Saturday, November 06, 2010

2010 books, #71-75

Bit of a mixed bag this time round!

At home, by Bill Bryson [audiobook]. Read by the author. Bath: Chivers, 2010.

Supposedly a history of the domestic interior, based on Bryson's own parsonage home in Norfolk, this book has the usual broad strokes of popular history Bryson's become so famous for. It does tend to meander all over the place, but is immensely entertaining for all that, and has some fascinating facts - I think my favourite one of these was that Friedrich Engels came to England to manage his family's sewing-thread factory. Bryson is one of those few authors who read their own books well, and this is a very charming and enchanting addition to his other works. SamuraiKnitter has blogged about this one recently and was also enjoying it.

Parrot and Olivier in America, by Peter Carey. London: Faber, 2010.

Carey's contribution to the Booker shortlist this year. Parrot is a British engraver, Olivier a French aristocrat, but it's all more complicated than that; Olivier is sent, almost as a refugee, to examine the US penitentiary system as an envoy for the French régime, and Parrot as his servant. It's a strange, picaresque journey, with various sidetracks and flashbacks along the way. While Carey makes us aware that society in England, France and the USA are entirely different from the present day, he also makes wry comments about the way that human nature really doesn't change that much. After a series of alarums, excursions, love affairs and strange ménages, it ultimately doesn't really go anywhere, but it's immensely entertaining on the way. In the end, though, Olivier muses on the nature of democracy: It is a truly lovely flower, a tiny tender fruit, but it will not ripen well. You will see.

The burying place, by Brian Freeman [audiobook]. Read by Garrick Hagan. Bath: Oakhill, 2009.

I think this was a recommendation from Wibbo and a good one. The intertwined plots are pretty gripping and there's one Deaver-scale shift in the plot about three-quarters of the way through. The small-town Minnesota environment is also very well rendered, and you do really feel as if you're there... I'll be looking for some more of these as I gather this is the fifth with a recurring character.

The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.

A Kniterati book - and another I wouldn't normally have picked up - the word "Charming" as the first word of a cover review usually rings alarm bells. And that would have been a mistake - I think this is possibly the most wonderful thing I've read all year, and it's been a very good year for new discoveries.

Juliet, a London journalist, is casting around for ideas for a book when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams, a pig farmer in Guernsey, asking her for a recommendation for a good bookshop in London. An unlikely correspondence starts and a chorus of distinctive voices appear. This is entirely a roman à lettres, but given that this is a book set in 1946, the Guernsey voices have an urge to tell recent history through their letters. This is a book which has you laughing on one page and crying on the next; it doesn't shrink from telling some of the worst aspects of the Occupation, but it also reflects the absurdity in the minutiae of everyday life deprived of virtually everything. It genuinely is charming, but in the slightly creepier, harder-edged sense of drawing you in and refusing to let you go.

Totally, totally recommended. And wonderful for a book group because it rattles along, there are a lot of different themes there, and they pack a huge amount into the 250 pages.

Grave doubts, by Elizabeth Corley [audiobook]. Read by Charlotte Strevens. Bath: Oakhill, [n.d.]*

This is really quite creepy; a serial killer and rapist is arrested, but the spate of killings and attempted murders goes on. Louise Nightingale, a police sergeant, is viciously attacked leading to the arrest of the original culprit. Nightingale goes to her grandmother's old farm to recuperate, but finds out some fundamental secrets about her own family's past but is unaware that she is the target of her attacker's mentor in crime who is determined to track her down. I can't say this is the best reading in the world, but it's pleasant enough and not at all irritating, which is the main thing!

*There probably is a date on this, but the library have worked their usual magic and obscured the copyright information...

No comments: