970s) is intriguing, and the author has clearly done his homework. As with "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy", there is something almost drab and bathetic about the day-to-day lives of those who work for Five. Despite being involved in matters of secrecy, the characters who wander in and out of the story are actually wholly unremarkable. That is not to say the story itself is such, but the idea that working for the secret service is all fast cars, gadgets and Walter PPKs is quite wide of the mark.
As with other McEwan tales, the scenes involving sex and romance oscillate between sensual and downright awkward. He manages to capture the awkwardness rather better than the exhilaration, and he doesn't seem to have much sympathy with his male characters. Indeed, the entire novel is told from Serena's first-person perspective, complete with her often acerbic judgements.
One aspect I highly enjoyed was the way in which McEwan narrates stories that his character is reading. Whole short stories are condensed to their essence, but you come away having felt like you read the entire thing - despite it only occupying a page or two in the novel. It's very cleverly done.
Overall, I would say it's a good book, but if you've read (view spoiler)["Atonement" (hide spoiler)] then I might suggest you look elsewhere.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There's something special about a new Terry Pratchett book. For years, I have received his latest novel at Christmas, and a Christmas without a PratchThere's something special about a new Terry Pratchett book. For years, I have received his latest novel at Christmas, and a Christmas without a Pratchett is like a stocking with nothing but a lump of coal at the bottom. He is, and remains, my favourite living author and I adore his writing.
"Dodger" is an interesting book, because despite not being a Discworld novel, it has all the humour, quirkiness and characterisations that are warmly familiar from the world borne aloft by Great A'Tuin. Indeed, the fact that Ankh-Morpork has always been a knowing, jokey reference to London makes it all the more pleasurable to read a Pratchett book set firmly in the Big Smoke itself.
The novel is essentially about a tosher called Dodger, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with "Charlie" Dickens. Pratchett makes no bones about the fact that he is very openly cribbing from Dickens himself - and he throws into the mix an assortment of other knowing winks. There's Sweeney Todd, Henry Mayhew, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel, even the names of Dickens' novels (Bleak House, Great Expectations, Our Mutual Friend) cropping up in conversation. It's a wonderful, riotous mix of fantasy and history, set in a Victorian London that feels (and smells) horribly authentic. Ever present as well is Pratchett's own social conscience, which permeates every character (though none more so than Dodger himself, who even finds it in his heart to excuse Sweeney Todd's enthusiasm with a razor).
My only criticism would be that, in places, historical figures pop up without really being used all that well. I didn't think Disraeli, for example, was particularly well fleshed out and could have just been A. N. Other parliamentarian. A number of characters are dreamt up, given some backstory but then dispensed with somewhat carelessly (especially The Outlander and Sharp Bob, in my opinion).
All in all, however, it's a solid story with some great dialogue and lashings of Pratchett wit....more
This has to rank as one of the worst books I have ever read. What makes me despise it more than other works of banality I have had the misfortune to rThis has to rank as one of the worst books I have ever read. What makes me despise it more than other works of banality I have had the misfortune to read is that it bears the Doctor Who name and thus by association feeds into a greater narrative that Doctor Who novels are bad - which is simply not the case. There have been some truly excellent Doctor Who novels in the New Adventures series thus far, particularly Paul Cornell's "Timewyrm: Revelation" and Marc Platt's "Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible", but this book manages to tar those worthy efforts with the same hideous brush.
Where to begin? First off, the writing itself is really, really terrible. Want a lesson in how not to write creatively? Consult this book (at your peril). It is one lazy cliche after another, heaped upon a pile of hackneyed stereotypes that become ever more painful to read as each page drags by. How this manuscript ever made its way into print, given the plethora of other splendid material that must have graced Virgin's desk at the time, I cannot fathom. Some cite this book as an example of Virgin's courage in commissioning unpublished authors; I see it as something which could have driven a stake through the heart of such courage all by itself. Hunt is no writer, let us be clear on that point: he cannot write for toffee.
