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 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.

34. The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak

I have a private Amazon wish list for books that have been recommended to me or that I have read about somewhere. It is a kind of list of books I ought to read. And so The Bastard of Istanbul found its way into that list a couple of years ago, and I cannot remember why.

Recently I bought this title as an audiobook. I am so glad I did.

The story is set in Istanbul. It starts in about 1985, when Zeliha, aged 19, goes to an abortion clinic. Except the termination does not take place. At the same time, in Arizona, Rose, who is divorced from an Armenian American husband by whom she has a daughter Armanoush (who Rose calls Amy), meets a young Turkish student.

Move forward to 2005. Zeliha has a daughter, Asya. Armanoush visits Istanbul and stays with her stepfather’s family – yes you guessed it. And so the story becomes about the intertwined stories of these families, going back to the time of the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians. And all the history comes to a climax in the present.

This novel is very well written. I have just checked, and it seems Shafak wrote this novel in English (I had been going to compliment the translator!). The narration by Alix Dunmore is excellent.

I recommend The Bastard of Istanbul very highly. 10 out of 10.

33. The Blood Strand, by Chris Ould

Here’s a variation on the Nordic Noir theme: British cop helps solve a murder in the Faroes.

Jan Reyna’s mother took him away from the Faroe Islands when he was 3. Now in his forties, he returns to visit his estranged father, who is seriously ill. as I said, he is a policeman in the UK: by fortunate coincidence, a Detective Inspector specialising in homicide cases.

And, guess what – there’s a murder. It’s sort of all tied up with what happened to his father. It’s sort of got connections to why his mother (now dead) left all those years ago. And so Jan gets involved as a kind of consultant to the detectives in Torshavn.

This novel has what appear to be the classic ingredients of a good Nordic Noir. The bleak setting. The taciturn locals. The years old unsolved mystery.

I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook. I got the impression that the author, Chris Ould, speaks Faroese. Also the narrator, Matt Addis, prononounced Faroese words and the occasional snippet of Faroese speech fluently: definite plus points for this audiobook.

This novel is the first of three. I understand that in the next two Reyna digs deeper into his family’s past, and the story of why is mother left is revealed.

I shall be back for more of this series. 8 out of 10.

32. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Hmmm. I just don’t know.

This book has been a great success. A best seller, a book club choice.

It comes across as a gothic-type novel set in Barcelona in some parallel universe. A sort of detective story about the writer of a mysterious book.

I enjoyed. I wanted to know how the story would pan out.

But …

There wasn’t quite the spark that made this book magical for me.

And I do wish that about 3/4 of the way through the author had not resorted to the device of a long letter from a deceased character (“If you are reading this it’s because something has happened to me”, that kind of thing). That trickery was not necessary, and frankly I had worked out most of what the author found it necessary to say by that means.

But a fairly gripping story. I shall probably come back to the next one – apparently there are 4 in the ‘Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ series.

Now for my mark. As I said, I just don’t know. 8/10. And (because of that letter) 6/10. You decide.