Tuesday, 3 May 2016

What I've been reading

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The Magus
by John Fowles

narrated by Nicholas Boulton
"Nicholas Urfe goes to a Greek island to teach at a private school and becomes enmeshed in curious happenings at the home of a mysterious Greek recluse, Maurice Conchis."
This is a weird book. I have been picking 'classic' audiobooks at random, then reading the blurb about the book followed by some of the things that people have said about it, usually on Audible and Amazon and Goodreads websites. If it looks as though it's worth it, I'll download and listen. Many people cited this one as their favourite book ever, lifechanging, that sort of thing. It's a long, long book (more than 26 hours in its audio version) and now I've finished it I still don't see the point. The main character is tormented in a 1950's version of The Truman Show where nothing is real, all is staged, and despite being perfectly at liberty to walk away he keeps coming back for more. I can believe that falling in love keeps him involved for a certain amount of time, but when that particularly folly ends he still doesn't leave them to it and get on with is own life. The story isn't even concluded particularly well either, and that really made the whole ordeal even more annoying. I must get back to the Galsworthy and I'll be much happier.

[Later - I've been thinking about what I wrote above, and I've changed my mind. Nowadays I like books when there's a rattling good story that has a beginning, a middle and an end that satisfies all my questions. I also like books when they are a bit challenging and make me think, but the story seems to be the most important factor for me at the moment. It wasn't always this way, and this book exemplifies the sort of thing I might have been looking for twenty or thirty years ago, because it isn't trying too hard with the story, there's much more to it about the world and our beliefs and our place and who we think we are and how we see everything that isn't our self. What if we couldn't trust anything we saw or were told? If we were just seeing shadows on the cave wall and thinking this was reality? I can see how this book would feed that thought experiment, and could have made an impression on the twenty-year-old me. I just don't want to bother with that sort of effort any more.]

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And The Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini
"It's a funny thing... but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they're afraid of. What they don't want."
I liked this book a lot, so much in fact that I'd like to read it again, mostly so that I appreciate the links between different sections of the story. There is a thread running through all sections and they are sometimes connected in ways that are not obvious. The heart of all the stories is Afghanistan, and we are taken from 1959 to the present day, but not sequentially. I never stopped wanting to know what happens next, where will these people end up, will they be happy?

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Paul Temple Intervenes
by Francis Durbridge
"In a small country lane, the well-known American, Myron Harwood, is found dead. The murder heralds the start of a spate of celebrity deaths – and each time the victim is found with a small white piece of cardboard, bearing the inscription ‘The Marquis’."
The second of three I picked up from a book swap box, and just as bad as the first. I used to think they were quite good on the radio, but I've been listening to the radio version as well recently and the problem is too many characters and such convoluted plots that the outcome is not only implausible but disappointing. I'm sure I'll still read the third anyway because it's so easy, and sometimes easy reading is what's needed.

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The King of Torts
by John Grisham
"As he digs into the background of his client, Clay stumbles on a conspiracy too horrible to believe. He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a complex case against one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and looking at the kind of enormous settlement that would totally change his life."
This book is terrible. I've read John Grisham before and I seem to remember it was OK, but this one was just boring. The lawyer makes a fortune and loses a fortune and that's the end of the book. People on the whole are mean and greedy (with a few exceptions) and anyway the world of US class actions isn't one that I particularly want to know about. I should have been able to tell from the title.

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The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"When Mole goes boating with the Water Rat instead of spring-cleaning, he discovers a new world. As well as the river and the Wild Wood, there is Toad's craze for fast travel which leads him and his friends on a whirl of trains, barges, gipsy caravans and motor cars, and even into battle."
It occurs to me that I've been listening to 'The Classic Tales' podcast for some time now, and the guy's narration has improved no end. He still makes the odd mistake but nowhere near as often, and he made a good job of this book. Obviously I've read it before but there are bits I'd forgotten, although most of the forgotten bits are somewhat odd. For example, the chapter called 'The Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (when Rat and Mole find Otter's son Portly at the feet of the god Pan) is beautifully lyrical and evocative and has supplied the name of quite a good Pink Floyd album, but in terms of story and plot the chapter is wholly unnecessary.

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