Tuesday 7 December 2010

Sickbed reading round-up

Friends, I am so damned sick! I have been mostly housebound for almost a week and am reading tonnes but don't have the brain or stamina to write full reviews of what's gone by. Welcome the hopefully brief return of the mini-review! I'm eating some restorative chickpea noodle soup as I write this.

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

This novel is So. Damned. Good. I am tremendously sad that this is the only thing di Lampedusa wrote, because I think he may have been a genius. Also, his translator (Archibald Colquhoun) is/was a genius - this English version read more smoothly than probably any other translation I can remember encountering; I kept forgetting that I was reading a translation. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Also, I believe that in The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell re-wrote a key scene from The Leopard - I immediately thought of Jacob's death scene when I read the Leopard's. No one can do literary homage (and kill their teacher dead) like David Mitchell can.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Thank goodness Dorothy Sayers didn't die young, for it means there are more books and I have much to look forward to. Gaudy Night is also So. Damned. Good. It's one of the best books I've read this year. It made think I made a wrong turn in life by not reading mysteries almost exclusively, like my friend Sarah does. But then, they can't all be this good, they just can't.

Reading Gaudy Night also made me wish I'd been born in England, at the beginning of the last century, so that I could have been a lady scholar at the lady's college at Oxford. I would have rowed, and scholared, and been unbelievably dry and witty, and maybe also have solved mysteries alongside extremely hot, rich British types like Lord Peter Wimsey.

The only bad news: this edition, published by New English Library, is filled with a shocking number of ridiculous typos. Avoid this publisher!

An Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters.

During the worst part of this wretched winter affliction, I had to go back to my reading equivalent of a favourite blanket - Brother Cadfael. An Excellent Mystery is the 11th of Ellis Peters's medieval whodunnits and it was as lovely and satisfying as the previous ten have been.

AND, I solved the mystery, which I very rarely do, and very early on to boot. This didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book at all; indeed, it increased it, because I knew what was at stake! I was on edge a lot, and also, as always, surprised and humbled by how humane and good Peters's characters are. Really, no author I've come across has made nice characters so interesting. Love!

The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

The third installment in the Regeneration trilogy, The Ghost Road didn't really satisfy. The writing is very good, of course. But two things bugged me: 1) Dr. Rivers's flashbacks to his time as a missionary doctor in the South Seas just didn't make for good reading - and also didn't comment so profoundly on Europe's false sense of itself as civilized as I think Barker imagines it did.

2) Wilfred Owen was totally wasted in this one, being present only, it seems, to forebode Billy Prior's death a week before the end of the war. I thought making Siegfried Sassoon a major character in the first book was both gutsy and well done; he had life and energy which both added to and supported what is known about him. Owen in The Ghost Road was less than two-dimensional. Disappointing.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I really didn't like this book. It had some good moments and the writing was fine but if I were hell-bent on winning the Booker, I'd try to write a book like this. It's witty and gritty and it tells the "truth" about how shitty it is to be poor in India. It also blames poor brown people for keeping poor brown people down. Or, at least, the narrator does; I have no idea what Adiga thinks, but I'm not sure he's a good enough writer (yet?) to make distinctions between author and narrator clear in a first-person narrative.

I do know that I found The White Tiger profoundly irritating and not a good enough read for me to quibble less about its seemingly problematic politics. Thankfully, it was short. And I borrowed it from the library. And I have a public blog which my family and friends read, so they'll not buy me anything else by this guy.


Heidenkind said...

I can't read when I'm sick. Usually I just watch Pride & Prejudice or something.

I hope you feel completely better soon!

Unknown said...

Poo. I have a copy of 'The White Tiger' on its way to me as we speak :(

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

The Leopard is unbelievably good. Perfect anytime reading.

Are you trying to displace Rohan as the internet's foremost champion of Gaudy Night?

Interpolations said...

I'm positively plucky that you don't like White Tiger. Like a pick up artist at a bar who has mastered one line to perfection, Adiga is so lazily reliant on sarcastic humor that I wanted to punch him in the face, as you might say. As for not feeling well, I'm going to give you a piece of perfectly unsolicited advice: ginger tea. Lots of it. You're welcome! Cheers, Kevin

Bookphilia said...

heidenkind: Watching P&P sounds delightful; however, we don't have a TV, so that's not an option here.

Tony: Oooh, tough luck! Mind, even though we're both big fans of Trollope and various Japanese greats, we mightn't agree on this one.

Amateur Reader: Yes, I'm already looking forward to re-reading The Leopard in 5 years or so. As for Gaudy Night, no one can defeat Rohan as its parfit gentil knighte.

Interpolations: Well said, friend, well said. Yes, those sarcastic one-liners were too much too bear weren't they?

And there's already a province-wide ginger tea shortage resulting entirely from my consumption of the stuff; but I'll look into procuring more.

J.G. said...

Hope you are rounding the corner into Sick Enough to Stay Home But Not Too Sick to Enjoy It by now.

I thought White Tiger was good but not particularly memorable. It is quite "one note." Sorry to hear Ghost Road is another lesser Booker winner. I still have that one ahead of me.

Stefanie said...

I've had The Leopard on my TBR list for what seems like forever. Must get around to it. And Gaudy Nights too. Hope you feel better soon!

verbivore said...

The Leopard is a must-read, I see. Where have I been? Will get a copy right away.

My parents have been devotees of Dorothy Sayers for my entire life, which is probably what made me avoid her. It seems I was wrong, will check out Gaudy Night for the holidays!

Hope you are feeling better soon!

Meytal Radzinski said...

Ack, I never understand how good books are brought down by bad editing and proofreading. I don't get it - this is the digital age. It can't possibly be so hard to carefully proofread a book before publishing...

I've never heard of The Leopard, but I do love a good genius-written book. I find it slightly upsetting, though, that this is one of the few books you've read that is smoothly translated. I always tell myself that most translations are good and well-done, but this is sadly not always the case... Then again: I'm glad to hear that the translation is also genius!

I hope you feel better soon!

Anonymous said...

Nice roundup Colleen, but I'm sorry you're sick. Must say I enjoyed The white tiger. I thought the fact that he was writing to the Chinese premier (?) gave it a lovely additional ironic layer.

I must read The leopard though.