Thursday, 13 January 2011

Last year in books

So here we are.  The obligatory first post, in which I am required to charm the pants off the blogosphere with my wit and intelligence.  I thought that, as this blog is going to be centred on my reading and writing habits, I might begin with a brief chat about the last couple of books I've devoured.

2010 was a pretty excellent year for reading.  I didn't so much as touch "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, or any of the Booker shortlist.  I always intend to, but fiction fashion is fickle, and it always seems that as soon as I've shelled out on half a dozen pristine paperbacks, a new wave of authors are in and my new purchases are obsolete.  The literary high brow don't seem to have much time for many of my tastes, either.  You won't find a decent horror novel being nominated for the Orange prize, or any decent thrillers on the same shelf as Ian McEwan.

That said, I couldn't bring myself to read any more than a hundred pages of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  Either Quercus need to hire better literary translators, or the late Larsson had a talent that is invisible to the naked eye.

I took the time this last year to make a start on my extensive To-Be-Read list.

"The Shining" by Stephen King.  This book has been around since before I was born, and even though I've been a massive fan of King for the last ten years, the only image "The Shining" brought to mind was the iconic moment from the film of the same name, in which Jack Nicholson leers through a broken doorway and shouts: "Here's Johnny!"

The novel itself was a pleasant surprise.  The character of Jack Torrance, off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, is not a two-dimensional psychopath-in-the-making as the film had let me to believe, but rather a recovering alcoholic who is desperate to mend his relationships with his wife Wendy and precociously intelligent son Danny.

Danny has second sight, and when the family move into the hotel, moments from its chequered past begin to surface.  As winter sets in, Jack develops an unhealthy obsession with the hotel and its previous guests.  The reader is left in the dark for much of the novel as to whether Jack's visions are as real as Danny's, or simply a product of cabin fever, and while the story's climax is so well-known that you can't help but predict some of the inevitable plot twists, that doesn't prevent King from producing moments of pure terror.  A few hints: hedge animals, bathtub, dog suit.

"Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman.  I've loved Gaiman's prose since I first picked up "American Gods" in 2005.  "Neverwhere" is the story of two cities: London Above, the city of Big Ben and St. Paul's Cathedral, and London Below, a mythical underworld.  In this alternate city, Knightsbridge is the Knight's Bridge, Earl's Court is a literal royal court, the Black Friars are a religious order and Islington is a bona fide angel.

Stumbling into this world is Richard Mayhew, a Scot living in London with his fiance.  When he stops one night to help an injured girl in the street, she draws him into London Below on a quest to save the city from the evil Messrs Croup and Vandemar.  Joining them is the fantastically imagined Marquis de Carabas, and the enigmatic Hunter.

Next on my Gaiman TBR List - The Graveyard Book.  I would also highly recommend Anansi Boys.

"Let The Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist hardly needs an introduction these days.  Adapted into a chiller in the author's native Sweden, it's since been remade for English-speaking audiences under the slightly underwhelming title "Let Me In".

It's Blackeberg, it's the Eighties, and twelve year old Oskar is enduring the living hell that is adolescence.  Bullied at school, more or less ignored by his mother, he finds companionship in his mysterious new neighbour, Eli.  The twist in this tale is not a huge one: Eli is a centuries old vampire in the body of a young girl, and is forced to go to extreme lengths to feed her bloodlust when she is left without her sinister guardian.

Horror elements aside, this novel also packs an emotional punch.  While the misery of a lonely pre-teen would make for dull reading in itself, the relationship that develops between Oskar and Eli is truly moving, and the story's climax had me with my heart in my mouth.

"Horns" by Joe Hill.  Iggy wakes up one morning with a raging hangover and demonic horns protuding from his forehead.  As a premise, this doesn't suck - but I was worried that the explanation wouldn't live up to it.  I needn't have, as Hill delivers thrills and chills in equal measure just as in his previous novel "Heart Shaped Box".

As Iggy tries to find out how he got his horns, he finds that people react to them in odd ways.  They feel suddenly compelled to confess their darkest thoughts and impulses to him.  Iggy decides to use this knowledge, not just to solve the mystery of the horns, but to find the man that killed his girlfriend one year before.

Not quite a simple revenge story, not a straightforward horror, "Horns" is a clever and complex contemporary novel.

I can't wait to read more of King and Gaiman this year.  I'm also hoping to discover some brand new talented author who can claim hours of my time.  And when I'm not reading, I'll be writing.  And occasionally drinking.


  1. Yay, I took your blog cherry :D
    I love Gaiman and King too, two of my faves. I am also going to have to read Joe Hill after reading this. Nice blog!

    J x

  2. Joe Hill is actually Stephen King's son, which I didn't know until after I finished "Horns". Even if you compare him to his famous dad, Hill's writing style is still great. I would highly recommend his debut novel "Heart Shaped Box", which is about an eccentric heavy metal star who 'buys' a ghost for his occult collection.

  3. I loved Horns, but I truly enjoyed Hill's short story collection 20th Century Ghost. King as long been my favorite author, and I love that his son is turning out to be brilliant as well (although his style is different). I need to read more Gaiman, I've only ever read Stardust but so many people seem to love him.

  4. I have been meaning to check out Horns. I had no idea he was King's son! Interesting!

    I would have agreed with you about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo if I had allowed myself to stop after a hundred pages. I forced myself to continue, needing to know where all the hype was coming from. I fully admit the first 150 pages are terribly boring but the story really picks up. I got to a certain point where I realized I was no longer yearning to give up on the book but instead, couldn't put it down. I would definitely recommend giving it another shot.

    Love your blog! I look forward to reading more of your book reviews!