Profile for Michael Murphy > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Michael Murphy
Top Reviewer Ranking: 524,304
Helpful Votes: 4

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Amazon Communities.

Reviews Written by
Michael Murphy (Glasgow, Scotland.)
(REAL NAME)   

Page: 1 | 2
pixel
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: A Novel
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break: A Novel
by Steven Sherrill
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.06
25 used & new from CDN$ 6.34

4.0 out of 5 stars New voice in fiction serves up superb starter!, April 5 2004
The startling collocation of the mythic "Minotaur" and the banal "Takes A Cigarette Break" in the arresting title, hints at the unusual premise set up by Sherill in his sad, funny, original debut novel locating a mythical creature - trying to jettison his gory past - in present day America's Deep South where he longs to fulfil his life and put his savage past behind him.
Then: the Minotaur lived in a labyrinth and ate virgins. Now: five thousand years on, the Minotaur, M, bull-headed but man-bodied, lives in a trailer in the Lucky-U Park. The novel, written in an understated style from M's alienated perspective, is essentially a slice of M's humdrum daily existence: in the rundown trailer park where he lives an orderly life observing the ordinary, everyday comings and goings, and goings-on, in the adjacent trailers, repairing cars in his spare time; and in the Grub's Rib diner where he works as a line chef. What primarily made this novel so enjoyable for this reader - where there's no real story as such, no real incident or surface activity to speak of and little character development - is Sherrill's excellence in evoking the atmosphere of ordinary everyday life in both M's domestic and working habitats, the trailer park and the diner.
An accomplished cook, skilled in car maintenance, M finds greater difficulty interacting with people. Slow-witted and clumsy with his sharp horns, thick-tongued and inarticulate, socially awkward, emotional turmoil burning within, M deperately seeks an outlet for his human needs, a longing for love in a world that seems to barely tolerate "outsiders" like himself, try as he may to leave his bloodthirsty past behind him. If there is a plot, it revolves around M's awakening feelings for Kelly, the epileptic waitress at the Grub's Rib diner but the novel is more about what it means to be human, what it means to be lonely, what it means to be on the outside. Recommended!

The Grapes of Wrath: (Centennial Edition)
The Grapes of Wrath: (Centennial Edition)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
58 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Voice of the Migrants for Generations to come!, March 21 2004
"The Grapes of Wrath" is a powerful indictment of the oppression endured by the migrant families of the American mid-west during the depression years of the 1930's. The farming-belt of the mid-west had suffered severe drought. "Dusters" swept across the farmland, skimming off the topsoil, leaving behind a dustbowl, only a few sparse sprigs of wheat surviving. The tenant farms were foreclosed and the families forcibly tractored off the land in a ruthless drive to maximise profit margins. Circe 250,000 migrants, "refugees from the dust", pulled up stakes and headed west on route 66, the road of flight to California, the golden land of dreams and opportunity, drawn by the prospect of picking work, harvesting oranges and peaches. The influx of rootless migrant workers centred on the San Joachin valley, California, and the huge farms therein, drifting in search of work from squatter camps to government camps to shacks in tied labour camps charging excessive rents and inflated company-store prices. The overwhelming glut of migrants flooding through the valley swamped the harvesting work available, driving down wages to peanuts level as they desperately scrabbled "to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food".
This is the destiny that fate held in store for the Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath". Forced off their farm, truck piled high with their meagre belongings, the Joads set forth on an epic 2000 miles haul from Sallislaw in Oklahoma through the western desert states of Arizona and New Mexico and onto the San Joachin valley. The gut-wrenching story of the Joads heroic journey is interspersed with short "relief" chapters on peripheral aspects of their route 66 experience, the trickery of used-car salesmen or a snapshot of life in a truck-stop diner, to cite but two examples; other chapters function as social commentary on, for example, the stomach turning practice of spraying mountains of oranges with kerosene or dumping potatoes in the river under armed guard to protect market prices, at a time when hundreds of thousands of migrants were literally starving. This structure enables Steinbeck at once to follow closely the fortunes of the Joads and cast a wider eye over what is happening in society during the depression years.
However, Steinbeck's narrative, in my view, is at its most powerful and compelling on the road, chronicling the Joads suffering and misfortune trucking along the endless narrow concrete miles to Bakersfield, California, revealing qualities of grit, guts and resilience in their desperate struggle for survival in the face of death, starvation, hostility, exploitation and harassment. Steinbeck's powerful voice depicting the plight of the migrants during the hard times of the 1930's depression years, the hardship and oppression endured by thousands upon thousands of families like the Joads, will resonate for generations to come. It is a voice that packs a powerful punch!

