Sunday, March 21, 2010

2010 books, #16-20

The time-traveler's wife, by Audrey Niffenegger [audiobook]. Read by William Hope and Laurel Lefkow. Bath: Chivers/BBC, 2004.

OK; the first sentence of the blurb on the back sort of summarises this: This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student and Henry, a librarian*, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty.

[*I shall assume that Henry being a librarian is enough to guarantee his own beauty].

This was March's Kniterati book. I'd previously borrowed it from my boss but hadn't finished it by the time she went on her maternity leave; and at the time I wasn't convinced I would finish it. But, book club and all that. I went for the audiobook version which was a very good choice; you can tell instantly who's speaking and you can't get too hung up on the timescale. Helped by finding out that one of the Incredibly Significant dates in Henry and Clare's lives is also one in yours and for the same reason, but that gives a good grip.

As someone who is in general a bit of a snob about not reading books which have been massively popular or won big awards, I'm really glad the Kniterati chose this one because it's one which will really stick in my mind, and the discussion was very interesting. I loved this book in the main; but there were bits of it I also hated.

(Skip to the next review if you'd like to avoid spoilers).

The title tells you a lot about Clare's life; she's always going to be waiting for Henry, in the way that the wives of fishermen are always in limbo on the shore. It's incredibly poignant, and very manipulative, at the same time. It plays very nicely with the sort of human issues with time travel which are touched on in Doctor Who - the impermanence of relationships and the unfairness to the time-bound partner; the uncertainty of where you're going to end up next and who you'll be when you arrive there - but explores them in one particular relationship with serious consequences. It's pretty light on the science and the conventions of "what happens if you meet yourself while travelling", but that's not really what the book's about (and to my mind, it's not all about Clare, far from it). Definitely recommended; and if you're in my local library area and have a cassette player, 17hrs and 51mins of book for £2.20...

Tokyo year zero, by David Peace. London: Faber, 2007.

It took a long time for me to convince myself to continue reading this book (and Ros, I carried on with it!). Peace wrote the books which turned into The Red Riding Trilogy and The Damned United. His trademark repetitive style of hallucinatory despair prevails here too, but it's almost too much - this is Tokyo in 1946 where no-one has enough to eat, seemingly everyone has lice and the bodies of young women are appearing all over the city. This is an entirely visceral book; you're ingested out of a horrified fascination and then spewed out at the other end no wiser than you started, possibly less so. I think it'll leave an impact on me in terms of the sheer horror of scratching out a living in the defeated, Army-of-Occupation-ridden husk of Tokyo of that period; like The Killing Fields or Empire of the Sun, it's a book you feel you ought to read, even if it's a disgusting and occasionally degrading experience. I'm not sure I have the stomach for the second part of what is due to become another trilogy, though.

Killer tune, by Dreda Say Mitchell [audiobook]. Read by Ben Onwukwe. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2010.

I would normally steer clear of books whose blurb says A fifteen-year-old boy firebombs a building as he listens to Vivaldi's Winter Concerto splicing behind a red hot R 'n' B track and a veteran is found dead in an alley. Rap sensation Lord Tribulation discovers his new found stardom threatened when he finds himself in the middle of both incidents... But it was an audiobook returned to the village library last time I was working there by someone whose judgment I respect, so I borrowed it. (Weirdly, after I'd got through 4 disks and was really enjoying it, Dreda Say Mitchell was an impressive and entertaining guest on Saturday Live talking about community involvement and educational projects... Strange coincidences)

I have a bit of a prejudice against thrillers written about music and musicians; somehow it never feels quite right even when the writer is good; and I have a bit of a prejudice against people who change their names to silly things when they become musicians; and this has all of that. Lord Tribulation, or LT, the son of King Stir-it-up; it ought to have been an instant fail. But this works; because the plot is compelling; because it's talking about history I know (1970s to the present); because you genuinely like LT from quite early on...

And also because the reader is wonderful. He can hold a conversation between four people with different accents and ethnic origins; he can do a voice which says "this is the character you heard just now but now he's trying to be down wid da kidz"; and the main narrative voice
is wonderfully easty to listen to.

Liars all, by Jo Bannister. London: Allison and Busby, 2009.

A Brodie Farrell/Daniel Hood/Jack Deacon story, set in the seaside town of Dimmock, somewhere in East Sussex. This is a series which needs reading from the beginning, but the latest instalment is, as ever, utterly unputdownable. I read it all in a day, and as with a very good meal eaten too fast, am regretting this because it'll be another year or so before another comes long. The characters are compelling (although the relationships are slightly strange and twisted, and I find myself understanding Brodie less and less); the plot rattles along well enough but is frankly secondary; and you're left wondering what's next...

Fatal last words, by Quintin Jardine. London: Headline, 2009.

Another Bob Skinner mystery, and the best one for a while. Combines recent history, Scottish politics, police politics and the deaths of two thriller writers at literary festivals. Skinner comes over more sympathetically than he has in the past few books, when frankly he's been a bit of a hard old bastard.

1 comment:

E-J said...

I was incredibly moved by The Time-Traveler's Wife, thanks to coming to it at just the right moment. I agree, there are things about it that rankle, but overall, such an astonishing piece of storytelling.