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Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro



by sjhoward

This is the 2,256th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 23rd July 2014.

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You may know that The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro won the Booker Prize in 1989. You may know that it remains one of the 20th century's most critically acclaimed novels. You may know that it was adapted into a film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, nominated for 8 Academy Awards in 1994.

Somehow, all of this passed me by. Indeed, when I downloaded it onto my Kindle, I thought it was a new release. Despite having read several of Ishiguro's novels in the past, my addled brain had (very) wrongly confused him with Haruki Murakami.

Yet even with my warped preconceptions, The Remains of the Day blew me away.

It is absorbing, beautifully composed, moving, and deep. The way this novel subtly drew me in and toyed with my emotions put me in mind of a Shostakovich piano concerto: the music does the work of capturing attention and emotion, and before you know it, without any particular effort or concentration, you are drawn into and beguiled by a whole new world.

The novel is narrated by an elderly butler on a road trip in the 1950s. He reflects on his life, and his strive for professionalism and 'dignity'. The characterisation is so complete that when I think of the narrator, Stevens, I think of a person rather than a character. The Remains of the Day is a novel about the nature of relationships: professional, personal, and, almost existentially, with oneself. It has glittering moments of humour which made me laugh out loud. And it has moments of remarkable tenderness – which are almost painful to read – and moments of morality and politics which provide genuine food for thought.

The composition is wonderful. The narrator is not entirely reliable, and infuses much of his commentary with predictable (possibly professional?) bias, but he also accurately reports speech in a way which allows the reader to fill in the gaps. This is hardly an original device, but it is rarely used to such profoundly devastating effect as in this work.

It is a matter of some fascination to me that so many other readers and reviewers describe this novel as 'sad'. Certainly, it reflects on a life which some might consider unfulfilled, and certainly, the tale of the narrator is heart-breaking. Yet I found the novel itself rather life-affirming. The Remains of the Day caused me to reflect on my own life – as all the best novels do – and to reflect with some satisfaction.

If I were to summarise this book in a single word, it would be: beguiling. I mean that in the more traditional sense of the word, both enchanting and mildly deceptive. Ishiguro does all the heavy-lifting in this book, guiding the reader through Stevens's world and gently signposting his flaws. Each word is chosen so carefully as to turn the prose into poetry. This is a challenging book, but by no means a challenging read.

I cannot recommend The Remains of the Day highly enough.

Remains of the Day is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Review: One More Thing: Stories and other stories by BJ Novak



by sjhoward

This is the 2,247th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 11th June 2014.

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I confess that when I bought One More Thing: Stories and other stories, my expectations were low. I braced myself for a comedian's memoir, not unlike the tens of recent precedents. I foresaw a series of anecdotal tales with varying levels of humour and, if I was lucky, a little pith. I knew Novak only from The Office and, regardless of others' plaudits, I never rated his acting. All of which is to say: I was expecting a car crash.

My expectations were confounded. I thoroughly enjoyed this wide-ranging collection of short stories, which deftly covers every aspect of the human condition. Some stories are a couple of sentences; some are considerably longer. Some are funny; others thoughtful; others genuinely moving. Others miss the mark, but this latter category is by far the smallest. He litters the text with some mildly irritating "discussion questions", which have a tendency to point to the obvious or become indulgently self-aware, but they're easily skipped.

While the stories are clever, however, Novak's ear is excellent. At his best, he crafts lines that live long in the memory, and captures characters and dialogue with the deftness of a literary great. I could write about his use of language all day long, but I'll restrain myself to a handful of examples.

While spinning one corporate yarn, Novak uses the pitch-perfect phrase

"more than 140,000 distinct units of social media approval"

This phrase could have been uttered in any one of tens of meetings I've endured over the past twelve months. It captures so perfectly that self-affirming desire of so many corporate shills to name things in ways which are understood by everyone but familiar to no-one.

Novak is also possessed of a poetic ability to use adjectives in a metaphorical, rather than literal, way. This seems to have become rarer in recent years, for reasons that I don't fully understand. But Novak has a teacher "nodding without moving their head", and some "bold, capital numbers" to name but two examples.

I feel obliged to single out some individual stories for comment. If I Had a Nickel was, perhaps, the only story which was far longer than its point required. Closure felt tricksy, rather than clever, and didn't make much of a point. Beyond that, most of the stories are pretty good. Some are brilliant.

