Holiday Reading and Women in Translation

Instead of my July round-up, this is more of a July and August holiday reading list. Since August is WIT month, I decided to take it one step further and focus predominantly on women writers for both months. So here are the plans and what I’ve read to date (marked with a bold R at the start of the line). Completely gratuitous holiday pictures from previous years included, just to put myself in the mood. Please don’t mention how far behind I am with the reviews…

Fake beach at Vevey.
Fake beach at Vevey.

Crime fiction:

Kati Hiekkapelto: The Defenceless (Interview with the author and review to come on Crime Fiction Lover)

Fred Vargas: Temps glaciaires – was snatched away from my loving arms by another reader who had requested it at the library (I was overdue, to be fair, should have started reading it earlier), but I’ll try to find it again

Karin Fossum: The Drowned Boy

Ancient plane tree in Crete.
Ancient plane tree in Crete.

Other fiction:

Valeria Luiselli: Faces in the Crowd

Alice Quinn: Queen of Trailer Park

Therese Bohman: Drowned

Judith Schalansky: The Giraffe’s Neck

Virginie Despentes: Apocalypse Baby

Tove Jansson: The True Deceiver

Renate Dorrestein: The Darkness that Divides Us

To complete this diet of women in translation, I’m also adding this category:

Nikki de Saint Phalle sculpture, Paris
Nikki de Saint Phalle sculpture, Paris

English-speaking Women Writers

Sophie Hannah: A Game for all the Family

Lucy Atkins: The Other Child

Denise Mina: Blood Salt Water

Sarah Ward: In Bitter Chill

Rosamond Lehmann: The Echoing Grove

Anya Lipska: A Devil Under the Skin

Men Who Snuck in There:

Reread: F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is the Night

Emmanuel Carrere: L’Adversaire

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts

Botanical Garden, Geneva
Botanical Garden, Geneva

I abandoned the book about Isadora Duncan, as it was flitting about too much from scene to scene, country to country, without a coherent structure or mood.

 

Just to do a brief round-up: I read 14 books, of which only 3 by men, abandoned one. Half of them were in translation or in a different language.

In case you are wondering, my two crime fiction picks for the month of July are: Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill and Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless. For Overall Book of the Month, I’ve read so many good books this month, it is really hard to choose a favourite. One that whacked me on the head and took me for a ride, leaving me slightly breathless and laughing with exhilaration: Apocalypse Baby. But the one that has stayed with me, slightly haunting my dreams, is Valeria Luiselli.

MontmartreView
View from Montmartre, Paris.

After the holiday, I need to focus on getting my Netgalley request shelf in manageable order. I am back up to 31 books now and soooo out of date (not that I care, but the publishers probably do!). Here are some that really tempt me for September:

Simon Unsworth: The Devil’s Detective

Richard Beard: Acts of the Assassins

David Lagercrantz: Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Johan Theorin: The Voices Behind

Don Winslow: The Cartel

Malcolm Mackay: The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

What do you think, too much testosterone after two months of predominantly female authors or a necessary redressing of the balance?

Reading with a Theme: Loyalty Between Sisters

Serendipity is a wondrous thing. I had no intention of reading about adultery and love triangles involving two sisters, but I somehow ended up with two books on the topic and a TV adaptation of the life and loves of the Bloomsbury Group.

 

Rosamond Lehmann: The Echoing Grove

Rosamond Lehmann in her youth, from the Frances Partridge archive, The Guardian.
Rosamond Lehmann in her youth, from the Frances Partridge archive, The Guardian.

Rosamond herself was linked to the Bloomsbury Group, part of the younger generation gravitating around it. Her brother John managed the Woolf’s Hogarth Press for many years, Virginia Woolf rather admired her books and invited her to dinner, so it’s not surprising that she later published a photographic memoir of many of her illustrious friends (including Cecil Day-Lewis. This is what Woolf has to say about Lehmann’s second novel A Note in Music

I am reading Lehmann with some interest and admiration – she has a clear, hard mind, beating up now and again into poetry… She has all the gifts that I lack: can give story & development & character & so on.

