Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Recent reading

There has been lots of reading around these parts lately, and I'm pleased to say that I'm on a run of books that I've really enjoyed.

First up, Sylvie Matton's historical novel, Rembrandt's Whore. Matton focuses on the character of Hendrickje Stoffels, a woman who lived for many years as Rembrandt's partner although they never married. As you can imagine this was very controversial in conservative, 17th century Amsterdam. Matton does a fabulous job of recreating the time period and also getting inside the mind of Hendrickje, a country girl who sees the genius of Rembrandt and is prepared to flout the conventions of society to be with him. From the notes at the back, I believe the novel is very carefully researched and I certainly learnt a lot about the times in which it is set. Not only is the book historically interesting, but Matton also writes in a very interesting style, particularly in the way she plays with voice. Sometimes Rembrandt is addressed by the narrator directly as 'you', and then, in the same paragraph, he is described in the third person. This takes a little getting used to but actually works, and in some ways really helps to create the voice of the narrator.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga joins a growing list of Indian novels that I have loved. I was totally swept up in the story and barely put the book down as I read it. The narrator of the story, Balram, is very entertaining company, a fascinating character who is determined to escape his poverty stricken background at any cost. Despite the light tone, the book is actually very dark, and does not flinch at describing the terrible conditions in which the poor live in India. Balram's aim to achieve success at any cost draws an inevitable comparison with Macbeth, and I quite enjoyed looking for links between the two texts. There are definitely some interesting comparisons to be made between life in Shakespearean England and the cut throat dog-eat-dog world of modern day India.

Finally I finished Scott Westerfeld's novel Pretties just this morning. Pretties is the follow up to Uglies and is the second in his sci-fi trilogy for young adult readers. I loved Uglies, and Pretties lived up to the promise shown by the first book in the series. The novels are set in a future where all people undergo an operation at 16 to become 'beautiful'. This is ostensibly so that there is no competition based on looks, however there is a more sinister side to the operation as the heroine, Tally, and a group of friends discover. The novel looks at issues of beauty and appearances, friendship, loyalty and betrayal, and human nature. Young adults generally love these books in my experience, but I think they deserve a wide adult audience as well. I've written before about how much I love Scott Westerfeld and once again he hasn't disappointed. This is smart, pacy and though-provoking writing for any age group.