It’s odd, I reckon, that since the whole writing thing took off for me – with Time Travelling With A Hamster, and another one (title TBC) coming out next spring, and the zygote of a third one beginning its gestation – I have actually read less for pleasure than before.
So roll on a long summer holiday: endless hours reading by the pool, or on the beach, or – far more likely – in a sweaty departure lounge. (Why “lounge”? Anywhere less conducive to lounging is hard to conceive. Come to think of it, does anyone call it a “departure lounge” any more? Holding Bay, Transit Point? The Pen Of Frustration?)
Anyway, I stacked up. I’m not keen on E-readers, so it was a fair chunk of my luggage allowance.
Here’s what I got through:
Whisper To Me by Nick Lake. This is, essentially, a teen romance, but it is not remotely slushy, and much more as well. It is written as a long letter to a boy that 17 year-old Cassie has fallen in love with, an attempt to explain her strange behaviour which has driven him away. It’s great: sad, touching, funny and totally convincing as Cassie learns to deal with the voice in her head which drives her to self-destructive behaviour. I loved the way the author deals with swearing in a YA novel: Cassie says she feels uncomfortable writing swear-words, so she just stars them out. There’s loads of them, but – surprisingly – it works. There’s a good supporting cast, too: Cassie’s grieving, protective dad, and her complex, sexy friend, Paris. (Nick Lake is my editor at Harper Collins.)
A Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Talking of swearing, someone seriously needs to do a new translation of this extended essay on the horrors of the Siberian prisons of 20th century Russia. It’s not so much a story as a long essay and is remarkable more for its depiction of the dreadful cruelty of Communist punishment than for its narrative engagement; nonetheless the translation (by Ralph Parker) is in many places laughable, and rooted in a late-50s/early 60s slang, where prisoners call each other “twerps” and “ninnies” as if they were not in an unimaginable prison-hell but a slightly under-heated Mallory Towers.
The Truth by Michael Palin. Amusing. Engaging. I still had to look up the title, though, so a bit forgettable. Palin’s voice is unmistakable, which is not necessarily a bad thing. (Until you start imagining him saying, “Vewy well. I will welease Woger!” and then it all goes to hell.) It’s a good, sweet, English story and would make a cracking film.
The XXX XXXXX by XXXXXXX XXXXXXX I didn’t like this and abandoned it a quarter of the way in, but I don’t want to say say what it was. If it was old, or the writer was dead I wouldn’t care, but it isn’t and it has sold millions, won loads of awards and it’s sort of YA-ish which means I might bump into the author and that would be awkward, so I’m not saying. It’s Victorian and bossy and unconvincing and I sighed with relief every time I put it down.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Slow to start, but I ended up entranced by this tale of a murderer awaiting execution in 19th century Iceland. Agnes Magnusdottir has been found guilty of the murder of her lover and – there being no prisons – is billeted with a local family while the state prepares her fate and a young clergyman tries to counsel her. The evocation of a hard, cold existence and the warmth of the people enduring it is wonderful and the massive research that must have gone into the book is worn very lightly: you never get the impression you are being told anything but a good story.
Ones I took but didn’t get round to:
The Color Purple by Alice Walker From the “classics I should read” pile. Between Homer’s Iliad and The Brothers Karamasov.
The Encounter – Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu. Saw the play by Simon McBirney which was mesmerising. It’s the true story of an explorer who has a profound encounter with a remote Amazonian tribe.
Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. I have LOL’d by page two at a funny simile so I’m already liking it.