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Self Help Hardcover – 2007

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Picador (2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330438352
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330438353
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4.2 x 24 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 821 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,822,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Published under the title "Self-Help" in North America, this is a fabulous book and a really interesting insight into relations between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Highly recommended (although when I ordered it, I thought it was another Edward Docx novel and was excited to find it, only to discover it was the original U.K. title for "Self-Help").
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa595fa38) out of 5 stars 15 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa565dd74) out of 5 stars A seriously good - posiibly great - novel March 31 2008
By JC - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is one of the best books I have read recently. Docx gets compared to Dickens and Dostoyevsky around the place and, while that is a pretty high bar, this is certainly a wonderful old school style novel: deep and full of life and characters with things happening on lots of layers. I was watching out because I read the first one and mostly loved it. In Britain, Pravda got on the Booker prize list and you can see why - just way more scope than most of the younger writers around.

There's a great story at the heart of Pravda, lots of insightful passages on male-female relationships, cities, politics and psychology. The Russian scenes are truly evocative. And, as with the first book (The Calligrapher) and as other people have said, there's also some really beautiful writing. The tale is a family one - with some pretty unexpected twists and turns. The children are the focus. But for my money, the best character is the father - I've not read someone as deep and as dark (but weirdly likeable) as him anywhere else in all my reading. Though I was fascinated by the mother too, because she is (in one way) what the whole book is about but somehow she hovers just out of reach - a ghost in the writing, as well as in the fact of her death.

In summary, this is the real deal - a finely written novel for readers who are interested in literature and all the amazing things that good books can make you think about and feel! Would recommend it highly, no question.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa57d584c) out of 5 stars Stuff that family dramas are made of - an excellent read ! March 4 2009
By Reader from Singapore - Published on
Format: Paperback
Edward Docx's Booker longlisted novel "Self Help" has attracted strongly divided reviews. There are those - like me - who think it's a marvelous piece of work and those who hate it because they say it's long and boring. Comparisons of Docx's style with classical writers like Dickens and Dostoyevsky may be overwrought and unhelpful, though Docx's descriptive powers are certainly at their most evocative when he paints scenes of St Petersburg in words.

There's more to it than meets the eye with the Glover family. Maria's sudden passing is the trigger for the unraveling of family secrets which explain the state of tangled relationships between Nicholas and his two children Gabriel and Isabella. The existence of Akady, Maria's Russian son before her marriage to Nicholas, and his desperate search for a chance to fulfill his potential as a musician propels the plot to a cataclysmic conclusion when the two halves of Maria's family finally collide in London.

Though the Glover children's troubled and unsatisfying professional and love lives take up substantial page space, it is the characters of Nicholas - their hopelessly decadent and bisexual father whom they detest and are estranged from - and of Henry Wheyland, Arkady's one true friend and sponsor - an Englishman in Russia and a desperate drug addict himself willing to sacrifice his own life in order that Arkady may have his - that take centrestage in the reader's heart and mind because they form the emotional core of the story. Though Maria's character exits no sooner than the story begins, her invisible presence - rather like Ruth Wilcox in Forster's "Howard's End" - is implied and revealed through the impact of her life on that of her children. Nicholas Glover and Henry Wheyland are my favourite characters. They are complex and multifaceted, showcasing Docx's expert craft in characterization.

If there is one criticism to be made of Docx's prose, it is that he tends to get carried away with his extended non-stop stream of consciousness type chatter when writing about the feelings and thoughts of his characters (mostly Gabriel and Isabella). This can be exhausting if not downright irritating and may be one of the reasons why some readers didn't take to the book.

Still, I enjoyed "Self Help" tremendously and recommend it highly to fellow readers.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa596cc48) out of 5 stars Disappointing Aug. 11 2009
By Michael D. Colligan - Published on
It is hard to be critical of an author with significant potential but that is the case with Pravda. Edward Docx is a writer with not insignificant talent. One can't read Pravda without recognizing what seems to be a gift for capturing internal monologue. In addition, his ability to detail the complexities of emotional and psychological struggles is evident. Yet, despite these obvious talents, the flaws of Pravda bring down what otherwise could have been an excellent novel.

Overall what comes to mind in reviewing Pravda is the famous quote from Hamlet "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Docx often presents his characters as having worked out some fundamental universal truths about life and most especially relationships. In reality, what they discover is truth for their situations and ultimately themselves alone. The fact that Docx fails to give his characters this narrower but more realistic perspective often results in the novel's, as well as the characters', having the air of pretentiousness. Both the novel and the characters seem to take themselves much too seriously. The seeming universal scope of the presented insights begins, after much reading, to resemble a cocktail party conversation or the much-maligned self-help magazine.

