Sunday, February 3, 2013

My January Reading

I intended to write some blog posts about the books I've been reading but never got around to it.  So here's a list of the books I read in January and my take on each of them.  My goal this year was to read fewer mysteries and more literary fiction.  I'm still having the problem that not much is appealing to me. So  I'm still reading a fair number of mysteries but, yes, I did manage to read some literary fiction too.

  1. The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  I truly intended to write an actual blog post about this novel but it has law as a theme and every time I sat down to write I found I just couldn't face writing about law in my free time after the last few busy months. It isn't my favorite Louise Erdrich novel but I did enjoy it.  I thought the voice she created for the main character was very realistic.  And I was somewhat surprised by the direction the story took at the end.

  2. The Bookseller by Mark Pryor.  As I said here, a little too much explanation and a little too much serendipity.  But it is a first novel so maybe he'll improve.

  3. Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker.   This one is cheating a bit because I started it back in October and never finished it.  I noticed it on my NOOK one day at lunch and realized I only had two more chapters to go to find out who dunnit so I finished it. I think the reason I stopped reading it had more to do with my crazy busy end of the year than the book itself.   It is the first in a series and, while it shows, I did like the French locale so I may read others in the series.
  4.  The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton by Elizabeth Speller.  I read The Return of Captain John Emmett, Speller's first book in this series, last year when I was on my World War I novel kick.   I said "I don't think this is intended to be a series as the main character isn't a detective."  Well, I was wrong.  This novel is better than the first, the plot is a little more believable and wasn't as easily guessable.  But I'm still unclear how she can make a series of it.  After all, how many crimes can a church architectural historian come across?   Wait.  Don't answer that.

  5. Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin.  I've been waiting for this book to finally cross the pond.  Rebus returns!  Now he's a civilian working in the cold case unit.  He's also trying to return to active duty because the mandatory retirement age has  been increased.  I actually liked Rebus as a retired cop and wouldn't mind him staying retired and "consulting" with Siobhan from time to time.  It gives him more freedom of movement but, of course, less access to information.  I also liked seeing him traveling back and forth to Inverness  because I've done that drive and could picture it - even the turn-off to Aviemore.   It didn't seem quite as dark and gritty as previous Rebus novels and that may be because Rebus has nothing to lose - he's retired, they can't fire him. 

  6. The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn.   This is really four very short novels bound together in one volume: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope and Mother's Milk.    Although these were all issued much earlier in the UK, they were just released in the US this year.  A number of book reviewers listed this novel on their Best Books of 2012 list so I thought I would check it out.  I disliked the characters, was uninterested in the plot and loved St. Aubyn's writing style.  I can only describe it as a cross between Martin Amis and J.M. Barrie. 

     St. Aubyn creates a main character who was raped by his own father at the age of five and spends the rest of his life messed up because of that.  A very serious situation ... and yet, at what point is a person responsible for his own life despite the terrible things that have happened to him?   And where is the line between the tragic and the ludicrous?    As St. Aubyn lets us into the mind of the deeply troubled Patrick Melrose, who regularly sees the ludicrousness of his situations, we can't help but think that this is a character that is smart enough and self aware enough  that he should be able to rise above his background.  And yet ... he doesn't.  Is that because he can't or because he won't?

    I truly enjoyed St. Aubyn's acerbic social commentary.
    The English didn't ask much of their Dukes in Anne's opinion.  All they had to do was hang on to their possessions, at least the very well-known ones, and then they got to be guardians of what other people called 'our heritage'.  She was disappointed that this character with a face like a cobweb had not even managed the small task of leaving his Rembrandts on the wall where he found them.
    And while his characters are nasty, they are also funny.   For instance the character of the father, David, is a particularly horrible man but only his wife Eleanor and his son Patrick seem to know it.
    When they arrived in the hall, Eleanor was delighted by David's absence.  Perhaps he had drowned in the bath.  It was too much to hope.  
    And Patrick isn't always particularly likeable.  But he is sometimes sympathetic, especially when his thoughts are blackly humorous:
    He was definitely going to get drunk and insult Seamus, or maybe he wasn't.  In the end it was even harder to behave badly than to behave well.  That was the trouble with not being a psychopath.  Every avenue was blocked.
    My least favorite of the four novels was Bad News because I have no interest in drug addicts in real life and see no point in spending time in their fictional minds. The entire novel is a day in the mind of a twenty-something Patrick who is doped up to the nth degree.  I admit to skimming through parts of it.  And I tired, as I often do with Martin Amis, of reading about a character who is a man-child.  At least JM Barrie made his character a real boy who wouldn't grow up, perhaps knowing that while there is something distasteful about grown men who act  and think like children you can always get away with a child acting and thinking like a grownup.  At points St. Aubyn slips into a child's point of view and it works fairly well for him despite the fact that the child thinks like an adult.   There is one more book in the series and I will eventually go find it and read it.  Part of me hopes he kills off Patrick and part of me hopes he redeems him.

  7. The Piccadilly Plot by Susanna Gregory.   I picked this up at the library one day when I could find nothing else I wanted. I'm not even sure why I bothered finishing it.  I was drawn to it because it was set in Seventeenth Century London during the Restoration but found the setting did not make up for the writing.
  8. Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson.  This was also a first novel, set during the eighteenth century.  I enjoyed it.  Although it is a mystery I think it was at its best when it focused on characters and setting.  The main character is a scientist type who just wants to be left alone, but one day his neighbor finds a dead body on her estate and comes to him for help.  One thing I really liked is that Robertson made the neighbor a happily married woman whose husband is a sea captain off fighting the "American Rebellion".  So she can act fairly independently but there is none of that boring love interest stuff with the scientist.  They are just two people.  At first I wasn't sure how the American Rebellion was relevant and thought the scenes that were set there were meant simply to draw in American readers, but in the end I realized that the theme of insurrection and the dangers it poses to those caught up in it, was a larger theme in the book.   She has written another book and I will read it. 
And that's it for January.  I'm glad that I'm reading again after three or four months of not reading much at all and not having time to even make a blog mention (for instance I read Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl back in November and was intending to write about it but never got around to it.)

I'm starting February by reading the new Charles Todd that just came out (yes, another mystery).  I'm also working through Alex Ross' essays in his  Listen to This.  I picked that book up a couple of years ago and then forgot I had it.