[3.5 really, but I'm in a generous mood, so I'm rounding up today]
It was David Lodge who observed that 'literature is mostly about having sex and not[3.5 really, but I'm in a generous mood, so I'm rounding up today]
It was David Lodge who observed that 'literature is mostly about having sex and not much about having children and real life is the other way around'. If Lodge is to believed, HG Wells' life had more than it's fair share of both.
Being only dimly familiar with Wells' work (I read 'The Time Machine' when I was about 12, and like many others, was introduced to The War of The Worlds via Jeff Wayne's musical, which my Dad had on a C90 for long car journeys) I was perhaps less bothered than some other readers might be by the extent to which the book focused on his rather complicated personal life, at the expense of his literary career.
The book begins by introducing us to an elderly and seemingly spiritedly curmudgeonly Wells, seeing out the blitz of the Second World War in his central London terrace, having a bigger '13' painted on the wall next to his front door, in keeping with a lifetime's contempt for superstition. We are soon introduced to the book's interlocutor (it is suggested that this is Wells' own conscience, looking back with some doubt and uncertainty on his life, though I couldn't help but wonder if this was really the voice of Lodge himself. From there the book takes us back, in flashback, to Wells' unremarkable childhood in 1870s London and tells the story of how Wells went from lower-middle class nobody to toast of the literary world by the turn of the century. And around a quarter of the way through the book, with the sexual spark gone from Wells' second marriage, the book begins to focus increasingly on Wells' ever more complicated personal life. First there is the ill-advised affair with Rosamund Bland, the teenage daughter of Edith Nesbit (of Railway Children fame), which causes a minor scandal and leaves him somewhat at odds with other members of the Fabians, a non-revolutionary socialist group with whom he and his wife were active in at the time after . Which appears to be a warm-up for a later affair with another daughter of a prominent Fabian, Amber Reeves, the consequences of which are altogether more long-lasting as Reeves becomes pregnant by Wells – in the book at least – as a deliberate ploy by the pair of them in the face of familial opposition to their relationship (there's more than a hint of the Australian soap opera, except as far as I can tell, it's not an invention. I went off to wikipedia to look her up and it turns out their daughter only died in 2010...) Later comes the relationships with literary critic and prominent suffragette, Rebecca West, and with German heiress Elizabeth Von Arnim. A fling with Margaret Sanger merits only a passing mention, and Lodge decided to omit any mention of Martha Gellhorn, perhaps for fear of libel suits, or perhaps because he didn't believe the source material (an appendix to Wells' autobiography published 40 years after his death, detailing his sexual life)
Inevitably, with a book based on a close reading of historical sources, I couldn't help wondering exactly where biographical fact and later authorial invention merged. One assumes that some of the sexual details must be speculative, but on the other hand, it appears that Wells and Rebecca West's habit of calling each other 'panther' and 'jaguar' (and, faintly absurdly, their calling their son, Anthony panther West) is no invention.) But if there was one thing that nagged at me throughout, it was the question of what Wells' wife, Jane (as he re-named her, her given name being Amy Catherine) made of it all. In the fictional 'conversations' with the un-named interlocutor, Wells insists that Jane was unconcerned by her husband's affairs, and she is never more than a background character in the novel. But I couldn't help wondering how accurate this portrayal was. And whether Lodge's lack of much material about her untimely death, some twenty years before Wells, affected him at all. It's all strangely fascinating. Like reading a one hundred year old gossip column, safe in the knowledge that the real lives that might have been affected are now long over and no harm can come of the revelations contained within. ...more
The second book I've read recently with a golfing theme. Only, in contrast with the last one, where I skipped all the bits about golf, I found th[2.5]
The second book I've read recently with a golfing theme. Only, in contrast with the last one, where I skipped all the bits about golf, I found the washed up egomaniac professional golfer, Stuart Ransom, about the most interesting and believable character in this book. There's always going to be something funny and sad about a man who develops the self-importance that must come so easily to anyone who reaches the top of professional sport, and who then fails to adjust to how the world now sees them when they stop winning.
