Monday, 25 July 2011

Recent acquisitions: the verdict!

I thought I would write a brief post concerning what I thought of my exciting new purchases. In (roughly) rank order, with a one-line plot summary:

1. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett: Marina travels to the Brazilian Amazon to find out why her fellow scientist Anders died while investigating a secretive research project that concerns a drug that might allow women to extend their fertility indefinitely. Thanks to a rave review in the Independent and Elaine's recommendation over at Random Jottings, I overcame my previous Bel Canto-induced aversion to Ann Patchett and gave this a go. I'm so glad I did. It's a wonderful book that I can imagine having a very wide appeal - beautifully-delinated characterisation, but also a strong plotline with a bit of action and scientific investigation thrown in. Very highly recommended.

2. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: Follows the stories of various characters who are loosely linked to each other over a fifty-year period in the USA; very difficult to summarise in a sentence! This novel seems to be everywhere at the moment, but it's not surprising, as it did win the Pulitzer Prize and it's also a fantastic read. My only criticism would be that Egan's changes of style between the various voices, which on the whole, worked perfectly, occasionally felt a little gimmicky; I loved the Powerpoint chapter but was annoyed by the one with extensive footnotes. But this is a minor quibble.

3. There But For The by Ali Smith: Miles, a guest at a dinner party, unexpectedly locks himself in the host's spare room and won't come out; the four narrators, connected to him in various ways, tell their own stories while trying to work out what makes him tick. This is Ali Smith, so the games with language are wonderfully inventive and her characters fascinating. However, I didn't feel it was quite up to par with her previous novels, although this certainly doesn't make it bad. Interestingly, I heard her read a section from this novel in Cambridge and when I reached that excerpt here, the text suddenly seemed to come to life; I'd love to have an audiobook version with her reading the whole thing!

4. After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld: Frank and Leon, from two different generations in east Australia, are both facing up to their parents' legacy; Frank is trying to carve out a new life for himself in his family's old shack, while Leon, a baker, becomes a conscript in Vietnam. What a brilliant title, but it's a shame the book doesn't live up to it. This has been well-reviewed elsewhere - I enjoyed reading Vulpes Libris's interview with the author - but it fell a little flat for me. Wyld writes well, but I felt I had read this story many times before, and I'm not a massive fan of 'parallel lives' set-ups. Frank's story in particular was oddly paced, with what I had taken to be a major part of the plot happening very quickly at the end. (Although, to be fair, this was really the fault of whoever wrote the blurb for the back cover, not Wyld). I would like to see what she writes next, however, as this is her first novel and perhaps the second will be better.

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