My 20 Books of Summer challenge may look like a complete disaster at the moment, but things are not quite as bad as they seem. My reading is going well, it’s just the reviewing that I don’t seem to have the time for!
We are just back from a rainy week in the West of Ireland and I’m playing catch up with all aspects of my life, so I’ve decided to just do a few flash reviews of what I’ve been reading and get back up to date on my challenge. I would love to do longer reviews of some of these books but sometimes you just have to be realistic about what you can and can’t do!
No 669 The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt
The blurb for The Dead of Summer calls it a ‘thrilling raw crime novel’. Well, it’s a crime novel alright but raw and thrilling? Not so much.
Set on the Swedish island of Gotland, a young father Peter Bovide is shot during his camping holiday on a morning jog. Police commissioner Anders Knutas is on holiday too, so it falls to his assistant Karin Jacobsson to lead the investigation until he returns. Both the police and the local press, led by TV reporter Johann Berg are at a loss as to the perpetrator until a second murder hints that they have been looking in the wrong direction.
The crime at the centre of The Dead of Summer isn’t the most exciting and the use of a flashback narrative means most readers will guess the identity of the killer by about two-thirds of the way through. A lot of the book focuses on the characters relationships but this are either predictable or not fully explored. The writing is a little workmanlike, but that may be down to translation and I may have had more of an emotional investment if there was a clear main protagonist (as it is there are three) or if I had read the other four books in the series.
It got the job done, but it was a forgettable read.
20 Books of Summer: 7/20
Number Read: 78
Number Remaining: 668
No 668 Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgeway
This is the book I wish I could devote a really long review to because I loved it. I loved it so much. It is my book of the year so far and I can’t imagine anything bettering it. Hawthorn & Child are two detectives who investigate the shooting of a man in a London street. He claims to have been shot by a car. An old vintage car and that is all he can remember. So begins a woozy, otherworldly series of interconnected stories in which Hawthorn & Child may or may not appear. A man believes Tony Blair has poisoned him. A couple can only communicate through writing in a notebook. A young man takes a baby hostage and Hawthorn tries to make sense of his life. Ridgeway has fashioned a crime novel with no real crime, a detective story that doesn’t really focus on the detectives and a novel that may be a short story collection or a short story collection that may be a novel. The only problem I had with Hawthorn & Child was that it wasn’t longer. If I have time I may give it a full review at the end of the summer, but for now, all I’ll say is read it.
20 Books of Summer: 8/20
Number Read: 79
Number Remaining: 667
No 667 Life by Keith Richards
This hugely entertaining autobiography which charts Richards’ life from working class London childhood to global superstardom with one of the world’s biggest bands is an incredibly amusing, insightful and often sobering read. I like The Rolling Stones but often thought Keith was the caricature of the rock n’roll lifestyle and not much more. The book explores his love and knowledge of music (blues in particular) in great depth, his massive drug habit, his questionable parenting skills and his fractious relationship with both Brian Jones and Mick Jagger. What comes across most in Life is that for Keith, the image of the drug taking, crazy rock musician is something that he has both cultivated and come out the other side of, but that at the end of the day, it is all about the music.
People say, ‘Why don’t you give it up?’ I can’t retire until I croak. I don’t think they quite understand what I get out of this. I’m not just doing this for the money or for you. I’m doing it for me.
20 Books of Summer: 9/20
Number Read: 80
Number Remaining: 666
No 666 This Isn’t The Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
It’s a very beautiful world. It’s a shame what will happen
In Jon McGregor’s novels, he explores how the small unanticipated moments of our existence can have a devastating outcome on our lives. In this collection of his short stories, he uses this skill to stunning effect, the stories littered with events that come out of nowhere – accidents, meetings, and moments of rash judgments.
A group of school leavers in a car discuss setting up a bespoke snack business until a moment of inattention threatens their futures. A young man knocks down and kills a man and buries his body in an attempt to keep his own life on track. A young student survives an accident when a sugar beet smashes through her windscreen, only to potentially find herself in more danger. In the stunning ‘A Wave and A Call’ a young man snorkels with friends on a foreign holiday, only to find himself floating further out to sea.
There is an apocalyptic nature to some of the stories as in ‘If It Keeps on Raining’ where a man is building a treehouse to save himself from a coming flood and throughout all the stories there is a sense of nature being a force greater than we can withstand. There is also some humour, particularly in The Chicken and The Egg, where a man develops a phobia of cracking open an egg
If he does find himself in an unavoidable egg breaking scenario, the tension is almost literally palpable
The book explores lives fractured, interrupted and sent off course with a beautiful poetic prose that is both grounded and otherworldly. The stories in this collection are lingering, unsettling and quite, quite brilliant.
20 Books of Summer: 10/20
Number Read: 81
Number Remaining: 665
No 665 The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? By Edward Albee
In The Goat or Who is Sylvia? Edward Albee uses bestiality as the discussion point rather than the true subject of his play about Martin, a world-famous architect at the top of his game who has the rather unfortunate problem of having fallen deeply in love with a goat called Sylvia. The play takes the form of a Greek tragedy and the goat becomes a metaphor for any unacceptable act or desire that produces revulsion within society when revealed. The play is oddly funny – particularly when Martin describes the beauty of Sylvia’s eyes – but by the end the laughs peter out, mainly in the face of the pain of Martin’s wife Stevie, who asks
How can you love me when you love so much less?
Albee is certainly no stranger to controversy and here he brings it in spades, but the ending is somewhat sanitised given all that has gone before. The Goat may stick in the mind for the content, but it doesn’t stay there like ‘Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?’
20 Books of Summer: 11/20
Number Read: 82
Number Remaining: 664
So, 9 books left and 4 weeks to read them. Tough, but still doable!