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On Bullfighting

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  209 ratings  ·  27 reviews
An Anchor Books Original

One day, on the brink of despair and contemplating her own mortality, novelist A. L. Kennedy is offered an assignment she can’t refuse–an opportunity to travel to Spain and cover a sport that represents the ultimate confrontation with death: bullfighting.

The result is this remarkable book, which takes Kennedy and her readers from the living room of
Paperback, 176 pages
Published March 20th 2001 by Anchor (first published 1999)
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3.60  · 
Rating details
 ·  209 ratings  ·  27 reviews

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MJ Nicholls
A.L. (Alison Louise) Kennedy is a big writer in Scotland, known for her serious-minded novels, her frequent hints at suicide, and her second career in stand-up comedy.

I find her a fascinating figure, and a hilarious stand-up, but haven’t been able to connect with her prose. There is something oblique and defensive about her books that makes them impossible to penetrate, although they're clearly soul-bearing and honest works.

This book is an awkward mash-up of confession and non-fiction. What the
Jan 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
I get why people don't like this book--you either expect a straightforward book about bullfighting thanks to the title and suddenly you're facing the author's depression OR you're scouring the book for clues to Kennedy's illness but have to wade through page after page of bullfighting history. Neither seems good, right? A little too balanced, leading to a noncommittal to either narrative.

And yet the book works for me. Kennedy's death-obsession finds form and, oddly, life in the hazards of the co
Jan 29, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book has saved me several times, in so many different ways.
David Hollywood
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an extraordinarily oblique book as it operates between the authors descriptions of her depressed personal moods and reflections about her own life’s circumstances and difficulties through to a history of bullfighting, and you often wonder where the two concerns match and are related to each other. Consequently, I found it eccentrically wonderful as both a description of a person’s angst about their own world as portrayed within a history of the most terrible entertainment imaginable (Bul ...more
Maurice Mierau
Sep 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Great opening and ending. Struggle with my lack of interest in bullfighting.
Kim Stallwood
Pulled this from my library to read as research for a new assignment I'm working on for the League Against Cruel Sports. Can't say I'm looking forward to it. Thumbed it so far. Useful glossary in the back. Going to be somewhat interesting to read if not enjoyable. Anyway, what's a respected author like A L Kennedy (who I've not read before) writing about bullfighting? Moreover, why is Jeanette Winterson blurbing that it's 'One of the best books of the year'?

Having now finished this book I can sa
Jun 18, 2011 rated it liked it
The best passages in the book are about the history and current state of bullfighting; Kennedy has researched the subject thoroughly and has a gift of observation. She captures both the sanctity and the luridness of bullfighting in equal measure. Contextualizing bullfighting within the religious, political and class upheavals in Spain also provides great insight into the longevity of this ritual. That Kennedy couches her travels to Spain and her research into bullfighting with her personal trava ...more
Mark Colenutt
Aug 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Not quite the tour de force of Hemingway's 'Death in the Afternoon' but it is an update and does give an alternative glance at the subject.

The concluding pages may not be to everyone's satisfaction but this work was in fact the work that brought the writer back from the brink of suicide and for that it is a unique reading experience which is woven into the text.

If you are daunted by reading Ernest's tome on the subject, which may go into excessive detail and often reads like a history of the sub
Apr 07, 2008 rated it liked it
This would have been four stars for the great information and insights on bullfighting, but it lost one star because of the totally unnecessary portion of the book - the author's annoying whining about her physical condition. I bought the book because I was interested in learning more about the corrida, not the aches and pains and travails of a writer. Still, the parts that actually deal with the corrida are well done and help to bring greater understanding of an unfairly-maligned grand Spanish ...more
Dec 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: the literate.
More of a self examination than an exploration of bullfighting, it gives enough about bullfighting to keep it interesting and limits the self examination enough to keep it from getting too dull. Some humor, dark humor, but funny—and some pathos. Short enough, too. Much longer and I'd never have picked it up. It is sympathetic enough to bullfighting that I might grudgingly give the activity some respect, but still think it idiocy. The writing is a little uneven.
Liza Afonso
Sep 16, 2016 rated it liked it
A bit of an unnecessary depression drama from the author's personal life, but luckily ends up bringing the passion from Las Ventas and gives a lot of historical facts about bullfighting I didn't know about. As a truly fan of corridas I recommend it to those who want to know what corridas are all about.
Robin Reynolds / October Woman
Well, it was interesting at times, and slightly boring at times. I read it in bits and pieces, a chapter or two at a time. I realize now I knew nothing about bullfighting. I thought it was just a matador waving a cape at a bull and then sticking it with a sword. It's much much more than that, and I am now even more abhorrent of the whole "sport" than I was before.
May 06, 2009 rated it did not like it
I never thought anyone could write a boring book about the exciting art of bullfighting but A.L. Kennedy managed it what with her constant talk about her depressions and ailments. She only seemed to remember that this was a book about bullfighting towards the last few chapters. She also got the names of some bullfighters wrong.
Mar 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I chose this from a list of books I could read for a Spanish class (oddly, it's in English). At the start, I was somewhat disinterested--it was just another book I had to read. But when I started reading it, it really drew me in. The bullfighting world is fascinating. Violent, yes. But fascinating. It's got so many rituals.
Geoff Cain
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bus
This is a very interesting book. This book is as much about bullfighting as it is about the author. She faces the good, the bad, and the ugly in bullfighting while struggling with illness, failed relationships, and writer's block. While not a handbook on bullfighting, Kennedy weaves the history of bullfighting and its arcane rituals throughout the book.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
A factual and personal account of bullfighting, writers block, and glancing reference to emotional trauma. Not what I expected, but this is the first non fiction book I have read by A L Kennedy. Powerful writing as always.
Mar 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bullfight
I'm only reviewing this pile of old tosh because I don't want other readers to believe it's actually 'on bullfighting'. It's not, and is woefully inconclusive on the subject as well as ill-informed. It's basically a long unfulfilled suicide note from a sad lady.
Jun 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Essays on the spanish bullfight intermingle with physical and emotional turmoil. By the end, one is given a special visitor's pass to the deeper meaning and drama of this very controversial state treasure.
Sep 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
About living, writing, traveling, and bullfighting. Articulate and interesting.
Aug 25, 2009 is currently reading it
Enjoying the low-down on bullfighting, though I'm not digging the author's heavy presence so far.
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

Some of the best non fiction I've read in a long time...
A well written book that was a quick read. I enjoyed it, but it was hard to get real interested in the bullfighting details. Wish the writing aspects of the book had been explored more.
Valerie Kennedy Wieckowski
Interesting, and different.
Mar 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The title alone should compel you to pick up this book.
Mar 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Excellent. If you ever wanted to know more about Bullfighting you need to read this book. Very exacting and the author weaves her own life in between helping us understand the sport.
rated it really liked it
Sep 24, 2011
Colin Penman
rated it it was amazing
May 17, 2014
rated it it was amazing
Aug 09, 2012
rated it it was ok
Mar 13, 2016
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Alison Louise Kennedy is a Scottish writer of novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is known for a characteristically dark tone, a blending of realism and fantasy, and for her serious approach to her work. She occasionally contributes columns and reviews to UK and European newspapers including the fictional diary of her pet parrot named Charlie.
“Toreros must also be accustom themselves to a career which will inevitably involve injury by goring: sometimes serious, if not grotesque, goring. No matter what your personal opinion of the corrida may happen to be, these facts are inescapable: in the corrida, bulls and men meet fear and pain and both may die.” 0 likes
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