Ghosty Men: The Strange But True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders: An Urban Historical
Ghosty Men: The Strange But True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders: An Urban Historical
by Franz Lidz
Edition: Hardcover
26 used & new from CDN$ 4.72

4.0 out of 5 stars Fortress of solitude., March 14 2004
Both funny and sad, "Ghosty Men" by Franz Lidz, a tragedy that reads like a comedy, is the extraordinary, moving story of the real-life predicament of Homer and Langley Collyer, the New York "Hermits of Harlem", recluses in their four storey brownstone house from 1929 (when their mother died) to 1947 - Homer never venturing out after losing his sight in 1934, Langley rarely emerging and then usually only after dark. Barricaded in their fortress of solitude, appalling pong everywhere, inches thick coating of dust over everything, surrounded by stockpiles of boxes, crates and stacks of yellowing newspaper (hoarded over decades) with a mazelike network of passages, living out a ghost-like existence in a void of dead and empty, meaningless time, the Collyers remained static in a time-warp year-upon-year, decades that saw Harlem transformed into a rundown black ghetto.
Sensitive in his approach to the Collyers, affording them respect and dignity, Lidz cross-cuts in alternate chapters to his own eccentric Uncle Arthur, who like Langley Collyer, spent a lifetime amassing an astonishing assortment of junk, never passing up an opportunity to lift the lid of a dumpster. Uncle Arthur chapters contain hilarious moments, heartbreak and fascinating insights into old-time New York characters and a New York that is no longer - but for this reader, eager to get back to the Collyers, proved something of a sideshow distraction from the billed main feature.
In 1938, following years of reclusive anonymity, the Collyers suddenly found themselves catapulted into the public arena, thrust into the harsh glare of the national media spotlight when the story of their bizarre existence was widely reported. Much later, when Homer was found dead in 1947 and word spread that Langley had disappeared, there followed an enormous explosion of hyped-up media ballyhoo with thousands of gaping onlookers congregating outside the Collyer home in the hope of catching sight of the missing Langley. Police searching the building had to negotiate barricaded entry-points and huge junk-piles inside, rigged with nasty booby-traps to repel intruders.
It seemed that everyman and his dog had an explanation to offer about the root cause of the Collyers tragic situation, with Journalists, Psychiatrists, Christian Socialists all having their say . . . even the famous novelist Howard Fast chipping in his two cents worth. It seems ironic that the lifestyle of Homer and Langley, New York's greatest hoarders who withdrew from the outside world for solitude and anonymity in their brownstone fortress of junk, should become the subject of such intense public focus, for that very reason!! Recommended!

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster
by Jon Krakauer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
104 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Classic first-hand account of mountain madness., March 13 2004
In his chilling classic of mountaineering literature "Into Thin Air", journalist and mountaineer Jon Krakauer delivers a compelling first-hand account of the ill-starred 1996 Everest expedition in which the mountain claimed the lives of eight climbers. While the main focus of his gripping narrative recounts the events leading up to the 1996 tragedy, Krakauer gains a sense of wider perspective by frequently dipping in and out of past tragedies (also hair-raising survival stories) that litter the history of summit assaults on high-altitude mountains.
Krakauer airs controversial issues surrounding the history of Everest expeditions ranging from the dumping of used oxygen cylinders turning the mountain into a giant rubbish dump to the "westernisation" of Khumba culture following the boom in Everest tourism. Accusations of showing disrespect to the mountain have been levelled at commercial expeditions such as Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness - led respectively by rivals Rob Hall and Scott Fischer in 1996 - specialising in high-altitude guiding of relatively inexperienced climbers who fork out small fortunes to realise their dream of setting foot on mighty Everest's summit.
Hall and Fischer's expedition teamed up for a combined assault on the summit, launched from camp 4, some 26,000 feet high on the South Col, an altitude climbers call The Death Zone. An important safeguard, a pre-set turnaround time-limit fixed by Hall at 2pm at the latest - regardless of how close climbers were to the summit - was extended by default beyond the deadline, Hall's judgement possibly compromised by the knowledge that it would be bad for business should Adventure Consultants fail to put anyone on the summit two years running, especially if the competition, Fischer's Mountain Madness, succeeded.
Danger signs such as the insidious trickling away of precious time as some 30 climbers, caught in a bottleneck at Hilary Step, a 40 foot vertical outcrop of rock, moved upwards at snail's pace, and a sudden deterioration in the weather signalling an approaching storm, went unheeded. The worst tragedy ever to befall an Everest expedition loomed as a group of inexperienced climbers, left floundering around in sub-zero whiteout conditions, lashed by unrelenting jet stream winds whipping across the Col, struggled desperately to survive in the storm now blasting through the Death Zone. With the increase in popularity of commercial expeditions, for many, it was a tragedy waiting to happen. Highly recommended!

