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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Kindle | paperback (UK)

KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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paperback | hardcover (UK)

SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



Ward, Giles: 100 Ways to Improve the World

  Amazon  

4 stars

The first chapter of Giles Ward's 100 Ways to Improve the World is only four pages long, but it was long enough to convince me that I was in for a very different sort of book, from an author with a delightfully dark sense of humor. Ward's protagonist is Peter Staines, a self-absorbed, emotionally stunted, disillusioned carpet salesman who married into money and who is himself writing during the course of the story, jotting in his notebook the brief suggestions for improving the world that punctuate Ward's novel and give it its title. The first suggestion we read is number 67, a proposal that death be eliminated, which is followed by Peter's musing, from his own perspective as a businessman, on God's failings as a CEO:

"I can't help thinking some basic management structure or consultation forum might have been wise before He/She/It started designing the world. Surely a spot of market research wouldn't have done any harm: 'Out of 100 people asked, 92 said they believed death to be either a bad or very bad idea.' Not even Nestlé launches a new yoghurt-coated cereal bar without checking with a reasonable cross-section of the market first. The absurd irony didn't escape me as I sat looking down at body of my dead wife, her blood still warm on my hands."

I bet that got your attention. Ward goes on to juxtapose Peter's appreciation of his wife's beauty, even in death, with his concern about the state of the ash-effect laminate she's "carelessly bleeding all over." The author uses this comic juxtaposition of the mundane and the morbid to good effect later in the book as well, when detailing Peter's preparations for murder in the three weeks that led up to the story's denouement.

Peter, surprisingly given his murderous impulses and egocentrism, is a sympathetic character. We watch him maturing while his life unravels, wishing he wouldn't go through with killing his wife after all, despite what we know from the opening chapter. It's not that Peter's wife doesn't deserve what she gets, but we don't want him to throw away whatever chance at happiness he has left. That Ward makes Peter likable despite his extensive character flaws is impressive.

100 Ways to Improve the World is an unusual and clever and well-written book. (Its plot hangs on a couple of big coincidences, which didn't bother me, but may trouble some readers.) The book is a good example of why the existence of the literary blogosphere is a Good Thing. Written by a first-time author and released by a small independent publisher, the novel probably never received much attention from the traditional media, and nine months after its release the book is past its prime as far as most print publications are concerned. Hopefully this review will go some way toward getting the book a bit of the attention it deserves.

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