Everyone should keep a mental wastepaper basket and the older he grows the more things he will consign to it, torn up to irrecoverable tatters. (Samuel Butler)
Gentle Reader, I owe you a humble apology. I have been working on a blog post, and then forgetting about it and washing up or pretending I want to buy a van (don’t ask) or going to
Greece or sorting out my birthday or trying to find a new house and I just pressed ‘send’ and didn’t really spend too much time on what I was putting out to the masses. I imagine you like Hyacinth Bucket (BooKAY!) smelling a delicate rose, and finding a caterpillar crawling out of the petals. Apologies for that.
The heat got to me… but hasn’t it been glorious! It’s so easy to be happy in warm sunny weather. Walking around town at the weekend was like a scene from A Muppet Christmas Carol – people nodding and smiling at strangers; chewing gum on the pavement glowing gold in the sunlight; shoppers not quite bursting into spontaneous dance but not far off. Thunderstorms might have slightly dampened our spirits yesterday, but the country needed it, and much as I grumbled at my summer shoes getting ruined by puddles I couldn’t ignore the fresh green-brown smell of heavy rain on parched earth. It zipped up my nostrils into my blood and circulated like quicksilver.
My head has been anything but quicksilver, but I have managed to polish off several books which I shall share with you in the hopes that I entice you into reading some of them.
I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy Petit Mort, a story of death, romance and murder set in 1913 Paris after the first few pages. It felt patchy, as if the author herself (Beatrice Hitchman) didn’t know what was going on with it; but about 1/3 of the way through I found myself reading faster and faster to find out what happened next. The novel paints a vivid and enticing picture of the Paris film circuit, although the characters never really develop and all just seem to fall in love with each other for no real good reason. I finished the book not really ‘knowing’ any of them, which leaves the story feeling a little flimsy, but the plot is original and intriguing. If you like stories which leave you a little frustrated, then pick this one up.
Andrew Pyper isn’t one of the literary greats when it comes to crime, but he’s not bad either. I enjoyed his first effort The Killing Circle, and approached The Demonologist hoping for something similar. This time Pyper’s gone for something more supernatural than the bog-standard serial killer. A mysterious visitor leads to a trip to Venice for lecturer David Ullman and his daughter with horrific consequences, and David finds himself plunged into the world of Milton’s Paradise Lost upon which he is an expert.
The story holds the reader’s interest while in Venice, but as Ullman returns to the USA in a desperate race against time I found my attention wandering.The ending was a bit like dropping a sparkler into a can of flat coke. I wouldn’t push aside another of Pyper’s books, but I won’t be reading this again.
I didn’t think I would like Be Awesome: Modern Life for Modern Ladies, and in fact I battled against liking it because I thought Hadley Freeman was trying and failing to be Caitlin Moran. But actually she has an acerbic, interesting voice in her own right, and I shouldn’t have written her off. I started reading with one eyebrow haughtily raised and wound up making notes in the margins (a la Robbie in Dirty Dancing).
Shadow of Night is the sequel to A Discovery of Witches, which was very enjoyable hokum. This one is still hokum, and rather less enjoyable, unfortunately. Although Deborah Harkness speckles her text with glittering characters like Shakespeare and Marlowe, vampires and witches become rather tedious and I stopped caring as there was one supernatural-creature-fight after another. I might approach the book again in a few months or a year to see if I like it afresh, but on first read it didn’t work for me. On the plus side it’s very interesting historically, and you can tell Harkness has done her homework with regards to costume, living and so on.
John Gordon has been one of my favourite ghost story writers since I discovered him at primary school – “She Bends, She Breaks” and “Oh My Bairn” being two specific favourites of mine. It is thus very painful to admit that for me Fen Runners wasn’t quite sure how long it was supposed to be, or who its characters were, or what it really was about. It was chilling enough but I felt that the novella lost its way and I lost interest as a result.
Charles Dickens & The Great Theatre of the World is a fascinating, lavish look at the theatrical side of Dickens which I knew very little about, beyond that he really liked performing his books. Reading the novels out loud is a joy, and perhaps something we all ought to do more of – similar to Shakespeare, Dickens has even more depth when intonation and character is added to his lines. Simon Callow is obviously a huge fan (without being blinkered by idol-worship) and does a very good job of conjuring up a world that I didn’t know existed.
The Glovemaker is a rather poetic novel about Cromwell’s England and a woman who faces execution for keeping the birth of her stillborn child a secret. The prose is delicate and dreamy, and the book would be enjoyable if it wasn’t let down by the poor historical accuracy (cranberry biscuits in 17th century England?) and howling Americanisms (trash, creeks, etc.). I feel the author (Stacia M Brown – what’s the significance of the M?) has talent and has certainly researched her subject (martyrs) but nothing outside the immediate topic, and that’s her failing.
I think I’ve waxed lyrical about Liz Rigbey, author of Total Eclipse, already in some of my ramblings but I’ll do so again and no more apologies. She is one of the best criminal writers I’ve read, and it makes me very sad that I can only find 3 novels she’s written (the other two being The Hunted and Summertime). I do hope she writes more because she builds characters well, her plots are rich and vibrant, and her writing the most sickening, delicious twists, like being on a rollercoaster and just when you think you’ve finished it takes you around an extra loop. If you only ever read one author because of this blog please make it Liz Rigbey!
Another ‘twisted’ author is Mark Billingham; Rush of Blood is a departure from his normal fare but it worked really well. I found myself staying up later and later to read it like, feeling as thirsty as the parched earth outside. Three couples meet on holiday, during which a young girl goes missing. Back in the UK they attempt to maintain their holiday friendship (like so many of us vow to, farewell hugs with rictus grins and false promises of staying in touch) but as they get to know each other better, cracks appear on their glossy surfaces. The book is left, in some ways, hanging – little threads which needed biting – but perhaps it’s better that they weren’t. As in real life, there aren’t always endings, happy or otherwise.
Anyway. This is my ending. Funny how writing is a lot easier when you feel like it, innit. I’m going back out into the sun. To quote the Lady of the House, today could be the day I’m mistaken for somebody important.