I’ve been on holiday recently, and managed to get through most of the books I took with me. I thought I’d do a brief round-up of what I read.
Rodrigo de Souza Leão, All Dogs are Blue (2008/10)
Translated from the Portugese by Zoë Perry and Stefan Tobler, 2013
If there’s one thing I have come to expect from And Other Stories’ books, it’s that they will be intensely engaged with language. And so it is with this short novel, narrated by an inmate of a Rio asylum. The narrator is lucid about the tenuousness of his grasp n reality; he loops back and forth between his present, his past travels, his childhood, and his eventual release – but the question of what precisely is and is not ‘real’ remains open. I read All Dogs are Blue on the train down to my holiday; it was short enough to fit in the time, and is probably best experienced in a single sitting, when it can really pull you into its world.
Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012)
Bernadette Fox was once a hot-shot architect; now she mostly hides away in her family’s Seattle home, outsourcing most of her interaction with the word to a virtual PA in India. Gathering together myriad documents, Bernadette’s daughter Bee chronicles her mother’s turbulent relationship with her family and the other school moms, and her attempts to find Bernadette after she disappears.
I’ve heard so much about Semple’s book, and it mostly lives up to the praise. It’s wickedly funny, with few characters escaping some sort of satire; and very well constructed, as the differences between viewpoints gradually reveal hidden truths – truths which give the novel its dark undercurrent. I have a sense that Semple lets her characters off the hook for some of their flaws a little too easily, but otherwise this book is highly enjoyable.
Robin Sloan, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (2012)
When Clay Jameson takes a job doing the night-shift for a mysterious bookstore, he doesn’t realise that he is about to enter the world of a secret society who are scouring certain volumes for clues that will unlock… well, who knows? But Kat Potente, the pretty Googler who walks into the store one day, might just have the means to find out.
The principle flaw in Sloan’s debut is its treatment of gender –for example, Kat is the most prominent female character, and she falls into the stereotype of ‘hot geek girl who’s super-competent, but still needs a male character to ultimately save the day’. Aside from that, it’s all rather jolly, but also reflects seriously on the relationship of books and new technology. Sloan steers a middle course which I found thought-provoking.
Matt Delito, Confessions of a Police Constable (2013)
This is one in a series of (generally pseudonymous) books from the Friday Project (including Confessions of a GP and Confessions of a New York Taxi Driver). The author is a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police, and the book is based on his blog of stories from his career. I’ve read a few of the books in this series now, and always find them interesting, and good to read when I feel like a change or a rest from my more usual fare. So I finished it off on the train home.