Books Read in 2015 31. Ring – Koji Suzuki

Genre: Horror

Narrative Style: third person from various perspectives51BD0RBSMCL

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1991

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Asakawa is a journalist who is intrigued by his niece’s strange death. When he discovers other young people have died suddenly and inexplicably, he begins to seriously investigate. In the course of his investigation, he discovers a videotape that is cursed – if you watch it, you will die within the week. There is a charm against the curse but that part is missing from the tape. Asakawa has a week to discover what it is in order to save not only his own life but that of his wife and child. 

I really enjoyed the start of this book. Asakawa’s discovery of the four deaths is compelling and I was keen to read on. He was an interesting character, not a straightforward hero and that was good too. I expected that I would be rating it highly.  However, the plot loses momentum in the last third. I think that the investigative process is too drawn out and considering how little time Asakawa has left by this point, is strangely lacking in tension. In the end, the deaths and then the discovery of how to break the curse seemed a little anti-climactic.

It seems ridiculous to claim that the ending was unrealistic. After all, this novel already involves a huge suspension of disbelief with the notion of psychics being able to imprint thoughts onto film or in this case, into wave forms so that images could be seen on a tv. In the end, I think that it all just fell apart for me. I just couldn’t keep believing.

It may be that Suzuki’s novel suffers in comparison to the excellent film 1998 film version. Wisely. the film doesn’t get bogged down in the more intellectual ideas about psychics and wooden conversations that add helpful details but seem unrealistic. But ultimately, I think it is the medium that is the problem. It is just so much more chilling to watch a film about a murderous film then it is to read about it.

Books Read in 2015 19. The Swimmer – Joakim Zander (contains spoilers.)

Genre: Spy Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from various perspectives interspersed with a first person narrative which details the past.

Rating: 3/520660867

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Klara Walden doesn’t suspect what she might be getting into when her ex boyfriend, Mahmoud Shammosh, gets in touch with her. Suddenly, she is in the depth of a political scandal that people are willing to do murder over and she is fighting for her life. On the other side of the world, a retired spy tells his story, hoping that he will never have to involve himself in Klara’s life. 

I enjoyed the start of this book quite a lot. It was pacy and the chapters from different points of view kept me guessing as to what was happening. There were hints about torture, terrorism and government cover ups, all of which seemed interesting. I couldn’t quite work out how the first person narrative would join with the present day scenario but it was clear that they would link up.

For me, the narrative started to disappoint when Mahmoud was shot. Not that this didn’t fit with the type of story but he was one of the more interesting characters in the novel and I felt that the story struggled a bit without him. (He had just revealed to Klara that he was actually homosexual. He was then killed off almost immediately as if there was no longer any space in the narrative for him now that he didn’t comply with the masculine presumption of such a genre.) Klara then had to continue on her own and she suddenly becomes this amazing super spy, following leads and avoiding the authorities. This is especially unlikely as it is her stupidity in trusting another ex that brings the authorities down on them and causes Mahmoud’s murder.

I haven’t read much spy fiction but what I have read always seem to have these moments of naivety that bring the authorities and those on the run into conflict. I can see why this is necessary but find it a little irritating as it means the characters swing between naivety and guile in a way that is less than convincing.

The end of this novel was also unconvincing. I felt that the storylines were building up to an almighty climax but in the end it was more of a damp squib. The spy – Klara’s father – saves her life and so is no longer useful in narrative terms so he is killed off. George – who has been kidnapped by the bad guys as he is able to speak Swedish – suddenly manages to escape and is also involved in saving Klara. I was never particularly convinced by this narrative strand but his steering of a boat in a terrible storm to just the right island stretched my disbelief to the very limit. After all this, Klara decides not to reveal the information but to keep it secret. Again, I understand the reasons for this but it still seemed desperately disappointing.

All in all, I think this is a genre I am going to avoid in the future for much the same reasons that I don’t watch these sort of films. The action moves the story and I have to admit, I prefer things that are character driven. I have trouble suspending my disbelief and I felt I would have liked more psychological investigation. It was’t a terrible book just ultimately not for me.

 

Books Read in 2015 – 18. Saints of the Shadow Bible – Ian Rankin

Genrre: Detective, Police procedural

Narrative Style: Third Person from various points of view21283302

Rating 5/5

Published: 2013

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Due to a change in the double jeopardy law, an old case is being re-opened. An old case that involves Rebus’ old colleagues. There is suspicion of wrong-doing and they all swore an oath that they wouldn’t tell. Rebus finds himself caught between his old workmates and Malcolm Fox from the Complaints who is determined to get to the truth. 

