Saturday, March 15, 2014

2014 books, #16-20

A land more kind than home, by Wiley Cash [audiobook]. Read by Lorna Raver, Mark Bramhall and Nick Sullivan. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2012.

Based on a true event. An autistic child is smothered during a "healing" service in a snake-wrangling church in North Carolina; the violence which follows in investigated by a sheriff with his own tragedies in the past, and his own axe to grind. The writing here is sometimes astonishingly moving, and the situation - faith, infidelity and the failure of a community to protect its children - very tragic. The multiple narratives wind around each other (this is possibly one where the audiobook format works at its best), and the conclusion is as shocking as it is inevitable. A very, very good book.

Racing hard: 20 tumultuous years in cycling, by William Fotheringham. London: Guardian/Faber, 2013.

I was interested in cycling in the late 80s when living in France, and subsequently watching the Tour highlights in sports bars after a day at the archaeological-finds-classifying tables, but from about 1993 until four years ago, I'd completely lost touch with the world of professional cycling.  This book fills in those gaps wonderfully with accounts of the development of the Tour and its characters, and of the development of the current crop of British cyclists (culminating in Wiggins's win in the 2012 Tour, and the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics). Fotheringham has written on many more subjects than this but he's decided to confine his scope to those two events here. He combines the viewpoint of the fan with that of the relative insider - his obvious disappointment and distress at the various drugs scandals is clear - and while he could have edited some of his articles extensively, he's reprinted them unedited, with rueful notes on the benefit of hindsight.  Great book.

Gone in seconds, by A J Cross [audiobook]. Read by Anna Bentinck. Oxford: Isis, 2013.

When the skeleton of a young woman is found near a West Midlands motorway, evidence suggests that it is that of teenager Molly James, who went missing five years ago. Forensic psychologist Dr Kate Hanson and the Unsolved Crime Unit are called in to re-investigate Molly's case. The deeper they dig the dirtier the clues get, and when a second set of remains is unearthed Kate suspects they're looking for a Repeater: a killer who will adapt, grow and not stop until they are caught. She also suspects that not all of her colleagues are as keen on investigating the case as she is. Good; tightly plotted.

The shock of the fall, by Nathan Filer. London: HarperCollins, 2013.

This year's Costa winner, and an astonishing book.  The narrator is a mentally ill 19-year-old boy, writing consciously for publication, whose illness seems to have been precipitated by events around the death of his older brother, who had Down's Syndrome, ten years before.  'I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that.'  The account's both a diary and a memoir, and the text changes font and breaks up at different times to reflect Matt's state of mind. Not a cheerful book, although it's not without hope, but a fascinating read.

The daylight gate, by Jeanette Winterson. London: HarperCollins, 2012.

Written to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials, this contains as much sex, violence and persecution as you might expect. Winterson weaves her tale around Alice Nutter, the only witch from the middle classes who was executed at Pendle. In Winterson's version (which she freely admits to be at least part fantasy), Alice makes her fortune by the invention of a colourfast magenta dye beloved of Elizabeth I, and has been in London with John Dee and Shakespeare; she has learned the secret of the elixir of youth from Dr Dee; and she is sheltering Christopher Southworth, one of the Guy Fawkes plotters and a Catholic priest. This is a wild, swirling fantasy which dips in and out of historical events while getting its feet completely soaked in the filth and squalour of the era.

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