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October 16: The Trench; Weeping Window; Man Booker

A busy day today. The Trench is a one-act play with puppets and live music, performed by Les Enfants Terribles.

I have seen this company’s work before, and I wasn’t disappointed. The terror of war was depicted graphically at times, and there were no happy endings for the miner hero. Lighting was used very effectively, and the actor-musicians told a difficult tale very well.

On my way home from the theatre, I passed the Imperial War Museum, where the wonderful Weeping Window poppies installation is to be housed until after Armistice Day this year. I have only seen pictures of this work before, and they do not do it justice. The installation is very beautiful, in stark contrast to the war it commemorates.

Finally today, the Man Booker prize winner was announced. I got it wrong, unsurprisingly, but the winner was the book I liked most from the shortlist, and is coincidentally about a time of trouble which we don’t quite call a war.

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October 15: Man Booker Marathon

Crikey. I did it. The final two on the shortlist, both American, both taking me out of my comfort zone.

Washington Black was a not too uncomfortable account of a slave boy’s path to emancipation. There is violence, but it isn’t dwelt on. There is hardship and fear, but that isn’t dwelt on either.

I didn’t feel that the book was deep enough, I suppose, and comeuppances seemed to come too easily.

The Mars Room seemed to be a collection of stories only loosely linked by place, and with a cliffhanger ending I didn’t care for. I didn’t find any of the characters likeable, except maybe for Conan. I don’t really understand American culture, and I rarely read contemporary American literature, so This was very much a change of genre for me.

My prediction is still for The Long Take to win the prize. We will find out tomorrow.

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October 13: The Overstory

Fourth up on my Man-Booker marathon is a story about trees, sort-of.

The book follows a diverse collection of characters and their lives as they relate to trees and the eco-system.

I liked this book, in the main, although I found myself skipping quickly through the sections dedicated to Neelay’s computer game, which bothers me in retrospect, because I feel I ought to have found that thread more interesting. Maybe I’ll reread this thread. That will be possible, because Nedlay’s thread seems to be completely separate from the rest of the book.

I have to say that I found some of the characters really unlikeable, and some of the “mystical hippy” stuff a bit irritating. There was a lot of interesting tree science, and some worrying stuff about ecology, but for me, the first section, Roots, where we met the characters, was the best.

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October 5: Everything Under

Third in my Man Booker pile is Everything Under, a strange story roughly revolving around Sarah, who is not the narrator.

There are echoes of Greek tragedy, echoes of English folk tales and a sad look at the scourge of the modern elderly. There’s a bit of fantasy, a little bit of magical realism, a bit of superstition…

There are issues around gender, which I think in one case is laboured and in another not nuanced enough, but kudos to Daisy Johnson for at least getting them out there. I worried about the cling film though.

What I really wanted to know was why Sarah did what she did. That thing that set it all in motion. And I still want to know.

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October 3: Milkman

I am working my way through the Man Booker shortlist, hoping to have finished them all before the winner is announced.

Milkman is a good book. It is readable, and I felt a great deal of sympathy for, and empathy with, the narrator.

This book made me anxious, in the medical sense. I found myself expecting, and dreading the inevitable moment when the narrator gets into the van (I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler). I hated the mother, and it took a while for me to realise that it was because of certain conversations I had had in my youth, which were echoed in the mother’s too-easy dismissal of her husband’s pain and her daughter’s innocence. I was shocked to find myself glad that certain people came to certain ends.

As I said before, this is a good book, and it is an uncomfortable read while not being a difficult read.

My early punt on the winner still stands, but this book is certainly worthy of being on the shortlist.

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October 1: September’s books

I got through nine books in September. Some of them I enjoyed more than others.