I must admit, I didn’t love the first of the Rebus in retirement books, Standing in another man’s grave. It wasn’t terrible but it didn’t inspire me to read this one as soon as it came out. Finally, I gave in and bought it with my birthday Amazon voucher in November. It was so much better, I was sorry I hadn’t read it sooner.

I haven’t read any of The Complaints books but Fox has featured – albeit on the periphery – in the Rebus novels before so I was aware of him. He was an excellent foil for Rebus – a rule follower and a reformed alcoholic, he showed up Rebus’ faults in all their glory. Neither man really trusts the other but they manage to create a successful working relationship all the same. Giving a little of Fox’s past, Rankin shows how similar the men really are and how they have attempted to solve the similar problems that life has thrown at them in different ways. I would certainly be tempted to read some of the Fox novels although I’m not sure how well he would work as a lead character without the alternative of Rebus as relief from his uptightness.

The past and the future well and truly crash in this novel as Rankin shows the difference between policing then and policing now. It goes some way to show how Rebus has developed his own moral code and although he doesn’t always follow the rules, the reader is generally on his side because he isn’t just wantonly corrupt. There is a line drawn between him and the other Saints being investigated although it isn’t always clear exactly where it is. Rankin shows how easy it is for power to corrupt and how dangerous it is when anyone takes the law into their own hands but he does not make simple moral statements. He shows the complexity of any moral decision.

As ever, the twists and turns of the plot and main plot are not easy to unravel and keep you turning the pages. Rankin is a master at giving just enough to keep you curious but not quite enough to work it out fully. A real pager turner, I couldn’t put it down.

 

Books Read in 2015 – 16. Breakfast of Champions – Kurt Vonnegut.

Genre: Satire, Metafiction, Science Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person but with interjections by the character of the author. 

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1973

Synopsis: Science Fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, is invited to an arts festival, much to his horror. Little does he realise exactly what events he will cause when he gives the already unbalanced Dwayne Hoover one of his books to read. The book opens with the idea of the catalytic nature of their meeting and then traces their respective journeys to this point. 

This is probably more about science fiction then it is science fiction as the setting is earth in the seventies. However, there are many descriptions of Trout’s books and stories and there is also a commentary on the place of science fiction as a literary genre (e.g. right at the bottom of the cultural heap) and also on the way science fiction should be read. Hoover speed reads one of Trout’s novels and comes to believe that he is the only man on earth with free will and everyone else is a robot. This causes him to go on a violent rampage where he injures Trout, his girlfriend and his son.

The journeys of both Hoover and Trout, up to this point, are exciting and weird in the way that only Vonnegut’s writing is weird. Hoover suffers from echolalia and hallucinates that the ground is melting while Trout cannot remember who he is talking to and is fascinated by the names on the sides of trucks which seem to make no sense to him. They are joined at the Arts festival by the character of Kurt Vonnegut who wears dark glasses and hides in the shadows so as not to unsettle his creations. This allows Vonnegut (the author) to play with the idea of author as the God of his novels. This is meta-fiction as its best with interesting ideas about writing , authorship and characterisation.

The best – and funniest – part of this novel is undoubtedly the tone and style. The novel is a bit like an idiot’s guide to Earth and so things that are obvious are explained as if they are not. Some of the explanations are hilarious and also send up American culture at that time. There is a strong satirical tone throughout. Very enjoyable.

Books read in 2015 – 11. Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Crime, Madness

Narrative Style: Third person51LCaxGm-UL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004

Format:Paperback

Synopsis: Teddy Daniels has arrived on Shutter Island with his partner to investigate the disappearance of one of the patients. From the very beginning, things don’t seem quite right to Teddy who already has suspicions about what goes on at the hospital. Things are definitely not as they seem but is it Teddy who is delusional or the hospital that is keeping secrets from him.

I had already seen the film of Shutter Island but it was so affecting that when I realised that it was based on a novel, I was excited to read it even though I knew what the ending was. I do wish that I could have read it blind but I suppose it would be similar to my feelings at the end of the film. Watching the film, I was completely taken in by Teddy and was absolutely shocked when it turns out that he is the lost patient. Reading the book, I was not taken in in the same way but there was a new delight to be had; spotting the clues that Lehane gives to the reader about the true nature of Teddy’s character.

The style of writing was almost typical crime writing with a certain detachment from the subject matter. And at first, Teddy seems like a typical crime fighter – all macho, having seen things in the war that no one should see. However, as the novel progresses, he becomes both more paranoid and more emotional. He starts to lose his grip on reality. If you were reading this without knowledge of the film then it would be perfectly easy to be led along by his decline – to believe that he has stumbled across some great conspiracy. Lehane makes us believe in Teddy that much. Having seen the film, I felt I was a bit less involved than I might have been but this is in no way Lehane’s fault.

