Friday, 24 September 2010

What I read on my holiday

I've just had a week of sunshine, sand and babysitting, so I read:

PopCo by Scarlett Thomas.  Which I enjoyed.  Until it started making me feel guilty for being on a holiday, abusing the workers who cleaned the room and supporting an evil corporation who ran the resort, and generally being a bad person.

It did make me think though.  Not just about globalisation and the "rise of big business", but also about marketing, and toys and the terrifying statistic, which may or may not be true that children are exposed to 20,000 products before they are 15.  Actually, that must be true, mustn't it ? As must the fact that toy manufacturers "are in the business of the new and shiny, the biggest and the best, the glittery and magical, the fast and addictive.  The toy industry has two big advantages over other industries.  Our products are the easiest to sell and our customers are the easiest to sell to.

My children are still too little to be materialistic, but that sentence is still one of the most frightening things I've read in months.

Then I picked up The Help by Kathryn Stockett. 

I've wanted to read this for some time, having read extracts from it in magazines, and having had it recommended by several people, including Diney, who has had an amazing, enlightening and compelling encounter on the back of it. 

I cannot now recommend it highly enough.  It is set in 1962 in Mississippi.  Martin Luther King is still alive, Rosa Parks has sat in the white seat of a segregated bus.  It is only fifty years ago and it is a different and horrifying world.  One which makes me, born fifteen years later, and fifteen thousand miles away, ashamed to be white.

I laughed, I cried, I determined to find out more about this period in history, and, more important to make sure that my girls read it. To understand that there are good things and there are bad things, but that some things are always wrong.  And should never be forgotten.

I needed light relief after that, but couldn't face Angels and Demons (which a friend had shoved in my suitcase as we were leaving), so I picked up Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips.

You'll have worked out by now what a cry-baby I am, so it'll come as no surprise that this one made me weep too.  But it also made me snigger.  It's very silly, but also witty, readable and, yes, thought-provoking.

The Greek gods are real, alive, and living in north London.  Apollo is a television psychic, Artemis a dog walker, Aphrodite runs a phone sex line. Their divine power is waning. They are bored and lonely.  Until they meet Alice and Neil...

I read it in about an hour. I enjoyed every minute of it.  I can't really remember what happens now.

So I went back to intellectual books, and picked up 2008's Booker Winner, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

And yet again, I don't get what the Booker Judges saw.   The White Tiger was fine, it really was, but it wasn't even the best book I read on holiday much less all year, (to be honest it was probably third equal in the holiday rankings, and there were only four entrants).

I found the premise (a series of letters to the Chinese Premier) silly and contrived, and I still don't understand what it added to the novel as a whole.  The plot was interesting, and the descriptions of India compelling and often shocking, but there was little in the way of suspense, and, most importantly, I found the character of the White Tiger himself disappointingly predictable.  The killer with the moral compass would have been so much more interesting had he had more ambiguity.   The Times thought it was a masterpiece.  Nadine Gordimer found it too determined to shock.  I just thought it was a bit dull.   I suspect I am missing something...


  1. I love finding out what other people read. I have definitely got The Help on my list after reading Diney's post too.

    Did you ever get around to The Slap - I'm not sure it lived up to the hype: a clever concept but I didn't have much empathy for the characters.

  2. Doh! No I didn't! I did a whole Amazon order the week before we went (based mostly on what Saffia at Motherhood and Anarchy had recommended) and I knew there was something else but couldn't think what it was.

    Anyway, it wouldn't have mattered, because Amazon failed me and none of the books arrived, so most of these (with the exception of the Help were lent in a last minute panic by a friend!)

    Will see if I can get the Slap in town later on though.

  3. I didn't like White Tiger much either. And it always makes me cross when I don't like a book because I don't get much of a chance to read one and I want to love it when I do! Like the sound of the first 2 though!

  4. I would send you my copy of The Slap but I nicked it from the campsite in the summer and it was already falling apart then. It's in pieces now. I'd be interested to know what you think, when you get round to it.

  5. I find Scarlett Thomas incredibly sanctimonious and all the more irritating because she sucks you in with a half decent story and then it unravels in a whole load of well-meaning hippy tripe. Just my view, obviously ;-)

  6. Loved The Help - best book I've read this year. PopCo sounds interesting - a bit Ben Elton?

    The White Tiger sounds rather too worthy - something you'd admire for the writing but not actually enjoy......

  7. That's what holidays are for...reading fantastic books! Read The Help too and it has really stuck in my mind. I just couldn't get over how recent that was....unbelievable.

  8. I read Diney's post and I have The Help on my Wish list. Must click move to basket!

  9. Pants with Names - glad it wasn't just me!

    Trish - panic not, B heard me whinging that I'd forgotten about it and has come up trumps! What a star!

    Mrs T - as ever: nail on head!

    Nappy Valley Girl - not read any Ben Elton for years so can't really say, but definitely don't bother with White Tiger...

    Chic Mama - That's it exactly - it's only 40 years ago. Astonishing.

    Kelloggsville - do! You definitely won't regret it!


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