Chronologically:

My library reading group book. The librarian gave us all a long list of available titles and asked us to tick off any that we thought would be good for future reads. I just ticked off all the titles I hadn’t read, on the grounds that I’m using the group to widen my reading (among other reasons for attending). Anyway, she chose this for September, told everyone it was from my list, evoking several heavy sighs and sarcastic “thankyous”. With 800-odd pages of tiny print, it does look a bit daunting – so much so, that the group collectively decided to run this book over two months. Reader, it took me two days. As always, I found some of the characters a bit irritating, but I really enjoyed the book overall. I don’t need to detail the plot here, but there is one trope I dislike, and that I see a lot in “classic” novels, that of older guardian-like man marrying generations-younger woman from poor circumstances. It feels a bit icky, somehow.

An attack on my “to read” pile gave me this, which was readable, quite enjoyable, but with some silliness. It is basically the story of an odd little ménage à trois. Alice meets Jove on a cruise and becomes his lover. Alice is a physicist, Jove is a renowned expert on time travel. So far, so good. I hoped there might be a bit of Sci-Fi, but there isn’t. Eventually, Alice meets Jove’s wife Stella, and becomes her lover too, in a separate arrangement, which then becomes the main relationship, with a very upset Jove neatly sidelined. The silliest thing in the book is Stella’s diamond, swallowed by her pregnant mother and somehow becoming embedded in the base of her foetal spine ( no, I don’t know how, either, and it isn’t explained).

I have read a couple of Winterson’s books- Christmas Days, which I erroneously bought as a cookery book, and The Gap of Time, one of the Hogarth series of reimagined Shakespeares (in this case, the retold story is the Winter’s Tale). I haven’t read her most famous book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but it is on my wishlist.

This novella was a very nice “extra” to Lock In, a Sci-Fi-Cri novel that I liked a lot when I read it back in January. It details the background to Haden’s Syndrome, which is central to the novel, and could be read before or after. I’m glad I read the novel first, but that’s because I really like good Science Fiction, and Scalzi writes good stuff.

I would call Yesterday SciFiCri, because of the very clever centrality of memory-diaries to the plot. It is certainly “alternate reality”. Otherwise, it is a fairly straightforward crime novel, told from multiple points of view. I would like to see more of Hans, the detective. There are a lot of holes in the world-building, (some of them are quite exasperating), and the mechanism of transfer between short and long term memories isn’t really explored. Quite readable, quite enjoyable, and with a reasonable twist.

A classic. I bought the Steadman-illlustrated hardback as a gift for someone, but had to re-read it first. This edition contains a couple of nice essays by Orwell, as well as the wonderful illustrations. I almost don’t want to give it away.

This was my September calendar book, and it was a wonderful story of a Jewish family in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. This is really worth reading, and I am not going to write more in case I spoil it for anyone. I recommend this one.

How long have I had this on pre-order? So long I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s here, and read immediately, of course. I like Strike, and I’m glad that Robin is sorting herself out. I think this is a bit longer than it needs to be, but it will transfer well to TV, as the other Strike novels have. I enjoyed it.

This is another book I have bought as a gift. I found it odd, until I realised that it was written to be turned into dance. Here is the trailer for Raven Girl , the ballet based on the book.

The Man Booker shortlist was announced on September 20th. I bought all six, planning to read them before October 16th, when the winner will be announced. So far, I have managed one. The Long Take calls itself a poem, but I didn’t think it was poetry, really. It was very readable, and a strong story of PTSD and the toll it takes. I am taking an early punt and predicting that this will win the prize.

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August 31: Books

This month I read 10 books, some of which I enjoyed more than others.

Chronologically:

I happened to be reading Out of the Ice at the end of July and it carried over into August. It was a mediocre crime novel. Not Scandi, even though it looks as if it ought to be. Set mainly in the Antarctic, and featuring an under-the-ice laboratory. A bit far-fetched for my taste, with a tacked-on child abuse thread that I thought was unnecessary.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was my August calendar challenge book, and it was terrific. Harry is the central character, and we live his lives with him. Speculative fiction, with a very clever central premise. I liked this a lot.

