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G. K. Lowell

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High-Rise cover art

Disturbing Fable

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 14-05-15

High-Rise is one of the best books by J. G. Ballard, one of the most distinctive and influential writers of the last fifty years. A sort of Lord of the Flies with grown ups it tells of how a luxurious apartment building for affluent professionals descends into savagery as their primal urges overwhelm their veneer of civilization. An important book and well worth experiencing.
My only quibble is the narrator. Tom Hiddleston is a fine actor, a well-known name and the obvious choice as he plays the lead in the forthcoming feature film directed by Ben Wheatley. But I have been slightly spoiled by hearing Sean Barrett and William Gaminara read other works by Ballard for Audible and they are both outstanding interpreters of Ballard and while Hiddleston does a very good job as reader a screen actor turning his hand to reading an audiobook isn't quite as polished as those experts.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

The Complete Short Stories cover art

A Majestic Collection

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 14-05-15

Ballard was one the most distinctive voices in 20th century literature: weird, disturbing, poetic, provocative and prescient. This collection shows the range of his imagination, from mainstream SF stories to fables to audacious formal experimentation to witty social satires. Superbly read too: some of Ballard's stories present a narrator with considerable challenges which all of the narrators here meet with aplomb. A slight warning: some of Ballard's work does deal with challenging themes and the easily-offended might find material in here to offend them. (If you suspect this may include you I recommend Googling J. G Ballard and Ronald Reagan to find the title of one of his most notorious stories to test.)
For everyone but the most squeamish this represents a major chunk of the output of one of the most important writers of recent years performed impeccably. Unmissable

24 of 25 people found this review helpful

The Unsettled Dust cover art

Strange Stories Indeed

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-09-14

Aickman called his tales "strange stories" and that is a far more helpful description than any other. Some people hear him described as a "master of horror" or "terror" and expecting something in the style of Robert Bloch or James Herbert are then disappointed by stories which are rather literary, subtly disquieting and generally lacking in overt gore.
There has been a resurgence of interest in Aickman's work in the UK in recent years and part of the reason for this has been the championing of it by the 'League of Gentlemen' team, so it is no surprise to find one of them, Reece Shearsmith, reading this collection.
Shearsmith recounted in a recent interview that the sound recordist said to him, "you're really acting them, aren't you?" about these sessions and he does try hard to give each story a distinct character and to differentiate characters within the stories. Aickman isn't the easiest writer to read aloud: some of his sentences do meander on and there are occasions when the reader sounds as if he's expecting a sentence to end then hurriedly has to adjust his inflection to fit in another clause or two, but overall Shearsmith's obvious enthusiasm and sympathy for the work more than compensates for the very occasional misplaced emphasis and his natural educated Yorkshire accent fits most of the stories very well.
My favourite of Aickman's stories are his most distinctive: while he can do a traditional ghost story, as in the title story and some of his works are clearly allegorical such as, 'No Stronger Than a Flower' his best stories are impossible to categorise cleanly.
In 'Ravissante' the narrator meets a young couple, a man who has abandoned painting to edit art books and his mysterious, taciturn wife. After the man's death the narrator is appointed his executor and discovers a manuscript detailing how the deceased had travelled to study the works of his artistic heroes and had a highly disturbing encounter with the widow of one of them. Is she, or the adopted daughter she describes but we never see, some kind of malevolent spirit destroying artists across generations? And is the widow of the artist turned publisher the same being?
Similarly in the final, and longest, story in this collection, 'The Stains' a senior civil servant recovering after the death of his wife goes to stay with his brother, a clergyman and amateur expert on lichens in northern England. Walking on the moors he embarks on a passionate affair with a mysterious young woman who may be a nymph - or, as we are given reasons to suspect, a figment of the alcoholic civil servant's imagination? And just what do the lichens represent symbolically?
Aickman's best stories are beautiful, rich and puzzling: they don't have solutions; they pose questions and as a result they are ideally suited to multiple readings or listenings

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Alice in Wonderland cover art

A classic read poorly

Overall
2 out of 5 stars
Performance
1 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-09-14

Alice is one of the great classics of children's literature but I cannot recommend this version. The narrator is wildly over-emphatic - listen how WHACKY and ZANY this is - and appears to be pitching this subtle satire, written by an Oxford don, at the under fives. It's very easy to spoil humour by trying too hard to make it funny instead of just letting the jokes emerge naturally which is what happens here.
Very disappointed.
Possibly this is one of those cases where a book is seen differently on each side of the Atlantic and this is how the USA perceives the book: in which case I'd love to hear a UK English version: Stephen Fry or Alan Bennett could do the text justice and give it some subtlety.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful