What blessings we have in our lives! This adorable little quote from jaderbomb.com captures perfectly those fleeting yet magical early morning moments filled, we hope, with some of our favourite things. For me, books would always feature in such a list.
Following on from my last post, here is the second set of reviews of my recent reads…
The Mountain Can Wait, Sarah Leipziger: grounded; compelling; intense
This book is a sort of thriller. At the start, we witness someone driving home from a party through wintry woods. Suddenly a girl appears in the car’s headlights, too quickly to avoid her. The driver decides to drive on. This incident creates an undercurrent for the rest of the novel, which looks at the day to day lives of a handful of people. It quickly becomes apparent that this is not your average page-turner. Nowhere is it fast-paced and escapist. Rather, Leipziger presents a slow-burning, detailed consideration of life in remote communities. It presents life as it is – routine, mundane even. And yet it is still gripping. Intensity builds gradually as the narrative progresses, drawing the reader in without their noticing.
Read this if you like: a clever examination of life, rural communities and stories about the consequences of our choices.
Nutshell, Ian McEwan: brutal; relentless; layered
I consumed this book in audio format. It was a difficult listen because the male narrator – a foetus – is grim, arrogant and brutish. Nevertheless, the narrative was clever, imaginative and addictive. I learned after finishing it that McEwan is presenting a retelling of Hamlet. I must confess that I did not pick this up – clearly my Shakespeare knowledge is rusty. However, I was more than content to let it stand on its own merits. I enjoy McEwan’s work (see next review, for example) – he is one of my regular audio selections. The Children Act is perhaps my favourite.
Read this if you like: intelligent, modern story-telling.
The Innocent, Ian McEwan: gripping; painful; inventive
My second audiobook in recent times, and my second recent McEwan. We accompany Leonard Marnham through his experiences as a young adult in post-WWII/cold-war Germany and beyond. An unsophisticated, nervous Englishman, Marnham is thrust into an unexpected life of cross and double-cross. Add to this his growing relationship with a German divorcee and you have a fascinating story full of intrigue, romance and political history. If you are a bit squeamish, give this one a miss. Otherwise, you are in for a treat.
Read this if you like: non-nonsense, compelling dramas about international relationships, both professional and personal.
An Equal Music, Vikram Seth: evocative; powerful; insightful
This was my year’s pick as ‘a book you have already read’. I haven’t tended to re-read books, even those I have enjoyed very much – there always seems to be so many other books to move on to. But I may be a ‘re-read convert’ after this. I can see how getting the story out of the way on a first read leaves a work open to being enjoyed on a more detailed level the next time. Why has this one in particular change my mind? First off, it is an utterly beautiful book. I have never read anything which comes close to this in terms of capturing what it is like to be immersed in classical music, both as a player and a lover of the genre. Seth picks out the most humble of details (the feel of a violin string under one’s fingers; the smell of rosin on one’s bow), as well as highlighting the joys of playing music (the thrill of playing once again a favourite piece; the affinity one feels to fellow musicians), weaving it all together gracefully and elegantly. The main narrative centres around a rekindled romance, but the real love affair is with music. Seth says in his author’s note ‘music is dearer to me even than speech’ and oh how it shines through in this jewel. It may be that, as a musician myself, I was always likely to enjoy this novel. I suggest, however, that you don’t need ever to have picked up an instrument to get pleasure from this exquisite text.
Read this if you love: moving, thoughtful writing about love and life.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book I), George R R Martin: imaginative, sweeping, exciting
I was wondering what all the Game of Thrones fuss was about and so decided to give the first of many books in the series a go via audio format. An epic 34- hour listen, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could not tear myself away. Martin has created an amazing landscape in which he has placed some fascinating characters. I do wonder whether I would have got as much enjoyment from just reading the book – the audio version is admirably read and populated by Roy Dotrice and he gives each character such life. No mean feat with a cast of seeming thousands! I am already well through the second book.
Read this if you love: creative, visionary story-telling on an ambitious and heroic scale.
Exposure, Helen Dunmore: captivating; suspenseful; moving
I have always liked Helen Dunmore’s books and this is no exception. It happens to be another cold war/spy thriller, with slow-burning tension. Dunmore expertly weaves together a number of relationships both professional and personal, cleverly depicting this fascinating time of paranoia, where secrets and embarrassments can rise up to bite at any time.
Read this if you love: absorbing page-turners.
I hope these reviews inspire further reading for you, either in terms of these specific books, or as a springboard to others (if you like this, why not try…!). Let me know what you think and, as ever, I am always interested to hear what you are reading at the moment. 🙂