Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Books: May Fifty Two in Fifty Two

"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world" Philip Pullman
After a couple of months of struggling to concentrate on reading, I finally got my mojo back half way through May, and now have four books on the go that I've not quite finished yet. From one extreme to the other...

44. Joel Dicker, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair. 3/5
Harry Quebert, a famous and respected writer and university lecturer, is arrested rather suddenly for the murder of a teenage girl nearly thirty years before. His young friend and protoge, Marcus, decides to give up writing his Difficult Second Novel in order to dash to Harry's side and find out the truth about what happened to Nola Kerrigan. 
It took me a while to get into TTATHQA for a couple of reasons. Firstly - none of the characters are remotely pleasant. Secondly there's an element of the awkward about both the current day tale, and Harry's retelling of the 1970s in that it's difficult to work out what is true and what isn't, but it's quite slowly described and I struggled to really get absorbed in either narrative. However, despite that, I still enjoyed it. There was a slightly unpleasant sub plot involving a disabled character (hard to say more without giving a massive spoiler away) which I felt played too strongly to stereotypes, but the small town setting was atmospheric and it reminded me quite a bit of "True Detective". I wouldn't be surprised if it's adapted for screen soon.
45. Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days. 4/5.
A completely different kettle of fish - I listened to this as an audiobook, which was just perfect. I knew absolutely nothing about the book before I started it, and quickly found myself absorbed in the tale of Phileas Fogg and his manservant, Passepartout. It all starts when Fogg gets a bit drunk, and bets some of his friends that he can circumnavigate the world in 80 days. What, you've never done the same?
The best way to describe Around The World in 80 Days would be a stereotypical adventurous Victorian romp. It's dated, there are elements that would be deemed, er, racist nowadays (some eyebrow raising descriptions of Indian and Japanese cultures), and it's really rather daft... but it still works. The sub plot, involving a case of mistaken identity and Fogg being accidentally chased on his quest by a policeman, keeps the momentum going, and results in a rather marvellous ending.
Best read, or listened to, aloud.

46. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 4/5.
Speaking of Victorian classics... I realised a while ago that I've lived in Edinburgh for seven years, and I've never read Jekyll and Hyde. I realised while reading it that it isn't actually set in Edinburgh after all.
Having no preconceived notions of what the novella actually involved, other than my wrong one about its setting, I enjoyed hearing the tale unfold. It is told from the perspective of two cousins (Utterson and Enfield) who become involved the eponymous characters after worrying that Mr Hyde is blackmailing Dr Jekyll. A year after their initial worries Utterson is presented with a letter, written by a man murdered by Hyde, and the plot thickens further...
I really enjoyed the dark and frankly unnerving tale of Jekyll and Hyde. While it could be seen to be a Victorian attempt to understand complicated mental health issues, there's something deliciously gothic about it. I'm not sure it really worked during bright and sunny evenings in May, but it's another one that would be wonderful read aloud in the depths of winter.

47. Barbara Taylor Bradford, Cavendon Hall. 1/5.
And a dud. A massive dud. A colleague recommended BTB to me ages ago after we had a chat about how much I'd enjoyed reading Ken Follet's sagas, so I was quite looking forward to delving into another historically set tome. Disappointed is an understatement. The entire plot revolves around Something Terrible happening to one of the Cavendon women, and the desperate attempts by her family, the Ingham's, and their servants, the Swanns, to Sort It All Out.
There are so many holes in the plot that the book is bizzarely reminiscent of the Important Lace Dress, which is described in more detail than a lot of the lead characters. There's some sort of strange pact by the Swanns to always protect the Inghams, which was both highly unlikely and completely unexplained. Why would servants be so keen to drop everything for over-priviledged and unpleasant rich folk? Why are they all in love with each other? Despite finding myself ploughing through in the hope that it'd all be revealed... it wasn't. At least it helped me get off to sleep. Avoid. 

1 comment:

  1. I've never read Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde either but it sounds like it's worth a look: I might save it for winter's reading by the fire.