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"johnewark" RSS Feed (Hull, East Yorkshire, England)

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The Gospel According to the Son: A Novel
The Gospel According to the Son: A Novel
by Norman Mailer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.46
133 used & new from $0.01

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So much from so little, June 2, 2002
When a friend leant me The Gospel According to the Son, he sent it with these words of warning: `When I first read this it seemed too simple, too straightforward. Mailer's cheating by just putting words into a character's mouth. Read it twice to realise just what it is about.' The upshot of this advice was that I am now in possession of a novel that is every reviewer's nightmare and every writer's dream - how can you make so much out of so little? In some respects this is the ultimate compliment for Norman Mailer, a man for whom the words `egotistical' and `arrogant' have almost become pseudonyms, because whilst the biblical research is meticulous his philosophy is profound. Instead of writing The Gospel According to Norman Mailer, this is a truly humanist piece of literature, which is probably why the more religious audiences took exception to it. The contrast between the human and the divine is marked but not to the point where the writer becomes didactic or intent on exposing his character's flaws for an effect. There is a constant feeling of control throughout the text rather than having to try and anticipate a sudden outburst of authorial emotion. The audience can remain comfortable in the knowledge that what they are reading is a deeply human portrayal devoid of pandering to history since the research is evident but doesn't influence character construction.
The `plot' itself is a straightforward progression from a young carpenter plying his trade to a deeply introspective preacher who is fully aware of his mortality and realises that he is troubled by the problems of the human condition in the same way as everyone else is. From a personal perspective there are two scenes that are particularly memorable; the 40 day exile in the desert in which the conversations with the Devil are definitely reminiscent of Satan's eloquence in Paradise Lost but also reflect the concerns and doubts of a young man embarking on a life-changing journey. Principally he seems unsure of just how valid the words and advice of his father really are but it is the constant casting of doubt into the mind that captivated me throughout this series of exchanges. The scene of the crucifixion is prose to be savoured since the impetuous youth has now been replaced by a more meditative, mature, reflective adult who accepts his demise with the restraint of one facing the inevitable. Both of these are indicative of the beauty that Mailer's writing holds, both on the level of a simplistic minimalist and also as a novelist fighting against the desperate urges to abandon his objectivity of the character and infuse his own personal agenda into their words.
It's true to say that this style takes a bit of adjustment from the more established novelists, but their quality of prose would struggle to capture a novel of this quality. Mailer's projection of the psychological profile is also on a par with Dostoyevsky's Napoleonic hero, Raskolnikov, in Crime and Punishment. Historical fiction must usually lie within certain boundaries of but this breaks them irreparably and does so with such aplomb and self-assurance that you cannot help but turn the final page before beginning to contemplate the inspirational writing you have just had the pleasure of devouring.

On Green Dolphin Street: A Novel
On Green Dolphin Street: A Novel
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Hardcover
113 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Change of scenery, same quality, May 21, 2002
After the brilliancy of 'Birdsong', I eagerly anticipated devouring this latest offering from one of our finest contemporary war novelists and although there seem to be one or two weaknesses this was certainly not a disappointment. Sebastian Faulks now has a slight disadvantage since I don't think he can write another novel that will live up to the quality of 'Birdsong' (hopefully he will prove me wrong) and there are the inevitable comparisons with recent works (admittedly, I didn't enjoy 'Charlotte Grey'anywhere near as much). On 'Green Dolphin Street' is something of a break from tradition since he updates the context to a 1950s America on the verge of political change with the presidential campaigns being fought between Kennedy and Nixon.
Charlie van der Linden is a senior-ranking Washington official at the British Embassy whose life is progressively degenerating as he stares at the world despairingly through his latest bottle of whisky. This novel proceeds at a pace echoing this decline, at times moving with a lethargy and reluctance that is characteristic of Charlie's perspective. He is fully aware that his own personal intellect is far superior to the requirements
for his profession and finds his solace haunted by a presence from the past who looms large in the depths of his conscience. Charlie is a character disillusioned and left with the legacy from his own time served in the military causing him to be dispirited by feelings of inadequacy as he realises his own insignificance when it comes to fulfilling a role in other peoples' lives.
Comparatively his wife, Mary, appears comfortable with the glitzy social scene that surrounds her until she becomes aware that Charlie's 'problems' are starting to have a bearing on her own constitution. It is here that I realised just what nagging complaint that this book provokes in me; Faulks is wonderful with his characterising of Charlie and, later,Frank Renzo but even when Mary is at her most emotional, she simply fails to inspire any sense of sympathy or engagement from me. In one respect this highlights a quality of the writing since she encapsulates the perfect diplomat's wife; polite, demure and unlikely to court controversy,,but it is as though, for the most part, we are distanced from her. As Mary provides the emotional support for Charlie she attracts the attentions of one of his old friends, a newspaper journalist by the name of Frank Renzo with whom she starts an illicit affair after he courts her on frequent tours
of New York. These are established as Mary's way of killing time when her depression-stricken husband is called away from work but often seem to represent an escape from the insipid tedium she finds in the US middle-class political scene.
Faulks isn't breaking open any secret vaults by adding this romantic intrigue but he depicts it with such precision that it seems as though the passionate edge I anticipated is somewhat lacking. On a more positive note though, Mary's continued worrying over her infidelity makes for an interesting clash with Frank's devoted love; even though they both know what they want, you begin to suspect that one's passion is greater than the other. Each character is linked through their tainted past and the constant feeling of guilt, exposure or reprisals is one of On Green Dolphin Street's strongest themes, seeping into the political lives and bringing discomfort to their leisure, disruption to their order, betrayal to their loyalty.
The feelings of disenchantment that run wild throughout this novel contribute immensely to what is certainly a fine novel. Apart from the failure to engage with Mary for the most part this is another definite read for Faulks' fans, just beware of the feelings of uncertainty, they progress quickly from page to reader.

