Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal

I probably would have enjoyed this book more if I were a late middle aged man who drank claret at dinner parties and watched late night TV programmes about The Arts. As it was, I enjoyed it but, I'll be honest, not as much as I enjoy fiction (I hear your distain my late middle aged friend).
The book is about an inherited collection of 'netsuke' - Japanese carvings traditionally hung from obis - and their historical provenance. It is interesting, I learnt a lot about European history and my vocabulary expanded by about 12.3%. There are so may facts in this book that there is no way I will ever again be the person in a pub quiz who can only answer the questions about celebrity couples. The style is very easy and accessible. The netsuke collection passes through a number of members of a family, all of whom are presented very well and have led very interesting lives. A more than usually entertaining mind improving book but it's still not what you'd call exciting, although the second half is definitely more interesting than the first.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

I really wanted to like this book and I very nearly did. But I just couldn't connect with it. I thought the boy narrator's voice came across much too young for an 11 year old and I just did not understand the pigeon thing. As a result, it all felt a bit unreal and distant so not as powerful or immediate as it could have been. However, the writing is very good and there are some very poignant dialogues between the children. The differences between life in an African village and a London estate are dealt with very cleverly - in a way which is both unobtrusive and striking. There are some very enjoyable parts to the book and it is worth reading, but I couldn't really engage with it.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Crying Tree by Naseem Rahka

I enjoyed this book, despite it's awful front cover. It is set in Southern America and follows a family who are dealing with the murder of their son. It is excellently written and very gripping. All the characters are realistic and the dialogue is very natural. There are some powerful emotions dealt with but it is done very sympathetically so the book is not too heavy or depressing. I enjoyed this very much and would recommend it as a well written, but not too dark, holiday read.

February by Lisa Moore

A novel about a Canadian family of four who are raised by their mother following their father's death on an oil rig. The plot keeps you interested, if not gripped, but the characters are not very well developed. You sort of feel you are skimming the surface rather than really getting to know any of the main narrators. I enjoyed this book but a strange choice for the long list as it is not very provocative or even particularly well written (although there is some lovely phrasing).

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

I must have misunderstood this book because I didn't really like it, unlike everyone else in the entire world. It is about an old school teacher and his two pupils, who have remained in touch as the pupils have grown up. It's really about Judaism. The author is very clever and knows a lot about anti-semitism and Jewish life. But it just doesn't make for a very interesting read. The main character is an irritating, insecure non-Jew and his old school friend is an unrealistically self obsessed non practicing Jew. The novel goes on and on and on about their different attitudes towards their religious beliefs. In summary - dull and slightly pretentious but thankfully short. Did not deserve the prize over Room or Skippy Dies.

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore

Set in 1950s Russia this novel follows a paediatric doctor, his wife and her younger brother who all live together in Leningrad. I enjoyed reading about this period in Russian history and the very real struggles which were going on for ordinary people as well as the Stalinist regime. The characters are very likeable although a bit one dimensional. The plot is fairly gentle but that gives the writer the space to explore the daily lives of the doctor and his wife. I enjoyed this novel and it's a good, interesting read but it's not the most powerful book I've ever read.

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

I am very late to this book but I don't really regret the delay. It is a very masculine book, and - a bit like Starter for Ten - I felt I was missing most of the humour because I couldn't really relate to the main character. The writing is very good and the plot is very clever. It is frighteningly easy to imagine the prejudices and unfortunate coincidences which conspire to put Vernon into a dangerous position. The style of the writing means you have to concentrate and really focus on the dialogue so it's not really a beach read. I didn't fall in love with this novel but it is an interesting read.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

A Jackson Brodie novel. Easy read, good fun but not particularly substantial and it feels like these novels are losing something as the series progresses. The plot format is getting a bit tired (possibly even formulaic) and not as exciting as the first few novels. I still enjoy reading these but they are definitely in the good holiday read category.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

I very much enjoyed this novel. Excellently written and fantastic characters. It is set in an English private boys school, which takes boarders and day pupils and which was traditionally run by monks. The relationship between the boys, their parents and the teachers is very well described and developed throughout the book. There are some big issues tackled in the novel but they are very delicately dealt without the reader feeling as if he is being driven towards a particular moral standpoint. It is very non-judgemental - more of a commentary of events rather than an analysis of them. The interaction between the main group of boys is excellently written and painfully believable. This book and The Room are my favourite of the 2010 Booker long list so far.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

A much more entertaining read than I was expecting. The novel is split into different chapters - each told by a different character, all of whom were present at a barbeque at which a man slaps another man's a toddler. It is inevitable that some chapters/character's were more enjoyable to read than others and I did find that the connection with the thread of the novel came loose occasionally as a result of all the chopping and changing, particularly towards the end. But the writing is very good and the characters are all consistent if not always true to life (surely there are less drugs at your average suburban barbeque? Or perhaps I am moving in the wrong circles). The only reservation I have about wholeheartedly recommending this is that the whole moral issue of slapping another man's child is a bit overdone. I did not find this irritating but I can see how it could grate, especially if you have very strong views on the subject. In my opinion, an enjoyable novel which tails off slightly at the end.

Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey

This book has the ambiguous critique "I finished it with unabated enjoyment..." emblazoned on its cover. Despite this poor judgement this book is actually rather good. It follows the progress of a servant, Parrot, and his masters, including the rather sickly Olivier. Both characters are likeable and well written. The plot is a bit thin in places but the writing is very good and this carries it through. This novel definitely deserved to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize and I read it with enjoyment. If you're reading this Mr Carey (highly unlikely, I know) - you can have that one for the cover of the next print.