A quick blog to keep track of what I’ve been reading over the summer…not as much as I planned, despite the bad weather – Wimbledon, the Olympics and Paralympics among other things got in the way…
Therese Raquin by Emile Zola – I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, I have read Germinal, but does anything good ever happen to a character in a Zola book? Therese Raquin was very hard going and unlike previous Zola books I’ve read, had no characters with any redeeming features at all…and yet he is so damn readable.
Zola’s relentless focus on the lives of the poor, unhappy and downtrodden – and his obvious sympathy with those at the bottom of the social scale, or who find themselves descending there – always reminds me of Dickens, but without Dickens’ sense of mischief and fun. Still, bearing in mind my baby-brain has mainly only allowed me to read crime novels this year, I was pleased to be able to get to the end of Therese Raquin at all. I’m hoping to read more of the Rougon-Macquart sequence in future – Nana is next on my list.
Let it Bleed and The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin – a mid-series Rebus book and the second from the Malcolm Fox series. Let it Bleed contains (as I learned from this article earlier in the summer) Ian Rankin’s own favourite opening of his novels, a car chase over the Forth Bridge which ends with a car hanging precariously over the edge – but I won’t say any more!
With the more recent book, I was interested to see how Rankin copes without the familiar Rebus tropes of whisky and the Stones, but I enjoyed The Impossible Dead, with its focus on Scottish politics (devolution, the independence campaign and so on) and the ever-present underlying current of police corruption making it a very apposite read this summer. Malcolm Fox himself is an intriguing character and I was quite happily sucked into the story as a whodunnit in its own right without constantly making comparisons to Rebus (the fact that it was predominantly set outside Edinburgh certainly helped).
Still, Rebus is a hard act to follow, and I wait keenly for the new Rankin book, which brings the two characters together.
Snowdrops by AD Miller. I seem to have gone through a bit of a phase of reading Russian-set fiction in the last few years, from Robert Harris’ Archangel (which set up a fantastic scenario but led to a rather pedestrian let’s-get-lost-in-the-forest climax) and James Meek’s The People’s Act of Love (hated, hated, hated it), so I’m not sure why I picked this up in the library, but I was in the mood for a thriller and had seen this on the shelves tempting me with its promise of being a Gorky Park-style chilling murder mystery.
This, again, set up an exciting scenario, but let it tail off in a rather disappointing way. I think this was intentional, in the fashion of unreliable narrators – the British protagonist is a lawyer working in Moscow who gets caught up in some rather unpleasant business, and I think he can barely acknowledge to himself, let alone the reader, what has gone on. You can read between the lines, but I like to know what’s actually happening when I read a book.
Now I am finally reading The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison which I’ve been yearning to read for months – her very slight, rather lovely Norse-mythology influenced Travel Light is one of my favourite, most-read books since I was a teenager, and the Corn King… is a great doorstep of a book, this time set further east and inspired by Greek and mid-European mythology.
Not sure what’ll be next…I wonder if it’s time for some history or biography?