The book is intermittently funny, but it's far, far too long and I wasn't convinced that the vast array of implausible characters that gather around him really need to be there. Gene, the some-time caddy who has had terminal cancer seven times; Valentine, the agoraphobic tattoo artist obsessed with the memory of her neo-Nazi father; Karim the Muslim sex-therapist with the deeply pious wife; Esther, Ransom's long-suffering (and heavily pregnant) Jamaican coach/manager. I know it's intended to be a comic, rather than a realist, novel, but there were too many longeurs between the comic scenes, and the book disappeared down an awful lot of dead-ends and side-roads over its 550 pages.
On the plus side, even by the end of the 550 pages, I don't think a single game of golf had been played......more
A very readable account of what Holland describes as the end of the 'Classical' world: the collapse of the Persian Empire and the relative marginalisaA very readable account of what Holland describes as the end of the 'Classical' world: the collapse of the Persian Empire and the relative marginalisation of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Woven into this is the story of the emergence of Islam as the religion of the Arab conquerors of Persia and much of the old Roman Empire. I'm aware that Holland's version of events has not been universally accepted by scholars of the period, but unless he has been systematically ignoring large chunks of available evidence, the broad outline of the story he tells sounds plausible enough to me, although of course, I'm just a layman who reads bits of popular history from time to time, so my opinion probably doesn't count for much.
Of course, one reason it hsa attracted so much attention is that he questions directly the idea that Muhammed ever had anything to do with the city of Mecca and, somewhat less directly, he hints that the Qu'ran might not have had much to do with him either. Or at least that the historical evidence that it did is far from conclusive. There's an interesting diversion onto the subject of the emergence of something approximating Judaism as we know it - something which he suggests was in large part the result of the Christian Romans' desire to create an older religion (as distinct from loose cluster of religious traditions) from which Christianity emerged. Again, I don't know nearly enough about the subject to say whether his argument hold up, but I had my eyes opened. I had no idea, for instance, that Rabbis post-date to time of Jesus, or that the Torah was codified as late as it was (being brought up in an ambient background of Christianity, I had, without ever really thinking about it, assumed that Judaism as we know it had been established for hundreds of years by 30AD.)
If I have a complaint, it's that the book perhaps to try to tell too big a story in too short a space - historical figures appear and disappear with minimal introduction and I wonder if someone already more familiar with the history of the period might have got more out of the book. Wish I'd read it before I'd visited Istanbul earlier in the year though, as it is at its best on the establishment and travails of the Eastern Roman Empire. ...more
Taken on its own terms, Solo, or at least the first two thirds of Solo, is really rather good. Yes, of course, the whole notion of a jack-of-all-[3.5]
Taken on its own terms, Solo, or at least the first two thirds of Solo, is really rather good. Yes, of course, the whole notion of a jack-of-all-trades secret agent with a 'licence to kill' is faintly ridiculous, but then Bond is not and never was meant to be about realistically portraying the world of an intelligence service operative. If you want that, read John Le Carre.
Boyd knows how to write a spy thriller. This is a much simpler and less layered book than Restless or Ordinary Thunderstorms, and it moves along much more quickly. The whole sequence from landing at an airport in the fictional war-torn African country of Zanzarim to being evacuated after having been double-crossed and near-fatally wounded at another airport at the other end of the country, takes place over just a hundred pages or so. Bond is given a touch more depth than in the films (I've not actually read any of Fleming's books) but only so much as to suggest that he is a little scarred by a life spent in constant proximity to death and destruction, and that this might be an explanation for his heavy drinking (more obvious than in the films, I thought we were in Rebus territory...) and his reluctance to become too close to anyone. No curveballs, in fact pretty much how you would expect Bond to be portrayed if the author is to give voice to his internal thoughts. But it was well done, and if you don't want to write or read a Bond novel, you probably shouldn't be writing/reading a Bond novel.
I found the description of the nasty little African civil war that Bond becomes embroiled in, with its cast of psychopathic mercenaries, quite convincing, although having never been to Africa, let alone to a war zone, I don't know what that counts for. Its only when the action moves to Washington in the second part of the book that I thought it began to lose momentum, and for the action to feel a bit cartoonish, whisper it, a bit Pierce Brosnan-era Bond movie-ish. The ending, where Bond appears to have doubts of a sort about the motives of the MI5 operatives who sent him on the mission, felt a little bit didactic, and while I don't doubt the truth of what Boyd (because I can't help thinking it is Boyd giving voice to his own concerns) has to say about Western involvement in resource-rich 3rd world countries, I somehow can't imagine James Bond caring much. It took me back to reading books like The 39 Steps when I was a kid, and if run of the mill thrillers were usually as well put together as this, I might read more of them....more
It seems that Rankin just couldn't quite leave Inspector Rebus behind. Although he had retired at the end of 'Exit Music' and Rankin has filled the tiIt seems that Rankin just couldn't quite leave Inspector Rebus behind. Although he had retired at the end of 'Exit Music' and Rankin has filled the time trying to establish a new character in Inspector Fox - a man who is teetotal where Rebus is alcoholic, a stickler for the rules where Rebus bends them as close to breaking point as he can, and a family man where Rebus completes the 'fictional detective checklist' by being estranged from his ex-wife and daughter, these books (for me at least) just didn't hold the same appeal.
