Friday, 28 October 2011

Not So Different After All

The Book: Room by Emma Donoghue

The Review: "Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days."

The Reviewer: Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife (and someone who should know better)

The Verdict: After finishing Room, you will indeed look up (of that I am certain), however I imagine it will merely be to question what went wrong with this promising little book. It's not that's it's bad, it's just nowhere near as important as it thinks it is.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Vernon 'Oh God make it stop' Little

The Book: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

The Review: "Reading this book made me think of how the English language was in Shakespeare's day, enormously free and inventive and very idiomatic and full of poetry as well"

The Reviewer: John Carey, Chair of the Booker Judges

The verdict: Ah, yes, John Carey must be thinking of that original version of Hamlet where every third word was "fucken" and Laertes blew smoke up Horatio's arsehole.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Healthy appetite

The Book: The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

The Review: "If I could eat this novel, I would."

The Reviewer: Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones

The Verdict: This is a bit like when people say a baby is so cute they could "eat them up" - a bit twisted really. What's worrying is that Alice Sebold is a very talented writer herself, and yet there were no other quotes from her review good enough to go on the cover of this novel? You could say that should have been a warning to me not to read this book.
I did not heed this warning; you should.

Monday, 5 September 2011

A great Christmas present, but don't propose with it.

The Book: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb.

The Review: "In today's crowded fantasy market Robin Hobb's books are like diamonds in a sea of zircons."

The Reviewer: George RR Martin
The Verdict: After approximately 240 pages of scene setting, there is a well constructed, entertaining plot. It does not rise above the level of a good fantasy novel, however.

Monday, 29 August 2011

You Don't Love This Book Yet

The Book: You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem
(the third trendy Jonathan, after Franzen and Safran Foer, before Tropper)

The Review: "A gentle and hip romantic comedy . . . Witty and charming, You Don't Love Me Yet breezes through LA's iconoclastic anonymity with a refreshing sincerity."

The Reviewer: James Urquhart, The Independent

The Verdict: Allow me to translate.

"A gentle and hip romantic comedy . . . breezes" = Disposable

"Witty and charming" = Trying to be witty and charming

"LA's iconoclastic anonymity" = The characters are taken from a checklist of hipster stereotypes and you are given no reason to care about any of them.

"Refreshing sincerity" = Can only be facetious. At least the jacket blurb indicated how contrived the whole thing is when it invoked "delicious echoes of Jane Austen's Emma". (There aren't any delicious echoes of Austen.)

Lethem hints at some interesting questions regarding authorship, conceptual art, criticism and success. Like diamond earrings lost at the end of Glastonbury, if you want to dig through all of the hipster effluent, they're yours.

Monday, 25 July 2011

DANGER: Read This Book At Your Peril

The Book: Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

The Quote: "I read my eyes out"

The Reviewer: Anne McCaffrey

The Verdict: It wasn't until I was halfway through the book that I noticed this quote at which point I became distinctly worried. There was still too much I wished to read. I'm too young to lose my sight.

Having now finished the book i'm happy to say that while I enjoyed it immensely I did not 'read my eyes out'. There is still 5 books to go however . . .

Monday, 18 July 2011

Less effort, please

The Book: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Quote: "If this does not win the Booker Prize for Fiction it will be because it is too good."

The Reviewer: Scotland on Sunday

The Verdict: Ah ok, Carol can rest assured that that is the reason she didn't win then - must try not as hard next time Carol!
I wonder what Roddy Doyle, author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha - which actually did win the 1993 Booker prize that Carol Shields was shortlisted for - would have to say about this speculation.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Come Again?

The Book: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

The Review: "You want to know what this terrific book is like?  It's like the Osbournes invited the Simpsons round for a root beer, and Don DeLillo dropped by to help them write a new song for Eminem."

The Reviewer: Andrew O'Hagan

The Verdict: What? I mean really, what? If you do want to know what this fantastic, Booker prize winning, novel is like I suggest ignoring this trippy outburst from Andrew O'Hagan and simply picking up the novel.  Afterall, it's like Holden Caulfield and Jack Kerouac are trapped in a Hunter S. Thompson novel by Skeletor, or something like that!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

All that is certain

The Book: The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

The Review: "Certain to become a classic"

The Reviewer: Science Fiction Monthly

The Verdict: This book is in every science fiction fans pantheon of great books alongside I, Robot, Day of the Triffids and Dune. Hang on...

(Look - slap bang on the cover!)

(More great 70s sci-fi covers here)

Spaced out

The Book: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Review: "Speeds across the sky like a new-century comet heralding great events in the asteroid belt of fiction."

The Reviewer: Financial Times

The Verdict: I'm sorry, what now? The book speeds across the sky? The asteroid belt of fiction?
This book was only ok. Has this nameless reviewer been up there with Lucy in that sky full of diamonds?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Being brutally honest

Breaking away from our usual mould for a brief picture post. This is the back of the book I have just finished reading: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.

Yes, those are little quips from critics and yes, the 'find out more inside' is infact a key that tells you the poor peoples' names who couldn't even fit onto the cover, because there was just too much praise for Mr Tropper.

Although maybe 'praise' is the wrong word. For all we know, these tiny little words have been fully taken out of context.
Perhaps number 15 said, "To be brutally honest, I couldn't get past the first chapter."
Or maybe number 2 wrote, "If you're smart, you won't pick this book up."
Or even number 11, "I'll give the book some credit: it made a very graceful arc as I threw it into the bin."