The ending is just as affecting even though I knew what was coming. Teddy slowly comes to the realisation that he is the one who has killed his wife and his is the lost patient. The hospital have taken a huge risk – taking him off his medication – in order to try and force him to see the truth. If Teddy cannot face reality then he will be lobotomized – something his doctors do not want. The flicker of hope that the reader feels when Teddy acknowledges his crime is quickly extinguished when in the final chapter, he is back in his delusion and he can see the porters coming to take him away.

The ending of the novel raises the question of how to deal with patients like Teddy. Even though he killed his wife, I felt a great deal of sympathy for him. His elaborate fantasy was due to his inability to accept what he had done, not only to his wife but what he allowed to happen to his children as well. His sense of self was destroyed by the crime. So he could spend the rest of his life in his delusion or he could be lobotomised. Neither option offers much hope.

Books Read in 2015 – 9. How to Fall in Love by Cecelia Ahern

eclecticreader15

Genre: Romance, Chick-lit

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

18161265Rating 3/5

Published: 2013

Format: Kindle

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reading Challenge – Contemporary Romance

Synopsis: Christine Rose fails to stop a suicidal man from shooting himself which sends her into a tailspin of self-doubt and causes her to end her own marriage. When she sees Adam about to jump off the Ha’Penny Bridge then she knows she has to stop him. 

I thought I’d get this genre out of the way early. As I have said before, I am not a fan of romantic literature. I keep hoping I will find a romance writer I will actually love but it seems it is not to be. I picked Cecelia Ahern because she has a lot of five-star reviews and I wanted to at least know what I was reading was a good example of the genre.

I have no doubt that this is the case, that Ahern is one of the better romance writers around but I still found it a chore to read. There were a number of reasons for this but the main one was there was never any doubt that Christine and Adam would end up together. Not for a moment did it seem that any of the “obstacles” in their way would actually derail the romance. There was no tension at all.

Secondly, I found the characters were all a bit like characters in a romantic movie rather than having any sort of reality. Christine was either ridiculously upbeat or a mess of tears. (This is the second novel I’ve read lately where the lead woman spends most of the time crying. Whatever happened to a strong female lead?) The other characters were just there for her to react to and had no life of their own. Adam’s turn around at the end was not convincing. It was very clearly a work of fiction. That might seem like a stupid thing to say but I felt I could never completely lose myself in Christine”s world because I didn’t believe it could exist.

However, for all my problems with the genre, this wasn’t badly written and I did want to see exactly how it would end so Ahern is clearly doing something right. I won’t be returning to read anymore though.

Books Read in 2015 0 8. Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine

Genre: Autobiography, Music

Narrative Style: First Person NarrationBlav494CIAA1lWx.jpg-large

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2014

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Viv Albertine used to be in The Slits. This charts her life before, during and after, looking specifically at the three things mentioned in the title. It is an honest and at times emotional journey through one woman’s life. 

I love The Slits. They are one of my favourite punk bands. So last year, for my birthday, my husband bought tickets to go and hear Viv Albertine read from Clothes, Clothes, Clothes… and then he bought the book for me. Albertine was entertaining and her life has certainly been interesting but I didn’t completely take to her. I felt similarly when I was reading the book. I’m not entirely sure why but I could never completely relate to her.

The book is written with humour and is self-depricating as if all the way through writing, Albertine couldn’t quite believe that anyone would want to read it. She begins with school days, moves through her parents divorce and her entrance into the punk scene then through the domesticity and illness that followed after up to the present day. I found my interest peaked and fell at various points in the book and sometimes I didn’t really want to pick it up at all.

It is best – perhaps obviously – when Albertine is talking about the punk scene and her experience with The Slits. Personal descriptions of the stars  of the scene – Rotten, McLaren, Thunders, Jones, to name but a few – are all entertaining and added to my understanding of the scene and what it was like for a woman at those times. I was less interested in what came after. I guess that makes me pretty shallow but I would happily have read more about those times and less about her family life.

Not that those times didn’t warrant describing. Albertine had early experience of the difficulties of IVF and then discovered she had cancer and her marriage broke down. All of which are described with an emotional honesty it is rare to find. I’m just not very interested in the long fight to have a baby. I have no children and at forty two, it is unlikely I will now. I wouldn’t really choose to read about these experiences if it weren’t for Albertine’s status as punk legend.

For me, my interest picked up again towards the end when Albertine starts to perform and record again despite her crippling anxiety about how good she was. It was rewarding to see her confidence build again and she finally seemed happy with her life.   There is no doubt that Albertine is a strong woman to have come through all she has and also to be able to be so open about what she perceives as her faults but I still felt at the end as if I hadn’t quite got it, as if I still couldn’t really understand her.