I've once again let my reading overtake my blogging, so I thought I might do a kind of catch up post rather than write at length about the last couple of novels that I've read. So here goes...
Some of you might have read my whinge about Bel Canto a couple of posts ago. Well, I finished it and suffice to say my opinion did not change. Ann Patchett's novel left me very cold. A part of why I didn't like it was that I though it was incredibly unrealistic, however on Friday night I watched a documentary about the hostage siege that Patchett used as inspiration and found out that she stuck surprisingly close to what actually happened in Lima, Peru. The Japanese embassy there was taken by a group who wanted to capture the President. When the President wasn't there the group got stuck with a huge group of hostages and no exit strategy. In some ways the real drama was crazier than the fictional version. In real life the hostages even went so far as to allow the press into the embassy for interviews during the siege. Amazing. Unfortunately I still don't like the novel.
After Bel Canto, Engleby by Sebastian Faulks was refreshing, if you can use that word to describe a novel about a seriously disturbed person. It was refreshing for its originality, black humour and unflinching examination of a very dark subject. It's hard to talk too much about this one without ruining it, although I think most readers would find the ending of the novel fairly unsurprising. Faulks' narrator, Mike Engleby, must be one of the most interesting and well-drawn characters in recent fiction. I felt confronted and disturbed by this book, but in a good way!
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was much hyped on its release, in part because so many bloggers were given it for free, thus sparking a debate about the ethics of declaring or not declaring where you get your books from before you write about them. For the record, I bought my copy fair and square at a book fair last week. The Thirteenth Tale is fun Gothic mystery/ romance. It's very readable and fairly insubstantial. I had hoped for something cleverer from a book that is so concerned with reading and writing. Unfortunately I felt that Setterfield was somewhat milking an audience that she knew would be interested in a book about a young women writing the autobiography of an older, very famous author who has finally decided to 'tell her story' after a lifetime of weaving fiction.
And now I'm deeply absorbed by Alice Munro's collection of short stories, Open Secrets. I've been meaning to read something by Munro for so long and am glad to find her exactly as interesting as has been claimed by others. The stories in this collection so far offer a thoughtful perspective on ordinary lives, pointing out the extraordinary in small town, domestic life. The intricate level of observation reminds me of Annie Proulx in some ways, but the writing is more direct and less heavy with imagery. I can't wait to read the rest of this book.