Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Book thoughts on a rainy Wednesday morning...

Rainy days are the perfect days to write about books, don't you think?  There's something about the rain that makes us more thoughtful and encourages us to curl up in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of tea and spend the hours reading a good book, particularly if it's atmospheric, maybe even gothic (maybe you can tell I'm thinking specifically of the works of the Bronte sisters, particularly Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights).  Alas, I'm not going to settle down to Heathcliff and Catherine once I finish this post, but to either The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock, which is my next book club selection, or The Grifters by Jim Thompson, which I have recently checked out from the library.

I want to discuss three books today, The Devil's Feather by Minette Walters, Well-Schooled in Murder by Elizabeth George, and Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre.  I finished listening to the Minette Walters audiobook while on vacation, and I was not surprised at the quality of the writing or the complexity of the story, characters, plot, etc.  She rarely disappoints in any of these areas.  I did, however, feel that the ending was rather abrupt for this novel, like there should have been more to flesh out the conclusion.  Since I was listening to it as an audiobook, I wondered if I had somehow missed a section, but I don't think that happened.  Maybe I'll find a copy of the physical book and skim the last few chapters to make sure.  Anyways, still a worthwhile read, even if the conclusion is a little brief.

I also finished reading Well-Schooled in Murder while on vacation.  It was pretty good, very complex plot and characters.  In this book, everyone seemed to have some guilty secret they didn't want anyone to find out about!  Interesting characters, love the descriptions of the settings in her novels.  From the windswept cliffs of the Isle of Skye to the deserted country cemeteries and the claustrophobic rooms of boarding schools, George describes it all with detail and skill.  She also writes convincingly of the class distinctions in British society.  While she is not my favourite British mystery writer (not even British!), she's definitely interesting enough to keep me reading her books.  Here's something a bit curious: I started the fourth book in the series, A Suitable Vengeance and found that it presents the characters in their situations prior to the very first book in the series; that is, Tommy and Deborah are getting engaged in the fourth book, but if I remember correctly, in the first book on the series, A Great Deliverance, Simon and Deborah get married and are on their honeymoon when the murder investigation begins.  The relationships between Deborah, Simon, Tommy and Helen play a significant role in the storylines of these novels, so I'm not sure why the author chose to write the novels seemingly "out of order".  Ah well, at least when I read the fourth novel, I'll finally figure out all the references to past relationships that are made in the first three books.

And finally, on to Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carre, which I finished last night.  I haven't read many novels by le Carre.  I tried to read An Honourable Schoolboy a number of years ago, but felt lost right from the first because I didn't understand any of the lingo or jargon the author used, probably because it was political and referred to a whole world I knew nothing about, that being the world of British espionage in the 1960s and 1970s.  Ever since then, I've wanted to be able to read and appreciate this author's works, because, although I didn't read much of that first novel, I knew that it was extremely well-written, and that this was an author with great talent and skill.  Since that time, I've discovered the TV series "MI-5" or "Spooks", which has helped me tremendously in understanding the workings of the British Intelligence.   In the past few years, I've watched the film "The Constant Gardener", and then read the book, which was really well-written and interesting.  And I could understand the story because it dealt with contemporary issues, as opposed to the autor's earlier, and probably most famous, George Smiley novels.  I wanted to read more, so when I came across this paperback at the library, I decided to check it out.  With a bit of research, I found out that Our Kind of Traitor is his most recently published novel (2010), and that he celebrated his 80th birthday last week.  I believe that the film "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley is due to be released in December (I didn't know that before I started reading this novel, but now I feel so current!!).  So the novel was extremely accessible for me, who knows nothing about international politics.  I think having been exposed to "MI-5" helped with my understanding, but that I would have done alright without that exposure.  All of characters were interesting and well-drawn, especially Luke, Perry and Dima.  Their relationships with each other were intricate and evolved as the novel progressed.  There were many suspenseful situations where anything could happen, but there were also times where nothing happened, where the author writes of the mundane, but necessary, details when organizing and executing the type of escape plan that is central to the novel.  He doesn't make spy work sexy or alluring, but suggests that the reality is much more dangerous and ethically challenging than, say, Ian Fleming (to be honest, I've never read a James Bond novel, just seen the movies, so I'm making assumptions here).  According to a quote on the cover of the book, someone from the Globe and Mail states, "'Let me be specific:  I think the man deserves the Nobel'".  I would agree.

Oh my, I'm running out of time, so I better close.  In short, I would recommend all of the books I mentioned in this post.

Bye for now!
Julie

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