September 21, 2013

Holiday Reading Part Two

I Take You – Nikki Gemmell

I can’t quite pin down how I feel about this book, and it didn’t help that I had only downloaded a third of it (I think it was free or something). Gemmell seems to be widely credited as the precursor of E.L.James, and considered to be superior, which of course is not difficult. The fragment of I Take You that I read was certainly less superficial, better written, and more knowing than 50 Shades, and reviews on goodreads seem quite upset by the comparison. I’m not convinced. Gemmell at least acknowledges and explores the feelings of submission experienced by the heroine, but still can’t bring herself not to present it as first and foremost a sick perversion. The worst aspect of this book, however, is the utterly self-conscious, repetitive label-dropping, and for that reason I won’t be attempting any any more of her work.

The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric

This was a compelling read, with immediately fascinating characters and a bumpy ride of a plot, set mostly in Venice, with lots of atmosphere and plenty of evil machinations. I read all afternoon in the garden under the big parasol. Scurries of butterflies constantly visited or passed overhead, fast little streaks of orange, blue and yellow. Later on the gekkos came out to warm their little feet on the sun-soaked walls of the house. At some point, someone brought me a glass of jugwine. It was finished the following day.

Girl With A One Track Mind – Abby Lee

I can’t believe I’ve never read this book before now. It’s all sex, all the time. It’s nice to see her “character” develop, but this is not a book you would read for its deep meaning. She writes so well about sex in a way that is stormingly erotic and not cringey. Reading this when the subsequent events in the author’s life are so well known gave an added layer of fascination to the story.

The Eagle of the Ninth – Rosemary Sutcliffe

Perhaps I felt compelled to read something serious after romping through GWAOTM, and this has been lingering on the kindle for ages. This is a well-researched and well-written story based in Roman Britain, involving a quest among the Painted People of Scotland (I’m looking at you, Gordon) to bring back a Roman legion’s lost eagle.

The savagery of the north beyond the wall, and civilisation of the south, are echoed in contemporary novels, though characters are less complex and more predictable than, say Game of Thrones, and spend a lot less time shagging.

Sutcliffe builds the drama of the chase with breathtaking finesse, but I would have liked to read on for longer and discover more of the people and places, which just means I’ll have to try a few more of her books.

Theo Gallas Always Gets Her Man – Kristen Panzer

This was a free download, in which a trainee lactation consultant juggles family, a neighbourhood mystery, and voluntary breastfeeding support of an unusually medicalised nature. It is not clear how or when she does her training, but she shares her knowledge readily and always carries a pair of latex gloves with her with which to do a quick mouth exam (not something a fully qualified and experienced NCT Breastfeeding Counsellor is likely to do).

I can empathise with a lot of the encounters and reflections, like dropping in for a quick visit and spending a couple of hours with a new mother, feeling out of your depth in the face of a baby who mysteriously does not feed, and so on; but the tale does not seem to include a great deal of counselling skill or reflection on boundaries.

It is an amusing novelty to read fiction based within my own industry, but I found some of the language subtly judgemental. More shocking is the chapter in which a woman comes for help and Thea – a trainee – leaps straight to an extreme level of directive help: “let’s just try this my way, okay?” waxes lyrical over the attractiveness of the client’s breasts, and compounds all this with use of the term “breastaurant.” I put the kindle down and pressed my head against the table. This is not how one would expect a breastfeeding supporter to behave.

This book was not terribly badly written, but did have a clangingly obvious plot and too many narrative-filling supplementary characters. It’s a fun exploration of the world of breastfeeding support, but I’m not sure that that, in itself, is a great subject for fiction.

The Boys From Brazil – Ira Levin

I’m pretty sure this is one of the books that was on the shelves at home when I was growing up, along with most of the works of Gerald Seymour and Len Deighton, but I’ve never picked it up before now. It’s a gripping thriller, with a plot that has more potential to be true now than 40 years ago, in which Dr Mengele tries to create the perfect environment to steer the development of his mini-Hitlers, and Nazi hunter Liebermann tries to stop him.

The Pedant In The Kitchen – Julian Barnes

Filled with moments of true LOL. Short and salty.

The Safe House – Nicci French

The entire premise of this story is completely implausible, as are the characters and their behaviour. Nicci French novels usually grip from the second paragraph, but this is as featureless and wet as its setting.

At this point I wasted half the morning on a free first chapter of Queen’s Gambit, which I will probably buy in full at some point; and some of the afternoon on Troilus and Cressida, which is not a play you can read with two or three conversations going on in the background.

Washington Square – Henry James

You get more words to the line with Henry James, who manages to make an entire novel turn on one tiny plotline. No superfluous characters, no subplot padding, all character and motives and reflection. The conflict between love and money was the basis of all relationship dilemmas long before sex got in the way. None of the characters in the book are particularly likeable, and it’s hard to know who you’re rooting for the least. In the end, nobody is happy, which is just what you expect from the start. Finely written misery.

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel

This deliciously meaty great hunk of a book started well, but at last the kindle’s battery ran out, after constant use over the course of nine books. I plugged it in, cut up vegetables for the saucisson sec ratatouille I was making for dinner, finished drying yesterday’s laundry, read two local magazines (one in English and one in French), and generally nursemaided the ailing Pete, who spent part of the holiday cursed with a mystery bug being no use to anyone. I filled pages of my notebook, which I recall is what I used to do before universal wifi and twitter. I finished Bring Up The Bodies on the train home but neglected to make any notes. I can tell you that I enjoyed it more than Wolf Hall and really do hope there will be another sequel.




2 thoughts on “Holiday Reading Part Two

  1. Eagle of the ninth is one of Cameron’s most fondly remembered childhood reads and he is constantly trying to make M read it.

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