Monday, July 11, 2016

Holiday Reading

Just back from our sixteen days in Malta and Gozo. The following summer reading comments are a little lighter than usual. We flew out on the day of the EU referendum and were as surprised as anyone by the result. Even more surprising was a torrential downpour in Valetta on our first full day so we sat in a hotel room watching CNN and updating social media frantically. Imagine if we had gone on holiday in the 'old days' and not had access to news. What would landing back have been like?

Anything happen while we were away?
Well, it's like this. Everything you thought you knew is wrong.

Anyway that is a long way of saying that we read more news websites than we often do and so balanced it out with a slightly lighter reading agenda than usual. My 'edifying' books (with one and a half exceptions) came back to what I still call the UK with me, unread.

As usual the mark in brackets (out of 10) represents the holiday escapism factor and not literary quality:

Jonan Jonasson
Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All (7)
From the Swedish guy (in translation) who wrote about the hundred year old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared, the story of the dull recptionist, Per Persson, at a sleezy hotel, a priest who has lost most of her faith and a contract killer. They find money. They invest it in barely legal enterprises. It works. People don't like it. There is a body count but most of the bodies arrive in amusing ways.

Carl Hiaasen
Stormy Weather (7)
Hiassen populates his Southern States crime thrillers with grotesques and cartoon characters. Yes foks, it's more of the comedy black I so love. In hurricane season most people move out. Not so the storm chasers, dodgy roofers and inheritors of illegal zoos from where most of the animals have escaped. You will feel hot, sticky and insect-bitten by the end. Great fun.

Alan McGee
Creation Stories (5)
The only way to keep up with excess-loving, substance-abusing bands is to be a similar music publisher. Discuss. This autobiography is appallingly written. In homage to bands who achieve success by breaking musical rules, McGee attempts the same stunt with his book and the rules of grammar, punctaution and syntax. The style is that of a nine year old writing 'What I did on my holidays'. Since he was the manager of Oasis for a while the insights are interesting but I learned more about luck than talent.

Tim Dowling
How to be a Husband (7)
The Saturday Guardian columnist analyses his marriage. It is an affectionate look at a modern relationship and the reality of what sort of things go on in one that works. Relationship by sarcasm and sharp putdown can be a winning formula as long as both parties play nicely and go off alone for a while on jaunts.

Peter Carey
Amnesia (8)
My regular reader will know that Carey is just about my favourite author. He has won the Booker prize twice and been long-listed many times. Here he looks at an act of subversion not unlike Wikileaks. In this case it involves mallware-opening the cell doors of asylum seekers. Unfortunately the virus also lets a lot of really bad guys free from their confinement in the USA. Carey takes us on a journey into the past and back two generations. What makes an anarchist like this? Nature or nurture? Journalist Felix has to track down the perpetrator and write her story. It may save her extradition and her life.

Jonathan Coe
Number 11 (8)
The Number 11 of the title is three things. A Birmingham bus-route. The Chancellor's address. The number of floors down that a wealthy London family are prepared to dig to extend their house when they are told they can't go up or out. This novel is a survey of recent UK popular culture - reality TV, lucky winners, talentless singers, immigrant nannies and dog-walkers, the super-rich and, because Coe is a master and can do this sort of thing, a disabled, lesbian, mixed-race, woman in a central role. Read it and weep baby.

Carl Hiassen
Double Whammy (6)
This Hiassen is set in the murky world of competitive bass-fishing. Sent to investigate if a competition is being rigged, private investigator T.J. Decker finds that everything is as murky as the water in which the really big fish hide. Blame the TV evangelist who owns the broadcast rights to the very-popular angling shows if you want, but he knows people and you may end up swimming with the prize catch.

Owen Jones
The Establishment (7)
An interesting accompaniment to the news from home, Owen Jones' thesis that whatever the result of election after election the establishment always wins seems to be showing up true again. Bankers, newspaper proprietors and politicians don't suffer when things are tough; the poor do. Always and all the time. Jones' firebrand socialism would want to fix that and make the UK fairer. But would the establishment hang around?

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