Tuesday 3 December 2013

Books I've Been Reading: October & November

Going on Nice Days Out is continuing to help me read more books...  travelling by train and sitting in cafes on your own = so much more enjoyable when you have a good book to read!

So what have I been reading over the past couple of months?

I started with The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I'd seen the film version of this and listened to the radio adaptations of a couple of the Ripley novels, but I'd never actually read any of the books before.

This is one of those books that's very hard to describe without massive plot spoilers but basically, conman Tom Ripley is sent to Italy by the father of an aquaintance to persuade him to come home ... and it doesn't end well! Knowing the plot already did spoil the book a bit (it's just not the same when you're waiting for something to happen) but this book is just so, so good - dark and interesting and really well written. The next Ripley novel is definitely on my "keep an eye out for this in the library" reading list.

Then I read The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace which I thought was going to be a Peter Wimsey novel but totally wasn't (I think I'd mixed it up in my head with the Wimsey book that's all about a will?). This is the story of a murder told through letters and - later in the book - court transcripts and written statements from the people involved.

I thought the first half was rather enjoyable, if slow-paced, as a picture gradually built up through everyone's letters but the second half was terribly dull. I found myself thinking "just get on with it!!" many times while reading the statements, which could all have been about a fifth of the length they were and conveyed just as much useful/interesting information.

After that I tried some graphic novels, which isn't a section of the library I've ever ventured into before. I read the first Sandman collection (which was interesting, but not really my cup of tea), Marvel 1602 - a tale of Marvel superheroes set in Elizabethan England (this was fun, but I think most of the "look how we're cleverly reinventing these characters!" stuff was lost on me as I know so little about them), and a whole bunch of Fables, tales of fairytale characters living in exile in the human world.

I read a pretty random assortment of Fables collections, just reading whichever ones happened to be in the library at the time, so some of the plots/characters were a bit of a muddle. I know this is really not the best way to approach a series but I did find them very enjoyable reads, I love anything that reworks fairytales or mythology of any kind.

Then I read The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill. After being disappointed by The Woman in Black I wanted to try another of her novels... and I found this one even more of a frustrating read. It's very slight (in both wordcount and plot), repetetive, predictable... and the timescale feels very muddled - it starts out as if the narrator is telling you a tale of something that happened many years ago when in fact he's describing the quite recent past. Yet again, I found this just made me want to re-read some M. R. James!

I also tried another book by Patricia Highsmith - Eleven, a book of short stories. There's a real mix of different tales in here, with lots of obsession and anger and plotlines that are Not Going To End Well. Some of them are quite unsettling, others darkly funny, and some quite bonkers (especially the one involving an island full of giant snails). I really enjoyed them all.

Reading some short stories was also a nice break from the big novel I've been slowly working my way through - Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

(caution: this photo includes some spoilers, as well as a scene some booklovers may find disturbing!)

I've owned an old, battered paperback copy of Anna Karenina since I was 15 and I had to lock it away to stop myself reading it all the time instead of spending time revising for my GCSEs! I remember talking about how good it was in my French oral exam that summer. Many many years later I have forgotten almost all my French, but Anna Karenina is still awesome.

I've read most of it several times before, but I often bog down in some of the Levin-focused plots (especially the chapters about farming and, later, local politics). Now I've decided to "declutter" my old copy and am re-reading it one last time before it gets recycled - I am determined to get to the end this time! Since my copy is going to get recycled anyway I tore it in half which has made it much easier to fit in my bag for reading on train journeys... and will hopefully mean I finish it sooner rather than later :)

Disclaimer: the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links.


Amy said...

The Fables comic series has been around a long time and there are many spin-off series (Cinderella, Jack of Fables). There are so many trade paperbacks collecting the comics and story-arcs, it can be confusing to jump into the middle. The author, Bill Willingham, wrote a one-off novel called Peter & Max. It's about the Pied Piper, still set in the same Fables universe but it is it's own complete story. I highly recommend it- it was a great read!

Bugs and Fishes said...

Thanks for the tip, Amy! I will definitely try to get hold of a copy of that :)