Book vs Adaptation: N OR M? by Agatha Christie

The book

N_or_M_US_First_Edition_Cover_1941Tommy Beresford and Prudence ‘Tuppence’ Cowley  are first introduced as the somewhat unlikely young heroes of Agatha Christie’s second published mystery novel THE SECRET ADVERSARY in 1922. They appear a few years later in a collection of short stories and, more than a decade after that, in this novel. Unlike Christie’s other serial protagonists the Beresfords (they become engaged at the end of the first novel) age in real-time so here, following the outbreak of the second world war, they are begrudgingly inhabiting middle age. Their adult children are involved in the war effort but though both have offered their services neither of the senior Beresfords are required. That is until Tommy is approached to uncover the identity of fifth columnists working against the British who are thought to be hiding at a seaside guest house. Overhearing his conversation and unwilling to be left out of the adventure, Tuppence inveigles herself into events as well and, with the help of a faithful old friend, they unmask some truly dastardly spies.

Although a thriller rather than detective novel the book does use some elements of Christie’s successful formula. The beach-side boarding house, with its odd assortment of guests and staff, bares a marked resemblance to the country houses in which many of her tales are set and the protagonists are on the trail of a who-will-do-it if not the classic whodunnit. But there are departures from her standard fare too, not least due to the more political nature of the story. I suppose that’s not surprising given its release during war time, though clearly the book’s main aim is to be uplifting at the difficult time as it maintains the air of a romp even with its dark themes and realistic tone. Indeed the book even caught the eye of authorities because one of its characters is named Bletchley (at that time a very secret code-breaking facility) but this was an apparent coincidence.

In many ways Tommy and Tuppence are Christie’s most realistic characters and I wonder if it is this that has made them less popular than her solo creations. Do we prefer our fictional heroes to be larger than life rather than people quite like us? Unlike Poirot or Marple the Beresfords have domestic tensions and face the realities of life, like actually aging, even while drama unfolds all around them.

N OR M? is complicated but believable and its twisted ending is among Christie’s most devilish. The cast of potential suspects is all a bit familiar (now) but this is still a thoroughly enjoyable tale and not as dated as some of Christie’s other stories. In fact the issue at the heart of the novel, why and how a country might be betrayed by people from within, is as fresh now as it was in 1941.

The adaptation

AgathaChristiePartnersInCrime2015For the past couple of decades televised adaptations of Dame Christie’s more popular works have proven a gold mine for her estate and producers alike. But having completed filming all the Poirot stories with world-wide favourite David Suchet and begun scraping the bottom of the narrative barrel with the less voluminous Marple tales, it was probably inevitable that someone would bring Christie’s crime-fighting duo, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, to the small screen again even though the characters are less well known. To that end the BBC aired two 3-part adaptations of Tommy and Tuppence stories earlier this year. N OR M? is the second of these and presumably the last we’ll see of this particular incarnation as the series has not been renewed.

The most noticeable thing about the adaptation is its almost total lack of connection to its source material. I am not such a stickler for authenticity that this fact in itself would have deterred me but the changes made here make for a fairly preposterous standalone narrative. Set a decade later than the novel, the adaptations plays out as if they keystone cops were running MI5 – there is much bumbling and fumbling – and for some inexplicable reason the one of the baddies is revealed at the outset. There’s little enough drama in this absurd tale that it could afford to give away its own spoiler.

I suppose the source material for these characters is problematic because they age so dramatically across the stories. If such a jump is impossible for a hoped-for long-running TV series, due to the difficulties of aging both the actors and their surroundings, then the producers might have been better off opting for an older couple even if they chose to set the stories in a different time. Or at the very least they needed a more credible couple. In the lead roles David Walliams and Jessica Raine do not exhibit much in the way of chemistry and Walliams in particular seems entirely miscast. His playing of Tommy as a well-dressed buffoon doesn’t sit well with the character’s depicted role. It is inconceivable to an audience who watched the first adventure that even a truly desperate MI5 would ask for his assistance again. Raine is a better fit, showing the spunk and intelligence that Christie gave the character, but she’s not given a great deal to work with script-wise.

