Review Catch-Up

Not only have I been too busy and mentally wired the past couple of weeks to read much. I’m also way behind on reviewing, so a bit of a catch-up is in order, so two shorter reviews for you today!

Firstly though, I watched Susanna Clarke in conversation with Madeline Miller on the Waterstones feed last night talking about Piranesi. It was fab and elucidating and educative, but also her only publicity event for the book (she suffers from chronic fatigue). Piranesi is top of my reading pile, although I read the first chapter some time ago on a Netgalley teaser. I can’t wait!

The System by James Ball

Theoretically, I love non-fiction books about technology. The System is exactly that, written by a journalist who has won a Pullitzer Prize, but, for some reason it left me slightly cold for the first half. That’s not Ball’s fault, for I was essentially expecting a techno-romance starring Tim Berners-Lee et al, developing their labour of love which they then shared with the world. There was an element of that…

The internet, then, grew out of a muddled collaboration between three factions. The first was a definite research agency looking for a testing ground for future command-and-control programmes, who then saw potential in using the network for military research and development. The second group was headed by senior academics in leading research universities, most of whom wanted to use the funding and the network for other research opportunities […]. And the third was the graduate students left to actually build the thing, whose superiors thought they were doing gruntwork, and who were in fact going well beyond their brief, in the most interesting of ways.

However, for the most part, it was much dryer and acronym heavy (there is a glossary). The founding years of the internet were actually rather boring! However, it started to get more interesting when Ball got onto the people who control domain registry (not-for-profit organisation ICANN), and more interesting still when looking at the big content players, and data analysis, then Ball moves on to cybercrime, Wikileaks etc – all subjects he has written about at length before.

It was fascinating in parts, but I felt a bit short-changed by the lack of excitement over the giant networked data centres that link everything, and the pipelines under the ocean – I wanted more details on these aspects. I also wanted a bit more science in the development of internet speed going from a few networked supercomputers via dial-up and fibre to the wifi we have now. But this isn’t quite that book. I did learn masses though and enjoyed reading it, it just wasn’t quite what I expected. (7/10)

Source: Review copy – Thank you! James Ball, The System (Bloomsbury, 2020), hardback, 288 pages incl. notes, index etc.
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The Sleeping Car Murders by Sébastien Japrisot

Translated by Francis Price (1964)

Last summer, I reviewed a 1966 Japrisot reprint for Shiny New Books. The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun was a superb psychological drama which kept the reader guessing, as a young woman who borrowed a car from her boss for a spree is confused when she appears to have already done everything that happens to her. Thus, I had high expectations of The Sleeping Car Murders.

It begins shortly after the Marseille night train has pulled into Paris. A young woman is found dead, sprawled on a berth in the sleeping car.

The woman was dark-haired, young, rather tall, rather thin, and rather pretty. A little above the opening of her blouse there were two marks of strangulation on her neck.

It appears most likely that the murder was committed by one of the other occupants of the sleeping car, all since departed into the Parisian morning. Inspector Grazziano and his men will have their job cut out to find out what happened. Is it a classic locked-room type murder, or are things more complicated than that? It ended up being both, and definitely a lot of the latter.

Again, I was slightly underwhelmed by this book. The labyrinthine convolutions of its 201 pages didn’t help, but mostly I felt I didn’t get to know ‘Grazzi’ well enough. He is obviously dogged in his investigations, but also dogged by his boss nicknaming him ‘Holmes’. He is no Maigret though, just a solid policeman getting through the day. He is often referred to as ‘the one called Grazzi’ or similar, when other PoVs are presented, lacking a distinct persona. This won’t stop me reading the first Japrisot book that Gallic have reprinted though, One Deadly Summer. (7/10)

Source: Review Copy – Thank you. Sébastien Japrisot, The Sleeping Car Murders (Gallic, Aug 2020) paperback, 201 pages.
BUY at Amazon UK or Blackwell’s (via affiliate links)

9 thoughts on “Review Catch-Up

  1. A Life in Books says:

    I’m interested in The System. I’d like to see more coverage of the way we all pay for the use of the internet with our data, something I’m not sure everyone understands, and wondered if that was addressed.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      He does talk about data manipulation and analysis and the ad-men and the dotcom billionaires. His conclusions are fascinating – how we should learn how to treat personal data as it is so valuable – how we’re reaching a pivot point between the USA and China – how we should treat the big three (Amazon, Google and FB) – how 5G etc will make much of the physical network redundant for the cable owners. It’s quite scary, yet applying pragmatism to it could lead to optimism, for after all the internet is just a tool… Thought-provoking stuff indeed, especially in the second half of this book.

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