February was a bit of a strange month for my reading as for the first time, probably ever, I read less crime novels than other books. I managed to fit in eight books in all, including two audio books. Three of them were crime novels – A Death in Tuscany by Michele Giuttari; Missing by Karin Alvtegen and Mensajes de la Oscuridad by Alicia Gimenez Bartlett. The first two are translations from Italian and Swedish respectively. The third is in Spanish and is appropriately enough, the third in the Petra Delicado series, set in Barcelona. This one has not as yet been translated into English. I enjoyed them all and they are all very different crime novels. Missing is more a thriller than a crime novel.
Three other books were general fiction and included a short story, The Fidget, by Anton Chekhov. The other two were A Scandalous Man, by Gavin Esler and Merivel: a Man of his Time, by Rose Tremain. I also managed to read two non-fiction books. To the Ends of the Earth by Tom Devine is a history of the Scottish Diaspora. A bit on the dry side as to be expected from a history book. There is some repetition as it is not a straightforward narrative, but deals with emigration under various headings – missionaries, the military, commerce etc. Good solid stuff though. The other non-fiction book was The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, a personal search into one family’s past. Remarkable book which I have already reviewed here. Another very good month for reading and I have chosen the following two books as deserving of a bit more promotion.
Gavin Esler is an experienced BBC politics journalist who has worked in Washington and London. So he is no doubt well versed in the high and low arts of politics in both cities. This clearly comes through in this, his first novel, a mixture of political intrigue, sexual adventures, personal disgrace and a celebration of multi-cultural London. The novel switches between the story of the rise and fall of Robin Burnett, a former Thatcherite minister and the personal and political struggles of his estranged son Harry. A well written and sensitive exposé of the moral crisis of Thatcherism and its legacy.
This novel is a rather strange beast – a follow-up written some 23 years after the first novel. In Merivel Rose Tremain goes back to the main characters in her 1989 hit Restoration. I have not read that novel, nor have I seen the equally successful film version, so I approached Merivel unburned by the past as it were. I very much enjoyed this novel, so I can assure everyone that it is not necessary to have read or seen the previous book. In this novel we have moved 15 years forward and Robert Merivel, one time physician to King Charles 11 is now 56 years old and both he and the King are somewhat “weary and worn down”. Though Merivel is very keen to add some spice to his life, he repeatedly finds more and more obstacles in his way. Much the same can be said for the King. For though a bit of a bawdy romp in places – sex in all shapes and forms features highly in the book, the novel has a melancholy ring to it. For the central characters are all getting old and are having to face up to the prospect of death. A light hearted veneer to a thoughtful tale of loss and getting old.