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    • By Clavain
      A little late but definitely something to celebrate - England are in the semi finals  of the World Cup 
      I cant think of a better world cup for excitement, skill and drama than this one. Every game apart from a few have been wonderfully entertaining.
      I'm glad we're not the country that put Russia out and glad we are not meeting them in the semi final for many reasons.
      France v Belgium 10th July
      England v Croatia 11th July
      The winners play on the 15th.
      Its coming home its coming home..........
       
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      A Natural is the story of a football dressing room. It's a lower league dressing room (specifically League 2, aka The Fourth Division). This is the bottom rung of professional football - below it is a land of semi-professionals, tradies by day and footballers at the weekend. The dressing room is populated by jaded old pros who have tried, and mostly failed, at higher league clubs; young kids torn between ambition and hope on the one hand and the trapdoor to non-league on the other; and just occasionally, the rare man who is comfortable being a hero in a small town. For all of them, there is the spectre of their contract end date and the question of whether it will be renewed.
       
      Specifically, the story focuses on four characters: Tom Pearman, a young footballer who was released at the end of his scholarship with his home town club; Chris Easter, the club captain; Leah, Easter's wife; and Liam Davey, the groundsman. Each has their own demons; none terribly happy with their lives. Yet despite this, the public demand for a "club" in which everyone is matey, blokey and carefree pervades everything. There is horseplay, drinking, clubbing and banter.

      We see the reality, though. A precarious career, depending so often on the last performance and the last mistake. Lives are controlled by coaches who dole out free time, permission to have a drink; set bedtimes; and humiliate those who don't fit in. Footballers spending their lives on the road; ploughing up motorways between their home town, club town, away games and just driving round to get headspace away from their teammates. They live in guesthouses, hotels, temporary rentals. They have no stable friendships, no time to put down roots. At he whim of the coach, they can be living in another city with barely a couple of days' notice, playing for a different team, being idolised by a different set of supporters.

      So what happens if one of the players is gay? There has only ever been one openly gay professional footballer in England (Justin Fashanu) and he ended up taking his own life. Homophobia is rife in football and is tolerated when turned on both one's opponents and one's own team. Managers have gone on record to say that it could never be acceptable to have a gay player in the team; players have taunted one another when they don't fit the laddish stereotype. Everywhere in British society, we have had gay people breaking down the barriers and claiming their part in the world: ay rock stars; gay TV presenters; gay MPs, gay clergy; gay CEOs; gay police. But no gay footballers. And as A Natural demonstrates, football is a hermetically sealed world in which participants have been immersed since early teens. The managers and coaches have never been in the real world; the journalists have either come from the same world or are in awe of it. There is no place to challenge these preconceptions. Indeed, there were even still hints of racial prejudice on display in A Natural to an extend that would see such people drummed out of any other corporation in disgrace. A Natural was a sad indictment of the forced social compliance of the football world.

      But sadly, the novel did not feel quite equal to the ideas. The split focus between the four main characters felt a bit choppy and uneven. Whilst Tom seemed well-drawn and fully realised, I never quite believed in Chris and Leah Easter, and especially not in Liam Davey. They did not seem to have sufficient depth or history; their actions sometimes seemed unpredictable and driven by unclear motive. They did not seem to be consistent in how they related to one another. And in Leah's case, she brought a confusing array of friends and acquaintances who were hard to tell apart and even harder to understand.

      The pacing was slow. Especially towards Christmas in the first season, events seemed to drag out interminably. And then, having set the scene, things didn't really start to go anywhere until well into the second season. The ending came suddenly and didn't quite feel like an ending - if the reader could even fathom what was happening (and I'm not sure this reader quite managed it). The writing was quite downbeat which fitted well with the dreariness of the footballers' lives, but tended to add to the feeling that this was going on for a bit too long.

      Oh, and as for "Town"... I never did quite believe in it. Clearly designed to be a neutral generic - on the south coast, playing in green and red (a colour combination unknown in England), recently promoted from the Conference. But nobody refers to a football club as Town. United, perhaps. City or Villa. But not Town. And did we really believe that someone who had only ever appeared a couple of times as a substitute for the local League 2 outfit would be recognised wherever he went?