Recently, I've given poor reviews (in both senses of that phrase) to books by Paul Carr and Dave Cicirelli which cover much the same ground as Novak's One of these days, we have to do something about Willie. And yet, Novak communicates more and gives more pause for thought about the same topics in a short story than either of those two managed in their respective books combined.

The Man Who Invented the Calendar is one of his "Just So" style stories, which I had previously read in the New Yorker without ever mentally attributing to Novak. Indeed, it is one of the weaker of these stories in the book, but I suspect reading it will provide some indication as to whether one might like the book as a whole.

For my money, this book is great. It is a bold and captivating literary debut, and the most thoughtful and enjoyable book I've read in some months. Novak is a bona fide literary talent, and I'll hunt out his next work.

One More Thing: Stories and other stories is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Review: The Everything Store by Brad Stone



by sjhoward

This is the 2,244th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 28th May 2014.

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The Everything Store, by Brad Stone, is appropriately subtitled Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. I understand that the veracity of the content of this book has been challenged, particularly by Amazon, and I have no way of assessing where the truth lies. With that in mind, I can only comment on the book as it stands.

The Everything Store is so named as Bezos expressed a desire to use the internet to build a store with limitless stock, where one could purchase anything. On reading this, I was immediately struck by the similarity to Harrod’s motto and goal – omnia omnibus ubique – but this is an aspect that is not discussed at all in the book, more’s the pity. I think it would have made a fascinating comparison – the modern retail behemoth and the Victorian equivalent, sharing much the same goals but approaching the problem in totally different ways. But I digress.

Stone’s book gives a comprehensive account of how the company has developed, from it’s small beginnings as a low volume book store, to it’s current world-leading status. It isn’t shy about discussing the financial difficulties Amazon has faced, and indeed still faces. It is difficult to turn a profit on narrow margins, and even more so when one is selling below cost price. It also doesn’t shy away from discussing some of the questionable ethics employed by Amazon, and appears to do so in an even handed manner that is genuinely enlightening.

One particularly good example is the discussion of Bezos’s simultaneous exploitation of and protest against patent law. A lesser author would present this as rank hypocrisy; Stone presents the facts and explains Bezos’s motivation as he understands it. He then allows the reader to determine whether Bezos is acting with reprehensible hypocrisy, or acting in the most logical way possible given the circumstances. I still haven’t quite made up my mind.

The book also gives a comprehensive pen portrait of Bezos as an individual. He is clearly exceptionally driven, possibly to the point of fault, much like his CEO contemporary Steve Jobs. By the end of the book, I was a little tired of reading descriptions of his laugh, but perhaps it is such a dominant feature of his personality that it bears repeating ad nauseam.

To my mind, the book fell down a little when discussing contemporaries and other Amazon executives. The balance between detail and length doesn’t feel quite right in these passages. We are told about many of their childhoods, for example, even though they play a relatively minor role in the story. It feels as though Stone wants to share the detailed background research he has done, rather than concentrating on crafting the broader story and characterisation.

I also found the timeline difficult to follow in some passages. Stone will often abberate from the main timeline to tell the story of how a particular feature or policy developed over time. This means that there is a fair amount of jumping around, and if one doesn’t fully concentrate, it’s easy to get lost.

Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was engaging, balanced, and informative. The story is told with a degree of page-turning drive that isn’t typical of business books. I’d highly recommend it.

The Everything Store is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

Review: Red Notice by Andy McNab



by sjhoward

This is the 2,238th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 14th May 2014.

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A few weeks ago, I decided that I should read a book by Andy McNab. After all, he’s an author that sells books by the pallet-load, generally to positive reviews. Red Notice is the first book in a (relatively) new series, and with it being on offer, I thought this would be as good a place to start as any.

The experience was one that I did not enjoy. The plot involved the ‘hijacking’ of a Eurostar train as it passed through the Channel Tunnel. Of course, both an SAS man and his girlfriend were on board. This plot managed to be both desperately implausible throughout and yet also somehow thoroughly predictable. In addition, as I understand to be typical of this genre, a man who is close to death several times over the course of the novel is regularly able to “bounce back” within minutes, running and shooting with the best of them.