This book was originally published in 1953 and is most likely based on the unhappy love triangle with the married poet Cecil Day Lewis (who then left both Rosamond and his wife for the actress Jill Balcon who became his second wife – and continued to have many other affairs). Even more tragically, Lehmann lost her own daughter in 1958 (after this novel was published), so this brings an added poignancy to the description of the grief at the death of a child within its pages.

echoinggroveIt is the story of two sisters, Madeleine and Dinah, who love the same man, Rickie Masters (talk about a heavy metaphorical surname!) Madeleine is married to him, Dinah was his lover for a time.

It is not an easy book to read, not just because of the strong emotions evoked (with illnesses, threats, suicide attempts and melodrama galore), but because of the shifting timeframes. Such a contrast to the timelines alternating so neatly nowadays, marked with dates to avoid any possible confusion to the reader!

This novel moves from one POV to another, one moment in time to another with no qualms and no apologies. Yes, it does get confusing at times and I had to keep turning back to see what had been referenced earlier and when it took place.  But after a while I just surrendered myself to the cascade of destructive emotions and guilt trips. It’s a deliberate device, mirroring the jumble of memories and feelings we carry with us at all times, but it also gives us a fully rounded picture of a love triangle (or more than a triangle at times). We see each character through the eyes of everyone else and therefore end up condemning no one. This is a story that leaves no one happy or unscarred and where no one is an out-and-out scoundrel, merely weak.

However, it’s also a very English tale of passion, so we see very little of the drama happening in ‘real time’ or ‘onstage’. Most often, it is being recounted by the characters in (often endless) conversations. An interesting choice, which brings a running commentary to each of the events. The conversations themselves are more like monologues – telling the reader so much, but not really helping the characters to communicate. There’s a deadening of the soul at work there, which comes both as a relief and a regret.

For an excellent additional review of the book, see here.

drownedTherese Bohman: Drowned (transl. by Marlaine Delargy)

By contrast, this book set in rural Sweden, and has a very clear timeline: summer and late autumn, before and after a tragic event. The storyline is so simple, the reader may feel like it’s been done before, but it’s all about the telling.

Marina is spending the summer with her sister Stella, who lives with her older partner, successful writer Gabriel, in a romantic ramshackle old house in rural Sweden. Marina is entranced by the surroundings and falls for the charms of the charismatic but unpredictable Gabriel. This has predictably dire consequences, but the full extent is only gradually revealed.

The language is lush, as are the descriptions of landscapes and plants and of the old house they all live in. It all creates a dream-like atmosphere, almost soporific, which is perhaps what both Stella and Marina are doing – curiously passive, lulling themselves to sleep, deliberately closing their eyes to what they don’t want to see.

Those expecting a suspense novel or pyschological thriller will be disappointed at the slow pace and lengthy descriptions, but it is really all about close observation, pathetic fallacy (allowing nature and the weather to mirror our emotions) and the spaces between words. And if you want likeable characters, be warned that this is about the innate selfishness of all humans.

Virginia Woolf and Clive Bell on the beach in 1909, from virginiawoolfblog.com
Virginia Woolf and Clive Bell on the beach in 1909, from virginiawoolfblog.com

Life in Squares’ 3 part TV series on BBC 2

After the birth of Vanessa and Clive Bell’s first son, it is true that there was a flirtation between Virginia Wool and her brother-in-law. It was more prolonged and hurtful to all concerned than we were shown in the TV mini-series, but it began out of love towards Nessa. Both Virginia and Clive felt neglected by their beloved Nessa, who was one of those radiant and devoted Earth Mothers. Their flirtation was initially designed to get her attention back, but Virginia also felt flattered by Clive’s interest in her writing. As for Clive, he clearly wanted to take it further physically, but Virginia was never too keen. Their Bloomsbury friends disapproved of this turn of events – free love was all very fine, but some things went just too far. And it changed the relationship between the two sisters forever. But the great power of ‘Bloomsbury’ was that all could be forgiven, if not forgotten, that most things could be discussed (‘to death’ even) and that their friendship endured through affairs, marriages, deaths and heartbreak.

I can understand in a way what attracts men to the sisters of the women they have married. They seemingly offer them a second chance at happiness. They bear enough resemblance to their wives that it reminds them of those traits once considered lovable, but they are different enough that it makes the men feel that with that new person they could be happy, they could be understood, they could be their best version of themselves.

What attracts the sisters to these husbands is unfathomable to me, as I have no sister myself and know nothing of sibling rivalry. However, I can imagine that the betrayal by your sister (your flesh and blood) must feel even worse than being betrayed by a partner (essentially, a stranger, no matter how much-loved).

