Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Title: Unknown

Author: Mari Jungstedt

Number of pages: 430

Started: 22 October 2010

Finished: 27 October 2010

Opening words:

From a distance only a faint light was visible. Igors Bleidelis spied it in his binoculars as the Estonian freighter passed the jetty on its way to Visby Harbour. He was standing on deck on the port side. Dusk had settled over the desolate harbour, and the glaring lights of the ferry terminal were coming on.

Plot summary:

It’s summer on Gotland and an international group of archaeology students are excavating an ancient Viking site. The camaraderie and holiday spirits of the group are shattered when one of their number, a Dutch student called Martina, disappears. Rumours abound about a secret relationship she was having with someone on the island, but is her disappearance simply a lover’s intrigue? When the body of a horse is discovered in a local farmer’s field, other rumours begin to circulate. The horse had been decapitated and the head has vanished. As Inspector Knutas begins his investigation, echoes from Gotland’s Viking past begin to trouble his search. When Martina’s naked body is found hanging from a tree, with what look like ritualistic markings on her skin, there can be little further question. Someone is calling to the old Gods of Gotland. Martina has been killed according to the Viking ritual of the three-fold death, and the one thing the ritual points to is that more deaths will follow.

What I thought:

This was a return to some Swedish reading (in English). Having just read the Booker shortlist, when I first started this book, the language seemed simplistic and a bit basic, but once I had managed to shake off the Booker reading I warmed to it far more.

This was another tale of murder in Gotland, which I don’t think can be the best advert for the place. The book was readable, but I don’t think it was as good as the previous two books in this series. It did develop some plots that had emerged in previous books and so from that perspective was a useful read, but I think it was a book that was otherwise easily forgettable. It was an unchallenging read, which is just what I needed, but lacked the punch of many crime novels.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Long Song

Title: The Long Song

Author: Andrea Levy

Number of pages: 336

Started: 15 October 2010

Finished: 21 October 2010

Opening words:


THE BOOK YOU ARE now holding within your hand was born of a craving. My mama had a story—a story that lay so fat within her breast that she felt impelled, by some force which was mightier than her own will, to relay this tale to me, her son. Her intention was that, once knowing the tale, I would then, at some other date, convey its narrative to my own daughters. And so it would go on. The fable would never be lost and, in its several recitals, might gain a majesty to rival the legends told whilst pointing at the portraits or busts in any fancy great house upon this island of Jamaica.

It was a fine ambition from a noble old woman for whom many of her years were lived in harsh circumstance. This wish demanded respect.

Read a longer extract here

Plot summary:

You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed.

July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was also present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides - far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse.

Perhaps, my son suggests, I might write that it is a thrilling journey through that time in the company of people who lived it. All this he wishes me to pen so the reader can decide if this is a book they might care to consider. Cha, I tell my son, what fuss-fuss. Come, let them just read it for themselves.

What I thought:

This was the final book on the Booker Prize shortlist, and I have to say that I was relieved to get to the end of reading them all. The Long Song was actually very readable and was a tale of slavery and emancipation (of sorts) and it was an interesting tale.

I did at times find the use of dialect a bit off-putting, but at other times it helped to build the picture so I think it worked in places but grated in others. It was certainly one of the better books on the shortlist and is one of the books I would recommend the most. I probably rushed it a bit to get to the end of the exercise of reading the shortlist, so perhaps did not do it justice, but it was a decent read nonetheless.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Finkler Question

Title: The Finkler Question

Author: Howard Jacobson

Number of pages: 320

Started: 7 October 2010

Finished: 14 October 2010

Opening words:

He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one.

He was a man who saw things coming. Not shadowy premonitions before and after sleep, but real and present dangers in the daylit world. Lamp posts and trees reared up at him, splintering his shins. Speeding cars lost control and rode on to the footpath leaving him lying in a pile of torn tissue and mangled bones. Sharp objects dropped from scaffolding and pierced his skull.

Women worst of all. When a woman of the sort Julian Treslove found beautiful crossed his path it wasn’t his body that took the force but his mind. She shattered his calm.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment.

It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses.

And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

What I thought:

This was certainly one of the more readable Booker offerings, as far as I was concerned. It felt rather more accessible that some of the other offerings. But it is a book that will divide opinions. It did not strike me as a book that was going to set the world on fire, but I thought it was perfectly readable. Someone I work with found the book so unreadable that she gave up on it about a third of the way through and refused to continue with it despite some coaxing to do so. She found it too “Jewish”. She had no problem with reading a book that had a Jewish theme to it, but she did feel that she was excluded from following what the book was really about, and that there was perhaps some joke that she was missing out on.

This book actually won the Booker. I can’t say that I think it was a great choice. I think for some it will confirm that such prizes are for very “worthy” books, but for others perhaps they will see more to the book or at least find they can read it to the end without it driving them mad.

This is one of the Booker shortlist books that I have preferred, but I don’t really see it as having a quality that cried out to me that it should win a prize. Readable, but no more noteworthy than that to my mind.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Parrot and Olivier in America

Title: Parrot and Olivier in America

Author: Peter Carey

Number of pages: 464

Started: 29 September 2010

Finished: 6 October 2010

Opening words:

I had no doubt that something cruel and catastrophic had happened before I was even born, yet the comte and comtesse, my parents, would not tell me what it was. As a result my organ of curiosity was made irritable and I grew into the most restless and unhealthy creature imaginable — slight, pale, always climbing, prying into every drain and attic of the Château de Barfleur.

But consider this: Given the ferocity of my investigations, is it not half queer I did not come across my uncle's célérifère?

Read a longer extract here

Plot summary:

Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatised child of survivors of the Revolution; Parrot the son of an itinerant English printer who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be joined by their travels in America. When Olivier sets sail for the New World – ostensibly to study its prisons but in reality to save his neck from one more revolution – Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, and their picaresque travels together and apart – in love and politics, prisons and the world of art – Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy, in theory and in practice, with dazzling wit and inventiveness.

What I thought:

Another of the Booker shortlist of which I was not a massive fan. It reminded me too much of having to read historical novels for school. Some of my fellow reading colleagues at work loved this book and thought it was very funny. Whilst it was more readable than the previous offering from the Booker list, it was not the book for me.