Saturday, April 11, 2009

Breaking the Silence

There has been a rather long silence here at this delicious solitude lately. Partly this has been because my work has changed this year, and with extra responsibilities there, there has seemed to be little time to write here.

Also, I've had a sort of writer's block when it comes to my blog. Somehow when I'm on the internet I seem to be more easily distracted by other bright and shiny sites and have neglected my own. Embarrassingly enough, Facebook has been sucking up my time, as has my recent obsession with cooking blogs. I'm not quite sure where that came from but perhaps in times of stress and tiredness it is quite nice to read the sort of blogs that don't make me feel just a little guilty about not writing posts for my own blog.

Finally my reading has been a little lacklustre lately. The last two books that I read for my book club were fairly uninspiring and before that I spent a lot of time reading The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, which I enjoyed to an extent but which didn't really deliver in the long run (for me at least, I know lots of other people loved it).

Thankfully though I now have two weeks holidays and have read some great books that actually make me feel like blogging again.

Many of you will no doubt be familiar with the crime fiction of James Lee Burke. I had heard all sorts of good things about his Dave Robicheaux mysteries but hadn't gotten around to actually reading one until this week and I really loved it. In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead is steeped in atmosphere. Burke is particularly good at evoking the smells of the landscape, which might sound strange, but is absolutely appropriate when describing a place as humid and lush as the Louisiana Bayou where the novel is set. Although this novel falls somewhere in the middle of what is now a long series of novels, it worked really well as a stand-alone book. A back story was hinted at but I didn't feel that I needed to read all the others in the series to understand what was going on here.

In many ways the novel covers typical crime fiction territory. Robicheaux is a troubled detective with a chequered past and a gruff demeanour. The plot concerns the serial murders of young prostitutes, possibly connected with mob activity. So far, fairly standard. However it is Burke's descriptive writing that really brings the setting into vivid life. I really felt like I was right there in New Iberia, Louisiana. I could feel the dripping humidity and the smell the rotting vegetation. There is also an intriguing sub-plot involving the appearance of the confederate soldier ghosts that give the novel its title, which in lesser hands might have been a bit silly but actually works here. I'm curious to see what the film version of this novel will be like- it's due for release this year some time.

The other book I've read, and loved, recently is David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day. I recently raved about When You Are Engulfed in Flames in this blog, and I loved Me Talk Pretty One Day for all the same reasons. Sedaris is clever, funny and touching in these personal essays. The thread that runs through the book is one about language and speech, as the title suggests. One of the most touching essays is the one in which a speech therapist is assigned to David at school in order to 'correct' his speech, a process that amounts to little less than formalised humiliation. This links nicely with one of the funniest essays which describes Sedaris' language lessons in France in which the class is routinely humiliated by their sadistic French teacher. The attempts of the class to describe, in broken French, the meaning of Easter is laugh out loud funny ("It is a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus" etc).

On that note, I wish you all an enjoyable Easter break and am heading off now to curl up with a cup of tea, some chocolate and another James Lee Burke mystery.


kimbofo said...

Welcome back.

I'm intrigued by the Sedaris book, if only because I've not read anything by him before and he gets name-checked a lot in the blogosphere.

jess said...

Thanks Kim.

Sedaris is great. I only first read him this year after hearing lots about him. I really can't recommend him highly enough.

Tamara said...

Another interesting review. Me talk pretty sounds interesting. I think you do great reviews (and I love the new header). I'm passing on another award - this time its the 'zombie chicken award' (yes, a little crazy) but its my way of saying I like your blog.

jess said...

Thanks for the award Tamara!

The new header is a shot I took near where I grew up- I chose it because it's so nice to be reminded of the ocean now that I live inland.

Sarah said...

Good to see you blogging again, the new header is lovely.

I was underwhelmed by The Crimson Petal and the White as well.

I read Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke years ago and enjoyed it but haven't read any more of the series. I must remedy that.

I'm also yet to read Sedaris, but will one of these days.

Enjoy your Easter weekend.

Smithereens said...

Welcome back! I've never read anything by Sedaris, maybe I should try... Happy Easter holidays

jess said...

Thanks Sarah. re: The Crimson Petal and the White- I'm glad I'm not the only one! It's not that I didn't like it, only that after all those pages I wanted a bit more pay off :-)

Thanks Smithereens. Hope you enjoy Sedaris if you do end up reading anything by him.