Quick-Fire Reviews: Crime Fiction

I was planning longer reviews for each of these books, but the risk is that the longer I leave it, the less I’ll be in the mood for reviewing them, or the more I’ll have forgotten the first impressions.

So here are some quick-fire reviews of recently read crime novels. Two are by authors I’ve already read and admired, so I know what I’m getting. The remaining two are debut authors. And when I say ‘quick-fire’, it still has somehow added up to a very long post, so I apologise in advance.

BloodSaltDenise Mina: Blood, Salt, Water

A woman suspected by the police of major drug-smuggling and money laundering disappears. Has that got anything to do with the death of a woman, something confused criminal Iain Fraser is struggling with? And why is a middle-aged former Scout leader, Miss Grierson, back in town? Alex Morrow and her team struggle to make sense of all these disparate elements, as do the readers.

I’m a big Denise Mina fan – she always captures a particular Scottish setting impeccably. This time it’s a smaller town and a posh golf course gated environment, as well as the gritty streets of Glasgow. But this is perhaps not the most memorable one in the series: some of the motivations seem a little forced to me. Still, Mina’s ‘good/OK’ is a notch above most other writers, so I’d still recommend this book.There were some characters who had the potential to become interesting but were not given quite enough room to develop. I also missed hearing more about Alex Morrow’s family life  – while I don’t like it to overwhelm the plot, it was just noticeable in its complete absence.

OtherChildLucy Atkins: The Other Child

Tess, single mother to nine-year-old Joe, falls in love with American pediatric surgeon Greg and gets pregnant. When he is offered the job of a lifetime back on the East Coast of the US, they marry and relocate.  But life in an affluent American suburb proves anything but straightforward. Unsettling things keep happening in the large rented house, Joe is distressed, the next-door neighbours are in crisis, and Tess is sure that someone is watching her. Greg’s work is all-consuming and, as the baby’s birth looms, he grows more and more unreachable. Something is very wrong.

Confession: I read this one mostly because of the ‘moving to the US as a trailing spouse’ storyline. I just love those fish out of water suffering culture shock stories! I read this book very quickly, as it had plenty of mystery and some interesting characters to engage me. It does feel slightly déjà vu – the marriage that you jump in all too quickly, the man with secrets, the suspicions and gradual unravelling of relationships, the ‘who can be trusted, who’s telling the truth’ scenario are all well trodden ground. This book certainly won’t stay with me for a very long time. But the author has a fresh, engaging style, it’s got a nice sense of menace to it without getting too gory, it’s an entertaining beach read.

GranotierbookSylvie Granotier: Personne n’en saura rien (No One Will Know a Thing)

Isabelle is the latest in a series of kidnappings and rapes of young girls from the beaches of Normandy. Except that, unlike the other victims, she does not end up dead. Instead, she is taking her aggressor to court on the count of rape. The accused, Jean Chardin, certainly seems to fit the profile of a rapist, but, as we find out more about the background of each of the people involved, we begin to wonder just what revenge Isabelle is planning.

For those who don’t like serial killer tropes or graphic descriptions of women suffering, rest assured there is not much of that here. Instead, it’s a thrilling and psychologically subtle read. Effortlessly moving between points of view and timelines, the author makes us question ourselves about the nature of justice, the ways in which we justify our own behaviour, and the role of families. This hasn’t been translated into English yet, but Le French Book has translated one of Granotier’s other novels, The Paris Lawyer.

BitterChillSarah Ward: In Bitter Chill

The Peak District as winter approaches is a chilling place, especially when a thirty-year-old crime is reopened following a suicide apparently related to it. Back in 1978 two young schoolgirls were abducted by a woman driving a car. One of them, Rachel, made it back home later that day, but could remember little of what had happened. The other girl, Sophie, was never found. It’s Sophie’s mother who has committed suicide in a hotel in the area. But why now, so many years after the event? Another death soon after also seems to be linked to the tragic event in 1978. Rachel and the police are equally committed to finding out the truth about events both past and present, uncovering some very dark secrets in the process.

This is a very promising debut indeed and just the kind of police procedural I enjoy: satisfying, logical, with interesting characters throughout (I especially liked Rachel’s grandma). The writing is of a consistently high quality and very precise, and the location is so well described I felt as if I was there (although I’ve never visited the area myself). But all this does not come at the detriment of the plot. Yes, I guessed part of the solution, but by no means all of the ramifications. I’m really glad that, although Ward intended this to be a standalone crime novel, she will write another novel featuring these detectives, as I got quite attached to ambitious Connie, about-to-get-married Palmer and their boss Sadler.

