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.

31. Cage, by Lilja Sigurdadóttir

This it the third in the author’s Reykjavik Noir trilogy. It is set a few years after Snare and Trap, with the result that I felt there was a lot missing from Sonja’s and Agla’s stories.

I found it very much harder to engage with the characters and with what was going on. The structure of short, punchy chapters did not work as well for me as it had done in the first two books. I am afraid that to me this book was rather more going through the motions, and I think I was going through the motions in reading it.

So to me, this was a disappointing end to the trilogy that had started so well.

5 out of 10 for the book, 7 out of 10 for the trilogy (the average of the 3 marks).

10 out of 10 for whoever designed the covers to the 3 books!

30. Cousin Bette, by Honore de Balzac

More than 40 years ago I read Le Pere Goriot, studying it when taking French at A Level. That book introduced me to the Comedie Humaine, and I read a few of the novels at that time.

Now I have come to Cousin Bette. An interesting story which picks up on the themes that I remember of corrupt Parisian life, and how it affects all it touches ranging from the virtuous to the incorrigible old lechers.

Cousin Bette is the poor relation who lives with apparently wealthy and successful relatives. But she is jealous, spiteful and vindictive, and plots her vengeance on the family. Aspects of the plot did not really add up for me, and I remembered having previously wondered how well Balzac understood women. Some of his sermonising was of his time, not ours.

It was good to meet some ‘old friends’ from Pere Goriot, Bianchon, Rastignac and a few others, now older and more advanced in their careers.

One gripe about this audiobook. The narrator is clearly an American, reading in an English accent. Too often the mask slipped as she mispronounce a word, e.g. saying “Pareezhun” and not Parisian.

7 out of 10

29. Coffin Road, by Peter May

Peter May writes good crime thrillers, no doubt about it. I really enjoyed the Lewis trilogy a few years ago. Entry Island was superb.

And so I settled down to this book, listening on my commutes over the last couple of weeks. The story hooks you from the start. OK, so the initial scene of a man washed up on a beach having lost his memory and not knowing who he is or what he is doing there is not entirely original, but it grabs attention, and we go from there.

And the story goes on. The pace never lets up. All the way to the final scene, which other reviewers would no doubt call ‘explosive’.

One thing I love is the descriptions of Lewis and Harris. I really need to visit the Outer Hebrides!

Yes, a good yarn. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the books I mentioned earlier, so 8 out of 10.