Actually, Jonathan Tropper is one of my favourite writers, but whichever publisher decided this was a good way to market him should be shamed.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Stieg Larsson of Swedish crime writers

The book: Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The review: "Swedish crime fiction, like the country itself, has both class and a social conscience. It was only a matter of time before it produced its own War and Peace."

The reviewer: Robert Dessaix, Sydney Morning Herald

The verdict: Let's not even entertain the notion of comparing this titillating little thriller to Tolstoy. (Were Tolstoy's protagonists a shameless proxy for the author? Did Anna Karenina tell you the model name of her Ikea bookcase?) No, the real question is, what does it mean for a book to be the War and Peace of Swedish crime fiction? Does that make the BT building in Cardiff the 'Empire State Building of Wales'? Is Kung Fu Panda the Citizen Kane of Jack Black movies?

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Must Try Harder

The book: The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
The review:
"Obama's open & engaging style can be found on almost every page"

The reviewer:
Sunday Times

The verdict: "...on almost every page"? Granted the index is rather prosaic but can we really judge a man for that?  I fear The Sunday Times is being unnecessarily harsh and hereby proclaim that Obama's "open and engaging style" is to be found on EVERY page of this highly enjoyable book.  Take that Sunday Times! 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

You Know? That Guy? From That Thing?

The book: Angel's In My Hair by Lorna Byrne
The review:
"In times of universal deceit, never more so than now, the world needs guidance and hope.  Angels in my Hair is an amazing book by an incredible woman, who shares her unique and fascinating experience of the guides at work with her in her own life and in the messages they have for us all"

The reviewer:
Jim Corr, The Corrs

The verdict:
It's reviewed by Jim, from the Corrs for goodness sake (yes there was a man in the Corrs).  What on earth makes you think I'd actually read it? There's also another tempting review by Daniel O'Donnel which is equally repellent.  No doubt the paperback version will have reviews from other Irish greats such as Jedward or Zig & Zag. 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

So, totally unoriginal then...

The book: High Fidelity, Nick Hornby's first novel

The review: "This is real life laid bare, a fine-tuned, socio-cultural tragi-comedy that finds echoes in everything from J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield to Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole, from Roddy Doyle's Barrytown to Irvine Welsh's Leith."

The reviewer: Craig McLean, Scotland on Sunday

The verdict: In addition, the other 4 pages of review quotes at the front of the book name-check between them H.G. Wells, George Orwell, Kingsley Amis, David Lodge, Salinger (again), Kelman, Paddy Clarke, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes, the film The Commitments, and the former Arsenal striker Ian Wright. Which makes it a tour de force of derivativeness if nothing else.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Not halfling as good

The Book: The Subtle Knife (book 2 in the much-hyped 'anti-Narnia' His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman)

The Quote: "a tour de force of cosmic adventure, far outstripping the many modern imiatators of Tolkien, and matching the quality of the master himself"

The Reviewer: William Waldegrave, The Week

The Verdict: Total balrogs!


The Book: Hans Fallada's WWII thriller Alone in Berlin

The Quote: 'To read Fallada's testament to the darkest years of the 20th century is to be accompanied by a wise, sombre ghost who grips your shoulder and whispers into your ear: "This is how it was. This is what happened." '

The Reviewer: The New York Times

The Verdict: This quote put me off reading the book for a while; I wasn't exactly thrilled about the idea of being accompanied by a sombre ghost, no matter how wise. When I eventually did, I realised this reviewer either read a different book, or suffers from some acute paranoia. Yes, the book is harrowing in places, but it's mostly just a brilliant, slow-burning cat and mouse chase that shows you a completely different side of the war to what you might have read before.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Most Exaggerated Review in the World

The book: The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith

The quote: "The funniest book in the world"

The reviewer: Evelyn Waugh

The verdict: Mildly amusing

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Sycophants

The book: Jonathan Franzen's much-hyped breakthrough novel The Corrections

The quote: "No British novelist is currently writing at this pitch."

The reviewer: Jeremy Treglown, Financial Times

Honourable mentions:
"Franzen, in one leap, has put himself into the league of Updike and Roth."
David Sexton, Evening Standard

"A genuine masterpiece, the first great American novel of the twentieth century."
Will Blyth, Elle

"Franzen has delivered as wounding and thoughtful an indictment of contemporary existence as it is possible to make."
John Burnside, Scotsman

The verdict: I loved The Corrections but no book could live up to that embarrassing gush. It's certainly not worth throwing all contemporary British novelists under the bus in order to praise it. Treglown is a Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Warwick, and should know better.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

What is this all about?

Welcome to 'a riotous oil-painting'.

You know those quotes you read on the back of books from various reviewers that tell you this book is the most awesome book you'll ever read. Then you read the book and wonder if it's the same book the reviewer read.

That feeling of mystification is what we want to capture in this blog. By 'we' I mean members of my book group in Cardiff, Wales. They'll all be blogging too, so keep an eye out for them. All the blurbs immortalised  on here will be from books we've actually read, so we'll offer our verdicts too...

The blog title comes from one of my favourite hyperbolic blurbs of all time.

The book: Marina Lewycka's debut novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

The quote: "Thought-provoking, uproariously funny, a comic feat. A riotous oil-painting of senility, lust and greed."

The reviewer: The Economist (no name - the shame!)

The verdict: It has a few funny moments. But I wouldn't use the word 'riotous'.