Saturday, 26 April 2014

What I've been reading

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This Is How It Ends
by Kathleen MacMahon
"Bruno is a middle-aged American banker who has come to Ireland to escape the financial meltdown in his own country. Addie is an out-of-work Irish architect. Addie and Bruno’s story is one of nationality and identity, of the power of optimism to defeat despair and the unstoppable march of time."
The very last of my 12 Books of Christmas, all finished in only 14 months or so. I chose the order to read them at random, so it's been interesting that I seemed to pick the worst ones to read first - this one was pretty good, even though lots of loose ends were left hanging, but I didn't much care in the end because I wasn't particularly interested in the story or the characters. It's been quite an experience, reading all sorts of books that weren't chosen by me, and finding out what sort of stuff can get published. Maybe when I retire I'll have a go myself.

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The Blind Assassin
by Margaret Atwood

narrated by Lorelei King
"Laura Chase's older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister's tragic death."
Here we are, a satisfyingly complex book by a skilful author, but I am in such a quandary about the story. It's more than 18 hours of (outstandingly good) narration, and for about 17 hours I wasn't sure why I was listening, or what the point of it all was - there seemed to be no arc to the story, no change in the pace or emotional quality. The characters behaved as people do, went about their business, sometimes life was eventful, sometimes not. I couldn't see how it had earned its reputation (and its Booker Prize). Then it all changed. The last hour and a half has set me to wondering whether I misunderstood the whole thing, and for the first time ever with an audio book I wished it were a print book instead so I could flick back and check what really happened throughout, whether the clues were there and I just didn't notice. I'm going to have to get a print or e-book version, because most online reviews are so cagey about giving away key aspects of the plot that they don't go into the aspects that I want to clarify.

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Memento Mori
by Muriel Spark
"In late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone informs each, "Remember you must die." Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled by these seemingly supernatural phone calls, and in the resulting flurry many old secrets are dusted off."
When I started reading this, it felt like literature, with proper characters, long words and what seemed to be heading towards a proper story. But it never seemed to go anywhere. As a characterisation of old age maybe it has some merit, but the mystery of the voices on the telephone is never explained and the crimes and misdemeanours of the participants are uninteresting and almost embarrassing. So, a disappointment in the end.

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The Innocence of Father Brown
by G. K. Chesterton

narrated by Frederick Davidson
"With his round face, pipe and umbrella, the shambling, bespectacled priest Father Brown is an unlikely detective - yet his innocent air hides a razor-sharp understanding of the criminal mind. The wise, worldly, clerical sleuth has an uncanny ability to bring even the most elusive wrongdoer to justice."
I have read these stories on and off since I was very young, and thought I liked them. In fact, they don't really stand the test of time, and I now think Father Brown is a rather sanctimonious prig. The solution to each mystery is often impossibly complicated and far-fetched, and to cap it all, the narrator gave Flambeau a very French accent, which I also found annoying.

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Forty Stories
edited by Cal Morgan

This was a free download onto our new Nexus tablet, which now is not so new, showing just how long it has taken me to get through the book. I don't know whether I'm not appreciative of the short story format, or whether they're just not very good stories. I suspect the latter.

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