Monday, 5 October 2015

Reading round-up: September

September 2015 books

Neuromancer by William Gibson - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
A classic of the cyberpunk genre, Neuromancer is a book you really experience. This story, in which a broken and disillusioned 'cowboy' hacker named Case is offered a second chance by an enigmatic figure named Armitage, served as the inspiration for The Matrix (which is not to say that it's the same story). The language takes some getting used to - the book has its own vocabulary and the story sprawls all over the place - but when you get into the flow of it, it's dreamlike, vivid, sometimes even beautiful, and frequently very exciting.

Through the Wilderness: Selected Stories by Dan Jacobson - 7/10. Full review / Buy the book
A book of short stories by Jacobson, which I tracked down after loving his first two novellas, The Trap and A Dance in the Sun. The tales here don't quite live up to the exhilarating brilliance of those books, and Jacobson is (perhaps unsurprisingly) much better at portraying South Africa than England, but the best of them have the same high points: faultless depictions of settings, subtle yet tangible suspense, and strong central themes, often involving cultural clashes, racism and selfishness.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen - 8/10. Full review to come / Buy the ebook
Ah, Purity, the book everyone loves to hate. For me, it was more love than hate - drawn in by the premise, I was then hooked by the first main character, Purity (Pip) Tyler. Her name gives the book its title, but it's an error to describe Pip as the protagonist; there's a wider cast of main characters whose lives inevitably intersect, turning Purity into a generation-spanning epic that's mainly about fucked-up families and their fucked-up relationships - so it has more in common with Franzen's other novels than has often been suggested. Personally, I enjoyed this more than The Corrections, and I think its characters will stay with me for a while.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller - 7/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
This was a sampled book that turned out to be so gripping, I couldn't stop reading, and within a couple of days I'd finished it. I'm not sure it quite lived up to its early promise - if there's such a thing as too readable, this book was it, as I rushed through the pages to reach the conclusion without being captivated by any of the detail. There's also a climactic twist that's extremely easy to guess. But the plot - about a young girl whose father takes her to live in a woodland hut, telling her the world has ended and they are the only ones left - is well-constructed, and Fuller handles tension brilliantly.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn - 7/10. Full review / Pre-order the ebook
First of all, this isn't a new novel from Flynn, it's a very, very short story, and in my opinion it's a bit of a cheat to publish it as a standalone book. BUT... it is very enjoyable, and with its twisted narrator and twisty plot, it's vintage Flynn with an added splash of gothic horror, perfect for Halloween. I just wish it had been much longer, the better to flesh out the characters and a convoluted plot that doesn't quite fit properly within its few pages.

Dietland by Sarai Walker - 9/10. Full review to come / Buy the book
Dietland is a distinctly weird book - I loved it, but it's quite hard to explain why, perhaps because there are so many different ways to interpret its odd mish-mash of dark feminist satire, conspiracy thriller, brash comedy, and feelgood tale of body positivity. In short, it's about Plum, who is deeply unhappy and desperate for weight-loss surgery until the fateful day she notices a girl following her. This leads to her induction into the world of Calliope House - something like a women's refuge crossed with a secret society - and then in turn to her involvement with a feminist terrorist group called Jennifer. It all works because it has Plum, a warm and believable character, at its heart, which helps to ground the story when it ventures into absurd territory (and that happens quite a lot). Some will love it, some will hate it, but one thing's for sure: I've never read anything quite like this before.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley - 8/10. Full review / Buy the ebook
Starting autumn as I mean to go on: with a book of creepy, spooky, ghostly tales. I've read Priestley's 'Tales of Terror' series out of sequence, so this was the last remaining one I hadn't read, even though it was published first - and it turned out to be my favourite of the lot. These stories are written for children, but the beautiful writing, description and detail, plus some genuinely scary moments, and most of all the author's masterful ability to create atmosphere, make them wonderfully enjoyable for adults too.

Quite surprised I actually managed to finish seven whole books this month, since I also did this sampling thing. I didn't read anything I didn't enjoy in September, but my favourites were Purity and Dietland.

It's quite a relief to be able to go back to reading normally in October (though I plan to keep sampling a few books a month alongside my usual reading - it's a great way to trim down the to-read list). I want to read as many ghost stories, and things of that type, as I possibly can within the next few months, so recommendations are extremely welcome, especially if they're lesser-known, contemporary interpretations of the genre.

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