Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: The Summer without Men

Reading this book felt like following the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a smart, but uninteresting person. The plot sounded promising. After her husband leaves her poet Mia cracks, spends a year recovering in a psychiatric hospital, and finally moves back to Iowa to live near her aging mother. Yet, there's something about this book that simply didn't connect with me. At the end of the book I felt as if nothing had happened. And yet, so much happens in this book, but events are subsumed by Mia's musing which are simply not very interesting. Mia would be fodder for people who think that academics aren't very interesting (and I'm an academic- I know that some of us are interesting!) This is a short book, but it took me some time to get through, as I could only handle small bits at a time.

Siri Hustvedt, The Summer without Men (Picador, 2011) ISBN: 0312570600

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: The Nine Tailors

This books is the epitome of the English countryside murder mystery. There's a mysterious dead body, an old parish church, a bumbling rector, and lots of foul weather. When Lord Peter Wimsey's car breaks down in Fenchurch St. Paul he is taken in by the rector. When an unidentified body turns up in the churchyard, Lord Peter is on the case.

In Fenchurch St. Paul Sayers weaves a gripping and atmospheric mystery. At the heart of the mystery are the ancient church bells. They are tended by a close-knit and somewhat suspicious coterie of bell-ringers, who display an almost-slavish devotion to their ringing. More broadly, the book is fully infused with bell-ringing culture. The bells give their name to the the book; each has a name and together they are called 'The Nine Tailors.' In all honesty, there was more about bell-ringing than I needed to know. Still, this is a gripping mystery.

Dorothy Sayers, The Nine Tailors (Mariner, 1966, orig. 1934) ISBN:0156658992

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: A Far Cry from Kensington

Set in the mid-twentieth century London publishing world, this is a quirky and enjoyable read. The book is structured as a flashback, as Mrs. Hawkins looks back on her youth, working for a minor Kensington publisher. She looks back from the comforts of her retirement in Italy. As a young war widow Mrs. Hawkins lived on a small salary reviewing manuscripts for her employer. Her duties led her to an ongoing feud with an untalented hack writer, who believes firmly in his own merit, but whose clunky prose Mrs. Hawkins dismisses. After brandishing him with a somewhat amusing moniker, she becomes the target of his revenge. Their ongoing feud reveals to Mrs. Hawkins a seedy underbelly of the publishing industry, one that she may unknowingly expose. The ending is both bizarre and entertaining, and the characters are originals.

Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington (New Directions, 2000, orig. 1988) ISBN: 0811214575

Friday, August 19, 2011

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

I could review this book in one sentence: This is one messed-up family, but its a family that makes for an enchanting story.

This is a book that reads like a fairy tale. Bookshop assistant and minor biographer Margaret Lea is summoned by dying writer Vida Winter to write the latter's life story. Winter has lived and secretive and reclusive life, and Margaret will be the first to get a look at her past. What she finds when she arrived is a story of abuse, abandonment, and twins helplessly devoted to one another. In the course of writing Winter's life story, Margaret will be forced to confront a tragedy in her own past.

I was fully enthralled and engrossed in this book. Once I started I read at every spare moment until I was finished. This is a novel full of gothic atmosphere and mystery. I must say that I found Vida Winter's story far more engaging than Margaret's. Margaret struck me as a fairly annoying individual. Luckily she is mostly a foil for the story of Vida, her family, and her childhood home.

Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale (Atria, 2006) ISBN: 0743298020