Death and the Penguin
Death and the Penguin
by Andrey Kurkov
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.95
35 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satire charged with air of menace., Jan. 18 2004
This review is from: Death and the Penguin (Paperback)
A black comedy delivered in an emotionless, deadpan manner, "Death and the Penguin" is a sinister satirical take on life in post-Soviet, modern-day Ukraine. Things take a turn for the better for Viktor, a struggling writer of short stories living alone with only a king penguin for company, when he is taken on by Capital News editor Igor Lvovich to compose obituaries of the various big shots and political big-wigs pulling the strings in post-Soviet Kiev society, these to be kept on file for future use as and when the subjects die. Victor is instructed to incorporate into his compositions, certain loaded material, underlined in the file notes provided him, designed to undermine reputations through insidious innuendo.
Shortly after expressing his frustration to a visitor, Misha-non-penguin, (a Mafia-linked figure who wishes Viktor to write an obituary) that none of his work ever appears in print because none of his selected subjects to-date has died, Viktor is shocked to find that in no time at all, the subject of his best obituary is - lo and behold! - suddenly dead. Thereafter, deaths of Viktor's subjects proliferate with such alarming rapidity that Victor fears his penning of an obituary is tantamount to passing a death sentence, his obituaries of the still living having become in effect, requisitions for future death, each obituary providing per se more than sufficient cause for the snuffing out of a life.
The unwitting dupe of State Security conspiracy, at least initially, Victor has become enmeshed in the violent underworld of Mafia dealings and political machinations where his own life may end being written up in an obituary. Around Victor, the very air seems charged with menace, an air of menace that pervades the novel. Viktor is at the mercy of dark and dangerous forces swirling around him that he can't exactly get a fix on but knows are there, lurking ominously in the background. Entertaining and original!

