Saturday, July 25, 2009

More books....

Getting hold of what I can (South Africa next week, hope Stellenbosch has more bookshops with a wider range; have already identified some...):

Ian Rankin's 'The Flood' - this was his first book, written while he was still at university and rejected by many publishers then.... Set in a mining (former mining...) village in Fife, it tells the story of a woman who fell in a pit burn aged 10, after which her hair turned white overnight, and had a son aged 16 whose father remains unknown until the end of the book. Also of her son and various other people who come into contact with her. The son has no idea who his father is and is afraid to ask his mother in case he hurts her. I know the feeling well! He, a smart lad (an alter ego of Rankin?), in his teenage years has his own problems and dreams....The woman falls in love but cannot do sex, given her earlier experiences, there is a new minister in town who also feels strongly attracted to her.... many people in the village think she is a witch, and she is a bit of an outcast (somehow she also made me think of Susan Boyle, who, like Mary Miller in the book, has not worked until now). There is no crime and no Inspector Rebus in the book. Knowing Scottish former mining communities (albeit in Ayrshire) pretty well I liked this book very much; it describes the community very convincingly, its decay, the despair settling in, the boys who are desperate to leave school (but after the summer holidays are envious of the boy staying on at school). It also made me think about all the policies everywhere in the world where staying in education for as long as possible is encouraged - but there are people who hate school (me included), and alternatives need to be found for them. The book made me feel quite at home.

Coincidentally I then went on to read Kate Atkinsons 'When will there be good news', another Jackson Brodie book set mainly in Edinburgh. Actually I find her a better crime writer than Rankin (and she has not always been a crime writer); the characters are more sympathetic, though also quite appallingly complex. This book is another crime novel with twists and turns you would not believe - the opening scene reminds me of that murder in Kent where a guy murdered a mother and at least one of her daughters. The chapter headings are a mix of nursery rhymes, converted religious quotes, quotes from other literature, and she displays an intimate knowledge of classical Greek. The main heroine is a plucky 16-year-old girl who the reader's heart goes out to - she has had so many disasters in her life that it is surprising how well adjusted she is. It's also quite funny, despite all the murder and mayhem. Well worth getting (and I will be taking it home).

Finally (not finally really, given that there is another book on my office bookshelf whose name I cannot remember) there is Andrew Wilson's 'The Lying Tongue', about a young art history graduate, Adam Wood (notice the coincidence of the initials?) who gets a job in Venice tutoring a young boy with the aim of writing his first novel in his spare time. The job falls through, and he finds another one looking after an old author with a very murky past (which, not surprisingly, he is rather secretive about). Young Adam sets out to find out about the past, which is not very pleasing - but at the same time Adam is not necessarily the guy you would like to have as a friend, or even as an acquaintance - never mind as an enemy. It's ok; a good read, for hospital reading etc, and its end is one which I could not help feeling a little satisfied with. Not terribly high-brown literature though, the descriptions of Venetian art, buildings etc notwithstanding. This one is for sale in the office....