After finishing the novel I was fascinated to read the one and two star reviews of it. I often think...moreA very good book.
[This review contains spoilers!]
After finishing the novel I was fascinated to read the one and two star reviews of it. I often think that five star reviews primarily gush and don't say anything critical. So I always turn to the low-rated reviews when I finish a book.
And in a way I agree with what the low-rated reviews say, though I do rate the book highly.
Some reviewers did not like the change in pace towards the end of the book and wanted to keep the poetic, lyrical style of the first half and focus on the love story that is at its heart. The book does change pace dramatically and the ending is a little "contrived". I understood why the pace changed. It had to: after Corelli escapes, things were going to be very different. I had feared that the ending was going to be worse with an enraged and indoctrinated Mandras returning to foil the escape. There was a nice bit of tension there. But after Corelli goes there are a lot of loose plot ends that need to be tidied up and the lives to be lived. This required a new change in the book; perhaps reflecting the routine and disappointment that a love-lorne life would be like.
What I did not like was the rather silly way in which Corelli actually did return but remained hidden. It just struck me as too simplistic, would he not find out why she held a baby? But then if he had just returned there would have been no jeapordy, no tension. He had to disappear and overcome some further difficulty.
But the book is more than a love story. There is everything in it, the innocent pre-war ways of a Greek village, the bad side of the pre-war ways of the village, the silliness of Mussolini, the terrible descriptions of the Greek-Italian war, the occupation of the island, the life of occupying soldiers, the great chaaracters, and the terrible massacre of the Italian soldiers. I had nightmares after reading the passage about the massacre.
And great writing too. At times a little too involved in patische passages - I skipped most of two chapters, the one about the anti Mussolini pamphlet and the theological discussion by the priest. But besides those two passages, there was great writing, elaborate, engaging and immersing.
And I am still thinking about the last scene from the book. If moves the focus from the reunited and now old couple on a motorbike to three girls on a moped. Two nubile girls facing forward and one nubile girl perched on the back, facing backwards and reading a newspaper. All girls described as young and blossoming, with their futures ahead. And yet the third one is reading a newspaper and facing backwards. A curious note to end the book on.
I mention this last passage as many people in the low-rated reviews said they then threw the book across the room after finishing the book. I suspect that these people want to read a book quickly and not savour images like that of the girls on the moped.
I managed to read all of this book, even though I had to put it down several times.
It is not a happy story and is quite tragic, in an annoying way.
At...moreI managed to read all of this book, even though I had to put it down several times.
It is not a happy story and is quite tragic, in an annoying way.
At times I felt so annoyed by the self-destructing nature of George Harvey Bone I put the book down. I felt repelled by the low-lives he tried to be friends with.
The passages where we get to hear the inner voice and thoughts of George were the most irritating and at times a little over long and tiresome. In the rest of the book the narrative of events flowed well and was easy to read and compelling. There were a couple of passages where the point of view switched from George to Netta, Johnnie, and then some young man - all a bit odd, structurally - and then we were back inside the point of view of George.
I was a little worried about George blaming Netta for everything. He was the weak thing, the idiot giving her and her cronies leverage to abuse him. Yes she was venal, lazy, beautiful, sluttish (untidy) and selfish - but his fall was in his hands.
Or was it? Were his "clicks" and dumb moods the signs of mental illness that were beyond control. Or were they from too much alcohol and not enough healthy living.
I am not sure.
I would mark this book as having 3.5 stars. I managed to complete it; mostly because I wanted to know how it turned out and the writing was good enough. (less)
I have this habit of picking up and reading any book that has the word "random" "chance" or "luck" in the title. I even searched a library catalogue f...more I have this habit of picking up and reading any book that has the word "random" "chance" or "luck" in the title. I even searched a library catalogue for chance once and discovered Paul Auster's works.
This book was on the new book shelf at the local library so I borrowed it. And I have read it in 3 days. Which is quite surprising as I nearly gave up on it when there were too many cricketing anecdotes at the start.
