I read a lot of really great stuff last year. As always, not quite as much as I’d have liked, but still. Sadly, I only wrote proper reviews for a couple books. You know how it is. Life and all. Not to mention the novel I’m working on finishing or the other novel I’m starting or the book of short stories I’m editing. I’m a busy guy. But you folks in blog-land are still important to me, really!
Cutting to the chase, I wanna talk, if only briefly, about some of the other books I read last year. There are ten of them which I wanted to review but just never quite got around to doing. I’m going to attempt to correct that error now. Here’s the first five books.
Inés of my Soul
How did I go so long without reading Isabel Allende? This brilliant period novel of the conquest of Chile spins out – in epic and spellbinding fashion – a tale of greed and lust and violence and love and hatred and betrayal and misery and desperation and beauty and ruin. This is, in short, a truly staggering novel. Anybody who enjoys Game of Thrones should run out and pick this up. Actually, the two have a pretty similar style, despite the fact that they’re marketed entirely differently. Most people who are fans of one probably wouldn’t touch the other, but they should. Allende’s book takes the edge, however. It packs as epic a story into a relatively slender package without giving up one ounce of depth or nuance, and her sparkling prose elevates the brutality and raw humanity of the story to the absolute peak of quality.
The Pale Blue Eye
This book was a huge surprise to me. It’s about a murder in an American military academy sometime in the 1800s. I picked it up, knowing practically nothing about it, at a library book sale, and stuck it on the shelf until I forgot about it. First off, I hadn’t the faintest inkling that – spoilers! – Edger Allan Poe would show up in the first quarter of the book and practically take over the novel. Honestly, I don’t really like that whole trend of inserting famous people into historical fiction just ’cause. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against fictionalized versions of authors showing up. Dan Simmons’ Drood was an absolute masterpiece, and it features two famous authors as the main characters. Poe, however, felt extraneous to this story. He seemed to be there for no other reason than that the book was itself something of a homage to Poe’s work. Also, I was rather disappointed by the final conclusion of the book, when the twists started piling on at such a frantic pace as to disrupt the established trajectory of the story, not to mention straining the bounds of credulity somewhat too far. Not a bad book, and a fun read, but nothing too special. Oh yeah, and it was written by some guy named Louis Bayard. Never heard of him.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much about this novel, not just because it was a long time ago that I read it, but also because it just wasn’t that memorable. This is the first I’ve read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I pretty much liked it, I think. I remember the general plot – a coming of age story set in an African country on the verge of violent upheaval – and I remember the characters. There are a great many skillfully drawn characters, the harsh father beloved by his community and reviled by his family, the tender mother trying to keep peace, the children caught in the middle and the radical aunt. They’re well written, but verge on being too archetypical. I can’t really recommend this one, but I’d be open to giving the author another shot.
The Walking Dead Volume 1
Okay then. Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Where to start? Good stuff, I guess. What’s good? Hm… I mean, it’s an engaging enough story, I suppose. Some of the plots. Yeah, that’s the good stuff. Some of the plots are pretty exciting. And now the rest. In Kirkman’s introduction he talks about how the thing he hates about zombie movies is that they end. This book is his answer to that. It’s a zombie movie, he says, that doesn’t end. Sound good? Personally, I kinda think that if your guiding principle is just length, like that’s the whole reason you’re doing it, what’s the flippin’ point? If you don’t have anything to say, why bother? I’m certainly not one to demand that every story have a moral or anything, but there should be a reason for writing it other than wanting to see how far you can take it. All the good stuff has been pilfered from better zombie movies that got their points across in ninety minutes. Anyway, all that aside. The characters are generally annoying and stupid, the art is horrible (well, the first six issues are alright, but then they bring in a new guy – who sucks), and Kirkman seems to be constantly challenging himself to top the last revolting thing he did, to the point where the disgust has reached a simply childish level. I really didn’t like reading it. It made me feel dirty and sleazy, and not in a good way.
The Year of the Flood
I have become a huge Margret Atwood fan in the last year or so. The first book of hers I read was Oryx and Crake which, while not her best novel, was pretty fricking fantastic. It didn’t gel totally, but there were enough really strong elements that I rushed out to read more of her stuff. The main trouble was the non-ending, which was rather a let down. So, when I heard that the book was actually the first part of a trilogy, I was pretty excited. This book, the second part of the series, was actually rather a letdown. Atwood’s trademark wit was on full display, and her mastery of the craft cannot be questioned. That said, I really didn’t get into this book all that much. It was split into four sections, two main characters in two time periods, and it felt a bit scattered. I really enjoyed piece of it, but it never felt like it meshed. And then, on top of all that, it actually ended at every nearly the same point at Oryx and Crake, and never did more than tease the reader with another cliffhanger ending only a chapter removed – timeline wise – from the end of the previous book! That’s some Robert Jordan bullshit right there. The third book in is out, and I’m sure I’ll pick it up at some point. To be honest though, I’m a lot more interested in catching up on her older novels than I am seeing how this story turns out. On the whole, a bit of a letdown.