#SixDegrees December: A Christmas Carol, Of Course!

It’s time for #6degrees, as featured on Kate’s blog Books are my Favourite and My Best (in fact, it’s a bit over-time, as I never get a chance to do it at the weekend). Start at the same place as other wonderful readers, add six books, and see where you end up! A seasonal starting point today with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

It would be far too easy to take the Christmas route here, but I prefer the snow association. Snow makes me think of skiing, what else, and there are far too few books which feature skiing. One crime novel which is all about the skiing is Dead Men Don’t Ski by Patricia Moyes, set in an Alpine resort, with someone dead on arrival in a chairlift (and no, it wasn’t the cold that killed him off). Witty and very Golden Agey, although written considerably later.

A far more brutal contemporary look at murder in skiing country is Black Run by Antonio Manzini. Deputy Police Chief Rocco Schiavone, with a passion for marijuana and a very personal concept of legality and justice, has transferred away from Rome to the freezing Aosta Valley, where he attempts to learn who is responsible for killing a man and burying the body beneath a ski slope. I haven’t read it yet, but it comes recommended by Italian crime writer Sandrone Dazieri, so I’m planning to read this at some point.

One of the classic books about taking drugs is Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, written in 1821. A contemporary and friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, he was the ultimate drop-out and vagabond, struggling to make ends meet, although he did finally more or less manage to shake off his addiction.

Pina Bausch Tanstheater Wuppertal

I  understand the recent film Suspiria is at least partially based on De Quincey’s book (or on its sequel, Suspiria De Profundis). A far more obvious influence on that film is the choreography of Pina Bausch. There is a recent biography by Marion Meyer about this most influential of 20th century choreographers and founder of the Tanztheater Wuppertal. I haven’t read this but would be quite interested if I can get my hands on it.

From biography to an autobiography (composed of diaries and letters) that I absolutely adored, namely Barbara Pym, A Very Private Eye. As her friend and champion Philip Larkin said, she had an uncanny ‘eye and ear for the small poignancies of everyday life’.

From one Barbara to another: Barbara Kingsolver has just published a new novel Unsheltered. Although her books have been a bit hit or miss with me, I will probably want to seek this one out and see if it is a return to form.

So an unusual chain for me this month, with three books that I haven’t read (yet), and journeys taking me through Victorian London, South Tyrol, the Aosta Valley, two more Londons at different moments in time, the industrial Ruhr/Dusseldorf/Wuppertal region in Germany and last but not least Vineland, New Jersey.

Where will your free associations take you?

 

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October Reading but November Prize to Be Won

I have been somewhat missing in action this month, which can only mean the following:  brainpower is being expended on the mechanical rather than the imaginative, and cold hard cash is being earned. However, in terms of reading, it has been a rich month of not very extensive but high quality reading. Mainly crime fiction, but with an angsty French novel thrown in for contrast. Sadly, October has not been a month conducive to detailed book reviews, so here are my top-line thoughts about each of the books.

M.J. McGrath: White Heat

Absolutely loved this tale of the iciest reaches of the Arctic and of the human heart. Edie Kiglatuk is half-Inuit, half-American and the incredibly strong yet vulnerable type of diminutive heroine that I cannot resist. Yes, there were perhaps some overly detailed descriptions of how to build an igloo, but I am an anthropologist at heart, so I was fascinated by all this.

DeadMenSkiPatricia Moyes: Dead Men Don’t Ski

Another wintry tale, but this time a much gentler one: Golden Age detective fiction transposed to South Tyrol. The author is of a later generation than Dorothy Sayers or Agatha Christie, but she has the same wit, elegance and careful plotting. Thank you to Margot Kinberg for making me aware of this author.

E.F. Benson: The Blotting Book

Charming little oddity, makes a nice change of pace and style to modern crime fiction, but perhaps not quite as intriguing to contemporary palates

Patrick Modiano: La Petite Bijou

Written in a deliberately flat, child-like style, this is the story of a woman’s search for her mother and her attempt to reclaim her past, or find her true identity. A short, moving, rather disquieting piece.

blacklands-by-belinda-bauer-259-pBelinda Bauer: Blacklands

There are some weaknesses and implausibilities here, but what an amazing debut novel this is! I was completely absorbed by the story of a boy and his grandmother, the far-reaching consequences of tragedy and a serial killer who is presented in an almost farcical style. (Sounds difficult to accept or believe, but you will understand if you read it.)

Peggy Blair: Midnight in Havana

An excellent near-impossible set-up which has the readers wondering throughout the story, plus lashings of what seems to me very authentic Cuban atmosphere. A visual, auditive treat, and an engaging Cuban cop who can see dead people.

Anya Lipska: Where the Devil Can’t Go

Where_the_Devil_Can__t_Go_coverI just love books describing the clash of cultures (in this case, between the Polish and the British communities in the East End of London). There is also a communality of sensitivity and historical experience of East European countries which makes me appreciate this novel even more. It does sometimes stretch belief a little that an amateur (even one who speaks the language) would have quite so much clout in an investigation, but all in all an engaging, high-octane read, which I gulped down quite greedily.

However, if you visit this blog tomorrow, 4th November, I will have a more detailed review of ‘The Greenland Breach’ by Bernard Besson for you. The first ecological thriller I have ever read, and what a rollercoaster ride it was!  Moreover, if you leave a comment, you can win a copy of it in e-book format, no matter where you are based in the world.