You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2014.
So The Gone-Away World is set at an unidentified point in the future when there has been a catastrophic war which has left the world seriously damaged. The trigger for the story is a fire and explosion at an important facility which our protagonist (who doesn’t have a name as this is all first person) and his friends and colleagues are summoned to sort out. We then flashback to the early life of our guy and his best friend Gonzo to explain the background to how we got to this point, before the story moves forward. It’s post-apocalyptic science fiction of the very best kind.
Why did I want to read it?
I was vaguely aware of this novel when it came out in 2008 and it’s been hovering around my to-buy list since then but I only got a hold of it after reading and loving Angelmaker (you can read my review at that link) and wanting to read more of Harkaway’s work. The impetus for reading it now was a request from my lovely friend Silvery Dude who wanted to discuss it with me and asked if I would bring it to the top of the TBR pile (he also wants me to read the latest Harkaway, Tigerman, which I hope to get to soon). And you know, it’s my sort of thing.
What did I think of it?
Well, this is a bit special. I read the bulk of it in one sitting as I was ill and housebound and needed to keep my mind away from feeling sorry for myself, and when I say the bulk of it I mean something like 400 pages in a day; when I told Silvery Dude by e-mail that I had finished it his response was (and I quote) “Finished already? Holy shit !!” which was gratifying and amusing in equal parts 🙂
The story is totally absorbing and the whole background to narrator’s current predicament, his childhood and martial arts training, his university life and his military career, the war and his true love and the rebuilding of a world that had been significantly damaged completely captured my imagination. And then you have the main event of the story, the attempt to repair the pipeline and the thing that goes wrong followed by a complete and utter and unexpected WTF moment that makes you revisit everything you’ve read. And I got very very anxious on his behalf, hoping that it was all going to work out and would he find out what had really happened to him and who was/were the bad guy(s) and who was on his side and would there be a happy ending? Or at least a satisfactory resolution?
Totally swept along by it. Thought it was fabulous. Lots to think about and discuss. Loved it.
And bees. Again.
The Gospel of Loki is the re-telling of the rise and fall of the Norse Gods entirely from the perspective of the Trickster, Loki, using (as far as I can tell and goodness knows I’m no expert) the structure of the sagas but also very much in the style of the self-serving memoir. Which makes it sound a bit dull and worthy when in fact (jumping ahead a little here) it is witty and funny and quite moving. I’m going to say right up front that I loved it.
Why did I want to read it?
I’ve come a bit late to the work of Joanne Harris. I was obviously aware of Chocolat because of the film (which I still haven’t seen and I’ve only recently bought the book) and I’ve read a couple of her other novels (Gentlemen and Players a particular favourite) and enjoyed her view of the world which is a lot darker than you might expect. I also have an enormous (and I will be clearly, entirely pre-Tom Hiddleston) love for Loki as a character; I even had a lilac-point Siamese cat of that name back in the 1980s. So I like to think I’m the ideal audience for this.
What did I think of it?
Like I said at the beginning of the post, I loved this. It’s so entirely its own thing and introduces (or hopefully re-introduces) us to the world of Norse mythology untainted by the Marvel thing which is the main reference these days for so many young people (and again I will say that I really enjoyed the Thor and Avengers films as you will see if you visit my other blog, but I am very clear that it is not the same thing at all). So we have Odin and his ravens and his single eye binding Loki to him in a form of brotherhood that of course is not going to end well, and you have Loki and his too-clever-for-his-own-good-ness trying to fit in but not really, the permanent outsider who can never win and who will inevitably trigger the disaster that is Ragnarok. I still liked him though. And it made me want to go and find out more about the original tales, which is always a good thing. Recommended.
As I think I am one of the very last people in the universe to read this it seems a bit redundant to talk about the plot, but just in case there is someone out there even further behind in catching up with best-sellers than I am, it’s worth explaining that this is the story of Christine Lucas, who wakes up every day with no memory of what’s gone before and has to reconstruct her past before she goes to sleep and loses it all again (hence the title). But it becomes clear that she wants to get better, is seeing a doctor and has begun to keep a journal so that she has access to things that would otherwise be completely gone, and through this process starts to question what she has been told about her life and what happened to her.
Why did I want to read it?
