Reading Highlights – July 2014

Last month I only managed to complete five books. In part this was due to spending a lovely week away in the Cotswolds with no time for reading. I also started reading  a book in Spanish – El tango de la vieja guardia, but did not have time to finish it. I hope to complete it this month. Of the books I did read, two were crime novels and both were in audio book form.

I followed up last month’s introduction to the world of detective inspector Ghote of the Mumbai police with another in the series written by HRF Keating. This was Inspector Ghote’s 1st Case. Though his first case, the novel was only written a few years ago. Once again Ghote is sent out into the provinces where a possible murder is bound up with political intrigue, corruption and greed. Good, gentle stuff.

The other audio book was Victims by American writer Jonathan Kellerman. Part of the series of crime novels featuring psychologist Alex Delaware who seems to spend most of his time helping the LA police. My first encounter with this series and very enjoyable it was too. As the title suggests there is many more than one victim for Alex and the police to deal with.  All the likely victims of some kind of serial killer. Pretty disturbing stuff, but compelling.

The three general fiction novels were also by authors new to me, and two were debuts. Still Alice by American writer Lisa Genova was the choice for our reading group. A most unexpected, but enjoyable and very interesting book. Alice is a 50 year old professor of linguistics at Harvard who is about to discover that she has early onset Alzheimer’s. The novel proceeds to give a month by month account of how this incurable disease affects the life of Alice and her family. Though written in the third person, the events are all seen and told through Alice’s perspective. A very moving story which pulls no punches in describing how Alzheimer’s can affect both the sufferer and her nearest and dearest.

The other two novels I discovered by looking through the brochure for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which is on this month. An amazing programme of talks, some by the authors themselves and some about particular works or themes. Anyway I took a note of some of the authors and their works that seemed interesting and discovered to my surprise that two were available through our local library. Great institutions, libraries!

Paris Requiem by London based Lisa Appignanesi is an engrossing novel set in the Paris of 1899. It is in part a dark thriller as the main character, Harvard academic James Norton, seeks to untangle the mysterious death of Olympe, his brother’s lover. This leads James into a very dark world and the realisation that other women have died in similar circumstances. And all of them were Jewish. For Paris in 1899 is still convulsed with the Dreyfus scandal and James’ investigations lead him deeper and deeper into the underbelly of Parisian society, where anti-semitism and secret experiments in eugenics is never far from the surface. Appignanesi is a prolific writer and I look forward to reading more of her oeuvre.

The final book from July was The Undertaking, a first novel by Irish writer Audrey Magee. This is a terrific book which is set during the 2nd World War. What is most unusual is that the novel is all about the experiences of Germans. The novel focuses on how the war affects two very different people.  Peter Faber is a soldier on the Eastern front, while Katherina Spinell lives in Berlin with her poor parents.  Peter and Katherina agree to a marriage of convenience, the undertaking of the title. He gets three week’s honeymoon leave and she gets the promise of a widow’s pension if Peter gets killed. Surprisingly they find a passion for each other, though they are hardly ever together as Peter returns to the front to endure the bitter fighting and to participate in the atrocities committed by the Germans. He ends up in Stalingrad and Magee gives a compelling account of how ordinary German soldiers tried to survive in that hell hole. Meanwhile in Berlin, Katharina’s life at first improves as she ingratiates herself into the higher echelons of the Nazi hierarchy. However as the war turns, she is cast aside and has to face growing poverty and the terrifying prospect of the arrival of the Soviet army. Will Peter and Katharina survive to make good their undertaking? Very good novel which lays bare the moral emptiness at the heart of Nazi Germany.

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