I’ve also read Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless (which will be reviewed shortly on Crime Fiction Lover), the cracking follow-up to The Hummingbird, and Sophie Hannah’s quirky, unexpected standalone psychological thriller A Game for All the Family.

The remaining four reviews (I hope to have more time to spend on them this coming week, but I’m also trying to write another 20,000 words on my novel, so guess where my priorities lie?) are for:

Max Blecher: Scarred Hearts – a surprisingly modern feel, very candid, not for the squeamish, heartbreaking and yet full of an urgent love of life.
Emmanuel Carrère: L’Adversaire – a fascinating study of evil and the power of deception, including self-deception – whether we believe evil exists in all of us, or whether we see some people as being born evil. Particularly heart-wrenching and disturbing since I know the places and some of the people involved.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is the Nightno longer quite the ultimate story of marital and individual breakdown that I believed it to be when I was 18 – Rosemary’s age – and fell in love with Dick Diver myself. Still an unsettling portrait of inner demons and dysfunctional families, but this time I particularly admired the locations and descriptions of the expat experience (yes, I have a one-track mind).

Valeria Luiselli: Faces in the Crowd –  unlike other ‘vignette’ type novels, I really liked this one, although I don’t think it could be sustained over a much longer book. I liked it because it really is experimental, not just pretending to be so, and there is a warm, funny, fearless and erudite imagination at work there, blending fantasy, philosophy, literature and everyday experiences so well together.

Six in Six Book Meme

I found this delightful book meme with Margaret over at Books Please. It was something started by Jo at The Book Jotter. You summarise six months of reading, sorting the books into six categories. Jo suggests plenty of categories, but you can also create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

Here is my version for 2015, with links to my reviews where those exist.  I had a hard time not using the same book more than once for each of the category – that was the one rule I set for myself, so that I could present as many books and authors as possible. It is fair to assume that books I loved and authors I want to read more of are interchangeable.

6 Books I Loved

Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji – the best three months of reading, total immersion in a very strange world, yet still fully relatable

Ansel Elkins: Blue Yodel

Tom Rob Smith: Child 44 – particularly effective when read just before watching the film, and comparing the two

Jean-Patrick Manchette: Fatale

Eva Dolan: The Long Way Home (although I could just as well have put her second novel Tell No Tales)

Jonas Karlsson: The Room

6 New Authors to Me

Sara Novic: Girl at War

Sherman Alexie: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Karim Miske: Arab Jazz

Kanae Minato: Confessions

Metin Arditi: Loin des bras

Yasmina Khadra: L’attentat

Some of them were more exciting than others, but I think I want to read more from each of these authors I’ve just discovered.

6 Books that Didn’t Live up to Expectations

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train – entertaining enough, but quite average for my taste, despite its resounding success

Jenny Offill: Dept. of Speculation – poetic and thought-provoking, but ultimately too fragmented and cold for me. Perhaps suffering also in comparison to Elena Ferrante’s ‘The Days of Abandonment’, which I had read just before.

Matthew Thomas: We Are Not Ourselves – moving, well-written in parts, but just too long and trying to squeeze too much in

John Enright: Blood Jungle Ballet – I loved the first book in the series so my hopes were perhaps too high for this one

Vesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky – The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite books, so I thought I’d love to see it transposed into present-day London with all of its foreign money. But alas, it didn’t add anything new…

Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilk – not the Christiane F. of the new generation of Berliners…

6 Authors I Want to Read More of

Elena Ferrante

Emily St. John Mandel

Laura Kasischke

Virginie Despentes

Kishwar Desai

Tana French

Would you look at that? They are all women!

