Book Diary – July 2012

‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

Thursday 28th June – Monday 2nd July

It’s hard to properly convey my feelings about this book. I picked it up on a vague impulse, merely to break the stream of Scandinavian detective stories I have lined up and yet as I read it I became convinced that this was no ordinary book.

The basic premise is very simple. It is set in the not-too-distant future, in America, after some catastrophic event which has rendered the world a wasteland. A father and son are walking south across the devastation.

The brilliance of this book lies in how quickly the reader becomes emotionally involved. The man and his son are never given names, nor described in terms of physical appearance or personality, and yet the strength of their relationship and the balance of power quickly becomes clear. The book is suffused with a sense of impending doom and from about page four onwards I cared deeply about the two main characters. Despite fearing what I might find, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

McCarthy’s distinctive style fits perfectly with the book. He doesn’t bother with any punctuation other than capital letters and full-stops, and yet manages in his brief sentences to give a very vivid description of the world in all its desolation. The lack of speech marks around the dialogue also helps to increase the sense of silence and stillness in an environment in which the only two living things are the main characters.

Cormac McCarthy has admitted that this book was written as a “love letter” to his son and, though I don’t think I’m one to really go in for ‘deep and meaningful’ readings of books, songs or the like, I was genuinely affected by the story.

I am usually pretty useless when it comes to seeing the underlying metaphor in books and films, but I’m convinced that this book is an allegorical tale of parenthood and watching a child grow up.

The only things that keeps me from putting this right up the top of my all-time favourite books list is the ending. I don’t want to give anything away as I would wholeheartedly recommend ‘The Road’ to everyone, so all I will say is that the ending is rather cryptic in the same way as the last few pages of ‘No Country For Old Men’ was. I re-read the last couple of pages to see if I had missed the significance of the very end, but came out none the wiser. However, I will definitely read ‘The Road’ again in the future and see if it makes more sense the second time around.

Disgrace’ by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Tuesday 3rd July – Monday 9th July

After enjoying ‘Mercy’ so much, I pre-ordered the follow-up, ‘Disgrace’ ahead of its publication in English and when it arrived in the latter half of June, it jumped ahead of several other books on my ‘To Read’ pile.

I was a little disappointed.

Maybe liking the predecessor heightened my expectations to an unfulfillable level (I do have a nasty habit of hyping authors, bands, artists and the like in my own head, wishing them into the status of as-near-as-perfectly-aligned-with-my-tastes until they can only disappoint me); maybe the problem was that it followed a very good book in ‘The Road’ and almost any book would pale by comparison (after all, Mark Kermode’s book suffered much the same fate); maybe it just isn’t as good a book as ‘Mercy’. Either way, I didn’t enjoy it as much.

It had a number of problems which prevented me from liking it wholeheartedly. Firstly, it seemed very long. Neither ‘Disgrace’ nor ‘Mercy’ are short books, but this felt longer. The plot seemed a little sluggish and it wasn’t helped by characters who fell into many of the crime novel clichés about which I have ranted before. When there are a range of bad guys to choose from, and virtually none have any redeeming features, it’s hard to get emotionally involved in the plot as the only person you care about is the detective and you know that there is a later book in the series so it’s pretty clear that he’s not going to come to any harm.

I hope I can simply dismiss this is Difficult Second Book syndrome and the third in the series, ‘Redemption’ will restore my affections for Jussi Adler-Olsen’s work. Unfortunately, that isn’t published until Spring 2013 which is a long time to wait with the aftertaste of disappointment lingering.

Reassuringly for me, many of my sentiments are echoed here (I must stress that I hadn’t read this review either before reading the book or writing my own thoughts down).

‘Fly By Wire: The Geese, The Glide, The ‘Miracle’ On The Hudson’ by William Langewiesche

Tuesday 10th July – Abandonded Wednesday 11th July

I made it 36 pages into this book before giving up. The story of the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ could – should – be more interesting than this book manages to make it.

The main problem is the excessive level of irrelevant detail the author goes into when describing the events leading up to the crash. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the statistical breakdown of the passengers by age, sex, weight and even seating arrangements. It’s almost as if this was a court transcript from the post-accident investigation which somehow ended up published and available to the general public.

‘Headhunters’ by Jo Nesbo

Monday 16th July – Wednesday 18th July

After a surprisingly long hiatus caused by mild book fatigue, a lack of inspiration as to what to read next and a weekend occupied by a stag do, I am back reading again.

I originally saw the film of this book in the cinema earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was very impressed by the black humour and clever plotting.

The film follows the book very closely, and while I enjoyed the book too, I thought that the film somehow had more to it – more subtlety, more nuances, a touch more humour. I felt it did a better job of explaining the story too, whereas the book has a slightly clunky interview with the investigating policeman at the end which joins the dots and fills in the gaps which have been left by the preceding pages.

Overall, a fun book to read and a positive introduction to the writing of Jo Nesbo. I would probably describe this as ideal holiday reading in the most complimentary way.


3 thoughts on “Book Diary – July 2012

  1. Thanks for the link to my review. Like you, I very much enjoyed Mercy, so it is a pity that Disgrace did not develop some of the more unusual (for crime fiction) elements in that, and went for the standard-villain approach. According to a Danish reader I know, the books do get better, so let’s hope.

  2. Can’t believe I missed this Phil!

    The Road – Sorry, I can’t read this review as this book is on my To Read list. I enjoyed the first 40 pages I read but then lost my copy so I intend to buy another and finish it. I wonder if the film version was any good?

    Scandi-crime – Not my cup of tea I’m afraid, but I do like reading your opinion on them.

    Fly by Wire – Think you have done a good job pinpointing why it’s not a good read. There’s a time and place for details, but considering it is a book on what happened, to give such details about all the passengers on board screams of having a word limit to pad out.

    War and Peace – Wow, good luck with that.

    Phil, read Catch 22!

    • ‘War and Peace’ isn’t too bad. I think it benefits from the fact that it was translated in the 20th Century, so the language is not only changed to English but modern English. The challenge comes from the fact that the actual text itself is very densely packed on the page and there’s 1600+ of the blighters! So you read what would be a fair chunk of any other book, and your bookmark hardly seems to have moved.

      I do have a copy of ‘Catch 22’ somewhere, and tried it a while ago but found it tough going for some reason. I’ll have another crack at it though if it comes with your recommendation!

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