Friday, 31 January 2014

Book #5 Secrecy by Rupert Thomson


I chose Secrecy in a rush in a train station bookshop, I liked the title and the blurb sounded good. Wax sculptor Zummo who is from Sicily takes a commission at the court of the Grand Duke Of Tuscany in 1691 and finds himself in a world of intrigue.

The book seemed terribly promising, great endorsements on the cover and a raft of 5 stars on Amazon and was also the Radio 4 Book At Bedtime. If anything this books publisher has done an incredibly successful PR campaign in promoting the book but I confess I found myself baffled by it.

It gets off to a good start,  I particularly liked the writing near the beginning, but somehow it just all started slipping away at great speed after say page 100.

A lot of it has no substance, the villain of the piece just isn't remotely fleshed out and we are I think left to infer much from very little. It's as though through the fact that "He's a Dominican Monk"  we are meant to infer not only his entire personality, but the entire point and purpose of his schemes, which I felt never really held much water in terms of practical motive. It was a bit Dan Brown School Of Writing.

Other bizarre things happen like Zummo meets a girl he fancies in passing twice and she suddenly randomly sends him the 17th Century equivalent of Viagra. Huh?!

Secondary characters serve little purpose either. One character is brought in only apparently to be attacked at a later date to illustrate that the Monks already pretty unlikely vendetta has escalated to such a degree that he went after Zummo's friends. None of Zummo's relationships feel genuine or possess depth and seem to exist purely as plot devices.

The denouement too is very very strange and lacking entirely in credibility.

In many ways this novel as a personal reading experience suffered in being read in too close a proximity to Ghana Must Go. The two novels are completely different yet Secrecy felt like it stood in the former books shadow in terms of how the quality and style of the plot and prose shone.

I think the best word I can use to describe this book is 'flimsy' - it just feels silly and without much weight.


Book #4 Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go

At the beginning of Ghana Must Go, Kweku Sai dies in his garden. A Ghanian immigrant who was once successfully pursuing the American Dream, he ran and abandoned his wife and four children when that dream crumbled. The novel is about the impact of both his disappearance and subsequent  death on his estranged family, and is told in present day terms with his children as adults and in flashback to their youth.

I read Ghana Must Go on the train over two days and found I couldn't wait for the next installment. There was something very lyrical about it, poetic.

For Kweku's four children : Olu, Taiwo, Kehinde and Sadie - as they separate out into the world, failure, or lack of success is their common enemy and they all strive to leave the ghost of the man who was their father behind.

The four characters themselves have each been impacted by Kweku in different variations on a similar theme which tie in and unify quite well. The novel is a family saga about a disconnected family really.

The most particularly difficult aspect of the story is the experience that the twins have during their unexpected exile in Lagos; but it is not done in a too heavy handed manner, but in a manner where you slowly guess yourself and it sends a shiver down your spine. It doesn't feel crudely executed for shock value.

Books that somehow touch on the countries or continent of Africa are one of my special interests as a Reader and have been since I was in my teens. Ghana Must Go is a sophisticated and pleasurable addition to the novels of this kind that I have read.

I was moved and intrigued by Ghana Must Go and found it very realistically human throughout in terms of the psychology behind relationships.

I do recommend this hugely and would give it a 10/10 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Book #3 All Of My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

All Of My Friends Are Superheroes

First and foremost All Of My Friends Are Superheroes is a really great idea, the Amazon synopsis reads thus :

"All Tom's friends really are superheroes. Tom even married a superhero, the Perfectionist. But at their wedding the Perfectionist is hypnotized by her ex, Hypno, to believe that Tom is invisible. Nothing he does can make her see him. Six months later, the Perfectionist is sure that Tom has abandoned her, so she's moving to Vancouver. She'll use her superpowers to leave all the heartbreak behind. With no idea that Tom's beside her, she boards the plane. Tom has, until they touch down, to convince her he's there, or he loses her forever."

So I was kind of excited by this. I really like superheroes, I really like a good love story. I guess I had high expectations, and these expectations were not really met.

