Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Restless Review

This was my first William Boyd and I really didn't know what to expect. The story follows two narratives: one set in the 1940's and one set in the 1970's. One is about a woman's espionage in WW2 and the other charts the daughter's discoveries of her mother's espionage past.

I liked the espionage entries - they were underplayed but felt genuine. I thought that the spycraft and deception were well realised and the sense of immersion into the world of WW2 was excellent. But, if they were documented experiences they should have been written first person? Or maybe in a more rigid form? It read like a novel and that seemed odd to me.

1970's sections were, I thought, pretty awful and pretty pointless. I never felt a purpose to them and the continual references to the daughter's intelligence were annoying - considering that she seemed on the whole to be pretty dumb. The son was like no child I ever met - just wierd, I thought - and the other characters were just set dressing and felt like Boyd had written a novella about 1040's spooks and needed to pad it out. What was the purpose of the brother? The Iraqi oil man - some clumsy reference to the Gulf war? It all seemed a bit pointless.

So, an okay book and I did love the 1940's sections, but the rest of the book let those down.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

It Ain't no Sin Review

Mae West: screen legend, international pin-up, actress, writer, comedienne, sexual icon - the biography should write itself, shouldn't it? Unfortunately, Simon Louvish wrote it...

Mae West obviously lived an interesting life; breaking out from vaudeville and burlesque into Broadway Theatre and then into cinema. Becoming a bonafide diva and then slowly, inexorably believing her own hype and going bananas.

Louvish takes this set of ingredients and turns it into literary porridge. His cataloging of the scripting revisions are positively turgid and just kill the narrative. It reads like a stenographers portrayal of a juicy court case and leeches all lurid fascination out of the subject matter. He seems to, as well, miss out swathes of her life that I found interesting: how did she really became a theatre pioneer? why didn't she make the leap to talkies earlier? Her later life when she became a self-parody - surely a book in itself?

The best bit of the book is the last fifth (it's a whopping 420 pages - too long, in my opinion, by 100 pages or so)telling the story of her life after her heyday - but it's just skimmed, which is a shame, There was something sad about her reclusion and I wanted more of a glimpse into that life and that of her faithful companion. Also her utterly, utterly bizarre 'comeback' pictures are just skimmed over and that is a shame. Finally, the amount of references made to Mae West's own books makes me wonder if I shouldn't have just read them instead.

Mae West obviously lived a interesting life, one of the original Hollywood pin-ups and a real 'legend' but this review is not of her, but of Louvish who writes like a college lecturer with too much time on his hands. I would read another biography of her but this is just dull and I wouldn't read anything else by this author again as his long winded and microscopic literary style kills the subject.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Small Island Review

Small Island charts the arrival from Jamaica of Hortense and Gilbert, two contrasting people with a misty eyed view of England and what it promises. The book also charts the effects of West Indian immigration and integration upon Bernard and Queenie - two people who mirror the relationship that Hortense and Gilbert have.

I really enjoyed this book and found it to be a revelation. The evocation of World War II was depicted very well, in a different way to normal and expressed the real life side of it; actually living in London during the The Blitz. I found that all the characters to be complicated and quirky and eventually warmed to all of them by the end of the book.

The handling of the racial tensions was handled very well that made me angry in one sense at the way that West Indians were treated at the time and also sympathetic of Levy's tone: writing Queenie and Bernard's thoughts with enough naive condescension and contempt to accurately represent the 1940s view of West Indians and black people in general.

The novel is a real page turner and I never felt I would not be continually surprised. My only criticism of the book would be that I found that I could not really picture Jamaica or the Windrush - but these aside I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

IBG Blog!

Oh yeah, surfing the wave of popular culture. As email seems to be falling a bit flat for this, I thought that a public domain may do the business. I will shortly post a review of Small Island on here and also invite everyone to the blog so that we can get this rolling...