Come join in if you've read any of the above! I only have the sketchiest notes on these, culled from a notebook. If I don't at least write down titles I forget I've read them at all. A very reassuring trait in a doctor, I can assure you.
4. Absolute Zero - Helen Cresswell
Bought this as I remembered it from childhood - and in fact, this was the book with the 'all the bees are ded" line that made me choke with laughter at twelve. That happened again a few times at twenty-five, although there was the inevitable loss of pathos in the name of humour that I didn't note half my life ago. Very, very clever books for 'children', though, and amazingly well-realised characters. However, Jack as the hero of the piece plays into the boring Everyman trope. Team Uncle Parker!
5. Good in Bed - Jennifer Weiner
Came highly recommended on the internet; hugely disappointing. Plot that was insanely hotpotch but mainly just insane: fat girl gets dumped, meets movie star, sells script, falls pregnant, and - my absolute most hated trope - doctor falls for patient. Just, NO. Will not be reading any more of her backlist.
6. Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare
A huge surprise: actually readable, with a decent, if threadbare, plot and some engaging characters. Despite knowing exactly how I was being manipulated, I fell for Will, and saw how she catered to others with Jem. Tessa is refreshingly not the prettiest or smartest girl in the room, but she does have a degree of agency. Jessamine is awesome and quite sympathetically written. I actually wanted to read the next one. Going back in time was clearly the stretch CC needed.
7. Ash - Malinda Lo
God, this was SO. BORING. Lo is a competent writer, in that her sentences make sense and she can spell, but that's all you CAN say. Ash should have been Ais. She wasn't even a person. Not a single effort was made to humanise her stepfamily aside from the parts Lo lifted wholesale from Ever After. Making the love interest female was her best move, otherwise this pathetic effort would have faded into the obscurity it so richly deserves.
8. The Lions of Al-Rassan - Guy Gavriel Kay
At times I felt - especially in comparison to ASOIAF - that I needed a degree in Spanish history to sort this out. It became clear eventually. Although moving, it falls short of the grandeur and scope at which it aims - mostly because it was trying to fit SO MUCH into one book, but also because of characterisation shortcuts, an excess of nobility, good-bad dichotomies and random insertion of magical realism. I do wish Ammar had died and Jehane loved Alvar differently instead (the old 'okay is okay' line of mine I love). Plus, why was everyone white with blue eyes?!
9. The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides
I really enjoyed the start of this, where everyone falls in love through literature. The depiction of bipolar disorder was very well done; however I feel it, and Mitchell's pilgrimage, almost belonged in a different book. Maybe what I wanted - and didn't get - was something that more closely echoed and argued with Austen et al, as suggested by the blurb. This book really had nothing to do with them at all, unless you could the Barthes love-in.
10. Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene
Funnier than I expected, and amazingly prescient, given that it was written BEFORE the Bay of Pigs. I actually liked terrible Captain Segura best, probably because he was so terrible and because of who the cigarette case skin belonged to. There's a Coen-esque (or perhaps the Coens have a Greene-ish?) approach too making every character slightly loopy. I still don't know what this book is for, but I'm sure the internet can tell me.
11. King Lear - Shakespeare
So in the tragedies everyone dies, which has the effect of diluting the tragedy of death. Whoops? I read this as the frustration of a family dealing with a dementia patient who thinks he's a king. The three sisters are one dimensional ciphers for evil, seduction and virtue. The most blithely misogynist piece I've read for a while.
12. Twelfth Night - Shakespeare
If people fell in love at first sight, and that sight was enough to inform you of their personality, habits, idiosyncrasies, likes and dislikes, to the point where you could instantly tell if they tallied with yours ... this would be very romantic. As it is, it reads like the worst hysterics of very young teenagerhood. Or as Wendy Cope suggests as a cure for love: 'get to know them better'. Might've stopped the Duke's whining.
13. Julius Caesar - Shakespeare
I think I might like the history plays better - shame they're so much harder to get a hold of.
14. Sushi for Beginners - Marian Keyes
A through-your-fingers OMG WE WERE THAT AWFUL glimpse of the Celtic Tiger at the height of its power. Enough to make me feel we deserved this damn recession.
15. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
Engrossing, but in the end I wasn't sure what she MEANT by it. If she hadn't referenced Dostoyevsky I wouldn't have picked it up on my own, but then I'm bad at things like that. Kind of lucky, having Orwell express an opinion on Julian? Who was a very slight presence despite Tartt's retconning at the end. Camilla had no agency. I don't know why she went from one 'strong' man to another without ever hitting back. Kept waiting for Francis/Richard, Camilla/Richard, Henry/Richard ... anyone/Richard. What a passive observer. And his life was over before twenty-five? Please.
16. Not Before Sundown - Johanna Sinisalo
Unbelievably lyrical, every sentence like poetry (although all very similar poetry). I don't ... get it, though. Does Angel now live with the trolls? Was that Pessi's plan? Dr Spiderman's 'wrap-up' about the trolls' master-plan seems hastily stuck-on. Sinisalo seemed to enjoy the immersion in troll lore without thinking it needed to go somewhere until the very end - and did it? Fascinating insight into Finnish culture too.
17. An Equal Music - Vikram Seth
Hard, so hard to believe this was written by the same author who wrote A Suitable Boy. Flat and stilted, as if it were written in translation, anyone's POV - Julia's, Piers's, the goddamn violin's - might have been less flaccid, wimpy and saturated with self-pity than Michael's. Although going incommunicado was bad, and he got what he deserved for being such a dick, I nearly wish he'd done something worse just to spice things up.
