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Excuse me while I’m in a post-Connelly withdrawal phase. I’ve been hooked to his Mickey Haller thriller so bad in the last few days that I could hardly wait for my daily commute.
And if you’ve read this blog a few months ago, I had read my first Haller mystery not so long ago! Things are obviously going out of hand.
Yes, it was that bad, that the commuting hour (twice 40 minutes daily) was probably the most thrilling part of my workday (I do hope my colleagues or boss don’t read this blog), and that I actually smiled to the fellow commuters seating next to me (a serious breach of Parisian commuting etiquette, only out-of-towners and tourists do make eye contact).
I think that audiobook made it worse because I could not slow down, I had to follow the breathtaking pace of action.
My symptoms are: obsession with Harry Bosch and Michael Haller, checking Amazon several times to know what’s the next title, considering re-reading it, lack of interest for other books. It’s tough going cold-turkey after the last page!
The funny thing is that I can’t remember when I first read Connelly (probably as a student), but I do remember that I was just as hooked at the time. Same as with Ellroy. What do they put into their plots? It’s virtually unputdownable.
Bosch is a tough guy, but the mix of cynicism, realism, guilt, and hope and idealism despite the odds in the defense attorney Haller makes him such a great character that I could follow him for months on end. But… I should not. Repeat, I should not.
Add to this lots of twists and hidden secrets, and this cocktail is deadly. Consider yourself warned.
For the last afternoon of the year, why not talk shortly of the last books I haven’t reviewed, so that tomorrow will start with a blank slate?
- P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley
It seemed like a good idea. Well, indeed, who hasn’t thought of mixing two of your favorites? My mother always says that as a little girl she tried cheese and chocolate together, hoping that the taste would be wonderful. So you can guess what comes of P.D. James-meets-Jane Austen? Disappointment. It could have been worse. It wasn’t bad, but it was bland on both counts: mystery and Austen world. Mind you, I haven’t tried Jane Austen-meets-Zombies, but I suspect I should steer clear of that too.
- Andrea Camilleri, La Rizzagliata (2009, Fr. 2012)
Discovery for 2012: I love, love, love Italian mysteries and noir. This short one, focusing on the intricate links between police, justice, politics and journalists in Sicilia, was brilliant. Despite the large cast of characters (enough for a list to be provided at the beginning, something that never fails to scare me), the plot was tight and light enough for me to read in 2 days over Christmas.
- Angelica Garnett, Deceived with Kindness
The jury’s still out on this one. A memoir by the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant (except she believed for 17 years that her father was Clive Bell), this short book gave a refreshingly new look on the Bloomsbury milieu. Over here it sometimes feels as if Virginia and Vanessa have become icons or saints, so nothing bad can be said about them. But Vanessa’s daughter was a mess, a consequence of not knowing who she was and what she was supposed to do. She speaks of emotional distance and selfishness, but the trouble is that she sounds a bit self-indulgent too. Worth reading anyhow.
- Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)
My second audiobook (thankful for all the business trip and train hours over Christmas!), what a blast! I love Connelly’s mysteries, but only ever knew Harry Bosch until now. Now, I’m ready to embrace the defense side with the Michael Haller series in 2013. I was totally unaware that a movie had been made out of the book (I listened in French, and the translated title sounds like a chess opening, not a legal mystery), so I was shocked yesterday: what, Matthew McConaughey as Haller?? I would have chosen anyone at least 15 years older.
That’s it for 2012 books! See you next year and best wishes to everyone!
I stumbled upon the name of Phyllis Theroux more than once while browsing parenting blogs and her reputation was that of a compassionate and wise voice. Her name always comes up when it comes to journalling, so I decided to give it a try, but only some of her earlier essays were available for trade on Bookmooch.
I’m glad I did read it, but it’s a 1987 book, and if a mother was to go public with this kind of essays today, it would probably be a blog, not a book.
