Friday, 7 May 2010

That's all the books for now

I think this post sees me caught up with books I have read recently, except that I recently reread every single one of Jilly Cooper's novels with girls' names, in an access of nostalgia. The best one is probably Prudence.

The House by the Thames, Gillian Tindall
The story of an old house on Bankside and the people who lived there. I'm afraid it's just insufficiently interesting. All the good bits were just bits which reminded me of other books, like the mud larks in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy, and the boatmen in Our Mutual Friend.

Gold, Dan Rhodes
About a girl who goes once a year to a small village and gets mildly involved in its gentle village events. Touching and quite funny. Much like Timoleon Vieta Come Home by the same suthor.

Bareback, Kit Whitfield
Set in a world where everyone is a werewolf, except for some people who undergo a mild form of brain damage at birth, this is quite an angry book. The non-werewolves, or barebacks, are despised and feared by the rest of the population because on days around the full moon they are in charge of keeping order and use drastic measures to do it. The barebacks hate the werewolves because of their contempt and their habit of maiming people while in wolf form. Quite a well realised book, but a bit brutal.

Anianos of Kleitor, George Economou
A novel in the form of some fragmentary Greek poetry with commentary on it down the years. Very good, quite evocative, but not hugely substantial. And the boys' humour pun of the author's name in Latin seems a bit unnecessary.

The Day of the Barbarians, Alessandro Barbero
Does what it does very well, that is investigate the events leading up to the battle of Adrianople in 378, the battle itself, and its implications. I felt like it made quite a few things a bit clearer for me, particularly the Roman empire's need for immigrant settlers, although it's certainly written from an Italian point of view. At just 146 pages before the notes start it's quite a short book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing since it allows it a pretty specific focus. For the time being though, while I'm still listening on and off to Gibbon's Decline and Fall in audiobook form, I've had to stop reading about Classical and Antique history in any other way because it just gets too confusing.

Blacklands, Belinda Bauer
I don't really like thrillers, but this is quite a well-written story. It's about a boy whose family has been angry and miserable ever since his uncle went missing at about the same age as he is now. It seems almost certain that a particular serial killer killed the long-lost boy, and his nephew is now systematically digging on Exmoor to try to find the body, in the hope that this would settle things for his mother and grandmother and that they could then be more like a normal family. But unfortunately he has the idea of writing to the killer in prison to ask for help. It's quite a well-written book, with a real bogeyman of a baddie. But in places it's not entirely realistic -- would a mother, finding a letter simply asking for a photo in her loner eleven-year-old son's bag, really see this as evidence that he had or was about to knock up some girl?

The Silver Linings Playbook, Matthew Quick
If you read lots of middlebrow modern fiction you would spot that many now have narrators with various mental illnesses or conditions, and you might come to the conclusion that the mentally ill have gained a voice. This sounds like a good thing, but unfortunately it's the voice of an animated teddy bear. The mentally ill bumble along being harmless and lovable except that sometimes they get confused and violent, and then they're very sorry. Is this a step forwards? No it is not. This book is a readable way to spend time, but I'm afraid that in the abstract it is objectionable. Another recent one like this is The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams. There is a huge variety of mentally ill people in real life, and I fail to see why in novels they should all sound like talking dogs.

One Day, David Nicholls
Very well done book which follows a man and a woman on the same day every year. Individually they are both slightly annoying people, but it's hard not to want to see them get together. Excellent stuff, oddly moving, with very convincing characters.

Love Child, Allegra Huston
Allegra Huston's mother died when she was only four years old, and she spent a lot of her life being something of an afterthought, passed around between relatives and step-families. She met her film director father for the first time after her mother died, only to find out when she was twelve that he wasn't her real father after all -- to his credit he treated her no more coldly, perhaps even rather better, than his other children, who included Anjelica Huston. Anjelica comes across as a really sweet person, who tried to make a home for her younger sister whenever she could, which is how Allegra ended up living in Hollywood with Jack Nicholson and other film types, and going to mad parties which actually don't seem to have done her much harm. Her real father turned out to be John Julius Norwich, which seemed to me like a bit of luck until I read that on first meeting the poor twelve-year-old girl he gave her the three volumes of his father's diaries and the one volume of his mother's. A well written book, and quite poignant.

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