Sunday, March 16, 2008

Recent Reading

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.

9 comments:

Jeane said...

Very curious to learn that Bel Canto was based on a real event. I had no idea. Unfortunately, it doesn't make me want to go back and attempt reading it again (I didn't like and quit the first time).

Pour of Tor said...

"Open Secrets" is my favorite of the Alice Munro books I have read so far (the others were "Lives of Girls and Women" and "Who do you think you are?", aka "The Beggar Maid"). I look forward to hearing what you think of it when you have finished it!

Dorothy W. said...

I'll remember what you wrote about Bel Canto when I read it -- which I will one of these days or years -- it's useful to know it sticks pretty closely to facts.

Sarah said...

I can relate to letting your reading overtake your reading!

I've avoided Bel Canto and The Thirteenth Tale because of all the hype. I've never read Sebastian Faulks, but will some day.

As for Alice Munro, I've also only recently discovered her for myself. I started with her first book, Dance of the happy shades whihc is wonderful, had my first impression confirmed by The beggar maid and am now reading Lives of girls and women.

Amateur Reader said...

I'm pretty sure that none of the real-life hostages were world famous opera singers able to tame the savage terrorists with her bee-yoo-tiful singing.

jess said...

Glad to know there are plenty of Alice Munro fans out there. I'm more than half way through Open Secrets now and loving it. I'm reminded more of Margaret Atwood as I read- always a good thing!

I had to laugh at your comment, Amateur Reader- you just capture the whole problem I have with Bel Canto. I just wanted to yell at the bloody singer and tell the other characters to get over her! Perhaps real-life hostages would be greatful not to have to share their ordeal with such a painful and self-absorbed character...

That said, I look foward to your thoughts when you get a chance to read Bel Canto, Dorothy, but I can also understand why you didn't finish it Jeane!

Elaine said...

Kindred spirits--I didn't like Bel Canto, and I love Alice Munro! My favorite collection of hers is Runaway. She is a goddess.

jess said...

I'll have to read Runaway Elaine.

Also, readers, forgive my misspelling of 'grateful' above. Thought I'd fess up rather than just change it. For an English teacher I'm certainly a crap speller!

norwegianstrawberry said...

I read The Thirteenth Tale when it first came out in hardback (I got it as a Christmas gift, so I got it pretty much fair and square too...) I had the exact same impression as you. I really wanted to like it, since it was so deeply entrenched in dusty used bookstores and the innerworkings of a brilliant writer, but it felt like it didn't go far enough. Or at least, there was something missing. I came out of it disappointed.