I had been looking forward so much to this month, the only quiet month I usually have at work. I had planned a week of annual leave, lots of reading, writing, translating, rest. Well, the reading part worked out at least! Most of it comfort reading and clearing up a lot of things that had been hanging around on my Kindle for far too long.
17 books read this month (8 by women writers, 4 in other languages/in translation). It is also the month in which I achieved and overshot my Goodreads challenge for the year. I have now read 139 of my goal of 130 books. Unfortunately, quantity does not always mean quality – and in my case, it usually means that things have been going awry in my personal life, so I have felt the need for lots of bookish escapism.
Escapist reading (to me is mostly crime fiction):
Denise Mina: The Long Drop – a fictional retelling of a true crime case I had not previously heard of: the mix of slippery characters and the recreation of a dodgy 1950s Glasgow was quite irresistible, if sad. Denise Mina is one of my favourite writers working today, crime or not.
Abir Mukherjee: The Shadows of Men – this series gets better and better, and we Western readers are on the same journey as Sam Wyndham in getting to understand Indian culture and history in more depth. I loved the fact that this time we had chapters from the POV of Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee too.
Paul Cleave: The Quiet People – it has often been said that a crime author could get away with murder – but could they really? Such a simple yet clever premise to this novel, plus a main character who does just about everything wrong, yet gets us wondering: what would you do if the media and your neighbours had already judged you and found you guilty?
James Oswald: Bury Them Deep – always a pleasure to return to the McLean novels, although the Emma storyline is often as annoying as Ari Thor’s relationship with Kirstin (see below). Effective use of folk horror elements, although it does at times strain credibility, and perhaps a little more information about dogging than I needed to know!
Joy Kluver: Last Seen – proves that debut authors need to work harder than established ones, because it was a tight, good story, a solid police procedural with endearing and promising characters. Missing children storylines always scare me, but this was sensitively done, and I can’t wait to see more of Detective Bernie Noel.
Ian Rankin: A Song for the Dark Times – another return to familiar hunting grounds with Rebus, except this time his daughter is involved, but all the old characters are present and correct, Cafferty, Siobhan, Malcolm Fox. The solution to the ‘mystery’ element itself was perhaps a bit of a letdown, but nevertheless a pleasure to read.
Anthony Horowitz: The Twist of a Knife – consummate storyteller, impossible not to be entertained, especially when the author is gently poking fun at himself and his lack of playwriting success
Julia May Jonas: Vladimir – not really crime fiction, more of a campus novel for quite a niche audience (you will love this if you enjoy books about academics and writers, literary analysis, and a depiction of women’s appetites – food, sex, intellectual stimulation – at whatever age). If you liked the Netflix series The Chair with Sandra Oh, you will probably like this. The ending was a bit too neat, but I enjoyed the journey there.
A. R. Torre: A Familiar Stranger – a preposterous plot, but perky American fiction, very easy to finish in one day, competently written and amusing, although there were some quite obvious cliches (and a bit of a whiny tone in the main narrator)
Nikki Dudley: Volta – I know this author as a poet and really like her work, so feel mean saying anything negative about her debut novel. I think the problem with this one was that it couldn’t make up its mind if it was crime or romance, so it didn’t quite hit the mark for either.
Claire Dyer: The Significant Others of Odie May – Another author I rate as a poet and was curios to encounter as a novelist: an interesting premise (a chance to relive and perhaps repair your mistakes in life in a sort of purgatory with a window on life on earth), and written in a lively, sure-handed way, but became a bit predictable and repetitive towards the end.
Ragnar Jonasson: Winterkill – the last in the Ari Thor series, brought back by popular demand if I understood correctly, and it shows. That annoying wishy-washy relationship with Kirstin, rather predictable storyline (not much of a mystery there), quite pedestrian writing.
Two very interesting craft books that I will return to many times, no doubt:
- Daniel Hahn’s translation diary, while he was translating Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire, is full of interesting discussions about the bigger picture as well as the minutiae of translation challenges and delights
- Matthew Salesses: Craft in the Real World – a timely reminder of how writing workshops and critiques have been formed by certain cultural expectations, and how they might not suit all writers, particularly marginalised ones. I felt it gave me permission to think and write differently, as well as many ideas of how to improve feedback sessions with my own writing group.
Books I Reviewed or Read for Book Club:
Margarita Garcia-Robayo: Fish Soup – a collection of rather bleak stories from Colombia. Although translator Charlotte Coombe points out the author’s humour in her translator’s notes, I struggled to find it. It was the wrong thing for me to read at this time, but it was for my London Reads the World Book Club.
The remaining two books were probably my favourites this month, and also the only two I reviewed properly. They couldn’t provide more of a contrast: the icy coolness and pared-down style of Winter in Sokcho and my only #1929Club read, the lush, baroque style of Mateiu Caragiale.
Plans for November
I have already started on the #Solenoid2022 readalong with Reem and others on Twitter. I was quietly resisting this, although I had bought the book several years ago in Romania (I am reading it in the original, but the readalong is celebrating Sean Cotter’s long-awaited translation of it). Mircea Cărtărescu has always been a bit hit-and-miss for me (a bit too navel-gazing and narcissistic for my taste, but with great turns of the phrase and some exciting books), but so far I am finding this quite funny and bringing back a lot of memories of living in Bucharest during Communist times.
November is also Novella in November and German Literature Month, so I was initially planning to combine the two by reading shorter works by German/Austrian writers. However, I can feel another set-in-Berlin binge coming on, so I am now setting aside: Jenny Erpenbeck’s Heimsuchung, The Stasi Poetry Circle (non-fiction, although the German author has written this in English), Volker Kutscher’s Gereon Rath mystery, and perhaps (not a German author, but an expat) Bea Setton’s Berlin. Although I expect two chapters of Solenoid per day will keep me busy for most of the month. As will my current translation project.