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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Book Review: 'A Virtual Love' by Andrew Blackman

When this year gets over, I'm going to write a post mentioning the 10 best books I read in 2013, just like last year. I'm not sure this book will make that list, but it is surely a strong contender for the 'Discovery of the Year' honours.

Real & online identities entwine with each other in Andrew Blackman's second novel - 'A Virtual Love'. Jeff Brennan is an average guy at best, working in the IT Support section of a law firm. His namesake is Britain's numero uno political blogger, famous for his balanced views & his anonymity. So when Marie, an avid reader of the blog, assumes that the 'average' Jeff Brennan is 'the Jeff Brennan' & he doesn't correct her perception, a romance develops between the two on the basis of one lie. Jeff thinks he's found the perfect girl when his illustrious namesake decides to make his first public appearance, throwing his life into jeopardy. Will he tell Marie the truth?

Andrew Blackman won the 2008 Luke Bitmead Writers Bursary for his debut novel 'On the Holloway Road' & though I haven't read the book, I've come across favourable reviews from those who have read it. The good news is that 'A Virtual Love' doesn't disappoint either.

The style of narration in this book is not new to me, having read a couple of books written in a similar manner earlier this year. Each chapter is narrated by one particular character in this novel, but what's different is that not one single chapter is narrated by the protagonist Jeff Brennan (the average one). What this ensures is that his character is sketched by all those characters who form a part of his social life - his grandfather Arthur, his girlfriend Marie, his best friend Jon, his work colleagues Annie & Dex & even the namesake blogger gets to voice his side of events. I also liked how Blackman successfully portrays the true nature of Jeff's manipulative friend Marcus through extracts of the latter's Twitter feed. Characterisation in this novel is indeed praiseworthy.

What I liked most about this book was this sense of nostalgia that abounds especially when Jeff's grandfather Arthur takes on the mantle of narrator. I loved how the character talks about his past life as a journalist, how people around him have changed & how he feels like he's still frozen somewhere in an earlier time during his conversations with his grandson. The comments made on the subject of 'generation gap' with references to technology & online social networking through Arthur's character are very relevant to our times & I'm somehow glad that Blackman explores these themes in depth & with immense clarity. That sense of confusion in Arthur's mind regarding the difference in real & online identities of today's youth is immaculately captured in words.

There were also some parts that struck a chord, such as the incident when Jeff tries to teach Arthur about operating the computer, which sort of reminded me of my own efforts to teach my mother about using Facebook. Another one is how Jon feels deserted & left out when Jeff enters into a relationship with Marie. Thumbs up to the way these underlying sentiments are expressed.

What annoyed me about this book was its ending. It's not that the author plays too much with it, but I just couldn't bring myself to like it. It seemed like it was too abrupt & that the author just wanted to give a rather swift conclusion to the whole affair. I also thought that the plot loses a bit of steam in the second half, which was frustrating.

3.5 to 4 stars for this well-written novel by Andrew Blackman. It's not an extraordinary book, but I'd say you read it for the sense of nostalgia & because it is so much more than just real identities getting entangled with virtual ones. Recommended.

P.S. I won an eBook version of the novel in a personal giveaway by the author through his blog, and I solemnly state that it does not affect my review of the book in any way.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vidic refuses to claim title race is over

Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic insists the title race is still far from over despite his side extending their lead to 15 points on Saturday.
United have dominated the Premier League for most of the season and their 1-0 win over Reading, combined with Manchester City’s defeat at Everton, means they now have a huge advantage going into the final nine games of the campaign. Indeed many punters who beton premier league games have seen their title bets paid out by some bookies, convinced United will finish top of the pile.

However, United also led this time last season, but a series of poor performances allowed the Citizens to cut their gap before Sergio Aguero’s last minute goal saw Roberto Mancini’s men clinch the title in dramatic manner on the final day.

After the Red Devils won at the Etihad Stadium in December, the two sides are still to play for a second time this season and their return meeting will undoubtedly provide City with the perfect chance to cut the gap.

If any team can play their way back into contention it’s certainly the champions, who on their day have ability to totally blow their opponents away, almost at will.

Having lost out last season, Vidic knows how dangerous City are and has told his team-mates that they cannot afford to get complacent in the final months of the campaign.

"It is a big gap and we shouldn't let that change. We have the title in our hands," said Vidic to premierleague betting news reporters. "What happened last season is the reason why sometimes you can feel the fans get nervous.

"But I don't think we should allow that to happen again. We can't allow that to happen again.

"But we still have some tough away games at places that are traditionally hard for us so nothing is finished yet,” he added."

Friday, March 8, 2013

McClaren tips Rooney to stay at United

Former Manchester United assistant manager Steve McClaren says he fully expects Wayne Rooney to remain at Old Trafford, despite the recent speculation linking him with a move away from the club.

The striker was sensationally left out of the starting line-up for the Red Devils’ Champions League clash with Real Madrid on Tuesday and now a number of high-profile pundits, including former United skipper Roy Keane, as well punters who bet on Premier League transfers, have tipped him to move on in the coming months.

Rumours have been rife that Rooney himself has hinted that he wants to leave the club and its thought that the board will be willing to listen to offers in the summer, with a number of top sides monitoring his progress.

However, it would be a huge decision for the former Everton youngster to take, as there are only a handful of teams who would be able match his massive ambitions.

One of these would be crosstown rivals Manchester City, who he was previously linked with before signing a new deal at Old Trafford in 2010.

Over the decades a number of players have left United at their peak, only to fall from grace and McClaren, who coached Rooney during his time in charge of England, believes the rumours are untrue and expects the striker to stay put.

“Sir Alex always says there is only one way to go after Manchester United, and that's down. He's right, that's proved,” he said to football betting news reporters. "I know Wayne Rooney and all he wants to do is play football and win, all he wants to do is win trophies.

“He is a winner and there is no better club to be at than Manchester United if you are a winner. He won't want to leave unless told he can leave.”