October 1, 2012

Five Big Books

The whole month of September without a blog post, oh dear. No more statements of intent.

I read three big paperbacks (as in many pages, brick-like shape) during the month, and am in the middle of a fourth in preparation for a fifth. Ten days on holiday in Samoa, a place where the weather, the sea and the people are all warm, provided the context for a large part of this reading: five days in Apia at the famous Aggie Grey’s:
The dining room at Aggie Grey's
And five in Lolomanu:

Taufua Beach Fal├ęs
Richard Ford’s Canada is told in the first person by Dell, looking back from his retirement as a teacher to the events of his year of being fifteen, when his parents robbed a bank. Dell reflects a lot on how to get going in his own life, rather than having things happen to him, and on what sort of people people are, beginning with his twin sister and his parents. Canada is quite different from Ford’s Sportswriter series. I liked the issues it raised, while not being sure they are fully worked out—or whether they could be.

Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, follows on from the brilliant Wolf Hall, and is every bit as good. Her constructed character Thomas Cromwell continues to be the centre of the story, set in the world of Henry V, in this volume during the time of wife number two, Anne Boleyn. An inconsistent king with mood swings desperately strives for a legitimate son among a court full of people full of their own importance bent on power, influence and wealth. The young Elizabeth is in the background and Mary hovers. Mantel portrays Thomas Cromwell as socially enlightened, with concern for orphans and the poor. Court life is fraught with rumour and intrigue and while Thomas Cromwell’s position is powerful, the nobles patronise him for being of low birth. It’s a great read, and I’ll certainly read volume three.

John Lanchester’s Capital  is a large ramble of a book. The title is nicely ambiguous for a book set in London with characters variously affected by the financial events of 2008 and beyond. The main characters live in a street named after Pepys. The resolution of the main threads—one concerning postcards with the message “You Have What We Want,” and the fate of Roger Yount—are a bit feeble. But then, it could be that life is like that, with more whimpers than bombs and maybe that is Lanchester’s point, or one of them. I did enjoy reading Captital, it was when I finished it I was left feeling “so what”ish.

I am currently—back home—over half way through The Satanic Verses, which I am reading in preparation for Salman Rusdie’s opus on his years in hiding as the result of the fatwa declared against him because of this book. Magical realism is not generally my favourite writing, but the mixture of fantasy and reality in The Satanic Verses is keeping me engaged. Joseph Anton is the title of the book about the effects of the fatwa. More about these two books in a later post.

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