Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Reading round-up: August

August 2015 books

Slade House by David Mitchell - 8/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
I didn't really like The Bone Clocks, but this follow-up (not exactly a sequel; it's a separate set of stories, but they take place in the same world with some thematic overlaps) is GREAT. Each tale is centred on spooky Slade House, a place that changes form depending on who's looking and seems to swallow up its visitors. The stories of several unforgettable, unpredictable characters slowly lead the reader to understand its secrets. This is the sort of book I'd happily reread (if I ever had time to do that).

Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville - 6/10. Buy the book
If the name of this classic short story isn't familiar, the premise may be - it's about a legal copyist, the Bartleby of the title, who starts to refuse work with the immortal words 'I would prefer not to'. I'm glad to be acquainted with the story, but I wouldn't say it's required reading.

First Execution by Domenico Starnone - 10/10. Full review / Buy the book
An ageing professor meets a former student who's been arrested on a charge of terrorism; this event proves the catalyst for a chain of dramatic events and a metafictional exploration of the character/author's thoughts on all sorts of subjects - politics, education, writing, getting old, direct action vs. pacifism, etc. This is a brilliant novel, not only wonderfully written but also packed with ideas and enormously thought-provoking.

The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle - 8/10. Pre-order the ebook
It's the story of a conman, but The Good Liar itself is a confidence trick - not at all what it first appears to be. It's a sort of old-fashioned thriller that delves into its protagonist's chequered history, but to give away the exact paths it follows would spoil the story. Suffice to say, it's a highly enjoyable read that will keep you gripped from beginning to end.

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes - 6/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Holmes's short stories are character sketches of young Americans, all somehow displaced or uncertain. The clean, straightforward style is refreshing, and at their best the stories are really funny and touching, but I felt the collection lacked diversity (in a couple of senses) and was just rather unfulfilling as a whole.

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe - 9/10. Pre-order the ebook
This sort-of-sequel to What a Carve Up! follows two friends from childhood onwards, telling a number of connected stories about what happens to (and around) them in the author's trademark style: witty, satirical but often very moving. So riveting and real that I felt like I was going to cry when I finished it and was forced to accept that I couldn't spend any more time with these characters.

The Lake House by Kate Morton - 6/10. Pre-order the ebook
Morton's latest repeats her familiar formula: a beautiful tumbledown house in the country, a family secret hidden for decades, a character receiving a fateful letter, and a narrative that's split between 'past' (1911 and the early 1930s) and 'present' (2003). It's all perfectly enjoyable but, for me, nowhere near as compelling as the author's previous books.

First Execution and Number 11 were my favourites from this month, with Slade House not far behind. The Good Liar is being talked about as one of the big debuts of early 2016, and it certainly deserves to be a success; in a world of lacklustre thrillers, it's nice to find one as strong as this.

I'm planning to do something a bit different with my reading in September, but I'm saving that for another post...

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