Of course, that by itself would have made the book unreadable - but Hunt evidently didn't want to stop there in the unreadability stakes, oh no. He decided to shoe-horn what is essentially a poor man's fantasy yarn into the Doctor Who universe, plonk it clumsily in Wales with a host of yokels, a couple of "Americans" (I have never met anyone in the US who sounds or behaves like this pair) and a thoroughly unbelievable inspector from - gasp - Scotland Yard. Quite simply, this is not a Doctor Who story. Not only that, but Hunt has completely ignored the character development of both Ace and the Doctor from the previous novels. Given that this is supposed to be the culmination of the Cat's Cradle series (albeit that the cat motif didn't really bind the books together in the way the Timewyrm did) you would have thought that Hunt might have noticed that in the preceding book Ace masterminded a kidnap operation with the help of some Chechen mercenaries. Yet here she is, at her ankle-spraining best, bumbling into a 'magical' stone circle and calling people "dum-dums" and "ratface".
As for the Doctor, he barely does anything in the story, and for the rest of this sprawling morass we are treated to dreadful dialogue between unicorns, centaurs and medieval lords who sound like they've spent far too much time reading the King James Bible. Except, of course, Hunt is not content to call them unicorns or centaurs but instead insists on giving them silly names like "Ceffyl" and "Firbolg". Yes, yes, I know these are ancient Celtic references, but it is so hamfistedly done that it adds nothing to the story and just makes the description and dialogue sound clunky. When you have to read an entire paragraph punctuated with one daft name after another, it grates harder than a block of Parmesan. "Well do we know your land dispute with the Dragada of the far Neffrindypoop, Lord Agawotsit. You must learn the kvaar of your yindywaddle before we may entreaty with the Flubblewumps."
And where does it all lead? In the end, the entire story serves no purpose beyond the Doctor getting a creature called Hernia (or something) to fuse with Old Davy the Welshman (?!), thereby fixing the TARDIS. Somewhere along the line the cat is involved in this bizarre process. Oh, and some characters from Dungeons & Dragons get to stay alive because an alien with a passing resemblance to a Cyberman decides to refuel their sun.
I only persevered with this book out of some strange compulsion on my part to read every Doctor Who New Adventure in the Virgin series. If only I could reclaim the time it took me to slog through this monstrous blancmange of a book....more
This was the first Ian McEwan novel I ever read, and it remains one of the best. I read it long before the film of the same name, and needless to sayThis was the first Ian McEwan novel I ever read, and it remains one of the best. I read it long before the film of the same name, and needless to say it is head and shoulders above that.
A McEwan novel works on any number of levels, but when he is at his best, he can entertain, educate and discomfit, all on a single page. Enduring Love is the perfect example, making it a compelling read and an enduring (sorry) story long after the final page.
Enduring Love combines some of the best techniques of literary style with great story telling, as witnessed by the opening chapter. As I have noted in other reviews (e.g. "Atonement"), McEwan likes to use a pivotal event to shape the rest of his novel, and this is certainly the case here.
It takes a gifted writer to elicit genuine sympathy for the hero of a book, but it takes considerably more skill to do so for the supposed villain as well. McEwan manages both in equal measure, which is why the ending does not simply satisfy - it also provokes the reader, leaving them feeling slightly restless and unsure of their own feelings towards what has taken place and the people involved....more
It's very hard to write a review for "Soul Mountain", mostly because the book itself is very hard to read. It's the sort of book where, upon completioIt's very hard to write a review for "Soul Mountain", mostly because the book itself is very hard to read. It's the sort of book where, upon completion, one feels a great sense of achievement. Not only that, but the final chapter of the book is one of the most insightful, thought provoking piece of writing I have ever read.
