Thursday, 29 January 2015

Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery / The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobsen / Not The End by Kate Vane

Another three reviews for Sophie and Suze's Review Challenge! These three are all for reads that I have finished in the last week. I've not had time to go plundering the archives again. As well as their blog pages, Sophie and Suze are running some great giveaways via the Challenge Facebook Page and you can get to everyone else's reviews there too.


Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat by Philip Lymbery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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'Farm animals have been disappearing from our fields as the production of food has become a global industry. We no longer know for certain what is entering the food chain and what we are eating as the UK horsemeat scandal demonstrated. We are reaching a tipping point as the farming revolution threatens our countryside, health and the quality of our food wherever we live in the world. Farmageddon is a fascinating and terrifying investigative journey behind the closed doors of a runaway industry across the world from the UK, Europe and the USA, to China, Argentina, Peru and Mexico. It is both a wake-up call to change our current food production and eating practices and an attempt to find a way to a better farming future.'

I have been strongly affected by reading Farmageddon. It is a powerful illustration of the short sighted approach taken to food production since the 1950s. I expected most of the book to cover familiar ground as I thought I had a good grasp of the current situation regarding factory farming in the UK. It turns out that I don't!

I was shocked by the degree of illness and disease reported in densely farmed animals. Even farmed salmon, which I buy thinking it is the responsible way to preserve wild stocks, have volumes of lice that are nauseating to consider. I was also amazed to learn about the lack of nutritional value of the resulting meat. Dave and I have noticed our food seeming bland compared to remembered meals in the past, but had assumed it was our tastebuds fading. Apparently this is not the case and the unnaturally speedy growth rates of these animals are the cause. Also, the sheer volume of food and drugs consumed by these animals in their short, unpleasant lives cannot possibly be sustainable, and I don't want my taxes continuing to be spent on subsidising the system.

Fortunately, after all the doom and gloom of animal suffering, ludicrous volumes of waste, destroyed land and rivers, there is a strong message of hope and extensive suggestions for how individual consumers can help to make a real difference. And it's not just Go Veggie either! Realistic advice that we plan to follow includes buying smaller quantities of higher welfare meat. I think the price should then be similar overall and the nutritional content will be higher. Meatfree Mondays is another fun idea for which there are numerous recipe suggestions online (from independent sources, not CIWF).

With regards to the actual writing, I did wonder if the material had originally been conceived as independent essays or lectures because there is a fair amount of overlap to the themed sections. I normally read books cover to cover within a couple of days, but found the repetition too much in this case. Reading a single section then putting Farmageddon aside for a while before returning to it I think is a better approach. The repetition then feels more like reinforcement! Arguments are well made and examples of practices are given from around the world. Most facts are backed up with notes of their sources, although flipping to the back on a Kindle is tedious so I soon gave that up! Nonetheless, I would recommend Farmageddon to pretty much everyone as an eye-opening read.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Phillip Lymbery / Diet and food books / Books from England


The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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'Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik. Both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and together with Treslove they share a sweetly painful evening revisiting a time before they had loved and lost. It is that very evening, when Treslove hesitates a moment as he walks home, that he is attacked - and his whole sense of who and what he is slowly and ineluctably changes.'

The Finkler Question is a great example of not believing everything you are told! Having been seduced by the many quotes on the covers and inside the first few pages, I was expecting a hysterically funny novel.
Oh dear.

Our hero, the improbably named Julian Treslove, is particularly unsympathetic. Humour is attempted from his attempts to create a Jewish identity for himself because he is apparently so jealous of 'their' sense of family and solidarity. Many discussions are had about what Jewish people do or don't do, think or don't think. These themes are overworked by about a third of the way through the novel, but carry on regardless. He has had a number of relationships, all with women whose names begin with J, and views all his partners in terms of tragic opera heroines. His sons, whom he 'hilariously' cannot tell apart, have operatic names and one of their mother's not knowing her Puccini from her Verdi is running joke.

The best I managed was a smattering of wry smiles. I guess I am not typical of Jacobsen's target market, but even so, I have no idea how The Finkler Question managed to be a Booker Prize winner. I've given it a two star 'meh' rating because I did plough through to the end rather than giving up. However I don't recommend anyone else to bother!

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Howard Jacobson / Humour / Books from England


Not the End by Kate Vane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

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I was kindly given a copy of Not The End by the author in return for an honest review.

Not The End is set in a generic coastal Devon town which is an amalgam of such seaside resorts. I've not been to that part of the world since childhood holidays, but could easily picture the scenes thanks to Kate Vane's atmospheric descriptions. We follow the experiences of a trio of strangers whose lives intersect following the discovery on the beach by one, Brenda, of an elderly woman who drowned.

I loved Vane's creation of her characters. Each of the leads are very real, as are their friends, co-workers and families. It is not easy to maintain strong characters with such a large cast of faces to keep track of, but Vane does a great job. Even in chapters where it could be a page or more before significant names are mentioned, I found I always knew whose story I was reading. Brenda's story is particularly poignant and I was willing her to stand up to the ghastly Paula. I also liked Teri as I could picture someone with whom I have worked who was just like that!

There is a lot of gentle humour in Not The End and some wonderfully witty digs too. Vane's sharp observations of people's behaviour raised several giggles from me. The confidence of the weatherman was one such instance and I would love to know which real cafe the wonderfully child-UNfriendly one is based on. Wicked of me to say so, but it sounds like just our sort of place! I enjoyed the time I spent in Dormouth and would be happy to return there should a second novel be written.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Kate Vane / Humour / Books from England

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