Each chapter chronicles a key moment of children growing up, but most of them are about tweens and teens. I did like Theroux’ voice, but the 1980s American life with numerous kids in a small town is way too far from mine now to really resonate with me. I guess her diary would have been a better approach. What I most enjoyed was her luminous, positive and calm approach to the mayhem of family life. And she’s not one to preach or make you feel guilty.
In some ways, I’d have loved to read a blog by Theroux, but she doesn’t seem to have one. In her book she sounds like a person very aware of privacy and boundaries, even while sharing some of her deepest emotions as a mother. Does she find that we’re disclosing too much? Yet she published an edited version of her diary. So I don’t quite know what to think. Isn’t that funny how blogs have contributed to a new way of sharing emotions?
In this dark time where horror strikes where people thought their children would be safe, I feel the need to talk about a gentle book, not about a murder mystery which would feel so pointless to my wounded heart. So no violence tonight, even in literary terms and with the sense of closure that resolution and condemnation brings, while parents are denied this comfort in real life.
I bet regular readers of this blog will be surprised that I ended up reading an Amish novel (not written by an Amish obviously, but by a Christian writer who puts all her stories in this community). It surprised me too! A month ago, I didn’t even know that such a niche market existed in the literary landscape, but then, why not?
My knowledge about Amish was quite limited up to a few months ago (especially, I insist, as I am not a religious person and not living in the US), but then I watched a documentary from National Geographic about young Amish doing their rumspringe discoveries in England (before being baptized) and I was truly awed. So when I discovered by chance that Amish novels existed, I gave it a try and am rather glad I did. It was like visiting another planet.
My expectations were not very high because I never read Christian novels or romantic ones. Dialogues were rather stiff and the many repetitions whenever a character used a Dutch word are clumsy (I guess the author should provide a glossary at the end of the book and be done with it, instead of having the characters translate each other words, which is weird). But characters were rather less one-dimensional that I’d feared and there was a real suspense. The basic problem I encountered is that this is only the first book in a series and lots of plot lines are left unresolved at the end of this one, which is frustrating when you don’t know it beforehand.
That said, I don’t think I will read the follow-up, but I’m rather thankful of the chance to read such an exotic and relaxing novel for me.
There’s live tweeting and live blogging, but live reviewing… isn’t it contradictory by nature? At the same time, haven’t you ever wished you could record some fleeting thoughts you had while reading some sentences of a book? Isn’t the opinion of a book built by the accumulation of these tiny impressions, both good and bad? Well, I tried to jot down on paper all those fragments (but I was quite lazy to copy quotes or page numbers). Be warned, in this experiment, spoilers can’t be avoided.
- Page 4- Kay Scarpetta walks outside the New York morgue. Erh, what? I’m trying hard, but I’m lost. It’s been more than 10 years that I haven’t read a Patricia Cornwell’s, but I expected the heat of Richmond, Virginia. Read on!
- Page 6- Apparently, Scarpetta works part-time in VA, part-time in NYC. I feel safer, this alternance of cold and hot weather in forensic mysteries is familiar… Oh god, I’m appalled at myself. I’m realizing that I was thinking of Kathy Reichs’ mysteries as I borrowed this one. Oops. Scarpetta is not Temperance Brennan. Should I stop now? Too late. For old times’ sake, at least.
- page 7- So far so good, a post-mortem with lots of lingo is Cornwell’s specialty dish.
- Later into the first chapter: Benton alive? I’d have sworn he was dead. Obviously I missed a great deal. I may not have been faithful, but I’m not liking main characters’ resurrection. I don’t know how Cornwell’s going to justify it, but it will be tough.
- Later. I’m not feeling so well. I was expecting tech lingo, but Cornwell should know that nothing ages more a novel than a technology that used to be very special and now has become cheap and common. Scarpetta can’t use a… Blackberry? I’m speechless.
- My queasiness is getting worse. Lots of very predictable ominous warnings about going to a TV show. Let’s hope for a surprise.
