Review catch-up!

This spring into summer period is shaping up to be a huge publishing push, as publishers catch-up with COVID-19 delays. It’s nice to see new books spread out over several months too, which I hope means that more will get the attention they deserve. Will they revert to form in September and October though? Woe betide anyone publishing the same week as Richard Osman’s sequel to The Thursday Murder Club; The Man Who Died Twice is out on September 16th.

Also, a huge thank you to Cathy and Rebecca for joining in with my BanksRead week last week. I enjoyed revisiting one of my favourite authors, and while I do find myself slightly more critical of some of his work now, he’s still a favourite and I will continue to work on getting through his output when time allows. Not surprisingly, my poll results showed that The Wasp Factory and The Crow Road are readers’ favourites with Espedair Street coming third; The Player of Games heads his SF list.

Meanwhile, I’ve a pile of books that have been waiting to be reviewed, so it’s catch up time today.

Firstly, a Shiny link for you.

Diary of a Film by Niven Govinden

The first novel I’ve read by Govinden was superb.

Diary of a Film follows a few days in the life of an auteur film director who is in Italy with his two lead actors to promote their new movie at a prestigious film festival. But the film festival goings on are in the background of this thoughtful novel. Instead, Govinden takes us into the mind of his maestro to examine the creative process and his stream of consciousness thoughts, written in chapter-long paragraphs. It’s not a difficult book though, I loved it. (10/10)

Full review at Shiny HERE.

Niven Govinden, Diary of a Film (Dialogue, 2021) 224pp., hardback. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

Agency by William Gibson

I read Gibson’s latest back in January, and the only reason for not reviewing it back then was that I wanted to also read The Peripheral too, which also features an earlier episode for one of the main characters in Agency, Wilf Netherton, who lives in the 22nd century. I haven’t managed to read The Peripheral yet – really I should have realised the books were linked and read it first – for it would have explained Gibson’s time-travel ‘stubs’ to me, but to be honest, they are one of the easier to work out bits of Gibson’s continuum. (When someone from the future reaches back, they create a new timeline or ‘stub’ which then progresses independently along its new path.)

The main timeline in Agency is an alt-2017 ‘stub’ where Clinton is in the White House and Brexit never happened. Verity-Jane is hired by a shadowy tech-start-up to evaluate a new digital assistant called Eunice, who resides in a pair of glasses. Turns out that Eunice is essentially a rogue AI, but unusually with altruistic intentions. Eunice is super smart, spreading herself all over the web. Verity-Jane rather bonds with Eunice, who convinces her not to return the glasses, and soon Verity finds herself a target. Meanwhile in 22nd century London, Wilf is given a job which will interfere with Verity’s stub. He needs Eunice’s unique abilities, but Eunice has gone underground…

This novel reminded me very much of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (see here). Both novels are high tech, bonkers, bewilderingly hard to keep up with what’s happening, yet they carry you along with them all the way. The result was that I really enjoyed Agency, but also must read The Peripheral for Wilf’s backstory. (I must also read more Stephenson.) Gibson retains his super-cool mantle, this was superb fun, if you can hack it! (8.5/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you. Agency, paperback, 416 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

Originally, I was going to review Spufford’s second novel, (which is totally different to his first, Golden Hill (see here–my book of the year in 2016), for Shiny, but when it came down to it, although it is beautifully written and I very much enjoyed it, it hangs on a gimmick, which I had to question at first, and then couldn’t decide what to write about it.

It begins in 1944, and a group of five little children and their mothers are in a South London Woolworths store. When a German rocket hits, they and many others are vaporised. Spufford’s writing in this first section is evocative, beautifully sad and reverent.

But what has gone is not just the children’s present existence – Vernon not trudging home to the house with the flitch of bacon hanging in the kitchen, Ben not on his dad’s shoulders crossing the park, astonished by the watery November clouds, Alex not getting his promised ride to Crystal Palace tomorrow, Jo and Valerie not making faces at each other over their dinner of cock-a-leekie soup. It’s all the futures they won’t get too. All the would-be’s, might-be’s, could-be’s of the decades to come. (…)

Come, other future. (…) Come, undivided light. Come dust.

