Books of the Month

November Books

It’s a while since I have published about the books I am reading. I have been reading, just not letting you know. ūüôā

So, this month I found a new author, reread an old book and read others from two of my favourite authors.

The new author:

Kate Griffin — “The Minority Council”¬†

Matthew Swift has become the Midnight Mayor, the person who keeps Londoners safe ~ “the protector of the city, the guardian of the night, the keeper of the gates, the watcher on the walls.” ¬†He does that by using magic, the magic of the city, electricity.

London, a city I love, is a major character in the story. It made me wonder about the other cities that could have so many layers, physical and metaphorical. Melbourne doesn’t have them yet, but places like London and New York certainly do. I think it is about history and diversity and literature and class, that all mix together to allow writers use these cities as such powerful, believable characters

But it is the night streets that is Swift’s world and magic is woven into the fabric of that world.

As we moved, our shadow turned and turned again, a sundial’s darkness moved by street glow, and our shadow was not our own. Sometimes we thought it had wings of black dragon-leather. Sometimes we thought its hands dripped, staining the cracks in the paving stones as it passed. I could feel the places where the bikers moved, those thin points in the architecture of the city where¬†here¬†became like¬†there¬†and it was possible to jump the gap without mucking around with the spaces in between. Ley lines crackled underfoot, following the passage of the underground tunnels, the old water pipes, the silent whirling gas, the dance of electricity. We put our head to one side and could hear the voices in the the telephones lines overhead…

It is a cruel world. Young vandals have their souls sucked out by vigilante monsters. Fairy dust is the newest drug.

“Are we talking …. like cocaine?”

“Yeah, if getting screwed out of your fucking brain by a sex goddess is like going five minutes with your grandma in the rain.”

And the fairy godmother is no fairy godmother

“You really have no idea, have you? Fairy godmother is going to take you down, chop you up and serve you as sushi.”

But then Swift is not really himself either.

I loved Griffin’s London. I loved how the magic was an integral part of it. I loved her writing. Listen to another passage, where again she describes a London just below the surface.

We walked through the subways beneath Waterloo, where the beggars huddled beneath changing light and white stalagmites that hung from the ceiling cracks, and south again, past the silent black guns of the Imperial War Museum and towards that strange place where distances started to warp and the centre of the city met inner city and had a fight that left both bleeding by the one-way signs.

This is the fourth in a series. I dislike starting a series in the middle, but it happens when you randomly pick a book from the Library shelves. So I will find the others, and begin at the beginning. I recommend that you do too.

The book from my shelf:

Diane Ackerman: The moon by whale light

It is subtitled: ‘and other adventures among bats, penguins, crocodilians and whales’. You may remember that I enjoy reading natural history books, and I enjoyed reading this for a second time. Ackerman is a journalist with a fascination for the natural world. She travelled to many places to gather the information for the book. At one point she was lying on top of alligators, holding them down¬†while scientists took samples, measured length and teeth, and determined their sex. She describes all the creatures in her book with love, and makes you love them too — if only for the time of reading! I am not sure that her writings would foster a love of saltwater crocodiles.

As you can tell from the title, Ackerman has a beautiful, poetic way of writing. She is in Patagonia to be with the whales:

At sunset, an orange fur lay along the horizon and the sea grew blue-grey. Areas of wet sand, exposed by the withdrawing tide, shone like an array of hand mirrors. Venus appeared overhead, bright as a whistle blow, with the small pinprick light of Mercury at its side. As night fell, the shallows shimmered like ice and the frantic winds began to sound like freight trains.

And then to Antarctica to be with the penguins:

The mountains, glaciers and fjords bulged and rolled through endless displays of inter-flowing shapes. The continent kept turning its shimmery hips, and jutting up hard pinnacles of ice, in a sensuality of rolling shifting, cascading landscapes…..And yet it could be blindingly abstract, harrowing and remote, the closest thing to being on another planet, so far from human life that its desolation and iciness made you want to do impetuous, life affirming things: commit acts of love…..touch voices with a loved one by way of a satellite… passionate and daring, renew the outlines of your humanity.

I am not sure if it is in print. If you come across it, snap it up and enjoy.

Two more books from two of my favourite authors:

Terry Pratchett: Snuff

It is not as funny nor weird as many of his other Discworld stories. But it is funny and it does have weird bits. And it has many of his familiar and wonderful characters. Sam Vines goes on holiday and soon finds that the countryside is a hot bed of mayhem and murder — as well as a lot of poo.

