You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2007.
I’m not sure I can do justice to The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas; the central idea is so fascinating and based on such interesting but difficult theories that I’m not sure I can get my head around them all, and I’m sure I will have to re-read the novel again at some stage so that I can work through the concepts without having to work through the unfolding plot as well. Superficially it seems very straightforward: Ariel Manto is a PhD student whose sponsor has disappeared; they shared an interest in a Victorian author, Thomas Lumas, and in particular his mysterious lost work, The End of Mr Y, which is apparently cursed. Forced out of her university one day by the collapse of a building on the campus, she finds herself in a second-hand bookshop, stumbles across the book in a box with several other titles, and buys the lot with the last of her money. She reads it and discovers a key page is missing; while clearing out her sponsor’s things to make way for others to share her office, she comes across the missing page which he had in his possession all along, and now has the recipe for a potion (for want of a better word) which will allow her to access something called the Troposphere and is of course determined to try it out. Then it all gets weird. When this was reviewed on Simon Mayo’s Book Panel on Radio 5 earlier in the year, all of the reviewers raved about this book, and I agree that it is a wonderful thing, both in content and how it looks, and boy does it leave you with a lot to mull over.
The latest Temperance Brennan novel hasn’t disappointed, another pacy tale about our (well, my) favourite forensic anthropologist. This time around the focus is on a friend from Tempe’s past who disappeared as a young teenager, never to be heard from again, until the finding of some young bones starts Tempe wondering again what happened, and she enlists the help of a friendly cold case detective to solve the mystery, alongside several other cases on which she is working. Add to that tensions in her relationship with the lovely Andrew Ryan and the arrival of Tempe’s sister and you have a good story which I read in a few train journeys to and from work. Admittedly it gets a bit thrillerish towards the end, and I did guess what the mysterious illness the bones girl had suffered from, but I learned a bit about the Acadians of Canada and more than I needed to about processing bones for analysis so honours are pretty much even. I much prefer the novel version of Tempe to the one that appears on TV in Bones, but have noted that the Book God enjoys the series never having touched the novels, so suppose its horses for courses once again. I have caught up with my Kathy Reichs reading now so will have to wait a while for the new one, presumably coming out next year.
The final batch has a Scottish theme, (which makes sense given that that’s where the Book God and I spent the larger part of our holiday!) although the first book was actually bought in Carlisle. It’s a biography of George Mackay Brown, the Orkney poet and novelist, whom I have found fascinating ever since I had to study Greenvoe in school at the end of the 70s. The biography is by Maggie Fergusson and has some fine endorsements from such as Allan Massie and Claire Tomalin, so I hope to learn a great deal about this rather enigmatic man.
The other books are all Scottish history, one by Alistair Moffat about the Borders which, although I have visited often, I know very little about other than the obvious stuff. The others by Rosalind Marshall and Pamela Ritchie are about Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots and regent while her daughter was living in France. I’ve been looking for material about her for a while, and like buses two came along at once, so the sixteenth century stack piles ever higher.
I love fantasy novels, but have sometimes found that they don’t live up to expectations, so having banged on about this one to the Book God for years, and having finally got it as a Christmas present (not last year by any means) I was peculiarly reluctant to actually make a start. It wasn’t the cover that put me off – I think it’s rather lovely in it’s own way, though what attracted me to the book initially was the original cover showing the scarecrow Jack Fetch. I think it was that having wanted it for so long I would have been so disappointed if it hadn’t lived up to the expectations I had. I needn’t have worried. I really, really loved this book; it’s another of those too engrossing to read on the train – I nearly missed my station again – and I read the last two hundred pages in one sitting. It’s almost too complicated to describe, but basically there is a town called Shadows Fall presided over by Old Father Time, where real people and imaginary creatures and characters live alongside each other, where legends go to die when no-one believes in them any more. The town is in danger – a serial killer is on the loose and a prophecy about the destruction of Shadows Fall appears to be coming true. There are about two dozen key characters around whom the story revolves, which may sound a lot, but I found myself so wrapped up in the story that keeping track of them all didn’t prove too difficult, and none of them felt superfluous. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I know that some have found the ending difficult to swallow, but I just loved it, and it will definitely be on the re-read pile.
A Whitby theme, as this batch of books was either purchased in the town on our recent visit or has the town as it’s setting. There is a fantastic bookshop there which we always visit and I don’t think I have ever left there empty handed. One of the great discoveries this time was an audio CD of Sir Derek Jacobi reading MR James’ ghost stories – I was thrilled to find this as our original taped version with Sir Michael Hordern has vanished into the mists of time, and the stories are great for listening to in the car, particularly when driving over the North Yorkshire Moors in the rain. I will be looking out for volume 2. I also picked up two books by Paul Magrs, Never the Bride and Something Borrowed, both featuring Brenda and her Whitby B&B, and of course a supernatural element; these have been well-reviewed and look like a a nice addition to the Gothic stack. And finally, friends have suggested that I try Peter Robinson’s work, so I thought I would start with Caedmon’s Song, a standalone psychological thriller which looks intriguing.
