Another good month for reading, with nine books read or listened to. Four of the books were by authors new to me. It is always good to discover new writers. Five of the novels were crime mysteries, four were audio books, three were translated from another language and one was read in Spanish. I managed to make good progress with my Reading Challenges. I added two more Vintage mysteries – Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers and Black as he’s Painted by Ngaio Marsh. I also read two more Nordic crime novels – Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir from Iceland and Hidden Child by Camilla Läckberg from Sweden. I managed to keep up with my monthly book in Spanish – Tan Velox como el Deseo/Swift as Desire, by Laura Ezequiel from Mexico and at long last I made a start with my Australian Women Writers Challenge, with Addition by Toni Jordan. The other books were A Burnt Out Case by Graham Greene and two South African novels – Disgrace by JM Coetzee and Trackers by Deon Meyer. I enjoyed all the books and have reviewed three already – Five Red Herrings here and Disgrace and Trackers here. Worth a particular mention on their own are these two novels.
A Burnt Out Case by Graham Greene is set somewhere in the Congo in the 1950s when the Congo was still a Belgian colony. Most of the action takes place in a remote leper colony, the last place reachable by river boats. Here the central character, the rather mysterious Querry, arrives unannounced and unknown to anyone and asks to stay. As the story unfolds it emerges that Querry, formerly a famous architect, is himself, like many of the lepers, a burnt out case. This is the term given to lepers who have ceased their physical suffering, but remain mutilated. In Querry’s case he no longer has any sense of the meaning and purpose of life. He has lost all interest in himself, his future and feels nothing. He has come to this remote place to life out the rest of his life alone and in anonymity. Of course this luxury is not allowed to him. In the course of the novel Querry has to confront all kinds of people, some good, some nasty and is forced to reconsider his situation and to reflect on his past life. By the end he ceases to be a burnt out case. This is a very powerful novel which poses more questions about life than answers.
Addition is the first novel by Australian writer Toni Jordan. I read it as part of the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge. Or rather, I listened to the audio version, which was very helpful as the bright Aussie voice of the female reader brought to life the very Australian setting of the novel. The novel would seem to be in the chick lit genre, but though it does recount the romantic tale of the heroine, Addition is much, much more than a simple genre piece. What makes this different and well worth reading is that Grace, the main character and narrator, suffers from a personality disorder. In her case an obsessive compulsion to count everything all the time in order to make sense of her life. Things begin to go wrong for Grace when she accidentally meets Seamus after stealing one of his bananas at a supermarket. She needed ten bananas, but could only find 9, so steals one from his trolley. Seamus wants to find out more about Grace and doesn’t take no for an answer. This is the chick lit part of the tale. However the novel describes in at time hilarious ways how Grace’s personality disorder affects and restricts her life. In fact the main focus of the novel is on how both the individual concerned and those around her respond to mental illness. With difficulty and lots of misunderstanding it seems. Grace tries therapy and medication which only makes her worse. Finally she rejects this approach and decides to work out a way to live fully by managing to control her disorder. Very unusual and entertaining approach to a potentially difficult subject matter.