A pleasant enough jaunt through McCall Smith's unrushed Botswana, where determined ladies choose meek husbands on the basis of their reliability and a...moreA pleasant enough jaunt through McCall Smith's unrushed Botswana, where determined ladies choose meek husbands on the basis of their reliability and are judged on how fat they keep them, and where detective cold cases are solved by going out to the crime scene and getting a feeling about it and then getting some maids and receptionists to gossip.
I suppose the characters are likeable, but it was a bit frustrating that they all seemed to act like 9 year olds, or like very old people (I was never sure which). Newly engaged 30-somethings Precious Ramotswe and Mr J. L. B. Matekoni (yes, every initial, every time - decide for yourself whether that's charming or irritating) are like an elderly couple. I realise this isn't 50 Shades of Grey but Mr J. L. B. Matekoni doesn't give the impression of ever having kissed Mma Ramotswe, let alone seen her naked. It's old-fashioned and sweet perhaps, but all a bit make-believe.
It may be unfair to bring this up in a review, but the digital edition (I got mine from iTunes) is very crudely put together. The title page itself presents the title as
Tears of the Gi- raffe
and the brutal hyphenation regime continues on page 1 with
This kind of thing continues with phrases like a corrugatedtin roof, a mediumranking official and out-side the village. This may not be the fault of the author, although I was puzzled by the enormity of his good fortune, which surely is. Together, details like these gave the feeling of a book quickly written, barely edited and ultimately rather shallow.(less)
A slightly uncomfortable read for me, I have to say, as a middle-aged and doubtless slightly self-absorbed husband. Veteran author Joe Castleman proba...moreA slightly uncomfortable read for me, I have to say, as a middle-aged and doubtless slightly self-absorbed husband. Veteran author Joe Castleman probably feels like an OK guy on his first class flight to Helsinki to receive a prestigious and well-earned award for his contribution to literature, and I felt for him a bit as his wife Joan seemed to be have based years of seething frustration on little more than some minor self-absorption and arrogance (initially charming but apparently irritating in the longer term) and tendency to talk nonsense with other men - along with the world's treating him like some kind of rock star for it - plus a lifetime of relentless womanising. He even acknowledges her in his rambling, self-important acceptance speech. Can't she let him enjoy this one night?
Well, let's just say there is another side to this well-told, insightful, often funny, bitter story that made total sense of everything.(less)
I have to admit to being a bit baffled at the enthusiastic reviews for May We Be Forgiven. "She is one of the funniest writers - laugh-out-loud funny"...moreI have to admit to being a bit baffled at the enthusiastic reviews for May We Be Forgiven. "She is one of the funniest writers - laugh-out-loud funny" (Jeanette Winterson); "I can't remember when I last read a novel of such narrative intensity" (Salman Rushie); "To call May We Be Forgiven "compelling" would be an understatement; it is a novel as compulsive as its characters" (Financial Times).
The book starts out well, as we meet mild-mannered academic Harold, his distant wife, nasty brother, and attractive, long-suffering sister in law. Events move quickly and the situation gets interesting. However there it runs out of steam, and from about a third of the way in it becomes a tedious listing of dull and irrelevant details that add little to the trite, slow-moving plot. (It came as no surprise to learn that the initial section was originally a short story, and the dreary remainder a lesson in why it's not always a good idea to develop these into full length novels.) I can't work out whether this is a deliberate effect intended to create a sense of suburban ennui or whether Homes is just struggling with a weak plot and a word count target, but it seemed to drag on eternally.
The constant Nixon references (Harold's academic area of expertise and the subject of his unfinished book) may have more resonance for an American audience, so when Homes links the corruption of the Nixon era to the decay of the American Dream, deeply insightful as that may be, the rest of us probably join with Harold's students in thinking 'so what?'
I didn't much like Homes' 2000 novel "Music For Torching" either, but at least the writing has some pace and style. Compare these:
Music for Torching:
Paul hurries off the train. Monolithic skyscrapers push out of the ground, steely and strong. Shafts of light cut between the buildings, punctuating the boulevard. Park Avenue is like a Grand Canal filled with shining black town cars—gondolas of good fortune. Every morning the streets are filled with Pauls—scrubbed and polished men in thousand-dollar suits thinking they are something. One hundred thousand offices, a million windowless cubicles, creativity and commerce. The metropolis hums—sings of the spirit, of the romance of trade, of the glory of the great game—things bought and sold. Paul is flooded with the anticipation of doing a good day’s work.
May We Be Forgiven:
Cheryl invites Madeline, Cy, and me to come for dinner later in the week—before heading off for a month in Maine. “A yar-becue,” she types, “yard barbecue, just Ed and the boys.”
Cy and Madeline are excited. “It’s been a long time since we were invited to a dinner party,” Madeline says, and then whispers loudly that after Cy’s fall from grace they were dropped socially by pretty much everyone they knew.
“I didn’t fall from anywhere,” Cy mutters. “I stole some money. It’s more common than you realize.”
Madeline and I make a Jell-O mold—with pineapple chunks suspended in green, mandarine oranges in yellow, and green grapes in red. I’ve never made Jell-O before—it’s magical.
We arrive at Cheryl’s to find to yard thick with smoke and the dense perfume of hot meat. The three boys, Tad, Brad, and Lad, are helping their father, who is hovering near something that looks like a cross between a fire pit and an antiquarian outhouse.
“We built our own smoker,” Ed says, welcoming us.