Don't be put off by Gao's style or his frequent switching between third, first and even second person; just enjoy the ride and follow it wherever he takes you. The reward is worth it, even if the journey itself can feel difficult at times....more
An enjoyable, accessible guide to Chinese customs and culture written from the perspective of one who has experienced them first hand. This is not soAn enjoyable, accessible guide to Chinese customs and culture written from the perspective of one who has experienced them first hand. This is not so much a story as a collection of anecdotes, each of which illustrates an important aspect of Chinese philosophy and attitudes to life.
My only criticism would be the rather hostile attitude the author displays towards Confucianism (or "Ru Jia" to use the Chinese name). Clearly the author's personal experiences have jaundiced her view of Confucius, which is a pity as everything else she relates is viewed in a positive light....more
This is probably the first Pratchett novel I've come across that I didn't completely enjoy. It's not that it's a bad book, and there are plenty of gooThis is probably the first Pratchett novel I've come across that I didn't completely enjoy. It's not that it's a bad book, and there are plenty of good jokes and amusing subplots, but the story itself felt quite samey; a sort of cross between The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites. There's a dangerous MacGuffin that threatens to destroy the Disc (for which read the Octavo / Archchancellor's Hat / Coin's staff) and the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions are once again trying to break through via the advanced magic of a youthful wizard (Simon / Coin). Not only that, but the underlying current is a war between two different strands of magic (Wizardry vs. Witchcraft / Wizardry vs. Sourcery). In the end the central character (Esk / Rincewind) saves the day by finding a way to defeat the central threat with love / compassion. Throw in a barbarian (Cohen / Conina) with a twist (is old / is female), a comical sidekick out of touch with reality (Twoflower / Creosote) and the Luggage, and you've pretty much got all the elements of Sourcery. There's nothing wrong with this as a plot, but it does feel an awful lot like plot recycling.
I also didn't feel as if the character of Rincewind was developed much beyond his earlier outings. Whereas the likes of Vimes, Weatherwax, Moist and Death evolve across the novels in which they feature, Rincewind remains a very amusing, but nevertheless two-dimensional reluctant-hero trope. I still love him, but he doesn't really "go" anywhere in this story. He still can't do magic, he's still a coward and he still wants to run away from every situation. That was funny and substantial enough for the first two Discworld novels but it doesn't have enough depth to sustain a third without developing the character a bit more.
I still give this three stars because it shines, as every Discworld novel does, with Pratchett's world class wit. There are plenty of original jokes and wry observations here to keep you entertained, and so Sourcery is still worth a read. It's just that it's not up to the same high standard I have come to judge all other Discworld novels by....more
Some excellent material here for aspiring writers. The single greatest lesson it teaches is the importance of characters and how much they drive the pSome excellent material here for aspiring writers. The single greatest lesson it teaches is the importance of characters and how much they drive the plot of any successful story. All too often, writers (even published writers) treat their characters as secondary to the story, forgetting that it is generally the characters themselves that most readers will seek to identify with, love with or despise. It is the connection between a reader and a character that matters most, and Nancy Kress emphasises this central point throughout.
There are some other gems here, including the lessons on creating believable people in unbelievable settings, as well as how to create particular kinds of character (e.g. humorous types, villains, sidekicks and so on). Overall, an indispensable item in the aspiring writer's toolbox....more
This is an astonishing book. For such a slender volume, it contains a degree of richness that is extremely rare, even in the greatest of literature clThis is an astonishing book. For such a slender volume, it contains a degree of richness that is extremely rare, even in the greatest of literature classics. Calvino explores a multitude of philosophical themes, and Weaver's translation is beautiful to read. Each "city" is a miniature meditation, something that can be savoured, page by page. The interludes with Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, meanwhile, are reminiscent of Platonic dialogues.
I have never read anything like this book before, and doubt I will again. Spellbinding....more
An intriguing story with special guest appearances by... the Krotons! Those fearsome crystal-headed robots from the Troughton era. A solid plot with sAn intriguing story with special guest appearances by... the Krotons! Those fearsome crystal-headed robots from the Troughton era. A solid plot with some great concepts....more
I had always been an admirer of Disraeli ever since learning about him in history lessons at school. After recently reading 'The Lion and the Unicorn'I had always been an admirer of Disraeli ever since learning about him in history lessons at school. After recently reading 'The Lion and the Unicorn', I thought it was about time I tried one of Disraeli's own novels - and what a pleasant read it has been.
Disraeli ought to be up there with Dickens in terms of his ability to construct beautiful, witty prose with entertaining characters and a strong narrative that tells both a story and conveys a set of ideas and principles. The ostensible tale of a young man of aristocratic pedigree making his way in the world is set against the backdrop of the recently passed 1832 Reform Act and its effects on the politics of the day. Disraeli is merciless in his mockery of the Conservatives, the very party he went on to lead and serve as Prime Minister, as well as certain elements of both the upper and middle classes. His character Rigby is the archetypal unprincipled politician, seeking only his own advancement - often at the expense of others, including the eponymous hero of the novel. Then there is Sidonia, a character one cannot help but think of as an idealised version of Disraeli himself. Lord Monmouth, grandfather to Coningsby, and Mr. Millbank pit the old established aristocratic order against the newly rich manufacturing class - and Disraeli takes care not to cast either as inferior or superior to the other, both being flawed in their own way.
What sets Disraeli apart from other novelists of his time is his ability to imbue even the most cerebral points with a degree of wit and good humour. He is never overly serious, lending the impression that perhaps he never truly took himself too seriously either - and this all adds to the enjoyment of the novel.
I will certainly be reading 'Sybil' and 'Tancred' (the other two novels that form the 'New Generation' trilogy) in due course....more
It is hard to choose a "favourite" from amongst Nietzsche's works because they are all amazing, both as literature and as philosophy. However, the "TwIt is hard to choose a "favourite" from amongst Nietzsche's works because they are all amazing, both as literature and as philosophy. However, the "Twilight of the Idols" and "The Anti-Christ" essays are so scintillating that they stand out as some of Nietzsche's finest work. Though he does not put forward any specific theories or doctrines (indeed, Nietzsche would consider the very notion of his putting forward a theory as preposterous) he consolidates much of what he has written thus far and does so with such panache, such delicious wit that it is irresistible. No philosopher can challenge you as much as Nietzsche, nor can any writer make you laugh as much. His genius froths over in abundance here, making his ultimate descent into madness all the sadder.
If you've never read Nietzsche before, this is a great place to start. And if you have, this will cement your love for both his ideas and his writing in equal measure....more
"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao."
To try and capture what the Tao Te Ching is in a review is not only impossible; it is also entirely"The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao."
To try and capture what the Tao Te Ching is in a review is not only impossible; it is also entirely against what the Tao is about. All I can say is that I have never read anything so beautiful that contained so few words yet carried so much meaning.
One of Plato's earlier dialogues, and one which ends in a state of aporia rather than any kind of definitive answer. Socrates tackles the problem of wOne of Plato's earlier dialogues, and one which ends in a state of aporia rather than any kind of definitive answer. Socrates tackles the problem of what virtue is, and in so doing reveals the idea that human beings contain knowledge that they themselves do not know. This seemingly paradoxical concept is demonstrated by a geometric piece of deduction that Socrates elicits from a slave boy. Socrates posits that our souls exist in the realm of the Forms prior to entering into our earthly bodies, and that as such our souls contain the knowledge of the Forms. For us to gain this "latent" knowledge, we have to pursue it through rigorous questioning.
The dialogue also puts forward the Socratic argument that nobody ever willingly chooses the bad (where "the bad" is something that is bad for us). The arguments rests on the assumption that if we truly know the consequences of a particular action we will only perform it if the consequences will be good for us.
Overall, this is a short dialogue and an intriguing one at that, but does not rank amongst Plato's best....more