A group book post since I never got around to posting up recent reads individually. To be frank, none were amazing so I may as well bundle them together. First up, A Valley of Unknowing by Philip Sington, one of the books Daunt sent me last year as part of the fiction subscription. It took me a while to get through it, I stopped half way a month or so ago and only picked it up again last week in order to get it done, not because I was particularly enjoying it. It takes place in East Berlin during the early/ mid eighties and deals with fear, paranoia, insecurities – the usual sort of Eastern Block stuff and love. I found it tough going because there wasn’t anything particularly redeemable or interesting about the main character. I hoped this would change but it didn’t and there was no real depth to any of the other characters, even the love interest. Afraid I get bored with inner monologues that go on forever and this book felt like a one long inner monologue. It’s not meditative or poetic like a Kundera book and I just found it lacking depth overall.
Beloved gave me S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst for Christmas, which I enjoyed a lot more than the above. This story within a story within a story is a bit meta and took a while to get into and focus but once I did, I read it pretty quickly. It’s had quite a bit of press for the innovative design – it features a ‘book’ called Ship of Theseus by a chap called V.M. Straka, which a college girl finds in a library with some handwritten notes, she writes notes of her own and thus begins correspondence with a postgrad student to whom Straka’s book belongs. The pair also leave ephemera for each other in the book as they attempt to unravel mysteries and conspiracies surrounding the identity of author, his translator and various other interwar figures. As they correspond, their relationship deepens.
The outer packaging and the inner book. The relationship in the notes, ‘written’ in different colour pens over time (photo below) I found more interesting and engaging than the story of Ship of Theseus, although this was pretty good too. The actual search for Straka’s identity I found less plausible, mainly because here the fiction (Straka and the circle of people presumed to be Straka) is occasionally interwoven with real events and real characters. The historical elements, I thought, could have been better researched. The search for Straka’s identity then also slowly develops into discovery of a love story so on top of everything else there are several layers of love stories and not all of them work equally well. On top of that (see, full on meta!), the authors have left a few unsolved mysteries for readers to look into. So we’re in Lost territory and I was not a fan. Otherwise, I liked the idea of S, it reminded me a little of William Boyd and the trick he played on the gullible art world with the imaginary artist Nat Tate – although I am not sure whether Boyd deliberately set out to trick anyone. I liked the interactive elements and I liked the commitment it required of the reader. Example of the ‘interior’ below.
Finally, some quick sci fi/ fantasy kindle reads. Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson won several awards last year and sounded interesting: Arab spring, hacktivism, religion with elements of fantasy. Interestingly, I liked the religion bit the most – place of faith in modern society. The story revolved around a manuscript, a sort of an opposite of A Thousand and One Nights and I wished the manuscript text featured more, also the djinn, the ‘unseen’ supernatural characters. They were more interesting than the main characters, who were not particularly well developed and neither was the ending. An OK read I guess.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, I found out later, has been dubbed ‘biopunk’. This book, too, won awards a few years back and I enjoyed the concept although it wasn’t too original: Earth with fossil fuels used up, rising water levels and temperatures a la Drowned World, corporations engineering foods and AI and everything else. It’s fast paced and fun although it was running out of steam towards the end. Same with Redshirts by John Scalzi – this I haven’t even finished because it was running out of steam half way through. Struggled to about 70 something percent (on kindle again) but there’s no point in continuing. Beloved had to explain what ‘redshirts’ meant in Star Trek terms but Scalzi also does this, it seems unnecessarily. No idea why this book also won awards and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.