Tag Archives: 2010

Poppy Adams – The Behaviour of Moths – 6/10

Moths Summary: Ginny Stone awaits the return of her sister Vivien to their family home, four decades after she left it. Ginny has long been the sole inhabitant of the crumbling mansion and sole keeper of the family’s moth collection. We revisit the past through Ginny’s eyes: her emotionally absent lepidopterist father, from whom she inherits a profession; her emotionally abusive mother’s last days; a childhood accident and a young marriage. Vivien’s return will turn Ginny’s world, so carefully maintained for decades, upside-down.

Firstly, this provides a brief but efficient lay person’s introduction to lepidoptery (which is an excellent word).

Characters are thoughtfully examined – all have very different personalities and are well-represented. Clive is absent, confused, once brilliant but degrades to stumbling through middle-aged mediocrity. Maud was also once brilliant and beautiful, but she descends to drunken abuse. Ginny is calculated and calm, but not unfeeling. Her future was determined by her mother, unlike Vivien, who is as delicate and flighty as the moths of the title – gregarious, impulsive, fragile and yet terribly demanding. No one in the family recovers from Vivi’s demand that Ginny act as a surrogate mother for her.

The flashback structure works – it is linear and insertions are made at appropriate intervals (unlike in Nina Todd Has Gone). I did find the twist at the end rather strange – there appeared to be no reason for it beyond revenge for disturbed memories.

Certainly an engrossing read.

Reviews from other blogs: The Independent, The Bookseller, The Book Bag, Farm Lane Books, Book Snob

About A Boy – Nick Hornby – 8/10

About A Boy Will has lots of money and no life experience. Marcus has no friends, no money and no hope of being rescued from his slide in social exile. Fiona is a depressed hippie, trying to raise a 12-year-old son in North London. They meet because Will decides single mothers are an as yet untapped resource. They actually end up having quite a good time together.

This is the first Nick Hornby I’ve enjoyed (see my thoughts on High Fidelity and How To Be Good). He uses very different characters from the other two, which were replete with emo 30-somethings struggling with life. In this novel, Will has no struggles, Marcus is all struggle but is twelve (and excellently portrayed, I thought), and Fiona is depressed and really struggling – but crucially Fiona is never the narrator.

I do find it a bit odd that Hornby’s novels are consistently and unrelentingly set in Holloway. Clearly I’m not cool enough to live there and to get the in-jokes.

All the spare characters were well-developed and witty as well – Rachel, the beautiful single mother with the homicidal son; Ellie, who worships Kurt Cobain and adopts Marcus; Clive, Marcus’ absent father, and Lindsey, his dappy new girlfriend (and her omnipresent mother!). All of the characters are a bit crazy, but just on the right side of believably crazy – unlike the extras in How To Be Good.

The premise is bizarre – a single man, rich from the royalties of a single song his father wrote, goes in search of partners at a Single Parents’ Therapy Group… and Marcus tries to feed a duck a whole loaf of baguette in one go, with disastrous consequences. All of it stays just on the credible line, which makes it funny but somehow never quite laugh out loud funny.

Nina Todd Has Gone – Lesley Glaister – 3/10 (DNF)

Nina Todd Summary from the back cover: Nina Todd is not the sort of person you’d notice – and that’s the way she likes it. She lives a quiet life: dull job, dependable boyfriend, no disruptions. When Nina meets Rupert in a hotel, it leads to an empty adulterous encounter that she’d rather forget. But it soon becomes clear that Rupert won’t. Is it pure infatuation, or something more sinister? Who is Rupert, and what is the power he holds over her? And who is Nina Todd?

I ended up not finishing this after having read about 150 pages – it got too violent. Normally I don’t have an issue with violence (see the Stieg Larsson trilogy, which I loved!), but we were inside the perpetrator’s mind as he planned the violence, which made me lose all interest and want to drop the book asap.

This has a really interesting premise, but the execution is weak. There is a mix-up and cover-up of identities (as you can guess already in the blurb), which is revealed to the reader very early on, and after that the suspense is that of watching a car crash – you know it’s going to end badly, the question is just for whom and exactly in what manner.

Nina’s behaviour didn’t really match her thought process, so that was quite gripping – unreliable narrator. We get the feeling that undisclosed evil is to follow to resolve the discrepancies. Ditto Rupert is clearly very messed-up – why is he so set on avenging his sister, when her death doesn’t really seem to have affected his parents all that much (they grieve, but are not vengeful)? Rupert’s parents were very dull – there was only a small examination of the impact of the murder on the parents. All in all, the characters were pretty flat – two really evil ones, a cheerful but dopey boyfriend, a mother-in-law who’s a bit resentful of the new girlfriend and a bit difficult but has no character development… and everyone else was very much just a name and a few character traits thrown together.

The flashback structure really didn’t help either – it wasn’t always immediately clear in whose head we were revisiting the past, nor was that much relevance of the flashback to the present day plot apparent.

However, it gets 3/10 on plot device.

The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley – 8/10

Sweetness Summary: 11-year-old Flavia de Luce finds an expiring redhead in the cucumber patch. Her father is accused of the murder by the local constabulary, and it’s up to Flavia to solve the problem, unaided by her terrible older sisters Ophelia and Daphne. Loyal man-about-the-house Dogger comes to her aid…

This is the first Flavia de Luce mystery, the second being The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, which I loved. Sweetness was excellent too – but I think that Bradley had really honed Flavia as a character a bit better when it came to the second book.

