Sunday, July 27, 2014

Closing tabs

Mark Cocker reviews Helen Macdonald's new book H is for Hawk at the Guardian. An interesting review - at first I felt very keen to read the book, then Cocker proceeded in a manner that was at once gentle and persuasively negative (might be I should read one of his books instead?):
There is a highly polished brilliance to her writing and the short staccato declamatory sentence, sometimes of just a single word, is almost a signature of her style. Yet the syntax carries a persistent subliminal message of stress and anxiety and when we are presented with her repeated, if unsparingly honest, declarations of grief – I lost count of the number of times she breaks down or bursts into tears in the book – it is as if we already know it before she tells us. The total effect is a seeming excess of strong emotion.

Yet elsewhere she deploys the same stylistic elements to immense effect. One good example is her evocation of her hawk's own psychology. More than any other writer I know, including her beloved White, Macdonald is able to summon the mental world of a bird of prey. There is one classic moment when she meets the young Mabel for the first time. She conjures the shock of the encounter and simultaneously manages to get inside the head of the bird. "My heart jumps sideways," she recalls, "She is a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel. A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary. Something bright and distant, like gold falling through water."
NB the writer who I think of as the world's worst offender in the matter of staccato declamatory sentences: Kathy Reichs!

Am now panicking about how much I need to do around the edges of other commitments before leaving for Cayman very early Wednesday morning. It is slightly daunting, though this is always the case and I am sure it will all sort itself out in the meantime....

Two really good British crime novels that I had to read on old-fashioned paper: it is frustrating for the avid North American reader of British police procedurals that so many of the very best ones are not instantly transmitted on the other side of the Atlantic! Harry Bingham, The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths (this is superb, possibly the best yet in this series - I ordered it from the Book Depository as there wasn't a copy in the BorrowDirect system); and Stav Sherez, Eleven Days, which will be out here in October but which I really just couldn't wait for! Fortunately the Harvard library had a copy, and BD got it here for me pretty quickly. This one's very good too - more consistent in pacing and integration of material than the first in the series, I think, with really winsome voice and characters. I want more....

A book that didn't entirely satisfy me, though it is quite good: Ruth Eastham's Arrowhead, which I enjoyed but which didn't live up to the advance billing in the review I read (I am too lazy to find it and link to it) in which she is likened to Alan Garner. I thought it actually had more in common with Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence - there are a couple moments that are almost too close to be conscious allusions.

(I remember reading Alan Garner for the first time - my third-grade teacher had an amazing collection of otherwise unavailable British children's books, available for borrowing if you filled out a library card - the library had taken over the top floor of her house! - and I was astonished by the extent to which The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service were THE MOST PERFECT BOOKS EVER!)

Anthony Neil Smith's Yellow Medicine (this guy is writing really great smart funny super-violent noir).

Daryl Gregory's Afterparty (very good - a bit too reminiscent of a whole crop of other like-minded books, definitely written within a pretty narrow set of genre constraints, but the narrator's voice and the story and execution are excellent - I thoroughly enjoyed it).

I couldn't run this morning due to minor twinges that begged to be respected, but I did make it to a real swim practice for the first time in who knows how long. Now so pleasantly fatigued that I am thinking about going to bed, well, NOW!

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