This was a diverting enough read, but it is primarily about how a now pensioned off Rebus, filling in his days by working for the Cold Cases Unit at Lothian and Borders (itself about to be pensioned off, its work handed over to the Crown Office), interacts with the younger officers who have replaced him when one of his cold cases appears to be linked with an all-too recent murder. Long-term fans of the series will find his semi-truce with old nemesis, aged gangland boss Ger Cafferty an interesting subplot.
If you're not a reader of the Rebus books, though, this is really not the place to start. I couldn't help wondering if the actual crime in this crime novel - the disappearance of several women over a period of ten years, all of whom vanished somewhere on the A9, was something of an afterthought, a mere backdrop to the playing out of the psychodrama between Rebus, his former deputy, DI Clarke, the Complaints boss, DI Fox (who gets a bit-part, investigating allegations that Rebus is rather too close to some of those he's meant to be helping to put away) and the top brass at Northern Constabulary, whose patch the investigation lands him in. I liked little touches - the observation that the road south from Durness is about as close as you'll get in the UK to the feeling of having landed on a barren lunar landscape, the description of being stuck out in the mud and rain by the side of the A9 while a 'cadaver dog' goes about its work - but the resolution of the main 'mystery' of who, if anyone, murdered the six disappeared women feels like an after-thought....more
A bit of a change of direction for Christopher Brookmyre. It appears he must have tired of being Scotland's Carl Hiaasen as his last couple of books hA bit of a change of direction for Christopher Brookmyre. It appears he must have tired of being Scotland's Carl Hiaasen as his last couple of books have been much more 'straight' crime novels which suggest he's instead casting about to become Glasgow's Ian Rankin. This book, on the other hand, is a first attempt to turn his hand to science fiction. Sort of...
It's about a man who unaccountably finds himself trapped inside a computer game or – as becomes apparent as the story goes on, a vast interconnected world of computer games. I do wonder if the book might have more appeal to someone more immersed in the world of computer games than I am. Sure, I spent much of the time I should have been revising for my A-levels blasting the otherworldly demons of post-apocalyptic first person shooter Doom to bits on my 486, but in the last twenty years, aside from an intermittent addiction to the absurdly difficult 60s racing simulator, Grand Prix Legends, which may have helped me win a few stage weekend karting competitions, though I'm not sure that's adequate payoff for the time wasted, that's been about it. I got a few of the gamer in-jokes, but I expect that there were many more hidden away for those more familiar with Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Quake, et al.
Its been badged as a science fiction book, but to be honest – and this might just reflect that my interest in science fiction tends towards the hard-sf, it struck me as more of a comic thriller. A reluctant hero loose in a world he doesn't understand – his mission to try to escape so that he can be reunited with his pregnant girlfriend. After a while, I have to admit, the long series of action sequences set inside the various games they travel through began to drag a bit, and his efforts to inject his own political humour into the book were mixed: on the one hand I quite liked "Ross couldn't have felt like more of a dick if he had been gene-spliced with George Osborne and dressed in a six-foot foam rubber penis costume” but the five or six page scene in which the narrator finds himself trapped in a vastly more complex version of the 'Daily Mail Headline Generator' felt forced, predictable and not nearly as funny as it should have been.