18. The Forgotten Waltz - Anne Enright
If Enright's usual prose is different to this, I suppose she did well to capture Gina's messy, convoluted, eating-its-own-tail internal monologue. If it's just her usual style, I don't think it succeeds in being as carefree and ill-measured, purposefully unpurposeful, as it wants to be. She added absolutely nothing to the old hat issue of the destructive effect of infidelity. Maybe because it's told from one point in time, we don't really see the outcome of Gina's discovery of Sean's true character. A few hokey Oirish elements too.
19. Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald
NOT EVEN F SCOTT CAN MAKE DOCTOR-PATIENT RELATIONSHIPS FLY. EW. EW. EW. I didn't like the implication that we should pity Nicole's father - that it was her fault for being so goddamn pretty. Dick was Don Draper - a boring egotist who treats other people as dolls and got just exactly what he deserved. Why did F Scott write characters he so clearly detested?
20. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Boring beyond the telling of it. I understand what and why Hemingway did what he did with prose, but pushed this far it might as well be a computer manual. My friend Eoin maintains that Jake had his dick blown off in the war, but it reads just as easily as shellshock-induced psychological impotence. Also, I don't care. Again, dude seemed to hate all his characters. No wonder he and F Scott were mates.
21. Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foers
Didn't like the jocular crudity but did appreciate the way it apologised for itself later. This is book is what all amateur memoirists want to achieve and it is a very bad example to them, being excellent while making it look easy. Not sure where he was going with the anachronistic magical realism village? It was still my favourite part though: so full of vigour and charm, like a fantasy world by Diana Wynne Jones.
22. A Patchwork Planet - Anne Tyler
This was so easy to read, like swimming through milk. A lot of her little statements (via Barnaby) were tellingly poignant, and she paints such stark and accurate portraits of old age and ageing. She does remind me of Nick Hornby in the insouciant ease of her prose - no traps for the unwary, no cross-genre cheating. Will be reading many more.
23. The 19th Wife - David Eberschoff
Entry-level prose; sensationalist, yet thoroughly unoriginal in the fictional characters (all handily based on himself). Yet still more gripping than Hemingway or F Scott ... how is this? Why is this? HOW DO YOU LEARN TO WRITE LIKE THIS.
24. Bounce - Matthew Syed
Very interesting; I totally agreed with his theory. Would not want to read any fiction by him. He described black people living in mud huts as 'elegant'. Uh.
25. The Glass House - Rachel Caine
For what it was, this was reasonably good. No POC, but okay female characters. Reminded me of TVD in that the plot ideas were flimsy but fast-moving targets. In other hands the ghost-vampire could have a lot of pathos, but here it's very obviously just a way to fuck up his sex life and not much else. Also fail to understand why all these people, especially the protagonist, needed to be so young. Used 'and stuff' as a description of - well, stuff - at least twice. Doesn't see a need to improve, I guess (I think this is the writers seventeenth book or something).
26. The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafron
Topped my misogeny hitlist 2012! Yay! FULL of women being denied agency, the right to make their own decisions and the integrity of their own bodies. Fernan, a creepy sexual harasser, is THE HERO. The police villain is hilariously caricaturised. I don't know why Daniel was a character, let alone the protag, except to justify the book being laboriously non-chronological. And seriously, can we be DONE with the sekrit incest already?
27. City of Dragons - Robin Hobb
Oh Robin Hobb, how I weep for how good you once were. If I didn't know that she COULD write without every character recapping the events of the previous chapter in their own POV, explaining every piece of dialogue in the prose, and just in general over-writing, it wouldn't be so bad. There were loads of new ideas and plots in this and I was surprised that it was so obviously set up for a fourth book. A duology to a quartet and beyond? Surely better to have thought out and edited this plot into three tight books instead of the sprawling superfluous mange we're getting instead.
28. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
OMFG HOW SO PRETENTIOUS? The ending - what? So the point was to save the kid from suicide because PEARL-CLUTCH OH WON'T SOMEBODY THING OF THE CHILLEN? It would have been a MUCH stronger book if the kid had topped herself. I sort of liked the pseudo-romance but the whole thing reeked of the worst kind of Orientalism. I might have been impressed if I didn't know that Hikaro No Go had a lulzy fandom or liked Anna Karenina? I just feel everything about this is WRONG ON THE INTERNET.
29. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
Terribly impressive, authentic and evocative descriptions, but fell down on two things:
1. Depiction of the OMG TRAGIC FATED TO BE DOOMED romance between Celia and Marco. I bought Celia/Thiessan way more off the back of JUST ONE SCENE;
2. The contest itself. Could have been four years long and more intense, while cutting the pointless ageing dilemma that added no value to the story. WHAT was the contest? Who were the teachers? And why'd it take this long for Prospero to learn invisibility?
30. Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi
Interesting but I just didn't GET it. Maybe am just not smart enough. I didn't realise till I read the end credits that it was supposed to be a Bluebeard retelling. Plus, if it hadn't come recommended by a feminist reviewer (requires hate) I would have mostly been struck by how flagrantly misogynist it was. I didn't really feel that she turned that on its head very successfully or, like, at all. Uh. Admirable rather than enjoyable, I guess?