Book Diary – September 2012

‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid

Saturday 15th September – Sunday 16th September

Another recommendation from Mother, and another success for her.

As I have mentioned before, after reading a significant book there is always a danger that whichever book is next will suffer by comparison through no fault of its own. Luckily, in the case of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, this doesn’t happen , both because ‘War and Peace’ wasn’t as brilliant as it could have been, and because ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ is an interesting and distinctive story itself.

It is written as a monologue delivered by a twenty-something Pakistani Muslim, with the reader cast as his unnamed American audience. It works well as a method of delivery for the tale of Changez’s transition from pro- to anti-Americanism around the time of 9/11.

My main criticism would be that as a brief story (it clocks in at 209 pages) and one written in quite an amiable tone, it sometimes feels a little too light and as such lacks a certain amount of emotional impact. As the majority of the story is written in the past tense it leaves the reader clear that events has transpired and so there is little or no tension. Despite this, it got me thinking (particularly the open and ambiguous ending), and contains some neat reversals of the reader’s preconceptions. The fundamentalism of the title is not the religious fundamentalism we expect but the capitalist fundamentalism expected of Changez from his job in America.

The interesting thing is that it is the ambiguous ending which causes you to re-evaluate all you have read before. It makes the reader question the honesty and innocence of the narrator and doubt whether the initial meeting between him and the character the reader inhabits is really as chance as it seemed at first.

‘Eric Coates on: Scale Aircraft For Free Flight’ edited by Vic Smeed

Monday 17th September – Thursday 20th September

This is the first of five books I’m planning to read on the subject of flying models. I was trying to read them in a sensible order, and start off with the most basic. However, I made a mistake in reading this first. That’s not to say it is a bad book, but it is quite detailed and is written for someone with a decent level of experience in the free flight field. It’s other main problem is that it seems to have been written in an era when people were more accustomed to building such things, and so comes across as a little dated in places. As a result, a lot of what was written went right over my head though I’m sure if I stick at balsa model building and re-read it in a couple of years it will make a lot more sense.

The other drawback is that it deals only with biplanes. The author states early on that he feels these are the best suited to scale free flight and from then on makes virtually no reference to building later monoplanes.

I have also come to the conclusion that it is difficult to read these type of books cover to cover and hope to make best use of them. It makes more sense to read the relevant chapter(s) as I go along through a build. Therefore, I’m unlikely to read any more of them in a way that will result in them appearing in here (since I’m likely to read them at the same time as a more standard novel or non-fiction book). I will have to put in an appendix, or something similar of books I have dipped in and out of throughout the year so that they don’t all fall through the cracks and disappear from the record.

‘The Savage Altar’ by Åsa Larsson

Thursday 20th September – Thursday 27th September

I was quite looking forward to reading this book, having heard good things about it, and possibly even influenced by the usual glowing cover quotes. It’s also a prize winner (Sweden’s best first crime novel award, as you may be able to see on the cover).

Maybe these heightened expectations simply gave me further to fall, but I was extremely disappointed by the book. The characters were pretty cliched, the plot as formulaic as they come (honestly, the final act of the book is preceded by the main character taking two children in her care to a remote lodge in a forest during a snowstorm because she believes they’ll be safer there!). I felt myself rolling my eyes at points as things were so clunky as to be ridiculous.

This is also going to cause me to give vent to two subjects which have been bothering me. Firstly, the murder in this is pretty gruesome. I’m tired of this. I may have written about this before, but I am fed up of authors thinking that by making the deaths in their stories as gory and horrific as possible they are doing something original. I think what makes the Martin Beck novels much better than this is the fact that the murders in them are much more mundane, and so believable. This in turn makes the crime a bit more unsettling as it is the sort of thing you read about every week or so.

Secondly, I wonder if half of the problem I had with this book is that it has women cast as three of the four main protagonists. I don’t want to sound sexist (though I suspect I do), but I think I find it hard to get into a book if I can’t relate to the main character(s) in some way, and I find it hard to relate to female characters. I struggled a little with the two Laura Lippman novels I read last year. I suspect they were no better or worse than many of the detective stories I read but they contained a female lead and so I was less engaged than I perhaps should have been. I realise that this is a fault which lies entirely with me, but it’s one I suspect I will struggle to remedy.

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