Recent reading

Just read Salley Vickers’s The Cleaner of Chartres. Light, humorous, and serious together.

Read several detective stories or thrillers, notably Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust (Aska in the original Icelandic) and I remember you (Ég man þig). It really grabs you. Read more Arnaldur Indridason and Anne Cleeves (Shetland series: Raven Black, Blue Lightning).

I had begun reading Les Feux d’Automne by Irène Némirovsky a long while ago, but had stopped at page 55. It seemed rather monotone, it didn’t grab me. However, I took it up again just recently, and persisted. It is a far more interesting book than I had thought at first reading. It tells the story of bourgeouis family life from just before the First World War until 1941. It is the story of Thérèse and her relationship with Bernard, childhood friends. Having survived the war, Bernard, unstable, is initially not attracted to Thérèse, nor she to him. He is engrossed with affairs that make money, at the expense of others. (Some stinging reminders of recent events here.) Eventually the two meet again and get married, but Bernard remains unstable. Thérèse suffers stoically. The book ends in 1941 when Bernard is released from prisoner-of-war camp and returns. In reality, less than a year after the ending of the book, the author is picked up and sent to death in Auschwitz. I’ll add a blog about this. (Oct 11, 2012)

Just read Jack Kerouac’s Satori in Paris. Takes me back in time. A journey to find his origins under his full name – Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, the search for his seigneurial ancestral forebears in Brittany. Autobiographical On the Road. (Oct 11, 2012)

Read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Prince of Mist. It is an early work, and it shows. It bears similarities with and foreshadows his excellent The Shadow of the Wind, but doesn’t reach the intensity that that later novel has. A good read, ok.

Read Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. Excellent read. Thoroughly enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

Read Arnaldur Indridason’s Röddin (The Voice). As good as the other two I’ve read (see below). Great read. Glad that he is now getting the recognition in the English-speaking world. Maybe there’ll be some films.

Read John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I picked up at Cologne station to read on the train, but didn’t.
Long finished. Somewhat disappointing, though I’ll elaborate later. I’ve read much in the meantime, and will get around to updating this in due course.

Read Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, a novel set in a Rome-based American newspaper. Well-crafted novel of the demise of a newspaper, each chapter through the personality of one of the newspaper’s staff over time. Each chapter is set in an earlier time period than its successor. The last chapter centres on the owner who has no interest: it’s the weakest chapter unfortunately, and makes the book end unsatisfying for me. The quotes from reviews on my copy of the book tend to overrate it. A pleasant read, but definitely not unputdownable.

Finally finished Arkadi & Georgi Vainer’s МЕСТО ВСТРЕЧН ИЗМЕНИТЪ НЕЛЪЗЯ Mesto vstrechi izmenit nelzya (Meeting place should not be changed) in French translation (translated as 38, rue Petrovka). It took me a long time, but can I honestly say it was worth it? This is a crime story set in Moscow soon after the end of World War II, when ‘a young officer Volodya Sharapov returns to Moscow to work in MUR – Moskovskiy Ugolovny Rozysk (Moscow Criminal Police). There he meets Gleb Zheglov who is a chief of a squad which fights organized crime. Their main task is to track down a gang “Chernaya Koshka” (Black Cat) which terrorizes the city. Also, they have to find out who murdered Larisa Gruzdeva. Zheglov believes it was her husband Ivan Gruzdev, but Sharapov has his doubts about it …’ (quote from Boris Shafir). The book has not been translated into English. It was made into a 5-part TV mini-series on Soviet television in 1979. The series is now posted on YouTube in five long parts (first part), with English subtitles. It is clear that the novel is largely the ‘book of the mini-series’, and sometimes there are lengthy parts that maybe have made interesting film shots, but don’t work well in written form. And there are episodes that reflect Soviet life in 1945 which would have been very familiar to readers (viewers) in the 1970s/1980s, but which today won’t mean so much: the long description of the party meeting, the buffet-dance, and the ‘brigady’ – everyone going potato digging on their Sunday. None of these episodes have much to do with the plot, but reflect the life at the time. The plot itself is quite good, but by today’s standards, it’s rather drawn out. The description of the difficulties of life in immediate post-war Moscow and the criminality that existed provides a fresh vision on the old Soviet Union. Worth reading if you persevere.

Just re-read John le Carré’s The spy who came in from the cold. Clearly one of the best spy novels. However, my memory seemed to have made more of it than the reality now. It had seemed even better when I read it in the 1960s, but maybe over 20 years after the fall of Berlin Wall has pushed the cold-war atmosphere into history – it was so different in the late 1960s.

