While I ponder what direction (i.e., book) I would like to take this blog for 2011, I thought I would poke the ashes and write about some more recent reads I’ve encountered.
Saturday – Ian McEwan – This was my first foray into McEwan territory. There are quite a few of his titles on the list “1001 books you must read before you die,” and he’s been hailed as one of the “greatest British writers since 1945,” according to the Times. Saturday chronicles a day in the life of a British neurosurgeon, set against the backdrop of the invasion of Iraq post 9/11. The events of the novel follow along chronologically, in the fashion of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Without giving much of the plot away, I think that some of the violent aspects that befall McEwan’s protagonist, Henry Perowne, are rather contrived. The book weighs in at a little over 300 pages, which is usually something I can rip through quickly. However, this book took me a few extra days to read, due to his smarmy prose and penchant for throwing around medical words.
The Plot Against America – Philip Roth – I love Philip Roth, not completely unequivocally, but close enough. This is one of Roth’s more recent offerings, and a bit of a departure for him. The Plot Against America is an alternative history, with the themes of coming-of-age and growing-up-Jewish that Roth is (in)famous for. The 1940 presidential election is won by Charles Lindbergh, America’s aviation hero, rather than FDR; Lindbergh (who was suspected of being a Nazi sympathizer and spoke openly about the supremacy of the white race) slowly begins to exhibit his anti-Semitic attitudes in the laws he enacts. This is a book that you know is a fiction, but the feelings it engenders, set against the backdrop of Nazism on the real world stage, are chilling.
The Master – Colm Tóibín – A fictionalized account of the declining years of the novelist Henry James, Tóibín has created a masterwork about the inner demons of a private man.
The Lambs of London – Peter Ackroyd – I really enjoyed this one, although it was a little bit patchy in parts. The arc about William Ireland and his Shakespearian forgeries take over the majority of the book, so the title is misleading; however, Ireland and his relationship with his father was what I found most intriguing.
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell – This was quite brilliant. At its basic element, it is several seemingly different stories, or novellas, that have distinct characters that share a common trait. The stories sweep across many time periods and have different themes. It seems at first to be extremely disjointed, but the more you read, it begins to hang together, and pretty magnificently, I thought.
Elizabeth Costello – J.M. Coetzee – An interesting conceit, telling the stories in a series of vignettes that center around a lecture tour. Was unsatisfying and tried too hard, and the very last two pages made absolutely no sense to me, so if that was trying to tie everything together, it failed miserably.
Underworld – Don Delillo – I could not even finish this book. It seemed interesting at the outset – weaving in and out of different time periods, using a baseball caught in an iconic game as the catalyst. But it was just . . . devastating; Delillo writes these convoluted sentences that are just so smug, you want to strangle him. You can almost hear how clever he thinks he is. That bothers me, a lot. I put it down after about two hundred pages, which wasn’t even halfway through!
Jack the Ripper’s Secret Confession: the hidden testimony of Britain’s first serial killer – David Monaghan & Nigel Cawthorne – This was a random pick-up at the library, on one of the tables where they put recently published works to catch the eye. It sounded intriguing, so I brought it home. The authors put out the idea that “Walter,” the author of that massive tome of Victorian pornography My Secret Life, was Jack the Ripper, and that it is revealed in the aforementioned autobiography through various clues. However, it seemed at all times that the authors were really reaching to make the analogy hang together, and it really didn’t for me. The book is better read from the perspective of My Secret Life itself, and how it illustrates what a sick fucker “Walter” was, if any of it was even true.