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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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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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Birkenhead, Peter: Gonville

  Amazon  

4 stars

Peter Birkenhead is an actor and writer who grew up in New York in the 1960s and 70s. His autobiography, Gonville, centers around his father, an economics professor at Brooklyn College who terrorized his family during Peter's childhood with his unpredictable, violent rages. (The title of the book comes from Michael Caine's character in Zulu, a movie much admired by Peter's father.) At the best of times Birkenhead's father is eccentric, requiring that Peter hold his legs down while he does naked sit-ups, or walking around postcoitally semi-erect in front of Peter's friends. As these incidents suggest, the book can be very funny. More often, at least in the first half, Birkenhead's memories are emotionally searing, powerful and horrifying. Having suppressed a lot of this earlier in his life--the Birkenhead's were not a family that talked about their problems--Peter began finally to address his half-buried memories, a period of catharsis that culminated in this book.

Gonville, when it's at its best, is very well-written. Unfortunately, the story becomes much less interesting in its third section. The last fifty or so pages of the book could have been omitted or dramatically abridged. In particular, Birkenhead's discussion of his failed relationship with a girlfriend, Nora, aren't very interesting. (Birkenhead paints himself as the bad guy in a series of quasi-arguments with her, but she in fact comes off as irritating and oversensitive and as not the sharpest thinker. He blames himself for their breakup, but his account suggests he's lucky to be rid of her.) A tighter story would have made for a much improved book, but Gonville is still definitely recommended as is.

Comments

1.

I don't really know which would be worse really: His father walking around postcoitally semi-erect or walking around precoitally semi-erect.
I will take a look at this book on your recommendation when a used copy comes my way.
Thanks for the very well-written review.

2.

Thanks, Bookbuyer. Your comment made me laugh :)

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