The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Book Review)

12/08/2013 § Leave a comment

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Stimulated by the systematic delivery to academics of a cryptic book, Jon Ronson investigates the business of madness. Encountering belligerent Scientologists, psychopaths and disgraced and acclaimed psychologists alike, Ronson finds himself empowered with the ultimate psychopath spotting gismo; the Psychopath Test. Ronson’s most engaging anecdotes are regurgitations of the work of others (the Rosenhan experiment being the best example), but he does enlighten the reader to the madness that is inherent in some systems of psychology, as well as its subjects. The Psychopath Test is an entertaining and didactic documentary collection of case studies that will both shock and amuse.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Book review)

27/04/2013 § 2 Comments

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Centenarian Allan Karlsson flees his retirement home-imposed birthday celebrations and, through cantankerousness and folly, winds up on the slipper-cloven-shuffle from the authorities with a suitcase full of cash and a trail of corpses in his wake.  This books reads like a bad impersonation of a funny story. The title tries too hard to achieve quirky literalism, and it’s downhill from there. The result is a farcical yarn that trivialises murder and shoe-horns in ridiculously unlikely political figures; all without the laughs to back it up. With flaws that can’t be blamed on translation, this novel is lucky to raise occasional wry smiles.

Orwell’s Cough by John Ross (book review)

04/02/2013 § Leave a comment

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A collection of medically focused mini-biographies of literary greats, most of who are connected by acquaintance and shared ailments. Although comprising some occasionally tenuous theories, Orwell’s Cough is fascinating whether you’re interested in literary or clinical history. It details the development of medicine via profiles of prolific authors plagued by the signature illnesses of bygone creative minds; mental disorder and venereal disease. From a collection of well researched essays Ross has put together a sinuous and gritty read that will enable you to see the writers of your favourite works (and their doctors) in a new, and not altogether flattering, light.

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now by Craig Taylor (Book Review)

29/11/2012 § Leave a comment

This collection of interviews aims to paint an original picture of one of the world’s most enigmatic cities. Spanning squatters to bankers, north to south, Taylor’s five year odyssey allows readers glances into the windows of an array of the city’s relationships, acquaintances and pen-pals. Unfortunately, Taylor peaks with his poetic introduction, with exciting and surprising accounts (the voice of the tube and TFL lost property deserve a mention) too sparsely scattered. More importantly, despite well thought out categories, the domineeringly bitter portrayal of the city as grim and unfriendly alienates those readers who are residents and overwhelms the remainder.

To paraphrase Carrie Bradshaw “If you only get one great love, then London may just be mine… and I can’t have nobody talkin’ shit about my boyfriend.”

Yes Man by Danny Wallace (Book Review)

28/09/2012 § Leave a comment

Danny, a recently dumped twenty-something, is in a funk. Prompted by the random words of a stranger, he decides to rid himself of perpetual nights in watching Eastenders by saying ‘Yes’ more. Specifically to everything, all the time. The results are comedic, bizarre and highly readable. Admittedly, the portrayals of Danny as both a naïve simpleton who believes internet scams, and also an astute philosopher able to mock his own idiocy are a little hard to reconcile. Despite this frustration, and its over-hyped ‘profound’ message, Yes Man is worth picking up for the Hypnodog encounter and ‘lost glasses’ incidents alone.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay (Book Review)

30/05/2012 § Leave a comment

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During the brutal 1942 roundup of Jews in Paris Sarah, naively believing her absence to be temporary, locks her brother in a secret hideaway. Her plight to return to him intersperses the story of Julia, an American journalist living in the modern day capital. Tasked with writing a commemorative piece for the 60th anniversary of the roundup, Julia discovers a connection with the past that threatens to unravel her present. Sarah’s mournful and affecting narrative is thrown into stark contract by Julia’s melodramatic and tedious story, leaving the reader wishing the 1940’s tale wasn’t diluted by an unnecessary dual narrative.

Pure by Andrew Miller (Book Review)

30/03/2012 § 1 Comment

In 1785 a young engineer is instructed to remove the vast cemetery of Les Innocents in Paris, which is poisoning its city; literally and figuratively. As he commences his work John-Baptiste and those around him are consumed by the hellishness of their task; to purify the dead whilst fearing becoming them. This novel is enriched with parable and metaphors without being buried by them, and from the ashes rises a quirky story that is poetically written, often quote-worthy, and wickedly funny. Miller makes the engineer’s plight against madness and toward modernity a pungently gripping and compulsive must-read.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Book Review)

15/02/2012 § Leave a comment

In 1951 Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer on a ‘black ward’ in Baltimore. But her cells lived on. Taken at a time when consent wasn’t required by law Henrietta’s cells, named HeLa, were the first to become immortal in culture. Trillions were produced, helping scientists develop vaccines, cures and millions of dollars. HeLa’s development is paralleled with the hitherto largely unknown woman behind the medicine and the young family she left behind. Scientific elements are explained well and the Lacks’ are elaborately characterised, enamouring the reader to their plight. Despite some overzealous fictionalisations and an author who insists on edifying the reader of her own ingenuity, this book is a great human interest read.

Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum (Book Review)

29/01/2012 § Leave a comment

This non-fiction work retells the early history of England’s first criminal lunatic asylum, Broadmoor. Using its recently released archives as source material, Stevens creates a complete picture of the institution within the Victorian period that includes portraits of its staff and (in)famous ‘guests’ as well as escape attempts, births and deaths, all of which occurred within the confines of this eminent and progressive component of the judicial system. Retold in a readable and engaging manner this unexpected gem is an eye opening quick read for anyone intrigued by mental health, criminology or the justice system. And if you own a kindle, it’s free!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Book Review)

03/10/2011 § Leave a comment

The Help is set in 60s America’s Deep South, told from the points of view of two black maids and a white society lady, Skeeter, whose journalistic ambitions lead her to confront the shocking realities of living a life of servitude for less than minimum wage. Skeeter’s project provides the novel with a conduit through which a wealth of anecdotes surface. Whilst numerous incidents are harrowing, many are brimming with love and humour. The three distinct but complimentary voices are perfectly drawn, and Stockett’s bold choice to adopt voices of black Mississippian women paid off superbly. It’s popularity is well-earned.

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