Recent DNFs

A couple of DNFs from the last few weeks which I thought were worth rounding up, but not worth full reviews (I didn’t give them the 100 pages / 25% that I set myself as a minimum to write a DNF review).

THE SEA CHANGE – Joanna Rossiter

This was a review copy from Penguin, I think, although it has the look of a free book with a magazine. Anyhow, I got 45 pages into this and in one storyline, there was a woman frantically searching for her husband in a tsunami, in 1970s India, and in the other story, her mother was reliving her childhood as the parson’s daughter in an idyllic English village. i.e. loads was happening in one storyline but we weren’t staying there long enough to figure out what was going on, and in the other, nothing was happening.
DNF. And leave in the hotel lounge somewhere.

NAGASAKI – Eric Faye

A middle-aged man in Japan is convinced that a person or some other presence is helping themselves to the contents of his kitchen while he is at work every day. This is a very slim volume, not even 160 pages of large text, but 60 pages in nothing was really happening, so out it went.

THE LITTLE OLD LADY WHO BROKE ALL THE RULES – Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

Bought this because it looked very similar to The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared – and it was, after a sense. Martha is tired of sub-standard service in her retirement home and is determined to break free to a better life. With a group of friends (The League of Pensioners), they go in pursuit of the wealth of the rich and famous. It really was a lot like The Hundred-Year-Old Man (I’m not typing out that whole title again), but not as funny, and it felt very much copied. 65 pages in and I wasn’t really invested in the story. I think the author made a difficult task for herself having 5 major characters – they became impossible to develop separately.

BORN IN SIBERIA – Tamara Astafieva

This is a very personal account of life in Stalinist Russia as a child – the text is collected from notebooks and poems left behind by Astafieva and edited into a memoir of sorts by a friend. If you’re interested in life in twentieth century Russia, this could be right up your street. It wasn’t for me.

Too many?

Whisper it very, very quietly, but I’m starting to think I might have… too many books. Even if I could read 100 books a year (which I’ve never managed: I got to 98 in 2011), it would take me 8 years to read my current stock. Which would mean not accepting another review book, book as gift, not using a library, not borrowing books from friends, for 8 years.

The Physicist has suggested that I make myself a rule: start at the top left of the bookcase and read down. If I don’t want to read it right now, it goes in the bin – if I pass over it now, it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever want to pick it up again.

And hey, if I do, there’s bookshops that need supporting.

What do you think?

Update: I’ve removed 38 books from the bookshelves since I first wrote this post and taken them to work to donate in the charity box there – just picked them off the shelves as “realistically, I’m never going to read this”. Don Delillo’s Underworld was a hefty volume among them.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – 9/10

Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie

for reducing it.

americanah (1)

I nearly gave up on this one. I’m glad I had nothing else to read on the Tube one Monday, this fails the hundred page test but passes the two hundred page test with flying colours. So if you’re reading it and unconvinced, keep going (preferably on a train where you have no choice but to keep going), because you’ll get sucked in at some point and it’s completely worth the perseverance.

Starting in the now, then continually moving back, gives it the weak start. I wasn’t altogether happy with the ending either (though that’s thanks to my rather black and white moral compass), but that doesn’t detract from a well-plotted arching story.

The strength of this book is the huge themes. Race is an incredibly strong theme for the US setting, with Ifemelu running a race-related blog and being really very outspoken (although obviously well within her rights to be outspoken)! The portion set in the UK is much less about racism (a comment on UK attitudes compared to US?) and more about undocumented life, the constant threat of deportment, life as a shadow person. Very relevant right now given the anti-immigration platforms being traded on by the UK political parties.

The third huge theme is the love story between Ifemelu and Obinze – separated by fate and then Ifemelu’s self-perceived betrayal, her refusal to answer his letters and phone calls. When she finally does then come back from the US, there are yet more hurdles between them… but the teenage love story between them is really strong and credible while still being a “they were each other’s one in a million” type of thing.

Ifemelu is a really strong character, sort of everywoman, who doesn’t make odd or unpalatable choices (Obinze is harder to understand – quieter, and somehow the thoughts of his which are set on paper are less developed that Ifem’s?). We understand her ambition, her shame, her determination to put the world to rights. The secondary characters were much weaker in my eyes – Obinze’s wife, Ifem’s long-term boyfriends, both of their parents and uni friends all seemed more like caricatures. But this is worth reading just for Ifem and Obinze.

I don’t have the historical or cultural awareness to really get the Nigerian setting, but it’s written in an approachable style for a Western audience. Certainly the sections in the US and UK are well-researched and as a London resident I found the portion when Obinze was working as an illegal immigrant in London really interesting – it’s so totally different to my understanding of “documented” life in London.

All I can really say about this one is – read it, and get through the 100 pages. It’s worth it on the other side.

Additional info
Purchased in Manly on a recent trip to Sydney when I’d read my way through the books that Mini-Me had brought with her.
Publisher: Fourth Estate, 400 paperback pages
Order Americanahfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Sunday Salon – slumpy

TSS

I am TIRED. I did play some cricket earlier today and score a few runs and then bowl 5 overs, but still. Tired.

Work is ok although the usual unexpected “we want to sign all of these by 30 June” rush on accounts. Never mind, we always get there in the end.

