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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever and often funny post modern novel
If terms like "post modern novel" sends shivers down your spine, then AL Kennedy's "The Blue Book" won't be for you. It's intriguing, at times challenging and often frustrating, but at times brilliant and often very funny - as befits a writer whose other activities include stand-up comedy. The story takes place on a stormy transatlantic sea voyage, and while the obvious...
Published on October 30, 2011 by Ripple

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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful And Dreadful
The Blue Book is difficult to review without giving the story away -- it only makes sense when the reader reaches the last few pages. Then everything falls into place: why Elizabeth is with the wrong man; why she has stream of consciousness anxiety attacks; why she has written "The Blue Book" for her former lover who she now wants to reunite with.

The writing...
Published on February 19, 2013 by J. A. Bell


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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clever and often funny post modern novel, October 30, 2011
This review is from: The Blue Book (Hardcover)
If terms like "post modern novel" sends shivers down your spine, then AL Kennedy's "The Blue Book" won't be for you. It's intriguing, at times challenging and often frustrating, but at times brilliant and often very funny - as befits a writer whose other activities include stand-up comedy. The story takes place on a stormy transatlantic sea voyage, and while the obvious metaphor of the storm on the protagonists lives is clear, the metaphor also holds true for the reading experience - at times it feels like the author is on the crest of a wave and you are swept along with her skillful writing, while at others it's easy to get lost and feel, well, all at sea. Her writing style is, well, choppy. There were passages where I felt that this was one of the best things I've read in a long time, and others where it felt perhaps a little too clever for its own good and maybe even a tad pretentious. Ultimately the final twist hits you in an unexpected way though.

Beth Barber is taking a trip to New York with her boyfriend, Derek, who we believe plans to propose to her on the trip, but the encounter with an apparent stranger called Arthur, and the onset of a bout of seasickness rather destroy Derek's plans. Beth was formerly involved, romantically and professionally, in a con trick double act as fake mediums - of which poor Derek is completely unaware. It's here that Kennedy starts to really play with the reader's mind. She presents arguments that seem to morally justify Beth and her partner's efforts to provide reassurance to the living from the land of the dead. Can it ever be morally justified? Almost certainly not, but there are passages where Kennedy will have you wondering.

The con trick was carried out using a system of hidden codes and these feature throughout the book. One of the author's acknowledgments it to Derren Brown and we are never sure what is the truth or if we are being impacted by subliminal codes throughout the book. There's a duel page numbering thing going on and randomly pages will be numbered completely out of sequence. If there is a message here, then it was somewhat lost on me I have to confess. It is, however, a book that I suspect would benefit from a second read at some point.

For me the best passages are Beth's internal dialogue which are often hilariously funny and very well observed - very much in the manner of observational stand-up. Quite how truthful anything in this book is though is distinctly open to question. We know there are lies and deceptions throughout and that can be unsettling. It's far from clear, until very late on, what the book is or even whose story this is. Certainly here is much to dislike about both Beth and Arthur, though poor Derek is undoubtedly the victim of both their stories.

There is also some fairly strong language throughout, particularly the F-word and a fair dose of the C-word - which will probably put some people off. Just a warning that if that sounds like you, then probably best to avoid.

It's a book that is hard to be ambiguous about. It will either leave you with an adrenalin rush of surviving a storm or will leave you feeling somewhat seasick. Like the physical book itself, which is at least in the hardback version beautifully designed and presented with blue edged pages, the colour blue is either cool or will leave you cold. It's not an easy book to get a grip of, and the constant misdirections and symbols can get wearing. In general, I'm coming down on the side of this being really very good indeed - it made me think and ask questions, but it is also a little frustrating particularly in the back-story elements. However, I absolutely loved the present day elements on board the ship and the interaction of Beth and her fellow passengers.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful And Dreadful, February 19, 2013
This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
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The Blue Book is difficult to review without giving the story away -- it only makes sense when the reader reaches the last few pages. Then everything falls into place: why Elizabeth is with the wrong man; why she has stream of consciousness anxiety attacks; why she has written "The Blue Book" for her former lover who she now wants to reunite with.

