November turned out to be a rather disappointing month for reading. I only managed to complete four books. Probably the lowest total since I started reading again on a regular basis. Still the ones I did read were all very good. One reason for the low number was the amount of time I spent on not finishing Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. It is a highly rated novel, but this is now the second time I have failed to be impressed by it. On this occasion I tried the audio version, but still, I could not find any empathy with the main characters. It is also a very long novel. The audiobook consists of 19 CDs. Alas I listened to eight of them before deciding enough was enough.
Only one crime novel featured in this list, and that was The Caller by Norwegian writer Karin Fossum. The Caller is the ninth in the series which features Inspector Sejer. This is the fourth of her novels I have read, though not in sequence. Though they all feature Inspector Sejer, he is not as dominant a character in the novels as say, Harry Hole in Jo Nesbø’s novels. While Sejer does play a crucial role, the novels are more about the motivations of the criminals and the impact their crimes have on others. The Caller is no exception. Here a series of cruel pranks disturbs and fractures a local community. Karin Fossum is very good at creating a rather chilling sense of unease and foreboding. A gripping novel as you are kept in suspense until the very end.
The Winter Bride by Isla Dewar is an intriguing tale of teenage girls and their tentative and uncertain journey into adulthood. I have read most of Isla Dewar’s books and have enjoyed them all. Her earlier works were all very funny, laugh out loud comedies. However her more recent novels have been of a much more serious bent. Though there are funny moments in this one, the prevailing tone is fairly sombre. Set mainly in Edinburgh in the late 1950s it tells the stories of two teenage girls, Nell and Carol as they set about having a good time and also finding a man, the one who will be the love of their lives. They start our, especially Nell, all very romantic and naive, but as time passes and the reality of life impinges on them, all changes. In the end you just have to make the most of what comes your way. An added interest for me was that the main male character was called Alistair Rutherford and the Rutherford family plays a key role in the novel. Nothing like me or my family I hasten to add.
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse is another of her novels set mainly in south western France. Like the more famous Labyrinth this is a historical novel which takes us back to the time of the Cathars and their brutal fight against the Catholic Church. The Winter Ghosts also uses the time travelling technique to bring the Middle Ages to life. A survivor of the 1st World War, emotionally disturbed at the loss of his brother, is travelling around south west France in late 1920s. He gets a bit lost and emerges on foot in a strange little village, where everything and everyone seems sad and a bit out of sorts. Somehow the stranger has travelled back in time to meet up with some of the last and dying survivors of the Cathars. As he struggles to make sense of all this he finds a way to some kind of redemption both for himself and for the Cathars.
The final novel I read was another reason for the small number of books read this month. Tripulantes de un viejo Bolero/Crew of an old Bolero is a complicated tale by Argentinian author Guillermo Orsi. My first encounter with his work and I found it both intriguing and hard work. Reading in Spanish is an added challenge for me and I usually need a bit more time to get through a book in that language. However I normally manage reasonably well. Not this time, alas. The subtitle of the novel is Memory is a trick, and very apt it is too. For much of the time I was unsure whether what I was reading was an account of something that had actually happened or a half invented memory of something that may or may not have happened. Another major difficulty for me was the prose itself. Not so much the words as the structure of many of the sentences. Orsi loves not just long, but exceedingly long and complex sentences. One had well over a hundred words in it. I would find this difficult enough to follow in English let alone in another language. In short this took a long time to finish. Fascinating tale, but probably just beyond my competence in Spanish. In future I will stick to shorter and simpler books in that language.