Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Plot Like Hardy, Write Like Maugham

2012 was to be the year that I dedicated my reading to independent authors, and whilst I tried (I really did), by the end of August I was feeling such a ‘lack of literature’ in my reading diet that I switched back to my ‘1001’ list.

I will keep those E-books that I have received on my reading list and will try to give them a fair go at some point.  The books that I did read made me realise what I enjoy about reading – it’s the plotting, language and characterisations.  With the exception of one or two indie books, these elements just did not figure.

If you could plot like Thomas Hardy, characterise like Stephen King and write like W. Somerset Maugham then you would be on to a winner.

I’m still undecided with regards to independent publishing, because of the two books I did enjoy.  Even a traditionally published author can write a dud, but generally they are well written duds.  It’s the quality of the writing that I am struggling with and this is why I have gone back to my original reading list.

A few years ago I used to be a member of a book club whose reading I felt to be a little too ‘high-brow’ for my humble tastes which didn’t venture much beyond Stephen King and Clive Barker.  But five years on I now feel that this is the level I am currently at.  I need to aim high to get the satisfaction I need – there’s still more Dickens, Dostoesvky, Tolstoy and Hardy novels out there I’ve yet to read and they will be my goals next year.

In the meantime I am really enjoying my current audio book the magnificent Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  I have had to do a little background reading about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More, as well as events during the King's reign, to understand the character motivations and the period, but it is so worth it.  My physical read is All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.  The emotion evoked in this novel is so brutal that I can’t read it at night for fear it will pray on my mind whilst I am asleep. 

Now that’s what I call writing.

Until next time.


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Dig Tree ~ Sarah Murgatroyd

Never has my imagination been so captivated reading a novel as it has been reading The Dig Tree.

Living in Australia I had of course heard of the names of Burke and Wills, I mean there is a Burke and Wills Hotel in Toowoomba!  I knew that they had been ill fated explorers in the 1800's but that was about it.

Finishing The Dig Tree today after hardly being able to put it down, I marvel at those early Europeans who risked their lives in pursuit of knowledge of Australia's interior.

The expedition lead by Burke, and his second Wills, was mismanaged from it's conception, to the returning of their bodies for burial.  Burke was only chosen because he happened to be a 'gentleman' (albeit an Irish one), and that was of prime importance for the Exploration Committee, it didn't matter that Burke couldn't even find his way home after a night at the pub.

Burke & Wills' route
Sarah Murgatroyd has written a very compelling story from start to finish, giving an incredible insight into what drove those men and how it all went horribly wrong.  When Burke and Wills left Melbourne, their supplies included an oak dining table and a bath tub!  Aboriginals they met along the way brought gifts of food, but the explorers deemed them a nuisance as they wanted gifts in return from their supplies - knives, oilcloth etc  On the return trip from the Gulf of Carpentaria Burke finally succeeded in scaring the natives off completely, and it was then that he and his remaining men realised the folly - they had to discard the supplies that could have been traded for food because they were too weak to carry them - and finally all but one starved to death surrounded by the bush food they did not know how to prepare properly.

Other explorers of the outback are mentioned in the novel too as this had been a race between the Australian colonies in the hope of opening up the interior for the Telegraph and claiming it for their own.  Names like the Stuart Highway, Leichhardt, Mitchell and Julia Creek all now have a special meaning to me, they will no longer be just the names of places where I freight our company's products. 

This novel also gives you a reality check as to what the Europeans did to the Aboriginal tribes in Australia and how they suffered the loss of their native land to the white intruders.  You can't change the past but they were treated very badly indeed.

Coming from England I do feel the lack of real 'history' here compared to Europe, but having now read The Dig Tree I can appreciate that Australian's colonial history may only be recent, but it can be utterly fascinating.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


That is how I feel after reading Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

The first half of this novel was so promising that I could not not put it down, it was creepy and disturbing.  I felt excited that I had finally found an unnerving book.  But then it dwindled to something boring, and finally ended up feeling like a bit of feel good fluff.

The premise was initially interesting - a strange weather event in Sweden results in the re-animation of the recently deceased.  The powers that be try to handle the situation as best they can by rounding up the dead (which they later term as the 're-living') and taking them to local hospitals, and digging up the more recently buried.

The novel follows three families - Flora & Elvy, David & Magnus and Gustav & Anna.  They have each lost someone they love, Flora her grandfather (Elvy's husband), David his wife (Magnus' mother) and Gustav his grandson (Anna's son).  Basically the novel then explores the feelings each experiences coming to terms with the 're-living'.

By far the best storyline was that of Gustav (Mahler), Anna and Elias. Gustav is grossly overweight and constantly locks horns with his grieving daughter Anna.  Anna's young son Elias tragically died in a balcony fall, but when the strange event occurs Mahler races to the cemetery and digs Elias up (a bit 'Pet Semetary' you might think, I thought so too but it was not the case as it turned out). The weather has been very hot and dry so Elias has not begun to decompose, he is however mummified and full of decomposing gas.  The description of this mummified child being taken care of with lotions for his skin, and saline which he will swallow from a baby's bottle whilst not moving nor being able see through his dead eyes, is truly nightmare material.  It is tremendously creepy.

I 'got' that Lindqvist wanted to explore the emotional side of a 'zombie' event but it got too airy fairy towards the end especially the Flora & Elvy storyline.  The supposed proof of a soul and life on the other side didn't really work for me.  (After reading The God Delusion can you blame me?) I really think that it would have worked best as an out and out horror.  I didn't need flesh eating zombies, the 're-living' that he presents are creepy enough, but I would have liked to have seen more exploration of the other types of re-living such as those that had been recently drowned.  Anna encounters one and it is quite frightening at first but then that falls flat too.

However, with this said, I think I will read more of Lindqvist's work as he is very readable and the ideas are definitely there.  

Until next time.

Happy Reading!