June 26, 2017

HHhH by Laurent Binet

I picked up HHhH as part of a buy one get one half price at Waterstones. That was the first I’d heard of it – and it lives up to the impressive billing on it’s cover.

Laurent Binet is a Frenchman, writing a historical novel whilst exploring the art of writing an historical novel. It really is rather fascinating, reading the tale at the same time as his deliberations over how to write it and what to write in it. Even the structure of the book pushes boundaries – with no page numbers, or chapters – just numbered groups of paragraphs, sometimes only one paragraph other times 2-3 pages.

The novel itself is about the British / Czech plot to assasinate Heydrick – the author of the final solution. A really interesting dive into the Nazi regime and a surprisingly little discussed part of history.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I know a lot of people really like this series of books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, but I found The Shadow of the Wind really hard going.

The story starts out really intriguingly with a boy discovering a book in the books cemetery, a book he must look after for the rest of his life. The books turns out to be part of a mysterious series of life events. Set in pre-war Barcelona with a fascinating cast of characters.

But it moves REALLY slowly. Maybe I’ll try to read it again one day, but right now – it got so slow that I haven’t even been bothered enough to look up the ending on wikipedia.

Warhorses of Letters by Robbie Hudson & Marie Phillips

warhorses of lettersI was one of those who supported the publication of this book via Unbound. It’s nice to be reviewing something I had a hand in creating! (in a very little way!!).

This is the book of the radio series. The series was on Radio 4 this year, and I wish I’d caught it.

Warhorses of Letters is a series of letters between horses in the 1800s. It’s highly intellectual, and very very funny. (The radio show would be well worth digging out).

The 2 main horses are Copenhagen, an English racehorse, and Marengo Napolean’s horse (well, technically a pony). These 2 horses and gay, and quite frisky! As well as the horses letters we have the finding of the letters in the story too – and that’s almost as amusing as the horses.

Well worth a read!

Mr Verdant Green by Cuthbert Bede

Mr Verdant Green I’m reading partly on Kindle, and partly in book form… 

Basically I started reading it whilst I was moving house – having packed all my books away I downloaded the free Kindle version.

This edition combines all 3 books of the Verdant Green trilogy:

  • The Adventures of Mr Verdant Green
  • The Further Adventures of Mr Verdant Green
  • Mr Verdant Green: Married and Done For

Written in the 1850s and published in 3 short parts for reading on trains. They tell the story of Mr Verdant Green and his experiences as an Oxford Freshman, the 3rd part being mainly set in the North on a visit to friends.

The first two books are much more enjoyable than the third. Very amusing, with several moments / wind-ups that anyone who’s been new to a group or situation will get. Anyone who knows Oxford will also find working where they are and what they’re up to rather fun too.

The third book reads a bit more like a Bronte or an Austen – and it’s as amusing as the first 2, but the scene with the bull is rather funny.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

I’d been meaning to get a copy and read this for a while as lots of people kept recommending it. A few weekends ago I came across a copy in a charity shop and figured it was as good a time as any to get on with it!An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost is a murder mystery set in 1600s Oxford.  I was quite excited to read it as it’s been on my list for a couple of years. having heard some great revies of it from my bookclub. However, it didn’t live up to the expectation.

It’s essentially a set of four monologues, each telling the same story from a different angle. So it takes  there is quite a bit of intrigue and expectation of where the story will go next. You don’t find out who-dunnit until late in the book, as it is a Reformation murder mystery, but a lot more than just that, as it takes into account all kinds of political happenings around the world.

The first story is that of da Cola a Venetian – I thought it was quite clever to use foreigner to make lots of explanations of the english. The other 3 tales are told by English participants, and each unviels a new set of details and new take on events.

But the whole thing was a bit too wordy and I found myself skipping over more and more sections as I got further through the book.

London by Edward Rutherfurd

London is an epic novel, over 1200 pages of the history of London from the earliest times.London by Edward Rutherfurd

In it we travel through time in the company of a group of families, starting off with just one of them, and then as the times get more complex more families come in. It’s a really clever way to tell the story of a city, and although the sections don’t perfectly flow into each other (there are few years in gaps) they are chronological.

It is a gripping tale, but not actually all that fast-paced. So I’ve got a bit bored at around 400 pages. But I may well pick it up again sometime.

Parisian Sketches by J. K. Huysmans

Parisian SketchesParisian Sketches is exactly what it says – a series of sketches of scenes Huysmans saw around Paris in the nineteenth century.

Each sketch is very well written – you really feel the emotions of the subjects, and feel the pressures and activities you’re reading about. These sketches don’t focus on the top of society – it’s what’s happening lower down. So we meet the girls at the dance trying to capture a soldier, the older women trying to leave before the whores arrive. Bus conductors, bakers, chestnut sellers and more.

It’s not just a series of sketches of people, the book is divided into subjects so we have “Parisian characters”, “Landscapes”, and (possibly my favourites, and certainly the most literary) “Fantasties and Forgotten corners”. Then it’s “Still Lifes”, and finally “Paraphrases”.

A great book to dip into.

The Father of Locks by Andrew Killeen

The Father of LocksI thoroughly enjoyed reading The Father of Locks. It’s a fascinating book written rather like ‘The Thousand and One Nights’, so we have the central tale, but frequently each character breaks off to tell a tale.

It’s set in the early days of Baghdad – the “Golden Age”, and we follow 2 poets/ spies as they try to unravel the mystery of the missing children whilst avoiding getting on the wrong side of the rulers.

Our narrator is a white-skinned boy adopted by the arabs – Ismail al-Raurya, the Teller of Tales – he gets caught trying to steal a manuscript and ends up apprenticed to the most famous poet in the realm (and also the best spy).

Great characters and a great twisting story. A very enjoyable read.

Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd

HawksmoorOur latest book club choice, I read Hawksmoor many years ago too.

Hawksmoor is both a modern detective novel and a historical fiction on the subject of the occult and enlightenment. The two tales are intertwined as we follow the eighteenth century architect Nicholas Dyer as he builds 7 churches in central London, and Nicholas Hawksmoor a 1980s detective trying to solve a series of murders in the same churches.

Once you get your head around the Pepysian style Ackroyd uses for the Nicholas Dyer sections the pace of the book builds really well.

A very enjoyable read that’s worthy of it’s prizes – Guardian Fiction Prize and Best Novel at the Whitbread Awards.

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter CareyOur first bookclub choice of 2012 – Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Booker Prize.

The book is built on alternate chapters written from the view point of each character – we start with Olivier. I could have given up after the first chapter, Olivier is not an engaging character and fairly tedious. The second chapter (Parrot’s) had me gripped though – and these 2 different styles reflect the 2 characters perfectly.

We start off with both men’s start in the world – one (Olivier) a French noble, and Parrot a working class boy from Devon. As the whole story is set in the eigthteenth century there’s an awful lot going on – and at certain points I really wished I remembered more about the key points of the build up to the French Revolution.

The two are thrown together by events and travel to America for Olivier’s safety. There is much more to the book than simply two men getting to know and trust each other. There’s a huge amount here about how society changed during this time – how the class divisions began to be ripped apart, and we see that from many many different perspectives.

There’s also a lot about how a new society establishes itself as our characters travel around America.

Generally I enjoyed the book, I’m quite pleased to have read it – but I know I won’t be picking it up again. And the ending was a little flat.