Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Books of 2008

aka if Limecrete is doing it then I can too. So here it is, my 2008 reading list so far and I will update with every finished book. Feel free to comment, disagree, suggest, criticise, snipe, whatever :-).

The Gathering - Anne Enright

I hated Enright's style of writing so intensely I gave up after fifty tedious pages.

We Disappear - Scott Heim

I had a brief email friendship with Scott Heim in the lead up to the release of Mysterious Skin, Gregg Araki's top notch adaptation of Heim's debut novel. It started when I attended a festival screening of the movie and Heim was there for a post screening Q & A. On the way out, I found myself behind him and so I tapped him on the shoulder and politely enquired when we could expect to see his third book.

Three years later and here it is. It was worth the wait. A highly personal story inspired by caring for his mother as she succumbed to cancer, that is the book's central narrative (with characters named Scott and Donna, his mother's name) with some decidedly dark twists. His mother has been obsessed with missing kids the whole time he's known her and they bonded in his teens over the death of one of Scott's classmates. In her final months, he returns home, battling a crushing meth addiction and his mother reveals an awful secret to him that sends his world into disarray. Dark, depressing, beautiful and oddly uplifting, this book is all the stronger for leaving a lot of loose ends rather than going for neat resolutions.

The Other Boleyn Girl - Philippa Gregory

I toyed with reading this book several times and never did, as my track record with historical fiction is not what you would call stellar. I saw the movie with one of my best friends (and ex-flatmate). Neither of us particularly enjoyed it, but she's a HUGE fan of the novel and implored me to read it, assuring me it bore no resemblance to the film.

She was not wrong. Gregory knows her stuff and has researched to within an inch of her life, keeping as much historical accuracy as dramatically possible. Her descriptions are rich and vivid and the obvious knowledge Gregory has of her subject means that she can weave the fiction around the fact and make for a pretty seamless blend. Managing to succeed as a character study (of both the Boleyn girls) as well as a fascinating narrative in its own right, Gregory's fluid storytelling won me over and I will be seeking out her other books for sure.

- Sarah Dunant

A nasty and gripping thriller from an author whose later novels have been historical romances. Go figure. I was intrigued by the description of a woman living alone following an ugly break up who begins to think either her house is haunted or that her twisted ex is messing with her after an unexplained series of events. That is until one night she wakes in the middle of the night to find out what is really going on. Who wouldn't be sucked in with a jacket description like that? The revelations about "what is really going on" are ever so slightly terrifying and turn what had been mildly interesting into a real page turner. Not one to read if you live alone though.

Blind Fall
- Christopher Rice

Sigh. I loved the first two books from Rice. I finished The Snow Garden in a day and a half when I was home sick from work in fact. His third novel was a long time coming and when it arrived, it was an over plotted mish mash that didn't really come together. It's disheartening to note that his latest suffers from the same faults. Characters never really make it beyond the two dimensional and the plot is too far fetched and not well enough constructed to pull the reader in. Here's hoping the losing streak does not continue.

No Time For Goodbye - Linwood Barclay

Another book I picked up purely because of the jacket description. A drunken teenager has a fight with her family one night. The next morning, she wakes up with a bad hangover and the dread of having to face up to her parents over her antics the night before. Only her family are gone. Vanished without a trace, a note, nothing. She's all alone. Quite the jumping off point, no? Picking up twenty five years after that fateful night as Cynthia, the girl left behind, turns to a tv show to publicise her story again, in the hope of stirring up some answers. Once the cranks and the charlatans are out of the way, just as she's about to give up hope, a letter arrives and its contents send her world spinning of its axis. It's an utterly fascinating read and I loved that I had NO idea exactly what had happened until Barclay reveals it to the reader. And while you could argue that by the novel's end, all the loose ends are cleaned up a little too neatly, the final pages still packs a hefty emotional punch. Recommended.

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

Following up her universally adored fiction debut, Sebold gives her readers something altogether less easy to love. The story of a middle aged woman who kills her ailing mother, the book is populated by spiky and not altogether likeable characters. It is very tangential in its telling, giving it a somewhat ramshackle feel and it is also quite elliptical, which makes the reader do the dot joining in places, which I am all for. Utterly devoid of sentimentality, Sebold proves herself to be an incisive and intelligent wordsmith.

Duma Key - Stephen King

Ah, Mr King. We've had a stormy time of it lately, but I've been reading your novels for 20 years now (a thought more terrifying than any of his output, thank you kindly). While I have not loved every one of his novels, nor have I fanatically read every single one, when King hits the bullseye, it's gripping stuff that generally exceeds his "horror novelist" limitations.