There was a point when you absolutely could not miss the advertising for Before I Go To Sleep, something to which I often react badly (I have spoken before about my perversity in not wanting to read what everyone else is reading, at least while they are all reading it), but I knew I would eventually succumb as I enjoy a good psychological thriller so its been lurking on iBooks for ages. The trigger to actually picking it up (if you can pick up an e-book in the traditional sense) was the trailer for the movie version with Nicole Kidman which I really fancy watching so thought I should read the thing first.
What did I think of it?
I really enjoyed it. I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for protagonists who share my first name (even when they are evil possessed murderous cars who are IMHO vastly misunderstood!) and this Christine isn’t that much younger than me. I liked the way she swung to and fro on whether to trust her husband, rationalising why he might tell her things that she finds out are not accurate, sympathising with his point of view in having stood by her in what she can see even in her distress are horrendously difficult circumstances. I like the way she begins to question everything, her understandable vulnerability which is necessary for the plot and which I would have found really really annoying in anyone else but her condition makes understandable.
Of course most of the fun in this sort of psychological thriller is working out what’s real and what isn’t, who to trust and who not, will she work it out and if so will she survive. I spent most of the book coming up with theories of my own about how the story would work out and reckon I was 40% right. I think the ending was a little too rushed compared to the careful groundwork that had gone before but that’s a very small quibble (and I know others have pointed that out before me so nothing new in that thought).
The only downside of having seen the film trailer is a tendency to fit the actors into the characters on the page rather than letting them come alive in my own imagination but again that wasn’t a big issue. I found the story satisfying and enjoyable, and knowing the outcome would be interested in seeing through a re-read how well (if at all) the clues were planted and why I missed them.
Updated to show how I did
I‘ve just come across this monthly event which is hosted by The Book Vixen (thanks to The Writerly Reader), and which is all about dedicating two days a month to sorting out all of those unwritten, unfinished or unpublished reviews lurking around. Most months I’m OK but I’m a little behind in July so by close of tomorrow (Sunday 27 July) I aim to have written and scheduled the following:
Over at Bride of the Screen God
- How to Train Your Dragon [Written and published]
Here at Bride of the Book God
- Before I Go to Sleep [Written and published]
- The Gospel of Loki [Written and scheduled]
- The Gone-Away World [Written and scheduled]
and if I finish it this weekend
- The Girl With All the Gifts [Not yet finished]
I also need to plan out my reading list for the revival of August Crime Month after a hiatus of *gulp* has it really been 4 YEARS. How did that happen? And does that mean that I haven’t had enough crime months to make it a tradition?
Into the Woods by John Yorke
I think it’s worth saying up front that I am not a writer. I use my blogs (here and at Screen God) to record my feelings about books and films so I can share them with others who might be interested, and that’s all. I know lots of bloggers who write fiction or poetry but that’s not me. But I am fascinated by the creative process; as well as loving to read about books, I like to read about how writers write, and Into the Woods (subtitled “How stories work and why we tell them”) definitely falls into that category, though its focus is on film and TV scriptwriting. It’s really fascinating, wonderfully write and full of insight. I now understand a little better three and five act structures and how they still apply even when the writer is consciously trying to subvert them. Lots and lots of practical examples (one of the appendices has the act structure for Raiders of the Lost Ark), I now spend my time looking for Inciting Incidents in everything I’m reading. Very worthwhile.
Darling Monster by Diana Cooper
I have mentioned elsewhere I’m sure the fascination I have with aristocratic and Royal ladies especially, and I couldn’t resist the letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her son John Julius Norwich, written between 1939 to 1952, so covering the momentous events of WW2 (when her husband Duff Cooper was in Churchill’s government) and their time spent in the British Embassy in Paris. Full of gossip and clothes and politics and culture and farming, this is a really touching collection and I was absorbed all the way through.
A quick round-up of recent short reads.
I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant
Linda Grant, like all writers I suppose, was totally surrounded by books, a collection built up over many years. But moving house meant weeding out her extensive collection to fit into her new space. In doing so she is taking apart her own history and in this short work talk about how she went about it, how it feels like now and how our development as people is reflected in the book collection we have. If you’re the kind of person who keeps books, that is. Really enjoyed this but a chill did settle on my heart as the Book God and I really really need to do something similar though not because we’re moving but simply because we are running out of room. Book lovers will enjoy this.
Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome by John Scalzi
This is a taster for the novel Locked In which is due out over the summer and which I have already pre-ordered based on the strength of this story and a sample chapter which I’ve read. I’m a sucker for this kind of plague/disease/disaster type thing and I am also very fond of the oral history style (whether in fiction or non-fiction). Great little store explaining what Haden’s Syndrome was, how it was dealt with (or not) and where we are at the point the main story will start. Clever way to get that info out there without burdening the narrative (at least that’s my assumption, we’ll have to wait and see). Cool, though.
