Thursday, 14 March 2013

What I've been reading lately...

Here's what I've been immersed in recently, when I've been reading. Three books that draw you completely into their worlds, surround you with great characters in the midst of impossible situations - and drag you towards endings that seem perfectly inevitable and satisfying when you get there.

'A Cottage by the Sea' by Carole Matthews looks like it's going to languid, tranquil, holidayish and sweet - but once you're in that Welsh hideaway in this summery novel you find it's a hotbed of seething frustration, secrets and desire. Six very diverse and lovable characters are assembled for a week in this gorgeous, cut-off spot and Matthews carefully unravels each of their relationships - setting them down in new combinations and possibilities as their innermost depths are brought to the surface. Everyone will fall for Noah, I'm sure - he's just about the perfect love object in a novel like this. Flick drove me mad, though - and I don't know why the other two women ever stayed friends with her. And watch out for what happens with the golf club and the car at the end! But I don't want to spoil any of it.

Then I picked up a spooky thriller by Christopher Ransom - which turned out to be an out-and-out zombie novel. I'd noticed his books - four of them - knocking around in the Works, three for a fiver. (Btw, can I just say i love The Works? They stock remainders and books that would never make it to Waterstones, or if they did it'd just be in single copies on the shelf. I think people who'd feel intimidated by Waterstones even in its more customer-friendly incarnation feel happier shopping in the cheap and cheerfully brash The Works.

Goodness, but Ransom gets some stinking reader reviews on Amazon! I think he writes very well and compellingly. There are some stunning scenes in this Gothy novel about the creepy-family-next-door (ah, but who's the creepier..? Us or the neighbours..?) I loved the kids' birthday party that turns thoroughly nasty. I loved some of the suburban, domestic scenes of horror that reminded me very much of the recent 'Paranormal Activity' movies. I wasn't so chuffed with the flashbacks to the radioactive island, though.

I think there's a problem with Ransom messing with unreliable memories, narrators, switching points of view and introducing quite a slangy, cluttered, stream of consciousness register. This kind of impedes his story-telling. It makes you realise how smooth Stephen King keep his writing - and how skilled that is - even in a multi-pov complicated novel. Even when King hasn't got anything to say.

I think Ransom has a lot to say in this - it's a novel about the world economy tanking and the rise of the debt zombies! But he just needs to smooth it and calm down a little - and trust in his characters and their dramas. We don't actually need the writerly pyrotechnics.

Lastly and most recently, I've been reading Julie Cohen's novel, 'Dear Thing', which comes out in April - so i might be writing about it too soon here. Nevertheless, I just want to say it's a beautifully written book. It's about a woman who offers to have a child for a happily married couple, and about the seemingly inevitable tensions and dramas that spin out from that. Every one of these characters is alive and vivid - from Romily, the surrogate, hidden away at work in the museum with her cabinet of dead Victorian insects - to the slightly spiky and not always sympathetic music teacher, Claire. I've been living with them all for nearly a week - and was so pleased last night with the way that everything worked out, when I got to the end. There's some really breath-taking drama here - some turnabouts just when you think you know where it's heading - some extremely visceral writing about pregnancy and childbirth... and a spot-on ending. It's an immensely satisfying tale.

Whoops - i've gone on too long this morning. But this is what I've been reading. How about you?

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