Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Christmas Books

Although I get Scrooge-like tendencies around Christmas these days I still look forward to the new books that I receive as Christmas gifts. This year I received a number of books and look forward to reading them soon.

The books I got this Christmas:

1. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea
2. Pipits and Wagtails 
3. How to Fossilise Your Hamster 
4. Why Do Moths Drink Elephants' Tears? 
5. Why Is Yawning Contagious?
6. Do Ants Have Arseholes? 
7. Borat: Touristic Guidings to Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan/Minor Nation of U.S. and A.

Book Review: The Mystic Masseur by V.S. Naipaul

In The Mystic Masseur V.S. Naipaul tells the story of Ganesh, the son of an Indian immigrant to Trinidad and a character with a strong disinclination to work. The story follows Ganesh's rise to fame which has been stumbled upon due to fate providing a steadying hand which counteracts many of Ganesh's questionable life decisions.

The characters are the highlight of this book with the plot taking a back stage, although the reader will quickly become enthralled as to how Ganesh has become a well-known figure in Trinidad. As well as the lazy but loveable Ganesh are a host of similarly amusing characters; Leela with the bizarre habit of punctuating every word, the excitable Ramlogan and the sage-like Aunt Belcher are the stars along with ganesh but a whole procession of weirdos pop up in this book which ends with ganesh's political career.

There is something about the style of writing in this book that makes the reader believe in the reality of the characters and the tale of Ganesh's fame seems like something that could happen to almost anyone. This was Naipaul's first novel and remains one of his most famous: deservedly so.

The Mystic Masseur is recommended to readers who like quirky tales and to those who wish to progress from popular fiction onto something more complex without taxing the brain too much. This is an amusing story with some interesting characters and it is not too long, something which many similar novels are guilty of.

Score: 8/10

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Book Review: London Fields by Martin Amis

London Fields is a dark, bleak novel, strangely laced with a black humour chiefly provided by the vividly portrayed and memorable characters. The plot, if there is a plot at all, is that Nicola Six has somehow foreseen her imminent and violent death and by playing the wife beating Keith Talent off against the married and polite Guy Clinch she keeps the reader wondering who her killer may be.

This book is not really about the plot though and much more about the characters. Keith Talent is one of the most memorable characters I have ever come across in a novel, both loveable and detestable at the same time and a devotee of the relion known as darts! Keith's philosphical rants, based around darts, are quite comical as well as depressing and form the backbone of the story, whilst the boudoir of Nicola Six acts as a focal point to which the two male characters are constantly drawn. Nicola becomes both the ultimate male fantasy and at the same time the ultimate male nemesis, appealing both to male and female readers alike.

Unfortunately London Fields is far too long and at times it can be difficult to maintain interest due to the meandering style and dubious plot, however, the excellent characters make up for this at least to some degree.

London Fields is recommended to readers interested in well developed characters but for those that are after a fast paced plot this is certainly one to leave alone. An interesting novel and one that is worth reading even if the reader comes to the conclusion that it isn't for them.

Score: 7/10

Monday, December 10, 2007

Book Review: Wild Food by Roger Phillips

My mother bought me this book when I was about 12 years old and I immediately set about trying as many of the suggestions for wild food it contains as I could get away with. This is somewhere between an identification book and a cookery manual and as such perhaps doesn't really do either properly, but for its superb photos and bizarre suggestions it is a great book, firmly rooted in the realm of the vegetarian so avoiding the squirrel stew or baked eel that so upset many people.

This book will make countryside lovers look at the species around them in a new perspective and even if readers do not try any of the recipes, just the knowledge that they are possible will be of interest. The suggestions for food vary between delicious and ridiculous, but are mostly fairly simple and easily tried, although some degree of caution is needed with the fungi section.

Amongst the best suggestions here are blackberry water ice and garlic butter made from Jack-by-the-hedge, whilst amongst the worst are chestnut soup (a really good way to ruin good chestnuts) and nettle beer which carries an alcoholic kick along with a sting!

This book is highly recommended to countryside lovers in the United Kingdom but those searching for hard-core survival recipes would do better to look elsewhere.

Score: 7.5/10

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Book Review: Five Hundred Mile Walkies

Five Hundred Mile Walkies is the true and highly humourous Tale of a man and a borrowed dog walking the south west peninsula path through Devon and Cornwall in order to impress a girl that the author met at a party. Such a mundane premise may sound like it has little to offer, but Wallington has a real knack of finding the farcical side of every situation and developing it into an hilarious aside. Added to that, the author combines a rather literary style with the common touch and the result is a very readable story but not one that is dumbed down.

Wallington himself compares his tale to that of Jerome K. Jerome in "Three men and a Boat", and his style is highly reminiscent of this famous book. More importantly, it compares very favourably to "Three Men and a Boat", but, similarly to that and many other humourous books, much of the fun and laughter occurs in the early part of the tale and towards the end it appears as if the author gets rather tired of writing.

The addition of the dog, Boogie, is one that may divide readers, however. Boogie's flatulence provides a running joke throughout the book and for some this may be a constant source of amusement, although for others such a cheap and repetative joke becomes a little stale.

These downfalls aside Five Hundred Mile Walkies is a very funny book and for some reason I was particularly amused by the excursion through Westward Ho! - the only place in Britain that has an exclaimation mark in its name.

I recommend this story to lovers of humour and travel literature, and it serves well as a light read between more challenging material whilst maintaining a semi-literary style.

Score: 8.5/10

Monday, December 3, 2007

Book Review: Tintin in The Congo by Herge

I am not a great fan of the Tintin series but bought this book, like many other readers, because of the controversy that surrounds it. There is a short introduction preceeding the story which explains, and attempts to apologise for, the less than flattering way in which native Africans are portrayed and the fact that Tintin goes around shooting at anything that moves. In reality the racial stereotypes are so ridiculous that surely they could cause little offense in today's world, and Tintin's attitude towards them simply comes across as foolish. Perhaps more disturbing is Tintin's attitude to wildlife, but again, in a more informed world his behaviour just strikes the reader as idiotic which does little to make the reader warm towards the character in this story.

Tintin in the Congo is quite lacking in story, with no real purpose from beginning to end, although a few little episodes are thrown in but not expanded fully and for me this book is not at all interesting. The only saving grace of Tintin in the Congo are the bright, colourful illustrations which will appeal to many people, particularly children. However, once again, I am not really a fan of Herge's drawings and together with the moribund dialogue and lack of story I don't rate this book very highly.

This book is for Tintin fans only and is of interest only because of its long-time ban: now Tintin fans can complete their collection. For others, I don't suggest reading this as your first Tintin story as it is poor in terms of plot and dialogue, and if you are easily offended then this is certainly a book to avoid.

Score: 4/10