Welcome to October, everyone! Joining me for A Blogging Good Read this month is Roz from Roz's Reading Challenge. Unfortunately the reviews from our other blogger haven't materialised but if she sends them over, I'll add them in!
We'll start with her pick, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Obviously I don't have the info about why it was chosen and why it's her favourite but let's see if we liked it anyway:
I think I described this book to someone as reminding me strongly of Diana Wynne Jones crossed with PG Wodehouse. It’s a glorious mixture of time travel and country house romp (albeit set in the Victorian era rather than the 20s/30s) and I knew from the very start when the protagonist is rummaging round in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral looking for the mysteriously bizarre object known as the bishop’s bird stump that I’d enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. The idea that time travel, having being given up on by speculators when they realise you can't bring any items through time, is now reserved for historians and scholars, is one that I really like.
Ned is trying to track down the minutest of details about how Coventry Cathedral used to look but one too many trips through the Net sets him off with an extreme case of time-lag and he gets sent to the Victorian era to recuperate. Things soon start to get complicated and the most minor of occurences set events in motion to change history. This book is part sci-fi, part detective story, part romp with a sprinkling of romance thrown in but above all else it's clever, funny and a really entertaining read. One warning though: I read fast and this book took me ages to read. I had a Kindle copy which always makes it hard to tell the length of books but according to Amazon it clocks in at a hefty 528 pages, so that’s probably why!
What did Roz think?
This novel should have been a huge success with me, I love time travel stuff and I love 19th Century novels, but I found the prose style really irritating and not at all funny. The central conceit of the bishops bird stump frustrated me as much as it did the characters and I just couldn't care about the outcome. I got as far as 200 pages or so, and the introduction of the superbly punchable Tossie before I got so annoyed by it I had to stop. Shame really, because I rarely don't finish books. If I had to make a comparison I'd say that this book reminded me of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, very similar tone, but I didn't much like those either!
Roz's choice was The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz:
This book was my pick and I picked it because I've had it on my to-be-read list since Christmas. Though it was well written in parts, I am in two minds about how I feel about it. On the one hand I have never read a story centred on the Dominican Republic before so it was original and refreshing from that angle. However, it made me have to consider this modern trend for bildungsroman stories to be quite bleakly depressing, it seems like there's this vibe currently that for any story to be worthy literature the life of the protagonist has to be as miserable as possible. In addition to that, I didn't really like any of the characters, not even Oscar himself. It seemed odd to me that his sisters ex-boyfriend would behave in the manner he describes at the end and I found the curse story lacked credibility. I did however read the book fairly quickly and engaged with the style of the prose.
I'm starting to think I'm a bit of a book pleb, y'know. There seems to be a worrying trend that every time I pick up a book that's received rave reviews, won loads of awards and is lauded as an insightful modern classic, I hate it. Perhaps I won't be quite that harsh with this one - I mean, I didn't hate it, but I didn't enjoy it. The premise of a family being under a curse that affects different generations could have been an interesting one but the way it was explored here was just gloomy. The scope of the story was wide and I liked the way that switching between different narrators helped to show the scope of life in the Dominican Republic under a dictator and the impact of uprooting that life to New Jersey, but ultimately this didn't save it for me. It just left me a bit cold.
My pick for this month was And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie:
You may know this book by a different title (read about the reasons why here) and as my copy is pre-1985 it bears the very un-PC original title. I must read a newer version to see how they’ve edited the nursery rhyme that the story is based around too because I can’t imagine that’s remained intact! Anyway, title and 1930s language issues aside, this book is a cracking good yarn. People forget that Agatha Christie pretty much invented most of the tropes and tricks of the crime/mystery novel genre that we take for granted now. If you think "oh I've read this before", well that's probably because she did it first! In the same way that I won't accept any romance novel snobbery on this blog, I won't accept anyone being rude about Agatha Christie. She's brilliant.
This book is an absolute classic example of the closed circle mystery. 10 people are invited to stay on an island off the coast of Devon and surprise surprise, they start dying in various ways that happen to match the titular nursery rhyme. The atmosphere gets more and more chilling and intense as the story unfolds - at first it starts to look accidental but it soon becomes pretty obvious that a murderer is toying with them all. They're the only people on the island so how is it happening and who's doing it? As with all of Christie's books, it's eminently readable and thoroughly good fun. Who doesn't love puzzling out whodunnit?
Did Roz enjoy it?
I must confess to a bit of book snobbery when I saw this choice. I thought, an Agatha Christie? Seriously? But I'd actually never read one of her novels before, and ended up enjoying it the most out of the three. I liked the style of it, and I enjoyed trying to work out who was responsible for bringing them all to the island. At times the deaths are too rapid in a way that starts to seem farcical, but I still really enjoyed it. I congratulated myself afterwards on identifying the culprit early on, but Christie's repeated use of bait and switch meant that you constantly questioned the conclusions you drew and changed your mind. It's very cleverly done, as a story it's quite a hard thing to pull off and the epilogue explaining how it was done is really necessary but she does it. The poem was a nice structure to weave the story around, though I do hear it was a decidedly more offensive poem upon original publication!
Thanks to Roz for joining in this month! If you'd like to read fuller reviews of the three books we read this month then she's put some longer ones up on her blog.
I'll be back next month with two different bloggers and we'll be reading Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Sparks and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. See you then!