Wednesday 23 November 2011

Tea and book talk on a Wednesday morning...

For a change, this morning the sun is shining and it's bright and cheery outside, but still brisk.  I think November is finally here.

After my last post, if you recall I was in a book rut and was on the hunt for "the perfect book".  Well, much to my surprise and delight, when I got to work that day, Julian Barnes' new novel, Man Booker prize winner, The Sense of an Ending was waiting for me to check out and read.  How wonderful!  I'd never read any of his works, but the premise sounded interesting and it was short, less than 200 pages.  I like books by well-known and respected authors that are short because you can usually count on them to be interesting and complete studies of their characters and situations and to seem as if they offer to the reader much more information that is possible to contain in such a small number of pages.  I will use as examples Bear by Marian Engel and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.  These books offer stories with such depth of character and understanding that it amazes this reader that they are so short.  I expected the same from Barnes' novel, and at first it was delivering.  This novel is about a main character, Tony, and his recollections of his past friendship with Adrian, as well as each of their relationships with the same young woman, Veronica.  These recollections are instigated by a letter from Veronica's mother's lawyer regarding a small inheritance from her, which begins an investigation into the past by Tony that leads to some surprising revelations.  Sounds intriguing, right?  It certainly did to me, so I took up the novel with great anticipation.  By the end, the first thought I had was, "Thank goodness it was short!"  Which is unfair, really.  The writing was good, and I loved some of his observations, particularly the one about marriage being a long, dull meal at which you are served the pudding first.  But this novel got me thinking about other novels I've read that deal with recollections of an adult male who is still feeling a sense of rivalry towards his friend from adolescence, particularly if they have both been involved with the same girl and the friend had the better, longer, or more significant relationship.  I began to wonder why so many male authors, especially male British authors, wrote about this topic.  I recalled Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (which I really enjoyed), The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison, which I discussed in a recent post, and even A Separate Peace by John Knowles, which I haven't read for years.  While this last did not involve a woman, the others certainly did, and this significantly intensified the rivalry.  This led me to consider how I would have reacted to Barnes' novel if I hadn't read these other novels, especially the Morrison novel, which I read recently, and McEwan's novel, which I've read several times and have really enjoyed.  Perhaps I would have appreciated the novel more if I hadn't felt that "I've read this story before", which is exactly the same thing I recall writing in a previous post about another book, which may even have been The Last Weekend.  I'll have to check that post and get back to you, but that would be kind of coincidental.  Maybe it's not the writers who need to find different topics to write about, maybe it's this reader who needs to find different books to read!

Speaking of different books, I am reading Michael Robotham's Bleed For Me, and I'm really enjoying it.  In my last post, I mentioned that I began to read Bombproof but that it didn't "grab me", and so I returned that novel to the library.  I went on to take out this one, as it is part of the Joe O'Loughlin series.  Joe, a psychologist living in England, somehow manages to become involved in gruesome and dangerous murder investigations, and this book is no exception.  Since the main character is a psychologist, these novels often offer the reader some "professional insight" into the working of the human mind or suggest reasons why people do what they do that you won't necessarily find in other novels.  Robotham, though, is not a former psychologist, but an investigative journalist, so I wouldn't use his insights to try to figure out my own behaviour - it's just interesting to read these as they are imbedded within the stories.

And finally, we've been asked at work to send our Readers' Advisory librarian the top three books we've read in 2011, so last night I was looking at my list of books read this year.  I've narrowed it down to six:

What Was She Thinking: notes on a scandal by Zoe Heller
Property or Trespass by Valerie Martin
Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre
Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg
The Slap by Christos Tsolkias

Those are my personal top books read this year.  Hope you have a great "Best Reads" list of your own.

Bye for now!

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