February Short Book Reviews

Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer. This did not suffer at all from my not having read its predecessor (These Old Shades) and was improved by the parents of the main characters all having their own extremely lively backstories which, while often only alluded to, made everyone more interesting and twice as large as life. Abductions, compromising situations, concealed identities, everyone defending everyone else’s honour with a different understanding of what that means, character A shooting character B (non-fatal) after B says A won’t (this reminds me of my family – never dare my mother to do something, by the way). Lots of fun.

The Corinthian – Georgette Heyer. Not as outrageous as Devil’s Cub, but with occasionally startling, how-can-this-not-be-intentional subtext (and having now read some of her non-historical fiction I think it was intentional), theft and murder and assumed identities coming back to bite the people who thought they were a good idea to start with.

The Talisman Ring – Georgette Heyer. I didn’t expect to enjoy this little murdery/theft/mystery/romance as much as I did, but then the second-fiddle silly heroine turned out to be deliberately pretending to be silly, which led to some hilarious asides between her and the people who know she hasn’t really fainted, etc. Also, smugglers and secret passages and hidden cellars and daring adventurers.

The Narrow Road to the Interior – Bashō. A quiet little pause of a book, in the midst of all these others – the tranquil, poetic account of the author/poet’s journey through 17th century Japan.

Space Train – Terrence Haile. I posted extracts and initial thoughts here. It was an experience. A consistently horrific experience.

Young Miles – Lois McMaster Bujold. This is an omnibus (‘by, to, from, for or with everybody’) of two novels and a novella: The Warrior’s Apprentice, ‘The Mountains of Mourning’ and The Vor Game, so I’m claiming it as two novels for the purposes of this year’s book count. I had been evading Bujold and regret that now. They were wonderful – adventure/mystery/detective/military-procedural/comedy-of-manners/jurisprudential/concealed-identities/missing-emperor/clash-of-cultures/clash-of-eras/cumulative-disaster stories which move at a flying pace, full of wonderful characters, irresistible forward momentum, hope, disappointments, reverses, surprises – they were like Hornblower and Jack Ryan and Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, but with space battles and situations which make the thought of writing an SOS in macramé seem plausible until 3 weeks after finishing the book when you realise it is brilliantly ridiculous.

The Amazing, Remarkable Monsier Leotard – Eddie Campbell and Dan Best (graphic novel). Self-indulgent, but not in a bad way. I felt like I was reading something the author and illustrator had made not with ‘the audience’ in mind, but for their own pleasure. A gentle, episodic, odd, humorous, sad series of vignettes of circus life and adventures and aging and fading, with beautiful soft sketchy images. Also with fortitudinous bowels, unlikely deaths and a cameo by ‘Lord’ George Sanger, whose autobiography I have just started reading.

Penhallow – Georgette Heyer. The only reason I wanted a happy ending for any of these appalling characters was so that I didn’t have to close the book thinking of them living out their horrible lives in self-inflicted misery. The cover billed it as a murder mystery, but it wasn’t a who-done-it at all. It was a why-haven’t-they-done-it-yet. When the victim was murdered, at last, I knew who had done it (you saw it happen, and also the blurb was completely wrong) and didn’t really mind if the murderer was caught. The characterisation was very thorough (I often enjoyed the descriptions) – I just disliked all the characters.

Flowers for Mrs Harris – Paul Gallico. The only Gallico novel I had read was heart-rending, lyrical The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk. I only realised when the last movie version came out that he also wrote The Poseidon Adventure, which was… unexpected. Flowers for Mrs Harris is like neither. It is a short, cheerful, hopeful and unlikely story of Mrs Harris, a cleaning lady, who saves to buy a Dior dress and goes to Paris to buy it. It tips between characterising some things as having particular appeal to the feminine brain (I think that may have been Terrence Haile’s term rather than Gallico’s), and praising an unvarnished, unromantic life of hard work and independence. It is sentimental, comic and lightly tragic but always pragmatically so (it reminded me a little of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which I have seen but not read), and is a short, cheerful read.

Also: Genesis, Esther, Mark and Romans.

5 thoughts on “February Short Book Reviews

  1. Will, I haven’t read Anathem yet, but I’ve been hearing a lot about it – thanks for the information!
    Emma – I am a slack fan, but I am glad that I’ve found her :)
    And maybe not subtext so much as innuendoes!

  2. Pingback: Best Books of 2009 « Errantry

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