Since being mown down and almost killed 9 years ago (9 years! Jesus I feel so old), King's output has been, well, I'll be kind and say erratic. Dreamcatcher was one of his worst books, bordering on unreadable. Cell was no-nonsense delight. And so we come to Duma Key, which falls somewhere in the middle. Telling the story of Edgar Freemantle, who almost dies in an industrial accident (can't imagine what inspired him) and moves to the titular Key, minus an arm, to recuperate from his almost fatal injuries. Here he meets Jerome Wireman, an ex-lawyer with wounds of his own, and the aging Elizabeth Eastlake, who owns most of the Key. When Edgar suddenly finds a talent for painting he never had before, slowly the horrific past of the Key and the Eastlake family comes to light, reaching into Edgar's life and altering it forever.

Leaving aside the clunky character names, the main problem I had with the book is Wireman. He's really fucking irritating. Told in the first person by Edgar, the opening pages of the book are all written after the main events, being all reflective. Every other paragraph, it seems, contains some ghastly homespun philosophy, followed by "that's what Wireman says". Several chapters before his arrival, I'm already over him. So when he insists on overusing the word "muchacho" along with the philosophies, well, it's the final nail in his coffin for me.

This meant I persevered with this book through gritted teeth as the main story was intriguing. And so when that went a little off the rails in the final pages, it was a little irritating to say the least. Duma Key tries to tell a big story on a grand scale and ends up falling short. So while it's not unreadable, it's not one of King's best either, not by a long shot.

The Eyre Affair
- Jasper Fforde
Lost In A Good Book - Jasper Fforde
The Well Of Lost Plots - Jasper Forde
Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde
First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde

A dear friend recommended Jasper Fforde to me and I shall be eternally grateful that she did. His novels are absolutely genius. Set in an alternate version of the real world, it is a place where you can travel through time, step inside novels, croquet is a contact sport, Shakespeare plays are audience participation affairs and cheese is an illegal substance. With The Eyre Affair, Fforde introduces us to the fabulous Thursday Next, a literary detective with SpecOps, who dedicates her professional life to such matters as stolen original manuscripts, unearthing forgeries, etc. Her demented uncle invents a way to step inside fiction, literally by entering the book and when it falls into the wrong hands, Jane Eyre ends up being kidnapped and it is Thursday's mission to return her safe and well.

Describing them here really doesn't do Fforde's fabulously loopy ideas and fluid story telling justice. When Thursday discovers that there is a real fictional world, where characters live and books are created (the ideas fed to the author by the characters), she becomes a member of Jurisfiction, dedicating to stopping crime in the fiction world (eliminating grammasites, tracking down page runners and so on) as well as maintaining her SpecOps role in the real world.

In addition to being cleverly plotted crime novels, the Thursday Next series are also consistently laugh out loud funny, packed full of literary jokes and a fantastically colourful supporting cast make them a joy to read. With the latest of the series, the wormhole does threaten to collapse in on itself, but somehow Fforde manages to pull off having not one but three Thursdays in the same book. I have unfortunately read all five in the space of two weeks and now have to wait until 2009 for the next installment, currently going under the working title of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing.

The Big Over Easy
- Jasper Fforde
The Fourth Bear - Jasper Fforde

Not content with having one series, Fforde wrote himself a spin off. In The Well Of Lost Plots, Thursday takes refuge in the fictional world for reasons it would take too long to explain here. The titular well is where unpublished manuscripts and half formed ideas reside. Thursday is living in one of these, a hackneyed crime novel that is possibly beyond salvage. A subplot of Well sees Thursday trying to resolve a dispute and threatened strike by nursery rhyme characters and other people who inhabit what he calls the Oral Tradition. Her eventual resolution is to house them all in the hackneyed novel, thereby saving it from deletion. And lo, The Big Over Easy is born. A whodunnit with the victim is Humpty Dumpty and the investigating officers are Jack Sprat and Mary Mary (she's quite contrary). Somehow, Fforde makes this work on as many levels as the Next novels and not only did I laugh out loud pretty consistently I also had NO idea where he was going with it. Brilliant.

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

I finally caved and read The Kite Runner late last year. I don't know why I had avoided it for so long, but I pretty much devoured it whole once I started it. It has its detractors for being too heavily reliant on coincidences but I'll take coincidences when they are this poetically written and when the author resists from the cliche happy sappy ending with the easy answers. Suns is not as easy to love nor as easy to read. It is slower going but once it hits its stride then it's very engaging, occasionally jaw dropping and ultimately heartbreaking as it tells the story of two women, the man who marries them both and the toll he, the Soviets and the Taliban take on their lives.

1 comment:

Limecrete said...

The Eyre Affair is the only book of that series that I've read, and I enjoyed it. I've been meaning to read the rest, but I haven't gotten to them yet. I'm happy to hear they live up to the first one.