- Is it an approved plotting device to build up tension by making some crucial character late for a meeting, therefore removing critical information for the plot advancement? No, I thought not. This is just frustrating. God, people, you have a Blackberry, use it or buy a wristwatch and go to a payphone.
- Okay, now I’m lost for good. Nothing I read makes sense. Perhaps because they refer to episodes I’ve missed. Did I drink too much? Perhaps I should stop. Or not. I’m already halfway through, and perhaps Cornwell will still pull it off. Perhaps my being lost is a clever plot device with an evil mastermind behind it. Keeping fingers crossed while reading a paperback is hard I tell’ya.
- 100 pages later. People are unsympathetic and Scarpetta has nearly no forensic role to play. I’m going to skip a few pages, I don’t think it will make any difference.
- 50 pages before the end. Don’t they say: be careful what you’re wishing? The evil mastermind, she did go overboard. No coincidence, every plot line nicely connected to the… resurrected bad guy who turned into another person through cosmetic surgery? You’re kidding me, aren’t you?
- I’m not the only one who wants to be over soon: all the good guys explain to each other what they discovered with loooots of tension, due to the fact that… they were late to meetings and couldn’t reach each other before because… their mobile phones had no reception?! I can’t even use this as an excuse to my boss.
- Oh alright, Scarpetta is cooking Italian food for everyone. No thank you, I fear I won’t be able to digest it. Burp. Sorry.
Hustvedt never ceases to surprise me. I always fear that her novels might be too highbrow for me, but she never sacrifices her plots and characters for higher ideas and general considerations, although philosophers and scientists may enter a common dialogue at unexpected times.
I had always thought her voice was elegiac and soft-spoken, but I guess I’m wrong once more. This time, she gets into humour and the result is… nothing short of hilarious. Who knew?
It might be a banal, sad story: Mia Frederiksen is a middle-aged, rather subdued intellectual, a prize-winning poet living with her husband of 20 years in New York (wink wink), when suddenly her husband asks for a pause in their marriage. “The Pause was French with limp but shiny brown hair. She had significant breasts that were real, not manufactured, narrow rectangular glasses, and an excellent mind.”
This sets Mia into a spiralling bout of Reactive Psychosis for which she lands in hospital for a time. After that, she decides to leave her Brooklyn apartment and spend the summer in the Minnesota small town where she grew up, teaching poetry writing to a small group of high school students.
Between her daughter, her all-female students, her ageing mother who lives in a geriatric home with her four girlfriends, and her female neighbour whose husband is conspicuously absent, it is, as the title promises, a whole novel without a single male character, something like the cast of The Women, the Cukor classic movie (by the way, this movie is so great I warmly encourage everyone to buy a DVD of it for a great winter evening, don’t wait for summertime). Of course, all they talk about is men and gender differences!
I quite enjoyed the brisk pace of this short novel and the hilarious scenes especially when Mia is dealing with her estranged husband. Perhaps it’s Hustvedt’s take on summer novels or chick lit? I often fear that I don’t get humor from foreign countries but this is a great counter-example. More than once I was chuckling to myself during my commute or reading in bed. Hustvedt sometimes directly talks to us, dear readers, but the meta-fiction aspect is very light and never burdensome. Same goes for the heavy subjects (getting old and dying among others) that she manages to balance with wit and a great compassion towards her female characters.
Mmh, this is the UK title. Americans may know this book as “The Genius”. I don’t think either of these titles is quite good enough, but it really pays off to get past the title and plunge head first into this thriller [Beware, I'm not sure I can say how much I appreciate this book without hinting at some spoiler].
