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Books in Brief

All the King's Men (Penguin Modern Classics)

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

Five words from the blurb: politics, American, community, corruption, success

I really wanted to finish this classic, but after 6 months I think I must finally admit defeat. I started to read the paperback, but found the dialogue confusing. I wondered if this would be improved by the audio version so I imported a copy from America (at great expense as I really did want to get the best from it) but, although this was an improvement, I still found the story painfully slow. Politicians and their power games irritate me and I’m afraid the period detail wasn’t enough to hold my attention. I listened to 9/18 of the CDs before finally giving up. It’s an important book, but it wasn’t for me.



Dept. of Speculation

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Five words from the blurb: letters, married, family, facts, changes

Dept of Speculation is a slim book in which the story of one woman’s breakdown is explained via a series of passages, most just one paragraph long. I don’t normally enjoy experimental books, but there was something about the writing that compelled me to read on. I loved the inclusion of random facts and sped through the entire book in a single sitting. Unfortunately it had no lasting impact and just two weeks on I’ve forgotten almost everything about this book. It’s an entertaining distraction, but I’m afraid it didn’t have the emotional power I like to see.


The Tell-tale Heart

The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson

Five words from the blurb: teenager, dies, heart, transplanted, stranger

The Tell-Tale Heart began really well, with an emotional scene in which a man wakes up after heart surgery. Unfortunately this emotional atmosphere failed to be carried through the rest of the book. It was all a bit predictable and ordinary. There were a few interesting observations about life, but overall it was all too simple and subtle for me.


15 replies on “Books in Brief”

Gosh… All the king’s Men is so unappealing to me .
Shame about the Dept. of speculation, it sounded like it had a lot of potential.
I was hoping it would be a five star read.

Ifi, If you stumble across a copy of Dept of Speculation it is still worth a read. The couple of hours spent reading it were quite enjoyable. Perhaps you’ll remember it more than I did!

I liked The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa a lot and hope to try Dept of Speculation (short enough to merit a try).

Oh no! As you may or may not recall, All the King’s Men is one of my all-time favorite reads. It has been ages since I did read it, and I will admit that it is slow going at times, but I definitely felt it was worth it, even if it is certainly challenging at times. I’m so bummed it didn’t work for you!

I’ve heard so much glowing praise for Dept of Spec, it’s nice to hear something a little less effusive. I will still read it, and I am not necessarily so bothered by a book that is fun/addictive in the moment but has not lasting impact on me, but still, it’s nice to have a bit of balance.

Steph, I know! That is why I tried so hard with it. It is such a shame I didn’t enjoy it more. I’ll have to watch the DVD and see if I have more luck with that.

Glad I can provide some balance against the building hype for Dept of Speculation. I’ll be interested to compare notes on it!

Agh, Jackie, no! I absolutely loved ‘All the King’s Men’ and could hardly put it down – not only is it my read of the year so far, but it is sure to enter my personal pantheon of all-time favourites. I thought it was absolutely magnificent in its tackling of issues such as the difference between fact and truth and “the moral neutrality of history”. Wonderfully flawed and complex characters and the writing! The writing was stunning – the first few pages were so good I thought there was no way he could sustain that level throughout, but he did.

I’m intrigued by the generally good reviews ‘The Dept. of Speculation’ is getting and wonder if I should give it a go. I read Offill’s ‘Last Things’ years ago and really didn’t rate it at all, even though I can’t remember the first thing about it now except that it had a nice cover.

David, Sorry! So many people LOVED ‘All the King’s Men’ and that is why I persevered for so long. I agree that the writing quality was very good, but unfortunately the subject matter just wasn’t for me.

I haven’t read any of Offill’s previous books, but it is interesting to know you’ve forgotten everything about her last one. I wonder what she needs to do to make her writing more memorable?

It’s okay, Jackie: even acknowledged “classics” won’t work for everyone (I hated “Brave New World” and thought “The Old Man and the Sea” was a bit middling).
I put off reading “All the King’s Men” for ages as I thought the subject would be dry, but it was the characters that grabbed me and the ideas that Penn Warren liberally sprinkles throughout the book, like that passage where Jack Burden is driving and wonders who “You” are when you’re driving in your car at night, if “You” only exist as seen through others’ eyes – I didn’t necessarily agree with the reasoning but that passage kept me thinking all that day.

I’ll put a good word in for Dept of Speculation. I reviewed it here and interviewed the author here. Hopefully these will give some insight into why I think it is more than just “an entertaining distraction”!

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