      A Natural is quite good - very good in parts - but it just doesn't quite deliver on the high promise of the opening pages.
       
      ***00
    • By MisterHobgoblin
      Occupied City is a short novel, but it's not an easy one. Ostensibly, it is about the poisoning of the staff of a Tokyo bank. Twelve people die.
       
      In reality, the novel is about war and its aftermath; research into chemical weapons, war crimes and what happens when the rules change. Through a series of 12 first person narratives - many of them very fractured - we see different facets of the murder investigation, the weapons research and the world of gangsters. A common theme is the need to adapt or die.

      The structure of the novel matches a traditional Japanese ghost story game where narrators sit around a circle of candles. As each concludes a ghost story, he or she extinguishes a candle. The room gets darker, the atmosphere gets heavier, until in the end there is darkness. But in this novel, it is not the stories that are ghosts - it is their narrators.

      Some of the stories are lucid and take the narrative forward - although with 12 narrators covering common ground, there is an element of repetition. Other narrators, though, are in the depths of madness and serve to create atmosphere. As with other David Peace novels, the repetition is not confined to the plot; many of the narrators repeat mantra like phrases over and over again. It is intense.

      David Peace doesn't provide easy answers. This is not a whodunnit where the culprit is unmasked in the last scene. One man, Sadamichi Hirasawa, an artist, is destined to be convicted of the poisoning despite clear evidence in both the real world and in the Dark Gate of stories that he could not be the killer. We do eventually meet the killer but his identity remains an enigma. In a sense, it doesn't matter. We know what he is, even if we never know the name on his birth certificate.

      This is not a novel where things join up. Things touch, they overlap, they diverge, but there is no single answer. We see a city that was secure in its reverence for the Emperor, justified in taking whatever action necessary to protect him, brought to its knees, occupied by foreign powers and those who were most diligent in their support for the Emperor are now those who are held up to be the worst war criminals. Unless, of course, they can remain hidden in the shadows. The powers of the state - and the powers of the occupiers - are focused on creating a mutually acceptable outcome. They manipulate, distort and treat individuals as expendable.

      As living people, the twelve victims were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And as ghosts seeking justice, again, they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      Occupied City is a difficult read but a very satisfying one. It towers over the its predecessor in an apparent trilogy, the somewhat lacklustre Tokyo Year Zero. In fact, it is so radically different in style and content that most readers would probably not place them in the same set at all.
       
      ****0
    • By Hazel
      I have long wanted to read this series of books and started with 1974 a few months ago. Little did I know that it would be so grim, so gritty, so grimy that I wouldn't be able to read them one after the other and haven't picked up 1977 yet. This isn't to say that the book was bad or so depressing that I couldn't face the next book, far from it, the world Peace created is so realistic and so...I haven't even got the words...grim doesn't begin to encompass it.
       
      Eddie Dunford is a journo, 1974, Yorkshire and he gets caught up in a child murder that captures the public imagination and threatens to tear apart everything and everyone it touches. The girl is found with swan wings stitched to her back. But no one is a angel here and heaven is an impossible ideal.
       
      The murder serves as a black hole that all aspects of public life get pulled into and corrupted. The most interesting aspect is watching Eddie Dunford's destruction as he spirals downward carrying out his investigation.
       
      I have seen the TV drama based on these books, in which Andrew Garfield plays Dunford. I don't feel that my having seen this show has spoiled my reading of the book in anyway - so would recommend anyone to read them. I am both looking forward to 1977 and fearing it.
    • By Clavain
      You may have noticed that the greatest sporting competition in the World is on your tv,internet,radio,newspapers etc
      Passions will run high. National honour is at stake.
      But the sport promotes fairness, sporting excellence and equality.
      Trouble and controversy in Brazil but I'm sure we will have a great tournament
       
      Ingerlaaaannnnnddddddd
      Will be our year.
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