Sunday, 3 March 2019

My Year in Books 2019: February

I've decided to carry this little blog series on for another month, keeping track of all the books I've read for pleasure in short 250-word reviews. I didn't get chance to read a huge amount this month - mostly because I had a lot of essays to mark, and a few books to read for work and radio projects. But still... here are my reviews for February...

(In case you're curious, here are the books I read this January.)

Perfect by Rachel Joyce (2013)

I picked this one up from a book sale shelf at the College of the Third Age when I was there to give a talk. Once again, it was an intriguing blurb that got me. I’m not familiar with Rachel Joyce’s other books, though I think I must have seen The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry advertised or reviewed, as the name rings a bell. Perfect tells the dual stories of Byron Hemmings, an eleven-year-old boy at private school in 1972, and Jim, an older man with OCD in the present day. Byron’s story begins with the boy’s concern at learning that two seconds are going to be added to ‘time’ (really, the atomic clock) in order to compensate for the leap year. Byron is so discomforted by the thought of the extra seconds, he accidentally sets in motion a chain of events. While the story unfolds slowly – and the events in the chain are pretty mundane on the whole – there is an ominous atmosphere that suggests we’re heading to a bad place. Byron and his best friend James come up with the idea of Operation Perfect, a plan to get things back on track and to save Byron’s troubled and fragile mother Diana from impending catastrophe. I enjoyed this one a lot, though I sometimes struggled to engage with the characters. The novel is peopled with ever-so-slightly larger-than-life creations, and some motivations and behaviours are a little arch. Overall, though, Perfect is a rather captivating – if somewhat sad – novel.

The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah (2016)

In my ongoing (frequently thwarted) quest to find the ultimate literary twist, I stumbled upon this blog post by Sophie Hannah, written as publicity for The Narrow Bed back in 2016. I very much like Hannah’s definition of a twist here, as it’s close to my own feelings about the difference between a ‘reveal’ and a ‘twist’. I’ve read nine of the books on the list already, and am planning to read the other six. But it seemed polite to begin with Hannah’s own book! The Narrow Bed is the tenth book in Hannah’s Spilling CID series – I read the second book in the series last month, but haven’t read any of the rest yet. The set-up of this one was very intriguing: a serial killer is targeting pairs of best friends, leaving little white books with the victims as a calling card. But when comedian Kim Tribbeck – a woman with no friends, let alone a BFF – gets one of the books, it looks like the police might be wrong about the pattern. Admittedly, this is a book with a ‘reveal’ and not a ‘twist’, but that’s not a problem for crime fiction. And I enjoyed everything about The Narrow Bed (especially the character of Kim)… except the reveal. There were plenty of clues, which I picked up on, but no way of working the mystery out, as the reveal is so incredibly complicated and far-fetched, the reader has no chance. Great writing – but a disappointing resolution to the mystery.

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