Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Books I read over Christmas

If I am going to start reading more proper and improving books, I can report on them again without shame.

I arrived in Newhaven on December 20th with a good stock of charity shop books to keep me entertained over the festive period. In addition I received one very big one as a Christmas present. So here is what I have been reading.

David Lodge, The British Museum is Falling Down
Dated and rather unamusing early novel, interesting really only as a period piece.

Salley Vickers, Instances of the Number Three
I enjoyed her Dancing Backwards, but was never sure how seriously this one was meant to be taken. The plot stretched credulity a bit, but some of the emotion was quite good.

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
The magnum opus which took her nearly a decade to wrote weighs in at 771 pages and was a Christmas present which kept me going for two and a half solid days. It's had rave reviews in the press, but I honestly thought it could have been twice as good at half the length. A heavy (in more ways than one) saga, laden with meaning but in which few of the characters shine.

Catherine O'Flynn, What Was Lost
I had never heard of the author, or the Costa-award winning (and multiply nominated) book before I picked it up in Age UK, but this has to be one of my best books of 2013. The prose is almost poetic in its economy, but without poetry's pretensions. Everything is clear, but nothing is laboured. If The Goldfinch is a detailed Heironymous Bosch nightmare, What Was Lost is the purest sketch, conveying everything in a few perfect lines. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny (as where O'Flynn describes, without comment, a security guard making his tea with microwaved 7-Up and sterilised milk) but the whole is possibly the saddest book you will read in years, but it wears it so lightly you won't notice until you put it down, the terrible echoes of things unsaid.

Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency
Another worthy book, and Booker shortlisted; another saga of unloveable and largely unengaging characters with no clearly defined ending or, indeed, waypoints, and largely unenlivened by beautiful prose. Its main redeeming feature was its detailed Sheffield - and even better, Broomhill - locations. Although I am sure (pace page 89) that if you were heading towards the Broomhill shops, the Hallam Towers would be on your right and the blind school on the left, rather than vice versa.

And that's that for Christmas. I'll report on the next batch at the end of January.

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