Books I Read in January 2008

The first of a (hopefully) monthly series. I say “hopefully” because I’ve tried do to things like this before. It never works.

Here are the books I read last month:

Atonement – Ian McEwan
I really don’t know why I’ve only just read it. I bought it when it was first published and even started reading it. But for some reason I put it down and didn’t pick it up again for about five years. I remembered that I hadn’t read it when the film was released last year and wanted to read the book before seeing the film. But I couldn’t find it then. It turned up whilst I was looking for something completely different over christmas, so I decided to finally read it.

I love Ian McEwan books. This one isn’t quite up to the standard of Enduring Love or The Child in Time, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable. And the basic plot device is really clever. If you’ve seen the film, then you’ll know the story. The film is a pretty accurate retelling of the novel. Still worth reading though as books are always better than films. Ok, maybe not absolutely always, but certainly when the book is as literary as McEwan’s are.

The Big Picture – Douglas Kennedy
I’ve joined a book group at work. So you’ll see me reading books that you wouldn’t normally associate with me. This is the first.

I really didn’t like this at all. The initial set-up introduced a number of stereotypical characters that I had no interest in. At times it just read like a shopping list of expensive photographic equipment. Then a Big Thing happens and the book changes direction. It doesn’t get any better though. The protagonist goes off and has a big adventure and meets a number of uninteresting people on the way. The book is purely plot-driven and the plot relies on some ridiculous coincidences. The best that can be said of it is that it’s a very easy read. I only wasted four or five hours reading it.

This is obviously a minority opinion though. The Amazon reviews are unremittingly positive. I expect they’re written by idiots. I recommend avoiding this book at all costs.

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
Having taken years to read Atonement, I decided to get in really early with McEwan’s new novel. Or, more accurately, novella. It’s very short. The story is a interesting study of sexual innocence in the early 1960s and it’s full of McEwan’s trademark descriptive detail. Like Atonement it’s not one of his best, but it’s well worth a read.

The Ladies of Grade Adieu – Susanna Clarke
This is going to be a love it or hate it book. If you loved Clarke’s previous book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, (as I did) then you’ll love this one too. It’s really just more of the same. Except that in this case you get a series of short stories instead of a really long novel. All of the stories are set in the same world as Strange and Norrell. Actually, there’s one exception – a story that is set in same universe as Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. But to be honest, there’s not much to differentiate Clarke’s universe from Gaiman’s. If you like the idea of an alternative history where fairies and wizards exist in England at the start of the nineteenth century, there’s a good chance that you’ll enjoy this book. If not, then you should probably avoid it completely.

Catalyst – Jonathan Rockway
Something a bit different to finish. This is a technical book about Catalyst, a framework for building web sites in Perl. This was a review copy, so I’ll be writing a full review which I’ll publish elsewhere on this site. It’ll be there soon. Honest.

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