Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Reading Highlights in 2019

According to Goodreads I read 37 books in 2019, almost entirely fiction.  I'm not going to talk about them all, but I thought I'd mention my highlights.

More or less in the order I read them...

David Mitchel, Cloud Atlas.

This was a hangover from 2018, during which I'd discovered Mitchel and read several of his books. 

Like all of Mitchel's books it plays games with Time and narrative - it's a matyoshka doll of stories nested around each over.  I've not seen the film, and can't imagine how they managed to convey all this.  Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but I found it stunning.

Margaret Attwood, The Penelopiad

Attwood had a good year, and I made my small contribution by reading The Penelopiad and The Handmaiden's Tale.

This is Attwood's retelling of The Odyssey, which of course she did from the viewpoint of Penelope rather than Odysseus.  It's a "feminist retelling", but being Attwood it's much more than that.  A very impressive work.

This was apparently the first of the Canongate Myth Series, in which contempory authors were invited to reinvent myths from various cultures.  Looking at the list of authors and the stories they've tackled, I think they may be worth digging into.

 Joe Gores, Hammett

A fictional episode in the life of Dashiell Hammett, set in 1928 San Fransico, just as he is becomming known as a writer.  His past as a Pinkerton agent results in him being involved in a devilishly complicated case.

In know nothing of San Fransico in the 1920s, but Gores did a fantastic job of capturing the atmosphere of it, I'm sure authentically.  Hammett's life-story is worthy of a whole heap of novels, and Gores left me hungry for more.  So...

 Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon and The Continental Op

I read The Maltese Falcon back in the late 80s and hadn't read The Continental Op.  But I was glad to have picked them up this year!

The Maltese Falcon must be my pick of the year.  It is the epitome of a detective novel.  Little more than a novella, but perfectly-formed.  A masterpiece.

I like The Continental Op too.  I think that these stories are always overlooked, which is a damn shame.

 The Laundry Files series by Charles Stross

After reading all the San Fransico stuff I had an itch to read something pulpy and a little Cthulu Mythos.  I'm not sure who had recommended the Laundry Files, I picked up the first book and then during the year (and not without a break!) read all nine currently in the series.

The series premis is that the things that inspired the Lovecraftian Mythos are real, that the stars are aligning and that there is a small department of British Intelegence (the Laundry) tasked with countering the threat.  The first book is compared to The Ipcress Files in depicting the mundanity and work-place boredom involved in secret intellegence work, but as the series progresses the stakes are raised and (without any spoilers) things moved out of dingy offices and onto the world stage.  I recommend it.

Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide

This is another take on the Mythos.

At the end of The Shadow Over Innsmouth in 1928Lovecraft tells us that the US Government bombs Devil's Reef and takes the inhabitants of Innsmouth off to concentration camps.  This book (the first in a series) follows the story.

By 1942 all but a handful of the People of the Water have died in their desert camps, which are converted to hold Japanese-Americans.  When the latter are released, so are the last two of the People, children when they were interned.  It's now 1950, the Cold War is afoot, and the Government has need of them...

This won't be to everyone's taste.  Emrys is deliberately setting out to subvert Lovecraft's racism and fear of 'the other', and some may feel that practically all her protagonists are shoehorned into 'otherness'.  But I enjoyed the book, and Emrys has a lyrical touch.  I shall read the next book.

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