6 Books I’d Like to See Translated into English

Hubert Mingarelli: La Route de Beit Zera

Jeanne Desaubry: Poubelle’s Girls

Jeremie Gue: Paris la nuit

Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

Fouad Laroui: L’etrange affaire du pantalon du Dassoukine – or several other books by this author, he hasn’t been translated at all into English

Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

Sorry, they are nearly all in French. That’s because I can only talk about those books written in languages I can read other than English – and I’ve read far fewer German books this year and next to no Romanian books. This may be about to change…

6 That Don’t Fit into Any Category But I Have to Mention

Megan Beech: When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – spoken poetry by a very young, talented and opinionated woman poet

Tuula Karjalainen: Tove Jansson: Work and Love

Daniel Pennac: Comme un roman – how schools or adults can kill the love of reading; and how to reignite it

Ever Yours: Van Gogh’s  Essential Letters

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants – learnt so much about comic books and vineyards, all in a humorous way

Sarah Ruhl: 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write – something any mother/creator/professional can relate to

 

Voices and Persona in Poetry: Blue Yodel

FblueYodelCoverrom the blurb of this debut volume of poetry, winner of the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize: In this imaginative and haunting debut collection, Ansel Elkins introduces readers to a multitude of characters whose “otherness” has condemned them to live on the margins of society. She weaves blues, ballads, folklore, and storytelling into an intricate tapestry that depicts the violence, poverty, and loneliness of the Deep South, as well as the compassion, generosity, and hope that bring light to people in their darkest times. 

How do you rate a poetry collection? How can you even shelve it as ‘read’ rather than ‘still reading’ on Goodreads? I’ll be reading this one again and again, coming back to it to enrich the experience, to feel it still seeping through me. There are so many avenues and poems to explore, so many influences, so many voices that are familiar while others are strange and even sinister. So many nuances I haven’t quite ‘got’ yet, so much symbolism still to crack. Melodious and playful language in parts, but also a powerful punch to the gut. Certainly not ‘pretty, poetic, flowery’ language. Some of it is Southern Gothic, strange, disquieting, fantastical and overwrought (or do I mean overwritten?).  Poems such as ‘Reverse: A Lynching’ and ‘Mississippi Pastoral’ remind us of the racial tensions and uneasy past of the South. Others are sheer unabashed lust, some of it venturing into dark and dangerous territory. Unlike some recent bestselling novels, the eroticism in these poems is not explicit, and leaves much to the imagination:

Every line out of my mouth is a lie except the one that begins with I want.
Between your teeth is where I want to be.

Or this:

There is nothing between us
but the night. The hunter’s appetite is instinct; it dwells deep
and urges you: Unleash
the wild animal that you are.
Unbury yourself.

Some of it I could relate to so well; those are perhaps the themes that crop up in my own work (but much more eloquently and powerfully done by Ansel). First, strong female voices reinterpreting and challenging long-held beliefs, such as in the ‘Autobiography of Eve':

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first radical road out of that old
kingdom toward a new unknown…
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
I leapt
to freedom.’

Then there is the boredom of monogamy, of routines and everyday concerns, of encroaching middle-age and broken dreams.

After the workweek we
undress and have celebratory sex
that lasts as long as a mint on the tongue…
I listen to the tiny ticking of my husband’s wristwatch, the migration of
wild geese calling relentlessly
southward, to lands where the sun warms the eternally green trees,
where a woman bathes in the sea alone, drifting and anonymous.
She’s nobody’s wife…
In the bedroom, a sudden
vague yet putrid smell from the vase of expired chrysanthemums…

But, above all, it’s always, always about those uncomfortable experiences, those dark parts of ourselves that we would rather not face:

All this time I saw the wolf in other men…
But when at last I looked into the moon what met my gaze was
the mirrored
wolf in me.

I have to take issue with the formatting again. I have no idea if the line breaks above are correct or not, the lines just seem to jump about randomly. It is so difficult for poetry to be correctly formatted in an e-book – although this was downloaded as an ARC from Netgalley, so perhaps it was edited and proofed before the final launch. In future I will stick to paper-based copies for all poetry if I possibly can.

From anselelkins.net
From anselelkins.net

Incidentally, I struggled to see where the blue yodel of the title comes in, as it’s only very briefly mentioned in a throwaway line about a peacock. Perhaps, I told myself, it’s a howl of pain, related to the blues. But then I read another review which referenced country singer Jimmie Rodgers, also known as the Blue Yodeler, who was also from that part of the country.

I don’t use different persona often enough in my poems, i.e. trying to write from a completely alien perspective (perhaps using the voice of an object or an animal). It is something which Ansel Elkins seems to do exceptionally well. A very well-deserved prize and I can’t wait to hear more from this exciting new talent.