The elements that work best in the source material – Tommy and Tuppence’s relationship and the authenticity of the spy romp – are both entirely missing from this adaptation. And even though Raine’s ever-changing hats are to die for they don’t make up for this otherwise lackluster affair.

The winner?

N OR M? isn’t Christie’s best work but it’s still a cut above the pastiche that its adaptation became. A shorter script (the adaptation did not need to be nearly 3 hours long) and a more credible Tommy might have made the match more even but it’s hard to tell. I’m glad the series aired on local TV so I only wasted time not money to watch it.

Have you read the book and/or seen the adaptation? Agree or disagree with me? Have I missed something vital? Has anyone seen the 1980’s adaptations of the Tommy and Tuppence novels that were done for TV? Are they worth the small fortune they would cost at our current exchange rate for me to procure?

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Catching Up (the reviews that will never be #2)

For the second time this year I’ve been reading more than reviewing and have decided not to attempt to turn my rambling half-remembrances into fully fledged reviews.

TheBlondesSchultzThe recommendations that come my way via Clothes in Books are generally good ones so I expected to enjoy THE BLONDES by Emily Schultz. Alas on this occasion I was not as enthralled as I had hoped to be. It is a dystopian tale in which an absurd plague descends upon the world. Blonde women, natural or died, are susceptible to a virus which makes them go on murderous rages. Mayhem, fear-mongering and internment camps ensue. My lack of enjoyment wasn’t related to the enormous suspension of disbelief required (promise). Rather it stemmed from the book trying too hard to satirise too many aspects of our modern world. The list of subjects the book takes a dig at includes academia, gender issues, the media, the war on terror, pop culture and advertising. Although it’s quite a hefty tome there’s no real chance for any of these issues to be unpicked with much depth and I found that pretty frustrating. I was also not particularly engaged by the book’s protagonist: a young PhD student who recounts the book’s events to the unborn baby she is reluctantly carrying, having spent a lot of time unsuccessfully trying to obtain an abortion. I found Hazel a fairly insipid, lumbering presence with little agency of her own for most of the book and struggled to care whether she lived or died. As always, other opinions are available on this book and a lot of them are different to mine.

TheMusubiMurderAudioI visited Hawaii on the seventh stage of my Reading USA Fiction challenge with an audio book version of Frankie Bow’s THE MUSUBI MURDER. This is a modern cosy novel in which an unpopular business man who has recently made a significant donation to the local University, is killed on Hawaii’s Big Island. The story’s protagonist and amateur sleuth is Molly Barda, a young economics lecturer who, with the help of the requisite quirky friends and colleagues, manages to hunt down the killer. There’s a lot of humour in the story, nicely drawn out with the excellent narration of the audio book by Nicole Gose, and the plot hangs together well enough but I did find it a little repetitive and unfocused at times. However the insights into modern academic life, including the ridiculous lengths institutions go to these days to keep students was very realistic. And undoubtedly not nearly as funny in real life as portrayed here. The setting, language and food did seem authentically Hawaiin and made me want to go back for another (real world) visit.

NarrowRoadI suppose I can say I finished Richard Flanagan’s THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH though it took me more than a year and I don’t really have any sense of having completed the book as I only took in small chunks at a time. I did not find the combination of awkward love story (honestly parts of this read like the bastard-child of Austen and Cartland to me) and brutal prisoner of war experiences as insightful as almost everyone else (including the judges for last year’s Man Booker Prize) has done.

Review: LITTLE BLACK LIES by Sharon Bolton

LittleBlackLiesBoltonAudioSharon Bolton seems to revel in depicting small, often isolated communities in which ordinary people hide dark secrets. She has previously written compellingly cloying tales of suspense set in several worrisome English villages as well as one set in the Shetland isles. In LITTLE BLACK LIES she takes us to Stanley on the Falkland Islands, nearly 500km east of the closest land mass. It is the mid-90’s – a decade or so after the war – and several children have gone missing in recent years. Locals seem to have accepted that the disappearances are unrelated and accidental but readers are forced to confront the notion something more sinister is going on.

