Agatha Christie – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

RA

I’ve read a lot of crime novels, but I still hold that no one can come close to Agatha Christie and I can see why The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is her finest.

First of all it is a well crafted novel. There’s a build up to the crime, each suspect has a possible motive and then when the reader finally finds out who the killer is, Christie builds up the suspense. Not too mention the ending of this book just made me admire her still. In fact it still leaves room for other theories.

My one gripe with Agatha Christie and this is something which hasn’t changed is that I find her writing style to be stodgy and lacking flair. There’s a solid feel to her writing and sometimes I wish there would be some type of flourish. Saying that her plots are great and The Murder… has a strong one. As an aside it’s also one of those rare times that I was stumped by a crime novel. Definitely a classic of the genre.

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Deborah Levy – The Cost of Living

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There’s something about Deborah Levy’s writing that draws me in instantly. I especially like the way she is able to take profound concepts and stuff them economically in a short sentence. Take her latest novel, Hot Milk, within it’s brief 200 pages, the reader is presented with symbols alluding to relationships and personal freedom, be it the appearance of jellyfish or milk. A Levy book is readable but it pays to take your time and figure the significance of certain animals or events that occur in her novels.

Which brings us to The Cost of Living, Levy’s second volume of her autobiography. This time the theme focuses on Levy’s divorce, and, as always, how it affected her as a writer.

Levy starts the book by an anecdote she heard when travelling; a girl tries to ward off a stalker by telling him that she was diving and then lost her boat. Levy uses this theme to describe her marriage. For there on the Levy describes her move, living with her daughters, her new writing quarters, her relationship with her mother and the genesis of Hot Milk.

Essentially this is a book about the importance of writing but as this is Deborah Levy expect philosophical digressions, such as the symbolism of mythology, with reference to Medusa, the female’s ‘role’ in a relationship, where she focuses on Simone de Beauvoir’s relations with Sartre  and author, Nelson Algren, which leads to a meditation on old age. Although Levy prose is sparse, each page is a heady trip, but a pleasure to read.

One thing I liked is that I got an insight to all the elements that went into Hot Milk, which does go to show that the adage that life imitates art is not as ludicrous as it seems. In all this second part of a planned trilogy is a fascinating look at how a writer views the world, this being Deborah Levy, that viewpoint is unique.

Many thanks to Hamish Hamilton for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Track of the Week

 

Every Wednesday I will be featuring one track that I am playing constantly. It may be something old or brand new. This week it is Kamasi Washington – Street Fighter Mas

Kamasi Washington just amazes me. I’m not a jazz fan but he manages to take the genre to new levels. This particular track has got choirs, Washington’s trademark sax plus a lot of electronic burblings. This is totally epic, not to mention that it feels like something off a blaxploitation film. To a certain extent the video does reflect the music as it is presented as a film of sorts, although it is a tribute to a popular arcade game.  Anyway my point is, do not sleep on this track.  It deserves hyperbolic praise.

Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (trans) – Convenience Store Woman

Convenience

Keiko is a misfit. She has had a quirky way of looking at the world ever since she was young, despite her parents attempts for her to be normal. However one day she sees a newly opened convenience store opening, goes for an interview and gets the job. In order to fit in she copies her co-workers habits and, she achieves normality.

Problems start again though. She has been working in a convenience store for 18 years and her school friends and family want her to leave the store and live by society’s rules i.e get a good paying job, marry and start a family.

Keiko then finds solace in Shiraha, who is a misfit as well but is conscious of how society works and decides to move in  with Keiko (and taking residence in her bathtub) and he wants her to find a new job. Will she ‘conform’ or is the pull of the convenience store her only link with normality?

Convenience Store Woman is a gentle satire about the pressures of society’s obsession with conforming to it’s norms. In one scene Keiko’s sister is crying because she thinks it is abnormal to live with a male, without marriage in mind. But then Shiraha comes out of the bathroom saying that he and Keiko had a fight over infidelity and he went to hide in her bathroom. Keiko’s sister is overjoyed as she feels that infidelity is normal and then assumes that Keiko is getting married.

The novel is full of little scenes like this. It turns out that society’s rules about normality hinder individuality and it leads to quite a few funny moments in the book. Ironically the convenience store is Keiko’s ticket to normality and probably that’s why she so devoted to it.

Convenience Store Woman reminded me of the existentialist novels that I devoured when I was a teen and the message is the same: conform to the absurdity of life or there will be consequences.

The book is wonderfully translated, and for it’s brevity does provide a lot of food for thought. Also slowly Portobello Books are becoming one the more interesting publishers for cultish and cutting edge translated fiction.

Many thanks to Granta for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

Jaroslavas Melnikas, Marija Marcinkute (Trans) – The Last Day

last day

Noir Press is an indie publisher who specialise in printing books by contemporary Lithuanian authors.  Earlier this year, I read Renata Serelyte’s The Music Teacher, which I thought was fabulous so my expectations were pretty high when The Last Day plopped through my mailbox.

