November to January, so far

The Tea Rose – Jennifer Donnelly
The plot must consist of pretty much every cliché in the book except the classic evil twin. At the last two “twists in the tale” I actually laughed out loud – that’s how madly “buy one plot-device, get three free” infested it all was. However, despite this, Donnelly had me caught well and good and I had serious problems in putting the book away and not sneak a few pages in under the desk at work. Not a Nobel candidate, then, but very well worth reading.

Shaman’s Crossing, Forest Mage and Renegade’s Magic – Robin Hobb
Ok, so this deals partly with those lost months… I had to labour a bit through the first two volumes (I never thought I’d say this about a Robin Hobb book), and got completely stuck at the beginning of the third. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but this trilogy just didn’t do it for me. I kept reading because I was just interested enough to want to know what would happen in the end, but not interested enough to want to spend 2000-odd pages getting there. It doesn’t help, of course, that the volumes are really too big to read comfortably (I might need to consider weightlifting if I’m to keep reading this size of book in hardback), and certainly too big to be tempting for bringing on the bus etc. I suppose I felt that Hobb might have been better off writing this as one book rather than a trilogy. It seemed somewhat unnaturally extended to me. It may be that she was caught in the probable contract with her publisher to produce trilogies, or it may be that she really felt this story needed three times 700 pages. I didn’t. I will still look foreward to Hobb’s next, but not with such bated breath as before.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
Very gripping and full of intriguing twists. Found it hard to put it down towards the end, and wanted it to go on once it finished. Still, not the sort of book one rereads – the twist is not quite surprising enough to make me want to go back and reread to see what I’ve missed and knowing how it ends will ruin the rest of the story too much at a second perusal. Bookcrossing candidate if ever I saw one.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
A very engaging book, though I became mightily annoyed with the narrator. Partly the fact that “he” is death (which just didn’t work for me, don’t ask me why), partly the endless foreshadowing (or, rather, foretelling – “more of that later” hints – a bit of vague foreshadowing I can deal with) and partly the bulletin-style interruptions which, yeah, ok, I could make a convincing interpretation of if I had to write an essay on this book for an exam, but, hey, I finished school and I prefer to do my reading at my own pace, and, frankly, until I learned to “ignore” them I wanted to hurl the book across the room every time. Still, engaging. (Sent as a rabck.)

After the Quake – Haruki Murakami
A bookring on bookcrossing and one of those 1001 books. This reminded me why I don’t like short stories (just when I start getting interested, they end), but I like Mr. Murakami’s way with words, so I will try him in novel-form when I get the chance.

Frost on My Moustache – Tim Moore
Funny.

The Careful Use of Compliments – Alexander McCall Smith
Isn’t it a lovely title? And isn’t it a lovely book?

Boksamlere forteller
An interesting anthology I found at an “antiques” fair. And by interesting I mean that the existence of such a collection intrigued me, especially printed in 1945. The book itself was unfortunately mostly dull. I normally love reading people’s descriptions of their collections, so I’m not sure why it should be so, but there it is.

American Pastoral – Philip Roth

When I was admitted to hospital for observation rather unexpectedly because of high blood pressure in the last week before my due date, Martin had to be sent in to the town centre to provide reading material, as we had both, inadvertently, left home without a book. Philip Roth’s American Pastoral was not a bad choice for an emergency read. The novel is engaging and touches on some profound issues around identity and image. However, I found it ended somewhat prematurely, I would have liked another few chapters to “round off” the narrative. I assume Roth has his reasons for ending the way he does, and I suppose, in retrospect, I can see that it makes sense on some levels. And it should not put you off reading the book.

I finished American Pastoral while waiting for the inducing of the kid’s birth to take effect, and the next book I picked up was Master & Commander. Jupp, I’ve started my – uhm- is it fourth or fifth? – reread of O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, so if I do not update the bookblog for a month or two (what with a newborn baby in the house, there is limited time available for reading) you’ll know why.

Misfortune – Wesley Stace

Misfortune by Wesley Stace is just a really weird book. It’s certainly not a bad book, but I failed to be overwhelmed.

The basis for the plot is interesting enough: A baby is abandoned to die on a rubbish heap in early 19th century London, but is rescued by Lord Loveall who is in need of an heir. He brings the baby home and contrives a marriage and birth to make the outside world believe the child, named Rose after his dead sister Dolores, is really his. The problem is that Rose is undisputably male, not female, however, he is brought up believing himself to be a girl and much hoo-ha ensues once the truth is discovered.

Just after his discovery, Lord Loveall dies, and Lord Rose inherits, but in true victorian style, Rose’s right to inherit is contested by “the other side” of the family, but this conflict drowns somewhat in Rose’s breakdown following his discovery of his maleness. This is one of the novel’s weaknesses, Rose himself ceases to care what happens to his estate and fortune and as he is the narrator at this point (and through most of the novel) I, as the reader, also failed to care much, while the tension in the plot – the “what happens next?” – hinges at least partly on just what happens to the family inheritance.