That said, I kept reading because one thing Brookmyre handled cleverly was the slow reveal of the true nature of the 'world' that the narrator is trapped in and how he came to be there. Some of the implications of that world were, I thought, summarily nodded towards and then passed by (view spoiler)[ If the world is actually populated with 'scans' of people taken at different points in time so that they may encounter friends and acquaintances at a very different point in their life from the time at which their own 'scan' was taken, there are all kinds of interesting implications for relations between characters, but they weren't really explored in any depth here. We simply got a passing reference to someone who went searching for her husband, only to discover that he regarded her as his ex-wife, and that was it - aside perhaps from the late reveal that Iris, who had been helping/hindering the narrator, Ross, was in fact his daughter) (hide spoiler)] Not as good as it could have been, but his Jack Parlabane novels had started to get a bit tired and repetitious to my mind, so I'm happy to see him try something different.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm a little embarrassed that, in spite of having studied Macbeth at school (and taught by Mrs McLynn, who was one of the two or three best teachers II'm a little embarrassed that, in spite of having studied Macbeth at school (and taught by Mrs McLynn, who was one of the two or three best teachers I ever had) I entirely failed to recognise the book's title as a line from that play...
Anyway, it feels like nothing to much as a rather over-written Stephen King novel or -full disclosure – my impression of what a Stephen King novel would be like, based on watching Stand by Me, The Stand and various other adaptations, as I've never actually read a Stephen King story.
The idea that there's something alluringly sinister about travelling circuses, fairs and carnivals, was, I expect, hardly an original one, even in 1962 when the book was written. Weren't the fairground workers always a source of trouble in Enid Blython's Secret Seven books? The first half of the book reminded me a little of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. The scene early on in the book in which the two boys go out wandering in the middle of the night and find the carnival arriving in town under cover of darkness, getting a first hint that there is something sinister about its ring-leader, Mr Dark, was well written and genuinely unsettling. For all that horror just doesn't have the impact for me that it did when I was ten years old, sat reading an Isaac Asimov-curated anthology in the back of the car on one of those interminable drives from Dounreay back to Derbyshire, the first half of the book did succeed in making me nostalgic for the days when I thought the monsters under the bed could be real.
Unfortunately, the second half of the book is something of a let-down. Once the protagonists encounter properly the carnival-villain that is Mr Dark, and it becomes clear that he does have supernatural, or at least unexplained powers, the books begins to feel like a monster-of-the-week episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And without the witty dialogue that was Joss Whedon's hallmark (though I do wonder if Charles Halliday was a kind of early prototype for Giles the Watcher). The mystery was all gone, and the written style became rather off-putting. For example “In front of the United Cigar Store on the before-noon Sunday with the bells of all churches ringing across here, colliding with each other there, showering sound from the sky now that the rain was spent, in front of the cigar store the Cherokee wooden Indian stood, his carved plumes pearled with water, oblivious to Catholic or Baptist bells, oblivious to the steadily approaching sun bright cymbals, the thumping pagan heart of the carnival band.” For page after page. Never using one word when five will do. Never a sentence when there's a paragraph to be had. For the first 50 pages or so, I rather enjoyed it, but over the whole novel, it was a trial. ...more
To be honest, this book was more interesting to me for its historical value than for anything contained in the story. Absolute Beginners' narrator felTo be honest, this book was more interesting to me for its historical value than for anything contained in the story. Absolute Beginners' narrator felt like something of a dull archetype – the arrogant late-teenager convinced he knows more than those around him, and unaware of his own failings.
Perhaps it was more of a novelty in 1958, when it was written. Which brings me to what I thought was most intriguing about the novel. To me at least, it read for all the world like the anachronistic work of someone writing in much more recent times about how they would have imagined the late 1950s to be. The passing references to running like Dr Roger Bannister or driving away from a riot like Fangio could so easily have been clumsy attempts to remind the reader that the story is taking place in a particular historical setting. But more than that, the anti-racist politics of the latter part of the novel, set against the background of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, read to me like a modern liberal's wish fulfilment of what a white liberal kid in the late 50s might have made of it (though such an author would probably have refrained from having his narrator use the term 'Spade' to describe the black characters. MacInnes was, in this respect at least ahead of his time. Perhaps the more remarkable for the fact that he was already about the same age as the narrator's father and maybe this goes some way to explain another of the book's oddities – the narrator's idiolect and use of slang terms I've never really encountered anywhere else. Not being old enough to judge myself, I might be doing MacInnes a disservice, but I couldn't help thinking of Anthony Burgess' made up youth argot from A Clockwork Orange. An moderately interesting diversion, which I'd picked up after hearing Andy Miller praising it on Little Atoms, but nothing more. ...more
A book in which the central character lives their life over and over again? For me at least, the obvious point of reference is Ken Grimwood's cult fanA book in which the central character lives their life over and over again? For me at least, the obvious point of reference is Ken Grimwood's cult fantasy novel, Replay.
