Farthing is a somewhat odd book. It's a fairly straight-forward murder mystery...that takes place circa 1950, in an England where Britain and Nazi Ger...moreFarthing is a somewhat odd book. It's a fairly straight-forward murder mystery...that takes place circa 1950, in an England where Britain and Nazi Germany came to a peace accord in 1941, meaning that Hitler rules the mainland (although still at war with the USSR) and the USA never entered the war (and in fact, is currently governed by President Lindbergh)...and has a rather surprise ending (quite different from the common murder mystery twist) which many will find very unsatisfying. After an initial negative reaction, I'm starting to find I rather liked the ending, although it definitely wasn't where I expected the story to go. It fits quite well with some of the underlying themes of the book as a whole.
The style is a bit unusual: half of the chapters are first person, as told in a diary written by a woman involved in the case, while the other half (the book alternates back and forth) are third person from the point of view of the lead detective. It works fairly well, better than another recent mystery I read that also bounced between first- and third-person.
I don't think this is necessarily for everyone, but I found it well worth the read.(less)
The one thing I kept thinking while reading this was Arkady Renko - if the story took place in Moscow and the protagonist's name was changed to Arkady...moreThe one thing I kept thinking while reading this was Arkady Renko - if the story took place in Moscow and the protagonist's name was changed to Arkady Renko (the protagonist from Martin Cruz Smith's "Gorky Park" and related books) I don't think I would have noticed the difference. (Ok, the whole Yiddish thing would have been out of place, but otherwise...) The similarities were rather overwhelming.
All of that being said, The Yiddish Policemen's Union was a good read. In an alternate universe where Israel failed in 1948 and a temporary (60 year lease) Jewish settlement has been constructed in Alaska, Mendel Landsman is a divorced, self-flagellating drunk, derisive of authority, barely treading water while waiting for the district to revert back to Alaska and the Jews to be kicked out...he is also an extraordinarily good homicide detective. When another patron of the seedy hotel where he resides is murdered, the investigation leads Arkady Meyer to almost unimaginable plots and conspiracies of politics and religion.
The book is steeped in Yiddish culture and sayings, and I wonder how approachable it is for someone who knows nothing of this... On the one hand, it seems like it would be no worse than reading any science fiction where an invented language or set of words made up a huge part of the scenery (e.g., Neal Stephenson's Anathem comes to mind), but on the flip side, the fact that it is a "modern" tale (alternate universe, but still present day) might give readers a different expectation than when reading science fiction.
Most of the characters (both "good" guys and "bad" guys) have surprising depth and dimensionality, making it at times a fascinating character study. This is the first book by Michael Chabon that I have read and I'm quite interested in reading some of the others.(less)
The Eyre Affair is a completely crazy story. There's pretty much no other way to describe it. Very humorous, with sly reference and inside jokes aboun...moreThe Eyre Affair is a completely crazy story. There's pretty much no other way to describe it. Very humorous, with sly reference and inside jokes abounding. An alternate universe where literature is king, people can occasionally find themselves in books, and characters in books occasionally find themselves in the real world.
The first time I tried to read this, I only got through a few chapters, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but because I was afraid I was missing too many jokes due to a lack of familiarity with many of the classic works of English literature. Having read the entire book, I actually feel that I probably didn't miss as many jokes as I feared (although I'm sure I missed some).
A second concern, both going in and part way through the book, was my lack of familiarity with Jane Eyre, which has a central place in the plot. I do not think it is necessary to have read Jane Eyre in advance, but it probably helps a bit. On the suggestion of a friend, I reviewed a plot synopsis of the classic at one point and I do think it helped put some of the events in this book in a tighter perspective than would otherwise have been gained. Even without having read the summary, I still would have enjoyed this book, but it definitely helped me appreciate some of the subtleties.(less)
Ha'penny has a very similar structure as the first book (Farthing), but is quite different in some ways. It alternates between a first person narratio...moreHa'penny has a very similar structure as the first book (Farthing), but is quite different in some ways. It alternates between a first person narration from a woman involved in the mystery and a third person view of the detective looking into the case (Carmichael, just as in the first book; in fact, the events in this book start just two weeks after the end of the first book).
