I have always been fascinated by the power of words and the ability of gifted writers to ignite the imagination, fuel the intellect and feed the soul. Reading is the supreme indulgence and perhaps connects us most intimately with what it is to be human, traversing emotions and the very history of mankind.
I read this after attending a talk on World Book Night by the author. Still, my curiosity was well rewarded. A real ‘page-turner’, I slipped through the book in just three or four sittings and the plot moved through the gears effortlessly. In spite of the powerless situation in which the ten year-old central character (Charles) finds himself, compounded by his traumatic loss of speech, still his inner strength comes through in his inner dialogue. Charles is a pawn in an intriguing politically charged struggle on both sides of the English Channel and the backdrop of the French revolution is masterfully woven into the storyline. Based on this experience, I will definitely seek out some other examples of Andrew Taylor’s work.
A return to Jake Brigance as a hero of the courtroom marks the continuance of John Grisham’ s first novel. JB now in his thirties has not enjoyed the take-off of his career that might have been anticipated following his triumph in “A Time to Kill”, set three years previously, but his brand of delivering legal representation with an ethical edge remains thoroughly compelling. Of course, the latest tale is dependent upon a scenario which duly presents a moral maze, through which JB must navigate on behalf of a victim of circumstance, facing high calibre legal gladiators. As always, Grisham confirms his standing as a consummate story-teller and his pacing of the plot translates into a strong ‘page-turner’. The book reinforced my relish of the wise Judge Atlee, who wields power on the Ford County bench, mentor of JB, but unashamed arbiter of fair play, at times based on an apparently instinctive, ‘common sense’ view of justice. There are a couple of mechanisms used to maintain the pitch of impending failure, but nonetheless, the resolution of the court case is satisfying and confirmed my standing as a fan of Grisham’ s skill as a writer of thrilling fiction.
The first novel by D H Lawrence seemed a good place to start in my Kindle edition of the complete works. Certainly the quality of the writing signposts to the books to come, but the plot in this instance, seemed to peter out. Still, the description of rural life in the period is authentic and the examination of the disparate relationships is really engaging. Looking forward to reading the later works.
It is an intriguing feature of the writing of Joanne Harris (author of ‘Chocolat’) that she deliberately soothes and entices the reader’s senses with her evocative descriptions of tastes and smells. And yet, her innovative use of a bottle of wine as a narrator, perhaps extending the notion of ‘character’ beloved by gourmets, conferred a tongue-in-cheek, surreal quality to this novel, at times. Certainly the device raised my eyebrows initially, but the masterly story-telling by Harris ensured that this quirky element didn’t detract from a wonderfully atmospheric tale.
The story centres on Jay Mackintosh, one-time acclaimed author, beset by writer’s block and the expectation of a second success, mired in a meaningless relationship. In a spontaneous, but desperate attempt to break free, Jay buys a property in Lansquenet, and drops out of sight.
In a clever weaving of alternate story-lines, Jay reflects on his childhood and the influence of his journey from ‘Pog Hill’, amid the new chapter of his life unfurling in France. The six ‘specials’ (bottles of homemade wine laid down by his childhood mentor, Joe) are a tangible link with the past for Jay and seem to unlock a spiritual/magical connection, enabling the the reappearance of the ethereal Joe and his earthy counsel.
Meanwhile, in Lansquenet, Jay is drawn to his neighbour (Marise), who is stuck in her own domestic nightmare. Are the echoes of their respective personal histories fated, or can they yet rescue each other? This is a warm and thought-provoking novel, which invites the reader to evaluate ‘what matters’ in life, but also draws on the metaphor of maturing wine. “Men are like wine – some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age”. (Pope John XXIII).
Classic satirical take on the futility of war and the chasm between the accompanying rhetoric and the reality of conflict. Wonderfully witty and thought-provoking, Heller serves up one of the top 100 novels of modern literature, a ‘must read’ book, which has the quality to remain significant over time, if not to be viewed as quite profound.
A very thought-provoking, though short book, JLS invites the reader to contemplate the potential tyranny of collective,taken-for-granted understanding and the value of mavericks, as a necessary challenge to the prevailing order. Bach poses a question for all of us about the price of conforming, weighed against being true to oneself. A book which can be read and enjoyed on several levels.
Agatha Christie’s 45th novel is delightfully quaint, but bears the hallmarks of an accomplished writer. Reading from the author’s stable of whodunnits is to luxuriate in a different world and an idyllic time (albeit people are ‘bumped off’ with unerring regularity). Indeed it is akin to the cozy feeling that accompanies a small treat, like a bar of chocolate, a sumptuous indulgence to be favoured.
Witty, insightful, poignant and thought-provoking, for men of a certain age Marcus Berkmann’s book provides a useful compass with which to navigate those twilight years, with humour rather than resignation, grace rather than grumpiness. Should be compulsory reading for all men with the potential to age predictably.
This was a random choice on my part, with which to fill the waiting times that accompany jury service. But, if I say so myself, an excellent choice, brimming with likable, if somewhat flawed characters, set in a wonderfully familiar 1960s onwards. Not since ‘Fever Pitch’ and the well thumbed pages describing West Ham’ s FA Cup triumph over Hornby’ s beloved Arsenal have I felt so warmly nostalgic and thankful to have been there.
This book follows the journey of fictional rising TV star Sophie Straw, but it is the clever background use of programmes such as ‘Till death us do part’ and ‘Steptoe and son’, which gave the novel depth and for this reader an added affinity with the central ‘cast’. The clothes, activities, people and cultural norms all seemed so gloriously yesteryear, sympathetically described by the author and diligently reflecting the seemingly dated expectations of the time. This is no retrospective critique, but rather a wonderful observation of the period with its sometimes bizarre conventions, seen through the eyes of a young northern woman drawn to London in search of a better future. I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline and commend Nick Hornby for his deft handling of the relationships weaving together a very compelling read.
The word ‘superb’ is not one I bandy about lightly, but it seems eminently appropriate for “The Book Thief” by Marcus Zusak. Not only is it inventive in the use of Death as a narrator, which adds a peculiar perspective to the story and confers so much more than a simple device, but the plot and characters are truly compelling. Just when I might have thought the rich seam of World War II had been overworked, comes this beautifully crafted book, which teases at loose threads of this global human tragedy and gradually unpicks the experience of a unique individual, her foster parents and the street and town in which they lived. That the street and characters are German and shaped by the familiar trajectory of the conflict is intriguing. That human frailties and blessed courage know no national boundaries, yet flourish at the individual level, is fascinating. The gloriously flawed heroine, Liesel, is a child, but nonetheless challenges stereotypes and her arbitrary circumstances, not saintly, but indomitable, funny yet deep. Meanwhile, the disparate array of relationships between Liesel and her parents, neighbours, asylum-seeker and benefactor sow the seeds of sadness, frustration, admiration and despair in equal measure. The impact of man’s folly is clearly shown in war and is perhaps felt most keenly by the poor and yet the author also casts a hopeful light on the resilience of the human spirit and without sentimentality the possibility of greater things. A wonderfully poignant read to ponder.