After 50+ years of reading an unbalanced proportion of mystery/whodunnit books, I recently came to the conclusion that there are almost no new and original plots and it’s finally time to seek out the occasional book in a different genre. I don’t want anything unusual, all I want is a good story well told … but heavens that is proving pretty damned hard to find.
And so, earlier today I put out an appeal via facebook to some of my more literary-minded friends for their suggestions and have been supplied with a short list of recommendations (see the end of this post) that I shall approach with a reasonably open mind in the next few weeks and months – but I think parts of it are going to be hard going. Nil desperandum.
The trouble is that while I don’t know what I really want, I do have some very firm ideas born out of a lifetime’s experience, on what does not constitute a “good read” in my eyes. Naturally, these are mostly books that the literati consider beyond reproach! Clearly I have good taste.
Book reviews and synopses are useful. Amongts the sorts of books I emphatically will not be even glancing at are the following (the review quotes are all culled from Booker type prize winning novels by the way):
- “a tale of three girls experiencing friendship and loss during a summer in Florida”
- “… a group of men gather each year to reënact the moment, in 1985, when the Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s right leg was snapped, live on “Monday Night Football.”
- “ … the story of August and her friends Gigi, Angela, and Sylvia, four adolescents in nineteen-seventies Brooklyn who are “sharing the weight of growing up”.
- “a masterfully written novel in jamaican patois that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.”. That book, god help us, won the Booker last year – isn’t it a subject more suited to non-fiction?
- The author who apparently writes of “characters full of grief and longing, but also replete with grace” … what on earth does that mean?
- Anything at all that involves juvenile angst and growing pains, family interactions with painful emoting, deep psychoanalyses of why characters do what they do (I just want them to get on and do it), etc. There must be absolutely no romance or general sloppiness between characters; can’t be doing with that stuff. Bodices will remain firmly unripped and upper lips will all be stiff.
- Basically, I do not need or intend to be to be “deeply moved” by anything in a novel. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable.
The best prize winning book I recall reading in recent years was from the Booker (see, I’m not a complete Philistine) – I think it won in 2013. Called The Luminaries it was excellent and it just got on with telling its story without getting sidetracked – why can’t other authors do likewise?
I simply require a good story well told in good, gramatically correct prose that sticks to the plot and doesn’t bother me with “relationships”. Of course, even the best of authors can go astray – reading the back cover of Witch Wood by the splendid John Buchan earlier today I noted that the plot, which up to this point had sounded good and interesting, “also involves a love story based on Scottish ballads”. Heavens above, Buchan and love stories do not go together … what was the man thinking?
And so, I now have a little list of suggestions from chums – mostly available as e-books, I wouldn’t want any trees to suffer on this quest – that will keep me quite for a while. Hard to know where to start but at the moment it’s the following. The one about hedgehogs sounds a promising place to start – though I will lay good money that no hedgehogs appear in the tale.
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman.
- The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester
- The Sharing Knife series (3 volumes) by Lois McMasters Bujold
- The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
- Roald Dahl’s “adult” books and stories
- All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
- The soul of an octopus by Sy Montgomery
- How Late it Was, How late by James Kelman.
- Various suggested authors (almost none of whom I have heard of) including – Helen Dunmore, Rose Tremain, Tracy Chevalier, Pat Barker, John Irvine, John Le Carre
We shall see. Tally ho – and thanks to the many chums who have compiled my list.