What Got You Hooked on Crime, Anna Jaquiery?

I am delighted to welcome a very talented writer on my blog today to share her reading passions with us. Anna Jaquiery’s debut novel ‘The Lying-Down Room’ has been receiving rave reviews on Crime Fiction Lover , Liz Loves Books and ShotsMag. So compelling is her portrayal of origami-loving Detective Serge Morel and of Paris sweltering in the August heat, that many readers believed this to be a translated French novel. Yet, although Anna is of French-Malaysian descent, she has lived all over the world, first with her diplomat parents, then with her job, and is now settled in Australia, where she writes fiction, journalism and poetry in English. How could I resist inviting this global nomad to discuss her favourite books? You can also find Anna on Twitter.

How did you get hooked on crime fiction?

AnnaJaquieryIt’s difficult to remember when it all started. I’ve been reading crime fiction for a very long time. I read it alongside other genres. I like crime fiction’s ability to take on contemporary issues and say something about the world we live in.

Are there any particular types of crime fiction or subgenres that you prefer to read and why?

I like crime novels that are about more than just plot and offer something original. If a book opens with a girl trapped in a basement… I have to admit I’m often unlikely to continue. The sadistic serial killer theme is overdone. My favourite crime novels are the ones where characters and setting really come to life. For example, I love a number of American writers like James Lee Burke, Dennis Lehane and Laura Lippman. I read every book they publish. I love their writing and when I read their stories I feel I’m really there.

What is the most memorable book you’ve read recently?

Though it was some time ago, the Stieg Larsson trilogy really stood out for me. I found it so gripping and was sad when it came to an end. There are so many interesting strands in the books. Lisbeth Salander is a fantastic character. Many people have said that the books are too long and could have done with some serious editing. Perhaps that is the case, but I found myself completely engaged, particularly with the first book, ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’.

About two years ago I discovered Scottish writer Denise Mina’s books. I am a big fan of hers. I’d also recommend Tana French, in particular her book ‘Broken Harbour’, and the Australian author Garry Disher. His book ‘Bitter Wash Road’, set in a remote part of South Australia, is one of the best crime books I’ve read these past years. Sometimes I find the categorization of books, and the tendency to define crime fiction as something separate from literary fiction, doesn’t do authors justice. Disher is both a crime writer and a so-called literary one. His writing is spectacular and this book is much more than a crime story.

If you had to choose only one series or only one author to take with you to a deserted island, whom would you choose?

I think I’d have to say the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, for the reasons mentioned above.

booksWhat are you looking forward to reading in the near future?

At the moment I’m reading a book you recommended on your blog! ‘The Sweetness of Life’ by Paulus Hochgatterer. I really like it for its originality and its moody, mildly claustrophobic atmosphere. The pace is quite slow and I like that too because I think there is some pressure on crime writers to keep things moving quickly in their novels.

I’m also looking forward to reading ‘The Reckoning’ by Rennie Airth. And also several non-crime titles: Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’, as well as forthcoming titles by David Mitchell and Sarah Waters.

Outside your criminal reading pursuits, what author/series/book/genre do you find yourself regularly recommending to your friends?

Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ is one I always recommend; it is such a joyous read. Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. Rushdie is an extraordinary writer and I can’t think of any living writer who is like him. He’s a literary genius. ‘A House for Mr Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul is one of my favourite novels. Also ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel and ‘The People’s Act of Love’ by James Meek. On a different note, I recently read ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig and loved it for its humour and tenderness. I’ve been recommending that one to friends over the past few weeks.

Phew, what a choice and eclectic list of books and authors – I’ve been taking notes! Thank you so much for participating, Anna, and I’m very flattered that you followed one of my book recommendations. Watch out also for my own review of ‘The Lying Down Room’, which will appear on Wednesday or Thursday this week. 

For previous participants in the series, just follow this link. Of course, as usual, if you would like to take part, please let me know via the comments or on Twitter – we always love to hear about other people’s criminal passions!

May Reading/ Halfway Through the Year

farfromtreeThis is a post to wrap up not only my reading for May, but also a half year’s worth of reading. I am happy to report that I’m just over halfway through my Goodreads reading challenge of 150 books for 2014, so this might be a good point to take stock of which books have really astounded or delighted me thus far.

First, the May summary. It’s been a month of very diverse reading and 6 out of 15 have been foreign books.

3 Non-Fiction:

The brilliant ‘Far from the Tree‘ by Andrew Solomon, the puzzling ‘The Fly Trap‘ by Fredrik Sjoberg and the riotous memoir of the 70s and feminism by Michele Roberts ‘Paper Houses’. I have really found a kindred spirit in Michele Roberts and hugely admire her courage and sacrifices in order to focus so single-mindedly on her writing.

1 Poetry Collection:

Father Dirt‘ by Mihaela Moscaliuc – Hard-hitting and heart-breaking

5 Crime Fiction or Thriller:

ColdStealSpy thriller by Stella Rimington ‘The Geneva Trap‘, the short story anthology ‘In a Word, Murder’, ‘Cold Steal‘ by Quentin Bates, the domestic psychological drama of ‘All the Things You Are’ by Declan Hughes and the unputdownable ‘Cry Baby’ by David Jackson.

