I’ve done a bit of reading since Christmas.
I had read Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies before Christmas and requested more books by her and got six of them, all of which I’ve read. I like the way she writes. It’s basically Aussie Chick Lit, and they’re all constructed in the same way, but she does it very well. They’re all set in Sydney and the principal characters are all middle-class women (a few men get a very occasional look-in), and each book has two or three principal characters. The story is always told in segments from the point of view of a particular character, and the character from whose point of view the segment is written changes from each segment to the next. Background is given only incidentally and in snippets and Moriarty’s skill is to retain the reader’s interest right through until the whole story has emerged by the end of the book. As I said, I like her stuff and haven’t been disappointed by any of the novels I’ve read. She doesn’t write in clichés and she tells a strong story. And good on her for selling at least one of them to Netflix (where it was a big hit), although why Netflix thought they had to Americanise it (set in California instead of Bondi) is beyond me, and casting Nicole Kidman in it really only added insult to injury.
I’ve also read the new(ish) le Carré, A Legacy of Spies, which harks back not to The Spy who Came in from the Cold, but to the lead-up to it, the back-story as it were. I thought it was far better then a lot of his recent stuff, which seems to me to have been the product of research, whereas this is material with which he’s personally familiar. It’s not one of his very best – at the end, what we knew already from The Spy who Came in from the Cold is simply confirmed – but it’s worth a read.
The last one I read was The Only Story, by Julian Barnes. I find some of his novels quite good but some of them I can’t read. This was in the former category. It’s the story of a relationship between a 19 year old university student and a married woman of 47, set in the early 70s at the beginning and following it through until she is dead and he is old, today. I’m not a huge fan of Julian Barnes. I find him rather precious and self-absorbed, but I was intrigued enough by this book to read it in a single day (it’s only a couple of hundred pages).
Another book I got for Christmas was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, which won the Booker prize last year. The first thing I did was look up “bardo” in the dictionary and find that it’s from Buddhism, and it’s the state of being of a soul after the body it inhabited has died but before it enters another body and is reincarnated. The book is quite hard going and I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m getting there. Quite honestly, at the moment I don’t know whether it’s worth the effort. Its format is not easy; it’s told in tiny snippets, sometimes only part of a sentence, by a large number of individuals, including some historical sources that actually exist, and reference is made constantly to phenomena (gelatinous blobs floating in the air, for example) that only exist in the spirit-world that is the bardo. The central character is Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham, who died of typhoid in childhood aged about 12 or 13. Of course the reader knows that sometime later his father also died prematurely, but I don’t know yet whether that happens in the book or not. It’s quite intriguing and some parts are very touching, but I’m not sure whether it will all add up to anything much or not.
There’s a new Mick Herron out (another in the Slow Horses series) that my wife has read and assures me is right up there with the others, but I’m not going to read it until I’ve finished Lincoln. I’ve got it on audiobook as well as in print, and I’ll probably end up reading it both ways.