All the characters are excellently set up – the three girls, their father, Mrs Mullet the cook, and Dogger, along with the various police personalities and of course the background of the dead man. Setting the mysteries in 1950s English countryside (Bradley is Canadian) provides a remote environment in which Flavia can operate much more independently and believably than she would be able to today. And the English countryside lends so much charm, with the family estate being in a general state of dilapidation (as always) and mysterious family money going back generations.

As with Hangman’s Bag, I would say that the book is a little simple, but it’s very refreshing and Flavia is a delightful tour guide.

Reviews from other bloggers: Ana at Things Mean A Lot, Farm Lane Books

A Clear Conscience – Frances Fyfield – 1/10 (DNF)

ACC The lives of friends and colleagues are inextricably and inexplicably linked in this gritty London drama. Cath, cleaning lady to the boisterous and happy Eliot family and to Helen West, Crown Prosecutor with a complicated relationship status, receives terrible beatings from her husband.

Unfortunately, that’s about as far as I got into the plot as I gave up at page 102. More than a third of the way into the book I thought there really ought to be a plot going, and if the circumstances are so dire, more of the characters need to be likeable (see When Will There Be Good News).

Thus I record my first “Did Not Finish” (DNF for short).

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson – 9/10

Good News Summary: Joanna is the only survivor of an appalling crime as a small child. Thirty years later, the perpetrator is out of prison and she disappears. Motherless prodigy Reggie is her nanny and seems to be the only one concerned that she has vanished.

This is absolutely harrowing in the relentlessness of bad news (the title turns out to be very appropriate) but exquisitely written. The mix of characters is almost unbelievable, and yet they slot together into the machinery of the novel’s plot seamlessly. Reggie and Joanna are beautifully written – both pretty disturbed, but trying to make the best of a bad world.

I loved the portrayal of Edinburgh, with its dark streets and contrast between its affluent and impoverished areas. The extraneous components scattered into the plot (for example, the Bangladeshi corner shop owner and his family) add depth and weight to the scene-setting.

The Hunt for Atlantis – Andy McDermott – 5/10

Atlantis Summary: Dr Nina Wilde is in pursuit of the lost city of Atlantis, and when she finds support from a Norwegian philanthropist, she can finally perform the surveys she needs. Unfortunately, the Brotherhood of Selasphorus is out to stop her.

This is the prequel to The Covenant of Genesis, and is approximately as believable as its successor. I quite enjoyed the mix of characters in this romp around the world, and the plot is certainly a page turner.

Lots of fun.

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer – 9/10

GLPPPS Written in epistolary form (new for me), this sweet novel records an unlikely correspondence and friendship struck up after a Guernsey pig-farmer buys a second-hand book once owned by a London-based authoress, and the authoress’ ensuing trip to Guernsey which rescues her from her creative doldrums.

Fittingly, I picked it up myself as a second-hand book and loved it. I thought it was beautiful, sincere, poetic and generally an excellent read.

 

The Watchman – Chris Ryan – 7/10

Chris Ryan Acquired in a double edition with The Kremlin Device.

Summary: Someone’s knocking off MI5’s top brass. Alex has to stop him before he completes the set. Much easier said than done. Particularly when the stroppy girlfriend and the sprightly intelligence employee are taken into consideration…

This initially made no sense to me whatsoever – we went from a prologue in northern Ireland to the jungles of somewhere hellish in Africa , and the two settings took quite a while to reunite – but as I got into it, I found it much more delicately developed than The Kremlin Device. The cast was much more disparate in nature so interpersonal conflict could develop.

Plot-wise it was a bit thin (there’s only so much pursuit around the UK that I could pay attention to), but I did not see the twist coming at all! and the epilogue was quite gratifying. There was the same colourful language as in Kremlin Device, and the relationship stuff all seemed a bit unnecessary (although had it not been in there I would have been complaining about one-dimensional women) but Alex spent so much time thinking rather than acting, that it felt like his character was actively and thoroughly developed. On reflection I’m not sure that it was, but (again, as in KD) it was certainly engaging and plenty of fun.

 

The Kremlin Device – Chris Ryan – 7/10

Chris Ryan

Summary: Geordie is officially leading a crack SAS team to Russia to teach the Russian SAS to deal with the proliferating Mafia. The trip is a cover for a far more sinister objective – which then goes disastrously wrong…

Acquired second-hand (from the condition of the spine, 20th-hand) in a double edition with The Watchman.

As ridiculous and unbelievable as the plot was (Russian Mafia? Resurgence of Cold War politics?), this was a fun romp of a read. I really liked how the plot developments were driven by the characters’ actions and mistakes, rather than all sorts of unnecessary events being introduced all over the place.

The language was pretty colourful (although, it appears, no worse than that to which one is subjected on the 22:45 from Reading to Slough…) and littered with military jargon – although the author’s/publisher’s trick of using jargon and including a glossary, rather than the hideous construction that many similar books include, of spattering jargon about the place and using up 90% of the text explaining the terminology, at least meant that the reader could slide past the acronyms fairly painlessly.

The characters were pretty one-dimensional but with a racing plot they don’t really need any more development, and the collection of similar (and therefore amalgamat-able) personalities (expert SAS types) each with one or two distinctive features of physique and character meant that a multi-faceted group personality emerged, a very effective and economical device. The hero had doubts and failings, which again was a pleasant relief from so many SAS/CIA thrillers. One token woman, but an interesting character, not just a leggy blonde.

Lots of fun!

 

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