Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too much?

I went a bit overboard at the library on Tuesday. I borrowed (this is all cut and paste from the library's online record of my transactions, hence the lack of capitalization):

Lessing, Doris, The making of the representative for Planet 8

Brett, Simon, Death under the dryer

Brett, Simon, The witness at the wedding

Evanovich, Janet, Plum lovin'

Grafton, Sue, T is for trespass (and I'd just returned Q Is For Quarry)

O'Connell, Carol, Shark music

Queen, Ellery, A fine and private place

Winspear, Jacqueline, An incomplete revenge

And this was in addition to the books I already had at home:

Winterson, Jeanette, Gut symmetries

Le Guin, Ursula K., Always coming home

Le Guin, Ursula K., The telling

Le Guin, Ursula K., A fisherman of the inland sea

Le Guin, Ursula K., The birthday of the world and other stories

Reichs, Kathy, Bones to ashes

Of the ones I had at home I'd read all but Gut Symmetries, because I'd found it a bit hard to get into at first, but now the novel and I are getting along swimmingly as they say, whatever that really means. What if one doesn't swim very well? Most of it is a bit meh, if I'm too be honest (most of the list, not of Gut Symmetries. Winterson is never meh). But Winspear is not terribly good really, nor is Brett the most awesome of writers, but he's so light and entertaining I couldn't help myself. And Evanovich.... well, we all know. Doris Lessing did win a Nobel Prize, but I've read the book now and didn't care for it much, I have to say. More on that later. Nor is O'Connell that fabulous - a little OTT tbh, if I may chatspeak some - but it's entertaining.

Now, I'm off to bed again (today I overslept and missed the alarm (or else it didn't even ring), so my son was forgotten at pre-school. VERY embarrassing. I have to write an entry about all the Le Guins I've read - the pressure, the angst! So I need my sleep.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ursula K. Le Guin: The Birthday of the World

I had almost finished this collection of short stories. I was on the last one - a novella, really - called Paradises Lost, which is about a generation-ship heading through space towards an earth-like planet. The 5th generation is reaching adulthood, and rather serene in the knowledge that they won't reach their destination until they themselves are grandparents. The ship is the world - safe, temperate, clean. I had just reached the part where the main character Hsing is about to find out that they may reach the Destination sooner than she'd ever thought, when I had to take Minima down town to an appointment. When I returned, my husband had returned the book to the library together with another one that I hadn't read yet. Because I'd put them in the wrong place, accidentally placing them on top a pile of books he was returning. I was - am - more upset than the situation warranted. I did spend some time on the Internet to see if I could just read the end online, but no luck. I hope no-one gets their hands on it before I have a chance to re-lend it. Feck all anyway.

It's a great novella, wonderfully describing the thoughts and culture of the isolated travellers. I might even get to finish it one day. Googling for it led me to the information that it has been adapted for the stage as an opera, which is exciting, and gives the Aniara parallell more zing. Also, I found this blog entry just choc full of marvellous reading tips! The other short stories are also all good. Le Guin is very good at imagining different cultures, and not afraid to make thought experiments that we might shy from normally. Several of these short stories centre on relationships and sex, with fucking being a much-used word. This crudeness, if you will, differs immensely from the by comparison almost ethereal tone in the Earthsea chronicles. So so far I'm very pleased with my Le Guin kick... feel free to recommend books in the comments section if you're a stalwart fan!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ursula K. LeGuin: The Dispossessed

I’m on a bit of a Le Guin kick at the moment I think. She’s pushing all the right buttons for me: credible secondary universes, moral dilemmas, excellent characters, wonderfully evocative environments… I especially liked that this book takes place a long time before The Left Hand of Darkness, since the ansible which is used to communicate over the distance of many light years in that novel is only just in the starting blocks of invention in this one. The universe is in other words the same, with the same people, even though the Ekumen is not that advanced yet. I was very pleased with that, and it spurs me to read more, because I want to learn more about the different species in the Le Guin worlds.

Our main character is a physicist named Shevek, who lives on the barren planet Anarres in an anarchist society, where humans are bonded together to live without laws and instead work together for survival. The Anarresti left their home, the sister planet Urras seven generations ago. Urras is a a pathriarcial class society with strong state control and a history full of horrible acts of cruelty. (In one memorable scene Shevek sees the cloak once worn by an Urrasti queen - made from the skin of executed rebels, she wore it in public to humiliate, terrorize and shame the survivors.) Shevek now finds that his own world is developing unwritten laws of its own, despite having no structured government. When his own highly innovative research is thwarted by jealous and power-tripping colleagues he becomes the first to return to the home world, in an attempt to broaden and share his research.

There is a little too much theorizing in the book, with Shevek and others holding forth at length about the ideas behind a lawless world where personal responsibility is the only moral code – that, and the overall rule of sharing. Since I’m snatching reads between patrolling at work etc. I found it a little hard to concentrate. Nevertheless it’s thought-provoking and maybe a little provocative. I love stuff like this, heartily recommended!

