I don’t miss riding to work at all – especially not in winter when the trams are warm, and I’m sufficiently rested to enjoy an early morning read. This is not overly encouraged in our house – it’s like someone wants to play the parent figure of her teen years and shush me out of bed because there’s work to be done (there usually isn’t). So, I’ve been plowing through some fiction (some American also – something I doubted I would return to) and have some weighty books accounted for in 2016 so far. NOTE: This doesn’t mean In Search of Lost Time is on the cards for 3Q16 – let’s not get too crazy. I bought the set on a whim (and on some bonus money from work), but heck, it is mainly just for the bookcase if I ever develop a literary buddy or if Gerald Murnane by chance dropped around oneday.
Sometime in early 2016 I started watching Youtube Clips produced by a passionate man called Gilles (is that pronounced Giles or Gille – I’m unsure) in his early 40’s in Quebec. The amazing thing about Gilles is that he thinks nothing of live-streaming his Friday and Saturday night Amateur Radio hobby for three hours at a time without a co-host. The other amazing thing is that he almost single handedly convinced me to buy a small Shortwave (with SSB) radio to listen to mystery stations and generally tool around listening to a lot of static. Sadly, despite a trip to the Moorabin Ham Radio fair with Ash, and a flick through Low Profile Amateur Radio, the possible passion fizzled due mainly to the lack of channels I could pickup in urban Preston. So, the radio sits ready for a trip up north later this year – maybe.
Reading War and Peace threw my interests towards Napoleon, and this lead to Robespierre and the French Revolution by J.M. Thompson, probably the dullest book in the Teach Yourself History series to date. It seems that anyone 200 odd years ago who stuck their neck out and agitated for change, managed to cop it in the end, and Robespierre and his cohort of Jacobins polished off the Girondins before being flushed out themselves when the time came. Gosh he would have been a dull man to live with. 3 stars.
So, Gerald Murnane gets to 75 and then writes easily his most accessible book to date Something for the Pain, perhaps the only one I would recommend to a non-believer. I was delighted again and again with this recollection of childhood events and memories of the turf. It is possibly the only book that I’ve ever found myself consciously trying to slow down and soak in, because it I was gobbling it up like a pack of ginger biscuits. Outstanding! 5 stars.
Despite being pretty passionate about music in the past, composer stories (real or not) don’t excite. Ok, I did enjoy those Phillip Glass and Glenn Gould bios. I think I was dazzled by the Booker 2014 Longlist on the cover, and the mention of Bach on the rear. In truth Orfeo by Richard Powers wasn’t a bad book, but I just couldn’t accept the premise of the composer deciding to morph his passion into finding musical structures amongst the biological world. The book is clearly a love letter to classical composition, but I found myself glazing over in the more musical chapters and enjoying the human interactions and suspense elements. 3 stars.
I wasn’t convinced at all by Margaret Atwoods’ The Heart Goes Last. Although a real page turner with a sexy theme, the whole premise felt flawed; the story light and overly simple, the characters not believable and I spent the second half of it fobbing off my cynicism whilst trying to wind it up. This has shaken my faith in one of the few female writers I (mostly) trust. Will wait for her next nervously. 2 stars.
Speaking of female writers, Barkskins by Annie Proulx was a much more solid proposition (in more ways than one at 710 pages). Early on, I accidentally read a negative review of it in the Irish Times which called it trite and lambasted it for its “set pieces”, but thankfully I never found these aspects irritating. My problem with the book was (like Accordion Crimes) its overly broad generational sweep, which towards the last quarter of the book became a gallop through reams of names and sons of sons in a few quick lines with nothing more than an intention to get you to the present day. Other sections were far more consistent and engrossing – the fiercely business-like Lavinia Duke, the desperately unlucky travels of Jinot Sel, the descriptions of the logging camps and river work were all wonderfully convincing – I had no lack of interest in this book at all until about 3/4 way through. I’d read it again though – probably my second favourite of hers after Postcards – a real return to form which whilst lecturing about mans irresponsible ways, told some wonderful stories, with all the usual Proulx research and attention to period detail. Way too many characters though. 4 stars.
When selecting this book, I think I mistook the “#1 International Bestseller” label on the cover of The Truth and the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker for “Winner of the 2015 Edgar Award“, because that’s what I wanted out of my annual / bi-annual crime book (just to show my wife I really do read other genres occasionally). I thought it would be a little more serious, and by the end (640 pages mind you!) it felt preposterous and silly; the number of twists in the last few chapters becoming a bit crazy. The dialogue was terrible, the inclusion of the young novelist into a 33 year old crime case implausible and yet it was still a massively addictive page turner which had me wanting to know who killed Laura Palmer, I mean Nola. 3 stars.