Monday, 28 April 2014

April's Books - Time Travel

Margaret Atwood's "Oryx & Crake" Last month I grabbed a trio of books from the "new" shelf in my local library and reviewed the first two here.  The final book was "Oryx & Crake" by Margaret Atwood where she gives us a view into an all too possible dystopian future: scientists engineering new species of animal, new sources of food, new cures for diseases, new diseases needing cures ... society is divided into the haves who can afford the latest, greatest therapies and eat real food and the have-nots who die young on rations of genetically engineered look-a-like consumables.  Except that society has gone - wiped out by an unexplained catastrophe, leaving just one lone survivor living near a group of grass-eating humanoids.  The novel gradually reveals some of what has happened in fascinating flashbacks but, told from just one viewpoint, there is a lot left unexplained.  The ending left me spluttering in indignation until I realised that this book is the first of a parallel trilogy!  Far from "new", it was originally published in 2003 and the companion books are already available.  The question is ... do I care what happened?

Andrea Levy's "Small Island"To compensate for a bleak future, my next choice was a glimpse of the past.  Andrea Levy's "Small Island" describes the experiences of four characters before, during and after WWII.  There's Hortense and Gilbert from Jamaica and Queenie and Bernard from England whose lives are intertwined more than they know.  Both Hortense and Gilbert had a rude awakening when they came to England and the unequal relationship of Jamaica and the Mother Country is well described.  Thankfully, attitudes to colour have changed a lot in the last 60 years, but it was interesting to read about how things were in Jamaica, England and in the US military training bases where the Jamaican volunteers received basic training.

Nigel Farndale's "The Blasphemer""The Blasphemer" by Nigel Farndale was my Book Club's March pick.  Even further back in time to WW1, but with several parallel stories linking generations of soldiers and exploring the meaning of courage and cowardice.  In the present day, a scientist struggles to make sense of his survival after the crash of a seaplane whilst in the past, his great grandfather faces the firing squad just days before the end of hostilities.  I enjoyed the discussions of faith vs. science and there was enough happening to keep me turning the pages, but parts of the book didn't work for me at all.  Too many characters that weren't fleshed out enough perhaps?  Opinions were mixed at our meeting too: not a resounding success as a book choice, but a lively discussion instead which is always a good thing!

Daniel Mason's "The Piano Tuner" was passed on to me by a fellow Bookclub member (we often recycle our books around the group in parallel to the monthly choice). Again it was set in the past: colonial Burma this time with a short period of smog-laden London before hitting the steaming, sultry jungles of the far East.  This book was certainly atmospheric; I got the sense of impending doom, the oppressive climate, the encroaching jungle and the confusion of political games and double dealing were all well described.  What I didn't find was any empathy with a single character or a true understanding of what actually happened in the story.  This book has had some great reviews but I don't understand why.  It's actually stopped me from starting a new book as I'm trying to claw back the time I wasted reading it! 

Do you ever read a book that stops you from wanting to pick up another for a while?  For good reasons ... or bad?


Lesley G said...

Great reviews as always.
In answer to your question I kind of "read myself out" - I power read for a couple of weeks then don't touch a book for maybe a year :O

Maria Ontiveros said...

What great reviews today. I have gotten to the point where I will leave a book unfinished if it is killing my desire to read. Luckily, I"ve had pretty good luck this year with books so far.

helena said...

yes I have shied away from reading for a week or so due to a dreary or soul sapping book (often one that has received a literary accolade!). I do occasionally not finish a book but find it hard. I really enjoyed Small Island and her more recent one set in Jamaica as slavery is ending

Sian said...

I honestly don't think I have ever read myself out. But then I'll read anything - right down to the back of the cereal packet at breakfast. The only thing stopping me lately has been bad light on my ageing eyes. Now there's a nasty surprise..

furrypig said...

I have read and enjoyed Small Island and honestly don't feel like reading any of your other books this month though I did enjoy reading your last book club recommendation! Sometimes I read lots and then neglect other hobbies etc etc so stop but I have also not wanted to read after reading an amazing book as I know nothing will measure up.

Sandie said...

Great reviews Jemma. I read lots of different books but Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and The Night Circus were two that I didn't want to end. There is a sequel for the first book, I'm waiting for paperback before I buy it.
I'd love to join a book group one day, it sounds such fun. Especially one like yours that has tea and cakes!