Atkinson is not, I think, trying to do quite the same thing here, and I'm left wondering whether some of the differences reflect the different historical periods in which the two books are set. Atkinson's narrator, Ursula Todd is born each time on 11 February 2010 and lives (or not) through two World Wars, where Grimwood's central character lives out his life over and over through the American post-war boom. That in itself goes some way to explain the most significant structural difference between the two books. Where Grimwood's narrator comes back each time at the age of 18, remembering perfectly well the previous live(s) he had led, Ursula begins each life from the beginning - her birth, at home on a snowy February evening, is retold many times over the length of the book. And it probably has to be this way around for Atkinson's book to work. After all, someone born in 1910 and knowing full well exactly what was to come in terms of the two World Wars would surely be duty-bound to dedicate themselves exclusively to the task of preventing at least the second one (by contrast, one might argue that in the years between 1961 and 1988, the one thing that anyone coming back really ought to be careful of is attempting to use their knowledge of the future to influence global politics, for fear of inadvertently turning the cold war hot. And indeed, in Replay, the occasions on which the author attempts to alter the course of history do not end well.) Replay is more obviously trying to address, in a pulp fictiony way, the fantasy question of 'if you could live your life again, knowing what you know now, what would you do?'
And so Ursula has only the dimmest ghost memories of her previous lives. To my mind, the historical events are in large part simply a backdrop for what is really a book about family relationships, and about how much is dependent on context. Other reviewers have been critical of the relatively light touch characterisation of many of the main characters – noting that Ursula and her mother sometimes seem almost interchangeable. Perhaps I'm being too generous, but I thought that was part of the point. That character is shaped by what happens to people, such that in the life in which Ursula lives into late middle age, she seems to inherit some of the judgmental preoccupation with class and being seen to be 'upstanding' that she is a victim of in another life in which she ends up pregnant at sixteen after being raped by her brother's college friend. And the closeness or otherwise of her relationship with her Aunt Izzie seems to depend very much on what life she is leading: she is supportive when Ursula is running away from the cartoon domestic abuser, Derek, but Ursula rather disapproves of her flightiness in another life in which Izzie heads off to the US to see out the war, while Ursula mucks in as an air-raid warden. There were little details I rather liked – the murderer on the loose near Ursula's family home in the 1920s whose identity is never revealed, and who sometimes, but sometimes does not, succeed in bumping off Ursula's friend Nancy.
The Goodreads star-rating system can feel a bit simplistic sometimes and this is a book which brought this out for me. On the one hand, I can see what is *wrong* with it. That Atkinson doesn't seem quite clear in her own mind whether the re-lived lives are simply a literary device for exploring how differently a single person's life can pan out, from the same starting point, depending on what, in my professional life, one might call “the facts and circumstances of the case”, or whether there is a more conventionally science-fiction like story in which there is some 'leakage' from one life to the next, where Ursula's actions in one life have repercussions in future lives. I couldn't help thinking that the chapters in which she attempts to assassinate Hitler and, to a lesser extent, the rather odd section of the book in which she finds herself a confidante of Eva Braun, were a bit of a misstep.
On the other hand, I can't ignore the fact that the book kept me gripped to a degree that little I've read recently has managed to do. It's been a while since I've been sat reading a book at 2am, knowing I had to be up in a few hours for work, but unable to put the damned thing down. And that's got to count for something...
Bonus points by the way, for repeated use of the neglected term 'growlery', a much better word than 'den'...more
I've always been dimly aware that the Pennine Way existed - and that it is a very, very long walk. Living a few miles from Edale, I'd been taken up JaI've always been dimly aware that the Pennine Way existed - and that it is a very, very long walk. Living a few miles from Edale, I'd been taken up Jacob's Ladder into the mist and fog of Kinder Scout on numerous occasions as a child, and my Dad sometimes talked in the pub afterwards about us doing the whole thing some day. We never got around to it.
Similarly, I'm sort of vaguely familiar with Simon Armitage - wasn't he the northern tame poet on Mark & Lard's Graveyard Shift on Radio 1, back in the days when that station wasn't the soundtrack to what is for me an entirely alien culture? I have a hazy memory of having read 'The Life and Times of a Rock Star Fantasist', but scanning my bookshelves, I don't see it, and I'm wondering if I'm confusing it with Stuart Maconie's Cider with Roadies.
