Book Notes

These are notes on a couple of books I’ve read recently. They didn’t send me rushing to the computer to write about them, but they were good enough to finish.

I wrote a bit about Solar by Ian McEwan in a Teaser Tuesday post, whilst I was still reading it.

Opinion on Amazon is pretty much spread across the board, almost as many people  giving it five stars as those giving it one star. I thought it was OK, not as good as Atonement or Enduring Love both of which I loved.

It’s a story of greed, self-deception as well as climate science, global warming and photovoltaics.  The book is in three sections, 2000, 2005 and 2009 following the life of Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize winning physicist whose fifth marriage has failed.  His previous marriages had all ended due to his womanising,  but this time it’s his wife who has an affair and he can’t stand it. Beard is an unlikeable character, bemoaning his weight, overeating and drinking to excess, lecturing and lechering, stealing his colleagues research and setting up his wife’s lover for murder:

He was self-sufficient, self-absorbed, his mind a cluster of appetites and dreamy thoughts. Like many clever men who prize objectivity, he was a solipsist at heart , and in his heart was a nugget of ice … (page 169)

There are some interesting and some not so interesting parts to this book, some of it great and some not so great. It seemed as though it was really three episodes rather than one story.

The Turning of the Tide by Reginald Hill was originally published under the pseudonym of Patrick Ruell in 1971 as The Castle of the Demon. It’s described on the book jacket as an ‘intricately plotted thriller’. Emily has left her husband, the enigmatic Sterne Follett and is staying in Skinburness, a coastal town on the Solway Firth. At first the reasons for her doing this are not revealed. A sequence of sinister events unfolds, a body is found and Emily realises that her husband is involved – just how or why she has yet to discover.

Emily is staying in a house facing the long spit of land called the Grune, a sandy raised shingle beach. She suspects someone has been in the house, moving her things, she sees a green face looking in the window at her, an American staying at the local hotel goes missing, there are two archaeologists digging in a patch of furze and gorse. Then she is attacked whilst walking back from the hotel. She doesn’t know who to trust.

I wasn’t totally convinced by the plot, although there is plenty of tension. There was no way I would have guessed the outcome which I thought was a bit far-fetched. The descriptions of the location, however are very good:

They walked along the shore in a silence which became almost companionable after a couple of minutes. The sun was quite low now, shooting a line of varnished brightness up the Solway, laying a golden boundary between England and Scotland. The line of the tide running down to the Irish Sea was obscured by light. Her mind played with the phrase for a moment, then let it be washed away by the gentle lap of the ebbing water which, with their own footsteps, was the only sound. It seemed to merge with the silence rather than break it, just as the buildings that were now in sight seemed to lie flat against the frieze of grass, sea and sky rather than intrude into it. (page 12)

I borrowed both books from the library.

Teaser Tuesday – Solar by Ian McEwan

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be ReadingShare a couple or more sentences from the book you’re currently reading.

I started to read Solar by Ian McEwan on Saturday. I’ve borrowed it from the library and on Saturday I discovered I couldn’t renew it because someone had reserved it. It’s due back tomorrow and I really wanted to read it.  So I stopped reading Gone to Earth and Agatha Christie’s Autobiography (my current books) to concentrate solely on Solar.

I think it’s a strange juxtaposition of the story of a scientist, Michael Beard, a Nobel Prize winning physicist whose fifth marriage has failed, set against a scientific background. I love it when McEwan writes sentences such as this on page 8:

Then her absence hung in the summer dusk like garden bonfire smoke, an erotic charge of invisible particulates that caused him to remain in position for many pointless minutes. He was not actually mad, he kept telling himself, but he thought he was getting a taste, a bitter sip.

And I also am full of admiration for his detailed description of Beard sitting opposite a stranger in a train, both eating salt and vinegar crisps from the same packet:

Inevitably the second crisp was less piquant, less surprising, less penetrating than the first and it was precisely this shortfall, this sensual disappointment, that prompted the need, familiar to drug addicts, to increase the dose. He would eat two crisps at once. (page 123)

But he loses me somewhat with sentences like this:

Without the ‘entexting’ tools the scientists used – the single-photon luminometer, the flow cytometer, immunofluorescence, and so on – the gene could not be said to exist. (page 131)

As I haven’t finished this book yet it’s too soon to decide what I think of it, but so far I’m liking it, despite those words I have only a vague idea about their meanings. Parts of it actually made me laugh out loud, at the morbid humour, but I wonder if it could have done without the science and stood just as well as a story about an ageing, womanising, narcissistic, overweight and food-obsessed man.

Sunday Selection

This morning I finished reading A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie. I read it very quickly as it’s easy reading and although sprinkled throughout with lots of red herrings it wasn’t too difficult to guess the outcome. I’ll write about it later, along with three other books I’ve read recently.

I’m wondering which book to read next. I have a pile of library books – new ones I borrowed this week:

I think I’d better get on with reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday as that is the next book we’re discussing at the book club at the end of October. It’s a matter of timing it right so that I finish it in time but not too soon so that I’ve forgotten about it before the meeting. It’s actually a book that I’ve ignored in the past as the title doesn’t appeal to me – the idea of  fly fishing is not guaranteed to fill me with desire. I have started it, but chapter one isn’t inspiring me, with its details of migratory salmonids, the evolution of salmon parr and feeding conditions. I shall persevere and hope it improves.

Meanwhile, my mind is wandering towards the library books, even though I have two non-fiction books from LibraryThing that I feel I should read soon – why is it that books that sound so interesting suddenly lose their attraction when I start to feel the slightest bit under pressure to read them by a certain date? A hangover from my working life, maybe when I had to produce reports to deadlines.

Another thing too – why do I borrow so many library books when I have plenty of my own still to read? If I didn’t have to return books then I wouldn’t be tempted to borrow more – maybe D should go on his own to take my books back!

Back to the library books, I think I’ll look at Solar by Ian McEwan. I like his books but having read somewhere that this isn’t as good as others and I wondered if it may contain a bit too much about physics for me I decided not to buy it, but to check it out if I saw it in the library. At least, it starts off well, as Michael Beard’s marriage appears to be disintegrating and he can’t stand it – the shame  and inconvenient longing he has for his wife. It does make me want to read on.

I borrowed the other books because I like the authors – apart from The Autobiography of the Queen by Emma Tennant and Mr Monk goes to the Firehouse by Lee Goldberg. I haven’t read anything by these two authors and they are impulse loans. The Goldberg book caught my eye because of its title, which intrigued me as it didn’t convey anything at all to me. On the cover it’s advertised as being based on the Television Series – an American series, I assume, as I’ve never heard of it. If anyone knows this series I’d love to hear about it. Is it any good?

The Autobiography of the Queen attracted me when I read on the front cover that this is ‘hot on the heels of Alan Bennett’s fictional account of the Queen.’ I’ve read that and thought it was very amusing. I thought I needed something light and amusing to counter-balance the crime fiction and serious books I seem to have been reading lately.