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'.