On The Road, by Jack Kerouac

Buy On The Road on Amazon

OK, this really is not my kind of book. I listened to it given that it is a Great American Novel, the book that inspired the Beat Generation, stuff like that.

You can read elsewhere about this book. Apparently it is largely autobiographical. Well, I found the characters unappealing. Had I been in close company with Dean for any length of time I would have hit him.

The story also didn’t hold my attention. Frankly I was bored. I only kept going for the last three quarters because of the legendary stature this book has attained. The listing of names of people at particular events became tedious. The treatment of women, blacks, “Okies” and gays is probably of its time. I doubt that at any time in the last 20 years anyone would joke out loud in the US about dressing as Arabs and threatening to blow up New York.

I was reminded of something I was told nearly 40 years ago, about another book that has a similar reputation. “Anything that’s seminal is usually a load of wank”. Maybe this is a book that had to be read at the time it was published, in 1957, to appreciate its effect at the time. Perhaps that is its true significance – as a groundbreaker, leading the way that others would follow.

The narration by Matt Dillon is a saving grace.

But, for me, it was a load of self-indulgent drivel. 3 out of 10 (because it’s not as bad as the books I have only marked as 1 or 2).

The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing, by Mary Paulson-Ellis

I bought a signed first edition. This book seemed promising.

It did not live up to that promise.

The story somehow links a group of British soldiers in the very last days of the First World War and events a century later. But it never really grabbed or held my attention, and I didn’t really understand the point. And I totally missed the significance of the pawn ticket, that I think was intended as a thread linking various parts of the story.

So, I found it disappointing. 4 out of 10.

The Driftwood Girls, by Mark Douglas-Home

Cal McGill is the Sea Detective. He solves crimes with his knowledge of how currents and tides operate. I really enjoyed the first in the series, The Sea Detective, when I read it a few years ago.

A few years ago, I read this article, The Wetsuitman, about the mystery behind two bodies that had washed up on North Sea beaches in Norway and on the Dutch island of Texel. Straight away I thought of Cal McGill, the Sea Detective.

And so to the Driftwood Girls. I do not know whether Mark Douglas-Home had read about the ‘Wetsuitman’. I guess he probably had. In this story, two women had gone missing on opposite sides of the English Channel 23 years earlier, the body of one of them being found on Texel. The fact that their stories are connected does not become clear for quite a while, but the threads are slowly drawn together. The story starts with other things: a clandestine night time burial at sea in a Scottish sea loch, a missing sister, daughter of a long-missing mother, three apparently unconnected people who have made their lives on a Dutch island.

Possibly the ending is a little too neat. But overall, an excellent story, definitely the best since the first in the series. So I’m going to mark it 8 out of 10.

The Dry, by Jane Harper

Wow!

The Dry is the best crime novel I have read or listened to in quite a while.

It is set in a remote Australian farming community in a time of drought. Aaron Falk, who is a Federal police agent specialising in financial crime, returns to his home town of Kiawarra for the funeral of Luke Hadler, his best friend growing up, and his wife and son. It seems that Luke shot them both, and then himself.

Aaron’s return brings back memories of another death in Kiawarra 20 years earlier, a death that many in the community think Aaron had something to do with. As a result Aaron and his father were forced to leave town.

Masterfully told by Jane Harper, Aaron sets about puzzling out who killed Luke and his family, and finally resolves the death of his friend Ellie.

AsI said, a great piece of crime fiction. Highly recommended. 10 out of 10.

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

I had had this book in my Audible library for a long time. I knew of Sylvia Plath, of course, but had never read any of her work. It became time that I did.

And I had no preconceptions, no idea what The Bell Jar is about.

Well, it is said to be semi-autobiographical. I think the ‘semi’ may be an understatement. As a student, Plath had a serious breakdown, and attempted to take her own life. This is a book about the events leading up to that episode, and the way she was treated. I found parts of it deeply disturbing, I came close to giving up when it came to the description of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

I was struck by how much attitudes have changed in the last 60 or 70 years to so much: race, sex and sexuality, mental health.

The Audible version, read so very well by Maggie Gyllenhall, ended with a biographical note about Sylvia Plath. That was an excellent addition, for which I was grateful.

7 out of 10.

Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig

Set in London, in about 2007, Hearts and Minds follows a number of diverse characters whose lives slowly become connected.

It is a novel about life in London, and about Britain. It is written from something of a Guardian reading liberal viewpoint, and may therefore not be for everybody. I listened imagining how these characters would react to the shock of Brexit.

I understand that the author has written a number of other novels in which some of the minor characters here are the lead characters. Comparisons have been made to Balzac and La Comedie Humaine. I shall read more.

I enjoyed this book. I was drawn into the world and lives of these characters, and wanted to see how things panned out for them. 9 out of 10.

4 January 2020 – one year of this blog

That’s it. A year of writing notes about the books I have read or listened to.

35 books in all. Not bad – at the start of the year I estimated that the number would probably be about 20. Beloved slowed the pace down in November and December, but I never once thought of giving up on it.

I will carry on in 2020 and beyond, but will not be numbering the posts.

And if you have read this, thank you.