However, as in many of his books, Pratchett makes comment on our world. This time he addresses racism. As reviewers on Goodreads have said, there is a darkness in this novel. The Goblins are the lowest of the low, vilified, on the margins of Discworld society and blamed for the ills of the world. Sam Vines investigates the murder of a young goblin girl and helps to uncover many prejudices, and worse. As well he learns much about the unexpected complexities of the Goblin culture.

Louise Penny: A rule against murder

The fourth in her series of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. I find her books very difficult to put down. At the same time I want to, because I want them to last. I was transported to her world of the French Canadian countryside, and caught up in the terrible family that Gamache has to investigate. But he investigates with such patience, he listens to what is said, and what isn’t said. If I was a policeman I would want¬†Chief Inspector Armand Gamache to be my boss!

But once I left the world I wondered about the family. It was so unlike mine that I found myself doubting, and thinking about the inconsistencies. Would they always behave with such cruelty to each other? Why do they return to each others’ company? The mother is so awful why did the step-father love her for so long, much less marry her? Would Marianna really be able to keep that secret about her child? (Notice how this is a Spoiler Free Zone? ūüôā ) If you have read it I would love to know what you think. Am I being naive?

However, it is not enough to make me stop reading her books. Again, I really enjoy her writing. Her characters are interesting and the settings well evoked. And the food they eat ~ delicious!

What have you been reading? Any recommendations? 

Books of the Month

November books

Who doesn’t like a good read? Some that I read this November were:

Autumn Laing by Alex Miller

Miller thought he was going to write a book about a famous Australian artist, Sidney Nolan, which would have included his relationship with Sunday Reed. Sunday, with her husband John, owned land on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne. Their home, ‘Heide’, became a centre for artists who were pushing the boundaries of Australian art. They were looking for a way to tell the Australian story and not just follow the European one.

However, the voice of Autumn Laing, who is loosely based on Sunday Reed, dominated Miller’s mind and then his story. At the beginning of the novel Autumn is a feisty, farting old lady, who is furious to find that she feels the need for redemption. She begins to write the story of her affair with emerging, powerful artist, Pat Donlon (again, loosely based on Nolan), and the impact it has on her husband Arthur and Donlon’s wife Edith, as well as their friends.

I think Miller has two strengths. Firstly his ability to create characters. I enjoyed the way he wove his descriptions through the book and even the minor characters, such as Stony, have solidity and interest.

The second strength is the way he has the philosophical discussion about Australian art through the book. There is no polemic, but Miller looks at the issue from a range of different view points, from Edith’s to Louis’, and especially Donlon’s — don’t talk about it, just do it. And then there is Autumn’s realisation as she flies above inland Queensland

“Scrawled lines of green and gold and deep brown, random silver foil meanders, broken and uncertain in their courses, and white sky windows through to the world on the other side of this world. Australia was revealed to me as an elaborate, multicoloured etching; the vision of an unknown artists’s eye. A portrait of my country, unfamiliar to me, wrinkled and crumpled, scratched and scoured. Broken with abrupt shifts of tone and form, stains and inexplicable runs of colour one into the other, purple and rose madder, vast swathes of grey and fierce angry dragon spots of emerald green.” (p389-90)

It was our Book Club book for the month and our discussion was lively as we tried to come to grips with creativity, Australian art and truth ¬†— accompanied, of course, by glasses of champagne, a cheese platter and a yummy orange cake. Thanks for suggesting the book Marie!

A castle in Spain by Matthew Parris

There are many books about Englishmen and women buying and renovating derelict houses in Mediterranean countries. Parris’ book is different because it is largely about the house, l’Avenc and the surrounding ¬†Catalan countryside, rather than the trials and tribulations of builders and red tape.

L’Avenc is high on a cliff in the Collsacabra area in Catalunya¬†(Catalonia), the hinterland of Barcelona. The house was partly Gothic and then added on to in the Renaissance. When it was bought by Parris, his sister and brother-in-law it had been deserted for decades. Rebuilding it took time and money, and skilled labour from local craftsmen.

I have become fascinated by the Pyrenees after a trip to south-west France earlier this year. This book fueled my interest in this area south of these magnificent mountains. He describes a landscape of rugged beauty and villages carved from stone, of walking tracks that take you along cliff tops and through gorges. An area to wander through and enjoy. And all of this just a short drive from the Costa Brava coast.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Just when I thought I had read all the Prachett books in my library, another one jumps out at me from the shelf. This continues the fabulous Discworld series. Like the others, it kept me amused!