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written 168 days ago

Best thing I've read here for a while. view book

written 736 days ago

My thoughts on part two
As a starting point I will give my initial response to the narrative
itself. I read the twelve chapters in a sitting, not out of obligation,
but through curiosity and compulsion. The opening tableau’s impact was
both tantalising and mysterious which was enhanced by the use of
repetition in the opening line of the first two paragraphs. The prose
had a vibrancy through the use of strong visual descriptions using
colour( the use of 'ochre' on the first page was a nice touch) and
olfactory impressions (smells of local flora and further on local
cuisine). At the same time the prose here and throughout had an economy
that did not overwhelm the narrative trajectory. A scene was evoked as
the story evolved without feeling gratuitous.
Through a second reading I found themes were subtly introduced in the
opening chapter which became integral as the narrative progressed. The
initial dialogue between Asa and her father being filtered through the
adult perspective found its counterpart in the dialogue between Nonno
and Signor Berti and the impact it has on the child's perspective
through Aldo's eyes.
The theme of imitation through language and the dislocation this causes
for the refugees I felt presaged the domestic conflict between father
and son-in-law in Berti's rather specious dealings with the Fascists and
Nazis. The later scene of the Nazi who could speak Italian added a
lighter but no less significant facet to this theme.
Images and reflections of nature were made resonant by Asa's
inquisitiveness concerning the natural and celestial world and found
tangible form in her care of the dying bird. These images being
transmuted through the crucible of her father's perspective is given
added impact through the destructive nature of the war around them and
brings the title 'Burnt Ochre' into starker relief. This is given a
darker tinge through Aldo's eyes and his fascination with the prison
camp situated amidst the fields of the countryside. Perversion of the
natural world finds its root in the perversion of human feeling and the
philosophical musings of Asa's father in conversation with his daughter
on good and evil is given a greater force by its very simplicity.
The element that I found so compelling was as much to do with the
characterisation as plot itself. The characters were delineated with
delicacy through idiosyncrasies of speech and behaviour which meant any
need for signification (Nonno Said .... Aldo replied) became
unnecessary. A one word response conveyed the character without any
superfluous description.
A bold move which I was initially uncertain about was the hint of Asa's
future when Aldo describes 'a little girl in a floral dress... holding a
toy bear'. The immediate association using the dress and the bear is
testimony to the vividness of Asa's character and the intertwining of
the two narrative strands through Aldo's impressions. However as the
narrative moved on I felt more strongly that this proved a successful
gamble in adding both urgency and poignancy to Asa and her father's
plight through a use of dramatic irony. 
The impact of the war in various sectors of Tuscan life were worked
cleverly into the narrative through the extempore relationships the
refugees form and the more established everyday transactions of the
native characters. Tradespeople, men of the cloth, labourers, soldiers,
law and security officials, prisoners both racial and political and
artists all through dialogue and action help convey a rounded evocation
of time and mood.
The historical aspects I felt were handled sensitively and economically.
The slightly more esoteric knowledge in relation to mid-twentieth
century Tuscan life was given ample attention whilst the more familiar
historical aspects, particularly, the shadow of 'Auschwitz' were present
without becoming intrusive.
I felt the fragmentary nature of Asa and her father's experiences
reflected their historical situation aptly by having scenes and
exchanges which were characterised by their brevity with the beginning
of successive chapters having moved their story further onwards. This
also gave each of their early chapters a fable-like ambience without
interfering with the consistency of their narrative trajectory. This was
well balanced by the slower pace and rooted relationships between Aldo
and his family and highlighted the historical position of successive
generations of Tuscans through the interactions of Aldo, Berti and Nonno
and their response to wartime life.
I will finish off by referring to how impressed I was by the final
scenes of the twelfth chapter. The theme of imitation and collaboration
were beautifully caricatured by the artist's model appearing dressed as
a Fascist for a series of portraits of the war. This was then further
layered by Nonno's comment 'He was a city person. Now you have seen why
this country is in such a mess' bringing the themes of spoilt nature and
generational conflict once more to the fore. The short matter-of-fact
revelation of the old man and young boy stranded in the wartorn city
renders their situation as dislocated and alien as the prisoners in the
camp. This I use as only an example of several equally impressive
passages in the chapters read.
I have tried to be constructive in my assessment and highlight what I
felt were the strengths of the manuscript. I hope that I have not done
you an injustice in any of your intentions and seek to convey the impact
the work had on my reading experience. I hope that I have given a fair
appreciation on what I felt were the strong points of narrative, prose,
structure and theme but that aside I think the most important piece of
constructive criticism I can offer you is that it left me wanting more.
What I read reflects your talent in both craft and storytelling which I
am only too aware comes solely through many hours of dedication no
matter how naturally gifted one might be.
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written 1042 days ago

Fabulous writing. Hugely impressed with what I've read of this. view book

written 1042 days ago

Not entirely convinced about this architecturally but it's very fine writing with lots of insight and delicious humour. view book

written 1046 days ago

Superb writing, Alistair. Lyrical, intelligent, thought provoking with the sound of the sea somehow ever present. view book

written 1052 days ago

Bit slow off the mark i thought. view book

written 1052 days ago

She turned onto her back and, as if accidentally, let her hand brush his naked
waist. Her hand she then let rest on the sheet close to his thigh and could feel
through the mattress the pulsating dictatorship of his body's desire.

The repetition of 'her hand' at the start of the second sentence is a bit odd
yes? And the syntax generally.

I am quite fond of dear Felix.

"Jake, feeling the effect of the drug begin to quicken his pulse, felt strangely
attracted to the brooding solitary boy.

See? Gayness! Gayness!

"Unable to swim, he was also unable, when he tried to imagine it, of rowing her
or anyone else in a boat for fear of the vessel capsizing" - "He was also unable
of rowing?" I think he means incapable or something.

So far I don't really see a problem with Ivan and Isabella, assuming of course
that Ivan is meant to be coming off as a completely moronic self involved
asshole. But you are perhaps right that his internal monologues go on to long.
I'd honestly just cut them down a bit as they don't have much real content do

I think the first half may be funnier than the second half?

"I was sick and tired of occupying the moral high ground," said Ivan. - It's
cute how he stalks and molests Isabella and thinks he has the moral highground.
But my previous remark about them still stands.

Erin and Magnus don't really feature much after the opening scenes. I think
they're both intriguing so maybe we could use a little more of them?
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