February Reading: A Season of Grimness
I was offline for a couple of days and gathering my lists and reviews for February, when I realised that this short, dark month has provided me with quite a lot of grim reading. Not ‘grim’ in terms of the quality of the writing, since pretty much all of them have been very well written indeed. But the subject matter(s) has/have been relentless: child abductions, abuse, alcoholism, serial killers, cannibalism, mental illness, highly dysfunctional families, discrimination against immigrants… and an astronaut stranded on Mars.
Still, I managed to read 16 books this month, which is very good going, although I have fallen far behind in my reviewing.
1 Book Each in German and French:
Irena Brežná: Die undankbare Fremde
Delphine de Vigan: Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit – will be part of a larger post on mothers in fiction
5 Translated Books (and therefore worth knowing the translators’ names)
Jean-Pierre Alaux & Noël Balen: Nightmare in Burgundy, transl. Sally Pane (to be reviewed soon on CFL)
Pascal Garnier: The Front Seat Passenger (to be reviewed), transl. Jane Aitken
Shuichi Yoshida: Parade, transl. Philip Gabriel
Promising set-up: four young people who share a flat and seem to have nothing in common. Each is slightly off-kilter, dysfunctional, but not in a very obvious way. As a picture of disaffected youth, of the anonymity of city living, of friendships of the ‘chatroom type’ (even when people are living together) and of the darker side to Japanese society, it works perfectly. As a crime novel or even psychological thriller with a coherent story arc, it does not.
Pierre Lemaitre: Irène (to be reviewed), transl. Frank Wynne
Jung-Myung Lee: The Investigation (to be reviewed), transl. Chi-Young Kim
1 Non-Crime Book (More Science than Science Fiction)
Andy Weir: The Martian
Surprisingly technical, with a high level of scientific precision (and yet manages to keep it thrilling throughout). It really would make an excellent film. Lovely sense of humour of the main protagonist, plus a lot of the politics of NASA, the US and even China, keeps this lively. Ultimately, however, this one felt just a bit too geeky to me. It didn’t have enough of the human/psychological elements to it.
4 Books from Crime Fiction Series
Elly Griffiths: The Outcast Dead (Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist)
Denise Mina: The Red Road (detective Alex Morrow)
Donna Leon: By Its Cover (Commissario Brunetti) – to be reviewed
Nicci French: Waiting for Wednesday (psychotherapist Frieda Klein)
I might have known that Nicci French would not do a conventional crime fiction series. Don’t expect a police procedural (although police are involved) and don’t expect a self-contained story, as so many recurrent characters reappear and so many allusions are made to events in the previous two books. Yes, there is a distinct murder, plus an intriguing trail which could mean several more murders, but this is all much more about loss and bereavement, trauma and its psychological consequences.
4 Standalone Crime Novels (although at least 2 of them really stretch the boundaries of crime)
Lucie Whitehouse: Before We Met
Natalie Young: Season to Taste
Paula Daly: Just What Kind of Mother Are You? – will feature in my ‘mothering’ post
Koren Zailckas: Mother Mother – will feature in my ‘mothering’ post
So many fantastic books this month, not a single turkey. A few frightened or even repelled me (The Red Road, Season to Taste, Mother Mother, Irène), most of them saddened me (even Donna Leon and the winemaker series were not so cosy this time round), so it was hard to choose my favourite. In the end, I opted for The Investigation, because it combines so many of my favourite things: poetry and mystery, Japanese history and the triumph of beauty and art over the most inhumane conditions.
I’m linking this to the Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme organised by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.