Anyway I am glad that I perservered - though I did skip a couple more cricketing bits. It is a book in praise of luck and against the "you can win if you work hard enough" philosophy. In the book the author looks at the role of luck and talent in tennis, football and inevitably, cricket. He interviews Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA and Taleb, author of Fooled by Randomness and the Black Swan. He looks at the rise of the meritocratic society; modernity is replacing fate with choice (and hard work).
A very easy to read, but not very scientific book. So if you like your maths and your conclusions academically hedged with caution and the endless requirement for more study this book will annoy you. But if you want a readable introduction to the subject then this book is for you.
I will leave with one counter-factual introduced towards the end of the book: a tribe studied by anthropologists that had no word or concept of luck. Everything in their society was due to agency. bad things happened to you - it was witchcraft by some rival. Good things happened to you; it was you. Without the admission that some things are beyond our control the world becomes very envious and aggressive. (less)
I came to this book after watching the recent film, in 2D thankfully.
The book and the film are very similar. Only a few things missed from the book to...moreI came to this book after watching the recent film, in 2D thankfully.
The book and the film are very similar. Only a few things missed from the book to make the plot slimmer and the inevitable cinematic need for "depiction" and "exciting depiction" over a novels careful narrative. But that is the price you have to pay to move from print to film.
And the book.
Well, I enjoyed his writing: very sparse writing, but with lots of nuance packed into his sentences, his ability to carry ordinary action in one or two sentences with emotion too was fantastic and worth studying. Some writers use too many words, getting in the way of moving the action; and not enough mood.
"In a moment Meyer Wolfshiem stood solemnly in the doorway, holding out both hands. He drew me into his office, remarking in a reverent voice that it was a sad time for all of us, and offered me a cigar."
His dialogue was very sparse too. It seemed real world.
As for the story. A curious thing. Nick Carraway the narrator is a reliable narrator.
"Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known."
And thus his reportage can be trusted. And the damned thing is, he don't like nuffin'. He don't like the small town mid-west - he thinks he doesn't fit in; he don't like the big city; the swaggering rich breaking things and avoiding commitment. And then he has this strange fascination for Gatsby, a completely self-made man. And about the only thing that Nick likes - or maybe is in awe of - is:
"Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors' eyes--a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby's house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."
Just look at the wonderful use of the word "inessential houses" - no need to moralise about the wasteful, idle rich - just call their big palaces "inessential". Great stuff.
And then we come to Gatsby. A self-made man. A man touched by the God of self-improvement in the Samuel Smiles way - work hard, improve and get on - and Gatsby adds, remodel yourself. And yet he is a crook and a bit of a fraud - though he lets people make up stories for him - so his fraud is to feed other people's imaginings. (I met someone like that once.) And in some ways his desire to remodel the last five years of Daisy's life is most bizarre. He really thinks he can just change the experience and memory of time passed as if it did not happen.
Is this the big theme of the book. Time and memory passing. Not the decadence of the 20s.
"He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night."
This is Gatsby's delusion. Everything else, the illusion he sets up of a "good old sport" and an "oxford man" works for him. Except his delusion that he can turn back time.
"the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us"...
PS - I read this book as an A4 print out from a Word document. I downloaded it from Gutenburg. Hence my ability to copy and paste quotes.
Somehow I just kept reading and was surprised that each time I sat down I had read 30 or 40 pages without noticing. I found the subject abso...moreExcellent.
Somehow I just kept reading and was surprised that each time I sat down I had read 30 or 40 pages without noticing. I found the subject absorbing and the writing enabled me to concentrate. The style of the book is narrative and description with some analysis, but no attempt to discuss theories or academic concepts, so very much in the bracket of popular well-researched history.
And there is a lot of detail, and a lot of characters. This is inevitable given the breadth of the topic - the last decade or so of Henry VII's reign.
The writer had amassed a lot of facts to write this book and was good at relaying them without overwhelming me. His writing style was invisible. It never troubled me, I rarely had to re-read passages; a good style disappears.
Oh and the subject - Henry VII - not a nice King, and very interesting as he was at this difficult moment in historiography, moving from a Medieval to a Early Modern State.
Great writing; clear, crisp and selective. Concentrating on the importance of the mundane in our lives.
