Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from the last week.
Let’s start with some big hitters. FrogCDE has just finished Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi:
Which is worth reading but doesn’t have the richness and exuberance of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. There is a melancholy at the heart of both books, I think – her dominant metaphor is that of being enchanted out of one’s normal existence, and part of the success of Strange was that it plugged into that traditional theme in folklore. Paradoxically, the narrator in Piranesi is content with his lot, but in a way that makes it worse, because it seems more like resignation than fulfilment, and the negotiation between reality and fantasy remains very troubled throughout the book. Piranesi is well plotted, but it still seems to have derived from a static image, the narrator trapped in his house full of statues and tides, and it’s as if Clarke has used all her very considerable skill to make a novel out of something that doesn’t want to be one… All this makes it sound as though the book is a failure, which it isn’t - she can really write and has an extraordinary imagination. But she has probably already written her masterpiece, and that knowledge can be hard to live with.
And JaneMarple has read Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (also known as JK Rowling):
O. M. G. Thank-you for that ending. You made me work for it, but damn, it was worth it. I’m hugging it to myself like a treasure well worth digging for. :-)
I can come up for air now, read the newspapers again without fear of the book’s ending being spoiled in a review - and which I didn’t see coming. And now that I know “who did it” and what transpires thereafter, I’m loathe to spoil the finish for those who haven’t yet crossed the finish line…
The worse thing you can say (imo) about Troubled Blood is that Rowling takes the scenic route. Not every word is arguably necessary. I dare say when they get around to adapting this one, you’ll definitely get a leaner piece of meat. And once the fat’s been trimmed off, it’ll work better as a mystery. Currently, it’s about more than that.
And to those who’ve leapt upon her book in their eagerness to condemn it despite not actually having read it, in the words of my favourite heroine, Robin Ellacott: “sod off.”
William Least-Heat Moon’s collection of short stories, Here, There And Elsewhere has interested greenmill:
Wildly eclectic, these move seamlessly from the craft beer movement in America to Mayan ruins in Yucatan to poking about in William Faulkner’s old stamping ground around Oxford, Mississippi, and much more.
In every case the quality of the author’s writing lifts what might otherwise have been a mildly engaging magazine article into a mini-odyssey driven by his insatiable curiosity and leavened by a likeable, not quite folksy humour. It seems that great writers can make almost any subject interesting.
HaveOneOnMe3 has been astonished by Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist:
A rare and stark reminder of what a novel as Work of Art is. Strange, remote, difficult, but nonetheless lyrical, hypnotic, addictive, and, ultimately, a deeper and more rewarding reading experience than the vast majority of novels chiefly focused on plot and character. I was so impressed by it (and grateful), I immediately purchased three other novels by her (The Pickup, Get A Life, No Time Like The Present).
LeoToadstool urges us to seek out Götz And Meyer by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać:
Firstly, it’s written as a single paragraph, which is demanding, even for a book that is under 200 pages. Secondly, its central plot thread involves the two SS men who almost single-handedly exterminated Belgrade’s Jewish community by driving them from a concentration camp to their deaths in a truck pumped with carbon monoxide (such mobile gas chambers were a precursor to the stationary ones at Auschwitz and Majdanek). For this sordid subject matter, Albahari employs a semi-ironic first person narrator: a middle-aged Serbian-Jewish teacher building a family tree, who is forced, by dearth of information, to piece together through fiction the fates of his dead relatives, as well as the lives of the men responsible. This nameless narrator’s tale of his discoveries, and his speculative historical account of the SS officers and their victims are masterfully interwoven in this breathless story of the banality of evil, which I urge anyone with an interest in Holocaust literature to seek out.
BobHammond2 has enjoyed Heartburn by Nora Ephron:
A sad but comedic look at the breakdown of a second marriage. It doesn’t sound like much of a premise for an enjoyable novel and it is a slight book in many ways. But the voice of Jewish cookbook writer Rachel Samstat, who narrates the tale, is so strong and engaging that it really fizzes along. Samstat is like a female Woody Allen - eloquent, witty, sardonic and neurotic - that you take to her immediately. Her observations - a bit unstructured at times, like a stream of consciousness - and the events and interactions in the book, keep you rapt with attention all the way through to a fitting conclusion.
Finally, laidbackviews needs to find space on the shelf for Island Dreams: Mapping an Obsession, “a gem of a book” by Gavin Francis:
A beautiful book in every sense. From the feel in the hand, to the turning of rich parchment. Filled with the colour of antique maps, it plots the wanderings through life of Gavin Francis. He visited islands, grounds himself, and then his family, in places surrounded. Isolation. Birds. And rich in lore.
From Iona to Athos, Chiloe to Svalbard, and so much more, his treasure chest of experiences overflows. And some of the best are the wee home isles, where the lighthouses stand and the birds flock and the waves crash.
When I find that space on a shelf it will need to have etched into the woodwork, “Here Lies Treasure.”
That sounds precious.
Interesting links about books and reading
Rage quit challenge! How many absurd opinions about Lady MacDuff can you endure before you stop listening to this episode of In Our Time on Macbeth.
“The gay penguins did not corrupt me”: more bad news from the trenches of the culture wars.
“That’s the art of criticism to me: trying to explain emotions, which, in a way, all art forms are trying to do through different means”: Charles Finch on book reviewing.
If you’re on Instagram, now you can share your reads with us: simply tag your posts with the hashtag #GuardianBooks, and we’ll include a selection in this blog. Happy reading!