A very quick roundup of books I’ve read in the last few weeks, otherwise this will turn into an actual essay, and I don’t have time for that (I’ve all kind of things to do on my “things to do” list, and it’s already nearly Monday).
I thought I was really enjoying The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay at the time, but a few weeks later I can barely remember anything about it. If you like long, twisty intelligent stories about magicians, I recommend The Deptford Trilogy instead – though there’s nothing actually wrong with K&C. I still think Michael Chabon is very good and will seek out more by him.
I picked up The Diary of a Nobody in Dublin before Christmas, but only got around to it last month. I had seen some snippets of a TV adaptation which I enjoyed very much, but since the TV adaptation actually consisted in somebody dressed as Edward Pooter sitting in a chair and reading from his diary, the style and format didn’t come as a surprise. It’s fairly slight, and again, I could recommend a superior but similar alternative, but it was an enjoyable enough way of passing a day or two.
I’m still sort of halfway through The Singapore Grip, which I bought after enjoying Troubles so much. It has flashes of the wit and subtlety that had me enchanted in Troubles, but in between there’s a lot of dense, fact-heavy prose which makes me feel as though I’m swimming through treacle. I still have high hopes for The Siege of Krishnapur.
I waited months after spotting it on the shelves before I succumbed and bought a – new! – copy of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I’d read a description and it sounded just my kind of thing: the story of nineteenth century country house murder told from the point of view of the investigating detective. It had had lots of good reviews, and I was very well-disposed towards it when I started out. Accordingly, I allowed it a certain amount of latitude before I started to become irritated by it, but I had still reached that point within a few pages. It’s as much my fault for having overly high expectations as it is anyone else’s, but this is essentially a true crime story written by a hack. The reasoning is poor, there are frequent and baffling non sequiturs and the writing itself has no elegance or elequence, and it turns out murder mysteries need a bit of both to work. Unrecommended.
Two books whose target readership is significantly younger than me – Two Friends, One Summer and Rain – had me walking between tube station and office with my nose buried in them, in the way that only good children’s books and a certain type of thriller can achieve. I shan’t give them detailed critiques because I know the author a bit so it would be weird, but I will certainly be recommending them to acquaintances of the appropriate age.
Talking of thrillers, I justified buying Mr Whicher by taking up Waterstones’ “buy one, get one half price” offer, and the second book was one which I’d never heard of, but whose cover blurb made it sound fun. The Brutal Art looks and mainly reads like a run-of-the mill gorefest, but it’s also really very well written and thoughtful, behind the shiny cover. If you’re looking for an intelligent but undemanding crime caper it’s one to stick on the list.
I dutifully finished The Road, but I didn’t start enjoying it any more than I did to begin with. I like books where things happen, I think. Things happen in Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, which represented my first foray into the work of John Mortimer. I often only think of starting to read someone’s books after they’ve died, which makes me exactly the demographic authors don’t want. Anyway, I liked it a lot and shall be reading more. Like The Diary of a Nobody it doesn’t stay with you for very long beyond the reading of it, but it’s perfectly absorbing for the duration, and I don’t ask more than that.
Right now I’m in the middle of reading another book by Jesse Kellerman, author of The Brutal Art, and once that’s finished I’m changing slant completely and moving on to Hardcore From the Heart: The Pleasures, Profits and Politics of Sex in Performance, in preparation for a book group I’m going to later this month. It’s a long time since I read anything beyond a newspaper article or blog post which had an actual argument to make, so I’m quite excited.
(Forgive the slow typing, by the way: I have painted my nails and I don’t want to smear them.)