Category Archives: Review

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John le Carré

Spy novels have always been a popular brand of book, with espionage being at the forefront of many thrillers and adventures. Most notably, there is Ian Fleming and his creation, James Bond, whose recklessness, only outshadowed by his enduring cool-factor, has captivated audiences for decades, primarily on the big screen where his exploits are shaken but not stirred (I couldn’t resist) with a squeeze of Hollywood glamour.

But then there’s this. Now, I’ve had the good fortune to read a fair amount of books for my age, with all sorts of peculiarities, but I was still relatively daunted at the prospect of reading a book entitled the seemingly gobbledygook name of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I’d heard of it over the last few years, and became more interested in it with the release of its film, in which it was dubbed the intellectual thriller, but really? I was getting confused at the title, never mind the actual book. However, I read on, unfazed, and boy, am I glad that I did.

To start I’d like to say that John le Carré is nothing short of a genius in terms of the scope of the book. You don’t need to read long before you realise how extravagantly complicated and intertwined all the threads of the plot will soon become, and it’s a wonder that he could ever get to anything near a conclusion with what he’s attempted. For something to be so seemingly random yet, eventually, so true is something magnificent, and should not be scoffed at.

The content of this enigma is George Smiley, an experience but now retired MI6 agent. He, however, is asked to come back to help as there is reason to believe there is a Soviet Mole up the hierarchy of the system. Why him? For he’s the only one that can be trusted.

The narrative starts of with pace, the key events which make up the background coming through interrogations and flashbacks, before you have a lot of cards at the table with many possible solutions. You quickly realise that the Mole has the power, and that he has and will continue to have much influence in the Cold War if he remains, so it is vital for his stamping out. I shan’t say anymore in fear of giving anything away, but I hope that this backdrop will entice you to read (and perhaps re-read if you don’t get it first time round) the book. Once you get past the jargon (which I found definitions for on the internet), you’ll find one of the most intricate plots you’ll ever read.

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The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins

Sorry for the lateness, everyone. A few things have cropped over the last few weeks, so I have been delayed in updating the blog, so oh well.

Anyway, as of late I have been reading The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins and, having finished it a while ago, I must sing my heartfelt if late praises.

It is quite simply a wonderful book which portrays a very simple fable on grand scene. Set in a forest, it is about two brothers whose job is to collect cones, hence they are cone-gatherers. One of them, however, has a physical disability, yet is still amazing at climbing the trees and collecting the cones at great heights.

The grounds-keeper, however, has a vicious hatred for this man, the likes of which are the most passionate which I have ever read. He plots constantly to get rid of him, and tragedy is inevitable.

In his book, Jenkins explores great themes of innocence, deformations, morals and hatred, putting them down for trail in the simplest and most eloquent of manners. I shan’t write too much of the contents of the book in case of spoiling it, but you can take my word in saying that is a truly beautiful book.

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The Cone Gatherers Preview

I’m just about to begin reading The Cone Gatherers by Robin Jenkins, a book in which I meant to read a while ago but lost. Having now bought a new copy, with a quote from Andrew Marr stating it as the “best-kept secret in modern British literature”, I hope to start soon and post a review to go along with it.

For those who have ot read it, here’s the blurb: Calum and Neil are the cone-gatherers — two brothers at work in the forest of a large Scottish estate. But the harmony of their life together is shadowed by the obsessive hatred of Duror, the gamekeeper.

Set during the Second World War, Robin Jenkins’ greatest novel is an immensely powerful examination of good and evil, and mankind’s prosperity for both. Removed from the destruction and bloodshed of the war, the brothers’ oblivious happiness becomes increasingly fragile as darker forces close in around them.

Suspenseful, dark and unforgettable, The Cone Gatherers is a towering work of fiction, a masterpiece of modern Scottish literature.

According to all of that have read it (or at least of those in which I know), it’s a moving story filled with melancholy, and one which I hope to read and review promptly.

The Beach – Alex Garland

Cover of "Beach"

Cover of The Beach Movie

I had the pleasure of being recommended “The Beach” by a friend, but that pleasure pales to the actual activity of reading it. Not only does it bring up some major questioning themes (from isolation to insanity), but also some real, page–turning excitement, drawing the reader into a plot of a primal paradise, infused with the stoned inhabitants.

Richard, a bag-packer from Britain, is the narrator, telling us of a story in which a suicide occurs in the hotel room next to him (a thing which will effect the rest of his story), the meeting of a young French couple and the vague but sincere attempt to find paradise, armed only with a sketchy map.

Now, it may sound like a tired plot-line (”Look, a map! Let’s go see where it goes…), and it is has been compared to some of the classics, including Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and William Golding’s “Lord of the Flies”, but in its explorations of the rise and fall of paradise he bring whole new dimensions to the story, the likes of which I shall not spoil for you if you decide to read it but I shall say that its climax strips away a human’s personality to its most bare and primal level, an experience in which I think of as the same category as both Conrad and Golding.
Garland in his book “The Beach” has produced a riveting adventure, but so much more than that, and its voyage of self–discovery is unmissable.

