Am waiting for hugely better photos than I took to wend their way from my brother-in-law before embarking on Italy and related subjects, so will meanwhile say what I’ve read the last few weeks:

1) The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak): at Valerie’s suggestion (or rather, insistence!). I fell right into this book, almost against my will, and found the narrator unusual and compelling. Liesel was a superb character, and Rudy, and Max and Papa especially. They were full of depth, colour and breadth immediately. It’s quite a feat I think to maintain strong character and nearly omniscient narration; one is often sacrificed for the other.  It was a journey. I loved the visual aspect of the book, and its typography too, and more than anything feel real relief that such an unusual book, with so many different components, can meet with real success. Like probably everyone else in the whole world, I wept all the way through the last 50 pages. I then passed it onto my sister-in-law. I could tell when she reached the same part, from her sniffing on the sunbed next to me…I was oddly disappointed by the ending, though, the very ending, as in the last couple of lines. They felt flat. Sorry to be so picky.

2) The Gathering (Anne Enright): Booker prize winner last year. I liked it alot. Can’t say that I loved it, but I thought it very well written, extremely so, subtle, enticing, troubled and troubling. The narrator here is very particular, specific first person, and the play with time and memory was very, very effective. However: once again I found myself dissatisfied with the ending. I felt that it didn’t quite hold up to the writing. The book was actually about elusive things, so it is no surprise that much of the book felt elusive… Yet, yet… I’d be curious to know what others think. I wonder if it never really, really got down to brass tacks? The constant veering away from subject by the narrator made the book feel veering away? Maybe. However, I am delighted that for once a rather slim volume, with a limited framework and canvas, made it to the Booker table. As a general rule, ‘limited canvas’ books are my favourites — and not the British public’s or Booker judges’. With John Banfield’s book two (?) years ago, room for variation seems to have started with the Booker, for which I am relieved….

3) Engleby (Sebastian Faulks): well, a different order of book I thought. Almost French somehow, in its methodology. There is a fundamental mystery here, but the book is not a mystery book. There is a oddball character here, but the book is not about that either. Somehow. Somehow — despite flagging a little, the narrative loosening in tension to the point of near collapse in the middle — the book becomes about how certain minds work at the edges of certain worlds, certain points of extremis that few if any of us know or understand. Yet the character, caught in this, being this, is also compelling, human, and strangely sympathetic. The book achieves this balancing act through near technical acrobatics I thought. I can’t give it away, but suffice to say that once a certain aspect of its creation is revealed — the whole endeavour takes on a completely different and more complex and gripping quality and motive. It’s impressive. It’s also funny — very dry, ‘smart’, almost cringingly so — throughout. And unlike the previous two books, the rather anti-climactic ending didn’t bother me. Where the other books I think are despite possible intentions dependent upon the narrative — Engleby isn’t. So I didn’t feel its lack in the final pages.

4) Noughts and Crosses (Majorie Blackman): young adult book passed to me by E, who read it for eight hours straight, barely stopping to eat. This again was quite compelling reading, though for different reasons. Its premise is one of the world being ‘reversed’ in discrimination, e.g. people of colour being powerful (‘crosses’) and white people being powerless (‘noughts’). It’s a star-crossed lover tale at heart, with politics, money, parenting and growing up thrown into the pot. The interesting aspect of the book is that the characters’ X or O status is rarely pointed up: there are few physical descriptions, and the world is close enough to ours such that as a white reader I had to remind myself many times of the ‘reversal’ of this imagined world. I was mortified and chastened time and again to realise that in my head I always imagined the people with power to be white — and the people without power to be black. Of course, I am liberal enough to know and think I understand that we are all complicit in our society’s racism. However, I have never read anything that so effectively brought me face to face with my own paradigms. The writing itself I felt was inconsistent — some wonderful moments, but also some rather weak ones (lots of adverbs, point of view slippages etc). Plot-wise though I couldn’t fault it. The writer set something up and followed it through, even if we didn’t want to see it…

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Of course the reading pile has no end. And much of what I read on holiday was just that — good holiday reading. I find that I am always trying to balance ‘keeping up’ with ‘reading off-centre’. Holiday time is where I do the former.

I’m now reading one of R’s books, given to him by  student, and one he read on holiday: The Life of David Debrizzi (Paul Micou). So far, it’s frankly hilarious.

And I’m desperate to read Sue Guiney’s Tangled Roots. And a writer E is now reading, who I think is just superb from my snatched evening reads to him: Siobhan Dowd (Bog Child and The London Eye Mystery). AND I read Caroline Smailes’ In Search of Adam some time ago and still haven’t reviewed it here! Not fair! I WILL.

 

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