Thursday, 17 September 2015

Sampling September: Fiction by men, part 1

Arcadia by Iain Pears Arcadia (1 September 2015) by Iain Pears

The premise: 'Henry Lytten - a spy turned academic and writer - sits at his desk in Oxford in 1962, dreaming of other worlds...' The story that follows this beginning takes in a number of different characters and plotlines, some real and some imagined - or are they? Reality and imagination overlap in this novel, published in tandem with an iOS app which encourages different ways of navigating the story.
First line: Imagine a landscape. Bathed in sunshine, sweet-smelling from the gentle shower that fell overnight then stopped as dawn broke.
What I read: Chapters 1-3 (up to 6% in the ebook).
Would I read the rest of it? Honestly... this is going to sound terrible, but I'm just not sure if I can actually be bothered. The idea of going back and forth between a book and an app is exhausting/distracting, and the two don't seem to be particularly well linked; I initially assumed the book would include prompts directing the reader to the app at key points, but it doesn't - so (I thought) it's just additional text? Or the same text, with additional bits? When I read a bit more about it (Pears explains the decision to use an app in this article, and there's an extremely thorough and interesting assessment of both the book and the concept here) I understood that the point was to allow the reader to choose their own path, to, essentially, 'structure' the book as they see fit. But that idea just kind of stresses me out (and when it comes down to it, it basically is the same text, with additional bits). None of this would necessarily matter if I absolutely loved what I've read so far, but it's just fine - some interesting ideas, enough bubbling away beneath the surface that I'm not entirely put off, but not terribly exciting, and lacking a truly engaging style or voice. Onto the probably-not pile it goes.

The Faithful Couple by A.D. Miller The Faithful Couple (5 March 2015) by A.D. Miller

The premise: Neil and Adam meet at a San Diego hostel in 1993. They begin a friendship that 'feels as intoxicating as a romance', but, after a particular incident at a campsite in Yosemite, it is also 'built on a shared guilt and a secret betrayal'. The book follows them across two decades, and offers 'an oblique portrait of London in the boom-to-bust era of the nineties and noughties' in the process.
First line: He wanted to concentrate on the girl, but he found himself glancing at the young man in the corner of the yard.
What I read: Part 1 (15%).
Would I read the rest of it? This is Miller's second novel; his first, Snowdrops, inexplicably shortlisted for the Booker in 2011, wasn't good at all. Judging by the first part of this book, his writing has come on leaps and bounds since then - The Faithful Couple doesn't even feel like it was written by the same person. But... the pivotal 'thing' that happens at the campsite, mentioned in the blurb, is not only something that has uncomfortable personal associations for me, but something I'm sick and tired of coming across in books, and for that reason alone I am unlikely to continue with it. I must stress, though, that this is a completely personal and subjective judgement. The book seems well-written and the idea of finding out how Neil and Adam's fates change across the years does intrigue me - it's like a more sophisticated (and non-romantic) take on David Nicholls' One Day.

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg City on Fire (20 October 2015) by Garth Risk Hallberg

The premise: Set in 1970s New York, this much-talked-about, epic debut (it's more than 900 pages long, and famously secured a $2m advance) centres on a murder that takes place on New Year's Eve. The search for the killer brings together a large cast of characters: 'they are bound up in the same story – a story where history and revolution, love and art, crime and conspiracy are all packed into a single shell, ready to explode.'
First line: In New York, you can get anything delivered. Such, anyway, is the principle I'm operating on.
What I read: The prologue and first 6 chapters (8%).
Would I read the rest of it? Yes. This is (from what I can tell) the best book I've sampled this month. It may be lengthy and detailed, but it's also written in an engrossing style, and the characters I've met so far - troubled lovers Mercer and William, likeably awkward teenager Charlie, the rather unpleasant Keith and his estranged wife Regan - are fascinating. And nothing much has even happened yet. If I wasn't already reading something, I'd just keep going with it; as it stands, it's next up on my to-read list.

Throughout September I'll be working through some of my 2015 to-read list, sampling the books and cataloguing my thoughts on each of them. Find all the posts in this series here!

I received my copies of
Arcadia and City on Fire from the publishers through NetGalley.

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