 

 

Displacement and Alienation: Reading between Cultures

Moving between cultures and trying to understand or adapt to a new environment have always been subjects dear to my heart, in my personal, professional and reading life. So it’s no surprise that four of the books I’ve recently finished feature people caught between cultures, either outsiders looking in or insiders trying to see out into the wider world beyond. In reading them, I moved between France, Morocco, Belgium, East and West Germany, American Samoa and San Francisco, Russia, Serbia and London.

pantalonFouad Laroui: L’Etrange Affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine

#TBR14

A fine collection of short stories by this French writer of Moroccan origin. I had previously enjoyed his (fictional) account of being educated at a French school in Morocco, and, despite the uneven quality of the stories, they are often funny and always thought-provoking, a deserved winner of the Goncourt Prize for short fiction in 2013.

There are two very distinct types of short stories in this book. The Moroccan tales told by groups of friends around a table in a cafe are full of humour, interruptions, interjections, digressions and tender absurdity. The title story tells of a Moroccan bureaucrat who’s been sent to Brussels to try to negotiate a good price to buy wheat from the EU… but loses his trousers before the all-important meeting. Faced with a new demand from the Ministry of Education to introduce swimming in the national curriculum, schools in a small Moroccan town not possessed of a single pool prove inventive and introduce ‘dry swimming’.

There are also the more global tales of displacement, of identity, of wondering about origins and the possibility of cross-cultural understanding. The story of a couple unable to quite put an end to their relationship as they meet one final time in Brussels and the short sketch featuring a philosophy teacher being chastised by her student for introducing him to a world of pain and questioning are particularly effective.

fliehganzleisFriederike Schmöe: Fliehganzleis

#TBR15

Larissa Countess Rothenstayn grew up in the GDR but managed to escape to the West and reclaim her ancestral seat in 1975. She has asked Kea Laverde to write her memoirs and Kea is enjoying her company and the peaceful palace gardens. But then the Countess is attacked and left for dead by an intruder. While the police are investigating the incident, Kea starts her own research into the family archive, trying to understand just how the Countess managed to escape to the West (her first attempt was unsuccessful) and also why she is so obsessed with the case of a young girl who drowned in 1968.

This is the second in the series featuring likeable and feisty travel writer turned ghostwriter Kea and her boyfriend, the policeman Nero Keller. This is a book I could particularly relate to, as it is a case that involves the Stasi and escape routes out of the GDR, and how we are never quite rid of the past. Perhaps a slightly more leisurely pace than Anglo-Saxon readers might be used to in their crime fiction (there is quite a bit of historical detail), but a good read and engaging characters. And I love Kea’s two geese Waterloo and Austerlitz (or Loo and Litz). What struck me was how difficult even those belonging to the same German nation find it to understand each other, given that they’ve had a different historical path and living conditions for a number of decades. The title can be roughly translated as ‘escape as quietly as possible’.

I’ve previously done a Q and A with Friederike on what got her hooked on crime fiction.

John Enright: Blood Jungle BalletBloodJungle

#TBR13

I’ve reviewed the first one in the series and always thought that I would end up reading another one, as I enjoyed the description of Samoan culture (from the point of view of a policeman who has grown up in San Francisco). This is the fourth in the series and it has an end-of-series feel to it, as by the end of the story Apelu is burnt out and prepares for retirement on his plantation.

A disquieting string of murders terrorizes the remote, lush island of American Samoa. Det. Sgt. Apelu Soifua has seen a lot in his time with the police force, but even he is unsettled by the bodies that have started piling up. At first, the murders don’t seem connected: a local transvestite found castrated and brutalized, a visiting politician who drops dead on the dance floor, a prison guard and an inmate who kill each other, a priest specialising in exorcism seems to commit suicide. As Apelu works with the hospital’s new medical examiner imported from the US, they establish a disturbing pattern pointing to a serial killer.  Although the idea of a serial killer on such a small island is a bit preposterous, what I really enjoyed about this book is that it runs on Samoan time – the whole investigation takes place over 2 years, which is far more realistic for a serial killer pattern to emerge.

The characters and the interactions are very well written, although the plot did feel a tad predictable and relies on some coincidences to come to a conclusion. There was a LOT of foreshadowing, to the point where I did at times feel like shouting: ‘Get on with the actual thing already!’. And it feels much more serious, elegiac almost, as external events (the war in Iraq, Christian missionaries) affect island life. A mourning for lost paradise – while still acknowledging that paradise has always been illusory.

