Saturday, 1 February 2014

What I've been reading

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A Fatal Inversion
by Barbara Vine

narrated by William Gaminara
"In the long, hot summer of 1976 Adam, Rufus, Shiva, Vivien and Zosie are camping at Wyvis Hall. They don't ask why they are there or how they are to live; they simply scavenge, steal and sell the family heirlooms. Ten years later, the bodies of a woman and child are discovered in the Hall's animal cemetery."
I found this a rewarding experience, given my previous failures to choose suitable reading material (and I am looking warily at the last two books on my shelf from the 12 Books of Christmas from last year). The pace was good, it didn't confuse me with its characters or its flashback narrative, and I completely failed to anticipate what would happen. I had chosen it in the category of 'crime fiction', which I suppose it is, because you are told who the guilty parties are quite early on, it's just you're not sure exactly who's been killed and how. I'd certainly read another of hers.


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How to be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran
"It's a good time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven't been burnt as witches since 1727. However, a few nagging questions do remain. Why are we supposed to get Brazilians? Should we use Botox? Do men secretly hate us? And why does everyone ask you when you're going to have a baby?"
Most of this book was about stuff I'm not interested in reading about - what society thinks about what women are and aren't interested in: feminism, periods, shoes, childbirth... Even the chapter that nearly corresponded to my own feelings about weddings wasn't enough to redeem the whole, even though she has a good turn of phrase. I know I should be reading more of the Forsyte Saga, because that always restores my faith in the pleasure of good writing, but it is too heavy and long for my current holiday mood.


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The Third Man
by Graham Greene

narrated by Martin Jarvis
"The British chief of police in a divided post-war Vienna is investigating the death of racketeer Harry Lime. Rollo Martins, a writer of Westerns, arrives in Vienna to visit his old school friend Harry, and gets inextricably involved in the mystery."
This only takes about twice as long to read than the film that was made of the story, a surprisingly short book, beautifully read by the master narrator Martin Jarvis. Audible only sells two Graham Greene novels, and it should get some more.


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The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

narrated by the author
"As a young black woman living in 1930s Georgia, Celie faces constant violence and oppression. Her story is told through a series of letters written firstly to God, and then to her sister Nettie."
At last, an engrossing and diverting book of quality. I hesitated to buy a book narrated by the author, because while authors are good at writing they aren't always good at narrating, but this was outstanding. Beautifully written, beautifully read, a story including some terrible subject matter but told with respect, subtlety and positivity. A joy to listen to, and unlike so many books I have read recently, I was sorry when it ended.


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Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson
by Mitch Albom

narrated by the author
"Knowing Morrie was dying of ALS, or motor neurone disease, Mitch visited Morrie in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final 'class': lessons in how to live."
This is a really short book, and I'd read some very powerful reviews that prompted me to download it. Yes, it is good, but not THAT good.


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Bad Pharma
by Ben Goldacre
"Doctors and patients need good scientific evidence to make informed decisions. But instead, companies run bad trials on their own drugs, which distort and exaggerate the benefits by design. When these trials produce unflattering results, the data is simply buried."
Dr Goldacre writes very passionately and persuasively about the subject, but it is one that I find very tricky. As well as outlining the shocking distortion and withholding of the results of clinical trials, he also describes how healthcare professionals ought to behave in respect of their relationships with drug companies - basically, to steer clear of them in most circumstances. It is a situation, however, where the journey from here to there seems too difficult. If I want to go to a conference, it is highly unlikely that my NHS Trust employer will fund my attendance, but one of the drug companies might. The author's proposition is that industry would not spend its cash on this type of thing if it did not prove profitable overall, i.e. produce higher sales of a company's products. However, I am not a prescriber and have very little influence on pharmaceutical spending, so perhaps I can take the money? There is a training course that I would have attended if I had not left my last job, but the fee is more than £2,000. My colleague RSB was funded by a pharmaceutical company; I applied to the hospital charitable funds as an alternative, so there is a way forward, I suppose. It's certainly a complicated situation, and the problems are so deeply embedded that it is unlikely to be resolved for a long time, if ever. A recent editorial in the BMJ suggests some progress in Parliament, though.


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Swan Song
by John Galsworthy
"After years living in America with his mother Irene, Jon Forsyte is excited to be home and can't wait to show off his roots to his new bride. When Fleur Mont, his first love, hears of his arrival, she doesn't know what to feel."
I did return to the Forsyte Saga, which title I have found out refers to only the first trilogy; this second set of three books is officially called 'A Modern Comedy' and the whole thing including the third volume is 'The Forsyte Chronicles'. On holiday with time on our hands in the evening when the pistes are closed, I devoured it in no time. I don't think there's quite as much meat on the bones in this episode, but his description of Fleur's ambition and her devious plan is excellent. I have read that this is the end of the story of Soames and Fleur and Jon; the third volume deals with other cousins, but I'm looking forward to it nevertheless.

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