The pretentiousness of the characters and their insights often spills over into the prose itself. It is not unfair to say that it is, at times, overheated to the point of distraction. One wonders if a better editor or a more open relationship with the existing editor would have prevented these excesses from reaching print.

It would be easy, and perhaps not inaccurate, to attribute these excesses to the authors age and lack of life experience. One often has the feeling in reading the book that the author does not have sufficient life experience with the theme being discussed and thus falls back into emotional overstatement to compensate. Another possible indication of a paucity of relevant life experience comes in the character of Nicholas. We are told the character is in his early sixties. Yet the entire psychological (not to mention physiological) portrait is more akin to a man in his eighties. One is left to conclude that the author is not really familiar with the internal psychological landscape of people over fifty.

Lastly, there are more issues that good editing should have brought to light. A major character, Arkady Artamenkov, is initially presented in some depth. Yet, as the novel closes he is reduced to a prop with no exploration of his development as a result of events. We must assume that Arkady made some significant psychological adjustments off stage somewhere. In fact the entire ending of the novel seems hasty. After what has been at times painful introspection, the characters in the end reach resolution easily in a few dialogues. Was there some need to rush to what in many respects seems a formulaic ending?

In conclusion, what could have been an excellent thoughtful novel by an obviously talented author is reduced to a tiring story of self-absorbed, pretentious and ultimately whiny young people. Docx needs more life experience, more humility, and better editing.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa55f8a50) out of 5 stars Honest with Me July 15 2008
By Eric Anderson - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gabriel Glover lives in London and struggles to hold together a self help magazine he despises, basically writing most of the copy and doing the design work himself given his incompetent lazy staff. One night Gabriel receives a distressing phone call from his mother Masha who lives in St Petersburg. She presses upon him metaphysical advice and laments the demise of people's ability to inhabit themselves fully. Bothered by the worrisome sound of her voice and her bouts of coughing, he races to Russia only to find her dead in her apartment. Gabriel and his twin sister Isabella search throughout this novel to discover who their mother really was and, more pressingly, who they are themselves. Amidst their quest, their despised philandering father Nicholas must admit some secrets which both he and Masha carefully withheld from their children. Masha's illegitimate son Arkady holds the key to breaking the silence between the father and his grieving children. The pessimistic Arkady is searching to find some way to finance his musical education and wants to see if the Glover relatives who he's never met will help him. He is a gifted pianist that has seen his talent squandered in the shifting gears of Russia's transforming political system. Even more committed to Arkady's education is his friend Henry who is a teacher with an unfortunate drug habit. In the last hundred pages of this sprawling novel, the strands of these characters' stories come together to unearth some surprising revelations and a heart-breaking climax.

Docx has produced a powerful family novel teeming with rich ideas and universal themes concerning identity, loss and social/familial dislocation. Each character is explored in depth and with great sympathy. Nicholas' psychology and relationship with his young male lover who schemes to get a steady allowance from the older man is complexly drawn. Henry sees his resources dwindling in his struggle to assist Arkady and kick his drug addiction. His slow downward spiral is written in a way that feels harrowing and true. However, this portion of the story seems glued on to the larger narrative about this family's struggle to reunite and discover how they fit together. This is a difficult novel which yields many great rewards, but the story can be a bit unwieldy in its focus at times. One of Docx's greatest talents is for describing the numerous cities this novel travels through over the course of the story. St Petersburg, Paris, London and New York are all vividly evoked in rich sensual detail giving real character to the places and making them physically real. More than that, he holds up a reflection of the values and sensibility of Russia compared to the West. Docx has many intelligent and heartfelt things to say about the responsibility we have to accept ourselves fully. While Self Help isn't meant to be prescriptive, it does give you a lot to think about.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa62e8f84) out of 5 stars A Magnificent Effort June 4 2008
By William A. Viall - Published on
Format: Paperback
I really liked this book a whole lot. It's the best novel I've read in a while. Kudos to Docx. He has much to say. Reading it, I thought he was a poor man's Martin Amis, but now I'm on to Amis' Meeting House, and am not finding Amis quite as brilliant as I remember him. (Full disclosure: I'm a huge Amis fan.) Docx must surely be influenced by Amis, and I believe he shares some of the older writer's mental agility and thurst to get his ideas out there.

My niggle with Pravda is that it was a bit treacly, a bit too touchy-feely for my tastes. It lacks a certain edge, grit; is a little too gauzy in places. I believe Docx loves a few of his characters a little too much.

But his prose are great, again, remeniscent of vintage Amis. His insights are not earth-shattering, but he lays them out in inventive, entertaining, and rich ways, and they are certainly ideas that bear repeating. This is fine, fine, fine contemporary Brit-Lit at its best.

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