Hurrah! I finished my 20 Books of Summer (hosted by Cathy) with ten days to spare, and will continue to alternate my own books with review copies as much as I can. In an effort to keep reading more of my own books, I am not going overboard on requesting ARCs etc at the moment, and not committing to more than 2 or 3 blogtours per month – unless they’re books I know I’ll love, and I have a big pile of novellas ready and waiting for #NovNov! Alongside my Susan Cooper #TDiR22 readalong, them’s my plans for this autumn. Of course, it could all go haywire with school commitments, but we do have a two-week half term for catch up during the second half of October.
Meanwhile, here are shorter reviews of the last four of my 20 Books…
Lost World by Patrícia Melo
Translated by Clifford Landers
This gritty noir set in Brazil is just the kind of dark and compelling thriller I adore (cf: Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo from earlier this summer).
Máiquel is a former hitman who, we glean as we read moreorless got into that line of work by accident, discovering he was good at it. However, that was in the past and he has been top of the wanted list for ten years now living in hiding as a fugitive. When his aunt dies and leaves him a house and her savings, he decides to track down his lost daughter. His wife had died, and his girlfriend at the time Érica had run away with the preacher Marlênio, taking Samantha with her, away from her murdering father. Now Máiquel is out for revenge.
Máiquel uses a PI who won’t ask questions to get him on the track of their church mission. He buys a car, gets found by a cop, shoots him dead, and he and girlfriend Eunice set off on their road trip. It doesn’t go smoothly though, for they run over a stray dog, an ugly mongrel, but Máiquel insists on taking him to the vet…
Goddam, they’d shaved his head to put in the stitches and the ppor devil looked even uglier. He gazed at me in fear, frightened and week.
Eunice made a point of emphasizing that the animal wasn’t outs. We ran over him, she said more than once.
Do you plan to keep him? the veterinarian asked.
Isn’t he going to die? asked Eunice, disappointed.
I didn’t like Eunice’s attitude The only thing missing was for her to ask the woman to kill the dog. That thing crossed the road, she said. We didn’t see it. We’re not responsible. It could happen to anybody.
I felt enraged at Eunice. Shit. I’m taking him with us, I answered.
Looking after Tiger, as he calls the dog becomes the constant in Máiquel’s life as he is led on a cat-and-mouse chase following Érica and Marlênio who soon get word that he is on their trail. Eunice leaves, but Máiquel is the kind of guy who is not without a woman for long… Tiger brings out the human side of Máiquel more so than his twisted by circumstance love for his daughter, but outside that his mind is set on one track. I couldn’t possibly tell you how it goes, but the punchy prose makes this an absolutely compelling read. Loved it – and of course this novel fits in with #WITMonth too. What I didn’t realise before reading it was that Lost World is a sequel – although it stands up on its own well. I now own a copy of Killer, which tells Máiquel’s previous story.
Source: TBR. Bloomsbury paperback (2009), 214 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
Machine by Susan Steinberg
This novel has a familiar premise. Posh American teens having too much of a good time at the lake at night. One drowns. The community is torn apart. The story, however, is told in an experimental style, in fact a variety of styles:
the girl who drowned was a local girl; she was no one we knew well; we knew her tan lines when she wore a dress; we knew what they said about her; she was a knockout, they said; the guys all said; even my father said she was a knockout; but she wasn’t that bright, my father said; so there was no one to blame, he said, for her drowning, but her;
Sorry, but right from the off that stream of consciousness, full stop-less, speech mark-less, semi-colon laden style just irritated me. Although there are paragraphs, there are only commas and semi-colons – all one long sentence in the first chapter. Then the second chapter is like the first but all one paragraph. The third chapter is normal-ish; first person present tense narration, with full stops and paras, but still no speech marks, although the narrator sometimes goes into a plural ‘we’ voice from her single one. Then we’re into one-liners making it more prose-poem-like, and so on cycling through these styles. Yes, we got the full internal monologue of the narrator recounting the events, thinking through what happened, but it wasn’t compelling enough for me.
Cathy liked this book though when she read it last year – see here.
Source: TBR. Pushkin One paperback (2021), 160 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
From one slightly frustrating read to another that was even more disappointing. I don’t think I’ve read a single bad word about Lolly Willowes in the blogosphere. Indeed, this short novel was a lynchpin of Simon’s dissertation and gets mentioned in virtually every edition of his ‘Tea and Books’ podcast!
First published in 1926, essentially Lolly Willowes is the story of a spinster, Laura, who is approaching middle-age and stuck in a rut of familial duty in London. She rebels and runs away to the countryside, becoming a witch and selling her soul to the devil.
A story of a classic mid-life crisis and rebirth; given the promise of witchcraft, this premise was naturally really interesting. But it just took sooooo long to get anywhere. Warner lays on the familial duty with a trowel and then some, and it’s only in the last quarter of the book where she discovers that the village she has run away to is home to a coven where she meets the devil and that’s that. All happy every Sabbath after.
One bit I did like was a passage describing her ‘mental fur coat policy’ – when managing to get out from under the cloying company of her brother Henry and his family, she does tiny little rebellious things for herself. The only novel to compare I can think of is Mervyn Peake’s Mr Pye – but whereas that was fun, Lolly Willowes was just tedious for about 90% of the book – but I’m a lone voice on this. HeavenAli also loved it, as did Harriet.
Source: TBR. Penguin paperback 161 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.
White Spines by Nicholas Royle
I was inspired to take this book off the shelves as my twentieth book of summer by Liz’s recent review. It’s a lovely trawl through the ‘Manchester’ Royle’s collecting habits, love of second-hand bookshops, and reminiscences of his career and friends in the publishing world.
His particular obsession is the white spines of the Picador imprint, part of Pan books, (now Pan Macmillan) which was founded in 1972 to publish the best of international fiction and non-fiction in B-format paperbacks. I must admit – I do look out for their white spines in a second-hand bookshop, alongside the various shades of Penguin modern classics.
One thing that Royle does which I can’t do – is walk along at a fair clip while reading, and he does cover the miles that way on his various wanderings, going between bookshops. I’d trip over everything if I didn’t look totally at where I was going!
He also ruminates on other bookish topics in between bookshop trails such as when authors have the same names – although he doesn’t actually discuss his namesake the other Nicholas Royle in much detail here – there are plenty of others to highlight too. He also discusses his love of ‘inclusions’ – all the ephemera that we use as bookmarks, but leave behind, inscriptions too – these are all likely to make him buy multiple copies of the white spines!
This was a very pleasant read with which to round up my 20 books for this summer’s challenge. I bought my copy direct from the publisher last summer, and hadn’t realised it was signed – well squiggled on!
Source: TBR. Salt paperback original, 176 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.