Saturday, 23 May 2009

So here's what I think...

Another slice of my literary opinions. Anyone who would rather get these from qualified reviewers who actually get paid to read and comment on stuff, look away now.

The House of Dust - Paul Johnston: Actually, this only just qualifies as literature. It's a detective story set in a fascistic future Edinburgh (about 2025), which sounds a juicy mix of SF and crime fiction, but it's so badly written it gives both genres a bad name. Abysmal prose (the dialogue would embarrass Jeffrey Archer), 1-dimensional characters, and laughable set pieces (the heroes actually turn the tables on the main villain in the climactic confrontation by shouting the equivalent of "Look behind you!"). This chap's managed to get a whole series of these published, which is depressing.

Thud - Terry Pratchett: Late-period Pratchett, which means a more thoughtful (despite the title) plot (about dwarves and trolls - it's a race/religion allegory) and fewer laughs than he sometimes provides, though one crack about Gods still has me chuckling 3 weeks on. For Pratchett fans amongst my readership (i.e. my brother Alan, and er... not sure who else) it's one of the 'Guards' books, probably the best ongoing series on the Discworld.

Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood: A much more 'literary' novel, about a Canadian artist reflecting on her life, as she returns to an exhibition of her work in Toronto, where she grew up. It's gripping, especially in the sections about the narrator's early schooldays, which have been described as an important insight into the way young girls interact with and often bully each other. But it's a little chilly, some of the characters just don't come to life, and the narrator is someone things happen to, she seems to make few conscious choices of her own. It made me think, but I didn't find it very convincing, the later stages especially.

In Another Light - Andrew Greig: A Scottish novel intercutting the adventures of a doctor in Penang, Malaya, in the 1930s, with those of his son in contemporary Orkney. The son is trying to discover his father's hidden past, and to make sense of his own life and love after a near-death experience and a series of bereavements. It's excellent; mature, addictive, moving, and full of believable characters with recognisable dilemnas. I can see it having the same effect on many men as the film Sideways. The ending is a little contrived and makes some characters seem unrealistically devious, but it's a minor gripe. I'm looking forward to reading more of Greig's work; have given this one to Caroline Bagshaw in exchange for an earlier one set in the Borders. Hope we both get as much pleasure as I did from In Another Light.

Beneath the Skin - Nicci French: A superior thriller, well written by good observers (Nicci French is a pseudonym for a couple who write together) and tackles a really interesting dilemna - how do police, and victims, really feel and act when they realise that a victim has been chosen for death by a serial killer who has already proven his competence. But I didn't like the structure much, having narrators who tell the story up to the moment of their own murders is unpleasant rather than properly chilling.

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