Another month plus slips by without finding time to put anything on here. You know; life.
However – lots of reading and listening did happen. I’m charging through books at a pace that I hadn’t achieved for some time prior thanks to a late-summer / early autumn break and less-interrupted nights affording greater page time.
A relatively recent trip to Cambridge meant a stop in Heffers there (Oxford wasn’t on the route) and a quick trio of books were added to the shelves at home that might not otherwise have been considered. The first of which was The Death’s Head Chess Club by John Donoghue. A very original premise set amongst one of the most horrific backgrounds you could probably imagine for fiction as a master chess player is forced to play chess against guards, SAS offices and Gestapo members at Auschwitz with some very high stakes; the lives of fellow prisoners. It’s a startling read – while perhaps too heavy on the technicalities of chess, it’s no doubt useful in terms of offsetting the brutality at the novels core as the protagonist struggles to come to terms with events decades later and the novel becomes an exploration of guilt and forgiveness. I burned through this one pretty quickly, the pace is quick and the plot gripping but – as with any written word on this subject matter – at times harrowing and thoroughly devastating. Nonetheless; a clever and compelling read that – while not looking beyond the horror as such – tackles the emotions of those involved on both sides.
Given how heavy a subject matter and setting anyone could be forgiven for seeking something lighter. So I turned to an old favourite: Small Gods. I could – and probably will – write a whole lot more on the importance of Terry Pratchett in my library and literary explorations but it cannot be underestimated. I had, prior, to his sad passing earlier this year, been slowly putting together a Discworld collection of my own over the last few years. In a somewhat trivial – but important to me – element this has been somewhat slowed as I a) will only buy if I’m about to read and b) am not all that fond of the new range of paperback covers. Of his work there are three particular novels that stand out in my mind as “must read next”s – what I consider the best three, one a year from 1992, 1993 and 1994; Interesting Times, Men At Arms and Small Gods. It’s for these three in a good edition that I’ve been searching and at Heffers I found Small Gods as part of the newer hardback collection. It had been years since I read this first – perhaps as many as twenty – and it felt just as fresh, original and funny. Less ‘fantasy’ perhaps than some of his work (there’s no trolls, vampires or dwarves of indeterminate gender) and more of a biting satire and swipe at religion – Small Gods is, to my mind, one of Pratchett’s best and, yet, often overlooked works. With the question of religion and fundamentalism still causing more questions around the world it’s always a good time to pick this one up.
This somewhat out of order as prior to both of these I’d spent a week or so devouring Catch-22. I can’t believe that it took me this long to read this book. I don’t know why I’d ignored it before – I seem to have had the impression it was something different and far less accessible and funny. I ended up grabbing Joseph Heller’s masterpiece (and it certainly deserves that title) for just £2 in HMV not long before going away for a week and wanting something I could page-flick while relaxing. There’s a site – gobookyourself which I thoroughly recommend but can easily get lost in- that linked it to three other books I’d loved so I figured it was worth a punt for such a small sum. Out-and-out hilarious – there were times when I had to put the book down I was laughing so hard. There is a kind-of sequel that I’m not sure I want to read; I need to keep this one as singularly perfect as it is. A deliciously funny and wicked and scathingly satirical read that’s equal parts farce and slapstick of which far too much has been written by other reviewers for me to able to add much except to perhaps say that I wholeheartedly agree with Heller’s response in the below:
I seem to be going in reverse order here. For before churning through so many books so promptly I spent a fair few weeks lost in Perfidia. Again; bought on something of a whim on the premise of it having had countless strong reviews and being set in World War 2. I wasn’t really prepared for this one because Holy Shit this book is good.
I’d not read anything of Ellroy before and I was some pages in before I connected the dots to the fact that he’s behind LA Confidential and the Black Dahlia et al. This is the first in a planned quartet of books set before the events of those previously mentioned – in 1941, in the days surrounding the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour. Nobody else writes like Ellroy. This is a huge novel in terms of intricacy and detail. The writing is intense and all-consuming – I genuinely felt like I’d been immersed in another world when I finally turned the last page and left itching for more. Time permitting I’m pretty sure I’ll be heading back to Ellroy’s LA.
I started reading a lot of Nordic crime / noir / thriller type stuff this year and thoroughly loved a couple of books by Jo Nesbø – The Snowman (my introduction to Harry Hole) and The Son. As such it kinda galls me to write this as I don’t think (hope) it’s indicative of his work but… Headhunters is a ‘no thank-you’ from me. I didn’t find the first person narrative so convincing, found the plot so-so, the pacing lacklustre, the characters flimsy and the main character such a general twat that it’s hard to find any interest in reading ‘his’ story. So much so that – and this is indeed a rarity – I simply couldn’t find any reason to push further than 100 pages into this one. This being said I seem to be far from the majority in this view and so I may try and give it another go when time permits but, with so many strong contenders lined up on the To Read pile, it might be some time.