There is a an astoundingly badly written subplot about a pregnancy, which is diagnosed in a rather unusual fashion:

“There’s nothing quite like morning sickness on a woman’s breath. It’s unmistakable.”

Not only is this somewhat medically unlikely, it’s also notable that the sex of the baby has been determined at this early stage – far earlier, in fact, than the sex of the baby can be determined. From the timeline of the book, it’s clear that this pregnancy is well within its first trimester.

Similarly, there are some amusing internal inconsistencies sprinkled throughout: a car mysteriously changes from a Jaguar to a BMW in less than a page; the geography of where people are at any one time seems inconsistent (though it is so difficult to follow at times that it is hard to tell for sure).

There are also some passages laden with unnecessary military jargon, which is often used to cover a lack of detail in the narrative. It’s almost as if he’s trying to set up a “Chekov’s gun” scenario, but without the foresight to know specifically what “Chekov’s gun” will be. My personal favourite example:

“The Slime carefully unpacked their geeky stuff from its protective aluminium boxes.”

The dialogue varies throughout from Hollywood-esque catchphrase to speaking in perfectly formed sentences. An ideal example of the former is this cringeworthy passage:

“Unless they were asleep, they were dead. And from what he’d seen of these guys, he knew they wouldn’t be sleeping.”

An example of the latter is when a character reportedly angrily yells at the top of his voice:

“I’ve got an important event tonight and I need my dinner jacket.”

On the positive side, this book does have pace. It also has a stab at discussing some of the governmental politics of SAS work, and even touches on the questionable ethics at times. Unfortunately, these elements are harmed by a lack of any depth or real substance, and a frustratingly frequent repeat of what I assume to be the shallow political views of the author (best summarised as: the SAS are professionals, politicians should let them do what they want).

All things considered, this isn’t a book I’d recommend. There’s nothing especially creative about it, and it lacks any air of authenticity. The writing and dialogue is so poor as to border on comedy. I suggest giving it a miss.

Red Notice is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Review: Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis



by sjhoward

This is the 2,221st post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 30th April 2014.

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In Public Parts, Jeff Jarvis counterbalances arguments about the sinister effects of erosion of privacy in the modern world. He argues that openness and sharing, on balance, improve the world. He coins the word 'publicness' to describe open sharing, and argues convincingly that 'publicness' is not the polar opposite of 'privacy'.

This is a book which stimulates thought. I particularly appreciated Jeff's elucidation of the argument that regulation should focus on the use of information that has been shared, rather than the sharing of information itself. I had never considered the concept in this way before, despite it being a common one. I am a doctor: people tell me all sorts of things in confidence because they have a clear understanding that to do so is the best way to allow me to understand their condition, and diagnose and treat them. Occasionally, much of what a patient discloses – which is often deeply private – turns out to be irrelevant. But the code of ethics, not to mention the law, around these interactions means that they can share without fear.

While the patient freely discloses the information, the way in which the information is used remains within their power. They are free to allow me to share it with colleagues if they believe that this might help them (referring them on), or equally free to restrict me from doing so. Even if something deeply embarrassing turns out to be irrelevant, the patient is left no worse off for having disclosed it – and the possibility of benefit was probably worth the disclosure.

This is a single example of the effect Jeff's book has on many of the concepts around privacy and 'publicness'. He helps the reader to assume a different viewpoint on issues. The viewpoint is often one grounded in experiences that the reader already has, or can conceive of, but which they have perhaps not understood from the viewpoint described. This is a powerful technique.

Public Parts also discusses the trickier aspects of online life. It discusses cases where people share things that they perhaps should not have, and where this lack of privacy has caused harm. But he makes a convincing point that we all need to become more 'media competent', and that making the debate about 'publicness' more mainstream will serve to educate and inform, as well as helping to craft social norms in a more considered way.

The style of writing in the book is certainly fast-paced, and I know that others have been critical of this. Few things irritate me more than incomplete, superficial arguments, and so I was a little reluctant to read this book on the basis of those reviews commenting on the fast-paced nature, which I thought would be indicative of superficiality. On the contrary, I found the book well-paced. It discusses issues concisely, not ad infinitum, which I found refreshing. It leaves the reader to do some of the work around thinking through the issues surrounding the arguments. The author does not lead the reader step-by-step through every possible permutation and combination of situations and ideas, as other authors are wont to do.

