I’ve been busy with other matters that will be the subject of a separate blog, but here’s my reading over the last two
The Rúin, Dervla McTiernan
I’m not an avid thriller reader but I enjoyed this. Although, unusually, I did figure out, in advance, who was the likely villain. I don’t know whether that is a good or bad thing. In any event it didn’t affect my enjoyment. There is a nice sense of place, an attractive (character-wise) protagonist; the good cop with issues – new to the station, on the outer with his colleagues, troubled by an incident in his early days as a copper. And there are other attractive characters who you care about and who keep you guessing. Nice to see strong women in action. And it has a satisfying conclusion that makes sense. What more do you want?
After You’d Gone, Maggie O’Farrell
Having read and very much enjoyed her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am I decided to give this novel a go but I was disappointed. A woman travels to Glasgow to see her sister, sees something and races to catch the next train back to London where she ends up being run over and so when we meet her she’s in a coma. Flashback to her childhood which is beset by very familiar tropes – she looks very different to her siblings, her mother is unfairly hostile towards her, she feels out of place. Interspersed are chapters focussing on her family’s response to the accident – mother and father by her bedside, mother unusually preoccupied by what her daughter was doing in Glasgow, when exactly was she at the train station. I really didn’t care for any of the characters and the big reveal at the end was not startling enough to carry the weight of the story.
Scrublands, Chris Hammer
Another thriller that I was pleased to have when I had to keep still for a few hours. Quite a page turner. Set in a fictional town somewhere near Deniliquin, so the locale was familiar to me. Drought is killing the place, affecting everyone – farmers, townspeople, visitors. Our protagonist, like the author, is a journalist. He’s been sent to do a story on how people are doing a year after an horrendous crime which is described in the opening pages. A popular priest in the town has shot and killed a number of men. The circumstances are unusual: he did it by shooting them in full view of his congregation just prior to a church service. He then waited calmly for the local policeman to show up and then when he, the priest aimed the gun at the policeman he, too, was shot dead. So there’s no question as to who did it but there’s still a big why hanging over the place. Our journalist is a burnt out case. Suffering post traumatic stress from covering war zones. He’s not that interested in the assignment. But you know he will be drawn in by: the cop who still feels guilty about killing the priest, the beautiful single mum who loved the priest, the widow of one of the victims who doesn’t seem as unhappy as perhaps she should be. And there’s the there’s a strange old codger in the scrublands on the outskirts of town. It’s all very convincingly drawn. You care about the people and want to know what happened and it is all resolved quite satisfactorily. Chris Hammer reported on rural communities affected by drought along the Murray River and wanted to set a novel in the sorts of places he came upon then. He’s done a good job.
A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson
I liked this much more than the earlier novel of hers that I read, Transcription which I thought inferior to other spy capers that I’ve read and enjoyed. I liked the protagonist; Teddy, a very traditional type of Englishman, whose life is upended by the war. His present and past lives are interspersed. So you see him as a young boy cherished by his family and innocent and trusting, then at school, then at a loss about what to do with his life and then the war comes. I loved his relationship with his sister and the character of his mad Aunt. There was not too much about his war experience but how and why that period would affect everything that came after was cleverly portrayed. I found it very moving. This is the second of two novels about the same family and now I’m going to read the first one, Life After Life which focusses more on Teddy’s sister, Ursula. Atkinson calls this one a companion piece rather than a sequel so it shouldn’t matter that I read them back out of order.
My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
This has been on my to read list for ages. I liked it a lot but it is an odd sort of book. It reminded me a little bit of Housekeeping by Marianne Robinson which I hated. There is something about the flatness in the style of writing, that keeps you at arms length. Our heroine is in hospital with an undisclosed, and undiagnosed illness. Her mother turns up and the patient ruminates on her childhood. Lots is left unexplained and under-explained. But you get the drift. The question is whether you care that much. I remain unsure. Its only a short book so it will only take a day out of your life. I think the writing is very good. It’s the emotional heft that is lacking.
Eileen, Otessa Moshfegh
I feel much the same about this book. Beautiful writing. But a strangely lifeless central character. Do I care what happens to her? I think not. Although I will remember her and everything that happens in this book.