Perhaps that doesn't sound so bad. They made some jellies for a yard barbecue - or "yar-becue" as that Cheryl would say, hilariously, what a character - with Ed, whoever the hell he is, and it was important for us to know the full set of jelly colour / fruit combinations. But this mind-numbing succession of irrelevant detail goes on and on for hundreds of pages while dull people we don't care about learn predictable lessons in self development to become better, though still unbearably boring, people.(less)
I started reading this for my book club, then about halfway through found out that I should have been reading May We be Forgiven instead, so I read th...moreI started reading this for my book club, then about halfway through found out that I should have been reading May We be Forgiven instead, so I read that and then came back to finish Music For Torching afterwards. I can now say I have a more rounded feel for A. M. Homes' writing, but to be honest I didn't like either of them.
For me, Music For Torching was the better written, as there is at least some pace, wit and style in place of May We Be Forgiven's drifting structure and endless listing of dull and irrelevant information, but the characters are utterly unlikeable and spend the whole book frustratingly mismanaging their lives while wondering why they hate themselves. The only enjoyment either of them seem to get from their miserable lives is some furtive extramarital sex - and even then they manage to mess their affairs up, Elaine by feeling pointlessly guilty about hers and Paul by trying to have one too many. The purpose of the ending may have been to show these self-absorbed, neurotic characters some real perspective I suppose, but all the same it seemed arbitrarily tacked on by an author struggling with plot structure.(less)
A book club choice that I didn't think was going to be my kind of book, but turned out to be one of the best things I've read in ages. A great "book w...moreA book club choice that I didn't think was going to be my kind of book, but turned out to be one of the best things I've read in ages. A great "book within a book" story, with likeable characters and great dialogue. There's a real sense of danger - but also cute toddlers, sassy maids, controlling mothers, unlikely friendships, ladies who lunch and a disastrous charity dinner. Alright, the maids may have been a little idealised, idealistic nerdy Skeeter might be a wish-fulfillment fantasy version of the author herself, and segregationist Hilly is a straight-up witch - but Stockett has a story to tell and she tells it with style and passion. I loved it, and now that I've finished it I miss the characters, especially wise, kind Aibileen, irrepressible Minny and Mae Mobley Three.(less)
My neighbour had us read this for our book club, which raised a few eyebrows as it's not exactly a work of literature, but more a manual with month by...moreMy neighbour had us read this for our book club, which raised a few eyebrows as it's not exactly a work of literature, but more a manual with month by month tips for those beginning beekeeping. It's entertaining though, describing a year in the unusual life of a beekeeper with anecdotes and recipes along the way (I recommend the spiced chocolate and honey harvest cake) as you follow the progress of rooftop hives on London's Fortnum and Mason department store and Tate Modern art gallery, among other locations, as well as Benbow's own hives which he moves around the country to follow the flowering seasons such as heather on the Yorkshire moors. It does remain a practical guide though, and although I found myself hearing the narrator's voice as Monty Don from Gardeners' World, the writing is patchy and Benbow loves the word "colossal" a little too much. I finished it liking bees more, while appreciating that keeping them is probably quite hard.(less)
I first read this book a scarily long time ago, and I'd forgotten so much of it that I seriously wondered whether my memories of it were artificially...moreI first read this book a scarily long time ago, and I'd forgotten so much of it that I seriously wondered whether my memories of it were artificially implanted.
It's a strange book, though I'm not sure whether it would have been less strange or more so if I hadn't seen Bladerunner many times over the years - you notice the little differences, like the movie's term "replicant" for "android" (and Bryant's superbly contemptuous "skinjob"), and its Tyrell Corporation in place of the book's (with hindsight, odd) Rosen Association. You also see the importance of some of the little details in the movie, like the owl at the corporate HQ, and all the weird animal references in the Voigt-Kampff test. Then of course the movie departs wildly from the novel, so there is a lot that is new for someone who has only seen the movie, like Deckard's wife Iran, Mercerism and the empathy boxes.
From a sci-fi point of view those last two elements aren't very believable - but Dick clearly wanted to explore the nature of empathy, sentience and humanity, and the invented technology is just there to allow him to create some What-If scenarios. If you could build more and more realistic humanoid robots, at what point would they actually be human? Would they never be, and if not, what would be the key difference? What would it be like to be them? What would the religious take be? And of course, how would you feel if your job was to dispose of them? When you start they are merely robots, but as time goes on and the new models get better you gradually find you have turned into a murderer. Now who's the benefit to society and who's the problem? The book was always more about the metaphysics than any serious attempt to glimpse into the future.
Like the android David in the movie Prometheus, which I happened to see while in the middle of this book, making me wonder whether Ridley Scott still had his Voigt-Kampff kit - the androids do seem to have a range of likes, fears and passions even though the humans arrogantly carry on assuming they don't and can't. The android characters are subtly shallow, hollow and manipulative in a calculating but somehow guileless way, and they give up easily. With even the Deckard character naive and one-dimensional apart from some soul-searching towards the end, the book didn't really have any particularly sympathetic or memorable characters.
Under Mercerism, the people have a sacred duty to care for the last remaining animals, and of course their rarity gives them a street value, so everybody who can afford one has a sheep on some scrawny apartment roof plot, but dreams of owning a horse, as much for the social prestige as anything else - but, oddly, hardly anyone seems to have any actual empathy for the animals themselves. When a character finds a spider, he excitedly looks for a matchbox to scoop it into - when today (I hope) our first thought would be to leave it alone and preserve its habitat. I wondered whether this was deliberate or just a reflection of how people saw wildlife in the late 1960s.(less)