The story is told as a kind of three act relay. First we meet Catrin Quinn: conservation worker and grief-stricken mother. Three years ago her two young sons died in a horrifying accident that resulted from her best friend’s temporary inattentiveness. The subsequent trauma undoubtedly played a huge role in her losing the baby she was carrying at the time. These days Catrin is barely functioning and, far from drawing closer to forgiveness with passing time, revenge is occupying her thoughts. At a key moment, plot-wise, Catrin hands the storytelling baton to Callum Murray an ex-soldier who fought in the Falklands War and is still suffering as a result of the things he did and saw then. For the final act Callum makes way for Rachel, Catrin’s former best friend who is searching for a redemption that may never come, no matter what she is prepared to give up to achieve it.

If you’re looking for a procedural story about missing children you need to go elsewhere because this is book isn’t really about missing children at all (and yes for fans of Wittertainment I do mean this in the same way that Jaws isn’t really about sharks). It’s about the three central characters – ordinary people all of them – coping – or not – with the awful things that happen to and around them. These are not bad people doing bad things, or even – really – good people doing bad things. These are good people to whom bad shit has happened. Although each person appears in all sections of the book it is through their respective first-hand accounts of events past and present that we learn most about what makes each one tick. This kind of storytelling can be a bit of a train wreck (I’m thinking of this book for example) but Bolton has done a superb job of showing how the same events can look so very different depending on whose perspective things are seen from and tempting readers’ sympathies to pass from one character to the next as each one takes on the central role.

That’s not to say there isn’t a ripper of a story going on here as well. It’s a nail biter on more than one occasion with all the twists and turns that are the inevitable result of no one having a complete picture. And – as always – Bolton’s setting is wonderfully depicted. The remoteness of the islands, the slow recovery from the war and the way that small populations behave are all brought to life very vividly. Several reviews I’ve read were displeased with one particularly gruesome, and in some ways tangential scene, but I thought it was well placed as it helped show how life is in such places. Even in the days before mass bullying by social media became the norm it was easy for people to become outraged about things they know little about and Bolton demonstrates this very well here.

I listened to the audio version of this book which had three terrific narrators who really helped deliver the sense that the storytelling was passing from one person to the next. I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes the format. In fact my only criticism of the book would have been that I was felling disappointed by the way the ending was heading – it was just a bit too happy – but then there was a final dark twist I had failed to predict so even on that front the book delivers. Great stuff.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Lucy Price-Lewis, Kenny Blythe & Antonia Beamish
Publisher Random House Audio [2015]
Length 11 hours 34 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone

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Review: WINTER’S BONE by Daniel Woodrell

Winter's Bone - Woodrell, Dani8797fI’ve seen Daniel Woodrell’s writing variously categorised as country noir, hillbilly noir and – my personal favourite – hick lit but I’m not sure any of these labels give an accurate picture of the sensibility a new reader might expect to encounter. For me it is – at least by the example of WINTER’S BONE – closer to something like misery lit without the redemptive ending.

That probably sounds harsher than I mean it to. Or maybe I do mean to be that harsh. I’m honestly not sure.

My difficulties stem in part from the book’s almost universal acclaim which set such high expectations. As I read I could not help but look for, and fail to find, the brilliant book I had been promised.

That’s not to say the book is bad.

Its heroine – a 16 year old called Ree Dolly – is a heartbreaker. The oldest child of a crank chef she has not a single one of the modern world’s advantages despite living in the globe’s ninth richest country. The book’s central dramatic premise is that Ree’s father has gone on the run after putting up the family’s meagre property as collateral for his bail. His failure to appear for his next court date will result in the loss of the house that Ree lives in with her drug-addled mother and two younger brothers whose care she is entirely responsible for. Ree’s desperation to save the home is only partly in pursuit of a roof over the family’s heads. She also believes that if she fails she will never be able to join the Army: the only escape available to someone in her circumstances. So she looks for her father in spite of the physical barriers (just getting around the remote and inhospitable location) and very real dangers posed by breaching the unwritten but well understood rules of engagement within the extended family community in which she lives.

