Sunday, 22 August 2010

Book worm reviews: July 2010

Oh life, you busy thing you. Awfully sorry for the prolonged absence – the longest time I have been away from my blog in three years. I was starting to dream of topics for posts and getting awfully sad on waking that there was no time to fling them into the world. Yup, am desperately searching for that mythical work/life balance again! One day, one day *she vows, misty-eyed*

But until that day – book reviews! I have been clocking up books at an alarming rate – it seems the less writing I do the more voraciously I read. So coming up over the remains of August are the following:

The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (also known as Agatha Christie)
Inside the Whale, by Jennie Rooney
The Borrowers Afield, by Mary Norton
The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
The Bottle Factory Outing, by Beryl Bainbridge
Break in the Sun, by Bernard Ashley
Appointment with Death, by Agatha Christie
The Children of Dynmouth, by William Trevor
The Running Man, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
More of Milly-Molly-Mandy, by Joyce Lancaster Brisley
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
Blaze, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)

Onto the Reviews!

Inside the Whale, by Jennie Rooney
Published by Chatto & Windus 2008

The title of this book neatly sets up the idea that this might be a story told in retrospect – as once you are inside the whale, then the worst has happened already and you are just waiting to see how you will be spat out the other end. At least that was how I matched the title to the book, and it did seem to suit the plot. Michael is an old man in hospital, and Stevie is an elderly lady living with her daughter. They are at the end of their life and yet the beginning won’t leave them alone, echoing in their thoughts and regrets, about how once they were almost together and then were spun off in different directions during the Second World War.

This is Jennie Rooney’s debut novel, and there are no huge dramatics in this gentle tale; it is a believable story of ordinary lives touched by coincidence. Her tone of voice throughout speaks with an understated humour, and her descriptions are very vivid. She writes short tight chapters taking turns with each character’s point of view, and in a way this is a love story, but not quite the love you may imagine. Poignant and bittersweet – this is a very well written debut, and I would be very interested to read what this author comes up with next.

The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (also known as Stephen King)
First published by Signet, 1979
This edition published by Penguin, 1999

The books written under Stephen King’s nom-de-plume have a harder edge than his usual style. They are bitter about society, and often envision a totalitarian future run on extreme parallels in a brutal setting. Their endings generally have no comfort or feel slightly under-done. Having said that, I still love them, of course – as they have all of Stephen King’s brilliance and ability to make you see things you’d rather not – his writing turns over the rocks and reveal the heebie jeebies that lurk in the mud.

In this book The Long Walk is an annual walking contest for teenage boys. Feted by TV cameras and followed by huge crowds, everyone manages to skirt the reality of the walk which is that anyone who falls below a certain speed gets executed. As the walk continues and the numbers of participants fall, the psychological challenges supersede the physical, and the sense of futility grows for a society that accepts such a contest as ‘sport’.

Absent in the Spring, by Mary Westmacott (also known as Agatha Christie)
First published by Wm Collins Sons & Co, 1944
This edition published by Fontana Books, 1974

The Mary Westmacott novels are usually passed off lightly as Agatha Christie’s foray into romance, although affairs of the heart can be just as twisted and tangled as her who-dunnits, just as laden with all the heavy emotion love can bring. In a way these stories are Agatha Christie’s ‘chick-lit’ novels - more introspective, less of a cast of players, but yet still with that same economy of writing, those brilliant descriptions, and believable characters.

Absent in the Spring looks at the life of self-satisfied Joan Scudamore, so smug with her marriage and her children, her home and her friends. She is travelling back to Britain from staying with her daughter and the journey is derailed on the borders of Arabia. Stranded in the dessert, Joan has all the time in the world to contemplate her life, and the bright light of the sun slowly dissipates the shadows until all is revealed.

I really enjoyed this, much more than I thought I would. Afterwards I wonder why I didn’t seek these books out before – possibly the front cover of this one put me off – no disrespect to the actors, but this book would work better with an illustrated cover, and more to do with the emotional whirl in the dessert. But if you like Agatha Christie books anyway then these are a real find – such a treat to find an author you like stretching her writing wings in a different genre.


Jenny Beattie said...

Wow, I've only read one of those: Curious Incident... I love poking my nose into other people's reading lists. Thank you.

