Monday, 8 June 2009

In my considered opinion...

More blether about the books that have been keeping me company. Don't worry, blogfans, I'll get to back to the usual nonsense shortly.

The Whole Story and Other Stories - Ali Smith: Bought on the strength of her brilliant novel The Accidental. But these short stories are much less brilliant, or at least much less memorable, far too slight and thinly plotted for me to get my teeth into.

When They Lay Bare - Andrew Greig: Eagerly anticipated on the strength of In Another Light, which I read previously on the trip. Especially because it's set in the Borders, albeit in the dodgy bit south of Hawick which doesn't really have much in common with Melrose. It was written before In Another Light, and they have things in common - the intercut of past and present, a magnetic but brittle lead female character, a strained relationship between father and son. But it isn't quite as good, it's too portentous and could do with a few laughs. But great to read a gripping adult novel about the Borders.

Surveillance - Jonathan Raban: Set in contemporary Seattle, and a good intro to another city I'm planning to visit. It's about the growth of surveillance and associated paranoia in the US in the aftermath of 9/11, though not sure I'd have identified this theme if the blurb hadn't told me. But it's got good characters and very well written. Some intriguing plot points that are all swept away at the end by the biggest Dea ex Machina (I always wanted to write that! Just hope I've used it in the correct context) I've encountered in literature.

The War Within - Bob Woodward: The 3rd of 4 books I've read by the Watergate Investigative journalist about the politics of George Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This covers 2006-8, during which the carnage in Iraq peaked and started to decline, perhaps partly due to changes in US policy. Unequivocal evidence of just how intellectually under-resourced Bush was to be President.

The White Divers of Broome - John Bailey: A history of the attempts by the Oz government to replace the Asian divers who dominated the pre-WW1 pearl diving industry with whites, as part of the 'white Australia' policy; as well as being a fascinating account of what was then a lucrative business, it reveals how racist Australia was in those days, as bad as South Africa at the time. According to some Aussies I've spoken to, attitudes in some areas haven't changed much either, even if goverment policy has.

Emma - Jane Austen: A long overdue 'classic' - I read about one a decade. I knew the story, but the pleasure is in the prose and dialogue, though over 500 pages is a bit much of it, especially when characters like Emma's pathetic father are wittering on. But I can totally see why some people go back to Austen again and again, it's as pleasurably escapist as any fantasy.

The Power and the Glory - Graham Greene: Another classic, provided the reader has patience for the knots that catholics tie themselves in - mine was being tested by the end. But it's a gripping story, and reveals some fascinating history about anti-clerical campaigns in Latin America. It's full of ghastly moral dilemnas, strong characters (I wish the fate of more of them was explained), and simply very well written, like Our Man in Havana, the other Greene book I've read. I can see why he got considered for the Nobel prize, though I've read he believed he was denied it by an anti-catholic member of the relevant committee.

Killshot - Elmore Leonard: A very spare direct crime novel by the doyenne (another word I always wanted to use!) of such things in the US. Gripping story, though it didn't much make me look forward to arriving in the US. The 'baddies' are utterly amoral (they quite separately and unnecessarily murder 18 year old girls) and while the 'goodies' (a couple who witness and prevent a crime) are attractive characters, even the things they like about their lifestyles sound awful to me. And the various law enforcement agencies portrayed are useless at best - sometimes much worse. But at least it's all set in the Midwest, another reason not to go there!
Note: I didn't post this entry until June 16 (by which time I'd read all these books), but started it much earlier. The blog system inserts newly published items on the date I started them.

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