REVIEW: The Northern Clemency

northern-clemency-jacket1Author: Philip Hensher

Knopf, 2008

Best ebook deal: Public library

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 7

The Northern Clemency is the sprawling kind of novel, following two English families and dozens of characters over several decades, and for more than 600 pages. It’s well rendered and beautifully written, missing a sense of real urgency but trading that for breadth and realism.

Clemency opens with a fantastic scene at a suburban cocktail party, full of neurotic characters, dysfunction, and weirdness. Hensher exudes the sense of authority possessed only by great writers. Put yourself in my hands, he says, and trust me to show you something.

What he shows you is a wide slice of (mundane) real life. People have affairs, their husbands leave, they fight with their children, their daughters turn vegetarian, and later they turn back. Their children deal with bullies, friends, sexual awkwardness. As those children grow up, they look for apartments, roommates, jobs, and love.

Hensher dives deeply into the ordinariness of his characters’ lives, and watching his exploration is often amusing, but it can never be called gripping.
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REVIEW: Kill Your Boyfriend

killyourboyfriendAuthors: Grant Morrison and Philip Bond

Vertigo, 2008

Best ebook deal: Not Available

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 7
Visual Style..... 7

Grant Morrison and Philip Bond’s “Kill Your Boyfriend,” originally published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint in 1995 and reprinted (again) last October (likely to capitalize on Morrison’s recent high-profile work on “Batman,” “All-Star Superman,” and “Final Crisis” for DC), is a classic love story.  Girl meets Boy.  Girl and Boy drink, vandalize their quiet English suburb, and toy with nihilism.  Boy kills Girl’s geeky, sex-phobic boyfriend in cold blood while she watches.  Her response: “I think I’m in love.”  Boy and Girl then set off on a criminal holiday involving sex, drugs, art students, teacakes, and, finally, Blackpool tower. 
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To Whomever Borrowed My Lolita

I can’t remember who you are, but you were probably at my house when I was drunk and I probably lent it to you after gushing about until you were so sick of hearing me talking that you took it so I’d shut up. I hope you’ve read it by now, but it’s probably just sitting in a pile behind your couch. And that’s such a shame, because it’s so damn good. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” Have you at least gotten that far yet? Probably not, otherwise you would’ve read the whole book without stopping, then given it back to me, and we could be talking about Humbert and the love/loathe obsession with him we now surely share. “Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.” How can you not be enraptured with that kind of enrapture?

"All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul."

“All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other’s soul…”

Wanted, wanted: Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Cover: paper; a picture of a girl in mary janes.

Pages: worn and marked.

Age: close to five thousand three hundred days?

Profession: my favorite book.

Okay that was sappy, but if you’d read the book you’d get what I was going for. I’m just lonely for my book. But you know what? I don’t want it back. I want you to read it, and write in it lovingly. Once your tongue’s tip has tripped its steps enough that you don’t need to read it to repeat, give it to someone else to read. That, after all is why books are great. If you gave it back, I’d just put it on my shelf, and it’d once again be my pretty object, there for me to fondle its pages if I so chose. But then I’d be an H.H., confusing an object with an idea. I love Lolita; not the paper it’s printed on. Instead, I’ll get a DRM-free copy, then I won’t need to worry about anything but the perfect language and having it forever. “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”



foolAuthor: Christopher Moore

HarperCollins, 2008

Best ebook deal: Public library

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 4

Christopher Moore writes “comic novels,” which gives me pause. I love funny books, but I rarely read comic novels, because they always seem to ignore every other aspect of fiction on their quest toward cracking a joke every five sentences. Mainstream dramatic books, in my experience, can weave humor in with their story; they can create a melody of narrative, where comic novels usually lapse into a low, constant drone.

Fool reads, for the most part, like just such a drone. The story is King Lear, told from the point of view of the court jester, called Fool in the play, Pocket in the novel. Moore does his best Shakespeare impression, leaning toward bawdiness and away from drama. And his impression isn’t too bad, actually. If you unfocus a little, it might even pass at certain points. Not, however, the points where Moore can’t resist naming the King of France “Jeff,” or dropping in words like “dude” and “jizm.”