Anyway...this book... As with Bill Bryson's 'A Walk In the Woods', its chief limitation is that there is really only so much to say about walking for day after day along a very long trail, and after a time, it does get a bit repetitive. Over 300 pages, walked across some moorland/farmland, then stopped for the evening in a small settlement for a poetry reading. Wash, rinse and repeat. And the friend, 'Slug' who accompanies him some of the way may be a little clueless, but he's hardly the equivalent of Bryson's wheezing recovering alcoholic friend Katz.
It would have been good if the book had featured a little more of the poetry that Armitage was reading to sometimes surprisingly packed houses along the way. Maybe he's decided it's best kept for his poetry collections. On the other hand, it made a perfectly pleasant way of wiling away a few evenings in a hostel in Braemar at the end of a day's walking. I enjoyed the book's humour, even if most of the best lines seemed to be in the first 100 or so pages I did like Armitage's running tally of the 'classification of walkers he'd met':
The Last Hurrah - 24 The Exuberance of Youth - 9 The Call of the Wild - 17 She's Left Me/I'll Show Him - 16 Bear Grylls/Ray Mears Boxed Set - 0 Julia Bradbury - 4 Midlife Crisis - 11 Finding Myself - 2 Away With the Fairies - 1 Unclassifiable - 26
Which of these I would have been taken for stumbling down Derry Cairngorm and thinking 'What is someone with multiple sclerosis who prefers to hold on to the bannister when descending the stairs at work doing at 3500 feet and 8 miles from the nearest road' I don't know... ...more
So, in the event that I wake up one morning and find I've had an involuntary sex change, would this book live up to it's title? Serve as a beginn[3.5]
So, in the event that I wake up one morning and find I've had an involuntary sex change, would this book live up to it's title? Serve as a beginner's guide? Perhaps... It's been heralded as a kind of pop-culture feminist text for the twitterati, and I accept I'm not really best placed to judge whether it lives up to that billing, but what it really is, is a wittily written memoir about growing up in the mid to late 1980s as something of an outsider, one of eight children on a council estate in Wolverhampton. A memoir written by a feminist rather than a book about feminism.
Actually, for all that it is a memoir, I ended up feeling slightly cheated by what she left out. There's no explanation of how she went from being a home-schooled kid with, by her own account “no friends” at 15, to being a staff writer on the Melody Maker a year later, and a television presenter at the age of 18. I can't help wondering if the version of her upbringing that she presents in the book leaves something out. Actually, I checked on Wikipedia, and it, well, sort of does. She never mentions the Dillons Young Writer's prize she picked up at 12. Or, oddly, the fact that she had her first novel published at 16. One suspects that, for all that you could read this book and come away thinking her parents had fallen out of the set of Shameless, they may have been rather more encouraging of her writing than she lets on. And was the unreliable boyfriend, Courtney, of Chapter 8 the man who later went on to find a certain level of fame with the Dandy Warhols? Or are there more male Courtneys out there than I realise? (on this, wikipedia is silent, so perhaps not...)
She writes well, although I couldn't help being distracted by the rather strange sensation that Moran's narrative voice seemed a surreal composite of two ex-girlfriends with just a hint of Charlton Brooker. What's not to love about a book which says of the word twat: “An unpleasant melange of cowpat, stupidity and punching. No.” I got through the book in a couple of days, and when there's a whole chapter devoted to fashion – a subject which, even by the standards of my gender, I really, really have no interest in, that's not bad going. The chapter on weddings echoes all my prejudices – and reminds me of a friend's rant, after yet another hen party “Right. I'm going to marry myself. There will be a party on a far away island. I expect everyone to come. There will be a wedding list...”
I'm not sure it had anything to say that I hadn't heard before – although I thought her demolition of the pernicious concept of an afterlife was more than the equal of anything Hitchens or Dawkins has said. And all done in just under a page too - "The biggest waste of our time we ever invented, outside of jigsaws." And for all that I don't care for her music, and am just not all that interested in whether she is some kind of cultural icon, I thought she made a good case for Lady Gaga, even if I did wonder if there was an element of recycling a magazine interview as a chapter of the book....more