Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 books, #26-30

One for the books, by Joe Queenan. New York: Penguin, 2012.

Joe Queenan is an inveterate reader, and has quite definite opinions on reading, and on the finite length of the rest of his life, and on what he's decided he no longer has time to read.  Books give his life structure, memory and colour.  This is a lovely book about the meaning of reading, particularly of reading print books (there's a refrain of You couldn't do that with a Kindle).  While I can disagree with him quite passionately on his love for Proust and his disdain for To kill a mockingbird, I love his endeavour here.  And as anyone who remembers his broadcasts on popular culture will know, the guy is seriously funny so even while you're disagreeing with him, you're smiling at his invective.

Entry Island, by Peter May. London: Quercus, 2014.

This is the best book I've read this year so far.  Sime (pronounced Sheem) is brought in as the only English-as-a-first-language detective investigating the murder of a man on a remote island in Qu├ębec province. All evidence points to the wife as the murderer, but Sime is thrown off-balance by the strong belief that he has met the woman before.  Sime's job is complicated further by his soon-to-be-ex-wife also being present on the investigating team, and by his insomnia punctuated by dreams derived from his great-great-grandfather's diary, also from a remote island but this time in the Hebrides.  The stories intertwine and disorient the reader to the extent that sometimes we, like Sime, forget which time and place we're in. May does an amazing job here and it's a spellbinding read.

Danubia, by Simon Winder. London: Picador, 2013.

I'm not sure how much more knowledge of the Habsburgs I've managed to absorb in this really engaging canter through their history, but I definitely enjoyed the ride.  Winder is an enthusiast for all things Central and Eastern European, and uses visits to present-day places to show the history, and often the multiple renamings, of towns and regions.  He also picks up on quirks - the Habsburg jaw, the presence of improbable museums and so on - as repeating motifs.  I think what I most like about this book is that he's just wandering the areas (mostly on public transport) sort of bumping into his subjects everywhere, while illustrating quite powerfully the history of conflict, nationalism, rootlessness, fecklessness, monomania and inbreeding which characteristed the dynasty.  And oh, those poor, poor women, sacrificed on the altar of male primogeniture and slaughtered like cattle through childbirth.  And despite this last sentence, this is a profoundly humorous, humane book.

The child who, by Simon Lelic. London: Picador, 2012.

Twelve-year-old Daniel Blake has killed his schoolmate Felicity Forbes in Exeter.  This is stated very near the beginning of the book, and this isn't really a detective story; it's more an exploration of the effect of a brutal crime on the families involved, including the families of the legal and law enforcement professionals brought into a case. Leo Curtice, a local solicitor, is brought in to represent Daniel, and is unprepared for the public fury the case has unleashed and its effect on his family. It's very difficult to put this book down; the sense of one crime rotting its way through families and relationships is very powerful, and the ending is definitely worth waiting for.

We are here, by Michael Marshall [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding.  Oxford: Isis, 2013.

Really not sure what to make of this. (I've had this problem with Michael Marshall's books before).  The premise is instantly grabbing and somewhat creepy - we're introduced to a number of people who are having strange and inexplicable moments in their lives; a woman whose book group companion feels as if she's being followed but can see nothing; a man who encounters strangers in Union Park in New York who seems to be fading in and out...  It's all really engaging, and you keep listening; but I don't really feel at the end as if I worked out what was going on.  This is one listened to in bits over several weeks, though, so it may be my attention span, rather than the writer's ability, which is at fault.

No comments: