This is another solid entry from Stephen King, heavy on character development and somewhat surreal in terms of plot. I have read elsewhere that King wThis is another solid entry from Stephen King, heavy on character development and somewhat surreal in terms of plot. I have read elsewhere that King was not happy with the end product, and while it is definitely not his best work, I still enjoyed it.
The premise of the story (ancient artefact buried in the woods which sends the locals crazy) is equal parts Lovecraftian and Wellsian. It is an interesting premise, and the way King builds up his central cast of characters is the most enjoyable part of the novel. Gardener ('Gard') in particular is a fascinating character study, with plenty of autobiographical detail from the author himself. His struggle with alcoholism, his wit and his relationship with Bobbi are all expertly crafted. Some of the other minor characters are perhaps not as well rounded out, and there are definitely some whose names trip across the page without any real understanding of who they are or why we should care about them. Gard is a sufficiently strong character, however, for this not to distract from the overall story.
The plot starts off strong, and the sense of mystery is carefully crafted for the first two thirds of the book. However, it does start to go off the rails towards the end, and the final act is something of a deus ex machina, almost as if King himself wasn't sure how to end things and decided to just burn it all down to the ground. Which is a shame, because the ultimate purpose, origin and nature of the eponymous Tommyknockers is left in a confusing mess. While it is good to leave some things to the imagination, King does seem to be trying to offer an explanation but it is so messy and ill-thought-through that it fails to offer any real satisfaction.
Previous King outings, like "It" (which is teasingly referenced a couple of times throughout) and "The Shining" are far better examples of King's work, but this book is still an enjoyable read for all its flaws....more
I decided to take on Don Quixote after reading an article in a recent edition of Standpoint, wherein it was described as the first, great novel and thI decided to take on Don Quixote after reading an article in a recent edition of Standpoint, wherein it was described as the first, great novel and the book within which every other book ever written is contained. With such praise, I thought it must be worth a try - in spite of its daunting length - and so my next step was to identify a suitable translation. I am very glad I took the time to research this before commencing, because Edith Grossman's translation is so accessible, readable and contemporary in style that it made my duel with the knight errant so much more enjoyable.
This is a great book, let there be no doubt about that. The two central characters, Don Quixote of La Mancha and his squire, Sancho Panza, are a perfect pairing and the exploits and adventures they get up to are equal parts fascinating and hilarious. And I think this brings me to the point I was least expecting: Don Quixote is an incredibly funny book. This is partly because Don Quixote is himself quite mad and believes he is a knight errant in an age where no such people exist (if they ever did!) but also because Cervantes is bitingly sarcastic about his own hero. There are frequent waspish asides from the author about how crazy Don Quixote is and how simple-minded Sancho must be to follow such a madman. Not only that, but Cervantes constructs many elaborate tales in which both knight and squire come off the worst - and it is a pure delight to read.
The book is actually in two parts, the first having been published some years before the second, but all modern editions package them up together. There is some difference between the first and second parts, as in the first Cervantes indulges in telling tales outside of the main narrative, whereas in the second he puts away this habit. Instead, the second part allows Cervantes to break the fourth wall by having his own book (i.e. part one) feature as an artefact in the world of Don Quixote. This provides a lot of scope for entertainment, particularly as a contemporary author of Cervantes had also written a "false" part two, which Cervantes takes great pleasure to lampoon in his own "true" part two.
If there are any criticisms I would make, it would be about the poetry. Edith Grossman does a fine job at translating it, but somehow it still seems to lose something of its lyrical quality in English which I am sure it must have had in the original Spanish. One other point which does bring the novel down a notch or two, is its handling of female characters. They are, almost without exception, "the most beautiful maiden they had ever seen" each and every time they are introduced. To be sure, there are some female characters that have a voice which doesn't simply revolve around their aching love for some young fellow or other, but they are sadly in the minority.
If you have never thought of reading Don Quixote before, were put off by its length or its age, I implore you to get hold of an Edith Grossman translation and dive in: Don Quixote is a richly rewarding read....more
I was bought this as a present from a friend, on the basis that I had just recently started watching "The Wire". It's not the kind of book I would havI was bought this as a present from a friend, on the basis that I had just recently started watching "The Wire". It's not the kind of book I would have necessarily chosen to read myself, but I am so grateful to my friend for gifting it.