GorskyVesna Goldsworthy: Gorsky

#TBR16

Gorsky is a Russian oligarch determined to regain the love of his youthful sweetheart, although she is now married to an Englishman. He builds a magnificent abode on the Thames in London, right opposite her own mansion, and hires a Serbian bookseller to put together the most amazing library for him. It is Nikola the bookseller who is telling the story and if you’ve spotted the similarities to The Great Gatsby, that is indeed the case and very deliberate.

I’m not sure what to make of this fan fiction. It is amusing enough to see Gatsby transposed into present-day Chelski and the London of its super-rich (and usually foreign) new residents, and I enjoyed the description of some of the treasured books Nikola digs up, but I don’t quite see the point of this. It doesn’t seem to add much to the original story, except for that foreign point of view, of someone trying to fit in with a culture that is not his own, and that he can never be part of. And, to be honest, I don’t find the lives of the super-rich very interesting at all…

 

Reading in June

Longest days, shortest nights of the year, so plenty of time for reading in June –  not much time for anything else in fact! It’s the kind of month where I can’t hear myself think, let alone write, we were all so busy with end-of-year stuff. So reading it is, to feed that relentlessly hungry gawp in myself.

#TBR20 Challenge is going well:

#TBR3 Murasaki Shikibu: The Tale of Genji (also re-reading challenge)

#TBR4 Stefanie de Velasco: Tigermilch

#TBR5 Wendy Cope (ed.): The Funny Side

#TBR6 Kishwar Desai: Witness the Night

#TBR7 Liad Shoham: Tel Aviv Suspects

#TBR8 Ever Yours: Essential Van Gogh Letters

#TBR9: Alex Capus: Mein Nachbar Urs

#TBR10: Sergei Dovlatov: Pushkin Hills

#TBR11: Jeremie Guez: Paris La Nuit

#TBR12: Muriel Spark: Loitering with Intent (also a rereading challenge)

#TBR13: Friederike Schmoe: Fliehganzleis

#TBR14: Fouad Laroui: L’étrange affaire du pantalon de Dassoukine

These last two will be reviewed shortly, or as soon as holidays and children allow.

Review copies:

Cath Staincliffe: Half the World Away

Hakan Nesser: The Summer of Kim Novak

Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood

Maggie Mitchell: Pretty Is

Pascal Garnier: Boxes

The One That Got Away:

Etienne Davodeau: Les Ignorants

Some other facts and figures:

18 books read in total, of which 7 can be legitimately classified as crime fiction/psychological thriller. My Crime Fiction Pick of the month (a meme initiated by Mysteries in Paradise) is Witness the Night, although I was also very impressed with Tel Aviv Suspects and Paris la Nuit.

3 books in German, 4 in French, 7 translations (from French, Swedish, Russian, Dutch, Hebrew and Japanese). I haven’t done so well in my Global Reading Challenge, with only Kishwar Desai bringing me to a new country, India. I still have to read books set in Africa, Oceania and South America, and find something for the 7th continent. 9 by women authors, 9 by men. And I am only 3 reviews behind!

1 poetry, 1 graphic non-fiction book, 2 rereading challenges, 1 auto-biography/letters.

Doing the #TBR20 challenge is having a very calming effect on me. Although I’ve still been doing a fair share of reviewing, it has felt much more within my control. I’ve felt much more freedom in the selection of my next book, plus there is such satisfaction to be had when you make a dent in your messy book pile!

Having said that, though, I must admit that I’ve cheated slightly and borrowed some books from the library. I haven’t actually started reading them yet, as they are for the duration of the summer holidays. So I will start them once I’ve completed my #TBR20 – that’s still within the rules, right?

Coming up for the #TBR20? A female French writer, for a change – Sylvie Granotier’s latest. One of my favourite German crime writers, Jakob Arjouni, and The Neck of the Giraffe by Judith Schalansky. Blood Jungle Ballet, set in American Samoa. I may have a change of heart for the remaining two books of the challenge, so I’ll allow myself (and you) to be surprised.

And those library books? The latest Vargas Temps Glaciares, a fictionalised biography of Isadora Duncan (one of my childhood heroines) by Caroline Deyns and Carrère’s L’Adversaire (couldn’t resist, after hearing the neighbours’ story of the real-life event which it’s based upon).