As we head into winter in Australia - switch from chilled beer to red wine, change from board shorts to long pants, light the wood stoves, watch the lightning bounce across the Southern Ocean, close the blinds earlier - so I begin to immerse myself more frequently in the books sitting on my bookshelf.
Have enjoyed some excellent reads recently, particularly when I needed to escape from the insomnia-inducing euphoria associated with PaperBooks accepting The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore: a matter of calming down and entering another world for a short while. Chief amongst these would be Raymond Carver's Cathedral. I'm a big fan of Carver - his sparse style, his richness, his down-to-earth characters - and my daughter bought me this collection of stories to celebrate the above event (who says writing doesn't pay?). It didn't disappoint.
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain) was a tad more substantial in volume and, although I'd been warned to expect a slow pace, I found the narrative voice of Will Cooper compelling, and particularly liked the stories within stories. It's been a while since I read Cold Mountain, but I think I'd rank Thirteen Moons even ahead of this.
The first Ian McEwan I read was The Cement Garden, many years ago, and I loved its grittiness, but was disappointed by Amsterdam, which I seem to remember finding too intropsective, and it put me off delving into more McEwan until recently. However, having treated myself to On Chesil Beach, I'm glad to reacquaint myself with his writing through this petite hardback. It's a classy short novel and I didn't notice any of the time-slip ambiguities another reader picked up on, but then it sucked me in from the start and I didn't want to put it down until I'd finished. It's the first hardback I've bought in a while, but I suspect this added to the pleasure and I'm looking forward to buying more hardbacks in future.Hardbacks. Hmm. Must be a coming-of-age thing. A middle-age thing!
I particularly wanted to like J.M.Coetzee's Slow Man - partly because I thoroughly enjoyed Disgrace, partly to get over Foe and partly because he emigrated from South Africa to Australia (where Slow Man is set) - but I'm afraid I didn't. Maybe my tastes really have changed, because I think I would have liked it once, but it surpassed my threshold for introspection-without-relief.
As for Yann Martel's The Life of Pi... Misfortune had it that the copy I bought was flawed: it had been glued and bound with the last 47 pages missing. My copy finished with Richard Parker rearing up and confronting Pi and, I assumed, plausibly ending Pi's story mid-sentence with the word 'I'. I didn't like that ending much, and couldn't see how the opening chapters fitted in with this, but had heard other people either liking or disliking the ending, and noted The New Yorker review that it was a "shaggy-dog story". Every other part of the book was superb, I thought, and my only regret had been that it had taken me so long to get round to reading it. Imagine my delight when I discovered the 'alternative ending', after talking to my sister on the phone about this. Within a few hours I'd got hold of another copy and had allowed Richard Parker to regurgitate Pi and Yann Martel to complete his magic. Loved it!