I’ve been on a bit of a roll this month with my reading- it’s a good way to beat the January blues! All the books I’ve read have been from different genres as well, so I’ve had a nice mix of crime from JK Rowling, chick lit with Bridget Jones, some Austen, and a return to Lyra’s adventure in the sequel to Northern Lights…
The Silkworm- Robert Galbraith
When private detective Cormoran Strike is called to find missing author Owen Quine by his worried wife, he is initially relieved at the prospect of reuniting a family after case after case of trailing unfaithful spouses. It isn’t long before that relief fades as he realises this is not an open-and-close job of hunting down an errant writer. Before his disappearance, Quine had handed in the manuscript for his new book- one that is sure to offend most of literary London, as well as spill its dirtiest secrets. After Quine is found murdered in a horrifyingly sadistic manner, Strike is faced with a long list of suspects, and the clock is ticking to find this dangerous killer before it is too late…
The Silkworm is the JK Rowling’s second novel under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and the second in her Cormoran Strike series. I hadn’t read the first, but this was in no way a hindrance to my enjoyment of this book. To be honest, my expectations were low. I had eagerly anticipated The Casual Vacancy’s release, as it was Rowling’s first book post-Potter, but it had been a massive let down. The story told of a huge chip on Rowling’s shoulder- the middle-class characters were snobbish and prejudiced, undoubtedly drawing on her experiences in relative poverty and as a single mother. It was also a deliberate move away from the clean-cut world of Harry Potter: sex, drugs, swearing galore. This was Rowling saying she wouldn’t be confined to children’s books- fair enough, but it still left a bad taste in the mouth.
The swearing is still present in The Silkworm- I’d hazard a guess the average word length is four letters. This frustrated me initially: it stank of Rowling continuing to shake off her ties to children’s literature. In the end, I was so engrossed in the story that it became a minor irritation (besides which, excessive swearing in literature is my pet peeve, so maybe I’m just being picky). There is no denying it: Rowling is a master story teller. Her prose is nothing to write home about, but her masterful weaving of an intricate plot is genius, and a definite strength in crime fiction. She beats my previous favourite author of the genre, Tess Gerritsen, by a mile.
Cormoran Strike is a modern day Sherlock Holmes- replace opium addiction with constant trips to the pub, and Dr Watson with pleasantly bland but beautiful Robin Ellacott, and you’ll have a fair idea. Knock off the deerstalker too. In truth, neither Strike nor Robin would win awards for characterisation, but I think this is a trait of crime fiction in general. Why worry about the ins and outs of characters when you have brilliantly executed twists and turns every time you turn the page?
I loved this novel. I read for hours on New Year’s Eve, and once I’d seen in 2015 with my family I read into the small hours, taking care to turn the page as quietly as possible so I didn’t disturb the silence. Rowling had me convinced the murderer was one person, then another- and I still ended up kicking myself when they were caught. I’ll definitely be buying The Silkworm’s predecessor, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and the next in the series. Crime fiction seems to be the perfect genre for Rowling.- 4.5/5
Bridget Jones’s Diary- Helen Fielding
Meet Bridget Jones: thirty-odd year old singleton living in London, struggling through the constant match-making attempts of her parents and everyone around her, and recording it all in a diary.
When we first meet Bridget, she’s making New Year’s Resolutions, including the memorable “I will not… Fall for any of
the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics, people with girlfriends or wives, misogynists, megalomaniacs, chauvinists, emotional fuckwits or freeloaders, pervert”. She then goes on to fall for a man that ticks several of those boxes, her boss, Daniel Cleaver, ignoring her mother and her friend Una’s desperate attempts to hook her up with rich, handsome top-notch Human Rights Lawyer Mark Darcy. At least Daniel doesn’t wear naff jumpers.
He is, however, a cheat. Sleazy from the off- quote “PS. I like your tits in that top” sent via email at work (and they say romance is dead)- you have to wonder why Bridget is so enamoured with Daniel. He’s not the sort of person you look at and think “lifelong partner”. Then again, Bridget is not loved for her common sense (or lack of). She’s loved for her relatability. I think most women, regardless of age or whether they too are single, can see hints of themselves or their friends in Bridget. As a reader, you warm to her because she’s real.
Though the plot borrows heavily from Pride and Prejudice (is proud of it- Bridget compares Darcy and Mark a few times), it’s humorously done. You can imagine that if Lizzie Bennett was a modern girl living in London her diary would look like Bridget’s- though I can’t imagine Austen’s Darcy wearing bumblebee-print socks!