On the other hand, this story really isn't a mystery; the reader and the characters pretty much know who did what from very early on in the story. The rest of it is setting up what might potentially happen at the end, and the result didn't have the surprising ending that the first book had (it's not that I knew precisely what would happen, rather the odds were in heavily in favor of the story falling a certain way). I also thought the motivation of the primary female character was rather strained for most of the book; her actions didn't make a lot of sense for the whole middle portion. Not as good as the first story, although perhaps meant more to set up the final book in the trilogy?(less)
Another amusing story of the crazy world of Thursday Next, I didn't find this is outright funny as the first book, although much of it was still amusi...moreAnother amusing story of the crazy world of Thursday Next, I didn't find this is outright funny as the first book, although much of it was still amusing. Unlike the first book, it also sets up a broader storyline that will continue across books, altering the primary nature of the story arc a bit. Although still chock full of classic literature references, I didn't have the vague feeling of constantly missing the jokes the way I did in the first book (although I probably still missed any number of good ones).(less)
The final book of the trilogy, Jo Walton does an excellent job of tying up the story in a satisfying, and yet still somewhat unexpected way. After the...moreThe final book of the trilogy, Jo Walton does an excellent job of tying up the story in a satisfying, and yet still somewhat unexpected way. After the stunning ending of the first book, I wondered what direction she was going to take the series, and with each step forward the answer seemed to be "down", quite at odds with a her statement from the beginning of the book (in the dedication?) that she is, at heart, an optimist. However, she managed to swing it together in the end, keeping the progression of events realistic enough to seem reasonable, yet still keeping the reader slightly unsure of how it was going to resolve.(less)
A very large portion of the book is essentially plotless. As with the earlier books, some of the scenes seem to serve as something of a brain dump, wh...moreA very large portion of the book is essentially plotless. As with the earlier books, some of the scenes seem to serve as something of a brain dump, where Fforde just puts whatever crazy idea he has into the book, regardless of whether it has any bearing or connection to anything else. Sometimes this works, often it feels forced. While much of the humor is subtle, it seemed more uneven than in earlier works. While the connection between the real world and book world is the key to these books (well, to be fair, it's really only the key to the second and third...the first was about something else), this book loses something by focusing only on the book world and ignoring the real world entirely.
Unfortunately these books seem to be on a decline in quality, although I've heard from others that this is the worst of the series, so hopefully things will pick up again.(less)
Like many of the books in this series, much of it seems very random and disconnected and I found the beginning of the story to be rather difficult to...moreLike many of the books in this series, much of it seems very random and disconnected and I found the beginning of the story to be rather difficult to get into. At some point part way through it really started to shine, however, and most of the threads came together in a fabulous conclusion. The insane alternate universe Fforde has managed to construct continue to delight; I particularly like his version of professional croquet taken to American football Super Bowl levels.(less)
Company man is a tricky book to categorize. It's an alternate history mystery with some steampunk elements (although I personally wouldn't call it ste...moreCompany man is a tricky book to categorize. It's an alternate history mystery with some steampunk elements (although I personally wouldn't call it steampunk) and science fiction overtones.
The story takes place in a northwestern coastal city of the US in 1919/1920; this city does not exist in the real world but is the center of technology and innovation in this alternate world and is essentially run by *the* technological giant of the planet. The story is focused on a security employee for The Company who has unique ways of gathering information.
Overall, the story is fairly interesting and moves through a lot of politics and conflict between management and workers and police and corruption. The biggest flaw is toward the end. There is a big twist which was well built up and not unexpected. It is followed by a second twist that simply didn't work well and sets up a disappointing and lackluster ending. It was a shame that a book doing so well stumbled to the finish.(less)
As with the other books in the series, First Among Sequels is very funny, but suffers from meandering description where many chapters are essentially...moreAs with the other books in the series, First Among Sequels is very funny, but suffers from meandering description where many chapters are essentially random vignettes that serve little-to-no purpose to the greater plot but rather allow him to explore the latest absurd idea which wandered through his brain. Some of these work and some feel like a distraction from the main story, which seemingly takes awhile to get going with any headway.(less)