Where was Kellerman when I most needed him, during the winter months when I ran out of luck with books and mysteries in particular? Art has often been the pretext for crime novels, but most of them never take time to describe the art that is worth killing for. Mostly, it’s just a matter of money and of eccentric, driven characters. Here, on the contrary, Kellerman takes time to focus on the painting itself. Quite a nice change! The brutal art in question here belongs to the trend of outsider art, made by people with mental health conditions and no formal artistic training. In those circumstances, it’s dubious that the artist himself would call his production “art” and claim credit for it, so the credit often goes to the person who has “discovered” the art in question. The plot cleverly introduces us to the business of contemporary art and navigates the related questions of who decides what is art, how to set its financial value, the role of the art dealer in giving art a context and a story that will make it more acceptable, and such more marketable to wealthy customers.
The narrator of the story is Ethan Muller, a young and ambitious art dealer in New York, who literally stumbles upon a stash of previously unknown outsider art in a derelict flat. The tenant and artist is nowhere to be found, so Ethan decides to jump on this opportunity to display the art and sell it, making potentially a fortune and a reputation for himself. Of course, part of the story depends upon the reader’s ability to be intrigued by some art he’s never seen (and never will), so the art dealer’s credibility must come out rock solid. Kellerman really plays it all in the first few pages, which are very punchy and awesome for anyone interested in the writing art.
Ethan Muller basically claims from the first sentence that he’s not a nice guy, nor a completely honest one, nor someone who knows how to tell nice stories. (it was a library book and I’m writing this from memory). How clever! I was instantly hooked (I do love complex main characters who don’t seek our love and approval) and Kellerman instantly builds a trust bond with the reader at a meta level (a wink at the start may actually be a good thing).
Because nothing is known about the artist and because parts of his art are really disturbing, suspicions soon link him to brutal children murders committed decades before and left unresolved. At this point a second voice and line of narration start, which I enjoyed less than the first. I rather thought this gratuitous and crowd-pleasing. But at least it also brought more moral questions about the plus-value of scandal in art and how the way we look at a design (as an art dealer or an investigator) changes the meaning and the value of the piece itself.
It brilliantly demonstrates that the body count is not important when a writer masters the art of plotting. Yes, a thriller can be thrilling without a bloodbath and a car chase at the end. I’ll definitely check out other works by Jesse Kellerman, who happens to be Jonathan K and Faye K’s son.
She shares with Gretchen Rubin a bubbly enthusiasm and a type-A personality, which I appreciate, but she’s not part of my world at all. She quotes way too much TV series for my comfort level and she is so All-American that as a foreigner I had trouble relating to her (maybe I’m discriminating, but the sorority allusion made me roll my eyes). Besides, the amount of free time she has (spent on mani-pedi and yoga) clearly made me jealous. And feel quite old. It’s probably a good thing we’ll never meet.
But on paper it was quite pleasant for a while, because Bertsche’s voice is so cheerful and easy-going.
I got the book on Bookmooch one of these days after contemplating my address book full of old friends I don’t have time to call and devoid of any new acquaintances. Friendship in your 30s is a tricky thing, and being a full-time working mother doesn’t help (I was told new friends would come naturally around the playground after school, but that’s our child-minder who gets to go to the playground and have friends, not me). I liked the project of the book better than the actual book itself. I’m all for trying new things and pushing myself to get results, so I can only cheer to her experience of meeting 1 friend a week for one entire year.
But when you translate that into a book (it was first a blog but I didn’t know), it eventually gets exhausting to keep track of everyone. And I felt that the systematic, sometimes forced (read: hectic) search itself precluded any deep relationship. So the end was a bit of a let-down.
That said, reading the book was a good experience itself, forcing me to reevaluate old friendships that have probably waned for good reasons and making me realize how many options we all have close hand to meet new people. Thanks to her, I have finally invited my friendly neighbors! (something Parisians are known to avoid at all cost).
This is one of those books I would never have heard of before internet. But Litlove praised it so much that I bought it as a present for Mr. Smithereens. He did like it, I guess (in his not really talkative way), so I wanted to try it too.
Now, I think it might have been a disastrous choice of a present for a spouse!
Except if you want to make sure that your own marriage remains ensconced in very conventional standards, that is.
