Friday 30 September 2016

Review by Stevie Fists of “Jumping Through Hoops” by Alex Hales

“Whatever does claim me is probably already biding its time.”

I love a good music book, regardless of how the subject’s persona sits with you: take Danny Baker’s memoirs for example, which don’t strictly adhere to a straight musical formula, but are a rollicking read even if (by his own admission at one point) he can sometimes get a bit waspish. Never mind. There are other musical tomes of a piece and similar vintage to Baker’s that are sour or dismissive enough that you wonder why you bothered, and I trust you to be capable of forming your own opinions. I mean, that really is the sum total of these collections anyway. Opinions.

Jumping Through Hoops is an altogether different beast. Written by Alex Hales, it’s a slim, Kindle only (for the moment) effort of around 100 pages, containing 45 bite-sized pieces around different songs from different eras, all bound together by themes of personal significance and some kind of emotional resonance. Whilst I think it safe to assume that this isn’t a sideline for the England cricketer, I do note that this Alex seems to dislike himself a great deal. I wonder why. I sense it in his ruminations on death (“whatever does claim me is probably already biding its time”).

Mostly, as Hales himself acknowledges in his intro, “the dark clouds of depression and anxiety” are the ones that most colour Jumping Through Hoops, and it’s a shame for the writer who exhibits occasional acuity, not least in a piece about Scroobius Pip who of course is himself an enlightened commentator on the creative struggle, and in whose tune “Porter” Hales has found a “lightness of touch … mirrored by the conscience apparent in Pip’s narrative.” I can see what he means. Hales seems unsure, as if he’s holding back due to fear. But, fear of what?

Later in Jumping Through Hoops, he shows that the bit is between his teeth, and in a piece about – of all people – Half Man Half Biscuit, Hales speaks of the difficulty of articulating what those “dark clouds” are like, outside of their immediate context, and of hearing himself trying to do just that. I understand this – the struggle’s real enough, and all-enveloping, yes, but as a fellow sufferer I can attest to the “finding of redemption in a rage against the dying of the light.”

This book is not all self-flagellation – whilst it may be a stage the writer needs to get through before delivering the other projects mentioned on his Kindle author page (, it would grate after a while.  However, there’s some great variety and depth in Jumping Through Hoops, with Krzystof Penderecki jostling for space alongside Queens Of The Stone Age and Pet Shop Boys alongside Big Yoga Muffin. Hales has a YouTube playlist for the book (, and on the above author page there are further projects promised, including a third title – Liars’ Bar – in spring 2017.  You can do worse than to read his offerings.

About the reviewer
Stevie Fists is a retired doctor of engineering, of ineffable origin, and splendidly/horizontally resident in North Staffordshire.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Review by Diana Voinea of “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“I ask children to forgive me for dedicating this book to a grown-up. I have a serious excuse: this grown-up is the best friend I have in the world. I have another excuse: this grown-up can understand everything, even books for children. I have a third excuse: he lives in France where he is hungry and cold. He needs to be comforted. If all these excuses are not enough then I want to dedicate this book to the child whom this grown-up once was. All grown-ups were children first. (But few of them remember it.) So I correct my dedication:
To Leon Werth,
When he was a little boy”

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Come on, I cannot quote all the book, you have to read it! And not because is one of the best-selling books ever published and the fourth most-translated book in the world, but because it will wake up the inner child which is maybe hidden in many of us.

The Little Prince will take you in a magical journey about life and human nature. It is a story that can be read more than once in different stages of your life and every time you’ll discover more about you, about the little things that you have forgotten, about simplicity of life, and it’s meanings. Presenting several characters through the eyes of a child, the author builds up a touching allegory about life, friendship, interior peace and love.

Even if it seems to be a book for children, I truly recommend it to all the adults and I’m pretty sure that if more people would understand the message of it, then the world could be a better place. Thank you, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry!

About the reviewer
Diana Voinea is a Romanian who started a new life, at the age of 44, in the UK and is having a lot of fun running a coffee shop where she meets many people and listens to their stories, and that’s just like reading a book every day. In her spare time she loves to travel, climb mountains, run on a snowboard and enjoy every second of her life.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Review by Robert Richardson of “Symposium” by Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark’s novel Symposium begins with a dinner party organised at the London home of the wealthy Chris Donovan and her companion Hurley Reed, a successful painter. The guests, four couples, are well heeled, and include an EU Commissioner, which will contribute, post Brexit, to making this novel something of a period piece.

This initial setting is followed by earlier events showing connections between some of the characters. In the final pages, we are returned to the dinner party. The pleasure Chris and Hurley derive from their meticulous planning of the evening might be seen as echoing Spark’s careful structuring of the novel.

Eventually, the story of one of the guests, the recently married Margaret, becomes central. As readers, we are taken from London to Scotland (the native country of both Margaret and Spark) to meet Margaret’s eccentric family, including the grotesque and insane uncle Magnus. On those days he is permitted to leave the asylum, Magnus is treated by Margaret’s gullible father as a sage, and she has a particular affinity with him. Although innocent, she has been associated with more than one murder, and her own family look on her with suspicion.  Prompted by uncle Magnus, she decides to begin acting duplicitously and in ways that would make the suspicion justified.

Spark is very much a stylist, and her control of expression and tone is impressive, although her short sentences, even in a brief novel such as this, can at times be monotonous. Nevertheless they suit her forensic satire.

The entertainment leaves plenty of room for serious reflections, and at the end we are confronted with planned violence superseded by violence existing spontaneously. Spark shows the fault line of mortality cannot be avoided by privilege and the complacency it assumes.

Spark was a Catholic convert, and there is a tendency to trace those beliefs in her novels. They are no doubt lurking behind all her work, but her lightness of touch means she only occasionally seems to crowbar in Catholicism, and less so than those other converts, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.
Published in 1990, in a milieu contemporary to that time, Symposium is a world not too far away from our own, but in an important way it now appears distant, since the same characters today, or at least some of them, would, I suspect, be searching each other on Google, tweeting and posting on Facebook. If Spark were still alive, I think she might be having a lot of fun with the many absurdities of social media.

About the reviewer
Robert Richardson is a visual artist and writer. His work is included in Artists’ Postcards: A Compendium (edited by Jeremy Cooper, published by Reaktion Books, London), and he is a member of the Biennale Austria artists’ association. He is also the co-editor, with William Pratt, of Homage to Imagism (AMS Press, New York). In 2014, his solo exhibition TextSpaces was exhibited at Eugen Gomringer’s Kunsthaus Rehau in Germany.