I particularly enjoyed the discussions around the historical aspects of privacy and 'publicness'. Consideration of these issues is, in my opinion, far too often framed as part of the discussion around modern technology. In reality, there is little that is new about the issues themselves, merely new situations in which they need to be applied. The discussion was illuminated by description of how these debates progressed around the new technologies of the past – from Gutenberg's printing press to Kodak's camera. Similarly, the interviews with leaders in social media (and similar fields) helped to give some real-world perspective on the theories being discussed.

It seems a shame to me that this book has received so little attention in the UK. I get the impression that it hasn't been particularly widely read, which is a shame given that its discussion is relevant to us all. It strikes me that it is a book that could catch on among the political classes, and become widely read via that route. At least, I hope it might.

This book packs an awful lot in to 250 or so pages. It's a genuinely enjoyable read that provides a large amount of food for thought. I highly recommend it.

Public Parts is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle.

Review: Fakebook by Dave Cicirelli



by sjhoward

This is the 2,209th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 16th April 2014.

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Fakebook is an autobiographical story by Dave Cicirelli, a young man who decided to divorce his Facebook updates from reality. He falsely announced via a Facebook status update that he was quitting his job and going travelling. Most of his Facebook friends believed him, and a few close friends were co-opted into posting supportive comments and messages to increase the believability of his tale. The cover calls this an “elaborate hoax”, but I find that description difficult: there’s nothing particularly elaborate about writing fake Facebook status updates, or posting (badly) Photoshopped photographs.

From this exercise, Cicirelli attempts to make observations about the nature of friendship, life in the digital world, and so on. Unfortunately, his observations are such self-evident truths that they needn’t be demonstrated through this sort of means. Is it necessary to write a book about fooling your friends for six months to realise that friendships change, develop and sometimes disintegrate as lives take different courses?

For me, the whole book just fell flat. For some people, no doubt, the fictional adventures of “Fake Dave” are rip-roaringly hilarious. I’m sure that there’s a segment of the market somewhere that finds the idea of pretending to unravel toilet paper around a horse and cart on an Amish farm hilarious. I suspect Mr Cicirelli himself is in this market segment. I’m afraid I’m not, and so I found the ever-growing succession of such fictional idiocy a drag. I struggled to get through this book.

Other reviewers have expressed concerns about the ethics of the deception involved in this project. I’m not overly concerned by that. Nobody is under any obligation to share the truth on Facebook, and I suspect that most events reported on Facebook are fictionalised to some extent to show their author in a better light. This is nothing more than an extension of that idea.

About a third of the way into the book, there is a delicious moment, however. Mr Cicirelli goes on a date with a girl four years his junior. He explains his online exploits to her, and she gives him short shrift, essentially dismissing the project as deceptive and pointless. In response, Mr Cicirelli calls her immature. He might have done rather better to listen to her.

Fakebook is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback. I am grateful to Sourcebooks for providing a free review copy of this book.

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue



by sjhoward

This is the 2,189th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 19th March 2014.

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Room by Emma Donoghue is a novel about a mother kept in captivity in an abductor's shed. It is told from the perspective of the mother's five-year-old son, Jack, who was born in the shed and hence believes that it represents the full extent of the 'real world'. The book, which was inspired by the Josef Fritzl case, is a critically-acclaimed bestseller, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2010. The morality of profiting from a novel inspired by someone else's suffering seems a little questionable, even if it has been done many times before.

In the humble opinion of this blogger, as opposed to the far more informed opinion of leagues of experts, Room has some serious problems. But before I describe the worst of these, I'd like admit that I found the work thoroughly engaging and enjoyed reading it despite the problems.

The largest and most frustrating problem is with the narrative voice. The novel is told from the point of view of Jack, a five-year-old with an intellect which is unusually developed in some areas, yet lacking in others. I found his voice inauthentic. At one point, he had the intellect to use the word "cells" and understand that they make up the body. At another point, his knowledge does not extend to the word "palm", leading to him referring to "inside hands" or "hand insides". While I understand that his varying levels of language are intended to be reflective of his unusual experience, this does not seem to explain these odd inconsistancies.