Turn the page and we’ve moved on to ‘t + 5: 1949’ and we meet the children, now nine-years-old at school in a singing lesson. After this, Spufford then takes us through their lives in fifteen year chunks, seeing how their lives may still entwine or not, through to ‘t + 65: 2009’. A bit like Michael Apted’s Up TV series, that followed a group of kids into their sixties in seven year intervals.

Spufford’s writing is never less than engaging and his attention to period detail is always spot on, from Val being chatted up by by a mod on a scooter in the mid 1960s, to Vernon tucking into his picnic at Glyndebourne in the 2000s – I never expected a man like Vern, who ends up as a shady property developer, to cry at opera. Through Alec’s eyes we see inside the closed shop of the newspaper printing presses and the changes that technology brings, but it’s bus conductor Ben’s struggle with schizophrenia that touches the most. Spufford is simply superb at making these outwardly ordinary lives feel extraordinary, worth seeing what they might have been if the bomb hadn’t dropped. (8.5/10)

Source: Review copy – thank you. Light Perpetual, Faber, Hardback, 336 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

M for Murder by Keri Beevis

This was our latest book group read – and is a perfect example of the perceived unrandomness of random picking! We each put in our suggestions for our ‘M is for’ reads, and one of our group had found this crime novel which we’d never heard of. We did our random number generator and of course it picked this book over the list of candidates below, any of which I’d much rather have read, even George RR Martin!

  1. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
  2. A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin
  3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  4. Lars Mytting – 16 trees of the Somme
  5. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
  6. A Very British Coup by Chris Mullins
  7. Robert MacFarlane Underland
  8. Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky
  9. M for Murder by Keri Beevis

This crime novel (first published in 2013 as Dead Letter Day) turned out to be an undemanding read with a medium level of gore, and as you might guess from the title, it involves alphabet killings. A serial killer, Rodney Boone, who was caught, had got up to G previously, and now nearly eight years later in 1997 someone is continuing on from where he left off at Juniper College in California. New cop, Rebecca Angell with her sexist partner Vic will end up working with the FBI on catching the new killer. Some convolutions, a good red herring, but also suspension of belief needed and rather stereotypical characters. (6/10)

Source: Own copy M For Murder, Bloodhound Books, paperback 367 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

14 thoughts on “Review catch-up!

  1. A Life in Books says:

    Very keen to read the Govinden and yours is the first positive(ish) review of the Spufford I’ve spotted. It was actually that gimmick that I liked but had been put off by a few reactions.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      His writing is sublime, and all the musical resonances which do pervade the whole novel are great – I only mentioned the opera above. If you can accept the premise, it’s really well worth reading.

  2. Laura says:

    I also thought the premise of Light Perpetual was gimmicky at first, but by the end of the novel, it clicked for me – I think he’s trying to show the incalculable loss of these ordinary lives, even though none of the characters change the course of history. I thought it was outstanding.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I loved his writing, but dithered over the premise for so long, it was hard to write a full length Shiny review.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’ve not read Govinden before, but was completely won over by Diary of a Film. Although stream of consciousness in writing, it was also highly visual – you really could see what the maestro was thinking too!

  3. Calmgrove says:

    I picked up Agency last year, not realising it was a linked novel, but I hope your reassurances will help assuage any anxieties I might have about missing key concepts!

    Sorry not to join in your Banksread, Annabel, I found I had a copy of Complicity but randomly opening a page to some explicit S&M sex was more than my timid sensibilities could bear…

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      It’s not strictly necessary to read The Peripheral before Agency I think, it just sets out the time-travel stubs premise that Wilf is involved with and gives him a bit of back story, but I will read the first one to make sure.

      Those later mid-period Banks novels were full of sex. Dead Ait too, but not so S&M, a Song of Stone more so! I’ve forgotten Complicity, so will doubtless discover it in due course!!! So I completely understand 😉

  4. Liz Dexter says:

    I didn’t fancy the Spufford although not sure why – I certainly wouldn’t have fancied writing a full-length Shiny review of it! I think my husband’s read the Gibson though not entirely sure, it sounds familiar!

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