CONTEMPORARY CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW: ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan (2001) Jonathan Cape (Vintage)

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Perhaps the most loved of all the novels written by Booker Prize winning author, Ian McEwan, is Atonement. Shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize while also picking up BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for its big screen adaptation starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley (2007), Atonement is a historical novel which focuses on a middle class English family before, during and after the second world war. The main character, Briony Tallis, a 13 year old aspiring playwright, witnesses and then discloses something during her childhood which later on, as an adult, she feels the need to atone for. 

The historical accounts are believable and well researched by McEwan – from the enlisting of Robbie Turner to the army, the registering of Briony and Cecilia Tallis to the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing to the evacuation of the family from Hackney to the Tallis country home – all of which give an accurate picture of what life was like during World War 2. This picture further comes to life through the depictions of the privileged life the Tallis family live in contrast to the, at times, challenging lives of Robbie Turner’s mother (maid of the house) and those encountered, albeit briefly, by the family from Hackney – powerfully evoking a rich and diverse set of voices and characters to have emerged during that time period.

BAFTA nominated Screen Adaptation

Atonement is also about writing in its many different forms: playscripts, letters, first and third person narration and novel writing. Each of the main characters (Briony and Cecilia Tallis along with Robbie Turner) are focused upon in some depth as each in turn contemplates the unravelling of results emanating from a childhood incident. As such, the novel is engaging and powerful in its descriptions of country life admist the physical and emotional traumas of war. Additionally, the portrayal of strength within the family and how these bonds can suddenly be tested and broken by events from the past are represented admirably. Atonement is an interesting and well written story which will have readers hooked and discussing its varied themes undoubtedly for many years to come.

Booker Prize Winner: Ian McEwan

 (C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

 

BOOK REVIEW: AUGUSTOWN by Kei Miller (2016) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

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There has been a recent boom in literature coming from the Carribean island of Jamaica. First, Marlon James took the literary world by storm when he became the first Jamaican to pick up the 2015 Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings based upon the attempted assasinations of Jamaica’s finest son and world renowned legendary reggae artist, Bob Marley. Now, from the same tradition comes Kei Miller’s Augustown – a novel which, like James’ award winning work, focuses on Jamaica – the island, its people, their traditions along with the history and politics to be found there. 

The novel’s title derives its name from the thought that freedom came to the enslaved people of Jamaica on 1st August, 1838. Hence the name August Town and with it the rising of Alexander Bedward – affectionately known as the “flying preacher man” and regarded as a prophet and pioneer of the rastafarian movement. 

The novel is steeped in history and contains stories based on traditions and myths. The descriptive and poetic language Miller uses is, at times, mesmerising, taking the reader on a spiritual-like journey into the past where the likes of Ma Taffy, Gina and Sister Gilzene share their stories of struggle with colonial powers and the babylonial systems of oppression from which they try to rise up and escape from.

Such is the power emanating from these stories that it becomes hard to put the novel down once you have started it. There are moments of laughter, anger, joy and sadness within the narrative which do much to keep the reader engaged. For these reasons, Augustown is a literary triumph which will ensure that Kei Miller, winner of the 2014 Forward Prize for Poetry for his collection, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, will, like the characters he describes in his novel, be a name to look out for as his stock rises higher and higher.

Kei Miller: Will rise higher and higher

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

Behind every great President there is a greater First Lady!

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Returning to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where eight years ago she had told the world why her husband should be the President of the United States of America, Michelle Obama, today, delivered a speech that will arguably go down in history as one of the greatest. The first thing that strikes you about America’s First Lady is her undeniable beauty, poise, decorum and class. Then there is her race and gender – a proud black woman. Then there is her language. When she speaks, one recognises her intelligence as demonstrated in her cultural, social and political astuteness. When she speaks, you listen – for what she has to say often resonates with both our experience and times. This speech begins with Michelle reminding the excited audience of the characteristics which she believed would make her husband (Barack) the right choice for President – “His character, conviction, decency and grace,” she says. Then she remembers how their two daughters (aged 7 and 10 at the time) were “piled into those black SUV’s beside big men holding guns…their little faces pressed to the windows and all I could think was what have we done?” For Michelle, this new experience her family were embarking on could make or brake her daughters. She shares how she remembers the need to teach her daughters to “ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith.” Taking this a step further to include everyone else who has been victim to scrutiny or oppression she encourages: “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, we don’t stoop to their level. Our motto is when they go low, we go high.” Such a powerful motto which resonates well with the experience of our times in consideration of all that’s going on in the world on a social, cultural and political level – from the recent terrorist attacks in France and Germany to the Black Lives Matter campaign where the lives of both young black men and young white police officers have senselessly been claimed in a heightened climate of fear and disillusionment.

