A Few Reviews Behind…

The following books all fall into the category: enjoyable but not enough time to review them fully (perhaps not outstandingly ‘different’ and memorable enough to make me find the time for complete reviews).

fallofmanDavid Lagercrantz: Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Alan Turing dies in Wilmslow, just outside Manchester, by eating a cyanide-laced apple. Was it suicide or murder? This odd mix of detective story and spy thriller speculates on his demise. It’s not badly written and evokes that atmosphere of suspicion and one-upmanship of the 1950s Cold War very well, but I don’t quite see the point of it. The Turing story is by now quite well-known, so it’s really more about the interior journey of one man – the policeman Leonard Corell – who becomes fascinated with Turing and saddened by his life and death. He initially recoils from homosexuality but ultimately can relate to Turing’s misfit status. It does read at times like a treatise on maths and computer science, and the ending is a bit of a nonentity. I then saw the film with Cumberbatch as Turing and was a bit disappointed at the portrayal of Turing as a geek. Difficult he may have been, but there was far more to him than an almost autistic devotion to science and a lack of humour.

fridayNicci French: Friday on My Mind

The fifth in the Frieda Klein series and I still enjoy Frieda’s moodiness and the descriptions of hidden London (including its underground rivers). But she does do some reckless and silly things which in real life would lead to her being instantly charged and imprisoned. So it was a welcome addition to the investigative team to have a new female detective to view Frieda a little more objectively (and coldly). Above all, I liked the way the authors tackled head-on the ambiguity of grief and the guilt of losing someone one once loved but no longer does.

Image from Tarkovsky film, from bfi.org.uk
Image from Tarkovsky film, from bfi.org.uk

Stanislaw Lem: Solaris

Not my usual reading matter at all, although I do like the more unusual science fiction of Asimov, John Wyndham, Ursula Le Guin and Iain M. Banks. This is a hypnotic and disturbing book about the limits of human comprehension, the tricks our mind can play on us, about whether it’s ever possible to understand and accept the ‘other’, how misunderstandings can lead to escalation of conflict. So, all worthy themes, but too many didactic bits, physics explanations etc. to really grab me. I think I prefer the Tarkovsky version, which apparently Lem described as ‘got it all wrong – it’s not a Love Story set in Space’.
Glad to see it translated properly and accurately into English now, though, rather than via a French translation.

prettybabyMary Kubica: Pretty Baby

A typical suburban family suddenly finds itself careening out of control as they take in a young runaway girl and her baby. This novel speaks to the fears and contradictions in all of us: wanting a comfortable lifestyle vs. wanting to help, trusting vs. being suspicious, frustrations of parenting vs. frustrations of married life and much more. Clever characterisation, with viewpoints shifting from one character to another, until I felt sorry for all of them. Readers who say that the characters are unsympathetic must score very highly on self-esteem, as I recognise many of the thoughts and anxieties of the people in the book – albeit heightened, of course, that’s why it’s a thriller! I did foresee some but not all of the developments, but more than anything it’s a study in disappointment and frustration rather than a straightforward thriller, despite its explosive finale. I’ve tipped Mary Kubica as a woman author to watch on the CFL website and certainly look forward to reading more by her.

22 thoughts on “A Few Reviews Behind…”

  1. I have Solaris on the TBR, because I loved Lem’s “The Cyberiad” although I suspect it may be somewhat more hard sci fi than that book. I haven’t seen the film, so that may help!

  2. I’ve found Lem to be an interesting departure from my usual reading fare, too, Marina Sofia. This sounds like an even greater departure, by that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like the way Lem invites the reader to speculate.

  3. I’m a fan of Tarkovsky’s film of Solaris, but I’ve never contemplated reading the novel. Sci-fi isn’t my usual reading matter either although it’s good to try something a little different every now and again!

    1. I was keen to read the original, especially when I heard he was so dismissive of the movies (I didn’t like the Clooney remake either). And yes, always good to try something a bit different and shake things up a bit!

  4. I’ve just done a round up post for the same reason, not enough strong feelings for a stand alone review! I actually have a one or two Nicci French in the 746 I think. I’ve never read French so I must have a look for them….

  5. I’ve recently finished Friday on my Mind, love the writing and the character development in this one, as you say we get a different perspective on Frieda in this one. I also rate Mary Kubica very highly, I was really impressed by how different her two books have been and both were brilliant reads.

  6. Like you, I wasn’t delighted by the Cumberbatch/Turing movie, and was startled when BC got an Oscar nom for it. I like quite a lot of his work, but I felt his portrayal here was, to be honest, downright poor. The scene where he tries but miserably fails to tell a joke has the kind of direness you squirm at when it’s your kids in the school play. It’s completely unconvincing, a portrayal of someone deficient in social skills by someone who has no idea of that condition at all. (A very dear friend of ours has that problem, and it’s nothing at all like the portrayal in the movie.) (It was probably the director’s fault rather than BC’s.)

    I’ve read quite a lot of sf in my time (koff koff), and I’d question your description here: “the more unusual science fiction of Asimov, John Wyndham, Ursula Le Guin and Iain M. Banks.” Asimov and Wyndham were smack in the mainstream of sf, and I’d argue that Iain was, too, despite his tremendous inventiveness. (What made his mainstream work so interesting was the way it really felt like sf, even though for the most part it wasn’t, however near to sf some of it got.) And a lot of UKLeG’s work lies in the mainstream of sf as well — certainly all of her best work that I’m aware of (not that I’ve read it all, because there’s quite a lot of it).

    I really must re-read Solaris at some point. I’ve watched the Tarkovsky movie several times; like yourself, I found the remake pretty empty. I think the idea was to produce something less challenging to the US multiplex viewer than Ooh! Subtitles! Ooh! Slow-moving! Ooh! Long! Yet, when I watched it, I found myself missing all the long, slow-moving bits with subtitles.

    1. There you go: that just demonstrates my lack of knowledge and background reading in sf – I really can’t tell the difference between mainstream and unusual! Spot on about Iain Banks, though – there is a dystopian, strange quality to all of his work.

  7. I’d like to read Solaris. Have you read it in the French or the English translation? (I’ve heard the English one is actually a translation from the French translation)

    1. I read it in English – but the newer translation, done just a few years ago, directly from Polish. The old translation was indeed based on a French translation and was quite abridged and inaccurate.

  8. Solaris is firmly in place once my year of Russian reading comes to a close in a month’s time! I think he’ll be a great place to start to widen out my Soviet reading.

    1. Indeed, a great place to start. Are you looking for writers of the Communist era from the satellite states? I may have a few suggestions, although I’d have to check that they are available in translation.

      1. Basically, after a very intensely Russian year I want to lift the pressure, while still keeping the enjoyment! I want to read Makine, Kurkov and of course ‘The Librarian’ by Elizarov. Then there’s Solzhenitsyn, Lem and oh so many more. This is *not* going to be a time restricted project and any suggestions will be more than gratefully received!

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