Thursday, 21 August 2014

Death, more death, extra death, treacle toffee and laminitis: my holiday reading

My holiday reading was very extensive, so I am not adding it to the "Reading" page but doing a proper post. Incidentally, I loved this piece on holiday reads - though none of mine qualified at all. Actually, if I was writing my own criteria, they would involve a lot more death, and ideally some detectives who like eating.

Tana French - The Secret Place
I have adored all her other novels and there was a lot to love about this one, which is beautifully written and creepy, but the minor foray into the supernatural put me RIGHT OFF. Might do the opposite for other readers. Also it is huge, you get a lot of French for your money.

Joanna Rakoff - My Salinger Year
I did really enjoy this slight, thoughtful, lyrical memoir (with a slight bitter fore and aftertaste caused by several people bemoaning my 'book' not being sufficiently like it) but was repeatedly distracted by wondering how she dealt with describing her profoundly non-simpatico ex-boyfriend so, um, candidly. I mean, he sounded an absolute tosser, so perhaps she just didn't care what he thought, but I would have been terrified of coming across him in the future and awkwardness.

Lynn Barber - A Curious Career
There is very little new material in this collection of interviews linked with little snippets of autobiography, but it's thoroughly enjoyable all the same. Now there's a woman who would never be put off by awkwardness.

Elly Griffiths - The Outcast Dead
This is a very pleasing series of archeology related crime novels, but this one did not have enough archeology in it for my liking.

Julian Barnes - Levels of Life
Apart from the magnificent description of Sarah Bernhardt's menagerie on the previous post, I sort of felt that the best bits of this grief-memoir-using-extended-ballooning-metaphor  had been so extensively excerpted I had already read them all.

Eimear McBride - A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing
Godalmighty. This is the antithesis of a holiday read as described in that New Yorker article and gave me insomnia. This Anne Enright review of it is very good, I think. Do I regret reading it? No. Was I delighted to move on? Yes. It's stayed with me though.

One More Pony - Hilda Boden
After the almighty harrowing of A Girl is a Half-Formed thing, I had to take refuge in my childhood bookshelf of pony books. In 'One More Pony', self-effacing good girl Patricia and hot-headed sister Jackie conspire to buy a mistreated pony from a cruel member of the lumpenproletariat (whom they also trip up and leave in a gutter) by holding an illegal raffle at their boarding school. After their stern but secretly soft-hearted father relents and allows them to bring the pony home, it undergoes a Cinderella-like transformation (a toothless groom declares it to have "good confirmation" then feeds it "a good bran mash") and becomes the plot device by which sissy neighbouring child Colin (or Kevin? Seems unlikely) finally mans up and is cured of his debilitating wimpishness. Colin, it is briefly mentioned in passing, was injured in the accident that fatally injured his mother but this, it is quickly intimated, is NO EXCUSE. There is very mild peril, a brusque but generous cook providing paniers of supplies, camp fires, jumping of five bar gates and much whickering and whinnying. Highly satisfactory.

Malcom Mackay - The Sudden Arrival of Violence
The third in a trilogy of grim Glaswegian organised crim.. NO STOP, COME BACK, they are really really good. I mean, ok, they are not a barrel of laughs but it's a very minutely observed portrayal of a group of  men - yeah, they're (nearly) all men - in the grips of strong emotions and impossible circumstances. Some GREAT twists and a compelling sense of the way one act leads inexorably to another and how trapped they all are by a code of conduct they never consciously chose.

Denise Mina - Still Midnight and The End of the Wast Season
Two from another series of grim Glaswegian crime. I love Denise Mina. Excellent, but required:

Fortune's Foal - Garland Bullivant
Another one from the pony shelf. I both wish I was called Garland Bullivant and that it were still acceptable to write a book with not even the faintest attempt at a narrative arc. Really, there is no plot at all in this story, just a series of vaguely related incidents. Girl - no attempt at giving girl a personality of any sort - falls for pony (also largely without distinguishing characteristics). Generic uncle benefactor - motivations not explored, could not pick him out of a line-up - buys her pony. Girl rides pony. Sometimes falls off. Tediously lengthy descriptions of hunting. Rides in a race. The end.

Lesley Glaister - Little Egypt 
First of hers I have read, on a recommendation - a macabre, modern Gothic tale of Bacardi Breezers and mummification. Very odd. Very good.

Failed to read: The Luminaries. No surprise there.

What have you been reading this summer? Recommendations?


Kate @ Savour Fare said...

I think my favorites were Night Film (creepy, highly atmospheric, not flawless) and The Martian (scifi for people who like the sci more than the fi. No aliens. Very plausible. Also totally gripping). I am currently reading the latest in the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series, which are very long and quite unabashedly trashy, but secretly very well-written.

Stacy said...

