I watch True Blood, but I am not a fan. I don’t like Anna Paquin’s performance, and Stephen Moyer makes my skin crawl. I watch True Blood for Eric, I swoon over True Blood for Eric, I rewind and pause True Blood for Eric. So that, plus my monomaniacal loathing of all things Twilight might have you wondering why on earth I would go to the trouble of downloading this audiobook for my gym and running sessions. Why indeed? It just sort of happened, and now that it has, it’s not right but it’s ok. I won’t be reappraising the ghastly TV Sookie’n’Bill any time soon, but I didn’t mind this book.
For any of you who don’t know already, Sookie Stackhouse is a telepathic waitress in rural Louisiana. Vampires have recently ‘come out of the coffin’, although they are still something of a rarity in Sookie’s hometown. All that changes when Bill Compton, veteran of the American Civil War, walks into the bar where she works. The two are thrown together when Sookie saves his life, and before long they’ve fallen into bed, and in love. Alongside this unusual love story is a murder-mystery, as someone is killing local chicks who’ve got history with vampires. Sookie looks like she’s lined up to be the next victim, and her brother Jason is the prime suspect.
The murder element of the plot had much more traction in the book than I remember from the TV show, which is part of the reason I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Johanna Parker’s reading is another. She manages to overcome the more banal sequences (much of the book is given over to descriptions of what Sookie is putting on as she gets dressed, down to the colour of the scrunchy she has put over the elastic band that’s holding her ponytail in place), and gives Sookie a voice that is down-home without quite being hokey. Sookie is selfish and frightened, but also loves her friends and family, and really cares about what happens to them. Johanna Parker gives her dignity and stops her from coming across as shrill (Anna Paquin, take note).
This is a strange, disquieting, upsetting book. It is dream-like and confusing, while being very well-written. Having said that, I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t see how you can ‘enjoy’ reading a book about a brutal world intruding into the existence of a fragile idiot savant. Terrible things happen.
Michael K is a simple man, in every sense of the word. Living in a South Africa riven by civil war, Michael’s in his thirties, and his hare-lip and learning disabilities mean that his existence is limited to his work as a municipal gardener in Cape Town and taking care of his invalid mother. Illness has meant that she can no longer work as a domestic for a rich family who live in a luxury apartment overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and she wants nothing more than to die on the farm where she was born. So with nothing more than a cart Michael has made, very little money and no official papers, the pair set out on their journey. It is winter, and after a short time Anna is in hospital, where she dies, leaving Michael alone. Before long, Michael is picked up by the authorities, and finds himself in a work camp. What follows is a surreal chain of events that sees him escape, nearly starve to death in the mountains, cultivate pumpkins on an abandoned farm, be arrested again and kept in the prison hospital before escaping once more to return to the coast.
The sense of the chasm between the haves and have-nots is intense in this novel. Anna K lives in a small room under the stairs in the apartment block, a room intended for the air conditioning equipment. The book also seethes with injustice, whether it’s the unfairness of Anna K’s life, her ignominious death, the exploitation of refugees in the work camp, or Michael’s incarceration. What’s interesting is that despite the books subject matter, it somehow doesn’t come across as political. Michael isn’t accepting of his fate, but in his repeated escapes from imprisonment and refusal to eat he isn’t making a statement, he’s just doing what feels right for him.
This is an interesting, charming little book. While no classic, it is noteworthy as it is the first outing of David Cornwell as John Le Carré and provides the introduction of George Smiley.
The plot hinges upon a murder mystery, is set against the backdrop of the cold war and features characters we’ll get to know better in the Karla Trilogy. Unlike the later Smiley novels however Call for the Dead is more focused on the solving of a crime than it is international espionage, and reveals much more about Smiley’s emotional life. Fascinatingly this includes his courtship of, marriage to and first estrangement from ‘the demon Ann’, a character who is so absent but so crucial to Smiley’s battle with Karla.
The crime in question is the apparent suicide of a civil servant from the Foreign Office, who kills himself in his Surrey home a matter of hours after meeting with Smiley. Smarting as his boss points the finger, Smiley’s spidey-sense is set a-tingling when his initial interview with the widow throws up more questions than it answers. Working with a policeman who is on the eve of retirement, and the reliably glib Peter Guillam, Smiley digs deeper and uncovers a conspiracy that goes back to his years as a recruiter in pre-war Germany.
As I said, this is no classic. The writing and plot do show glimmers of the glory that was to come in Smiley’s People (read my review of that here), but the chapter headings, massive chunks of dialogue, and explanatory epistle from Smiley at the end are pretty clunky. It is worth a read though, if only to satisfy any curiosity you may have about Smiley himself.
Cannonball Read V: Book #51/52
Genre: Young Adult/Dystopian
This is going to be a short review because this series has been reviewed to death already and this is a re-read for me. I wanted to read it again before I saw the movie since I already forgot half of what happened since I last read it several years ago. I’m not going to re-hash the plot, because if you don’t already know it you’ve probably been living under a rock for the past two years.
Perhaps this is saving the best for last. Certainly my biggest feat in reading this year, I started Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in the summertime and didn’t finish until December this year. Again, it’s a SOLID three stars. Nearly a four. There’s some good stuff in this tome and it was the pacing of the story (if you come across an abridged version, I figure it might make good sense) and the opportunity to read so many other novels with, shall we say, more modern pacing simultaneously that slowed me down with my first foray into Russian literature. For me, I did not enjoy tagging along fly-on-the-wall style to all the meetings with Oblonsky and Karenin. I did enjoy the exploration of marriage and the three case studies offered in Anna & Karenin, Dolly& Stiva, and Kitty & Levin. I compared this element of Anna to similar explorations of marriage in Austen, but enjoyed the darker elements Tolstoy exposes moreso.
I was not expecting to become so engrossed. I admit I am a bit of a nut for wartime historical fiction, but In the Garden of Beasts:Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is outside this range on two accounts: it is a non-fiction account of an American ambassador in Germany and it is set in the pre-war period of 1930s Berlin. Nervous about these elements outside of the go-to for WW2 fiction, these turned out to be fascinating and completely compelling for me. I would go so far as to say I devoured this and felt it was a real page turner. I have recommended it to my dad – something I do not do lightly. Starship Troopers was the last title we discussed at length, although I may have convinced him to try Ursula Leguin with my Left Hand of Darkness Cannonball review (http://www.pajiba.com/book_reviews/the-left-hand-of-darkness-by-ursula-k-leguin.php).