Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Heat wave

London was insanely hot, especially because nobody there has air-conditioning (except for the British Library). I hadn't a minute to read while I was there, it was all family stuff. There was a good memorial tea-party for my grandmother at the Arts Club (very, very hot, though), but the best thing was this crazy lunch at the place where my grandmother lived for the last few years before she died. When she was really ill last summer, she said that she wanted there to be what she called a "slap-up meal" for all the old people in the home and the staff as well--she even said that she wanted there to be pheasant on the menu, and everything really nice. (The food in the home was her main complaint.) And indeed it was lovely. Seriously, a lavish catered lunch for 60 people--all set up at huge long tables with real tablecloths etc.--prosecco and various wines and canapes and everything like you'd have at a really fancy party. One of the old ladies was practically in tears of surprise and delight that they were actually going to have cloth napkins instead of the usual paper ones. The family members were scattered all over the place, one at the end of each table, to make conversation--I was full of dread as I sat down, but I ended up having a really good conversation with the two old ladies I was sitting next to, and you could see that getting a chance to talk with someone from the outside world was in its way as good as the food. It was just what my grandmother would have approved of, and my aunt had found excellent caterers etc.

I did read quite a few novels on the plane (god, flying is unredeemably awful). Light reading as follows:

The two Phil Rickman mysteries I hadn't read yet (it took immense self-control to leave them in the plastic when they arrived from Amazon at the beginning of last week, but of course they're excellent travel reading, being rather on the long side as well as very good): Midwinter of the Spirit and Crown of Lights. I'm sad I've come to the end of these, I really like them--I see there's a new one coming out in November, The Smile of a Ghost; must see if I can get an advance copy.

A really weak crime novel by Leslie Glass, A Clean Kill. I've read the earlier ones in this series, they're not fantastic but not at all bad. This one read as if it was written by a completely different person, one who understood the technical requirements of the form but had missed its essential appeal. Seriously, it reads more like a synopsis than like a novel! I can't quite explain it, but it was astonishingly slight, and virtually no characterization whatsoever--I don't know what happened, but this is definitely one to avoid.

The thing I really love is the high quality of the airport bookshops at the English end, and particularly those "airport exclusive" editions, often large-format paperbacks. The trip back was an ordeal, that's just a long flight, but fortunately I had two excellent books to get me through it. First of all--I'd REALLY been dying to read this, and it completely lived up to my expectations--Lee Child's One Shot, the new Jack Reacher novel. Child is an astonishingly gifted writer. Really not since Ian Fleming's early Bond novels has someone come up with such a genius concept and executed it in such stylish and pitch-perfect prose. There's something almost tongue-in-cheek about these books, they are certainly wish-fulfillment or fantasy reading, and yet the character of Reacher is so appealing--and his MacGyveresque genius for improvisation and force so convincing--that you really can't put them down. I loved this one. It makes me want to go back and read all the other ones from start to finish. Last year's installment was particularly good as it went and filled in Reacher's back-story, how he became disillusioned with the army and ended up the weird nomad walking-the-earth type. In my dream world, there would be a ton of books as good as Child's; in the world we live in, they are few and far between.

And then I read Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close, which was already available in a mass-market paperback. Very good, as you would expect. A bit more political/polemical than Rankin's usual (I was reminded of Sara Paretsky), but that's all for the good. I was struck by how much Rebus has changed since the early books--in this one he's actually quite respectable, not particularly drunken and altogether sympathetic. It's sort of like The Simpsons: if you watch the early shows, Homer is a complete drunken boor and angry father, but the edges are softened by the second season and he's pretty cuddly by the end of it. Not sure I find this psychologically convincing, but it didn't stop me enjoying the novel.

1 comment:

  1. Rebus is getting softer in his old age. Must be the womanly-yet-tough-as-nails influence of Siobhan. I'm still enjoying the series, though. I can't help it - Rankin is like crack to me.