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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Ramblefoot - Ken Kaufman I got sent Ramblefoot last week by the author. He's a screenwriter with some impressive credits to his name (Space Cowboys, Curious George). This is his first novel.

Well, I've just finished it, and I'm unusually conflicted about what to say. It's easy to pick holes. The language is clunky and there is a startling lack of proofreading. It has a very unfinished feel to it. But in many ways it's quite a worthwhile book. The author wants to tell a story where all the characters are wolves, and not anthropomorphize them more than is absolutely necessary; it's the Watership Down formula with wolves instead of rabbits, but taken much further.

He seems to know a fair amount about wolves; there are many striking details it's hard to imagine him making up. He describes how obsessed they are with killing and eating prey, how they play and fight together to establish dominance, how they mate. There is a lot of extremely graphic violence and some equally graphic sex. Wolves do not exactly come across as nice guys, though they have a nobility the author captures well.

The central figure, Raspail, is sympathetic. He's a ferocious black wolf who almost loses his voice when his larynx is crushed in a fight, and as a result he is expelled from his pack. He has many adventures and suffers greatly. The other characters aren't particularly well-drawn, but Raspail is memorable and carries the story forward. You want to know what will happen to him and the pack of fellow outcasts he assembles round himself. There are some strong images that I'm sure will stay with me.

I wondered why the author had written it. Is he Raspail? I couldn't help considering the idea. It's easy to see that he might be an excellent screenwriter: he plans scenes and lays out the plot confidently. He's just not a novelist, though. His prose is leaden, but he doesn't really care. Maybe he's the noble wolf with the broken voice, exiled in novel-land and planning a terrible revenge. I hope he returns in triumph and vanquishes his enemies and turns this into the movie it was really meant to be. I'd go and watch it.