I’m attacking my tsundoku by means of a random letter generator. This time it was a z. Zero K refers to temperature, and the book is about a family using and coming to terms with cryogenic suspension. It was strange, in both plot and setting. I found it a bit “arty”, and a bit unsettling.

Sometimes people I follow on Twitter will mention a book. A Void was brought to my attention by an author I like. I didn’t have a copy, but I did happen to know a friendly University librarian, who let me borrow one. I found it terribly self-indulgent. The notion of writing a whole novel without using the letter e was interesting. The execution was laboured, and I found myself irritated in places where substitute words mattered (for example, in quotations from famous published works). There was a story, but I found it hard to follow, and it wasn’t concluded to my satisfaction. Unlike other reviewers. I decided not to try to write s review without the letter e.

The Bridesmaid was my local public library reading group book of the month. Ruth Rendell isn’t one of my favourite authors, and this book wasn’t one of my favourite books. It was interesting to see the story from the point of view of someone who wasn’t either the victim, the perpetrator or the police. Having said that, I didn’t feel any empathy for the narrator, or any of the other characters, for that matter, and I felt that there was a chapter missing at the end.

Grayson Perry’s book was chosen because it was a very slim paperback that would slide easily into the pocket of my overnight bag. It was interesting, if a little outdated, with some little cartoon illustrations and a bit of humour. The only non-fiction book this month.

Another random letter, this time m. I liked this one a lot. It had crime, wine, food (a lot of food, including actual recipes), and a French setting. No police, but a food magazine writer and her photographer sidekick solving a linked set of three murders. I hope there will be more in this series.

Give me an e

This book has been hyped a lot. I liked it, but it made me depressed. There were things I recognised in Eleanor, and things that didn’t ring true. I wanted to shake her at times, and I didn’t believe that her colleagues would change their opinion of her so drastically. At least there was a happyish ending.

And an f

I’d had this one on my pile for a while. A dystopian novel that doesn’t quite describe a dystopian world. The fixed period is a lifespan, the setting is an independent colony that gets re-annexed, there is a lot of scientific innovation, especially in the fields of music and sport. The narrator is one of those fixed-mindset people who perceive themselves to be hard done by when their views are not shared by everyone. This was apparently Trollope’s only foray into sci fi and he clearly found it hard work.

Smon Smon is a children’s book, but I’m not ashamed of reading it before giving it as a birthday gift to a three year old. It has an old-fashioned Eastern European look to it, and a lovely rhythmic rhyming pattern. It is a little adventure story that really needs to be read aloud.

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August 3: Calendar Reading

I started this month’s book, and couldn’t put it down.

The title is the story, really. Harry’s lives are lived out one after the other, and the world changes around him.

There are some nasty moments, and some that are familiar from reading various genres. I suppose this is SciFi, but more speculative than science, although there is some science in the story.

It was an interesting read, with a clear hero and villain, well written, without too many tropes. I liked it.

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July 22: Calendar Reading

This month’s calendar reading is The Boy From Lam Kien by Miranda July.

I had heard great things about this author, and the synopsis of the story sounded interesting, so I set out on a quest…

The story is available as a paperback

Yes. I’m not paying that sort of price for a short story. On googling, I discovered that there had been a BBC radio series read by the author:

Of course, it was unavailable.

So I bought a kindle version of the collection of short stories it was in, for a LOT less than I would have had to spend on a standalone paperback.

I started reading at the beginning, and stopped when I finished the story I’d bought the book for, about halfway in. And it was hard work getting that far. I should have just read the one story I’d wanted – it was the least objectionable of the ones I did read. I don’t often abandon a book unfinished, but occasionally it happens.

These stories are not for me, I’m afraid. There is too much very dysfunctional sex. There are dysfunctional sex workers, dysfunctional care workers, dysfunctional everything. A woman cheerfully admitting to having a fourteen year old boyfriend was the last straw for me.

I couldn’t make myself go any further.