Your Face Tomorrow – 1: Fever And Spear, by Javier Marias

My wife says she has never known me be so down on a book as I was as I was reading this one.

I bought this book 7 or 8 years ago, after reading a very favourable review. At that time I read about 20 pages before giving up. Then a few weeks ago I decided to pick it up again…

This writer and this book have won prizes. Apparently it will be no surprise if he is awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Look at the blurb quoted in the image above (the cover of the edition I have just finished). Sorry, but it did nothing for me. Well, actually, it provoked some fairly strong negative reactions.

Very little happens. That is not a problem: I enjoyed The Remains Of The Day, notwithstanding the lack of ‘action’. Most of this is conversation over the course of a weekend.

Unfortunately, this writer likes extremely long sentences – some were over a page long. I found myself spending so much time trying to work out and make sense of the long sentences, with all their semi colons, brackets and digressions, that I lost track of where the book was going. And the conversations were wordy and verbose in the extreme, filled with thesaurus phrases – endless series of words all meaning the same or similar things. People who speak like that are pompous bores.

The book itself appears to be a study of human character, and how by observation it is possible to deduce whether another person is capable of killing, or is likely to betray trust.

Funnily enough, there was only one paragraph in the entire book that properly engaged me, and had me wanting to read more. That was the very last paragraph.

My conclusion: an over-hyped disappointment. 0 out of 10 (as I am not going to start giving negative marks).

We Are Animals, by Tim Ewins

We Are Animals is a fun little book. 99p from Amazon as a kindle e-book.

The story is about Jan (‘Manjan’) and how he met Jan (‘Ladyjan’). And lost her. And found her. And lost her again. And spent his life searching.

Jan’s story is full of coincidences. The novel is punctuated by the stories of various animals with whom the characters do not really interact.

There is a charming naivety to the main characters. I was reminded of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

A sweet little book. 6 out of 10.

The Fire Pit, by Chris Ould

My last review was of The Killing Bay, and I said I was going straight on to this final part of Chris Ould’s trilogy set in the Faroe Islands. Please don’t read or listen to this book without having first read or listened to The Blood Strand, and The Killing Bay (in that order). This is a trilogy of books that develop the story, and I think a good deal is lost if you don’t follow the sequence.

But, that said, what a trilogy! I really cannot recommend too highly this series about Jan Reyna, a British DI of Faroese parentage, and the crimes on the Faroes. The author widens the net of characters, so that we also follow the Faroese detective Hjalti Hentze and Lisbeth Salander clone Tove, as well as others. The action in this third part moves to Denmark. The story line hangs together well across the three books, leading to a climax, that as the cliche goes, is certainly explosive.

There is definitely an 8 or 10 part TV series in these 3 books. I will be hooked to it.

The narration by Matt Addis is equally flawless. I assume that his Faroese and Danish pronunciation is perfect, and he has a convincing different voice for each character.

If you are at home in the Covid-19 lockdown, why not binge listen to these 3 audiobooks?

Mark for this book: 10 out of 10.

Mark for the series: 10 out of 10.

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.

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.

35. Beloved, by Toni Morrison


Buy Beloved on Amazon

What a powerful book! I really do not know how to do it justice.

Toni Morrison died a few months ago, and all the tributes made me realise that I had to read Beloved. I have found it hard work: while some sections read more easily, others required care and perseverance. At times I wondered if not having black slave ancestry was making it harder for me to relate to this book.

I won’t attempt to describe Beloved. You can look elsewhere for that. I can see why it is rated as an American classic, and why Toni Morrison won a Nobel Prize.

But I cannot quite give it 10 out of 10, not yet, anyway. I suspect that it is a book that I will be thinking about for a long time to come, so it may yet earn that extra mark in my mind. 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.

28. Monsignor Quixote, by Graham Greene

I read this book a long time ago, and I remember the tv film with Alec Guinness and Leo McKern. Having listened a few months ago to Don Quixote, I thought it time to revisit this book.

Here Don Quixote’s descendant is a parish priest. For various reasons he sets off on a journey with the communist ex-mayor of El Toboso, who he calls Sancho, in Rocinante, the monsignor’s old Seat car. Various adventures ensue – run-ins with the Guardia, a visit to the cinema where they see a movie called A Maiden’s Prayer, Monsignor Quixote blowing up what he thinks is a balloon in a house of ill repute.

And there are of course the conversations between the two friends, on subjects of catholic and marxist theology.

Much shorter than Cervantes’ work, this is a worthy 20th century reimagining of the story. 9 out of 10.