I’ve been falling very far behind on my book reviews. I have actually been reading, I just haven’t been reviewing. And, well, once the backlog of books gets more than about four high it’s pretty hard to write proper reviews.
I’m cheating. I’m going to catch up by writing short reviews of all the books I’ve read in the last six months or so. And from there I should be able write real reviews for books again.
Without further ado, here’s six months worth of books in three sentences, or less.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Ian Fleming. Part of the book club, I wanted to get a feel for actual Ian Fleming Bond books, before reading Faulks’. Fun, enjoyable, if you can avoid hurling the book across the room in the first 20 pages out of frustration over the blatant misogyny. I managed - just - and found it got better.
Devil May Care, Sebastian Faulks. The actual book club book - a Bond story, set in the ’60s, but written just last year by Faulks, in the style of Ian Fleming. Less misogynistic and generally offensive, but a lot less enjoyable. I frequently got bored and would put the book down, forgetting to pick it up again for a little while.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy. Another book club book - this one was brilliant, some thought it was depressing, but I found it uplifting. The ash and the grey bleakness practically leaches onto your fingers out of the page, which is nothing on the handful of images in this book that you will probably never forget. It’s a fantastic book, but be warned.
The End of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas. A potential contender for most pretentious book I’ve ever read, possibly even beating Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, but don’t let that put you off, it’s actually pretty good. It a tour through literary criticism and modern physics with a significant dash of metaphysics tossed in - it felt inspired by Pynchon. Quite original though, and recommended.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Another book club book - chosen because, well, he’d just died. An absolutely great book, and a deserved classic, I have essentially no complaints and instruct you all to read it - it’s short, funny and a very easy read. However, apparently this book inspired many in the west to embrace communism, and that I just can’t see.
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess. A book club companion book, for One Day In the Life…, chosen because it was a banned book, and coincidentally it features a lot of Slavic inspired slang, without any explanation - which was actually surprisingly cool. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the famous movie. The book was a good, but a little weak.
Seize the Day, Saul Bellow. Because of all the short books, I went for another companion book - this one was a ‘day in the life’ story. Fellow book clubbers felt that our last two books (The Road and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) were very depressing - but this, this is depressing. Every single character is deeply detestable, not just in nature and behaviour but also in past: this is a book to attack your opinion of your life and make you doubt everything. Be warned.
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein. A monster sci-fi classic from the golden age of science fiction, regarded as serious, deep and important. Also, utterly hilarious, and quite irritating. The funny comes from Heinlein’s sexism: he simply could not conceive of any kind of female equality that wasn’t some kind of weird submissive promiscuouity. That and the long discourses on various aspects of science are also very irritating: please don’t put incidental exposition in dialogue, it’s trite.
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer. Book club again - vampire chick-lit was the required genre and this hit it. Very readable, but I was hoping that something would happen. I guess I was never a teenage girl.
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman. Excellent: just the right line between a fun story and something that felt just a little darker and deeper. It’s a re-writing of Kipling’s The Jungle Book, though this is subtle. While it is a ‘young adult’ novel, read it and enjoy it, a very good book.
Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman. A very short $2.50 novel that I read in 45 minutes. Cute.
The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides. Wow, one of the best books I’ve read in a very, very long time. It’s different, it draws you in, you become part of the story; in a very engaging way. Shortly after reading I saw the movie: and also wow, a very faithful to the spirit rendering.
Still Life, Louise Penny. Wow, one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Seriously, this is absolutely abysmal. Murder-mystery in genre, but pure rubbish in execution. All the way through the book I had to keep putting it down to avoid the hurl-across-the-room feeling. For example, first chapter identifies the murder victim; second chapter goes back in time a couple of days, to the victim talking to a friend in a café, she reveals that she saw a crime. And then without any pretense, the description the crime is skipped. I mean, come on! Gee, do you think that could have something to do with her death? But then, in a few pages you find out what happened anyway. And! In the end, that crime has nothing to do with the murder. Christ. After this and The Blind Assassin Canadian literature is dead to me. Oh, and this was a book club book as well.
Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan. A tip: if you read something really bad, read something light that you know you’ll enjoy very quickly afterwards or your brain will start to tell you that the hours you have to put into a book are a bad investment. This was a good counter: a really cool sci-fi noir story. Most interestingly, this was a novel centred around a highly socially disruptive technology, but in the window before the tech becomes ubiquitous and available to all. That window is interesting. There are also some Banks-ian characters, without quite the same detail in the characterisation, please read if you like sci-fi.
Pomegranate Soup, Marsha Mehran. Again, thanks to the book club, this was a simple story, and just plain nice. It wasn’t particularly well written, there wasn’t a great deal that happened and the characterisation was just plain atrocious, but in the end I enjoyed reading it and I found the story was… nice. Apart from the transparently good vs evil characters, a major criticism is the lack of direction: there are frequent, unexpected changes in direction. She almost redeems herself with a glimpse into the past of the main villain, but it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Still, … nice.
And the funny thing about all that? It seems to be much easier to write something about bad books than good books. That would say something the reviewer, I think. I shall work on that.