This is a superb read: engaging, eye-opening, thrilling and often harrowing, it reads like a thriller despite narrating events that are entirely true to life. David Simon, the author, spent a year with the Baltimore homicide unit and diligently documented everything he saw. What results is a book that offers an insight into a world most of us will never, ever see. The detectives are all fleshed out in detail with nothing spared, while the crimes they are called out to investigate are described in pinpoint detail. Some crimes are solved ("dunkers" if it's a simple case), others are "stone cold whodunits" when little or no evidence is available. Some cases roll on throughout the course of the book, some get solved along the way. This is not a conventional book with every thread neatly tied up: this is a factual account and as such some crimes simply don't get solved. Still others fail to result in adequate (or sometimes any) prosecution. The flaws of the system are laid bare, the stats that the detectives live and die by, the management of the force and the politics are all here.
This is a rare book and nothing like I've ever read before. Despite being entirely outside of the usual material I read, I don't hesitate to give it five stars because it was just such a thought-provoking, stimulating read. Buy it, read it, you won't be disappointed....more
On the back of watching the BBC's excellent "Dickensian" series, I thought I would give "Great Expectations" a whirl, having seen several adaptationsOn the back of watching the BBC's excellent "Dickensian" series, I thought I would give "Great Expectations" a whirl, having seen several adaptations in the past but never actually having read the original book. And what a treat it was.
This is slightly different from the omniscient, world-surveying Dickens novel in which the author jumps from one set of characters to another; instead, it is told in the first person from the perspective of Pip, the book's protagonist. As such, everything that happens is seen through Pip's eyes. Not only that, but he relates the story in a self-reflective way, giving the reader fleeting glimpses of his current thoughts as he looks back on his life. This teases at the outcome, offering more than a mild suggestion that not everything goes to plan the way Pip might have expected it to at the time.
The cast of characters is rich, as with any Dickens novel; Mr Jaggers and Miss Havisham are natural highlights, but so too is the wonderful Wemmick and his Aged P. A number of other minor characters add a touch of humour, particularly Uncle Pumblechook, Mr Wopsle and the oafish Bentley Drummle. The noblest character, by a long way, is the kind, generous Joe Gargery, who must surely count as the novel's hero if there is to be one. But perhaps the most fascinating character is Estella, whose unusual upbringing results in a deeply flawed woman. It is perhaps unsurprising that Pip is himself beguiled by her; my only complaint would be that she has too few pages devoted to her. This is, of course, understandable given the first person nature of the book.
The plot has many strands, all of which are ultimately woven together in often surprising ways. In spite of my familiarity with the rough plot from TV dramatisations, there is so much more detail and texture here to enjoy.
Though it doesn't quite rival "Our Mutual Friend" for my Dickens top spot, this is nevertheless a wonderful book....more
Charles Moore continues to demonstrate his mastery of both the material and the art of the biography in this second volume. Once again, the pages (allCharles Moore continues to demonstrate his mastery of both the material and the art of the biography in this second volume. Once again, the pages (all 740 of them) flew by without the feeling of any degree of slog or effort which one can sometimes feel with books of such length. Volume II follows closely on the heels of the equally impressive first volume, and dives straight into the political drama of 1983. In many respects this volume is much more of a "politico's" book than the first, as it is entirely comprised of the political events from 1983 to 1987. Having had the 'origin' story in the first volume, Moore is able to devote his work to the detail of what happened during the second - and arguably most radical - Thatcher administration.
Moore is deft at moving from domestic to foreign affairs, covering the drama of the Hong Kong agreement, the coming of Gorbachev and the complex relations with Reagan. With his access to previously unseen materials, Moore is able to shed a lot more light on the Thatcher-Reagan dynamic, to the extent that it becomes clear that Thatcher, far from being subservient to US policy, was often at odds with Reagan. The overall relationship was strong and constructive, but a number of incidents - including Libya and Reagan's Reykjavik moment with Gorbachev - gave rise to considerable chilliness between the two titans.