The writing is evocative and for the most part gloriously sparse. This description of Ree setting off on the first step of her quest says in five sentences what other writers would take five pages to convey

She broke her own trail through the snow and booted the miles from her path. The morning sky was grey and crouching, the wind had snap and drew water to her eyes. She wore a green hooded sweatshirt and Mamaw’s black coat. Ree nearly always wore a dress or skirt, but with combat boots, and the skirt this day was a bluish plaid. Her knees kicked forward of the plaid when she threw her long legs forward and stomped the snow.

Woodrell also makes extensive use of a dialect that is at times as foreign to me as Swedish but somehow manages to be comprehensible as a whole while helping provide the sense of otherness the book drips with.

For this is not a world I know. The Missouri depicted here is physically and emotionally harsh. These Ozark mountains are not those of tourism brochures or cultural reclamation festivals and the people who populate the area have little room in their lives for the human courtesies I have taken for granted my entire life. Their choices aren’t so much limited as non existent – make drugs, take drugs or both. Insanity – Ree’s mother’s path – seems a sensible option. I have no trouble believing that the lives depicted here are entirely credible but I have no real understanding of how a person living anything vaguely similar in the real world would find the motivation to wake up each day.

And perhaps I should be happy with this. A great character, good writing and a glimpse into a world I can be profoundly grateful to never have encountered.

But, ornery creature that I am, it feels like there is something missing. It’s hard to put into words but the best I can come up with is that there is no change of tone in this novel. It starts out bleak and ends that way, with never any hint that things will be another way. I’ve always thought that what makes truly great noir is its offering of a glimmer of hope that things might not turn out badly this one time. Kind of like buying a lotto ticket: your head knows you’ve an infinitesimally small chance of winning but your imagination is temporarily sparked by the fleeting possibilities. WINTER’S BONE doesn’t offer that.

My conclusion then? That the novel is less than the sum of its parts. When considered independently each element of WINTER’S BONE is close to brilliant but as a whole it left me wanting something…just a little something…more.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

USAFictionChallengeButtonThis is the sixth book I’ve read that I’m including in my quest to complete the Reading USA Fiction Challenge for which I’ll read books set in each of the USA (and one for the District of Columbia). My personal twist is that all the books are by new (to me) authors.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Back Bay Books [2006]
ISBN 9780316066419
Length 193 Pages
Format paperback
Book Series standalone

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TheLifeChangingMagicOfTid24774RT3Q_f I am the daughter of two hoarders – the type who could easily have had one of those embarrassing reality TV shows made about them – and have had to sort on my own through mountains of their accumulated detritus twice. Once when they moved from the home my mother had lived in for 75 years and again 10 years later when they had to move into a nursing home rather suddenly. Perhaps because of this (or perhaps because I was born an anti-hoarder) I have grown to hate stuff. For years now I’ve been following minimalsim blogs and dreaming longingly of living in a tiny house and generally attempting to have as little stuff as possible but never feeling like I’ve achieved quite the right amount. And so I came, somewhat warily because I don’t really “do” self-help books, to THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by professional Japanese declutterer Marie Kondo.

To be technically correct it’s not a self-help book. At least not at my local bookstore where I hunted it down in the hobbies section. Who knew cleaning was a hobby? But a rose by any other name and all that. It is a book that describes a problem and offers a step-by-step solution to that problem. Some aspects of this solution are entirely practical and some are the same kind of hippy dippy nonsense that turns me off the entire self-help industry. In Marie Kondo’s world, for example, one’s socks (and all other inanimate objects) have feelings. What the…?

At 240 pages of large-ish font and a higher than normal amount of white space the book is a short read which is in its favour. As is its structure which is simple and sensible. There is a relatively short section describing the problem the book is going to help readers resolve – called keeping one’s house in order here – and then dives into the solution. In summary that solution is to sort through one’s accumulated stuff in an order that Kondo has devised over time based on her experiences with clients to allow people to deal withe the easiest stuff first. The focus is on what to keep (rather than what to throw away) with a view to only retaining things that spark joy and saying a grateful goodbye to everything else which has served whatever purpose it had in your life. Once you have pared down your stuff she then provides guidance on how to store it all so that you always know where everything is and your house is never messy again.