The writing itself is outstanding. But the subject matter, while interesting, is often difficult to fully comprehend. Near the end, the dreadful occurrence is revealed and this reader felt sad, felt empathy and finally understood the reasons for Elizabeth's anxiety.

The description on the book jacket belies what a serious novel this is, with only a hint of the true nature in the last sentence: "It's a heartbreaking novel in which the stakes are fact and ficton, life and death."

Readers who are looking for a reading challenge, who relish unconventional writing, don't mind cryptic meanings and who also don't mind waiting 'til the very end for it all to make sense, will like this story.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I hate coming down hard on a book, April 18, 2013
By 
Neal Reynolds (Indianapolis, Indiana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
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The writer here had to have had a purpose in writing this. She is a daring writer with use of stream-of=conciousness writing, and use of the 2nd tense. And I even hope she tries again. But thsi time around, there's nothing I find to recommend. The characters are thoroughly unsympathetic. The plot is negligible, and, well, the writing style is confused to say the least.

Darn it, I hate writing stuff like this for a book, and anyone who honestly liked it is welcome to his or her opinion. In fact, I recommend reading the positive reviews because there are indeed those who liked this.

However, there's no way I can recommend this book. It's just too far off the track.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A hard voyage, April 25, 2013
This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
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`The Blue Book', according to the description on the back of the book is the story of a transatlantic trip taken by Elizabeth with her future fiancé, but also on that ship is a former lover, with whom she used to con people.

It is almost impossible to relate this clear description with the words and storyline (such as it is) that unfold within the covers. The voice of the narrative switches frequently and is disconcerting. The reader is addressed directly as you and then the narrative switches to her thoughts or descriptions of what is happening or what she wants to happen, or what happened in the past. It all runs together. Reading becomes an ordeal instead of a pleasure. We are left trying to figure out Elizabeth's stream of consciousness and the scattered thoughts that fill the pages.

The author doesn't seem to care whether the reader understands what is occurring or if they develop any empathy and perception of the characters that inhabit the storyline. Insight and empathy is unobtainable other than the relief one feels as you finally reach the end of the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I thought I had had a stroke, January 10, 2014
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This book was so confusing that I really thought maybe I had had a stroke and the words were just nonsense. It was a bit frightening. Giving it one star is a gift. It should be no stars or minus 5 stars. I'm 72 and have read maybe two to three books every month since I could read and this is absolutely the worst. I wish I could get my money back. What is it about? Who knows. I started the book three times and must admit I still haven't finished it -- a first for me. I can't imagine how it was ever published. Whatever kind of drugs the editor had, I want some. Do not waste your money as I did!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stormy Weather, May 13, 2013
This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
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It's hard to synopsize this book without revealing too much. And it's hard to understand this book until enough is revealed... which doesn't actually happen until the end. If you can hang in until the finale, you will hopefully be struck with a divine moment of epiphany. If you don't, you will be frustrated, like many of the reviewers here.

Elizabeth and her soon-to-be fiance Derek embark on a luxury ocean cruise where they "accidentally" meet up with Arthur, who Beth pretends not to know but who, in fact, was her ex-lover and ex-partner in crime when they did an act bringing back the dead for those left behind. (If you think that's complicated... we haven't even scratched the surface.) Derek, almost instantly, succumbs to violent sea-sickness which makes him surly and less likable by the moment, which makes Beth less likable, as well. As the ship continues to pitch violently with the waves, day after day (as does Derek) we learn more of Arthur's and Elizabeth's past, their methods, their side-stories, their shared secrets, their childhoods, and a whole lot of other thoughts the two of them have.

