MixedThe Sunday Times (UK)Hendy’s narrative is at its liveliest in the first three decades of the BBC, when a mixture of empire builders and free spirits laid the foundations of the organisation ... Hendy’s narrative does begin to lose momentum once it reaches the 1960s. From that point onwards, it delivers a lot of familiar tales ... And Hendy seems happy to endorse the view that the present culture wars are a smokescreen for right-wing pressure groups. Isn’t there more to it than that? Calling this book \'a people’s history\' is a mistake too, since the focus is very much on the executives and senior programme-makers ... this book is full of the odour of ancient memoranda and committee minutes. The folk who toiled in factories to the sound of Music While You Work or laughed at The Generation Game are vague figures in the background.
PositiveThe Times (UK)McWhorter is trying to inject a measure of sanity into a debate that has become increasingly unhinged ... The book, nevertheless, tries to cover an awful lot of ground in a breathless and occasionally repetitive series of chapters ... There are fleeting references to the high priests of modern antiracism, Ibram X Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, but their philosophy is never discussed in detail ... Woke Racism, clearly written at a gallop, isn’t as profound or rewarding as McWhorter’s earlier books ... Still, his dry sense of humour is always worth savouring. With his demure, middle-class upbringing, two biracial children and fondness for The New Yorker, he knows he doesn’t have enough street credibility to satisfy some of his detractors, but he’s not going to fall for that canard.
PanThe Times (UK)That title cries out to be turned into a sexy, pacey movie, but the book isn’t actually a thriller. If only it were ... Whitehead gives us the bare outlines of a potboiler with the laboured prose of a middling literary novel. The two ingredients sit awkwardly side by side ... just mundane slabs of prose that wander nowhere in particular ... the writing is so oddly flat, alternating between a bloodless formality and interjections of what passes for jive talk. Sometimes it just sounds like a caption in a Victorian penny dreadful ... it’s difficult to take much interest in what happens, or to follow the comings and goings of small-time crooks who go by names such as Biz Dixon and Bumpy Johnson. Actual Harlem celebrities are glimpsed in the background — Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and the firebrand congressman Adam Clayton Powell all get a mention. Yet the neighbourhood that Himes and the Jamaican-born novelist Claude McKay brought so memorably to life ultimately seems as one-dimensional as, well, the Hamptons.
Les Payne and Tamara Payne
MixedThe Times (UK)It’s to this biography’s credit that it attempts to scrape away some of the mythology ... The book’s chief virtue is that it gives a voice to Malcolm’s brothers, Wilfred and Philbert. It has a sharp eye, too, for the social divisions in the black community, some of them based on the hierarchy of skin tone ... Sad to say, however, most of this 500-odd page narrative is rambling and repetitive. The authors might have been better advised to write a shorter book focusing on the family interviews. He gives us far too much on Malcolm’s criminal career and then skates through his rise and fall as a national leader ... The authors try to crank up the tension in the final pages, but the prose is so wooden that the final scene of mayhem seems almost an anticlimax. You end this book admiring Malcolm’s courage and sense of destiny, but concluding that Martin Luther King will win the argument in the end.
MixedThe Times (UK)The narrative takes wing in these climactic sections. Elsewhere, for all the detailed analysis, you do find yourself longing for some of the declamatory, dramatic prose of CLR James. There is timeless poetry in Louverture’s rise and fall.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Three decades ago that masterly American writer Tobias Wolff published This Boy’s Life, his classic memoir of a troubled childhood and a bullying, unpredictably violent stepfather...It’s no exaggeration to say that Natasha Trethewey’s book belongs in the same exalted company ... She writes in a quiet, understated voice that, with its references to classical mythology, could be mistaken for the decorous house style of those high-minded magazines that live at the margins of American culture. Call it campus prose, if you like ... As she continues to amass modest domestic details, the measured sentences take on an awful momentum of their own ... Trethewey too is dogged by her own feelings of survivor’s guilt. With this fine book she has at least made amends.
PanThe Times (UK)You’d be forgiven for assuming that [Porter\'s] letters would be a riot of sensuality and insider gossip. Far from it. This 660-page collection, which also includes some brief diary entries, often makes Broadway’s master of the louche and the risqué sound like a soda water-sipping Rotarian accountant. Most of them are, to be absolutely frank, maddeningly, stunningly dull ... Porter scholars may find useful titbits here, but for the general reader it’s a forced march through the social calendar ... All that’s missing are his gas and electric bills ... We get only glimpses of his inner life from his letters ... It’s in the occasional extract from a newspaper or magazine article that you come closest to the wit and waspishness that are such an essential element of the songs ... If only the letters themselves could have been so droll.
MixedThe Times (UK)With The Water Dancer he has come up with a curious strain of fantasy fiction. The first half of the novel—which is definitely the more interesting part—is a stylishly executed if overlong portrait of a gifted young slave ... A tireless researcher, Coates has immersed himself in the history of the period ... Once the focus shifts to the conspirators and their adventures, though, the tone falters badly. We are suddenly closer to pulp fiction. Coates piles one plot twist after another as the tale plods towards the 400-page mark. His prose sags ... these waters, although mystical, run very shallow.
