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Kevin Macdonald, Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter

Jun. 26th, 2009 | 02:07 pm

Kevin Macdonald, Emeric Pressburger: The Life and Death of a Screenwriter

With Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger made some of the most imaginative films of the 1940s: Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death, etc. Powell was the personality, the self-promoter; Pressburger more reserved, his part in the collaboration more easily overlooked, especially when auteurism was at its height in film studies.

This lovely book is written by Pressburger's grandson (also an Oscar-winner). So it's not only an informative biography (and short history of European film), it's also suffused with deep love, written into every line.

Pressburger had an astonishing life: a Hungarian Jew, he moved to Germany in the 1920s, living as a down and out before getting a foot in the door at Ufa. The Nazis forced him out; he worked for a while in Paris before moving to London in the mid-30s. This was intended to be only a brief stay before he went on to Hollywood. But then he met Micky Powell...

Readable and engrossing.

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Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

Apr. 8th, 2009 | 11:53 am

Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss

I remember this one being reviewed as a book that genuinely deserved its Booker prize - you know, rather than the hyped-up tripe that can so often get it. Sadly, no. The dreamy and descriptive style, very arch and whimsical, never alters or gathers pace over the 300+ pages, and what was, at the start, absorbing, is ultimately dreary. It's as if Desai is holding at arm's length the genuine issues with which the book is concerned (the paralyzing effects of colonialism, the new griefs of globalization). But it has a distancing effect and, in the end, the only character that I truly cared about was the old man's dog. It's possible that this was the writer manipulating me (the same way that you're forced to hold your hands up and admit you care more about the poor wee kitten than the nasty junkie in Trainspotting), but I don't think there was enough writerly craft going on, so I'm simply forced to admit that I'm a bad person.

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Sarah Hall, The Carhullan Army

Apr. 7th, 2009 | 07:52 pm

Sarah Hall, The Carhullan Army

A book about a separatist women's army taking on the dystopian government of a post-apocalyptic Britain was always going to be a winner with me, although it became sketchier and sketchier as it went along, to the extent that the only way I can convince myself that some of the episodes happened in the way described is to assume that the narrator is unreliable. Cut for potential spoilersCollapse )

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Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife

Mar. 30th, 2009 | 08:35 pm

Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveller's Wife

What a well-constructed, well-executed, vapid, and self-congratulatory book this is! Street directions lifted from Google Maps stand in for the evocation of place, compulsive lists - authors, bands, sushi - stand in for characterization. American Psycho does this, but it is a sign of Patrick Bateman's sickness. Here is one particular offence:
"I peruse Henry's bookshelves. Here is the Henry I know. Donne's Elegies and Songs and Sonnets. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Immanuel Kant. Barthes, Foucault, Derrida. Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience. Winnie the Pooh. The Annotated Alice. Heidegger. Rilke. Tristram Shandy. Wisconsin Death Trip. Aristotle. Bishop Berkeley. Andrew Marvell. Hypothermia, Frostbite, and Other Cold Injuries."

But tell me - are the spines bent? Unbent? Are they all in the same edition? Are they shelved with care, alphabetically, by height, by width, by weight? Who is this Henry that you know? Who cares. The branding is all that matters.

The absolute nadir of this book is when time-travelling thirty-something hipster Henry sees a couple of teenage baby-punks at a family gathering. Over he bounds, and dictates to them a list of necessary bands. Inexplicably, they do not say, "Fuck off grandpa." Instead, they are awed and dutifully scribble down the canon. Truly, as they used to say in Smash Hits, it is like punk never happened.

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Kate Grenville, The Secret River

Feb. 3rd, 2007 | 08:17 pm

Kate Grenville, The Secret River

I'd read Kate Grenville's The Idea of Perfection a while back, and hadn't liked it much. This is in another league. It's the story of William Thornhill, an impoverished Londoner transported with wife and child to Australia in the early nineteenth-century, and the clash of civilizations that follows as he attempts to claim a piece of land for his own. It's very well-written - occasional lapses into a modern sensibility - and one or two very effective set-pieces. The image of the child's starfish palm will really stick in my mind.

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Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses, Knife Edge, Checkmate

Feb. 3rd, 2007 | 08:16 pm

Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses, Knife Edge, Checkmate

Trilogy of children's novels which posits a society in which Noughts (all white) are second-class citizens to Crosses (all black). The narrative concerns the relationship between a Nought boy, Callum, and a Cross girl, Sephy. It's a very good idea - unfortunately it's not a well-executed idea. Flimsy, cardboard characters, OTT action. I remember a series of novels that I read when I was pretty young (certainly younger than YA, which I think they were aimed at), about a cross-religion relationship in Northern Ireland, concerning two characters called Kevin and Sadie, and I recall them being a great deal better.

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Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu

Feb. 3rd, 2007 | 08:12 pm

Susanna Clarke, The Ladies of Grace Adieu

I thought the Strange and Norrell universe would suit a short story anthology, and mostly it does. Several of the stories rectify the absence of women in the novel; the title story in particular does this extremely well, and was my favourite in the book, followed by 'On Lickerish Hill', which had two more lovely female characters, two sisters (and a very sweet parson as well, husband to one of the sisters). I was for some reason left unsatisfied by the longest story, 'Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower', and at 50 pages, that was a big hole of dissatisfaction. But the book is a delight to read: a beautifully produced hardback and with lovely illustrations.

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Lois Lowry, Anastasia Krupnik, A Summer to Die

Feb. 3rd, 2007 | 08:05 pm

Lois Lowry, Anastasia Krupnik, A Summer To Die

Anastasia Krupnik was enormous fun, what the Bagthorpes would be like if written by Gemma-era Noel Streatfeild. A Summer to Die is a book about coming to terms with bereavement (here, the death of a sister). Not as visceral as Bridge to Terebithia, but with more gentle comfort. Thank you, merrymaia.

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Katherine V. Forrest, Daughters of a Coral Dawn

Feb. 3rd, 2007 | 08:04 pm

Katherine V. Forrest, Daughters of a Coral Dawn

Non-gratuitous space lesbians!

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Peter O'Donnell, Modesty Blaise

Feb. 3rd, 2007 | 08:04 pm

Peter O'Donnell, Modesty Blaise

Oh, yes, very cool! The partnership in particular, like Callan and Lonely only functional and not predicated upon violence. I must find the film.

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