Reading Highlights – July 2012

In July I managed to complete seven books, the same number as for June.  All were very good and for a change only two were in the crime genre.  These were Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny and The Whisperers of Nemesis by Anne Zouroudi.  Unusually none of the books were translations from other languages.  Nor did I make much progress with my Reading Challenges.  Though I did a double with the In a Name challenge.  Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd counts for something in the sky, while Hotel World by Ali Smith counts for a type of house.  And once again I failed to read a novel in Spanish, though I have now ordered three Spanish novels, which should get me back on track.  I did though continue with my foray into non fiction writing with the second volume of All Hell Let Loose, Max Hastings’ terrific account of the Second World War.  This was one of the three audio books I listened to.  The list included works by two authors new to me.  Into the Darkest Corner, a psychological thriller by Elizabeth Haynes and Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.  This latter is a rather strange tale of the fate of a black German jazz musician in Berlin and Paris in the late 1930s and into 1940.  As I said above I enjoyed all seven books, but here are the three that I particularly enjoyed.  I have discounted All Hell Let Loose as I read the first volume last month.

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny is the fourth novel in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sureté de Québec.  This is definitely one of my favourite crime series and this one did not disappoint.  As with the previous novels, this one brings out the underlying tensions between the English and French speaking communities in Québec.  Though written by an Anglo, Louise Penny is very sympathetic to the French speaking community as her hero is the very French Gamache.  Unusually for this series the main action does not take place in the sleepy village of Three Pines.  Most of the novel is set in Québec city.  Even more unusual there are really three unrelated stories in the novel.  And just to complicate matters still more, one of the stories is in fact a continuation of the previous novel – The Brutal Telling.  Another impressive piece of writing from Louise Penny.

Hotel World by Ali Smith is a bit of a tour de force.  As the title implies all the main characters in the novel feature at some time or other in the same hotel.  The novel is essentially five stories, each narrated by a different character.  What links them is that all characters are in some way connected to the death of Sara a young girl who worked at the hotel.  She is indeed the first character to speak as it were, from beyond the grave as she has a conversation with her younger sister, Clare.  The novel kind of comes full circle as it ends with Clare giving her take on the events and the coming to terms with her sister’s death.  In between we meet three other characters – Else, a homeless woman, Lise, the hotel receptionist and Penny, a journalist who stays at the hotel.  All have their own stories of hopes and misfortunes to tell and at the same time through them we learn more about the death of Sara.  A very imaginative and intriguing novel.

Waiting for Sunrise is the latest novel by William Boyd, another of my favourite authors.   We begin in Vienna in 1913 and the arrival of Lysander Rief, a young, up and coming and well off English actor.  Lysander is there to begin a course of treatment with an English psycho-analyst in the hope of finding a cure for a strange ailment – anorgasmia.    Luckily for Lysander he does overcome this ailment, partly through an affair with the strange and mysterious Hettie Bull, one of the many strange and mysterious characters who pop in and out of Lysander’s life over the next two years.  As the novel develops things become more and more threatening for Lysander and he has to escape from Vienna.  Back in London in 1914 the Great War has begun and he ends up working as a spy for the UK.  Sent to Geneva, he has to use his acting skills and his ingenuity to help unearth a mole in the War Office.  Waiting for Sunrise is a complex novel, part romance and part spy thriller, full of literary and theatrical references.  Well worth reading for an unusual glimpse into the lost world of pre 1914 Europe.

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