If you are enjoying the book, stay with it and the end will not disappoint. But at times you will feel like you, too, are weathering a very difficult storm.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not easy, but worth the effort. Brilliant !, November 2, 2013
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This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
Also submitted to UK and DE sites. I found this book is so good that I want to boost it's star rating. I think that the one and two star ratings are undeserved.

As many reviews have written (UK and USA) - not easy to get into. Slow start, and sometimes confusing. Getting the voices straight, figuring who's talking and about whom and when is challenging. At least for the first 50 or so pages.
Then it starts to fall into place. It's making sense. You know Beth, you know Arthur. And you don't really care about Derek.
Now you're hooked. What happened to Beth and Arthur, why aren't they together, what's going to happen to them????
There is something in their past. What ? Will they come together again ? It's written as a puzzle, and isn't life a puzzle ?
I almost gave up, but obviously persevered. It's written so well, the prose is beautiful, the plot is intriquing and the main
characters are believable and likeable. I needed to find out what happened in the past and what the future would hold.
The reward was in the conclusion. One star deducted because I was pushing it to continue past the firs few dozen pages.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who controls whom? Or what?, February 1, 2013
By 
Thomas F. Dillingham (Columbia, Missouri USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
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This fascinating and skilfully written novel is likely to create major frustration in many readers, but a bit of thought should reconcile them, if not fully satisfy their curiosity.

The skill is most apparent in A.L. Kennedy's constant shifting among what may be three different narrative "voices"--an interior monologue identified as "Beth," who might or might not be the central character; a "voice" more or less telling Arthur (who may be Arthur Lockwood or --- ) what he has done in the past or may be doing at present or in the future; and third, the "voice" of the Blue Book, itself, offering background, forgotten but now uncovered details, secrets, maybe lies. In other words, the shifting perspectives and unsettling plot twists keep the reader wondering and reading avidly. All this is certainly enhanced by Kennedy's effective use of both vernacular and lyrical prose. While Kennedy keeps the temporal setting somewhat vague (at times, we are in the 70s, the 80s, then we realize we are "in" the 2000s, at least, with one direct reference to life before the Web and Twitter, but later suggestions that we are nearer to contemporary Western experience), and the locations (except aboard the storm-tossed ship) can seem both precisely evoked and somehow hallucinatory.

This pervasive uncertainty promotes acceptance of the successful "profession" Arthur (and for a time, Beth) pursues, that of a mind-reader or "mentalist" who actually does transcend the bag of tricks used to fool the "punters," and actually believes that in many cases he does know the inner lives of the people he "reads," and maybe helps them (with profitable results for himself) to settle their inner conflicts and continue their lives with some pleasure and stability. That he has limited pleasure and no stability, himself, is part of the price he pays, and part of the question for Beth about her role in (or refusal of a role in) his life.

The characters, Beth, Derek, Arthur, Francis, Bunny, are convincingly developed, but always open to revision. Early in the novel, in describing Arthur, we learn in what may be Beth's voice: "Because appearances matter. Everyone judges the cover before the book." Not only is the old saw about the book and its cover a recurrent idea in the novel, but it represents one of the main dilemmas for the reader--how much of what we "know" about these characters is surface, invented for the occasion or for the sake of professional deception ("The man's job is to be the perfect liar because that's what his audience needs.")

The tension between the "inner self" and the public persona is a constant concern, especially for Beth: "You need to give others your middle ground. Which is prudent. Human beings are not intended to be comprehensive in their expression of themselves. If they were, they would be terrifying. They would always mean too much." What do we know at this point? What has been held back?

I purposely am not offering details about the action or plot of the novel. The reader needs to be open to the surprises and twists of the story. It takes place (mostly) on board an ocean liner sailing through a storm from England to New York. The characters variously "know" but mostly do not know each other. The Blue Book knows them all--deeply. But there are always uncertainties.