The book ends after the historic successive third term has been secured, and volume 3 (unpublished at time of writing) will end at the final curtain. Moore teases the reader with hints of what will come, including some important and much-needed reflections on Thatcher's legacy. To keep us keen, he includes a fascinating chapter in this volume about the way Thatcher was portrayed at the time, in political cartoons, the media, television and, indeed, the manner in which she was (ill) received by the intelligentsia of her day. I must admit, it did amuse me to note that almost all of the playwrights, professors, authors and artists that thumbed their nose at her have long since been forgotten for the most part, while the Iron Lady's own legacy continues to live on. So much for the bien-pensant crowd....more
This was my first ever reading of "Guards! Guards!", as I slowly make my way through the entire Pratchett Discworld canon, and what a gem it is. DefinThis was my first ever reading of "Guards! Guards!", as I slowly make my way through the entire Pratchett Discworld canon, and what a gem it is. Definitely one of his best, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. The City Watch are superb, and this book also marks the first time we get a proper characterisation of the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, who is just sublime. By this stage in the Discworld series, Pratchett is a master of plot as much as dialogue and humour: there is a solid story underpinning everything and a good dose of ethics. We also get a proper role for the hitherto one-line-joke Librarian - and it is amazing how much meaning you can squeeze into a single syllable "Oook"! My only complaint (and it really is minor) is that there was no attempt made to link the dragons with those that appeared in the Colour of Magic. A reference to the Wyrmberg would have been nice, for old time's sake....more
Some context: this is a New Adventure novel written by the then series editor. He wrote it in part to understand the process he was putting his own prSome context: this is a New Adventure novel written by the then series editor. He wrote it in part to understand the process he was putting his own prospective novelists through, and to test out his own editorial guidelines. If you treat it in this way, it helps explain - to an extent - the nature of the story and why it is written in the way it is.
I say this because, at the start, I had a nasty feeling it was going to become another 'Transit' awfulness. For almost the entire first quarter of the novel, there is no mention of the Doctor at all. This trait, which is not uncommon in the NA series, is perhaps one of its worst. I get that the authors were trying to demonstrate 'depth' to their stories - and I have no problem with a few pages of non-Doctor action to set the scene - but to have to get through a good chunk of the book before even seeing the Doctor on the page is little short of disingenuous. Not only that, but Darvill-Evans delights in creating more and more story strands, jumping from one to the next on a whim, presumably in an attempt to make the book seem 'compex'. However, as with 'The Highest Science', just spinning up lots of threads does not make a book complex per se, it just makes it confusing. What is more, some of the threads don't go anywhere here - like the guy running the Spinward Space Station who is replaced by Lacuna, or the girl who gets naked on camera for her trooper boyfriend. They add nothing to the story. One could even argue that Abslom Daak doesn't *really* contribute a lot here, because his character turns out to be a clone that gets killed in an utterly anti-climactic way and who didn't even manage to 'save the day' beforehand.
Ace is brought back, which is a good thing, although as with other NA writers, Darvill-Evans chooses to make things between her and the Doctor unnecessarily tense at the end - again, for no clear reason. Just having your characters shout at each other doesn't, of itself, produce an interesting dynamic.
The story felt, at times, like its author couldn't make up his mind whether to make this a historic Who yarn or a futuristic one. He opts to fudge both together, creating a Renaissance-style colony set in Earth's future, run by a hive mind and administered by sinister androids. I nevertheless enjoyed the setup - besides a few irritating details (why, for example, is poor Elaine locked up in the attic with a bag over her head by her otherwise nice-seeming uncle? no explanation is given) and found the 'Humble Counsellors' to be quite an effective enemy. Benny has a good subplot of her own and the Doctor - once he finally has permission granted from Darvill-Evans to show up - is also well characterised. I always judge an NA well if I can hear Sylvester McCoy's voice speaking the dialogue in my head, and that was definitely the case here. I quite liked Darvill-Evans' conceit that the only way the Doctor could flush out a malign influence on his TARDIS was to make himself forget he was doing it.
The Lacuna/Britta plot was almost entirely irrelevant and, to be honest, a bit weird. What was all that stuff in the bath about? Why is Lacuna molesting the poor woman - and why does she choose to stay, at the end, to look after her tormentor? I personally felt the Britta character could have been removed all together and the story wouldn't have suffered as a consequence.
Darvill-Evans has a habit of creating some very interesting visuals but then not really developing them. The sinister asteroid faces (which adorn the front cover) were an excellent idea, but they never went anywhere. The holographic projections were similarly intriguing but failed to develop properly. There was also a huge chunk of exposition that he threw into an appendix at the end; I found that rather dishonest. I suspect he would never have allowed one of his own authors to do that, but felt he could do it because he was the editor. There were some nice details in there (the Butler Institute, for example) but exposition on that scale should really be woven into the plot or else junked.