Animal Farm – George Orwell

English: Picture of George Orwell which appear...

Image via Wikipedia

NOTE: I shall put after each character a quick note stating who they represent as far as its allegory to the Russian Revolution goes.

Orwell may have written his little satirical novella during World War Two, but its allegorical references and innocent significance remain relevant to this day, perhaps especially when you consider the revolutions, uprisings, protests and general unrest which unravelled throughout 2011. For if these rebellions are going to truly succeed, they must not only get rid of the original authority but replace with it a more justifiable counterpart or perhaps something completely different, like, in the case of anarchism, nothing at all.

In short, as I don’t wish to go too far into the plot, it is a story about a farm whose animals, after receiving inspiration from the late Old Major (Marx), decide to revolt against the authority which is the farmer Jones (Tsar Nicholas II). Lead primarily by the pigs and, more specifically, Snowball (Trotsky) and Napoleon (Stalin), it goes on to document (if that is the correct word) the events which follow, mainly concerning the misuse and mutation of the original ideaology set forth at the beginning, and how greed can so easily consume the good intentions of a revolution and lead it to an autocracy perhaps worse than the previous state.

But Orwell does not do this in an ordinary manner. Anyone who has read the book will have noted the very truthful and all-knowing third-person narrator, who seems to have no bias whatsoever, giving it a somewhat fable like feel. Some questioned this, but its importance as a mechanism for the book is invaluable. Unlike a political rant for carefulness during a revolt, this narrator seems much more believable, and, unlike a biased account, you feel like you’re getting the entire story. Indeed, in some aspects it is true that you could walk out of it believing something far from the author’s intentions, such as, for instance, pigs are naturally supeiror to other animals. It gives you no clues as to which side is right or wrong, and in that gives some independence for your interpretation of the novel, even if it need only be to use a bit of common sense. It is this innocence, this belivability, the like of which rarely seen bar in fairy stories (indeed, it was originally called Animal Farm: A Fairy Story), that makes the message of Animal Farm become amplified, and its lasting result resounding throughout one’s mind. All in all, a thoroughly good and, some would say, necessary read.

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The Interrogative Mood – Padgett Powell

Cover of "The Interrogative Mood: A Novel...

Cover of The Interrogative Mood: A Novel?

Well, here I go: my first book review. Jeepers!

Anyway, a book I have been dipping in and out of, and have been reading in a reasonably chronological order (not as easy as it sounds in this case) is The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell. What makes the book special? It is made entirely of questions.

Yep, you read right. Just questions and queries, without a single answer, for a considerable amount of pages. When I originally bought the book, I had no intention of buying it, and had not even heard of its author (who, by the way, wrote Edisto which was nominated for the American Book Award way back in 1984), never mind the work itself. However, it was the iconic front cover design which drew me in, which consisted of a seemingly confused man holding a dauntingly red question mark amidst the white background in which it lies. Curious, I walked over to the place where it stood and picked up a copy. I was instantly hooked.

The mere idea of a novel written with countless questions bewildered me, and, after reading it, you realise the sheer technical ability of the author. The fact is that the concept of this book shouldn’t work, and shouldn’t be published; it’s only Powell’s amazing ingenuity which keeps it going. Indeed, in this case at least, I would be more willing to describe the author as an inventor or, perhaps more fittingly, a wordsmith compared with the terms artist or writer. It is a construction of interconnected questions, which depend on each other to make sense while keeping their random-like feel. Without this sense in the chaos, the book may still be readable, but barely remarkable in its flow, perhaps even the work of a child. Powell, however, retains this.

In fact, he does so in such a way as to explore the depths of modern culture and humanity to a microscopic level, bringing up thoughts and matters which needed such an arousing. I mean, as to take a question from the top of my head, where do you stand in relation to the potato? OK, admittedly that wasn’t the best example of his soul-searching, but instead a showing of his absurd surrealism which is deployed during the work, which are just as important as any of the other questions. Indeed, from the vast plains to the tiniest molecules, Powell leaves nothing untouched, and an interestingly strange section of questions concerned on the matter of what you would say if Jimi Hendrix suddenly offered to play some guitar to you was one of my favourite parts, and the narrator (or should I say questioner?) was a character which you could really connect with thanks to his flaws.

In short, this is a great book. A grand machine of a novel, with great mechanisms and tiny intricacies, it truly shows the work of a technical expert, mastering what seemed to be the impossible by taking the 2nd-person narrative (a rarely used mechanism in itself) to the extreme. I mean, who said inventiveness was gone? Because, whoever did, Padgett Powell just proved them wrong.

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