About The Author
About The Author
by John Colapinto
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.91
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Plot twists in wicked tale from new voice in fiction!, Jan. 8 2004
This review is from: About The Author (Hardcover)
Stylishly written, "About the Author" is a cracking debut novel from fresh new voice in fiction, John Colapinto, packed with suspenseful moments and wicked plot twists. The premise is compelling: a struggling, frustrated writer, Cal Cunningham, suffering from chronic writer's block, harbours dreams of writing a novel that will bring widespread critical acclaim - and free him from his mundane existence stacking books in a bookstore. Sharing his cheap Manhattan apartment is his less than outgoing roommate, law student Stewart (forever clacking away on his old Underwood following the theft of his laptop) who devours Cal's anecdotes about his latest sexual adventures.
Secretly raking through Stewart's files, Cal finds a superb manuscript of a novel, "Almost like Suicide", that he is horrified to discover is based on his own sexual exploits, unwittingly recounted to the attentive Stewart. Coincidentally, at this time, Stewart is accidentally killed while out on his bike. Feeling cheated that Stewart has hijacked his own private and personal experiences for use in the novel, Cal misappropriates his dead roommate's manuscript, submitting it to top literary agent, Blackie Yaeger as his own work. Cal rationalizes his criminal actions, convincing himself that since it is his life, his experiences being described in the manuscript, he is, though not strictly speaking the author, entitled to claim the book as his own.
"Almost like Suicide" proves to be a sensation, taking the literary world by storm. Instant literary acclaim, fame, fortune, book tours follow, launching Cal into the world of television talk shows and movie deals, living out a destiny that was rightfully Stewarts had he lived. The shadow of the dead Stewart looms over Cal who again finds himself walking in a dead man's shoes when he contrives to meet (and falls for) his dead roommate's ex-girlfriend. But ... there's always a price-tag! Cal is about to reap his comeuppance, the bubble he has been living in about to burst, the roller coaster ride that catapulted him to fame and fortune about to turn upside down and plunge him on a downward spiral into a world of blackmail and murder. Another thriller with a "finders-keepers" plotline you may enjoy is "A Simple Plan" by Scott Smith.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.24
248 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A good woman in Africa., Jan. 5 2004
McCall Smith creates a refreshing fictional world: a Detective Agency set in an African locale. Simple in style, brisk pace, agreeable characters, rich African ambience, less than complex mini-investigations, pleasant reading - The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency very much falls within the softer side of crime detection fiction.
Mma. Ramotswe, the plump Agency Detective, loves Botswana and its people. In Sunday school, she learned early in life about "good and evil". Later, she suffered a disastrous marriage and the pain of losing a child. Left a herd of cattle by her deceased father (a gripping section recounts his harrowing time as a miner), Mma. Ramotswe sells up and astonishingly opts to sink the proceeds into setting up in business as Botswana's first female private detective. With few assets, no track record, no client base, the Agency needs to establish itself quickly - or shut up shop. Mma. Ramotswe uses commonsense, wit and women's intuition to help people resolve "their difficulties" (not necessarily involving a crime); some cases are funny such as the woman who suspects her husband of playing around, some bizarre such as the inexplicable dramatic fluctuations in a hospital doctor's competence from one day to another, while others deal with missing persons, notably the disappearance of an eleven-year old boy, possibly linked to witchcraft. In resolving cases, Mme. Ramotswe's guiding principle is that Justice is paramount.
These gentle mini-mysteries, entertaining in themselves, give fascinating glimpses into African life and culture. In this respect, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, it could be said, is as much about modern Africa as it is about crime detection. Recommended!

Hunger
Hunger
by Knut Hamsun
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 1.01

5.0 out of 5 stars A Hunger Artist., Jan. 3 2004
This review is from: Hunger (Paperback)
This compelling novel will strike a chord with anyone who, for whatever reason or turn of circumstance, has found themselves completely isolated in life, knowing no-one at all, suffering extremes of loneliness, virtually bereft of human interaction and discourse - stranded helplessly among people like a ghost doomed to wander in a phantom zone. Written in 1890, Knut Hamsun's novel "Hunger", is a disturbing journey into the mind and soul of a young writer. With no plot or characters (other than the young writer narrator) to speak of, the novel, written in the form of an interior monologue, recounts each moment-by-moment thought or impulse running through the young writer's mind. The reader observes in the interior monologue, the steady deterioration of the young writer's mental state as his thoughts swing erratically between extremes of elation and despair.
For the nameless young writer, clothes falling apart, existing precariously on the brink of starving to death, evicted from his room when rental payments lapsed, not knowing where his next mouthful of food will come from, pawning the vest off his back (but making rash, extravagant handouts as soon as he comes into any money), each day represents a vast desert of dead and empty time in which he wanders, lost, blown about the streets of the city like a paper in the wind, dogged by unremitting hunger - with brief periods of respite when his starvation is temporarily quelled with what little money he makes flogging the odd article to a local newspaper. In his drastically weakened state, on the verge of physical collapse, unable to eat without throwing up, only able to write in patches, the young writer begins to lose his reason, his irrational state of mind marked by wild impulses and violent mood swings as he slips into paranoia and despair. A relationship with a girl quickly fizzles out and in the end he leaves the city.
While the novel gives an account of the young writer's sufferings and privations, his desperate struggle with hunger and hardship, occupying a plane of existence on the edge of starvation, themes of loneliness and alienation lie at the heart of it - the young writer completely isolated, virtually existing inside his own head, his introspection developing thought-patterns grotesquely magnifying trivial events out of all proportion, manifested in bizarre and preposterous behaviour. Highly recommended!