If, like me, your first thought is ‘none of my underwear sparks joy’ there’s no need to be alarmed. In the end I think most followers of her methodology (and believe me she has millions of followers, just google KonMari which is Kondo’s nickname and the name by which her method is known) come up with some personal variation of the joy-sparking sentiment. My own approach is something along the lines of

“Does this spark joy? If not, not is it useful enough in my current life to keep until I can replace it with a more joy-sparking example of its type?”

So far this is working pretty well. And I still have enough underwear to get by :)

Kondo draws on her own experiences as a lover of all things tidy living among messy people as well as the wealth of examples she has from her client base so the book does have lots of practical ideas and suggestions based on real life. I was impressed that in the second part of the solution Kondo does not propose any expensive storage “systems” and instead opts for using what you’ve got (old shoe boxes for example) and a different way of folding things (hint: think vertically rather than horizontally). I like it when self-help gurus aren’t trying to sell me something. The more outlandish ideas – such as her suggestion to thank your socks (or whatever) for all the hard work they’ve done for you – are at least completely harmless even if they do make you feel a bit foolish. And I do think some of her more fanciful notions are helpful to get people over the mental blocks they have about stuff. She does, for example, spend quite a bit of time on the difficulties people have in getting rid of things that others have given them and her approach is to help a person re-think what purpose that item might have had in their life before letting go.

The book is not perfect. Kondo makes a couple of pretty broad generalisations which set my teeth on edge. And she glosses over the issue of how to get rid of the stuff you no longer want (you’re left with a vague impression that all your bags of rubbish will magically disappear). And I remain unconvinced that talking to my socks is going to demonstrably improve my life. But I will reserve judgement on that for a bit :)

Kondo suggests you need about 6 months to work through the average house using her method and I’m only about a month into the process so I suppose I can’t really say whether or not the book is successful. But I’m definitely planning to finish the process and will try to remember to report back on whether or not I achieve and maintain a nirvana-like level of tidy. As for whether or not I would recommend the book…I think on balance yes. I’m not sure yet that it will be life-changing (so few books are when you get right down to it) but it is practical and sensible, even with its hippy dippy sentiments (my socks might not appreciate their post-washing thank you but they’ll probably last longer now that they’re neatly placed in their drawer and there’s enough room for them all not to be squashed like sardines). I like the fact that the book’s core approach tackles the problem at its source – as in how our minds think about our stuff – and addresses logically many of the arguments people have for hanging on to stuff that they ought not to. Perhaps the best one can say about any self-help book is that there is nothing in it which could hurt you.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Cathy Hirano
Publisher Vermillion Publishing [2011]
ISBN 9780091955106
Length 240 pages
Format paperback

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Can I expect more from undemanding books?

I have recently finished two books about which the most polite thing I can think of to say is that they were undemanding. I baulked for a while at putting this in writing because it sounds like the very definition of damning with faint praise. But if I am honest that’s not far off how I feel about these particular books, though not how I feel about all books I consider undemanding.

The first book in question is Sue Grafton’s 24th novel to feature Santa Barbara Teresa private detective Kinsey Millhone. In the first of many ‘meh’ moments the book is called X. Not, as in the pattern followed by all 23 previous installments of the series, X is for something. Just X. There are characters whose names begin with X and lots of exes in the plot and several not-so-oblique references to the role ‘x’ plays in popular culture (such as marking the spot) but I still think the title is a bit of a cop out.

XSueGraftonAudioThe book itself is not exactly disappointing but it’s not going to set the world alight either. There is precious little character development: series stalwarts will learn nothing new about anyone they’ve met before, while someone new to the series could would have no trouble getting up to speed with what makes Kinsey Kinsey, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for this series. So the whole thing hinges on the plot, again as usual, which has some good elements but, as has been the case with other recent books in the series, there’s too much detail. For the second book in a row Kinsey is working on cases that don’t bring in any money as she is tricked into locating a newly released prisoner for someone, and at the same time is prompted to complete a mysterious investigation that a fellow PI was looking into before he died (in events  depicted in this novel’s predecessor). There is a lot of meandering before we get to the fairly obvious resolutions in both cases and we waste a good deal more time faffing about for no good reason with the Californian drought and its impending water restrictions. Note to authors: plumbing is not interesting. And while I’m doling out advice may I add that making a 20-minute long scene revolve around the discovery of a paper clip does not for suspense make. As someone who has been reading this series for 30 odd years and is determined to finish (assuming Grafton does) I was happy enough to pass the time listening to this as I did my housework or tried to block out the loud talkers on public transport but it’s hard to recommend it beyond that.