Similarly, there are irritating editing inconsistencies in Jack's voice, which make it seem still more inauthentic: Jack refers to 'Sunday treat', 'Sunday-treat' and 'Sundaytreat' consistently in different passages. Perhaps this inconsistency is reflective of some grander point that I'm missing, but I simply find it irritating.

My second over-arching concern is one of plausibility. We are told that the door to 'Room' is locked with a four-digit combination lock, and that Ma and Jack regularly try to crack this with Ma calling out different numbers and Jack entering them when they play 'Keypad'. On a four digit combination lock, there can be only 10,000 combinations. Assuming they play 'Keypad' systematically – and I assume that the system is the reason for Ma calling out the numbers – it seems unlikely that they wouldn't have it cracked fairly quickly.

There are also odd inconsistencies in the narrative. Perhaps these are designed to establish Jack as a somewhat unreliable narrator, but to me, they simply read as mistakes. For example, it is established early that Jack and Ma play 'Scream', in which they scream daily in the hope that a rescuer might find them. They do not do this at weekends, as their captor might hear them. It is later revealed that their captor has been unemployed for some time – so it seems odd that he hasn't heard them.

A third major source of irritation in the text is the number of laboured metaphors. I lost count of how many times there is a 'separation', presumably inserted to portend future events in the narrative. However, they are discussed in such a heavy-handed way as to be groan-worthy. Similarly, there is an over-reliance on hackneyed 'life-lessons':

  • "In the world I notice persons are nearly always stressed and have no time"
  • "Lots of the world seems to be a repeat"
  • "Sometimes there’s a small kid crying and the Ma of it doesn’t even hear"

The final source of annoyance is the frustratingly short chapters used. These become particularly irksome in the second half of the book, where short chapters are given which bear no relation to the preceeding or following chapters. At some points, it isn't even clear how much time has passed . Initially, I thought the author had an eye on a film adaptation, which is often easier with shorter chapters. By the end, I thought that the author had scribbled a list of events and experiences she wished to cover, and simply rattled through them.

Despite these problems, I enjoyed Room. The frustrating elements marred the reading experience somewhat, but the book's positives, by and large, outweighed the negatives. I cannot give a hearty recommendation – and, indeed, cannot begin to fathom its critical and popular success. However, it is not so bad as to be worth going out of your way to avoid it.

Room is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Review: Just My Type by Simon Garfield



by sjhoward

This is the 2,174th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 5th March 2014.

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Just My Type is a book about fonts. It tells the story behind the design of many different typefaces and their designers, and passes judgement on some of the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ fonts in common use.

I have a slightly complicated history with this book. I bought it when it first came out, having seen a number of rave reviews, including a virtually evangelical endorsement from Robert Bound. However, first time round, I didn’t get on with it. I found it dull indeed, and gave up with it after a short while.

Early in 2014, I decided to tackle it again: I could not accept that so many people whose opinion I respect had so highly recommended a book which I found impenetrable. Second time round, I very much enjoyed it, and devoured it in a couple of days. I enjoyed its humour and levity; its facts and figures; its tales of times gone by and anecdotes of contemporary life in the design community. It was a real treat, a pleasure to read. I cannot understand why I found it such a struggle the first time round. Garfield deftly brings the human spirit to a topic which, at face value, lacks any humanity. He brings type alive in the most engaging way.

Each chapter of the book discusses a font trend or another similar topic, including the history of how it came to exist, and how it progressed over time. The second chapter, which discusses the terminology of type, has a lovely quote which sums up the combination of accuracy and levity which the author employs throughout:

In common parlance we use font and typeface interchangeably, and there are worse sins.

Between the chapters, there are ‘font breaks’, in which Garfield typically discusses an interesting story relating to a single typeface. This structure might seem unusual at first glance, but it works well, setting up a predictable rhythm throughout the book. And, as one might expect, the book is peppered with different typefaces, providing illustration of the points discussed.

I found Just My Type to be a lovely book – at least on second reading – and it made me genuinely interested in a topic I’d never considered in great detail previously. It was factual, but with a real sense of fun. I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Just My Type is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Review: The Tiger That Isn’t by Andrew Dilnot and Michael Blastland



by sjhoward

This is the 2,158th post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 19th February 2014.

