Sunday, 4 May 2008

Recent reads

I’ve just made the wonderfully deliberate mistake of ordering a new stack of eleven novels and short story anthologies to read, without having finished half the previous stack yet, and before ordering in all the other titles I’m keen to read at the moment. Isn’t this great?! What a terrible pressure to be under, eh? There’s a rubble of ancient paperbacks on the floor, waiting to be dropped in at the second-hand bookshop, and there’ll be a new tower of books reaching towards the ceiling. Can’t wait for the post to arrive.

Note to self: start reading faster.

Finished Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont (Myrmidon Thirteen_3 Books) a couple of weeks back. Had first come across this on Scott Pack’s blog, where he raved about it, and then Gary Davison gave it a good plug too.

'Stephen Bardot is a taxi driver working the night shift in Brighton. He works such long shifts that he is often driving while exhausted and it is then that he starts to experience major alterations to his perception of reality. People start to take lifts in his cab who know things they shouldn't, and who ultimately may not even be real.'

Although I found it very readable from the start and enjoyed plodding along with it, I felt as though I was plodding for a while and that those outstanding qualities I’d heard about weren’t really grabbing me, though of course this may well have been because of the way I was reading at the time (all those external factors which shape the way we engage with and interpret a book---pressures at work, the weather, interruptions). However, there came a mid-point where it seemed to shift into a higher gear and suddenly I found myself reluctant to put the book down. The dynamics of the story transformed it from being readable and good to compelling and outstanding. Whilst I can more or less track where this happened and why, I don’t want to touch on that here in case I give too much away, and certainly part of the ride with this novel is that there's an incremental unravelling of clues.

At times it reminded me of books I was drawn to as a teenager like Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes or John Fowles’ The Magus, and it felt like I was stepping into a shared element of How_the_light_gets_in_3 those worlds again, which is not to say it felt derivative in any sense. Thirteen comes across as being a very fresh and original piece of writing, and the taxi driver narrator is absolutely convincing. It wasn’t available in Australia when I ordered it a few months back, so I had to order it through Amazon; however, I think it’d be received very warmly here.

Also finished M.J.Hyland’s How The Light Gets In (Canongate).

With this novel, all those external factors which influence the way we read a book seemed to conspire against the two of us getting along. It’s well-written, but it didn’t work for me. It has a sense of direction, but didn’t feel cohesive. Ho hum. Usually I’ll ditch a book after 40 or 80 pages if I’m not connecting with it, but everyone I spoke to who’d read this thought it was a good read and so I stuck it out, but ... well, you can’t win ‘em all, and sometimes, regardless of how hard you try, the connection just doesn't work.

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