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Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on Annie Proulx, an anti-internet polemic and the tale of Lucie Blackman.

Bird Cloud: A Memoir by Annie Proulx

Writing in the Observer, Geoff Dyer is disappointed with "the story of how a great and ageing American writer came across a 640-acre spread of land in Wyoming, bought it and set about designing and building (more accurately, having people build) her ideal house on it." Despite some evidence of Proulx's "observational prowess and gift for verbally harnessing the elements", Dyer discovers that the writing falters without the "human and narrative purchase" that characterizes her best fiction. Consequently, Dyer "had soon had enough of it" and is left feeling that this book "begins suspiciously to resemble a way of covering the spiralling costs" of building a bespoke house.

"The absence of an over-arching narrative structure is the book's weakness," concludes Susan Elderkin in the Financial Times. Depicting landscape, Proulx's writing is "always a treat, the language dense and nutty in the way of a fruitcake". But without a fictional framework, Proulx's "baggy" memoir leaves "the mystery of how the writer begat the writing pretty much intact".

"Bird Cloud" will be reviewed in the next issue of the New Statesman.

You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier

In the Observer, Jessica Holland assesses Lanier's argument that "the web - with its anonymously written wikis and multiple-choice expressions of personality on Facebook - is eating away at our very souls." As "an original member of the Silicon Valley set", Lanier is "clearly very well-informed about IT", but his "social and spiritual" assertions "can't help but rely more on intuition." Ultimately, "it's tempting to dismiss it as the anxiety of an ageing innovator" who claims modern America is "dividing itself between a minuscule number of 'computing cloud overlords'" and "a vast majority of 'digital serfs'".

The Independent's Brandon Robshaw also remains sceptical about Jaron Lanier's cyber-age manifesto. Though he finds a certain appeal in the argument that the internet is turning people into "empowered trolls", whose "mob-like mentality" is deadening "individual creativity" and luring the masses into "easy, unthinking grooves", the book is ultimately "too abstract and too techy to make a good book-length read" and would probably be "better as a blog."

People Who Eat Darkness: the Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry

This is a "horrible tale, meticulously told" according to Brenda Maddox in the Times. Lucie Blackman, a 21-year-old from Sevenoaks, was working as a bar hostess in Tokyo when she disappeared in July 2000. Her dismembered remains were found in a cave six months later. Parry, who was the Independent's Tokyo correspondent at the time, insists that "those who think that any woman who works as a "hostess" is a prostitute are wrong". Instead, they "offer drinks, charm and conversation" and are urged to go on dinner dates with besotted customers. To go home with a client was "Lucie Blackman's fatal mistake". Parry illuminates the differences between British and Japanese legal systems and reassuringly asserts that in Tokyo "a lone woman remains safer even at two in the morning than in any other world city".

Writing in the Guardian, Blake Morrison is gripped by "a compelling book, 10 years in the making, rich in intelligence and insight". Despite the harrowing nature of the subject matter, it is "heartening" that Parry refuses to engage in "hysteria or demonisation". Instead he is an "open-minded and sympathetic narrator" whose book "sheds light on Japan, on families, on the media, and (in ways that bring back memories of the Yorkshire Ripper case) on the insidious effects of misogyny".

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