Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally
****NO LONGER ON BOOKLIKES AS THIS PLACE HAS BEEN OVERRUN BY SPAMMERS AND HACKERS****
‘Mine!’ called Gabriel, holding back the others, as if about to take a free kick. He crept around the table as the mouse finally came to its senses and made a run for it. In an action that seemed to take ages and ages, Gabriel turned to look at me. ‘Kinder, this way,’ he said with a wink, and then, stretching his great crane leg, he squashed the mouse with his vast zoo boot.
He raised his arm victoriously to cheers, and, as discreetly as I could, I exited through the plastic sheeting and ran to the staff toilets, where I retched into the bowl. A brown torrent of chocolate poured from me. There were so many things I had grown accustomed to. Spiders, snakes, dark spaces, blood. But not this. The endless cruelty that seemed to follow Gabriel, wherever he went.
Gabriel is such an arse. Unfortunately, this is not the type of novel where one can hope for Gabriel to meet a fate befitting his arsiness.
Often, during my secret resting sessions in the enclosure, I stared up at the black of the night sky. Were the bonobos interested in the stars? I wondered. Was it a matter of curiosity to them that, some dark nights, their familiar sky exploded in these countless pinpricks of light? Bonobos are intelligent and emotional in a way that humans can relate to and measure; they have a system of relationships that we might describe as a culture. They do a lot of deep thinking. They have self-consciousness too. Did they wonder what would become of them in the future? When they saw their old or sick companions fall ill and die, did they wonder what happened to them?
Apparently, I'm continuing my foray into "new"-ish writing (as opposed to my usual go-to books published decades ago).
Tho, Polly Clark is not new to me. I loved her debut novel Larchfield, and have wanted to read more by her since. It's just, sometimes books choose their own time. I tried to start Tiger once before but had to set it down again. This afternoon, I picked it up again randomly and was hooked instantly.
We start off with a tiger attacking a poacher. Then we meet a zoologist in the UK, who falls asleep in the bonobo enclosure.
Now this doesn't in itself sound very thrilling, but Clark's writing lets us know that there is more to the scene. Dr. Frieda Bloom has a past that does not let her rest much. So, when fear catches up with her, she is seeking escape where she can.
I have a hunch that this book will be a thrilling as Larchfield, even tho neither book is a genre thriller. Well, neither is based on crime. And yet, I know that Clark can write a tense psychologically driven plot as well as any "popular" thriller author, and, imo, better than many.
Anyway, let's see how this one progresses.
I love Soho. And finding out that the main plot of this book is set in one of my favourite places filled with fond memories of a previous place of employment, I had high hopes for this book.
Unfortunately, I was sorely disappointed.
I still love that the British Library Crime Classics are reminding us of some great novels we would otherwise miss out on, but this was not one of them.
For all I care, I'd happily never encounter Brandon's work again. Ever.
Still, I guess there is some value in having this book as a reminder that publishing and crime fiction in general have, for the most part, moved on from creating pulpy, badly researched, slashers that base their entire plot on the portrayal of racism and tropes(show spoiler)
I even gave this book the benefit of my doubt as far as I could because I fully understand why some of the xenophobia was present in this story, but this story just does not work. Near enough the entire story is set in the immigrant communities, and yet, the only plot and tension was created because of the cliched portrayal of the groups of immigrants. I cannot even think of any one individual character who was portrayed as an individual human being. Not a single one.
Add to this some other ridiculousness - apparently, there was an espionage story in there somewhere - and I seriously cannot think why any trees had to die for this particular re-issue.
The second lot of my recent book haul has arrived, and I guess this is the more predictable selection of books. However, I loved the covers of all of them.
Yes, I am that shallow.
The one on top is George Orwell's Decline of the English Murder, it's hard to read in the photo.
The British Library Crime Classics are three new additions that I hope will be good, or at least entertaining. I've come to the conclusion, supported by tracking and a graph on a spreadsheet, that - as tempting as the price of kindle editions is - I prefer reading books in either tangible format or as audiobooks.
Since the lockdown, I've really struggled with ebooks - be it my own kindle collection or ebooks through my library. And I'm ok with that. Missing my library as much as I do is a little less palatable.
Anyway, the Woolf also was a pure impulse buy in the hope that this collection would not include essays already contained in The Common Reader. I regret nothing. The book has been produced beautifully and contains articles by Woolf that had previously published anonymously in the Times Literary Supplement.
Lastly, as I have had not much use for my petrol budget over the last three months, I've spent some more time researching independent bookshops. It's incredibly sad to see that there are not that many.
I mean I love Blackwell's but they are pretty big. Smaller businesses just are nowhere near as visible as they should be. Apparently, there is one 17 miles away (and the drive there would make for a beautiful day out any day as it is in a gorgeous location), and I have never even heard of it!
Unfortunately, I could not tell from their website if they are currently operating...which is not helping, and their website does not link to their Facebook page... It took more effort than it should to track down whether they are open. :(
What is worse, this seems to be a common scenario with quite a few small independents that I've found.
Long story short, I've found two new to me independent bookshops that I want to test out, so there is likely going to be another book haul post next week.