I’d recommend Bridget Jones’ Diary to anyone for a fun light-hearted read, but especially women since it’s so relatable. For any teen readers: consider Bridget a grown-up Georgia from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging and you’ll have a fair idea of what you’re getting into. Well worth a read.-3.5/5
Sense and Sensibility- Jane Austen
Sense and Sensibility is the story of sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood’s course to true love, which (surprise, surprise!) doesn’t run especially smooth. The book’s name represents the two to a tee: cool, clear-headed Elinor is Miss (common) Sense, while emotional Marianne defines sensibility, which you should take to mean “sensitivity”- or perhaps oversensitivity!
I must confess, I had an agenda when I picked up this novel. Pride and Prejudice is one of my absolute favourite films, but I’ve never got into the book. I’ve picked it up and put it down more times than I count; I’m determined to read it at least once though. So, as a compromise, I thought I’d try and get into Austen via an alternative route.
Did I at last join Austen’s legion of fans? Um, no. I don’t think it’s Austen’s stories, though I could take them or leave them. It’s her writing style. It doesn’t grip me at all, unlike other Victorian writers’- I adore Dickens’ and Charlotte Brontë’s styles. Not necessarily bad, just not my cup of tea. As to the plot of Sense and Sensibility, I found it a little far-fetched. Both sisters found someone “perfect” for them, stuff happened, and they ended up married. It all tied together a bit too neatly for my taste. There was a lot of clever weaving of plot to ensure both sister ended up happy. Cynics beware!
One trait of Austen’s writing I did like was the strong characterisation. I like to know the characters in a novel well, and every character in Sense and Sensibility had a distinct personality- from the sisters’ sense and sensibility, to their mean brother and his wife, to petty and insecure acquaintance Lucy Steele. I didn’t warm to them: Elinor was too cold, Marianne too silly etc. The only character I did like was impossibly nice and kind Colonel Brandon, who has a bizarre (and, I can’t help but think, misplaced) attraction to Marianne.
Overall- not bad. I probably wouldn’t reread it, but I found it an easier read than my previous stabs at reading Pride and Prejudice (I shall persevere on that one!). -3/5 (because it’s not to my taste, rather than there being any major fault to the book.)
Still don’t get why Austen is so loved. Anyone care to explain? (*cough* Charlotte Brontë all the way *cough*)
The Subtle Knife- Philip Pullman
Dangerous men are after twelve year old Will. He’s just killed a man, and he’s not too fussed about killing another, if it helps him on his quest to finding out the truth of his father’s disappearance. That doesn’t mean he’s completely safe, however, so it’s a relief when he stumbles through a window into another, apparently tranquil, world- Cittagazze.
The Subtle Knife is the sequel to Northern Lights, and it is in Cittagazze that Will meets Northern Lights’ protagonist, Lyra. Once a wild-child haunting a parallel world’s Oxford, Lyra is now seeking information on the mysterious Dust from the previous novel. Lyra looks up to Will, and follows him back into our world. While Will hunts down data on his father, Lyra causes all kinds of havoc in a research laboratory by using her alethiometer to discover things the researcher- Dr Malone- couldn’t even imagine.
Before long, the men Will had hoped to evade are back on his track, and, to add insult to injury, Will and Lyra discover that the shiny new world of Cittagazze isn’t perhaps as nice as it first seemed. It is host to a number of terrifying Spectres, and is the hiding place of an object many dark people covet…
The Subtle Knife is a good sequel to Northern Lights, though it is nowhere near as brilliant as the first. It includes a number of characters from the initial book in the series: Mrs Coulter, Serafina Pekkala, and Lee Scoresby among others, as a hook to keep you reading on to the third book. The problem is, none of these are as strongly characterised as the leads. It meant I didn’t especially care for the chapters from, say, Lee’s perspective. They weren’t half as interesting as those from Lyra and Will’s, though I never warmed to Will and found him and his story unrealistic (I struggle to believe a 12 year old could be cool-headed enough to run away from his home after killing someone, even accidentally, and the minimal remorse Will felt was even less likely). I’d have liked to have seen more of Lord Asriel, especially if it meant exploring more of his relationship with Mrs Coulter. Overall, I felt the way some characters were obviously weaker than others yet still had chapters written from their perspective let the book down. I’m hoping the final book in the trilogy features more of Lord Asriel and Mrs Coulter, and focuses a tad more on Lyra than Will.-3/5
What are your thoughts on the books I’ve read? Anyone a huge Austen fan? Anyone think JK Rowling should stick to kids’ books? Let me know in the comments below!
Another point: my Goodreads widget on the right at the top isn’t refreshing, so it still says I’ve only read one book this year. Anyone else got the same problem?