Sample Saturday: 3 Doorstep Novels

My Sample Saturday spotlight this week is turned on three of the chunkiest books on my TBR shelves. As a reminder, Sample Saturday is where I look at all the books I own but have yet to read, and decide which I should part company with and which I should keep.

A sticker on my copy of Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas tells me that I paid £2.50 for this in a charity shop. I have no idea why I wanted it because I’ve never read anything by hi; not even his much acclaimed novel The Slap. Maybe I was trying to expand my reading of Australian authors?

Tsiolkas’ novel is about the hopes and dreams of Danny Kelly, a 14-year-old working-class boy with an immense talent as a swimmer. He and his family sacrifice everything to help him become a golden boy in his sport and put him on a path to represent Australia in the Olympic Games. His selection would also silence the rich boys at the private school to which he won a scholarship. But the plan goes horribly wrong.

I’ve read about 20 pages of the book and it hasn’t wowed me. It feels two-dimensional and too much of a “this happened, then that happened” style. Can I take 510 pages of this especially when I’m not particularly enamoured of sports-based narratives? It feels like it would be a plod.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker Translated from French by Sam Taylor

This 614 page book by Swiss author was a huge it in Europe when it was published in 2014 though its reception in the United States was more muted. Some critics there thought it was cliched and lacklustre. The Guardian reviewer commented:

So many critics seem to have been knocked on their behinds by Dicker’s novel that I can’t be sure I’m not missing something in filing what you might call a minority report. They see a masterpiece; I see a completely ordinary, amiably cartoonish and well aerated page-turner that does nothing interesting in literary terms at all.

The novel is a thriller set in a coastal  town in New Hampshire where the young successful Marcus Goldman heads in search of inspiration for his next book. While staying with his college professor, Harry Quebert, the body of a 15-year-old girl is found on the property. She’d gone missing 33 years earlier. Quebert is accused of her murder, Marcus sets out to clear his old professor’s name and to uncover the truth. His publisher sniffs a good opportunity and offers a multimillion dollar advance for a book about Goldman’s investigation.

Do I want to read this? The story moves along quickly – by page 40 we’ve already had the discovery of the body. But that’s not surprising for a thriller. I can live with that providing the quality of writing isn’t sacrificed for pace. But from the pages I’ve sampled I fear this book is nothing special.

The Verdict: Set Free

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

This comes in at a hefty 884 pages but then, as the title indicates, it’s actually four novels published between 1957 and 1960.

Durrell called it “an investigation of modern love”; a novel in which he experimented with a premise that people and events seem different when considered from different angles and periods. So he presents three perspectives on a single set of events and characters in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during the Second World War.

The four volumes concern the same characters, but each of the several narrators tell the novels’ complex tales from their own viewpoint, and they write at different times.

I’m tempted to give this a go, by reading at least the first book. I’m attracted by some reviews I’ve read that say one of the novel’s strengths is the way it evokes the city as a melting pot of cultures.

The Verdict: Reprieve

So that’s two fewer books on the TBR shelves. Did I make the right choices?? What would you save from these three??

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on March 28, 2020, in Sample Saturday, TBR list and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Good choice!
    I didn’t like The Slap, and on the strength of reading it, I ‘set free’ two other previous books of his that I’d bought and certainly did buy Barracuda (or watch the TV series). The Slap is not representative of any Australians I’ve ever met, thank heavens!

    • Always like to have my decisions to se free a book validated. The minute I let it go I start to question whether I should have kept it. But increasingly I’m taking the view that I can always get a copy from the library if I feel that strong an urge to read a released book

  2. I noticed you had signed up for the A to Z challenge for April. I always love meeting new people via the challenge. Hope all is well in your world.
    See you in April!

  3. I, too, disliked ‘The Slap’. I’m old enough to remember the praise with which Alexandria was greeted at the time of its publication but have never read it. I did read one book of his at around that time – ‘Tunc’ – but 50+ years on I can remember nothing of it.
    As for big books, a couple I have read recently are ‘The Overstory’ (brilliant) and ‘The Labyrinth of the Spirits’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. An extremely complex thriller, reminiscent in places of ‘Killing Eve’. Certainly evoked Spain and Barcelona during the Franco era. Did not inspire me to read the other 3 books in the series, however.

  4. I’m not attracted by either of the first two, either. My wife couldn’t get on with The Slap, which further put me off the author. The Durrell is much more appealing; I read the Avignon quintet many years ago and (mostly) liked it, and have an ancient copy of Alexandria languishing in a box in the garage, where I consign the least-likely-TBRs. Maybe now we have enforced time on our hands I’ll dig it out – seem to have lost enthusiasm for concentrated reading at the moment.

    • You’re not alone in finding it hard to concentrate on reading right now. Book sales are holding up well it seems so I wonder if people bought the books thinking they would have all this time on their hands, yet when it comes to it, the books lie unopened..

  5. Sounds like I won’t convince you to try the Tsiolkas – I like his work because it exposes some of the truths about class in Australia’s apparently ‘classless’ society (obviously that’s ridiculous but it is something that is still said).

    I have Harry Q on my shelf as well – there was a lot of noise about it when it was released but trusted reading friend gave it the thumbs down and I’ve never felt that enthused about it since.

    • I think I could have been persuaded by the Tsiolkas because it did deal with class issues but dipping into the text didn’t fill me with confidence that I would enjoy the writing style

  6. I listened to Harry Querbert in audio and didn’t mind it but won’t think I would have stuck with it had I been reading it. I’ve never been a fan of Tsolkis (sp?) 😀😀😀

  7. At one point I had two copies of the Dicker (I think I was given both of them) and I didn’t read either of them. They didn’t move with me, so I must have set both of them free. I keep thinking I ought to read the Durrell but I’m not sure “ought” is ever a good reason to read a book.

  8. I would have done the same. Mr. Kaggsy watched the TV adaptation of Quebert and wasn’t impressed. I’ve considered reading the Durrells for ages, as his prose is lovely – it’s just finding the time!

  9. Good choice! I have read all four books in the Quartet. His writing was sometimes soporific for me but I got more insight into Egypt than from any other novels set there in those times. Love affairs, spying, political intrigue and, as many have said, he does bring Alexandria to life beautifully.

    • I did read somewhere that his prose can be rather dense but I am intrigued by discovering Alexandria. My great great grandfather was there during the first World War though hardly anyone in the family knew. Then they discovered some tiny photos he’d taken…….

  10. Goid summaries.The swimmer one interests me fir the private school story. I also have an unread copy of the Slap. Alexandria has been on my TBR for years so I will be interested in your review.

  11. Echoing Cathy…

  12. I really disliked The Slap so haven’t wanted to try any other of his books.

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