Ellery Queen: Face to Face

God, I’ve hardly read any Ellery Queen. Nothing has appeared in the blog before, anyway. It’s always seemed a bit naff I suppose. The whole “Ellery Queen is author and main character” thing. I couldn't resist this at the library though, because the cover of this edition said "Ellery Queen's challenge to mystery buffs: Face to Face" which was so delightfully reader-oriented and newspaper-like that I fell like the proverbial stone down a well. And I quite enjoyed this. It was quite direct and outspoken in terms of sex and relationships – between the lines, obviously, but in that one can see where the true morality of the society of the times lay.

A famous retired singer is found murdered in her study. On the desk is a final scrawled clue: the word face. The singer was a mystery and puzzle buff as well as an artiste, you see. With the warped judicial method of this type of novel the father policeman allows the son detective to do whatever he wants to solve the puzzle. Hurrah. Not bad at all. I especially appreciate that it’s a proper whodunnit. I’m given everything I need to solve it, just like the detective. Nice. I failed (I guessed, but not thanks to the clues so it doesn't count), but nice.

Carter Dickson: She Died A Lady

Finally, some old-skool detective fiction! I took my youngest with me to the local library branch a while ago to stock up again, since my first supply was all but depleted. It’s a small branch so it doesn’t have much in the English fiction department, but on the other hand you can strike lucky and find something that might have been moved off the shelves long ago if it had been down town. I have read some Carter Dickson/John Dickson Carr before (see the labels), and although I think it’s nicely crafted in its style, I’m just not completely enamoured. Our detective hero, Sir Henry Merrivale, is just too much, for one thing. He’s fat and bald, and rides around on a motorized wheelchair in a toga for a while. He blusters and roars and bosses. Not altogether my thing. Also, it’s not a proper whodunnit either, since we the readers aren’t privy to all the clues from the beginning. Here, the narrator has information about caves that he springs on us towards the end, for example.

The narrator himself, a country doctor with plenty of empathy and a bit of a heart problem, belongs to the book’s assets. Also it’s a rather nice little micro-cosmic description of a village at the very onset of the war, before it had gotten painfully real. Herein lies the strength and charm of the novel, because while the riddle is hard to solve, it just made me grumpy when I didn't get all the information to solve it anyway.

Story: a scientist and his ten years younger wife life in a remote house. The wife has a lover, and one night they appear to have killed themselves by leaping off a cliff. Except when the bodies are found they have bullet holes, so suicide is out. Ta-daa. I loved the title by the way, very evocative (one of the reasons I borrowed it). Stems from the purported suicide note left by the wife after listening to Romeo and Juliet on the radio: “Juliet died a lady [..]”. I’d recommend this if you’re into this type of thing and all. a huge bonus is that although the writer was American, he didn't fall into the trap of having everyone constantly having tea and scones which a fair few Americans do when writing about England (including, but not limited to, Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes).

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lindsey Davis: Saturnalia

A new (for me) Falco novel! Splendid. Like I've said before somewhere, I get quite annoyed with Davis' style of writing, but I keep coming back because I *heart* the characters. In this one it is the holiday of Saturnalia, and the Germanic tribe leader and priestess Veleda has been secretely taken to Rome for execution. When she escapes, and a man in the house she stayed at is found decapitated, Falco is called in to find her discreetly. Adding to the need for discretion is the fact that his (married) brother-in-law Justinus has Veleda as his first love, and now disappears. Into the mélange is also thrown a load of murdered vagrants, which leads Falco to discuss serial killers. I was rather miffed at this 20th century word being used in a novel set in ancient Rome. Amusingly Davis has a little afterword to excuse and defend and tip us a wink about her many neologisms, which I for a moment there thought would mean her use of modern language like that, but it meant her self-coined expressions and how they make the translators of her books tear their hair out.

Janet Evanovich: Motor Mouth

Second in the line of Evanovich's Barnaby series, I picked this up at random at the library. Not entirely my cup of tea - too much racing and cars, which I don't care for. But it has it's charm and I might read some others if I find them. Ponderation: Evanovich's female heroines get threatened with gruesome violence of a sexual nature from psychopathic/sociopathic villains. They become very frightened by all this, but prevail. Underlying theme of revenge on the patriarchal society? Not all that well executed then unfortunately.

Mil Millington: Instructions For Living Someone Else's Life

I've been following Millington's website Things My Girlfriend And I Argue About for a few years, which means I started following it late, when all the best was already written and the newsletter started coming very infrequently. Story of my life - I often come to things late. I only started watching Buffy when the last season was already over in the States I think. Missed all the hype, really. But my point here is that I was already familiar with Millington's style, which, to be frank, can get a little bit tiresome, even though he's very funny. Since I've posted the link to his sites there you can read for yourself. The book is written in a similar fashion, albeit with an editor holding the reins I assume, so it's been pulled up a bit. Nevertheless, in the long run it's a story that could have been over in about one chapter, but is dragged out to a whole novel due to Millington's weakness for over-emphasising the funny bits with long long masses of clever text. That said there are many laugh-out-loud moments. Storyline: Chris gets drunk one evening when he's 25 and wakes up the next day at the age of 43 (or something). He has no memory of the intervening years, and discovers that he apparently has become someone he hates. And what's the internet? And a mobile phone? Like I said, sometimes hilarious indeed - I even had planned to put some quotes in but haven't got the time now. Recommended - it's never going to make the classics list, but I think that in 50 years time someone will read it and get a kick from it being a document of our times.