BuriedAdler-OlsenAudioThe other book I’ve been thinking about along similar lines is BURIED by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Also known as THE MARCO EFFECT it is the fifth installment of the series featuring Copenhagen’s increasingly quirky cold-case review team, otherwise known as the basement dwellers who make up Department Q. Clocking in at 17 and a half hours of listening this book is preposterously long, especially as the only real mystery within it is whether or not a young boy will survive until the end. There is a murder but readers know long before investigators who did it and why, and the focus on whether the young Gypsy boy (who isn’t really a Gypsy) will survive lost its allure for me after the fourth near-death experience from which plucky Marco barely escapes. Another half-dozen or so such incidents followed and I nearly gave up all together when one such escapade involved Marco being rescued by frightened but warm-hearted prostitutes. One modern cliché too many? Books in which readers know more than investigators can work well but here it removed much-needed drama. I’ve realised the only reason I keep reading (or listening) to this series is that I don’t have to think much at all while doing so and I do vaguely enjoy the soap-opera nature of the personal lives of the investigative team.

While they are my preferred reading I’m not a stickler for all my crime fiction having deep meaning and/or a social conscience. I still love reading Dick Francis novels for example and no one could class them as demanding. But I think what I do look for in this type of reading is a noticeable absence of plodding and neither of these books passed that particular benchmark.

Am I being too demanding of my undemanding reading? Is it reasonable to expect a book which sets out purely to entertain to follow through on all fronts? As always, your thoughts welcome.


Review: IN BITTER CHILL by Sarah Ward

InBitterChillWardIN BITTER CHILL is the story of a kidnapping and its lingering aftermath. Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins disappeared on their walk to school in 1978. Rachel was found unharmed several hours later and Sophie has never been seen again. When Sophie’s mother, who still lives in the Derbyshire house to which her daughter never returned, commits suicide three decades later public and police interest in the old case is reignited and Rachel Jones becomes determined to uncover what happened all those years ago.

I doubt there is any 40-something person from my little corner of the world whose childhood was not in some way influenced by kidnappings. We lived in the shadow of two hugely publicized cases reminiscent of the one depicted here. The kidnappings of the three Beaumont children in 1966 and Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirste Gordon seven years later are among the entire country’s most notorious real-life mysteries (both remain unsolved) and the manner in which they shattered the innocence of what was then a small and unsophisticated city had lengthy reverberations for the community as a whole. I assume it is because of this that I am always particularly drawn to plots involving kidnappings but I often find them disappointing. Happily in this instance I was enthralled from start to finish because IN BITTER CHILL depicts the ripple effect such cases can have with terrific authenticity,  teasing out the impact of events on those directly involved along with the ‘lesser’ players and showing the relentless way in which the media and general public become consumed by such cases.

Without wanting to give too much away one of the themes the novel explores is the strength of various kinds of family bonds. This is not only in the obvious connection that Yvonne Jenkins has to her long-disappeared daughter but in many other ways, most of which I can’t detail any further for fear of plot spoilers. I will say that debut author Sarah Ward has used the profession of one of her lead characters to great effect here as Rachel Jones’ genealogical research skills prove useful both within the plot and to link various elements together.

The police playing a key role in the novel take the form of a somewhat remote but respected DI Francis Sadler, a male DS nervously contemplating his impending marriage in the form of Damian Palmer and a no-nonsense female DC called Connie Childs. If this novel is the start of a series I will look forward to meeting all three again as they have an interesting team dynamic and none appear to be of the ‘loner alcoholic genius who is always in danger due to their stupidly risky behaviour’ variety of crime sleuth that I am increasingly bored by. On balance though I’d say the police characters collectively take a back seat to Rachel and others directly involved in or impacted by the crimes that are committed which is, in my opinion anyway, as it should be. I thought the depiction of Rachel a particularly good one as she grappled with uncovering confronting things about the pivotal events of her early life.

