I don’t have that much to say about Dodger, because as I said in my review of Maskerade, once you’ve commented on one Terry Pratchett novel, there’s not that much new that you can say about all the others. Dodger bends this rule slightly, because it’s a), a young adult novel, and b), not set on the Discworld. However, while Pratchett’s YA fiction is generally excellent, Dodger is one of the weakest books he’s published in years. Set in Victorian London, the titular lead is an urchin who gets by from fishing around in the sewers for valuables that have got lost down the drain, a life which gets turned around when he interrupts a murder and falls in love.
I’ve read quite a lot of Science Fiction in the past, though admittedly I do spend more time in the so frequently linked genre, Fantasy. In fact, although the challenge of the last year began with a Sci-fi book, the whole project was, in part, an attempt to distance myself from the genre somewhat and widen my literary purview. Free from that constraint, I decided I’d try one of the classics of the genre, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris.
Finally, I’m returning to reviews (even though I read this over a month ago, I’ve only had time to finish it this morning!), as life begins to return to normal for me.
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Almost English was Longlisted for the Booker Prize, but didn’t make the short list, and frankly I’m glad of that. In fact, I’m not convinced it deserved being nominated at all, as it’s easily the least enjoyable of the nominees I have read. Set in 1980s London, the overall point of the story is to show the struggle of the protagonist, Marina, at presenting herself as a normal English girl and concealing the truth of her identity, that she is actually half Hungarian and lives with her very out of touch grandmother and great aunts.
On Wednesday, I finished my last book, I mentioned that I was going to do some summary posts. I’ll write a qualitative report in a few days, but thanks to Goodreads allowing you to export statistical spread sheets of your books, first I’m going to do a quantitative post.
The year comes to a close, with my final book, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the books tells the story of Subhash Mitri, a young man from a suburb of Calcutta born in the closing years of World War Two, and of his family, focusing on his younger brother Udayan, his wife Gauri, and his daughter Bela. Spanning almost seven decades the book, the Mitri’s lives are not jam packed with excitement, but they are just like any lives, traumatic and tolerable in turns with occasional glimpses of joy.
I’ve read a lot of books that have been translated into English this year, and some of them have really made me think about the mechanics of translation as it were. How accurately can you render true meaning, both linguistic and cultural in a different language? How can someone who only speaks English really understand the works of a Japanese, or Russian author, even when reading in translation? Is that a Fish in Your Ear? is an in-depth story of the history of inter-lingual communication, both written and spoken.
Fittingly, since it is on the shortlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, A Tale for the Time Being, is, I think, one of the most egregious examples of the ‘pretentious award baiting novel’ stereotype I’ve ever read. A non-linear narrative, appendices, a narrator who’s a fictionalised version of the author, discovery of a hidden treasure that may have been related to a recent tragedy (in this instance the Fukushima earthquake and the resulting tsunami), religion and philosophy, death, and a rather uncomfortable sexual encounter. Despite all of this, it’s a distinctly average book. There are some good aspects, but in general the story was quite boring and the execution made it hard to become invested.