A reader's tolerance (or taste) for these ambiguities will probably affect her or his judgment of the novel. I found it compelling and at times emotionally moving, though occasionally exasperating, which is where the 4 instead of a 5 comes from. I don't mind being exasperated by a novel, but in this case, some of that seemed unnecessary, even almost careless. In any case, it is a novel worth reading and enjoying, and I plan to read more of Ms. Kennedy's work.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "They want the dead bound hand and foot to them, chained in love.", March 14, 2013
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This longing for the safety and certainty of the regard of the dead would seem to be an attribute that Beth and Arthur do not share with their audiences. They had worked as a team, reading people in their subtle postures and movements. Arthur would mix with the crowd to overhear what he could and transmit the information using a a number code. They were cynical, but marginally so. They took refuge in the relief and shelter from loss that their work provided. And to keep themselves above earthly observation, kept their own lust and love only to closed rooms alone.

This pairing appears to be past for them at the start of the book. Beth is on a cruise with Derek. Arthur has booked the same cruise by happenstance. They give themselves to each other and deny each other. Through the book, their story is revealed in small glimpses. We are shown the secret ways of the deceiver, the stories the deceiver uses to soothe himself, and the past and the secrets that have brought them to this place. They know these things about each other, most of these things. But "nobody ought to see everything we are, because they couldnt stand it."

To me the meandering and indirect nature of this book reflects that drive to find the safety of the other person. Although the central pair has taken the grief of others to their advantage, in many ways they have a deep regard for their subjects. And they have learned that people are more similar than we might expect. I loved the writing and the tenderness that the author had toward the bereaved. The author has an unwavering eye for the lands of grief. "A day when the world jumps up and tears out everything, but lets you live, makes you live, leaves you here to stay." I found the wavering on the subject of the underlying persona of Beth and Arthur to be intriguing. And I became engrossed in the revelations of the characters such that the twists in the plot caught me unaware. I know some people do not like the style of this book, but I found it to be compelling. Sometimes the riskier book can be the most rewarding.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Long Voyage for This Reader, February 14, 2013
This review is from: The Blue Book: A Novel (Hardcover)
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Much of the action of "The Blue Book" is set aboard an ocean liner crossing from Europe to New York City. It is a stormy January, and many of the passengers are seasick and are struggling to get through to the end of the voyage. This is how I felt much of the time as I plowed my way through the rough seas of Kennedy's idiosyncratic voice and style. I would have given this book 3 stars instead of 4 stars had the author not "pulled the fat out of the fire" with a surprise ending that broke my heart and pulled together and tied down in very quick fashion some of the loose literary cargo that had rolled around the storm-tossed deck for much of the book.

Her themes deal obliquely with the nature of love, reality, fear, loss, dysfunction, sanity, betrayal. Beth,the protagonist, is torn between two men she loves - Derek and Arthur. Derek is conventional; Arthur is anything but - he is a flim flam artist who preys on vulnerable women and pretends to contact their dead loved ones.

The novel is full of very self-conscious literary devices. Kennedy talks about the book that the reader is holding - almost as if the book itself is a character in the drama she is creating. ("Your book is an honest thing.") Near the end of the tale, she presents Art with a book that she has written for him that reveals a secret she has been hiding for a long while. The revelation of the secret may or may not end their relationship.

I found myself being annoyed with the preciousness of Kennedy's style - often repeating words ad nauseum. ("Over time you slightly, slightly, slightly began to resent . . . ) Reading this book felt like a combination of some of the slowest of Proust's passages or some of the most neurotic of Woody Allen's scenes in a film like Interiors. For much of the voyage through the novel, in fact, it felt like I were confined to an "inside cabin" without a panoramic view of the tossing sea to offer relieve from the disequilibrium and boredom. Some have praised the author's iconoclastic style. If must be an acquired taste which I have not yet acquired. IF felt like I had to work too hard for too little reward.
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The Blue Book
The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy (Hardcover - September 1, 2011)
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