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I first read this book in 2008, not all that long after it was released, pretty much in one go on a long haul flight. I recently came across it again, remembered the pleasure I derived from it the first time round, and so gave it a re-read.

The Tiger That Isn’t provides a competent grounding in the very basics of statistical theory – risk, sampling, averages, etc – but does so in a way that is both relevant to daily life and, genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. Blastland and Dilnot pick examples from many different spheres of life, but with a particular lean towards politics and the media, and explain the basic statistical errors underlying fallacious claims. They largely succeed in doing this in a lighthearted way, and attempt to equip readers with tools which might help them avoid similar mistakes in future.

One suggestion that I remembered from my first reading of this book is that any Government spending announcement is more easily interpreted if one divides the headline figure by 3bn, which gives an approximation of the spend per member of the population per week.

Of course, this book does not discuss statistical methods in great detail, and nor does it deal with some of the more complex statistical concepts. It does, however, give a good grounding in everyday statistics to those with a passing interest – I wish more journalists (and politicians) would give themselves a solid foundation of statistical understanding, and this is as good a place to start as any.

I very much enjoyed my re-read of this volume, and would happily recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the topic.

Chocolate Wars

The Tiger That Isn’t is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

Review: Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury



by sjhoward

This is the 2,141st post. It was published at 12:30 on Wednesday, 5th February 2014.

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Chocolate Wars tells the history of chocolate manufacturer Cadbury, from founding to controversial sale to Kraft. Interwoven into the story are histories of other confectionery manufacturers whose names have become synonymous with sweets: Fry, Rowntree, Lindt, Hershey, Suchard, Terry and many others besides. Of course, the author is herself a member of the Cadbury family, lending a personal tone to the narrative. Of course, as with any story of this type, there’s a good dose of social history in the mix as well.

This should be a book I enjoyed. I like a bit of social history, and I like a good business story. I enjoy biographies, and I enjoy chocolate. And this book has won high praise from almost everyone who has reviewed it. Yet I’m afraid that I struggled to get through this book. Others have called it ‘pacey’ and ‘thriller-like’, but I found it a little like wading through treacle in two respects: it was hard to get through, and far too sweet.

An example of the former from early in the book, there is seemingly endless discussion of the qualities of “Iceland Moss”, a profoundly unsuccessful early Cadbury product.  It felt like there was an awful lot of description of the product, and of its lack of success, but also – and this seems to be a problem throughout – discussion of the intentions and feeling of the Cadbury brothers when developing the product. The evidence cited for drawing these conclusions about motivations is often poor, and feels like it has been imposed, rather than simply reported, by the author. But perhaps this is unfair; perhaps the feelings and motivations were well-researched and accurately reported. But that simply isn’t how Chocolate Wars felt to me: it felt wearingly revisionist.

As an example of the latter, Chocolate Wars seems to expect the reader to respect the Cadburys for abandoning their principles in favour of profit early on, attempting to reintroduce them as they returned to profit, and then gradually eroding them again. I’m afraid I found all of this rather tiresome. I understand that the family faced a moral dilemma, choosing between values and success, but their continual inability to choose a side of the argument and pursue it is frustrating. There are parts of the narrative where it seems that the Cadbury family are virtually abusing their workers, and yet it seems that the reader is expected to sympathise with the owners, not the workers, whose discomfort is almost brushed over.

I don’t mean to imply from this description that Cadbury Wars induced strongly negative feeling about the Cadbury family. The book didn’t move me to strong feelings about anything. I am describing my frustrations with the text in an attempt to explain why I found it so profoundly dull – but in doing so, I think I may have inadvertently highlighted the more interesting debates.

The only way in which this book really affected me was that I bought some Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles, which I haven’t bought for years, after reading an extended description of them in the book. And I enjoyed them.

I find it hard to fully justify why I enjoyed this book so little, particularly when others have felt so positively towards it. Perhaps it is reflective of my mood as I read, or perhaps I hold some unidentified negative association with Cadbury. I certainly can’t recommend Chocolate Wars, but my single note of disapproval shouldn’t put you off: there’s a chorus of celebration of the brilliance of Chocolate Wars, so perhaps it’s worth reading anyway.

Chocolate Wars

Chocolate Wars is available now from amazon.co.uk in paperback and on Kindle.

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