Saturday, May 8, 2010

april reading

Notes on a Scandal
by: Zoe Heller

Incredibly disturbing. That's pretty much my reaction to this vastly intelligent, extremely wicked book. It's sordid (though not quite in the way I expected), and it creeps around inside your head, taking out embarrassing things that you're almost certain you hid away in a drawer. Oh, and it's also really, really well done. It's told from the point of view of an older woman, a lonely teacher who imagines that she is recording -- honestly, faithfully -- the facts of a devastating scandal. Except that the deeper I fell into her story, the less I trusted her. She began to frighten, horrify, disgust. All of the virtue she presents begins to peel away, and still I balance on this razor of sympathy, quite sure that I'm not getting the whole story, but almost believing her anyway.

A Conspiracy of Kings
by: Megan Whalen Turner

The fourth book in a series for young adults. I'd like to call it pseudo-history, or pseudo-fantasy, except that sounds insulting and I think these books are incredibly well done. I normally find books about battles and political maneuvering dull, dull, dull. Reading about sword fights is something that I loved as a teenager (had a brief obsession with swashbuckling, induced by an overindulgence in Dumas), but now leaves me cold. These books make me want to read about made up politics, made up history, and made up battles, and they do it with clear, workman prose. They do it by playing a card that normally makes me want to strangle the writer, but they are so good at it that I enjoy the game: the characters tell you the story, but they deliberately keep you in the dark. I don't know how she does it.

The God of the Hive
by: Laurie R. King

My very favourite mystery series is about Sherlock Holmes and his wife. The first book (The Beekeeper's Apprentice) is a gorgeous, delicious slice of brilliance. The following books are all fun romps, really well put together puzzles that don't disappoint when you get to the end--the nicest kind of story for reading in bed. This one was unusually fractured, and unusual in that it took away the usual thrill of a murder mystery by giving up its villain very early. By sacrificing that, the book is able to offer the excitement of watching a story burn up from both ends. All those horror movie conventions of yelling at someone to not go into that dark room apply.

Fight Club

by: Chuck Palahniuk

OK, so you must know how the movie adaptation blows your mind. It does it so very cheerfully and baldly that you start to feel bad for your own misguided expectation of conventional reality. Sorry, you say. I should've known. At least, that's how I felt the first time I saw it. The book is much the same. Except that you're seeing it from inside, so the shuddering of reality is much more claustrophobic because you've been building up the world inside your head and then -- wham!-- you've got it all wrong and turned inside out, and that dizzy feeling that comes from looking at one of those optical illusion pictures, right at the moment when it turns from "An Old Woman With an Enormous Nose" to "A Young Woman Looking Over Her Shoulder," jumps up and down on you with entirely unsympathetic glee.

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