Taking a last glance back at the figure upon which the disgruntled doctor was now engaged in stripping of its misleading apparel, something struck him concerning it which, until that moment, had not.
The shaven head without the wig intensified tremendously the Teutonic caste of the dead man’s face, even masked in make-up as it was. There, unquestionably, was your Prussian of the officer class. During his many visits to the Continent upon police business he had seen dozens who might have been blood brothers of the dead man. He had little doubt that, when the face was eventually cleaned off, the scars of student duelling affairs would be found bitten into it.
‘Espionage, right enough,’ he murmured. ‘But in what connection, and who was sufficiently antagonistic to what you were up to, to make a slaughterhouse end of you, such as they have done?’
The book had a strong start but the latest revelations and assumptions have been entirely ridiculous, even for the time of original publication.
This story is headed towards Passenger to Frankfurt territory if it doesn't manage to turn a corner fairly soon.
Just how many times in his career McCarthy had boasted that he could traverse Soho at any hour of the day or night blindfolded, or in the thickest fog, was borne in weightily upon him at this moment. Fog was one thing, and bad enough in the congested streets of Soho to rattle anyone. But this never-to-be-sufficiently-damned black-out business was the absolute frozen limit! For the safety of the populace it was necessary, he supposed, and therefore had to be endured, but how the divil any man was supposed to get quickly upon the track of crime committed in it was something more than he was prepared to answer. His first crash was into a light standard which received the shock without murmur; his second was into someone who gave indignant tongue in a manner to which the word ‘murmur’ could certainly not be applied.
By the feel of the obstacle it was the front of an extremely stout Italian lady who cursed him fluently in what McCarthy instantly recognized as the Neapolitan idiom of his dead mother. It was interlarded with many calls upon the Madonna mia, and many other of the better known saints of her native land.
I loved The Lawrence Affair. It was full of suspense and quite bonkers towards the end. It still had all of the hallmarks of Paul Temple story, and Steve was again showing her pluckiness.
Why am I mentioning Steve's fortitude?
Well, I've moved on to the next story The Spencer Affair, and I've noticed that Paul has told Steve at least three times already to either stay home, stay out of danger, or withheld information from her ... for her protection.
I'm intrigued as to whether there is a progression in these stories where Steve's role gets shoved into the background of being Paul's wife rather than part of the investigation.
It would be a shame if this was the case, because this absolutely was not what the premise of the first Paul Temple story.
So far, The Spencer Affair is really weak. Apart from the issues around Steve, all we have so far is a couple of helpless damsels getting murdered, which again is quite the contrast to The Lawrence Affair.
I don't think this one (The Spencer Affair) is going to be a favourite.
Grr. This story is annoying me. We had a scene where Steve receives a phony phone call from someone impersonating Paul, she picks up that it's not Paul by something he says and decides to phone the number of where she thinks Paul is. She reaches him and they confirm that the previous call was a trap.
When they and their Inspector friend meet up again Paul and the Inspector laugh Steve's ingenuity off as "luck" and her finding and investigating a wire in their flat is dismissed as "women's intuition".
This story is pretty crap, especially when compared to earlier adventures.
Initial post about this collection here.
DNF @ 20%
I have issues with historical fiction, but that was not my main issue here. My main issue was the writing.
If I'm 20% into the book, I should be hooked or loving the language, or be interested in any of the characters.
I should not have to wince at over-written descriptions, try to remember which character we're talking about, or be annoyed by a precocious child who just declared herself an atheist sometime in the 80s. The 1580s.
I'll be giving this one a miss and redeploy my audible credit elsewhere.
12% into the book, and I can tell that this will not be a favourite with me.
It's overly descriptive, and yet, I currently don't even quite know which character we're following.
If this keeps up for the next 8%, I'll return this and claim my credit back.
I'd like to read about the story of Hamnet, which is, I grant you, difficult to write because of the lack of information about him. But I really don't care for reading how O'Farrell imagines village life at the time and the history of every other imaginary villager at the time.
Well, I know I am behind in jotting down my thoughts on some of the previous plays and books related to the Will's World Project, but... I need an audiobook to listen to while I do other things.
And since Hamnet at least in part features the plague (or it should...because...reasons) what better time to start this book, right?
I've reached the last part of the book and the story - or erm whatever this is - has come full circle and we're now back at the event at the NT where Amma's story, the first story in the book, started out.
Now the question is yet again, do I finish the book tonight or save up this last part for tomorrow?
On to The Lawrence Affair (1956), and it starts with a bang!
Initial post about this collection here.
Right. I'll stop here for tonight or else would feel compelled to finish the book before morning, and I really want to have this book to go back to for at least another day.
I know that some readers will be put off by the author's choice to omit capital letters and full stops, but I found that this has not impeded my reading experience in any way at all.
If anything, I do see how it works well for the portrayal of characters who require that they are not bound or restrained by the confines of a certain style imposed on them. I guess that this may be part of the author's choice, but I don't know.
And while I equally would argue that punctuation and capital letters are probably not the adversaries of life or story-telling, there is something fun in having to engage in a text from a fresh perspective, just as it is fun to approach the life stories told in this book from a place of no preconceptions or expectations.
Anyway, I'm really enjoying this book and I look forward to seeing how they all come together at the end.