It isn't badly written by any means, the style is really engaging and I was never really bored, yet I found I got annoyed by the descriptions of the Superheroes themselves. In a well worn theme throughout a character is introduced and their superpower described, and then we never see them again. The problem here really is that most of these superheroes have no real superpower at all and all that Kaufman is really describing is a personality. All The Perfectionist really is is a Type A Personality, there are others such as the Couch Potato which are similarly just descriptions of types of people with nothing really special there at all. Off hand, I can only think of Hypno as a character possessing genuine ability.

The real flaw here ultimately is the fact that this novel took me 30 minutes to read, possibly slightly less, and I kind of felt like : "Is this it?" I was really, really glad that I got it as a Kindle Daily Deal for £1.99 because if I'd paid list price I'd have felt properly ripped off by it.

It's very slight, has no depth, and feels like an excellent premise gone to waste. It's quite sweet, in its way, but wholly unsatisfying.


Book #2 We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived In The Castle

We Have Always Lived In The Castle is a quirky, gothic, tale about two sisters Mary Katherine and Constance who alongside their frail Uncle Julian are the last remaining members of a well to do family living in self imposed exile in their large, foreboding house.

We meet Mary Katherine, better known as Merricat as she shops for essentials in the village. Feared and despised by locals who insult her, it transpires that the rest of their family died in unusual circumstances and the sisters are viewed with as much suspicion as curiousity.

A spooky story, the strength of the novel is how information about the past slowly unfolds as you are reading it. Though in one case, it was plain to me quite early on how something had transpired, other areas of the story continued to maintain mystery after I'd closed it.

I went so far as to google information on a certain character and came up dry, which means that I'm still uncertain about something but in a good way, in a way that makes the book memorable and makes you turn it over for a while in your mind afterward. The edition I have is part of the Penguin Threads series and has this great cover that made me take note of it in the shop.

Although the story is relatively short it is both engrossing and atmospheric & I would recommend that you buy it if you like mysteries in general but particularly those that have a dark, slighly sinister vibe running throughout.


Book #1 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simison

The Rosie Project

My first book of January was The Rosie Project - a current bestseller, which I read for my book club.

The novel is about Professor Don Tillman, a genetics lecturer in Australia who, it is strongly implied though not directly stated has Asperger's Syndrome. Don is on the hunt for a wife, and has an extremely strict criteria of qualities which his potential wife needs to possess in an orchestrated 'Wife Project'. Step forward Rosie - a woman who meets none of Don's criteria and who has a very specific project of her own.

In many ways there's a lot of inevitability to the entire plot, but it's executed in a really sweet and warm way. There's a lot to like about The Rosie Project, particularly many witty scenarios and turns of phrase.

My personal favourite moments included the Jacket Incident where Don takes the need to wear a jacket at a certain restaurant quite literally, and especially the moment where Don purposefully doesn't tell Rosie she is beautiful as she has told him not to objectify women.

"I hadn't noticed. I told the most beautiful woman in the world"

The result of this means that Rosie's next appearance in the novel is her gorging herself on cake at her desk. Which is totally believable as a female response. Who doesn't immediately buy cake when they are romantically frustrated? Oh? Just me then? OK! 

The book would lend itself well to a romantic comedy at the cinema and was apparently initially intended as such, but it is not entirely well done.

The main hostility towards it at my book club was its portrayal of Asperger's - the more Don falls in love the more the rigid structures he imposes on himself dissipate as if love is the miracle cure of quite a serious condition. People who had first and second hand experience of Asperger's were annoyed and frustrated at what was seen and actually I think, rightly, as a saccharine, unrealistic & occasionally stereotypical depiction.

On the plus side, it never feels like you the Reader, or that Graeme Simison the author is mocking or scoffing at Don, you do root for him and enjoy his quirky ways, which makes the book stronger as a portrayal of disability for it.

The resolution of the novel itself is too neat, too clean, too smiley faced and too Hollywood. We all felt that a more open ended yet positive finale would have been far more suitable.

I enjoyed this book but it is entirely disposable and fluffy, chick lit really, think more Male Bridget Jones with Asperger's than something like The Time Traveler's Wife.