I mean, if I had been in Mr. Smithereens’ shoes, I would have been appalled to get such a present. I would have endlessly nagged or worried (or both) as to why on earth your spouse would think you’d enjoy reading about lots of dysfunctional couples or unhappy spouses or cheating, abusive husbands or seemingly peaceful ménage à trois, or all of the above. But Mr. Smithereens didn’t nag (men don’t do that, well, not too often, do they?).
Or maybe he just enjoyed the gossip.
All the uncommon arrangements Roiphe presents in details (don’t fear it might be gritty, it’s not: lots of research and balanced, never judgmental analysis) essentially come down to disastrous, unsustainable personal choices. Seven artistic or literary couples (among which Elizabeth von Armin, Vanessa Grant, Katherine Mansfield, Ottoline Morrell and H.G. Wells) have tried to live by new standards and turn their back on Victorian rigid conventions. But even if freedom in relationships was something new (the book spans from 1910 to the Thirties), feelings of jealousy, emotional abuse, sincere passion, resentment and betrayal were nothing new. In short, the arrangements ended up in bitter tears more often than not. Most of these intellectual men and women tried to rationalize and justify at length their choices, but it didn’t mean that they could control their hearts.
It certainly does shed a new light for me on the literature of this period (if only to say that what might sound like a great idea on paper does not translate into ideal circumstances in real life). It also reminded me on the experiments from the 1960s-70s when people challenged the notion of couplehood. In some ways today’s society does seem a lot more conservative, or at least a lot less idealist and prone to experiments than these periods.
Apparently Mr. Smithereens hasn’t been offended by my choice of book for him. He even offered me the memoir of Vanessa Bell’s daughter, Angelica Garnett, Deceived by Kindness. It will be nice to be able to follow this theme into another book!
Grrrr…. I hate it when I start a post and when the draft mysteriously disappears… Anyway.
I received this book through Bookmooch from a kind reader on the other side of the world, with a nice, if slightly subdued card: “Greetings from Adelaide South Australia. Hope you enjoy this book. I certainly did”. (If you happen to read this blog, mysterious Moocher, thank you again for sending this to me!)
At that time I did wonder a bit about the choice of word “enjoy” for a book about death and bereavement (the choice of card did seem very appropriate and reflected the melancholy tone of the book), and I did wonder why, if this person had enjoyed it, did she give it away?
This was my first brush with Didion and I expected to come back raving about it. Dorothy (whom I still resist calling Rebecca) did praise it. All the serious reviews were deferential. People called it powerful and moving. Yet I certainly wasn’t enthusiastic (poor choice of word again), and I didn’t quite “enjoy” it.
For the sake of clarity, I should add that Didion is practically unknown in France: only Democracy had been translated before the huge success of The Year of Magical Thinking got the publishers to translate Play it as it lays in 2007.
Grief and bereavement are uniquely personal subjects, but at the same time deeply universal. Everyone has lost someone close and dear, every spouse can relate to the horror of losing one’s life companion, but it’s truly a humbling and lonely experience per se. I expected literature to come to the rescue in this case. I expected to be moved, to empathize with her, but unfortunately Didion’s dry writing, her refusal to be emotional, her need to rehash clinical details and many, many details of her life with her husband John Dunne kept me at bay. Of course, this is precisely what she’s addressing in this book: this magical thinking aimed at avoiding grief, at continuously thinking her beloved husband as alive, as if he were coming back any minute.
I think many people may have been disturbed by the intellectual, rational side of her book. This is no spiritual book, she doesn’t take comfort in any religious belief as tragedy strikes her again and again. Perhaps because I’m a non-religious European, this didn’t disturb me and I only realized this after finishing the book. But to me, this is more of a personal journal than something destined to be widely published and praised, especially for those who don’t know Didion through other books.
It was an interesting read, but I think I’m going to mooch this one away. Perhaps with a similar card tucked in the cover.