As I was recently released from dissertation jail by the completion of said project in June, I have been reading like it's my job. Sadly unpaid, but totally fun. I've been reading lots of series, but nothing too dark. I just can't deal with too much torture. Just finished Luisa Weiss' memoir yesterday, along with another of the Billy Boyle WWII series. In line with your pony lit, I re-read several of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books I loved as a kid. Not PC, but brought back lots of happy reading memories. I start teaching in another week, so will have to get back to serious academic tomes. Ugh. O

Betty M said...

I'm afraid I read 2 pages of a girl is a half formed thing" and decided it was ghastly and I wasn't wasting any sun lounger time on it. Marks me out as a philistine apparently but I don't care.

Instead I read all 576 pages of the golden notebook by Doris Lessing for book club 1. I feel virtuous for having got through it but can't say I loved it. I'm afraid I have not even bought the diceman which is book club 2's summer challenge.

Most fun was had from listening to old falco dramatisations on radio4 extra.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your always read-worthy suggestions. All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews manages to be elegiac and funny all at once. Aren't We Sisters is another stellar read from Patricia Ferguson- this one about women, friendships and sex education. I loved Hers By Harriet Lane and I finally read the very well-written The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell (which I had confused with The Secret Life Of Bees) - lovely, strong narrative voices. And I just realized they are written by women!

karen said...

I read A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing recently. It was such hard work - the content, but even more so the writing style. Definitely don't regret making the effort, although I almost gave up early on.

@hundredgrapes said...

'Elephant Moon'. Bit far fetched but gripping.

'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves'. Wow. Deep.

'Italian Ways' Tim Parks, not fiction but very interesting stories of Italian railways and their influence on Italian society.

And another 17% of 'The History of the Arab Peoples' .. getting there.

Bryony said...

Linda Grant's Upstairs at the Party - cracking read. Loads of books about wartime spies that I can't recall names of. I want to be one though.

Nimble said...

Your description of shying away from the potential awkwardness in Joanna Rakoff - My Salinger Year reminded me of Cleaving by Julie Powell. (She also wrote the Julie & Julia blog which became a movie.) Her depiction of her affair and her fancy man are fascinating but it's hard to think about airing ones undies quite so thoroughly.

2 random recommendations: The Night Counter by Alia Yunis, a gentle Lebanese American family story with a few sharp edges (the one magical element is explainable as senility if that helps). And Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. A fascinating woman and I can see why the author got sidetracked and had to change her dissertation topic.

Unknown said...

I've only recently discovered Molly Keane, and have now read 2 of her books: the rather terrifying, in a mordantly satirical sort of way, Good Behaviour, and gentler, but still funny, Loving and Giving (there is quite a lot of talk about horses in this one).
Have started on Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the Eat Pray Love woman), and really enjoying it, actually.

Kgomotso said...

You read a lot of books! Wow! I can manage an average of a book a month and have never read on holiday no matter how much I try! Finished Andy Miller's the year of reading dangerously:50 books that changed my life and although it was great in the beginning, I just wanted to finish reading it two thirds in. Then I read Sophie's Choice by William Sytron. Absolutely loved it. Even the end when I wept like a baby. In keeping with the pain and suffering theme from World War 2 I read the diary of a young girl by Anne Frank. My mother has this book but I've never wanted to read it as badly as I did now. It was eye opening thought provoking but oh so easy to read. Anne Frank was wise beyond her age!

Bryony said...

oh bless you Anna Maria for reminding me of Molly her at to find her again

frau antje said...

30% memoir, including this quote from an important critic, 'But do you, you yourself, understand,' he repeated to me several times, screaming as was his habit, 'what you have written?!'

25% precipitous death this summer, people with teenagers, people who ideally should not be dead. Leading to reveries, mostly about one of the guys I used to room with, who loyally picked me up from jail early one Sunday, and instinctively threw a beer in my face when I showed up at the local hang-out a few weeks later with a woman (who was thoroughly delighted by the entire incident).

20% tequila

15% houtrothersteller (despite my debilitating wimpishness) (NO EXCUSE)

10% kid I am most familiar with used as image fodder. To the best of my knowledge, none of these pussies went to Wall St.

Anonymous said...

Some ideas for you:
Just finished Jo Nesbo's Redeemer, lots of death and crime but in Norway ...
Liked Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - don't need to be conversant in football to enjoy.
For an 80s flashback with death and crime, try Adrian McKinty's Troubles Trilogy.

Started but have not finished the Luminaries. Same with the Goldfinch.


Dara said...

Yay~cannot wait to read your book!!

donna baker said...

Wow, what a list. Somewhat disappointed with The Goldfinch, and couldn't finish The Paris Wife. Just started Murakami's new one with The Alchemist coming after.

Family Affairs said...

Blimey - prolific reading! It has taken me all summer to read The Goldfinch but was so worth it. Lx

cruella said...

The Goldfinch: What was that all about anyway?

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