The Invention of Solitude: A Memoir
The Invention of Solitude: A Memoir
by Paul Auster
Edition: Paperback
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Master's piece on Solitude., Dec 23 2003
In "Portrait of an Invisible Man", the first part of Paul Auster's fascinating memoir "Invention of Solitude", Auster writes about his father's life as a means of helping himself come to terms with his father's death. Auster remembers his father as an elusive figure in his life, emotionally detached and disconnected from family and life itself ("he had managed to keep himself at a distance from life"). To Auster, it seemed that the world's attempts to embrace his father simply bounced off him without ever making a breakthrough - it was impossible to enter his solitude. The theme of Solitude runs powerfully through this disturbing, mesmerising memoir.
Auster is conscious of how little knowledge he actually has of his father's early childhood years, how unenlightened he is with regard to his father's inner life, how few clues he has to his father's character and how little understanding of the underlying reasons for his father's immunity from the world at large. Through an amazing co-incidence involving his cousin, Auster learns of a terrible secret buried deep in his father's childhood past - the story was splashed across old newspaper reports of the time, sixty years before - of a shocking family tragedy that shattered his father's childhood world and could have seriously affected his mental outlook during his formative years, accounting for the solitariness and elusiveness that characterised the "invisible man" of Auster's childhood. Excellent, compelling writing! Dramatic revelations from a grim, distant past finally brought to light! Highly recommended!
In the second part, "The Book of Memory", there is a marked shift of perspective (away from the point of view of Auster, as son, writing about his feelings and memories of his father's life, after his death) to an autobiographical account of Auster's own experience, now himself as father, writing about his son. More abstract in content and style than "Portrait of an Invisible Man", "The Book of Memory" comprises autobiographical segments interspersed with commentaries on the nature of chance interspersed with ruminations on solitude and exploration of language. As a confirmed Auster-holic, my favourite Auster book to-date is "Moon Palace".

The Grapes of Wrath: (Centennial Edition)
The Grapes of Wrath: (Centennial Edition)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.72
58 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Voice of The Migrants for Generations to come!, Oct. 13 2003
"The Grapes of Wrath" is a powerful indictment of the oppression endured by the migrant families of the American mid-west during the depression years of the 1930's. The farming-belt of the mid west had suffered severe drought. "Dusters" swept across the farmland, skimming off the topsoil, leaving behind a dust bowl, only a few sparse sprigs of wheat surviving. The tenant farms were foreclosed and the families forcibly tractored off the land in a ruthless drive to maximise profit margins. Circe 250,000 migrants, "refugees from the dust", pulled up stakes and headed west on route 66, the road of flight to California, the golden land of dreams and opportunity, drawn by the prospect of picking work, harvesting oranges and peaches. The influx of rootless migrant workers centred on the San Joachin valley, California, and the huge farms therein, drifting in search of work from squatter camps to government camps to shacks in tied labour camps charging excessive rents and inflated company-store prices. The overwhelming glut of migrants flooding through the valley swamped the harvesting work available, driving down wages to peanuts level, as they desperately scrabbled "to pull, to pick, to cut - anything, any burden to bear, for food".
This is the destiny that fate had in store for the Joad family in "The Grapes of Wrath". Forced off their farm, truck piled high with their meagre belongings, the Joads set forth on an epic 2000 miles haul from Sallislaw in Oklahoma through the western desert states of New Mexico and Arizona and onto the San Joachin valley. The gut-wrenching story of the Joads heroic journey is interspersed with short "relief" chapters on peripheral aspects of their route 66 experience, the trickery of used-car salesmen or a snapshot of life in a truck-stop diner, to give but two examples; other chapters function as social commentary on, for example, the stomach turning practice of spraying mountains of oranges with kerosene or dumping potatoes in the river under armed guard to protect market prices, at a time when hundreds of thousands of migrants were literally starving. This structure enables Steinbeck at once to follow closely the fortunes of the Joads and cast a wider eye over what is happening in society during the depression years.
However, Steinbeck's narrative, in my view, is at its most powerful and compelling on the road, chronicling the Joads suffering and misfortune trucking along the endless narrow concrete miles to Bakersfield, California, revealing qualities of grit, guts and resilience in their desperate struggle for survival in the face of death, starvation, hostility, exploitation and harassment. Ma Joad's indomitable spirit and dogged determination to hold her family together is truly inspirational. Steinbeck's powerful voice depicting the plight of the migrants during the hard times of the 1930's depression years, the hardship and oppression endured by thousands upon thousands of families like the Joads, will resonate for generations to come. It is a voice that packs a powerful punch!

Page: 1 | 2