Michelle Obama addresses the 2016 Democratic National Convention crowd in Philadelphia

Michelle, who is backing Hillary Clinton to become the first female President of the United States of America when the polls open in November, shared her vision of the type of President she wants to have for her children. “I want a President who takes matters seriously,” she begins. Then in a swipe to President elect Donald Trump’s constant tweeting campaign on Twitter, Michelle continues: “I want a President who understands that the issues they face are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.” Michelle wants a President who is in touch with reality and ordinary people: “We don’t choose fame and fortune for ourselves – we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed.” Then, alluding to the tragedies which came during and as a result of the Black Lives Matter campaign she says: “I want a President who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters.” 

As in stories and life itself, the end is just as or even more important as the beginning. The greatest and most influential speeches are those which weave personal experiences to the symbol of the American Dream; which while demonstrating present truth do not forget about the truths of the past. From slavery to the American Dream, Michelle signs off in a manner which would have the likes of American greats such as Abraham Lincoln, President Kennedy and Civil Rights pioneers, Martin Luther King Jnr and Rosa Parks looking down, beaming with pride and approval: 

That is the story (The American Dream) of this country. The story which has brought me to this stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that when I wake up in the morning in a house that was built by slaves and watch my daughters – two beautiful, intelligent black women playing with their dogs on the White House Lawn, I realise that we should not take for granted that we could have a woman be the President of the United States of America.

The Obama Family

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

Watch the full speech below: 

https://youtu.be/DyEeMkl_sHw

BOOK REVIEW: This Census – Taker (2016) by China Mieville (Picador)

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Award winning author, China Mieville’s novella – This Census – Taker is perhaps in line to be one of the books of the year. Written in both the first and third person narrative, it brings to life the experiences of a lonely boy from a dysfunctional home who longs to escape life in the hills in order to be closer to the other children who live below him.

Surrounded by nature and animals, Mieville’s descriptions of the landscape are beautifully vivid and alarming at the same time, cleverely challenging and appealing to all the senses.

The Census Taker himself makes an appearance towards the latter stages of the book, appearing to offer hope to a boy seemingly in despair having witnessed some strange and traumatic incidents which impact upon his memory and identity.

The novella is one which should be read  at least twice in order to fully appreciate the meaning of the story along with the beautiful language and descriptions employed which go some way in keeping the reader fully engaged.

It is a really well written and interesting book which although short in length does include some language which defamiliarises and challenges the reader which consequently impress upon the mind for a long time.

(C) Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

BOOK REVIEW: The Children Act (2015) by Ian McEwan (Vintage)

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The Children Act is the 13th novel by Booker Prize winning author, Ian McEwan. Its the highly entertaining and immediately gripping story of high court judge, (Fiona Maye) who must decide the fate of a 17 year old boy (Adam Henry), a Jehovah’s Witness, who’s refusing life saving treatment for cancer because of his religious beliefs. Added to that main plot are the marital problems Judge Maye experiences at home (husband Jack wanting to spice up his love life by having an affair with a younger woman). There are other mini sub-plots and cases which McEwan impressively packs in to a book barely 200 pages long.

The fast paced opening along with its sharp dialogue and descriptions instantly grip the reader in, taking you along for the ride through some of London’s busiest streets, from the Kings Road to Grays Inn Road and then the court house.

On a visually aesthetic level, the short story could easily be turned into an ITV drama in the same mode as Law and Order for instance. The scenes are visually appealing while, for the most part, the characters are believable as is the main case in question.

Arguably, McEwan´s exploration (or lack of it) of the boy’s religion and beliefs could have been given more careful consideration and perhaps less scrutiny; there was a sense of the judge’s reasoning in the case overshadowing a deeper understanding of the boy and his family’s religious beliefs.

Overall though, the book is a really interesting read; one in which the reader will not want to put it down because of the subject matter as well as the surprisingly unexpected twists along the way. For those reasons McEwan may just have pulled off writing another top book but only just!

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Booker Prize winning author: Ian McEwan

© Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

CONTEMPORARY CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Publisher: Faber and Faber, 1989)

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For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. (Stevens in The Remains of the Day).

