Posted by BookerTalk
I thought when I retired that I’d not only have oodles of time available to read but that I’d be quite prompt with my reviews. Neither has proved to be the case.
Instead of filling my days with reading and blogging, I’m juggling Pilates classes, the gym, gardening, National Trust volunteering, coffee shop visits with friend. Not that I’m complaining. It just means I have less time available to write content for the blog.
It’s been getting steadily worse over the last two years. Despite best intentions about wanting to do justice to each book I know I’m never going to catch up if I try and write full reviews for everything.
So I’m going to be sharing some mini reviews until I get the backlog down to a reasonable level.
Let’s start with three books that turned out to be so disappointing I had to abandon them well before the end.
Reading Through the Night by Jane Tompkins
Published by University of Virginia Press., June 2019. My copy was provided by Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.
Jane Tompkins was a literature professor but when she succumbed to myalgic encephalomyelitis (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome), reading was about the only activity she could manage.
Her relationship with books and the experience of reading changed substantially. She began to examine whether instead of reading for pleasure, a close examination of a book could provide profound insights into her life.
Her path of introspection begins with Sir Vidia’s Shadow by Paul Theroux, a memoir of his friendship and falling out with the Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul.
The book contains a detailed discussion of this book and Tompkins reactions to different episodes.
I happen to have read – and thoroughly enjoyed – Theroux’s book so I could relate to some of Tompkins’ comments. But she went overboard with page after page of commentary and analysis. I had been expecting to learn about the power of reading to sustain people through difficult times. But this felt more like an academic paper tracing patterns of feelings and behaviours.
I kept thinking surely she would move on to other books or authors. But not a bit of it. Tompkins became so enthused by learning about Theroux that she then progressed to another of his books (The Old Patagonian Express) . And so we were treated to yet another detailed analysis.
At which point (about 25% of the way into the book) I decided enough was enough.
The Midwife by Katja Kettu
Published by Amazon Crossing 2016. My copy was provided by Net Galley in exchange for a fair review.
The synopsis of this book sounded promising. It takes place in the final years of World War II when the Soviet Union and Germany are fighting for control of Finland. This is the backdrop for a romance between a woman nicknamed “Weird-Eye” ,who works as a midwife, and a war photographer who works for the SS.
Unfortunately the author seems to think her readers are deeply interested in the details of Finnish history at this time. Her book begins with a detailed timeline of events the significance of which was lost on me. When the narrative does get underway it becomes even more confusing – the narrative is written in the first person but it switches perspectives between different characters whose identity is not immediately obvious. Too confusing to be a pleasurable experience. Abandoned after 10%.
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
Published by OneWorld Publications in 2015.
This won the Booker Prize in 2015. It relates the story of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley (never referred to by name, only as “the singer”) and its aftermath. I knew it was written partly in Jamaican patois but once I ‘tuned in” that didn’t present a problem.
The real difficulty was that it has a vast array of characters – the cast list at the beginning shows 75 names. Around a dozen of these jump in to tell their story. One is an American journalist, another is a kid called Bam Bam who saw his father shot in the head. There are several gangsters and a prostitute. Since their appearances are often short, I kept forgetting who they all were. That plus the non linear narrative made the whole book far too confusing.
I gave it a good shot but in the end decided I had far more enjoyable books waiting on the shelves.