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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??

Sunday Salon Catch Up

sundaysalonA wonderful surprise awaited me on my return from an intense working week in snow-clad Eastern USA — a signed copy of Christos Tsiolkas’s newest novel Barracuda which I won via National Book Tokens. I never got around to reading his best seller The Slap but this latest novel is apparently equally provocative in the way it questions what it means to be Australian.

But first I have to finish two other novels: Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger which won the 1987 Booker Prize and New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani.   By complete coincidence they both deal with memory and are partly set in World War 2. The first is a brilliantly constructed novel in which a secret love affair is revealed by an old woman as she lies dying in a hospital bed. The second is a novel I started reading on the flight home. It’s a curious story about a man found beaten up at a dockside in Trieste – he can’t remember anything about his life, not even his name. The Finnish doctor who treats him thinks he must be Finnish (purely on the basis of a name found inside his jacket) and sets about trying to teach him that language in the hope it will rekindle his memory.

These two are such a contrast to the novel that sustained me through the long flight out and the wintry nights that followed. Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir has been sitting on my book shelf for at least four years — quite why I delayed reading it for so long, I’m not sure since I’ve loved every other novel I’ve read by him and Germinal is one of my all-time favourites.  Maybe I was afraid L’Assommoir wouldn’t be as good but fortunately it’s turned out to be equally as riveting.

So in all February has been a good month. I’ll keep my fingers and toes crossed that March turns out the same. I’ll be reading E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View which is the book I landed up with after the Classics Club spin and probably something from my World Literature list but I haven’t decided what that will be yet. Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa and Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas are both calling for my attention. I suspect it will depend what mood I’m in at the point when I’m ready to begin a new book. 




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