Okay- a few weeks ago I eagerly signed up to the #20BooksOfSummer reading challenge hosted by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books having made a rash decision to attempt to read the full twenty books. I selected my books, in hindsight too quickly, and without much thought, and, ahem, it hasn’t gone too well so far.
So here is a bluntly truthful, and mercifully condensed look at the disaster that has so far been my 20 books of summer. It’s a mixed bag. Maybe I’m just saving the best until last..
#1 Chris Abani- Song For Night:
Trained as a human mine detector, My Luck, a boy soldier in West Africa witnesses and takes part in unspeakable brutality. At 12, his vocal cords are cut to prevent him from screaming and giving away his platoon’s presence, should he be blown up.Awaking after an explosion to find that he’s lost his platoon, he traces his steps back through abandoned villages and rotting corpses – and through his own memories – in search of his comrades. The horrors of past events lead My Luck to find some glimmer of hope and beauty in this nightmarish place.
An incredibly harrowing and thought provoking read, that unsettles but ultimately completely immerses the reader in My Luck’s plight. I was moved and transfixed in equal measure, and this stands as one of the most powerful indictments of the futility, and barbarous nature of civil war I have ever read. Good start to my reading challenge.
#2 Peter Watts- Echopraxia
It’s the eve of the 22nd century and the beginning of the end. Humanity splinters into strange new forms with every heartbeat: hive-minds coalesce, rapture-stricken, speaking in tongues; soldiers forgo consciousness for combat efficiency; a nightmare human subspecies has been genetically resurrected; half the population has retreated into the ersatz security of a virtual environment called Heaven. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to reveal itself. Daniel Bruks has turned his back on it all, taking refuge in the Oregon desert. As an un-augmented, baseline human he’s an irrelevance, a living fossil for whom extinction beckons. But he’s about to find himself an unwilling pilgrim on a voyage to the heart of the solar system that will bring the fractured remnants of mankind to the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought.
I wonder, having just re-read that synopsis why I thought this book would hold any shred of interest for me, or indeed any other living, breathing human. My failure to get past page twenty merely seeks to re-inforce my sheer bewilderment at the attraction of sci-fi for many, many undoubtedly intelligent, and supremely attractive people.
One day, in a galaxy far, far, away I will make it to the end of a sci-fi book….
#3 Paraic O’Donnell- The Maker of Swans
Amid the fading grandeur of a country estate, Clara lives in the care of Mr Crowe, a man of many mysterious gifts, and his faithful manservant, Eustace. Free from rules and lessons, she inhabits a silent world of her own. She has her books, and her secret places. Mr Crowe was once the toast of the finest salons: a man of learning and means, he travelled the world, dazzling all who met him. Now, he devotes himself to earthly pleasures, while his great library gathers dust and his once magnificent gardens grow wild. But Mr Crowe and his extraordinary gifts have not been entirely forgotten. When he commits a crime of passion, he attracts the attention of Dr Chastern, the figurehead of a secret society to which Crowe still belongs. When Chastern comes to call him to account, his sinister attention is soon diverted to Clara. For Clara possesses gifts of her own, gifts whose power she has not yet fully grasped. She must learn to use them quickly, if she is to save them all.
I was undeterred by the fact that this book was favourably compared to three books I completely loathed. I should have been deterred. Fans of the three books I loathed will love it.
#4 Cynthia Ozick- The Puttermesser Papers
Ruth Puttermesser lives in New York City. Her learning is monumental. Her love life is minimal (she prefers poring through Plato to romping with married Morris Rappoport). And her fantasies have a disconcerting tendency to come true – with disastrous consequences for what we laughably call ‘reality’. Puttermesser yearns for a daughter and promptly creates one, unassisted, in the form of the first recorded female golem. Labouring in the dusty crevices of the civil service, she dreams of reforming the city – and manages to get herself elected mayor. Puttermesser contemplates the afterlife and is hurtled into it headlong, only to discover that paradise found is paradise lost.
Despite my normally general affection for Ms. Ozick, there was an extremely nifty perambulation from my hands into the charity shop bag. Overwritten, a whiff of pretentiousness, uncomfortably forced black humour and all a bit, well, depressing.
#5 S. E. Craythorne- How You See Me
Daniel Laird has returned to Norfolk after a nine-year absence to care for his ailing artist father. He describes his uneasy homecoming in a series of letters to his sister, his boss, and to Alice, his one true love. But it is not until he discovers a hidden cache of his father’s paintings that the truth begins to surface about why he left all those years ago. The more Daniel writes, the more we learn about his past and the more we begin to fear for those he holds dear.
An unbearably claustrophobic and clever tale of deception that I challenge you not to read in one sitting. Tapping into the dark areas of the human psyche, and our ability to deceive others and conceal our true motives, this was a tense and compelling read.
#6 Robert Edeson- The Weaver Fish
Cambridge linguist Edvard Tøssentern reappears after a balloon crash in which he is presumed to have died. When he staggers in from a remote swamp, gravely ill and swollen beyond recognition, his colleagues at the research station are overjoyed. But Edvard’s discovery about a rare giant bird throws them all into the path of an international crime ring.
An impossible book to review with it’s myriad fictional forms, addendums, footnotes, and unreliable and shifting narration.
Totally, utterly, completely bonkers. Edeson is either a lunatic or a genius. Probably both.
#7 Diana Rosie- Alberto’s Lost Birthday
Alberto is an old man. But he doesn’t know how old – he remembers nothing before his arrival at an orphanage during the Spanish civil war. He rarely thinks about his missing childhood, but when seven-year-old Tino discovers his grandfather has never had a birthday party, never blown out candles on a birthday cake, never received a single birthday present, he’s determined things should change. And so the two set out to find Alberto’s birthday. Their search for the old man’s memories takes them deep into the heart of Spain – a country that has pledged to forget its painful past. As stories of courage, cruelty and love unfold, Alberto realises that he has lost more than a birthday. He has lost a part of himself. But with his grandson’s help, he might just find it again.
Alexander McCall Smith does The Spanish Civil War. Moving on…
#8 David Peace- Tokyo Year Zero
August 1946. One year on from surrender and Tokyo lies broken and bleeding at the feet of its American victors.Against this extraordinary historical backdrop, Tokyo Year Zero opens with the discovery of the bodies of two young women in Shiba Park. Against his wishes, Detective Minami is assigned to the case; as he gets drawn ever deeper into these complex and horrific murders, he realises that his own past and secrets are indelibly linked to those of the dead women and their killer.
8 DOWN….12 TO GO…The clock is ticking…