Overall, the story is a sufficiently decent one to maintain interest, and it was not a struggle to finish. I would call this one of the better-than-average NAs: it falls short of the soaring heights of a Paul Cornell or a Marc Platt, but it is nevertheless much better than some others that went before it.
(An interesting side point: in the author's endnote, Darvill-Evans speaks about his personal opposition to the idea of creating a Missing Adventures series; the fact the series went ahead - and was very popular - makes his endnote an amusing historical detail to read in retrospect.)...more
The ambition of this book is enormous: a full narrative history of ancient Rome, charting its early origins, through to the Republic and then on intoThe ambition of this book is enormous: a full narrative history of ancient Rome, charting its early origins, through to the Republic and then on into the age of the Emperors and the final fall of Rome itself. It is an ambition which is realised to a certain extent, but with a focus that I found - at times - to be somewhat frustrating. Set-piece battles and war take up a large number of pages, while life in the Empire and the technological innovations of the ancient Romans barely get a mention. For a book that seeks to tell the story of Rome, I would have expected at least some details on what life was like. Having visited the Forum in Rome, as well as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, I was eager to get some context to the things I saw.
Perhaps a better way of understanding this book is as a chronology of the major land expansions, retractions and splits in the history of the empire. The author devotes much time to explaining how the Romans won - and lost - particular battles, and does a good job of positioning the most influential Emperors while skipping over those who, while perhaps interesting personalities, like Caligula, nevertheless contributed little by way of real legacy.
Treating this history purely in the sense of a story, the book does a good job of outlining how Rome rose and how it fell. I particularly appreciated the narrative story because it helped to fill in the sizeable gaps I'd had since my history lessons at school. The politics and intrigue, as well as the breathtaking vision of some of Rome's emperors, was fascinating. It is also written in a thoroughly approachable, readable style that made the 400-odd pages fly by. All in all, an excellent "primer" for Roman history - but for more depth and perspective, a reader should consider looking elsewhere....more
Before I start, a word about Peter Hitchens. There is perhaps no journalist alive today that has been more crudely misrepresented than Mr Hitchens. HeBefore I start, a word about Peter Hitchens. There is perhaps no journalist alive today that has been more crudely misrepresented than Mr Hitchens. He is not the right wing bogeyman that so many assume him to be. Far from it: Hitchens is a moralist, a man concerned about the future of humankind and earnest in his convictions that not all that is modern is good. I suspect that many would find they have much more in common with him than they might choose to believe.
Now, to the book. Having enjoyed many of Mr Hitchens' recent columns in the Mail On Sunday (not to be confused with the Daily Mail) I thought it was time I tried one of his books. Sadly the 'Abolition of Britain' is not available in ebook format, so I decided to go with 'Short Breaks in Mordor'; and what a book it is. I had up to now been unaware of the extent of Hitchens' travels around the world. Little did I realise that when he has spoken, in the past, about other countries, he has spoken from a position of first hand experience. He lived in Moscow for several years up to the end of the Cold War; he has since been back years after the fall of the USSR. In addition, he has visited North Korea, Iran, India, Iraq, Israel, Zambia, Venezuela, Cuba, South Africa, China, Belarus, Kazakhstan and many other places besides. This book is a collection of his travelogues from his time in these various, diverse places. I have learnt so much about parts of the world, most (with the exception of China) of which I have never visited - and many of which I doubt I ever will. Through Hitchens' eyes I have walked the ghostly streets of Pyongyang, followed mullahs on their way to holy cities, been attacked by angry, poverty-stricken miners, witnessed the bizarro-world of Belarussian society and encountered people from all walks of life from all over the world.
The way Hitchens writes is so very approachable. His prose is serious and urgent, but rarely ever judgmental. Such opinions as he does express are never couched in terms of what a country ought to do; rather, he takes lessons from the experiences of other countries and ponders their significance for his own. His deep sense of compassion is evident on almost every page. He even admitted in the prologue that the one word he had to edit out (due to its over-use) was 'heartbreaking'; and you can tell that that is exactly how he must have felt witnessing so many of the things that he has done over the past decade.
I am grateful to him for sharing these wide, varied - and often dangerous - experiences. Like truly great travel writing, it takes you to a place you have never been and makes you feel like you have. I hope that more of his works will be transferred to ebook form soon....more