Monday, 30 November 2009

Too Close to Home

Title: Too Close to Home

Author: Linwood Barclay

Number of pages: 466

Started: 20 November 2009

Finished: 30 November 2009

Opening words:

Derek figured, when the time came, the crawlspace would be the best place to hide. The only thing was, he hoped the Langleys wouldn't take that long, one he was in position, to get the hell out of their house and hit the road. The last time Derek had played with Adam in their crawlspace, they'd been eight, nine years old. They'd pretend it was a cave filled with treasure or the cargo hold of a spaceship and there was a monster hiding in there somewhere.

Plot summary:

When the Cutter family's next-door-neighbours, the Langleys, are gunned down in their house one hot August night, the Cutters' world is turned upside down. That violent death should have come so close to them is shocking enough in suburban Promise Falls, but at least the Cutters can console themselves with the thought that lightning is unlikely to strike twice in the same place. Unless, of course, the killers went to the wrong house... At first the idea seems crazy - but each of the Cutter family has a secret they'd rather keep buried. What was on that old computer teenage Derek and his friend Adam Langley had salvaged? And where is it now? What hold does a local professor and bestselling author have on Ellen Cutter? And what does Jim Cutter know about Mrs Langley that even her husband didn't? To find out who killed the Langleys and why, everybody's secrets are going to have to come out. But the final secret - the secret that could save them or destroy them - is in the one place nobody would ever think of looking...

What I thought:

This book was a decent read. It wasn’t a great work of literature and I could see how various bits of the plot were going to pan out very early on, but it was readable and a reasonable plot.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Death at Intervals

Title: Death at Intervals

Author: Jose Saramago

Number of pages: 196

Started: 12 November 2009

Finished: 16 November 2009

Opening words:

The following day, no one died. This fact, being absolutely contrary to life’s rules, provoked enormous and, in the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in people’s minds, for we have only to consider that in the entire forty volumes of universal history there is no mention, not even one exemplary case, of such phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty-four hours, diurnal and nocturnal, without one death from an illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not one, not a single one.

Plot summary:

On the first day of the New Year, no one dies. This understandably causes great consternation amongst religious leaders - if there's no death, there can be no resurrection and therefore no reason for religion - and what will be the effect on pensions, the social services, hospitals? Funeral directors are reduced to arranging funerals for dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots. Life insurance policies become meaningless. Amid the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration: flags are hung out on balconies and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity - eternal life. But will death's disappearance benefit the human race, or will this sudden abeyance backfire? How long can families cope with malingering elderly relatives who scratch at death's door while the portal remains firmly shut? Then, seven months later, death returns, heralded by purple envelopes informing the recipients that their time is up. Death herself is now writing personal notes giving one week's notice. However, when an envelope is unexpectedly returned to her, death begins to experience strange, almost human emotions. In his new novel, Jose Saramago again turns the world on its head - an everyday event is snatched away, and humankind is left to make of it what it will.

What I thought:

This was a good read. This is the second book by Jose Saramago that I have read, so I was rather more prepared for his complete unwillingness to follow most grammatical rules (which can be very inconvenient if you are travelling on the tube and desperately hoping for a full stop to appear, as you will be at your stop imminently). I like his choice of topics, this time that death stops – and then recommences some time letter with death herself sending letters to people telling them that they have one week left to live.

I like that Saramago questions his own plots and either offers an explanation for things that are perhaps stretching credibility a bit too much or just says the equivalent of “you’ll just have to trust me on that one”. You can almost hear the author thinking and putting together the plot and playing about with the ethical dilemmas and plot devices. His book are bizarre but satisfying reads.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Go Tell it on the Mountain

Title: Go Tell it on the Mountain

Author: James Baldwin

Number of pages: 256

Started: 5 November 2009

Finished: 11 November 2009

Opening words:

Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself.

Plot summary:

"Nothing but the darkness, and all around them destruction, and before them nothing but the fire--a bastard people, far from God, singing and crying in the wilderness!" First published in 1953, Baldwin's first novel is a short but intense, semi-autobiographical exploration of the troubled life of the Grimes family in Harlem during the Depression.

What I thought:

This was a good book, not quite in the same league as Baldwin’s book I have read (Giovanni’s Room), but good nonetheless. It is a semi-autobiographical work of fiction and is quite a bitter read, but also very engaging. There were passages in it that were rather mesmerising and beautifully written, even if the subject itself was filled with anger and other negative emotions at times.

Baldwin wrote this book to make peace with himself about his father and given the events of the book, it is clear why he needed to do that. A powerful book, if a little uncomfortable to read at times.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Death of Grass

Title: The Death of Grass

Author: John Christopher

Number of pages: 208

Started: 1 November 2009

Finished: 4 November 2009

Opening words:

As sometimes happens, death healed a family rift.

When Hilda Custance was widowed in the early summer of 1939, she wrote, for the first time since her marriage thirteen years before, to her father. Their moos touched – hers longing for the hills of Westmorland after the grim seasons of London, and his of loneliness and the desire to see his only daughter again, and his unknown grandsons, before he died. The boys, who were away at school, had not been brought back for the funeral, and at the end of the summer term they returned to the small house at Richmond only for a night, before, with their mother, they travelled north. In the train, John, the younger boy, said “But why do we never have anything to do with Grandfather Beverley?” His mother looked out of the window at the tarnished grimy environs of London, wavering, as though with fatigue, in the heat of the day.
She said vaguely “It’s hard to now how these things happen. Quarrels begin, and neither person stops them, and they become silences, and nobody breaks them.”

Read the book here.

Plot summary:

At first the virus wiping out grass and crops is of little concern to John Custance. It has decimated Asia, causing mass starvation and riots, but Europe is safe and a counter-virus is expected any day. Except, it turns out, the governments have been lying to their people. When the deadly disease hits Britain they are left alone, and society starts to descend into barbarism. As John and his family try to make it across country to the safety of his brothers farm in a hidden valley, their humanity is tested to its very limits.

What I thought:

I enjoyed this book. I took a bit of time to warm to it, but by the end I thought it was really good. Then I re-read the beginning of the book and liked the beginning much more second time around.

The book tells the tale of a virus that wipes out all of the world’s grass, including any grass based crops, and focuses on a family’s flight from London and the government’s dastardly plans, and all the people they meet, or join up with them, along the way.

I wouldn’t rate it as highly as The Day of the Triffids, but it is still a good read and one that actually made me wonder how much we take for granted and what we would do if those things were taken away.