The latest in the Bryant and May series of crime novels is set in Britain’s coldest winters in many years. Against the backdrop of further attempts to close down the Peculiar Crimes Unit, our heroes are stuck in snowdrifts on their way to a psychic convention, with a killer apparently prowling amongst the stranded vehicles and a woman and her son seemingly on the run from a serial killing stalker. To make matters worse, back in London one of their colleagues has been murdered and the crime has to be solved before the inconvenient visit of a minor member of the royal family. I have mentioned before that I am devotee of this series, but I found it quite difficult to get into this one, perhaps because of the structure which flicks backwards and forward between the three stories, but I am glad I persevered as the solutions to all of the mysteries turned out to be interesting and, indeed, peculiar . My favourite character, Sergeant Janice Long, really gets to show what she can do, which made it even more enjoyable.
A bit late this month in sharing book purchases from October, and what a lot of them there were! This is partly due to the annual holiday – last minute buying of books before we go, more buying while we are away, and then time to spare at the end of the month to pick up anything that we might have missed. It looks like a fairly varied selection, but all the usual themes are there – it’s depressing to be so transparent!
Crime first of all – Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay is the second in the series about a man who is a forensic specialist by day and a serial killer by night. I’m looking forward to reading this one as I really enjoyed the TV series based on the first book, which made Dexter a likeable figure despite his homicidal tendencies, and there was a lot of dark humour mixed in with an interesting murder mystery. Then we have Goodnight Sweet Prince by David Dickinson – I’m pretty sure that I have another of his crime works somewhere in the house but can’t put my hands on it at the moment. This is about a murder involving Queen Victoria’s grandson Prince Eddy, and will either be excellent or awful, but I’m very much willing to give it a try. And a new Scottish-based series (well, new to me anyway) which looked like it might be good fun, After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson.
History & biography next – Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders has been recommended on a number of other blogs, and I had already enjoyed her book on the Victorian House , and I also have (but haven’t yet read) her book about the MacDonald sisters, so this was a no-brainer for me, and after buying it I sat in a teashop with the Book God reading sections of it out to him; he was very forbearing as always, and I think this will be one to savour. I also picked up out of curiosity a biography of Peggy Guggenheim by Mary Dearborn; I don’t really know anything about her at all but a first dip suggested it would be interesting; and yet another addition to the sixteenth century pile, The Last Days of Henry VIII by Robert Hutchinson, which speaks for itself I suppose.
Oddments – Susan Hill’s Man in the Picture (one for dark night reading over Christmas, I think); Pat Barker’s Life Class (I really, really loved the Regeneration trilogy); Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts – even though I haven’t yet read his novel everything I have heard makes me think I will love this author; and Walking with the Green Man, and odd little book I picked up at the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle – it’s a subject I am very interested in, so will see what new insights if any I get out of this volume.
One of our most enjoyable trips during the holiday was our visit to the home of Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford. The Book God has often driven us past the sign giving directions to the house, and during every holiday in the Borders I have meant to visit but never quite made it. This year, though, I was determined, and very glad that we went. The house itself is lovely, and it was easy to imagine Sir Walter living there. It was one of the great loves of his life, and he died there looking out over the River Tweed; the house is well worth a visit, both to see the building and it’s lovely setting. We had an enjoyable chat with the one of the staff in the shop, where I got a hold of a couple of books, The Heart of Midlothian and Sir Walter’s Journal. It seems that apart from Ivanhoe and one or two others, no-one really reads Scott anymore, which I think is a shame. Mind you, I remember in my last year at school wanting to pursue my interest in Scott and being given a small pile of books with the warning not to start with Old Mortality, which of course being 16 I duly ignored and was completely put off, so that may explain things. A few days later we drove to Dryburgh Abbey where Scott is buried. I find the man fascinating, and although much of his work is now unfashionable, he was in a large part responsible for the invention (if you can call it that) of the historical novel. He was also responsible for a lot of the tartanry associated with Scotland, but I’m happy to forgive him for that. He is going to be one of my reading projects for 2008.
My brother, The Stanley Scot, introduced me to the novels of Christopher Brookmyre while standing in the Piccadilly Waterstones on one of his infrequent visits to London. He thought I would enjoy the very Scottish sense of humour, the occasional gruesomeness and the regular St Mirren jokes, and was of course right in the way that only brothers who pay attention to what their sisters tell them can be. Since then I’ve read all of his back catalogue and he is one of the authors I have to buy in hardback as I can’t bear to wait.
The Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks features Jack Parlabane who has been the lead character in a number of Brookmyre’s tales. Jack is a journalist with a tendency to get into trouble, and this is no different; having relocated to Glasgow and become Rector of Kelvin University, he finds himself mixed up in events surrounding the attempt of a psychic/spiritualist, Gabriel Lafayette, and his cronies to get the University to set up a Chair which would allow the investigation of the paranormal. Oh, and Jack himself is deceased and telling us the story from beyond the grave.
I really enjoyed this; I’ve always been fascinated by the things which people will believe and how others seem to take advantage of those beliefs, and in several places Brookmyre gives us details of the techniques that are used, which of course are really obvious once you have them explained. I must admit to having worked out one of the plot points about half way though (only in an “I wonder if” kind of way) but it didn’t spoil things for me and I found it a particularly enjoyable holiday read. And I bought it as a birthday present for The Stanley Scot.