Reading Highlights – April 2012

This month I managed to read eight books, slightly down from the previous months.  No doubt due to our little holiday in the Netherlands.  Still eight books is pretty good going.  This time three were in audio book form.  As usual crime novels feature highly, with half the books in that genre.  Two were translations, both from Swedish.  I continued to make progress with three of my Reading Challenges.  There were two more Nordic crime novels, the two Swedish translations mentioned above.  Both were by authors new to me – Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow and Åsa Larsson’s The Savage Altar.  I also managed to keep up my Spanish language series with El Laberinto Griego by Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.  My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin was my second book in the Australian Women Writers Challenge.  The other books were The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny, another in the Inspector Armand Gamache series, Life Class by Pat Barker, The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth and Berlin Tales – a collection of short stories set in Berlin, which was part of my birthday present from Emma.  All very good reads.  Below are some comments on three of this month’s selection.

El Laberinto Griego/The Greek Labyrinth is one of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s series of crime novels featuring private detective Pep Carvalho.  Nearly all are set in Barcelona as is this one.  Here the action takes place in the year before the 1992 Olympic Games which were held in Barcelona.  The story is as much about the tremendous changes to the city that this involved as much as it is about the story which revolves around the disappearance of a young man.  Followers of the Italian TV series about the Sicilian detective, Inspector Montalbano, may be interested to know that he is named in honour of Manuel Vázqez Montalbán, a writer Andrea Camilleri much admired.  There are many similarities between the two detectives which includes their love of good food.

Life Class by Pat Barker is a moving tale about how the First World War affected a group of young artists at the Slade School of Art.  The three main characters, Paul, Elinor and Kit, form a kind of love triangle which serves as another backdrop to the novel.  Elinor and Kit it seems are loosely based on two members of the Bloomsbury set, while Paul represents a rough hewn outsider from the North.  He never quite fits into the Bloomsbury set and during the war refuses to fight and instead volunteers to serve with the Belgian Red Cross.  The experiences of the war affect the three characters in different ways and the novel is mainly about these different responses to the horrors of the war.

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin is an amazing book.  Written when the author was only 16 years old and published in 1901, the book is an account of a young girl growing up in rural Australia in the last decades of the 19th century.  It is a remarkable book and gives the reader a vivid and colourful picture of what life was like in a part of the Empire pretty much unknown to most of us.  The heroine and narrator, Sybylla Melvyn is a very lively girl with a passion for literature and keen to learn about the world.  She is alas much put out by the restrictions placed on her as a girl.  An early feminist she is unwilling to accept an easy and comfortable life as the wife of a rich man, and is determined to make her own way in life.  A fascinating feature of the book is its evocation of Australian nationalism.  The author wastes no opportunity to extoll the many virtues and qualities of her country and her fellow citizens.  A tour de force.


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