DJ Kirkby said...

I enjoyed The Long Walk, The Curious Incident, The Running Man, and Blaze.

Kathy said...

Now, see, before reading your post I had no idea that Agatha Christie ever wrote under another name! I love learning things like that.

Old Kitty said...

Good luck finding the work/life balance thing and when you do, please share the secret - thank you! :-)

And thank you for these reviews!! Oh my goodness Mary Westmacott - you've got me wanting to re-read her again! :-)

Inside the Whale is very intriguing - I'll have to keep an eye out for this.

Thank you again - have a great Sunday!

Take care

A Certain book said...

I have the Curious Incident on my TBR pile. I quite like the sound of Inside The Whale - a debut novel for a start, something less dramatic and bittersweet.

Work/life balance is a tricky one, isn't it. I think you're doing swell, anyway.

Thanks for sharing your reading list. Have a great week!

Hannah said...

I do the same things when I read more. My writing slacks a bit. It happens but it's all for the better, right??

Eliza said...

Thanks for the reviews, I haven't read any of those, and didn't realise Stephen King and Agatha Christie wrote under different names - interesting.

Unknown said...

Agatha Christie's experimentation with this genre is something I knew nothing about. I'm going to try to track this book down. Thanks for the information.

Kittie Howard said...

I adore Agatha Christie, have read and re-read her books but hadn't a clue she'd written 'chick lit' and can't thank you enough for this review. Looking forward to some fun reading. And, about Stephen King, I'm not into his genre (like to sleep at night) but have read that some of his writing reflects a lingering bitterness since he was hit by that driver.

Boonie S said...

Hope you get your work/life balance sorted. When you do, please let me know how it’s done.

All the best, Boonie

Jayne said...

JJ Beattie – Me too, love knowing what other folk enjoy reading.

DJ Kirkby – Sounds like you are a fellow Stephen King reader!

Kathy – It’s great finding out something new isn’t it, especially about authors that are almost part of the establishment!

Old Kitty – I am forever chasing it! I will share the secret but I fear it involves winning the lottery. Glad you liked the reviews – wonder why she chose the name ‘Mary Westmacott!’ Sort of unusual isn’t it?

A Certain book – Debut novels are to be encouraged! Yes I think you would like Inside the Whale, thinking about the books you review on your own blog. Curious Incident was on my TBR pile for a very long time, it took me ages to dive in but I was glad I did.

Palindrome – I think it has to be for the better. At least we are surrounded by words even if not producing any!

Jayne said...

Eliza – It’s funny what things you think are common knowledge and then you realise perhaps they aren’t. Hm, I sense a blog post brewing! (And a cup of tea!)

Elaine AM Smith – Her flirtation with romance is still sprung with suspense but that is what makes it so interesting to read. Do try it! Be interested in hearing what you think.

Kittie Howard – Hee! Well, ‘chick-lit’ was me being very broad – I’m not sure Mary Westmacott novels will be fun reading, exactly, they are not light-hearted, but they do cover love in all its guises. I have only read a few of these novels under her pen-name, and in all of them she did stir in a huge dollop of suspense – mostly I read them wondering when the murder would be, but these don’t go in that direction! As for Stephen King – I think his Richard Bachman books pre-date his accident, although his accident was horrific, can well understand how that would leave bitterness.

Boonie S – I have no idea how I am going to get it sorted at present! I need a clue. And a plan.

Happy Frog and I said...

I am utterly astounded at how many books you have been reading, very impressive indeed. I'm fascinated by the Stephen King book. Sounds very dark but intriguing. I think I will be giving that a go in September when my life will supposedly calm down a bit! Really informative post, wish I could create such excellent review. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the list, I've picked a few to add to my list.

luminous muse said...

I'm so glad you aren't snooty about Mr. King like some writers. Though not all of his books are great, there's a reason so many people read him -actually two reasons. He tells a great story (that would be enough.) And he's a genius at evoking contemporary middle-class American culture by picking just the right details.

LibraryGirl said...

Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for bringing to light one of my favorite reads and re-reads: "Absent in the Spring"! Every woman of a certain age, especially those who've been married and/or have children, should read this book and ponder its interpretations of her own life.