Wednesday, 5 January 2011

2010 reading continued

1. My Heart Laid Bare, Joyce Carol Oates
This is a very good book, telling the story of a family of conmen, whose younger members live in an isolated place near a swamp and don't know what the others are up to.  But it was a bit disappointing after the glorious insanity of Bellefleur and the other ones of her Gothic novels that I've read.  It fits pretty straightforwardly into the literary fiction mould.

2. How to Read Like a Writer, Francine Prose
This is quite good but it also annoyed me a lot, because most of it seems like the sort of stuff we did in English at school.  GCSE exams papers give you a piece of writing and ask you to pick out adjectives used to describe a character to make him sound negative, and it's offering 5 marks so you pick out 5 different examples, and so on.  Learning how to read closely is a mixed blessing, really.  It's like watching a film and being unable to forget that the actor isn't really the character.  Nicholas Cage, for example, won't eat animals which have undignified sex, and now it's impossible to watch anything he's in without wondering how he tells, and whether he has a list.  A lot of turkeys are produced by AI these days -- is that more or less dignified?  Anyway, Francine Prose interests me because she has a very good reputation, which I'm happy to believe in, but the only book of hers I've read before is Blue Angel, which is a rather tedious leave-your-door-open-while-supervising book about a relationship between a lecturer and a crazy undergraduate.  Maybe I just didn't get it. I haven't seen the Marlene Dietrich film it draws on, but that sounds quite annoying too.

3. Devonshire Folk Tales, Michael Dacre
Interesting folk stories, but not really my style.  I prefer my ghosts deadpan. Haldon Hill on the A38 is haunted apparently, which seems fitting because it is a spooky place to drive especially in snow. I'm sure there was a brilliant story in here about people dancing in trees, but I can't find it now.  Spooky.

4. The Golden Child, Penelope Fitzgerald
This is a very good book indeed, and funny.  It's about an exhibition at a British museum of some very rare artefacts from an oil-rich North African country.  The public queue for hours on end to see the gold-covered mummy of a child and its grave goods, but one of the museum staff starts to worry it's a fake.  He is sent to Russia to talk to one of the world's two experts on the material -- the other is an official at the British museum but elegantly declines to get involved.  Very good stuff, I enjoyed it immensely.

5. Hell's Belles, Paul Magrs

I've searched this blog and it seems that I haven't mentioned Paul Magr's Brenda series before, which is odd. The previous ones are Never the Bride, Something Borrowed and Conjugal Rites. They're set in Whitby among elderly ladies who investigate the wierd things that go on there, inbetween fish suppers and really strong tea. The main character, Brenda, is a B+B owner with a mysterious past. These are very good friendly reading, funny and quite clever. If like me you enjoyed the general funny tone of Jasper Fforde's books but found their clever-clever-ness a bit much on occasion, then these might be more to your taste. I love Jessie the womanzee in the second one.

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