Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Hurray for books

Jamestown, Matthew Sharpe
This is the story of the foundation of the colony Jamestown in Virginia in the early seventeenth century, but set in a not too distant post-apocalyptic future. The settlers have come down from Manhattan, which is at war with Brooklyn, to try to find oil and unpolluted food. It's really an oddly touching love story between Pocohontas, who is an angry teenager, and John Rolfe, who has been beaten down by seeing terrible things. This is actually a very excellent book. I can't remember how it got onto my amazon wishlist, since although I quite liked The Sleeping Father it didn't wow me, but I'm glad it did, because it is unusual.

Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King
When I started reading this I had this wierd but comfortable feeling that this is what books used to be like in my reading heyday, say about fifteen years ago. Which, as it happens, is about when it was written. I think it's the fusion of myths, ordinary life, and humour which made me think of the mid-90s, particularly Jeanette Winterson at her best. Four very old and usually comatose Indians go missing from a mental asylum in Florida. They are heading to a Native American reservation in Canada, where they get mixed up in a not especially helpful way with the lives of people there. Very good stuff. I am going to hunt out some other things by him.

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, Jesse Bullington
Odd mythical tale set in a slightly alternative medieval Europe. Rather more action sequences than I'm really capable of absorbing. But interesting and odd. The eponymous brothers are professional grave robbers and total scum, who encounter some very odd things in the woods of middle Europe, and have some unusual theological viewpoints. The story is set on their travels towards Egypt, a grave-robbers' Shangri-La.

The Bastard of Istanbul, Elif Shafak
I was finding this irritatingly chick-lit-y at first, but it quickly became much more interesting. It's mostly about Turkish and Armenian people, especially in the American diaspora, coping with the past Turkish treatment of Armenians, but with a satisfying quantity of uncovering past family secrets. It captures that odd thing about humanity where it's clear just how completely impossible it is for us all to get along, and then how much simple human connections can make it possible for people to get along. Maybe it's because we're not the best nation at reading literature in translation that books like this get covers -- in this case full of purple, pink, blue, and gold and with squiggly writing -- which position them a few levels downculture in the women's weekly 3-for-2 market. Alaa al Aswany's Yacoubian Building was another such.

Soulless, Gail Carriger
Now this is real chick-lit. I quite like chick-lit, but it has to be well enough done not to be too annoying. This nearly annoyed me by being clearly written by an American even though it's set in England, but I decided just to see this as a testimony to how good Elizabeth Peters is (she never puts American English into her English characters' mouths). Basically the premise is that Heyer-era London society -- Carrigan clearly loves her Heyer, which is an amiable characteristic -- is heavily infested with vampires and werewolves, who have reached an accommodation with humans and live among them. The heroine has been born without a soul, and can neutralise supernatural powers by her touch -- this gets her into shocking social situations. Entertaining in a harmless sort of way; a good airport book.

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