Read Kate Atkinson’s When will there be good news?, a crime story with many features of the literary novel. It’s a delight to enter the detailed and extensive building up of the characters and the treats of spoken language that give each a voice. An absolute delight – I could barely put it down. The plot gradually builds up, culminating in an almost whirlwind of dramatic events, mainly set in Edinburgh. A slight twinge at the highly unlikely coincidence of all the murders, accidents, family catastrophes, but it won’t stop you enjoying this. Must read others by the author.

Finished reading Camilla Läckberg’s The Stonecutter, an engaging crime novel set in quiet peaceful domestic surroundings of a small Swedish town. A girl’s body is fished up from the sea, and gradually many domestic skeletons come to light, disturbing the apparent peacefulness in many families on the surface. A truly enjoyable read, and a bit of a page-turner. Good for holiday reading.

Finished reading Alessandro Perissonotto’s Train 8017, the French translation of his novel Treno 8017, a crime novel set in Turin of 1944-1946. As far as I am aware, it has not been translated into English, but his novel Una piccola storia ignobile has been translated as Blood Sisters (recently published by Hersilia Press), which is the first in a trilogy. Good, light read, but some events could have been better developed. The story is based around the cover-up of a train crash in 1944 when 500 people were killed. Neither the then rail authorities nor the allied forces wanted details to come out about the black market, and the desperation of the passengers to travel back to their homes. Someone wants revenge for the death of his fiance on that train, and begins to kill off one by one the railway workers who were on that train.

Finished Louis de Bernières’ Notwithstanding, a comic portrayal of the quintessential English village that no longer exists, except in the imagination, with a wealth of characters where comic and tragic intertwine. Or maybe the characters still live on in some hidden parts of England. The stories are based on de Bernières’ recollections of his childhood in Surrey. It’s quite striking how some of the incidents ring memories of my own time in a Surrey village, with its few real original Surrey country characters, as more and more of the residents were emigres from London. A great read, humorous and sad sketches of a life that has largely gone.

Recently finished David Nobbs’s Going Gently. I acquired this at the Festival of Writing at York in March where the author was one of the speakers, and gave a great insight into the creative struggles of comic writing. More comment later.

Recently finished reading Andrei Codrescu’s The Poetry Lesson, which is a delightful depiction of creative writing and reflection on poets (delighted to see that Guillevic gets mentioned). Also finished reading Arto Paasilinna’s La douce empoisonneuse (Suloinen myrkynkeittäjä in the original Finnish); to my knowledge this book has not been translated into English – delightful comic crime novel. His best known work is Jäniksen vuosi (The Year of the Hare). I’ll post some comments on these books later.

Recently finished reading Kate Williams’ Becoming Queen, the story of the secrets, sexual repression, conflicts and intrigue leading up to Victoria becoming queen. The account of the intrigue, and back-biting makes recent royal scandals pale almost into insignificance. Victoria had to have been very strong-willed to have made it to the throne unscarred. More comments later.

Arnaldur Indridason’s Mýrin (published 2000, Tainted Blood or Jar City in English) in French Cité des Jarres. Fascinating insight into Icelandic character. Good story, good plot, it keeps you turning the pages. The main character, the detective Erlendur, is called to what seems to a typically Icelandic murder; the victim 70 years old has been struck with a heavy glass ashtray in his flat, and nothing has taken. It could be a random robbery gone wrong – except for a strange note. The contents of the note are not revealed for some time, holding the reader in suspense. The victim turns out to have vast amounts of pornography on his computer, and had been accused of rape forty years earlier, but the charges had been dropped. Erlendur’s gut feeling is that digging up the past will reveal the motives for the crime. The characters of Erlendur and victims are well drawn, though his colleagues are rather sketchy, and don’t play much of a role. Erlendur is divorced and has a tetchy relationship with his drug-addict daughter. The settings could have been more fully described, since apart from rain and wind we do not learn much to characterize the Icelandic setting. I thought his other novel that I have read Grafarþögn (2001, Silence of the Grave, in English, La Femme en Vert, in French) was better. It also explored violence against women, in this case domestic violence, but this time involved a 50-year-old murder, the body being revealed when Reykjavik expands.

2 Responses to Recent reading

  1. Pingback: Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française – a magnificent read | bonxie

  2. Els Nijsten says:

    love Anne Cleeves. Discussed The Sense of an Ending with my reading circle; indeed thought provoking!

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