Six Degrees of Separation: from The Poisonwood Bible to Labyrinths

The Poisonwood Bible starts May’s Six Degrees, hosted at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Last month I celebrated the joys of lending books. This month I’ll be rueing the giving away of books. Continue reading

A Gentleman in Moscow

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Read 29/04/2017-30/04/2017

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room March Madness Challenge

I’ve been itching for an excuse to read A Gentleman in Moscow for a while, so I was pleased when it came up as one of the reads for the March Madness Challenge over at The Reader’s Room. I was even more pleased when my local library accepted my request for it to be added to their stock. It only arrived on Thursday, though, so I didn’t have much time to read it in. Fortunately, it was gripping.

Now that I’ve read some Zweig, every time I think a novel reminds me of a Wes Anderson film, I’m going to remind myself that it’s Zweig I’m thinking of.

The beginning of A Gentleman in Moscow made me think of Zweig. Moscow in 1923. The early days of the Bolshevik regime. Sasha Rostov, who may or may not have been on the side of the revolutionaries before they brought down the bourgeoisie, finds himself firmly viewed as an opponent of The People, if not quite their enemy. Continue reading

The Shadow Girls

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Read 25/05/2016-28/05/2016

Rating: 5 stars

Henning Mankell’s Wallander series is one of my favourite discoveries of recent years. We stumbled upon the Swedish film adaptations late one night (the ones starring Krister Henriksson, not Rolf Lassgård) and I sought out the books. It was love at first read. I love crime and detective fiction anyway, but this was different to what I was familiar with. Wallander was more human, more vulnerable, more honestly ridiculous than most other middle aged, emotionally dysfunctional male detectives that populate the genre. He was those things as well, but he reflected on his inadequacies and used his job as a distraction and a proof that he wasn’t all bad. He also reflected on the nature of the crimes he investigated, not willing to pass them off as the inevitable actions of bad people, but recognising changes in society as an underlying cause. Wallander isn’t a hard boiled cop, he’s a cop with a conscience. The life Mankell built for him outside work was as richly described as his professional one, making him more real. I cared about him. For anyone who hasn’t read the series, I won’t give away the ending, but I will admit that I cried.

I’ve read other books by Mankell, too. I loved Italian Shoes and The Return of the Dancing Master. The Man from Beijing wasn’t my favourite, but it was readable. Mankell also had a passion for Africa and spent a lot of time there, developing a theatre company in Mozambique. He was politically active and supported social justice. He wrote a few novels based on his experiences in Africa, and when I went to change my books at the library recently, I decided to give one a try. I picked up The Shadow Girls, which is about refugees and immigration. Continue reading

Random thought: Una Stubbs loves Crime and Punishment too

I love Una Stubbs. Forget those silly boys dashing about London solving mysteries, she makes Sherlock for me.

She’s more than Mrs Hudson, though. She’s the cheeky foil to Cliff Richard who knows how to dance. She’s an expert at charades. Her episode of Who Do You Think You Are is one of the best they’ve ever done.

She’s in The Guardian today doing the Q&A. Quite aside from learning she despises Tony Blair, I love her even more today because she knows that you don’t need a fancy pants education to read Crime and Punishment (have I mentioned that it’s my favourite book in the world? Oh, I have?).

 

The Noise of Time

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Read 08/02/2016-13/02/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for the Reader’s Room Winter Scavenger Hunt Challenge.

Barnes has created a wonderful thing with this wry novel. It stands for any life lived under the kind of regime that requires the sacrifice and compromise of anyone who wants to survive it, whether an oppressive political system, an allegedly democratic system that gives power to the wealthiest, or a bureaucratic workplace with a built-in career structure. For all its page count slightness, it is a dense read, one that forced me to read slowly in order to absorb everything it was telling me. Continue reading

WE

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Read 20/04/2015-23/04/2015

Rating: 3 stars

I really enjoyed this futuristic dystopian SciFi tale. Tempting to read all kinds of things into it, given the time of its publication and subsequent banning in Russia, but actually I think it’s just a reflection on how things can go wrong when you try to make everything equal by eliminating the complexities of human nature, and how conforming to the prevalent culture can sometimes feel safe, even when it’s not. Pertinent to all societies, not just overtly oppressive ones. Continue reading

Crime and Punishment

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Read first in 2003, and again in 2006, and once more in 2008, in the Penguin classic edition translated by David McDuff.

Re-read 06/07/2014-13/07/2014

Rating: 5 stars

Crime and Punishment has long been my favourite book. I have read the David McDuff translation for Penguin three times, once in a tent at Glastonbury festival where it almost won the battle for my undivided attention. The Pevear & Volokhonsky translation for Vintage, though, blows McDuff out of the water. It is more immediate, more human, simultaneously capturing the period Dostoyevsky was writing in alongside the sense that life is timeless and modernity began in the 1860s.

Crime and Punishment is the first true crime novel. Continue reading