6 Other Genres:

Frothy satire of writing courses ‘Writing Is Easy‘ by Gert Loveday

Long-winded and ominous, but not as illuminating as a real Greek tragedy ‘The Secret History‘ by Donna Tartt

Satire that seems even more apt and sinister in the wake of the European elections ‘Er ist wieder da’ (Look Who’s Back) by Timur Vermes

Painful depiction of the breakdown of a toxic marriage ‘Une affaire conjugale‘ by Eliette Abecassis

A family saga of post-war Japan – a reinterpretation of Wuthering Heights for the modern world ‘A True Novel‘ by Minae Mizumura

A graphic novel with a rather similar theme of family secrets and growing up in post-war Japan ‘A Distant Neighbourhood’ by Jiro Taniguchi

CryBabyMy favourites this month? ‘Cry Baby’ in crime fiction, because I found it impossible to stop myself from reading it all the way to the end. A rarer quality than one might suppose, even in thrillers. This links to the Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme hosted at Mysteries in Paradise.

And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the stately pace and melancholy of ‘A True Novel’. [I am not including the non-fiction or poetry here, but they deserve a special mention, for they were all outstanding.]

Now for the half-year round-up. I’ve read 79 books this year (yeah, it’s been a slow couple of months at work, so I’ve had more time for reading). If I’ve added up all the numbers correctly, here is the balance of the year so far (some books fit in more than one category, so the totals won’t make sense).

Japanese edition of Volume 2 of A True Novel.
Japanese edition of Volume 2 of A True Novel.

8 books in French, 3 in German and 19 translations – so 38% of my reading has been foreign. Surprising result, I expected it to be much more! Curious to see if this changes by the end of the year. I’m very pleased I managed to stick to my plan of reading at least one book per month in French, though (since I am living in France and need to improve my French).

43 books have been of the crime fiction and thriller persuasion, so about 54% of my reading. This is less than last year, although I have continued reviewing crime for Crime Fiction Lover website. I have also read 5 poetry books, so about one a month, which is essential (and the absolute minimum) for a working poet. I have also read 9 non-fiction books (11%) – one of the highest proportions in a long while. So it would be fair to say that my reading has broadened this year, quite deliberately.

InvestigationAnd which books have truly captured my imagination thus far? I have liked, even loved quite a few of them. I was struck by the almost visceral power of ‘Mother Mother’ by Koren Zailckas and Claire Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’, fell under the spell of William McIlvanney’s prose and Mahmoud Darwish’s or Brenda Shaughnessy’s poetry. But the five books that really stayed with me are:

Jung-Myung Lee: The Investigation – neither crime nor prison saga, but a tale of the triumph of beauty over despair

Pierre Lemaitre: Au revoir la-haut – moving portrayal of the harshness of post-war society

Minae Mizumura: A True Novel – perhaps because this book encapsulates my love affair with Japan

Mihaela Moscaliuc’s debut poetry collection: Father Dirt – because it’s part of me and gives me power to explore more in my own poems

Andrew Solomon: Far from the Tree – a book that had me thinking and talking about it for days and weeks afterwards, which forever changed certain of my ideas

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Why ‘The Secret History’ Disappointed Me

Don’t you just love those blog posts that list ‘7 things you have to do before you eat breakfast’ or ‘Top 10 Ways to Leave a Book in a Bathtub’ or ’76 Reasons Why It Would Have Paid You to Answer Our Ad A Few Months Ago’ (this last one is a genuine title)?

The_Secret_History,_front_coverDespite some bold claims that the lists posts are getting tiresome, most search engines and people browsing the internet still seem to love them. Personally, I think they are lazy, overrated… but a great way to summarise and be succinct. Particularly when you are talking about a book that most readers seem to love, but which I personally found rather disappointing. Perhaps it is also a sly response to John Mullan’s article, labelling the book a ‘modern classic’. I am talking, of course, about Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’.

1)      Main characters are pretentious twats – this comes through despite the main narrator Richard’s biased reporting. Now, I have nothing against campus novels and a bit of elitism myself: my set of friends in Cambridge were possibly viewed with an equal mix of envy and disdain. But I like to think that we had some redeeming features to offset our propensity to quote in foreign languages. Besides, we were quoting in foreign languages because we were in fact foreign, not because we were trying to be glamorous and different.

2)      Too long and repetitive. The book could have done with some serious editing: there was too much waffle, skirting around issues, which had nothing to do with obliqueness and everything to do with inability to get to the point. I found myself longing to skip passages or skim-read them. Yes, there are some passages of outstanding prose and self-deprecating humour. I just wish there had been more of these and less of the self-indulgent ones.

3)      It’s been done before – and much better. Need I mention ‘Brideshead Revisited’, ‘The Dead Poets’ Society’, ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’?

4)      No clear vision and story arc . The first part of the novel seemed to be building up towards something, and it certainly is clever to foreshadow the impeding tragedy. But then it just fell to pieces, as if it couldn’t quite decide where it was going. I refuse to believe this was a deliberate stylistic ploy. If it was, then it was a rather suicidal and over-long way of proving a point.

5)      The friendship and deep love of beauty did not sound quite believable. Again, perhaps this was deliberate, showing how these young people were deluding themselves into believing they were special or ‘chosen’, but I could not help feeling that they were shallow in their affections as well as their minds, and that they would not have supported each other in a meaningful way throughout this ordeal. If you compare with the original Greek myths (to whom this book is supposedly so deeply indebted): there is real tragedy, real depth, tough choices, blind fate in there. While in this case, the protagonists have brought their problem upon themselves and the tragedy feels skin-deep. Except for the poor farmer – whatever happened to his family?

Maybe if I’d read it back in 1992, when I was a student, I would have been more kindly disposed towards it? But I think not. Cult books have never quite rocked my boat. Maybe I have never wanted to be part of a cult that will have me…