Tuesday 3 May 2011

Reading Highlights - April 2011

April was another good months for books, though I only managed to complete seven novels this time.  A couple of the books have already been reviewed on the blog - One Day by David Nicholls and Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell.  Both very good reads.  In addition to the Mankell, I revisited a two favourite authors last month.  Five Ways to Kill a Man is another in Alex Gray’s series featuring DCI Lorrimer and his psychologist helper Solomon Brightman.  The series is set in Glasgow and while basically a crime novel, Gray does allow her characters to develop as real people.  Not just a whodunnit.
Australian Peter Temple is another favourite author.  I have now read four of his books and all have been excellent.  The Broken Shore is another great crime novel.  The first Peter Temple book I read was Truth and The Broken Shore was the first of his novels to feature Detective Joe Cashin the main character in Truth.  In this one we get to know a bit more about Cashin who has left Melbourne after some case went wrong.  He is now the sole policeman in a fairly remote part of rural Victoria, in the house that he grew up in.  Though rural this does not of course mean that nothing bad happens.  In fact quite a lot bad happens and Joe finds himself digging deeper and deeper into the past, including his own, in order to resolve the mystery of the apparently random death of an old man.  Great stuff - I cannot praise Peter Temple too highly.
I finally got round to reading one of Nick Hornby’s novels.  I am quite familiar with his work through the film versions of High Fidelity and About a Boy,  both of which I enjoyed.  A Long Way Down is another very funny book.  It relates the tale of four disparate strangers who all by chance try to commit suicide by throwing themselves off the top of a block of flats in London, known locally as Topper’s Tower.  When one by one the others appear, the immediate rush to kill themselves dies a death, so to speak.   They do however decide to form a kind of mutual self help group and the remainder of the novel recounts the various adventures they get into as each of them tries to rebuild their lives and find a reason for carrying on living.  As the characters are so different, two women and two men for a start, it all makes for some very funny and witty scenes.  Some of the lines ares so funny that you just burst out laughing aloud in side splitting pain.  I listened to the audio version, which unusually featured two readers - a man for the male characters and a woman for the female characters.  This I am sure made the tale even funnier.
For my foray into non English language novels I read Die Haushälterin by Swiss author Jens Petersen.  Set in Hamburg this is a rather sweet, though at times bittersweet tale of a teenage boy’s first steps towards adulthood.  Despite the title, the story is really about the difficult relationship between 16 year old Phillip and his father.  Phillip’s mother is dead and as the novel opens, his father has just lost his job.  His father has found life difficult enough without his wife and this new blow quickly sends him into depression, thus forcing Phillip to try and manage the home.  To help in this task the young lad advertises for a housekeeper, imagining she would be an elderly woman.  He ends up with Ada, a young, attractive and outgoing Polish immigrant.  Both the father and son quickly become smitten by Ada and she becomes another point of tension between them.  The novel is related in the first person by Phillip and while there is no big denouement this is a sensitive and simply written book.  Mercifully, for me it is also short, only 168 pages.  To read a book in German I need the constant help of a dictionary and one of the reasons for trying the odd book in German is to add to my store of German vocabulary.
This month I also made my first dip into Chinese literature.  Though in this case Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah was written in English.  The novel is subtitled The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter and is in effect an autobiography.  Adeline was born in 1937 to a rich business family living in Shanghai.  Unfortunately her mother died almost immediately after childbirth.  Her stepmother, half French, hence the name Adeline, did not like any of her step children and for some reason positively hated Adeline.   Though there was no real physical hardship Adeline did suffer emotionally throughout her life.  The most interesting parts of the book are the earlier parts describing life in Shanghai during the Sino-Japanese war and the early years of the Communist take-over.  Adeline eventually manages to get to America where she becomes a successful medical practitioner and finds marital happiness at the second attempt.  I was looking forward to this novel but was slightly disappointed.  Partly this is because Adeline remains the victim throughout, no doubt accurately reflecting the traditional Chinese acceptance of family hierarchy.  Still it is hard to believe as Adeline has become a successful and wealthy American.  The novel also tries to recount the histories of all her siblings and this is a bit boring and not really essential to the core of the novel.  While worth reading I much preferred The Calligrapher’s Daughter which I read last month and describes the struggles for survival and recognition of a young Korean girl.

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