Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Some Recommended Reading

I've managed to find time for a fair bit of reading lately and, as usual, I've enjoyed it immensely. The books I have chosen are fairly mainstream so you will probably already be aware of them but in case you aren't I can recommend all of the following.

This American tale of two social misfits is narrated by one of two brothers who inhabit a large mansion on Fifth Avenue New York close by Central Park. Both brothers are disabled. Homer, the narrator is blind whilst his brother Langley, a victim of mustard gas, becomes a compulsive hoarder. Their story spans the decades from before the Great War to Vietnam and beyond and is a compelling insight into two liberal and eccentric lives lived on the fringes of society. The book is poignant, touching and sympathetic with the blindness of the narrator giving an extra dimension to the piece. Incidentally, on looking for a photo for the blog I discovered that Homer & Langley Collyer existed and many of the events in the novel did happen although the author E.L Doctorow has shifted their time frame as both died in 1947.

Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" was always going to be a hard act to follow but the young Indian novelist has more than lived up to expectations with "Between The Assassinations". The novel is set in the fictional Indian city of Kittur between the assassination of Indira Ghandi in 1984 and Rajiv Ghandi in 1991 and, rather than following a single character or family, the book is effectively a series of short stories each charting an inhabitant of that filthy, corruption wracked city. The poor country boy, the rich private school boy, the businessman being screwed by corrupt officials, the tragic low castes, the misguided communist are but a few of the colourful array of characters vividly portrayed. All have their own story but just once or twice we might see them in the background of another's. Is that one perhaps riding by with a block of ice to deliver? Adiga's writing is sharp and vibrant and you can't just see Kittur, you can smell it.

I loved "A Short History Of Tractors In Ukranian" and always look out for Marina Lewycka's latest novels. Like "Tractors" "We Are All Made Of Glue" is a book that is a joy to read insofar as it is beautifully written and a complete page turner. In a similar vein to her first novel, Lewycka deals with old age and "foreigners" creating an unusual relationship between an old bag lady and her young female narrator. The story is both funny and sometimes sad with some serious undertones about race and religion but, whilst it is difficult to put down, I felt a little let down with its conclusion. It has to be a must for any aspiring writer as an object lesson in how to write for your readers.

Another American novel with two names in the title, I was attracted to Florence & Giles by the comparison on the cover to "The Turn Of The Screw" ( the film of which gave me childhood nightmares) and indeed there are many similarities to Poe's classic - the gothic mansion, the spooky lake, the stern governess and a young boy and girl. This is a very modern novel full of suspense, horror and psychological trauma with an exciting almost whodunnit underlying story and a quirky voice from the young female narrator Florence who revels in creating new words to add to the language in the way that Shakespeare did - and some of those new words are quite excellent. I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone looking for something slightly offbeat and a step away from typical horror or thrillers.

Finally here's something a little different. Lent to me by daughter Sarah's partner Duncan ( a keen diver) this book charts the history of diving from the ancient Greeks to today using a mixture of both historical documentary and interesting anecdotes from the author's own experience. By including those essential anecdotes the book is entertaining as well as being highly informative and a must for anybody with any interest in either the sport or the deep oceans.