The summer in Bedfordshire is opening up in front of me… I went to get a new car radio installed the other day because I cannot face another summer of so much time on the road, listening to podcasts through a handsfree earpiece. Apart from the fact that the guy didn’t install it properly so it forgets its presets every time I switch off the car, I’m delighted with my all-singing and dancing purchase. It does Bluetooth handsfree and connects to my phone with a USB cable and plays stuff off my phone including podcasts and Spotify, and is generally excellent.

Cricket has gone ok this season in general.

Since I got back from Croatia, I’ve only picked up one or two books – something (I can’t even remember what it was) got binned early in the week, and I’m making slow but enjoyable progress through Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December. I LOVE novels set in London that really show off their knowledge of London. This one even has a Tube driver in it.

What should I be reading next? I’m trying to be a bit ruthless at the moment… need to clear some of these books off my desk and get charging through the bookshelves.

Orwell, censored

Spotted here, via the @booksaremybag Twitter account, this amazing Penguin cover design for 1984. How cool is this?

1984

How to be a Woman – Caitlyn Moran – 4/10 (DNF)

“But, bafflingly, we totally accept the uselessness of heels. We accept it limply, shruggingly. We are indifferent to the thousands of pounds, over a lifetime, we spend on shoes we only wear once, and in great pain. Indeed, we’re oddly proud of it. Women buy shoes and gigglingly say, ‘Of course, they’re agony – I’m just going to have to sit on a barstool all night, and be helped to the toilet by friends, or passers-by,’ despite it sounding as OUTRIGHT INSANE as going, ‘I’ve just bought a house – it doesn’t have a roof, of course, so I’m just going to sit in the front room with an umbrella up.’”

htbaw

“Part memoir, part rant” by Caitlyn Moran (star columnist at The Times, among many other illustrious places) about life as a woman. Rather more specifically, her life as a woman, because there was really not an awful lot in here that I recognised. See the rant above about high heels? It’s against all my principles to buy shoes that are uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, Moran is a highly comedic, perceptive, intelligent writer. There were parts of every chapter that I really enjoyed. There is a glorious chapter about 80 pages in called “I am a Feminist!” which includes some really smart writing.

But there were parts that I outright disagreed with – or worse, didn’t understand at all. Which made me feel pretty confused – how can I not understand this? I left it in the bathroom for weeks, reading a bit at a time, sometimes getting sucked in for 20-30 pages, sometimes finding it unbelievably frustrating and resolving to throw it out. And I couldn’t get hugely excited about chapters about body parts… we have them, deal with it.

Maybe if you have a stronger stomach and are more stridently inclined, you’d love this. I think if you tipped over the edge into slightly liking this, you’d really like it; I just got too … ranted out.

Copy from Bookmooch. Abandoned on a Tube train on a Saturday night.

The Cleaner of Chartres – Salley Vickers – 6/10

“What could be worse – she half-thought – than to have loved and been given no chance to make it known?”

cleaner of chartres

(From the inner cover): There is something very special about Agnes Morel. Twenty years ago, she appeared in the cloisters of the ancient cathedral of Notre-Dame, in the medieval town of Chartres, France. To the townspeople, it seems she has always been there – a harmless presence, touching their lives in subtle ways. But no one knows anything of her past.

(Agnes actually has a grave over the e but it’s too hard to type in this blogging site so can you please take it as read?)

This is a slow, contemplative story of everyday life in Chartres of distinctly non-everyday people. Vickers’ way of telling the story, back and forth between Agnes’ adult life and her childhood with the nuns, is somewhat disjointed and irritating – I would actually have preferred a smoother chronological telling. It’s been a long time since I read Miss Garnet’s Angel (which I do remember enjoying otherwise I wouldn’t have accepted this review copy), but I don’t remember it being so slow. Actually, that’s unfair: I was impatient yesterday reading this but actually now I think I’ve been too harsh – the slow pace of writing suits the book very well.

Agnes is a very complicated character – you want to support her because she is such a mistreated innocent, no parents, child taken from her. But she doesn’t make liking her very easy, either to readers or to other characters in the book. She only really opens up to the Abbe Paul and to the restorer Alain, another exile from society. The Abbe Paul is lovely and sympathetic, not totally but close to flawless character. Dr Deman is an odd fish – you feel like he really does want to help Agnes but then his actions have been harmful to her for a long time. Everyone needs a slightly rebellious nun ally, and Sister Laurence is perfect for Agnes. While there is no doubt that Agnes is the main character here, Vickers devotes considerable time to the secondary characters and the readers are well-rewarded for it.

Plot is quite light in this novel – it’s really a character study, but there’s just enough to keep us ticking along. The build-up of tension and climax through the spreading of ugly stories from Agnes’ past about the town by Madame Beck, the embittered old woman with the ability to see bad in everyone. Agnes seems to be beset by terrible events and rumours on all sides. Nonetheless it’s deftly done and I’ve no plot-related complaints.

This is one of those reviews that I’ve come to write and it’s full of niggles which is unfair on a peaceful, sedate, enjoyable novel.

Copy kindly provided by the publisher, quite a while ago, in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Viking, 298 pages (hardback)
Order The Cleaner of Chartres from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

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