In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin. There is no better way to ring in the new year than with a new Ian Rankin book. I started this on New Year's Eve (the day it was published in the U.S.) and finished it on New Year's Day. John Rebus is back (and up to all of his old tricks). Siobhan Clarke is called in to assist when a long dead corpse is discovered in the trunk of a car lying abandoned in a gulch (or whatever the Scottish word for gulch is). It turns out that this is an old missing persons' case that had been handled (or mishandled) by Rebus' team back in the day. That brings in Malcom Fox to review all the old case files. I love the "team" of Rebus, Siobhan and Malcom. This time there is also a new character, DCI Graham Sutherland, who is a good addition and I hope Rankin keeps him around for more cases. I was particularly struck by how Rankin managed to include a warning against Brexit by the end of the story without being preachy.
Early Work by Andrew Martin. If this novel hadn't been short I wouldn't have finished it. In my opinion the world doesn't need any more novels about men thinking with their dicks - John Updike perfected that genre. I'm making a note of the people who gave this novel good reviews so that I remember that we don't agree on what is good and I don't take their reading advice in the future without looking into the recommendation more. I was reminded, yet again, how boring I find novels about people who are drunk or stoned most of the time (which also reminds me of how good a writer I found Edward St. Aubyn despite the fact that his main character was a drug addict.) Anyway ... not recommended by me.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. A somewhat odd little book, in three parts where the second part seems unconnected to parts one and two (except it isn't). I really enjoyed part two - I liked the characters, I liked the writing and the plot took me in an unexpected direction. I found part three entertaining because I like to listen to the BBC's Desert Island Discs and it was a riff on that. But part one left me cold. I really never understood the main female character and, worse, I just didn't care about her. And I had no real interest in the writer she was involved with. But it is a small novel so that part doesn't go on for very long. And I do like the way that she writes, even in part one. The first paragraph is an homage to Alice in Wonderland and the main character is called Alice. And as she slips down the rabbit hole into her relationship with this man, there is a lot of "eat this" or "drink me". I found that amusing. The problem is that, just like the "real" Alice, this one is very passive. That's ok in a little girl but I found it tedious in a grown woman. As a side note, this book should carry a trigger warning for St. Louis Cardinals fans - it will bring back your memories of the 2004 World Series.
Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns. I loved, loved, loved this book. It was chosen by my reading group (although I planned to read it anyway) and from what I can tell, no one loved it but me and most people didn't get through it. (I missed the meeting.) Burns sets her story in an unnamed place with unnamed people (the time period appears to be the 1970's). With just a little effort it's easy to identify the locale as Belfast, Northern Ireland during "the troubles". The characters are the narrator, her family, "sometime boyfriend" and the people who live in her neighborhood. Oh, and a character known only as "Milkman" who has taken an interest in the narrator and is sexually harassing her - but without touching her or saying anything. The plot is not the point of this novel (and in some ways it is tied up far too neatly at the end) and the characters are somewhat secondary. Burns was trying to evoke what it felt like to live in that kind of situation and I think she handled that perfectly. The thing that struck me was how brilliant it was to not name the characters or the locale - because it was so easy to analogize the situation to many OTHER situations: the #metoo era, what life must have been like in Beirut back in the 1980's, what life must be like in parts of many American cities in the 20th century if you were black and living in the midst of the drug war.
Here are some representative lines that seem to me to evoke the ideas of the novel, but could be applied to many different stories, not just this one - I could put most of them as a lead-in to a tweet about a news story of the day somewhere:
"I did not want to get in the car with this man, I did not know how to say so though, as he wasn't being rude and he knew my family for he'd named the credentials, the male people of my family, and I couldn't be rude because he wasn't being rude."
"I did not like twentieth-century books because I did not like the twentieth century."
"...if no physically violent touch was being laid upon you, and no outright verbal insults were being levelled at you, and no taunting looks in the vicinity either, then nothing was happening,, so how could you be under attack from something that wasn't there?"
"If we were in a proper relationship and I did live with him and was officially committed to him, first thing I would have to do would be to leave."
"I said this was because of the twisting of words, the fabrication of words and the exaggeration of words that went on in this place."
" 'it's not about being happy, he said, which was, and still is, the saddest remark I've ever heard."
"They killed it because it liked them, because they couldn't cope with being liked, couldn't cope with innocence, frankness, openness, with a defencelessness and an affection and purity so pure, so affectionate, that the dog and its qualities had to be done away with."
"This was why you didn't get many shining people in environments overwhelmingly consisting of fear and sorrow."
"No one has ever come across a cat apologising and if a cat did, it would be patently obvious it was not being sincere."
"... because no information could be forthcoming that wouldn't be perceived by at leats one party to be a distortion of the truth."
"... their survival as an armed guerrilla outfit in a tightly knit, anti-state environment depended upon local support in that environment."
"Hard to define, this stalking, this predation, because it was piecemeal."
"...the only time you'd call the police in my area would be if you were going to shoot them, and naturally they would know this and so wouldn't come."
I could go on and on. I was constantly highlighting phrases in this novel, stopping to think how the thought applied to more situations than simply a girl living in Belfast in the 1970's being stalked by an older man who was part of the IRA.
A lot of people have said this book is difficult to read because it has an almost stream of consciousness style. I didn't find it difficult, but maybe because when I read I "hear" specific voices very clearly and this character had a very distinctive voice. The two people in my reading group who made it through the book both listened to the audio version. That may make a difference.