by Carol Brown Janeway
Edition: Hardcover
108 used & new from $0.01

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If music be the food of love ..., May 8, 2002
This review is from: Embers (Hardcover)
I was fortunate enough to come across Embers at a ridiculously low price in a book sale and having had my appetite for foreign writers whetted by Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, I decided to plunge in at the deep end. For fans of the phenomenon that is 'magic realism' this will definitely appeal but, as much as I loved this novel, there is bound to be a voice out there somewhere that will level the accusation that it is pretentious. Incidentally Embers is written with the same prose quality and the same level of erudition that haunts Invisible Cities (Calvino again) but how to approach it with the intention of writing an original review is another matter!
On a superficial level, Embers is a novel about the loyalty, Platonic love and the inevitable betrayal of these values that will occur when a woman comes between two men. Henrik is an aristocrat who has chosen to withdraw from the society around him and is awaiting the renewal of a friendship with Konrad, his former companion who he has not seen for some 41 years. As he prepares for Konrad's arrival it becomes apparent that whilst universal time has continued, the temporal status of Henrik's existence is such that he hasn't adjusted from the moment that his faith in those around him was fractured by an act that he can neither explain nor rationalise. Having maintained an unquestionable fidelity to each other there came a point where the modern collided with the old-world and chose to progress rather than remain stoic to its traditions.
Henrik's only remaining companion is his nurse, Nini, and it is in this permanent isolation, continued stasis that they choose to remain. The friendship between Konrad and Henrik was borne out of childhood meeting and a military upbringing in which the social deference and economic differences were acknowledged and respected. It is this feudal, hierarchical society that demands a constant awareness of place and an individual's importance but Konrad's inability to adjust to rigid constraints leads him to seek expression through the arts, most notably music. It is worth bearing in mind this is a novel with a context that could be seen as politically stifled and so when Konrad discovers a form of communication that is dangerously free and personal he can break rank from the other soldiers around him. By transgressing the rules of his own military world this poses a threat to the life that Henrik has introduced him to.
The opportunity that Henrik offers Konrad reflects the nature of Embers. Although the novel transcends generations it eventually returns to the point at which the decision must be made. Time cannot progress until a resolution has been found, Henrik cannot return to the outside world until he can explain and resolve the problems within his own. It is a matter of duty and honour to his previous generations that Henrik atones for his error in allowing an outsider into the culture and values they created but Konrad must pay his own penance for his decision to put love before friendship.
Above all it is a novel about the desire to return to forgotten cultures, about the different levels of love and friendship but it is also the work of a writer whose prose is immaculate and must be sampled to gain the full flavour.

Atonement: A Novel
Atonement: A Novel
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.35
433 used & new from $0.01

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is truth stranger than fiction?, May 3, 2002
This review is from: Atonement: A Novel (Hardcover)
'Atonement' is first Ian McEwan novel I've read and in the moments that followed turning the final page I can honestly say it is with great regret that it has taken me this long to become acquainted with his work. Such is the impeccable characterisation, the tightly controlled prose and the sumptuous description that the reader is willingly fed, the plaudits attributed to this novel have been totally vindicated and are wholly deserved.
Like Sebastian Faulks, McEwan returns to the heart of middle-class England in 1935 where 13 year-old Briony Tallis and her family are holding a family gathering with their cousins from the North of England. Briony is intending on performing her latest play, 'The Trials of Arabella' whilst casting her cousins in different parts but whilst her ambition is tempered by their distinct lack of enthusiasm, she later finds an audience in the most surprising of circumstances. Also attending this meeting are Celia Tallis, a recent Cambridge graduate, who is accompanied by her close friend Robbie Turner, an English graduate planning a career in the field of medicine. The pres-cis on the back of the hardback edition hints less than subtly as to what lies at the heart of this novel but that is an issue that I intend to steer clear of. Quite simply, McEwan actively encourages the reader's own exploration with promises of glorious prose and a rewarding conclusion to those that take up the challenges within these perfectly-toned pages.
McEwan manages to maintain what seems to be a recent tradition amongst English novelists by taking his readers to the foreign battlefields of France at the height of the warfare but, significantly, refuses to concern himself with epic conflicts and heroic rescues. Whilst the reader unavoidably becomes emotionally entangled with the soldiers, it is their mental trauma and horrors that are brought to the fore whilst the writer's pen is wielded as expertly as the surgeon's scalpel in the military hospital where Briony now works. At this point you could be forgiven that this has become a war novel or a romance but in all honesty it is hard to try and pin down what genre 'Atonement' occupies. There are times when is it none of these, other times it promises to evolve into one or the other but each potential development is simply a bandage covering the deeper wounds that lie beneath the surface.
I confess that this review will shed little light on the actual narrative and plot of this novel but then to reveal it would be a tragedy as well as a travesty. You will have to persevere with 'Atonement' but there are certainly rewards to be reaped by the end. Many people have told me that this is the culmination of McEwan's previous works, that it is his finest work to date but since this is my first experience of his novels I'm not at liberty to agree or disagree. What I can say is that this is a novel that should be read, reread and then treasured.

by Gene Brewer
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
60 used & new from $0.01

4 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I wonder if Spacey read this before taking the part?, April 20, 2002
This review is from: K-Pax (Mass Market Paperback)
K-Pax is, in all honesty, one of the worst books I have read. I don't just mean worst in terms of pulp-fiction, in this case it is simply the Gene Brewer's inability to create something that will engage with his audience. Sadly he has chosen to write a sequel to it which probably means another printer somewhere has to waste their precious ink in producing what will most likely be another 200 pages of egotistical, indoctrinating drivel. Amazingly, this book has made it as a high-profile film starring Kevin Spacey, in this case I hope the director murders the story line and comes up with something interesting.
K-Pax is a novel based on a series of interviews in a psychiatric hospital with a patient calling himself 'polt' who claims to come from the planet K-Pax. Personally I wish he had stayed there. As the interviews progress it becomes more and more apparent that 'polt' is a mentally disturbed individual who suffers from either a multiple identity or is suppressing something horrendous that has occurred in the past. In the course of these interviews, the author bullies, patronises and tries to trick the subject into revealing his true character whilst lulling the audience into the false belief that something worthwhile may be about to happen in the end. As it happens there is not so much a happy ending as an uncertain finale to this novel, more of a relief than anything else but we are still left with the continuous moralising and social comment that is made even more irritating when it is surrounded by another 210 sheets of trashy, badly thought out, inadequately expressed writing.
I'm guessing that the writer intended this to be some sort of satire since if there was a serious moral point lurking in the depths of his writing then he either forgot all about it and replaced it with some Freudian psychology for good measure or I'd given up with it by that time. Unfortunately this is the type of book that someone is either going to love or hate and I suspect I may be in the minority of those who didn't like it. I received this book free as part of a book-shop offer and I'm surprised they didn't pay those who took it up to remove it from their bookshelves as there is no way it would have sold otherwise. Avoid this at all costs, I don't intend to even contemplate how bad the sequel is, it was horrendous enough wasting 2hrs 30mins of my existence reading the first.