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Winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989, Kazuo Ishiguro’s, The Remains of the Day focuses upon life in a Great English House during and after the world wars. The narrator, Stevens, is an ageing butler who recounts the experiences he had in the house under the owner, Lord Darlington, a man for whom he comes to respect for his galvanizing of relations between the English and Germans after the war.

Hollywood

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Academy Award Winners: Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson

As in the 1993 film adaptation (which was nominated for eight Academy Awards with Academy Award Winners, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson taking the lead roles) the book is also preoccupied with the relationships Stevens has with the house keeper, Miss Kenton and his father; relationships which are displayed as professional but which in fact have much more going on under the surface.

Dignity

Ultimately the story is one of love, loss, ageing, dignity and regret as well as looking back at the past. The story does take time before the plot begins to unravel; (the opening chapter has, at times, rather long though beautifully written descriptions of the rural English landscape surrounding the house and neighbouring countryside. The main plot however begins when Stevens shares his experiences of the international meeting that took place in the house. The meeting was arranged by Lord Darlington as a means to put a stop to the mistreatment of the Germans by the English after the war. Many poignant moments take place during that meeting as the story begins to pick up pace thus generating more interest for the reader.

The Author

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Man Booker Prize Winning Author for Fiction: Kazuo Ishiguro

Born in Nagasaki, Japan but an English resident for many years, Ishiguro captures the English countryside along with the functions within a Great English House in a remarkable way. His characterisation of Stevens and Lord Darlington as men from the established middle-class elite in contrast to the blue-collar working-class villagers in the neighbouring countryside is both cleverly written and believable.

In the end, The Remains of the Day is a tale which gives some good insight on a period of English history and cements Ishiguro’s position as one of the best writers to have emerged during our modern times.

© Copyright 2016, Darell J Philip

CECH IT OUT!!!

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Arsenal's 2015 FA Cup win made them the most successful team in its history

DECADE

It was 10 years ago that Arsenal last won the English Premier League, winning the championship in style without a single loss. Since that momentous achievement a decade ago, barely given the credit its due, the team from North London suffered a hugely disappointing nine year dry spell, due in part to the financing of a move to a more lucrative, bigger stadium but perhaps also because of the loss of key players to more successful rivals. There is, however, an air of optimism for the side affectionately known as The Gunners, who having won back-to-back FA Cups and Community Shields for the past two seasons, now have their sights firmly set on winning the Premier League during the upcoming 2015/16 season.

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Arsenal: FA Cup Kings 2015

Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger, certainly made his intentions clear on pushing for a stronger title challenge with the successful capture of World Class goalkeeper, Petr Cech, from bitter rivals Chelsea, for the bargain sum of £10m.

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Latest signing: Petr Cech

Petr Cech, who has won every trophy during his decade long stay at Chelsea, will, in the words of his former captain and friend, John Terry, “win Arsenal at least 10-15 more points.” This bodes well for the most successful FA Cup winning team in history, who’s success in the world’s most famous and oldest football competition was in part due to the signings of other equally world class players such as Santi Cazorla from Malaga, Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid and more recently, Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona. Having paid off their stadium debts, helped by a virtually 60,000 plus sold out stadium each week, in addition to a 15th successive year in the UEFA Champions League, the manager along with the CEO, Ivan Gazidis, have assured fans that there is finance enough to compete with their rivals in ensuring a much closer challenge in the race for the title.

SUCCESS

The success of a team is not merely to do with the purchase of world class players (although this does help tremendously) but also in the harnessing of young home grown talent along with the fostering of a strong team spirit. Arsenal appear to have both these qualities in abundance with the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere rising through the ranks as youth before emerging as superstars within their own right.

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Theo Walcott opens scoring for Arsenal in 2015 FA Cup Win

Instead of leaving Arsenal, players now flock to the club and stay on, believing in the team spirit and thereby signing on to longer contracts in the process. The team, who along with the FA Cup now also hold the record for the most Community Shield wins, will be hoping to go that extra step forward by mounting a stronger challenge in both the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League. All the right ingredients appear to be in place, though if reports linking The Gunners to a pursuit of French and Real Madrid forward, Karim Benzema are true, then it would be rather hard to bet against the team in red and white lifting that Barclays Premier League trophy come May 2016.

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Arsenal: FA Cup Winners 2015

(c) Copyright 2015, Darell J Philip

Photo Credits: Arsenal.com