Although I read the book in only a couple of sittings I’d put IN BITTER CHILL in the slow burn category of reading experience by which I mean its complex plot unfolds at a natural pace and without the assistance of the car chases or gratuitous blood and gore that a more ‘thrilling’ novel might have. For me this is much more satisfying because it is so much more plausible, and therefore more scary, than any serial-killer laden tome. There’s still plenty of suspense though and more than enough compulsion to keep turning the pages right to the very satisfactory resolution. A top notch read from an author I will be following closely.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Faber and Faber [2015]
ISBN 9780571320981
Length 355 pages
Format Hardback

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A Fresh Start

springIt is a gorgeous spring day here in my corner of the world and I’ve had a great morning decluttering my house in preparation for our council’s annual hard rubbish collection. This is where we get to put all the big stuff that won’t fit in the normal rubbish bins out onto the footpath, ostensibly for collection by the council waste trucks but only after all the neighbours have snaffled what they want (there’s an awkward sort of pride in putting out items other people fight over).

Because I adore getting rid of things (I am the opposite of a hoarder) (and it always annoys me there is no word for us) I found this activity thoroughly enjoyable and realised I could extend the joy and do some additional decluttering in other aspects of life to help me get back into reading, blog visiting and blogging myself.

To this end I went to my RSS reader and hit the “mark all as read” button. I don’t know who I was kidding when I looked a few days ago and thought several thousand unread items was “doable”. Apologies to those whose undoubtedly brilliant thoughts I have missed but at least I now feel able to visit you all again.

I also took back all the library books that were lying around the house half-read. Much better books than the utter nonsense I selected for the 1976 challenge were in that basket but I know which books they were and I can always get them again later. I doubt any of the rest were bad but I couldn’t concentrate on any of them for long (and in the case of Lauren Beukes’ BROKEN MONSTERS I couldn’t hold the damned thing so I’ll be aiming for a paperback of it next time around).

I’ve even had a bit of a clean up here at the blog, choosing a new theme and getting rid of a few unnecessary widgets.

I’ve chosen a book by a new to me author about which I have heard only good things to formally reboot my reading. Which I intend to start doing just as soon as I’ve cooked some home made falafel (courtesy of a new recipe I found) and made myself a delicious sandwich.

Happy reading to all.


#1976book SOMETHING NASTY IN THE WOODSHED by Kyril Bonfiglioli

somethingnastyI embarked eagerly on Kyril Bonfiglioli’s SOMETHING NASTY IN THE WOODSHED for this month’s Classics Challenge as it was published in 1976 (mandatory) and was purportedly funny (highly desirable for me just now). The first few pages suggested the book would live up to its promise. A well-heeled art dealer named Charlie Mortdecai introduces the reader to his new home – the Island of Jersey off the coast of England – with a mildly cruel but amusing observational style and I settled in for a bit of a romp. A few pages later I was audibly growling in disgust and by page 47 I had thrown the book (gently, because it is a library book) at the wall.

I normally don’t review unfinished books but I wanted to say something about this one because it was selected for part of a challenge and also because I thought I might explode if I didn’t have a bit of a rant.

It’s probably a close run thing but it wasn’t the book’s absurd plot that drove me to throw it at the wall. Though it was seriously stupid. As if a group of not very bright Oxford students had written a Carry On movie. It revolved around a series of rapes taking place on the island, reportedly carried out by someone wearing the mask of a beast, and the local men-folk’s attempts to ‘solve’ the crimes (without the aid of police for reasons that never made sense).

But what tipped me over the edge was the book’s sensibility, dripping as it is with not so casual bigotry and rampant misogyny. I must have checked a half-dozen times to make sure it was written in 1976 and not one or even two hundred years earlier. I can accept that perhaps in 2015 things have gone a little too far down the path of political correctness for some, but surely even in 1976 it wasn’t OK to treat a rape victim as if she had nothing more than an attack of the vapours? For a while I thought I would soldier on – pretending that anything’s OK in the pursuit of satire – but then I got to this paragraph

You see, we anti-feminists don’t dislike women in the least; we prize, cherish and pity them. We are compassionate. Goodness, to think of the poor wretches having to waddle through life with all those absurd fatty appendages sticking out of them; to have all the useful part of their lives made miserable by the triple plague of constipation, menstruation and parturition; worst of all, to have to cope with these handicaps with only a kind of fuzzy half-brain – a pretty head randomly filled, like a tiddly-winks cup, with brightly-coloured scraps of rubbish – why it rings the very heart with pity.