I found the stories dissatisfying. At the end o...moreGreat writing; clear, crisp and selective. Concentrating on the importance of the mundane in our lives.
I found the stories dissatisfying. At the end of each story I would pause and wonder what it meant. And then after a little thought I decided there was nothing more to them, other than little mundane incidents left hanging. There was nothing more. And if that is what was meant, then he succeeded brilliantly.
A very interesting read that at times it infuriated me, lost me, confused me, and yet has left me with some wonderfully disturbing images of war, an a...moreA very interesting read that at times it infuriated me, lost me, confused me, and yet has left me with some wonderfully disturbing images of war, an appreciation for how a painter works and several memorable descriptions of unseen photographs and paintings.
I am interested in the subject of war and military history. So this is why I picked the book at random from the library shelves. I was fascinated to read about the scenes of man's reaction to war, and man's cruelty in war. All the more so because the author had been a war correspondent, so that added the promise of authenticity. Some of the scenes are appalling and you do wonder what impact seeing these things would have on your well-being.
I can still see the photos he described, and appreciate how his situational awareness enabled him to take great photos. These moments of the book were great. His was able to describe an unseen photo so that I could see it in my mind; this was great writing.
And this brings me to why it confused, irritated and lost me. Some of his passages were just opaque. Poor writing. Long, winding sentences that meandered around. Complex ideas that seemed to require complicated writing. Look at me, I am a real writer because I am using long sentences. Arrgggh! Perhaps in Spanish they worked better, or perhaps the English translator was not upto the job of rendering those complex structures. But the result was moments of sheer irritation, and the need to re-read passages.
I was not overly convinced by his dead girlfriend, Olvido. She seemed to be so ethereal, and unfathomable that she was hard to believe in. Though I have known some Latino women who were a bit like that. Maybe I move in different circles from exalted, educated European patricians? Maybe these people really exist there.
I managed to complete the book, mostly because I am interested in the subject, because there is enough of a plot to tantalise me, and because it was only 200 pages.
I enjoyed this book. Which is slightly odd as it was not the book I thought it was going to be.
I thought it was going to be more like Paddy Griffith's...moreI enjoyed this book. Which is slightly odd as it was not the book I thought it was going to be.
I thought it was going to be more like Paddy Griffith's book "Battle Tactics of the Western Front" - a book to which the author refers in his Acknowledgements. The author does touch on tactics and training and details of patrolling and offensives that the battalion took part in. But not to the detail I was wanting and perhaps expecting.
But it is a damn fine book.
I read it with easy, appreciation and with much attention. What it is, is a detailed history of one battalion's experience of the First World War.
I have not read a book like this before. I have read memoirs of one man's war, I have read drum and trumpet regimental histories, and I have read military history narratives of a particular battle or campaign, but none were like this.
I got a feeling for the rhythm of service, the days they spent out of the line, the days spent in the line; the toing and froing of trench warfare. The steady drip, drip of attrition, even in quiet times the author records a solider who died of wounds back in a hospital in Blighty; he records the number of deaths from a few weeks or days in ordinary trench duty; the costs of several of the big assaults they took part in. He gives as much detail as he can on each casualty, always giving their rank and name, and when is able details about their personal life from letters, obituaries etc., how many chilrden they left, their professions etc. etc.
I have done a little research with original documents from the first world war and his handling of the archives is masterly. How he managed to find all this detail is totally stunning.
A great read; an unique perspective on how one unit and its men experienced war.
A good book. Well written, entertaining and puzzling. A challenging read.
Some people have commented unfavourably about the focus on birds, particularl...moreA good book. Well written, entertaining and puzzling. A challenging read.
Some people have commented unfavourably about the focus on birds, particularly the upbringing of Canaries. I was enthralled by these passages, just proves it takes all sorts. His writing is good enough to carry these passages and they do relate to the book's themes of escape (via flying) and identity.
My criticism is that I found the change between the two main characters narration for each chapter a little irritating as I had to adjust to a new narrator's voice. But this was minor.
The second to last chapter detailing Al's experiences as a WW2 US infantry man was a great piece of writing, that will, hopefully, upset you! Terrifying, horrifying, but a great account.