Thursday, 2 February 2012

Is it ironic that I can't think of a title for a post about books?

Here they are.  Sitting on the floor by the window.  Making me feel guilty every time I try not to look at them.

The books I've read since the end of September.  I think that's all of them, but it doesn't seem very many somehow.  And in fact, looking back at my last bookish post, the Alan Bennett was in there too, so I must have read that in the Summer.

They're a mixed bag this lot.  The Annie Proulx was too good to read; the images she created so horrifying and distressing that after about four stories (Brokeback Mountain being one of them) I had to put it down and step away.  The Dorothy Koomson, on the other hand, was too rotten to put down: like that disgusting chocolate they make cheap Easter eggs out of.  You don't enjoy it while you're eating it, you know you're not going to feel good about having eaten it, and you didn't actually really want to be eating it in the first place, but the next thing you know, you've got greasy fingers (never a good sign), a tummy ache and a crumpled pile of tin foil.

For my own sanity and self-respect I'd love to say I'm never going to read another Dorothy Koomson (or anything like it), but then I'd also like to say I won't steal the kids' Easter eggs again too...

I don't normally read spy stories, but there were two in here. Not particularly through choice, but because one (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) was lying around and the other (Trinity Six) my brother left behind after Christmas.  I surprised myself by enjoying them both: I'd rather imagined that John Le Carre was going to be rather dry and worthy but it was pacey and exciting, and so, despite some rather irritating factual mistakes, was Charles Cumming's, although I don't imagine they'll be making a blockbuster movie out of it any time soon.

I'm not sure I've read any Ruth Rendell before, but I was rather imagining it as being cosy, country, murders (can such a thing exist), and it was all child abuse and torture and decay.  Quite distressing actually, and I'm not sure I'll go there again.

The Jane Green I can't remember anything about at all. Not a good sign.  Ditto the Katie Fforde. But then maybe that's what that sort of book is supposed to do: take you out of yourself for the few hours it takes to read and putting you back down a little lighter for that brief escape.  Maybe not, but that is what they both did to me.

I found the Senator's Wife profoundly irritating; both the character and the book.  The protagonist (not the Senator's wife, as it happens) was a young mum in a new and unfamiliar town and I should have been able to relate, but I just found the choices she made and the navel-gazing she indulged in unconvincing and unnecessary.   And then it made me worry that that's what people are saying about me...

Perhaps I'm getting more discriminating and impatient with my reading (although generally not enough actually to put a book down once I've started it of course) because I found The Resurrectionist pointless too. It was sufficiently diverting but I finished it without really understanding why anyone had bothered either to write or publish it.

Addition on the other hand, was drivel. But drivel that made me think.  The main character has obsessive compulsive disorder and she counts.  She counts everything: paces across her room, tins of beans in her shopping trolley, the numbers of pairs of pants and socks in her room, and she makes mathematical order from them.  I don't know if this actually represents the reality of OCD, but for her, this was all about making her life count, about not letting each individual moment slip by without marking it in some concrete way.  For me, feeling the baby years slipping away, it resonated.

And the last three, Snowdrops, Pigeon English and The Sense of an Ending were on the Booker shortlist:  I asked Father Christmas to improve my reading material, and he obliged.   For a change, I agreed with the judges.  There were, of course, other books on both the short- and long-lists, but of the three I had, I thought the Sense of an Ending, which won, much the best.  I was drawn in by the plot and kept there by the writing, which at times, with its repeated images, felt like poetry.  I often don't pay enough attention to the quality of the writing I read, but I couldn't ignore this.

Snowdrops I also thoroughly enjoyed, but more, I think for nostalgic reasons than any other. It was an amazing evocation of Moscow and reading it felt, often, like déjà vu.  Except that my year in Moscow didn't have the same sense of impending, inevitable doom. Fortunately.

I can't say, though that I particularly enjoyed Pigeon English. It took me a long time to get through.  Mostly, I think, because I found it quite dull.  It's one of a load of books by my bedside, Room being one of them (oh, yes, I read that too, last year some time. Didn't like it much) which seem, with their naiive, child-like voices, derivative of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I've got another one sitting there and I'm putting it off.  This one, though, didn't really convince me, although it got lots of praise from the critics, so maybe it's just me.

And one last one.  I also read (and revelled in) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.  Vampires, witches, genetic experiments... what's not to enjoy?

Not sure where I'm going next with my reading though.  Any suggestions?


  1. David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Great writing, really unusual place and time setting that I knew nothing about beforehand and a heathly mix of high and low brow characters. Good enough that it made the v small list of books I really feel the need to own rather than borrow from the library.

    And The Help, the one on which the film was based. I was worried it would be to saccharine/brutal for me to enjoy but it's done well.

    1. Interesting - I've sort of avoided David Mitchell because Cloud Atlas never really appealed and I read some mixed reviews of this one but I should maybe give it a go (you're usually pretty reliable!).

      Loved the Help though!

  2. I am in awe of how much you've read, considering you've got four little ones to look after!

    Have not read any of these, but may try Sense of an Ending thanks to your recommendation.

    By the way, Making Babies has arrived. Will let you know how I get on.

  3. I suspect that my looking after of them is occasionally curtailed by my need to read...

    Looking forward to hearing how you get on with Anne Enright (and Julian Barnes - have you read any of his others? I hadn't, but am tempted to now.)


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