I suppose I should be grateful that he goes on to suggest women are a little better to have around than the family dog (because we don’t chase cats or poo on the footpath).

But I’m not. Grateful that is. For quite some time I wanted to hit something (throwing the book gently at the wall didn’t really cut it) and for quite some time after that I was grumbling incoherently to anyone who would listen at the outrage of such thinking being published in my own lifetime!

I’ve calmed down a bit since yesterday but I’m not going to finish the book. There are some ways of thinking I’d really rather not expose myself to any more than I have to (by, for example, listening to the considered thoughts of our current prime minister). I don’t know if I believe there are some subjects – such as rape or child abuse – that should be taboo for humourists, but I do know that Mr Bonfiglioli didn’t succeed in tackling such a difficult subject with anything like the aplomb he needed. The book – or what I read of it – is crass. Crude. Cringe-inducing. It reminded me of the similar-era TV shows my parents used to watch when I was a kid (e.g. Love Thy Neighbour). Even my not-yet-fully-formed brain knew something was wrong with them and their very existence is what prompted me to escape to my bedroom with a book rather than share the family TV viewing. And I’m pretty sure that if this book had passed my eyes even at the tender age of eight I’d have known it for drivel it is.

Have I turned into a grumpy old woman? Is there a layer of brilliance I’m missing here? Does humour “date” more quickly than other kind of writing?

Books of the month: August 2015

Pick of the month

TheDyingTradePeterCorris24409_fFor what are probably obvious reasons I didn’t read a lot during August. I did re-listen to a swag of Dick Francis novels narrated by Tony Britton but they probably don’t count as I wasn’t giving them my full attention.

I did finish a couple of new to me books though and the standout was definitely Peter Corris’ first crime novel THE DYING TRADE. I picked this to read as part of the Past Offences Classics Challenge and was really glad to have been motivated to go back to where it all began for Australia’s best-known fictional private investigator. It’s a ripper yarn and very, very Australian so kudos to Corris’ publishers for giving it a go as the cultural cringe was still very much alive and kicking in the 80’s.

Progress Towards 2015’s Book-ish Goals

Challenge Goal Progress
Australian Women Writers Challenge Read and review 25 eligible books 10*/25
Reading US Fiction Challenge Read 6 books by new to me authors set in different states of the US 3/6
Personal – Outside my comfort zone Read at least 6 books that aren’t crime/mystery/thriller novels 2/6
Personal – Read Globally Read at least 10 books set in countries that aren’t Australia, America or England 23/10
Personal – Reduce TBR Read at least 20 books I owned as at 31 December 2014 13/20
Personal – Buy Australian Buy no physical or eBooks from non-Australian stores 1/0
Personal – Read older books too Participate in at least 6 of the monthly ‘pick a year’ reading challenges hosted at Past Offences 6/6

*have read 13 books but only reviewed 10 of them

I made no progress on any challenges except for completing my personal target of participating in 6 of the classics challenges hosted by Past Offences. I’m happy to be finished but will continue participating where possible. I haven’t enjoyed all my selections as much as I did this month’s but I have enjoyed being motivated to read older novels. On that front if you’ve any suggestions for a 1976 crime novel I might like feel free to let me know. I’ve got nothing in my own TBR and though I have put my name down for a couple via my library there’s no guarantee they will arrive (older books tend to be lurking in storage locations rather than active shelving and it has been my experience that though they might be in the catalogue it’s not until someone goes looking for them that the librarians realise the book has disappeared).

Looking ahead

I’ve started reading ‘properly’ again the past few days so am hoping to get a good amount done in September. I picked up Lauren Beukes’ BROKEN MONSTERS from the library which I will be able to count towards my Reading US Fiction Challenge (it’s set in Michigan) and am going to try to get to some titles from my TBR (but then I always try that and it rarely works).

What about you? Had any particularly good reads during August? Got something good lined up for September?