Jaroslavas Melnikas’ The Last Day is a collection of 8 short stories and they are all stunners. Think of the intellectual surrealism of Eugene Ionesco mixed with Haruki Murakami’s early short stories. As Melnikas is a philosopher, most the short stories have a metaphysical quality to them.

One such example is the highlight The Grand Piano Room. A person who has a room with a specific function in his house starts to notice that these specific rooms are disappearing and the furniture of that specific room appears in another room i.e the piano from the music room is in the art room, then the canvases and piano then are in the study and so on. This keeps on happening until the whole house is contained in one room. There will be a solution to this conundrum but it is better to read it.

Fate is also a big theme in the book. The title story is about a person who writes the death date of every living person in the world, which leaks and leads to worldwide confusion. A.A.A. is about a man who receives a letter with four choices which affect his destiny. The concluding story, It Never Ends is about an endless experimental film that depicts life and the main protagonist knows that there are consequences by watching it.

These stories a bizarre but never annoyingly wacky. Melnikas is more concerned in getting a deeper concept out rather than proving that he is a master of writing a weird story. Saying that all eight stories are readable and Marija Marcinkute’s translation is fantastic. One of my gripes with translated books is that I can feel the translation. No such thing here.

The Last Day is a rare book for me: A short story collection which provides brain food and yet reads easily AND is consistent. Each story is pure brilliance, hopefully Melnikas’ writing will reach a wider audience. As it would be a crime if such well crafted short works do not receive wider exposure.

Many thanks to Noir Press for providing a copy of The Last Day in exchange for an honest review.

Madeline Miller – Circe

Circe

Circe is one book I have been anticipating for a long time. I had adored Miller’s debut novel, The Song of Achilles AND since I’m a fan of Greek Mythology, I had high expectations for this long overdue follow up.

I first heard of Circe through an episode of Ducktales , where the famed witch turns people into pigs. A couple of years later when I seriously got into Greek Mythology, I learnt about her role in helping Odysseus, Daedalus and her banishment. However I did learn about how Circe managed to conjure the magic spear that her son Telegonus used when he went to Ithaca.

Since Circe has appeared with quite a few famous Mythological Gods, Titans and Monsters, Miller covers a lot of ground. In fact Circe is perfect for someone who is just learning about mythology as all the major myths are told, from Cronus’ attempt to destroy the Olympian lineage to the aftermath of the Trojan war. Miller writes about mythology effortlessly and makes it fun.

But for someone who has heard and read these stories many time, does Circe offer anything new?

The answer is yes – Miller cleverly places Circe as the narrator of her own stories. Whereas most writes portray Circe as a cunning witch, Miller makes her out to be a person who is misunderstood by the male dominated titan and Olympian races.  Throughout the story she is a pawn, a victim and a troublemaker. As the book progresses she becomes a strong, no nonsense figure who stands up to the arrogant Gods and make them realise what windbags they are. By the end of the book the becomes a tender warrior.

There’s a lot to admire about Circe (the book) but it’s not entirely perfect. There are parts that drag a bit and the relationship with Telemachus is a melodramatic but with a novel of this scope it would be a bit difficult to be totally consistent but on the whole Circe is a fine novel and a good follow up to The Song of Achilles.

 

 

 

5 Summer Reads

Now that we’re into July, I thought it would be a good idea to compile a summer reading list. The following books are novels that I read during the summer and enjoyed tremendously so I associate them with that season, now in reality if they aren’t, oh well.

5.Thomas Harris – Red Dragon

Red Dragon

Why does Silence of the Lambs get so much hype when Red Dragon is the better novel? Not only is it more consistent but has some genuinely frightening bits and a superb bad guy. Oh and it’s the first time we see Hannibal Lector. This thriller is perfect if you are looking for a quick well structured novel with a brain ( you can interpret that last sentence any way you want )

4.Deborah Levy – Hot Milk

Hot Milk

A mother goes to a Greek island to a renowned doctor in order for him to heal her (largely imginary) aches and pains. She also brings her daughter along. Over this brief novel the reader gets a powerful look at mother/daughter relationships, often told through some bizarre symbols. Despite the thematic heaviness, Hot Milk is an easy read and quite funny at times.

3.Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle

Cats cradle

Technically Galapagos would have been a more suitable novel as it involves cruise ships but I think Cat’s Cradle is Vonnegut’s masterpiece (and I read it during the summer back in 1999) It’s basically about a scientist to invents a chip that turns water nto ice. As this is Vonnegut this is a treatise on existential fear but it can also be read an epic chase novel as well.

2.Madeline Miller – The Song of Achilles

SOA

The second greatest love story you’ll ever read. Ancient Greece, mythology, love, war. What more could you want.

1.Alessandro Baricco – Silk

Silk

The greatest love story ever written. If you haven’t read this, then there is a gaping hole in your bookshelves or your life, to be more precise.