Weekend [VHS]
Weekend [VHS]
10 used & new from $4.79

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The dangers of French Bank Holidays!, April 17, 2002
This review is from: Weekend [VHS] (VHS Tape)
With influences ranging from Freud to Marx, De Sade and Eisenstein having walk-on roles and the Parisian weekend transformed into an allegorical bourgeois hell,
Week-End is one of the defining films of the 20th Century. Born out of the nouvelle vague cinema (French New Wave), this is the terrible birth that is brought to light from J.L.Godard's obsession with prophesising the destruction and decline of the West. Even after taking into account his overt political messages, Weekend still exist as one of the most technically revolutionary pieces of cinema to emerge from his studios into a blinding glare of publicity and hostility.
Not content with depicting the destruction of western commercial values, Godard disrupts the visual narrative by interspersing film titles, book titles and music onto a background of patriotic red, white and blue colours. From a personal perspective, one of the most impressive sequences is an eight minute long tracking-shot of the Parisian highway which progresses from straightforward traffic jams to car-wrecks and the inevitable symbol of multinational Capitalism, a Shell oil truck. Essentially Week-End marks the 'Maoist period' of Godard's film-making career, during which he declared that 'the only way to be a revolutionary intellectual is to give up being an intellectual.'
Starring Mireille Darc and Jean Yanne, Week-End's fabular narrative is a weekend journey from Paris to Normandy which slowly becomes an apocalyptic struggle against the French peasant revolutionaries who continually intervene to prevent the couple meeting Darc's mother in order to find out whether they have successfully poisoned her father. This emblematic quest for the Capitalist Grail is hindered by a philosophising character from Dumas, two rebels (African and Algerian) masquerading as refuse collectors and Saint-Juste, before the couple are captured on their return to Paris by the Seine-et-Loise Liberation Front, a group of cannibalistic freedom fighters.
Godard's continued affinity with politics can be witnessed in his other Maoist films, Les Chinoise (1967), Le Gai Savoir and Tout Va Bien (1972). Despite accusations of pretension, he still remains one of the most provocative and influential film makers of his and future generations, whilst his immense cinematic output can be regarded as a Marxist biography of the previous century.
What was an initially ground-breaking piece of cinema has evolved into an essential European film. Heralded by Pauline Kael in the New Yorker as 'Godard's Vision of Hell, and it ranks with the visions of the greatest' and 'somewhere between Swift and Samuel Beckett, alternatively violent and tender, humorous and cruel' (Jan Dawson, Sight and Sound) Week-end is a film that must be seen to be believed and to miss this is to miss out on one of the spectacles of 20th Century cinema.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2013 12:18 AM PDT

by J. M. Coetzee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.60
529 used & new from $0.01

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare breed, April 2, 2002
This review is from: Disgrace (Paperback)
'Disgrace' is the type of novel that only comes along occasionally but leaves a hell of an impact when it has finally finished tearing your emotions to shreds. Filled to the brim with disillusionment, apathy and anti-establishment politics, this tale will most certainly bring about the urge to drag that soap-box out of the cupboard but ultimately leaves the reader questioning themselves. Set against a South Africa that is still emerging from the near self-destructive political divisions that overshadow it this seems to be a comment on the ideas of responsibility and moral judgement, as well as generational conflict.
David Lurie is a 52yr old Professor whose academic and social career is slowly declining, reflected in his demotion from Professor of Modern Languages at Cape Town University College to the ultra-modern Professor of communications at Cape Technical University. A subtle difference it may be but it also reflects the growing boredom displayed by students in his seminar as he tries desperately to seek out the creative pulse within a decaying body. Twice divorced but with no shortage of desire, Lurie initiates a brief but invigorating affair with one of his students until he is outed by her father and boyfriend.
What follows this is vintage Coetzee as Lurie refuses to repent for the affair therefore whilst he submits to the 'legalities', his sense of morality remains untainted. Given the acrimony surrounding his conduct, Lurie leaves to live with his daughter in the sparse, rural area of South Africa. It is here that he discovers a totally different world in which urban prejudices are rejected in favour of strained harmony between the white and black workers. Whilst his daughter lives with her female partner, she employs Petrus, a black worker who is effectively trying to gain financial control of the farm. It is at this point that the dialogue and characters' interplay reflects growing tension and discontent which is the usual mark of a 'good' Coetzee novel.
As if he was lulling the reader into a false sense of security, out of the desert countryside come a group of thieves and rapists who attack Luthrie and his daughter. It is at this point that the different attitudes to 'disgrace' become apparent, when it seems that Luthrie's daughter cannot bring about any legal proceedings since the reprisals will be far worse. As father and daughter conflict the reader becomes aware that this could easily be a novel that is looking back at them, rather than us looking at the novel.
It's impossible to consider all the implications of what is, undoubtedly, a tremendous work of fiction. At times this is harrowing, other times pedestrian but the quality is always maintained and it is this consistency that has led Coetzee to two wins in the Booker Prize. I can't praise or recommend this enough and it's worth reading in tandem with In the Heart of the Country which deals with similar issues in an equally powerful form.