Another weakness centers on the characters themselves, to a large extent they remain two-dimensional and to me, certainly, none of them really come alive. This makes it difficult to care overly much one way or another about anything that happens in the book. And though Rose’s journey to find him-/herself is actually the most original and in some ways the most convincing part of the plot, it loses most of its power when the reader doesn’t really care.

I also found the resolution of the inheritance plot somewhat contrived (though predictable). This is perhaps excusable, as it is the genre norm that such things be contrived. Less excusable is the downright dreariness and sillyness of the final confrontation between the two conflicting sides of the family, this failed to engage me on any level whatsoever other than “oh, get on with it!”.

The strength of the novel, such as it is, lies in the use of historic materials and settings. A lot of research has obviously gone into making the plot and backdrop believeable, and this is largely successful. Apparently, some of the ballads used are available on CD, The Love Hall Tryst: Songs of Misfortune, recorded by the author under his other name of John Wesley Harding (what’s the story there, I wonder) and some fellow musicians.

So: Was it worthwhile? I’m not entirely sure what the answer is just now, I’ll have to get back to you on that.

(I still feel an O’Brian reread coming on, and such half-maddening reading experiences as this one are only likely to hasten that as they leave me with a need to read something I know to be worthwhile.)

Waltzing Through Flaws

Waltzing Through Flaws by Paula Sharp popped up in a box of books that I found buried in the closet. I thought we’d unpacked all the books, but obviously not. Anyway, I was exstatic to see it, as I thought I had donated it to charity and have been wracking my brains trying to remember the title in order to get hold of a new copy because I suddenly, a few months back, got the urge to reread it. I had gotten waltzing mixed up with skipping (easily done) and so any search I tried, whether on amazon, abe og google obviously returned pretty nonsensical results.

So, not the world’s greatest novel, but a pretty good read, and characters that obviously stay with you longer than you expect them to. It’s an interesting expostion of addiction (alchohol, religion, adrenaline: pick you own drug) and Paula Sharp manages to tell the story from eight-year old Penny’s point of view in a very convincing way, without sounding unrealistically stilted and without succumbing to cuteness or unneccessary naiveté.

100 shades of White

I’ve reread the Chronicles of Narnia since you last heard from me, but I really don’t have much to say about them other than that (as I said in connection with the movie review) I love them unconditionally.

I then started on 100 Shades of White by Preethi Nair, which I just bought in the Tapir spring sale (at 90% off, a pleasant surprise at the till, as I thought it was 70% off and I got 8 books for 100 kroner instead of 300 and something which I was expecting). 100 Shades of White is engaging and manages to touch a few “serious” themes before ending, I’m glad to say, on a feel-good note. I didn’t like the structure – the novel changes between two first person narrators and makes a few jumps in time – but I’d be hard-pressed to put my finger on what it was that irked me, and it certainly wasn’t irking enough to put me off noting down Nair as someone I’d like to hear more of.

The Business

Having read and enjoyed Raw Spirit I thought I had better check out Ian Banks’ fiction, too, and I’m glad I did. The Business reminded me of a couple of Ben Elton novels I read a while back, except the end of the world was not involved and The Business was much better. Much, much better. The synopsis on amazon.co.uk is as follws:

The Business is the 1990s success story run riot. The eponymous organisation is ancient, rich and invisible. All it lacks is a certain political clout, something the Business has avoided for centuries but with which it is now beginning to toy. A seat in the UN is at stake as Kate Telman, Level 3 executive, is drawn into the (rather polite) machinations of her superiors. Those expecting John Grisham may be disappointed. No bad thing, perhaps: Kate’s personal-professional life — there is, of course, no conflict here for the successful individual of the 1990s — is the main concern. Banks’ interest is in the moral debates about the position of the Business in a world it finds easy to manipulate, drawing the reader into a discussion of the place of the multi-national in contemporary economic and cultural life. “A lot of successful people are less hard-hearted than they like to think”: is one view put forward, and not the only romantic but equivocal sentiment hiding somewhere in The Business. —John Shire

The bit that puzzles me is “personal-professional life — there is, of course, no conflict here for the successful individual of the 1990s” as I sort of thought that the conflict between the personal and the professional was the major plot device of the novel. However, I agree that the strength of the novel, in addition, of course, to it being a ripping good yarn (always the most important facet of a novel imho), is that it makes the reader (or at least this reader) question “the place of the multi-national in contemporary economic and cultural life”.

Now, I think the husband picked up one of Banks’ sci-fi novels. I think I’ll have to give that a try, too.