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Wednesday Links: 3-25-09

Some news about books and ebooks from around the web:

  • It’s awards season. Judges for the Man Booker Prize announced finalists, including E.L. Doctorow, V.S. Naipaul, Alice Munro, and Joyce Carol Oates. The Orange Prize for women’s fiction released their longlist, including Toni Morrison, Allegra Goodman, and Samantha Hunt. Seamus Heaney has won the David Cohen Prize for his lifetime in letters. Salvatore Scibone has won the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award. The National Magazine Awards announced finalists; we learn that The New Yorker has a smaller circulation rate than Martha Stewart Living. And a survey of French writers found Marcel Proust their favorite author and Proust’s monster seven-volume novel A recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past) their favorite book.
  • Random of the week: Animal Rescue Camel Caravan; a site about a couple of itinerant Australian animal rescuers/goddess clothing makers, who travel by camel-pulled wagon across the desert. Outstanding. Alas, there is no blog, but there’s word of a book to come. Buy their clothes here.

Script Format on an eReader

I’ve been working on a play lately, so I got it into my head to see how well script formatting worked in various file formats on an ereader. Turns out, not that great.

It’s a bit of a moot point anyway, seeing as nobody reads scripts without needing to take notes on them, and no current ereader can satisfactorily do that, so consider this purely curiosity.

The long and the short of is that PDF is the only readable format for scripts. Hit the jump for a complete breakdown, pictures, and more details.

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Sony + Google Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As you might have heard from one of many sources, Google Books has partnered with Sony’s eBook Store to make half a million out-of-copyright books available as non-DRMed ePubs.

This is unquestionably a step forward for the world of ereading, but for people who want to pick up one of these books right now, there are some caveats.

Here’s what going on with this partnership, and what it means for readers.
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Fringe Shouts

Thanks to our friends over at Fringe Magazine, who gave us a kind shout yesterday. If you’ve never heard of Fringe, they are an online magazine who publish media off all sorts, with an aim to energize readers and writers to push convention. In their words:

We are about writing that confronts and questions. We want to challenge perceptions, to drive readers to action. Fringe also provides a venue for artists who take their genres into the next paradigm–those who play with form, who work outside the box—those who are on the fringe.

Fringe thinks much like us in terms in terms of reader advocacy, in fact we’ll be doing an interview swap with them in the near future, so stay tuned for that. They also have an eclectic and entertaining blog, which we’ve linked to on the right bar so you can keep abreast of their updates.

So if you haven’t checked Fringe out before, do so. And if your just clicking over from the Fringe post and never been to Chamber Four before, welcome. We’re a new site, and growing quickly. We invite you to dive right in and comment on anything, or if you’re up for it, write us an informal book review about any book at all. We’ll even mail you some totally free stuff for the effort.


ChamberFour Staff

REVIEW: Lost City Radio

lost-city-radioAuthor: Daniel Alarcón

HarperCollins, 2007

Best ebook deal: eBookMall

C4 Ratings.....out of 10
Language..... 5
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 6

Daniel Alarcón’s 2005 story collection, War By Candlelight, made a big splash in the literary world, and for good reasonit is gripping work beginning to end, nine stories related with a maturity that belies the writer’s age. Alarcón wrote most of the stories while in his early 20s, but the characters, many of them as young as their creator, live their tales of grief and loneliness with a worldliness that cannot be faked. It’s little wonder that the book was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award in 2006, and readers eagerly anticipated the release of his debut novel.

If novels are to be judged by ambition alone, then Lost City Radio merits high honors: Alarcón attempts to sum up in 250 pages the experiences of an entire continent’s worth of grief-stricken, war-torn people. He cares a great deal about his subject matter here, and it shows. The product, though, just doesn’t hold up, and Lost City Radio is done in by aggravating clichés, untimely and inexplicable point-of-view shifts, and a nebulous sense of time and place that prevents his characters from really coming alive. Which is too bad, because this could’ve been a very good book.
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The Necessity of the Medium and Other Fallacies

In The Daily Beast Tuesday, Yale professor Stephen L. Carter cries out for a bailout for publishing, claiming that paper books as objects are essential to no less than democracy itself.

I could not disagree more.

Look, fearing the future is natural; it is by definition the unknown, and it’s scary. There are two ways to deal with this fear: we can describe it, define it, and use it to better the future that arrives; or we can prematurely assume that our fear is founded, cling to the past, and attempt to resist the future’s inexorable pull. Carter takes the latter route, the unhealthy route, the useless route.

I could spend all day picking apart this article. In fact, I’m going to. Brace yourself.

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