Black Adder V - Back and Forth [VHS]
Black Adder V - Back and Forth [VHS]
Offered by K & K Media Outlet
Price: $1.99
14 used & new from $1.17

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great potential, little product, March 21, 2002
Originally created to be shown in the Millennium Dome, Blackadder Back and Forth is a victim of the Millennium Fever which afflicted the nation during 1999. Instead of another classic Rowan Atkinson - Tony Robinson double act, we are treated to about 30 mins of cliched plot, weak dialogue and a film that is the poor relation of all the Blackadder series seen before.
The threadbare plot surrounds Blackadder's attempts to win a bet with the guests at his Millennium party, the challenge being that they will each give him £10,000 if he can travel back in time and bring back various items to prove that the feat has been accomplished. Baldrick has built a time machine which, as far as Blackadder knows, acts as a trapdoor to his basement where, amongst the junk, he has hidden various items that look old enough to be passed off as fakes (one of the requested items being the Duke of Wellington's boots). Unfortunately, Baldrick built the time machine from a Leonardo Da Vinci's textbook which, somewhat unsurprisingly, means that it works thus he and Blackadder are catapulted to various different periods of time, ranging from an encounter with Shakespeare to Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo. The upshot of this is that they have to get back to 1999 in time for midnight.
Unfortunately that is about all you get as far as plot. There's a couple of smutty jokes about various maidens and the occasional witty retort from Blackadder but, generally, this is one which you shouldn't rush out to get from the local video shop/cinema. In an effort to fill up the rest of the running time, you are treated (I use the term loosely) to a "behind the scenes" look at bits edited from the film whilst various members of the cast and production team witter inanely at the screen. If you've not seen any Blackadder before then you're better off skipping this one and going for the original series, if you have seen them before then this is a huge disappointment. I'm left lamenting the paltry amount of time which seems to have been put into this project as, with more time and effort and less concern for jumping on the Millennial bandwagon, this could have been brilliant. Instead it is shoddy and badly constructed.

Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War
Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.69
453 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly superb, March 21, 2002
Birdsong is an immense novel, capturing the futility of war and the horrors of life on the battlefields of the First World War. In addition to this there is an intriguing love story of 20 year old Stephen Wraysford who begins an affair with the wife of a prestigious French textile baron whilst in France on a business trip. Seeing that she is trapped in a passionless, amotional marriage, he persuades her to return to England, but the onset of war and her pregnancy (which she keeps secret) doom the relationship and Wraysford is sent to the killing grounds of the Somme, where the carnage and unspeakable atrocities haunt him interminably. Faulks parallels this with Wraysford's daughter searching for memories of her Grandfather but the genuine interest is in the conflict, where such evocative images and unimaginable violence will test the resolve of even the hardiest of readers.
This is Faulk's fourth novel and, having finished this, my appetite has been suitable whetted to try and read some more of his work. Personally I think that the quotation on the inside cover says more than any critic could truly attribute to this wonderful novel:
'When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen in unsurpassable.'

Billy Elliot [VHS]
Billy Elliot [VHS]
Offered by camposhank
Price: $1.40
63 used & new from $0.05

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely a winner, March 19, 2002
This review is from: Billy Elliot [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Amazingly a film which was profiled as being "The Film of the Year" which actually lived up to its reputation as a powerful, humorous, gritty and sentimental drama about courage, determination and a desire to succeed despite non-conformity. I've seen this film twice and I find something new in it each time, whether it is the stirring scenes with Billy as he struggles for acceptance or the impassioned hatred of those returning to work in what are extremely realistic scenes from the Miners' Strike.
Brought up by his father in the harsh back streets of County Durham during the strikes, Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is actively encouraged to participate in boxing by his father yet he discovers a new talent ..for ballet. Short of asking outright to be ostracised, Billy fervently pursues his passion with Julie Andrews as his practical and emotional mentor before his father and brother discover what is going on, bringing about a scene of evocative anger, frustration and stubbornness. After applying for trials at the London Ballet School, Billy demonstrates his routine for his friend Michael, the teenager struggling to deal with his homosexuality, but his father walks in on him and is forced to confront his morals, dreams and principles.
To go any further would ruin the ending but this is a fantastic picture with a wonderful soundtrack, see it if only for the epic chase scene involving Billy's brother and the police to the tune of London Calling from The Clash. This is truly fantastic and justifies itself as one of the films of the year.

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