Whilst I am ploughing through the 100 novels challenge, the truth is I don’t just read the books on that list. I frequently intersperse my reading with some slightly less worthy works of fiction; the genre fiction which I love. I grew up on crime novels and science-fiction, and as you will see, I always return to those genres… much like comfort food.
First up, a very modern, somewhat racy novel, Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. I love Chuck’s blog, terribleminds, where he dispenses foul-mouthed wisdom from the lofty tower of writer-that-earns-a-living. I loved two of Chuck’s earlier books – Shotgun Gravy and Bait Dog, and was expecting to love Blackbirds. Truth be told, although many of the elements were there – razor-sharp writing, interestingly damaged characters, sex, violence and some paranormal shiznit – I came away feeling unsatisfied. Chuck has said that he’s been kicking this novel around for a few years, and it shows, the scenes feel as though they’ve been patched together with some pretty flakey story-glue. I’m going to steer clear of the other Miriam Black novels, but give one of Chuck’s other books a go.
Then some re-reading. I’ve been ploughing through Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, of which there are many. Ed more or less invented the cops-and-robbers genre, as far as I can tell. I read these as a teenager, and they influenced my writing style quite a lot. Short, staccato like sentences, a heavy focus on dialogue, and plenty of intrigue and violence. Of course, they are dated now – access to a cellphone would resolve many of the plots – and the women are all sexualised to the point of parody. However, the stories still rip along, the characters are still broadly sympathetic, and I’ll confess, I forgive a good crime novel pretty much anything.
Never Far from Nowhere
I also belong to a book club, and the most recent novel on the list was Never Far From Nowhere by Andrea Levy, which deals with race issues in the 1970s. Andrea Levy is an important writer, being one of the few black historical authors for the United Kingdom, and she charts a uniquely English racism which makes for uncomfortable reading – because most of it is still true today. With that said, this book is less than subtle, and I found the characters fairly one dimensional. This was her second novel, and it was her fourth, Small Island, that won most praise from reviewers. I think there is nascent talent evident in Never Far From Nowhere, but it hadn’t quite gelled yet. I’ll be glad to read her later works, however.
Another recent read was Inverted World, a science fiction novel by Christopher Priest. Inverted World is a brilliant novel in science-fiction terms… the ideas are interesting and the science is good. Like a lot of sci-fi, the characters exist mainly to serve the idea, rather than the other way round and the writing is flat and unevocative. The different points-of-view don’t add much to the story; it could just as easily have all been written from 3rd person, and might have been better for it.
I’ve also been re-reading the Flashman novels. Historical novels set during the 19th century, the Flashman novels are that rare thing… books which features a thoroughly unlikeable main character, which nevertheless succeed admirably. It is partly a critique of the victorian novel, by undercutting any sense of nobility or bravery, the Flashman novels show the Empire building of Britain as the rapacious, violent, incompetent and greedy exercise it was and sheds a less than flattering light on the major players of the time.
The Great Gatsby
The final book on my list is The Great Gatsby, which I grabbed because it was free on kindle (and a week before payday I am out of money for new books to read!) I read this many years ago, and apparently liked it enough to award it five stars on Goodreads. Whether the book will stand up to a re-read I will soon discover.
What have you been reading lately? Got any good books to recommend?
Photo of books by shutterhacks.