Mr Mercedes is a proper crime thriller from the pen of the great master of horror Stephen King. It starts with a retired police detective, Bill Hodges, who is in a bit of a state, without any purpose in life now that he is no longer serving. He gets a letter from the perpetrator of one of the cases he never solved, that of a number of people killed when a Mercedes was driven into a queue of unemployed people outside a job fair. The letter is taunting Bill with his failure, but instead o driving him to suicide it gives him a new lease of life and he is determined to track the killer down.
Why did I want to read it?
King is one of my favourite authors, I’ve reviewed a number of his book on this blog and have been reading him since I was 15 (but I’m not going to labour the point – I just think he’s great). He’s often underrated as a writer because his preferred genre is seen as horror although I’ve always been clear in my own mind that he has drifted into other genres at various points in his career. I will admit that I pre-ordered the automatically before I knew what it was actually about but was excited about trying something a little bit different.
What did I think?
This was really I had a great time reading this. I’ve always been quickly drawn in by King’s prose style which is deceptively easy to read but has real pace and verve. I liked the structure of the book; we find out extremely early on who Mr Mercedes actually is and the book alternates between him and Bill as the former’s plans careen out of control and the latter works with some unlikely helpers to track the killer down. There are a couple of points where King tries to lead us a little bit astray which I found great fun. I liked Bill very much; I was sorry that one of the plot strands didn’t work out for him at the same time that I could see why it obviously couldn’t (speaking us someone still bearing the scars of ‘Salem’s Lot many years afterwards) but it’s a crime thriller so there is peril and racing against time and a satisfactory resolution. Spent time between reading sessions trying to cast the movie. Brilliant stuff.
I’m using this post to keep track of my walking during July as part of the Book Blog Walkers thingy. My final tally for June can be found here.
Week 1 (Jun 30)
- 26,899 steps
- 16.9 km
- 4:15 hours
Week 2 (July 7)
- 32,384 steps
- 20.1 km
- 5.03 hours
Week 3 (July 14)
- 18,862 steps
- 12 km
- 2:57 hours
Week 4 (July 21)
- 25,803 steps
- 16.6 km
- 4:09 hours
Week 5 (July 28)
- 10,873 steps
- 7 km
- 1:40 hours
Beth is a teacher living on the Isle of Wight (though we’re not told that for a while) in a slightly future Britain where climate change has had a real impact socially and financially. She is on her own; her husband Vic has come back from war with significant problems and has been the victim of a treatment regime which has gone wrong, leaving him unable to communicate or look after himself. The treatment is delivered by The Machine, now out of use because of the damage done, and the story starts with her buying one of these devices on the black market because she wants to bring her husband back be reversing the treatment if she can.
Why did I want to read it?
I’ve read two of Smythe’s novels this year (reviewed here and here) and found both really compelling (if bleak, though I absolutely don’t mind bleak at all if the story warrants it, which both of those did) and always intended to read more, partly because of the number of favourable mentions I’ve seen on other blogs and elsewhere.
What did I think?
I thought this was great, another book that I stayed up late to finish (there have been quite a few of those recently, which is no bad thing) and I was totally absorbed in Beth’s story; I feel it’s important to stress that this really is Beth’s story. Of course Vic is important, there would be no book without him, but this is all about Beth’s loneliness and grief and drive to achieve what she needs, which is to get her husband home despite any risks. This is all against the background of the heat and a dysfunctional community and a friend who turns out to not be what she seems.
The book has been compared to Frankenstein but for me it has more of a resonance with The Monkey’s Paw, in the sense of getting what you wish for and that not being what you thought. Of course there are other layers to this story which, once you have read the end (and I read it twice just to make sure that what had happened had happened) become clearer and explained a key event which was pivotal to the plot but took place “offstage” (I wondered why at the time and came up with an explanation which turned out to be entirely wrong). The end has been much commented on; I don’t have a problem with it as such but I would like to read The Machine again as I’m sure it has made me want to re-read the book to see if I had missed anything obvious.
How you feel about this book will depend on what you think of Beth herself. I felt hugely sorry for her and understood why she thought she had to try to reconstitute Vic but there was always a feeling this wouldn’t end well.
I’ve already got a hold of another Smythe work, saving that for later 🙂