PanThe Times (UK)... possesses even less substance than its predecessor. Its flaws are so glaring that I can’t help wondering if it is time to start administering drugs tests to book reviewers ... Elwood is so inert and self-effacing, in fact, that you have trouble believing in him as a character at all. Rather, he resembles some cipher concocted for a debating school contest over the viability of non-violent resistance ... to make such an unremittingly bleak episode work as a novel, you need some stylistic flair. He instead opts for colourless, clunking prose that at first seems to be evoking the bland, bureaucratic machinery of the prison administration. Over the course of a couple of hundred pages, though, it reminds you of some well-meaning but incompetent attempt to translate a foreign language into English ... Towards the end, a plot twist renders Elwood’s fate even more poignant. By then, though, it is hard to care either way. Given that the novel is based on true events, that is a damning conclusion. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if The Nickel Boys makes a splash, however. If misery memoirs are still good for business, so are novels that paint the African-American experience in the bleakest colours imaginable.
PositiveThe Sunday Times...Ray Connolly’s brisk and eminently readable biography of John Lennon reminds us of the irresistible forces driving the Fab Four apart ... Connolly inevitably goes over some well-trodden ground. Philip Norman’s magisterial 850-page biography, published more than a decade ago, is a more stylish read, but if Connolly doesn’t deliver any seismic revelations, he tells his story with all the gusto of an old Fleet Street hand ... Connolly takes us on a high-speed guided tour of an era when showbusiness rules were rewritten by young men who were wittier and much less deferential than their predecessors.
PositiveThe Sunday TimesYour mind starts to reel as if you have just spent a few hours being hit over the head by the collected works of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The narrative advances in fits and starts, fragments of autobiography alternating with overviews of music history that are wrapped up with summaries of albums that serve to illustrate stylistic trends ... After 80 pages of this sort of thing, you might be tempted to give up and go back to wandering around Spotify. But it’s worth persevering ... Coleman is very sharp ... there is another important theme, although it does not emerge until the final section ... [his] sudden hearing loss and tinnitus ... It reminds me of Oliver Sacks writing about how distant strains of Schubert coming out of a stranger’s window snapped him out of the depression that had settled on him after the death of his mother. Coleman’s journey, long and tortuous, has taught him a similar lesson.
MixedThe Times (UK)\"Hudson remains an enigma throughout these pages. Griffin spends a lot of time plodding through the synopses of long-forgotten potboilers. His subject’s private life is glimpsed in fleeting long shots ... It’s typical of this he-said-she-said biography that hardly anyone — including his now-dead wife — seems able to agree on what was going on.\
MixedThe Times (UK)My Love Story is a decent read, but lacks the passion of I, Tina. The first-person narrative has a bland, ghost-written quality, whereas the earlier book, which blends contributions from other musicians and witnesses — including Ike — allows people to speak their own salty language ... You cannot fail to be moved, though, by Turner’s reflections on her sense of isolation as a child ... Perhaps we can never really escape our past.
MixedThe TimesPeter Biskind has written ... a politicized study of the industry in the new millennium ... Biskind, intent on reducing scripts and stories to their ideological essentials, cites Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk as an example of the new trend in political extremism. Yes, really. Why does Biskind think it is far right? Partly for the old-fashioned crime of pitting Us against Them. Biskind also detects an undercurrent of pro-Brexit chauvinism ... a few film-makers add an occasional comment ... Mostly, however, they are non-speaking extras who lurk at the sidelines while Biskind obsessively slots their work into the appropriate category, from Luddite left (liberals who distrust technology) to dotcom right ... Biskind carpet-bombs us with dense plot summaries that blur into one another. By the end, I wasn’t sure I had enough stamina to tell the difference between the dotcom left and the ecumenical center ... Not all of the categorizations seem entirely arbitrary. There’s a certain logic to putting 24 and Homeland into a right-wing America First box ... But ... The Sky is Falling delivers far less than it promises. Which is a shame, because Biskind does touch on worthwhile questions about how film and TV shape our sense of history and how the world works.
RaveThe TimesBy the end of this book you too, dear reader, may feel as if you have had a pint sloshed in your face. There is chronic diarrhoea and flatulence too, not to mention a visit to a sexually transmitted diseases clinic that ends with what has to be one of the more embarrassing questions ever put to a doctor. And you cannot escape the sickly odour of death. No doubt this makes To Throw Away Unopened sound like an unbearably graphic and embarrassing read. Albertine blurts out the kind of thoughts and confessions most of us would think twice about confiding to a diary. Yet she also gives a sensitive glimpse into the inner life of a nonconformist who has overcome an impoverished, dysfunctional upbringing and found some sort of place in the world. Misery memoirs may be all the rage, but Albertine’s dark humor and sharp prose lift her into another league ... this book transcends rock’n’roll.