I have hit a bit of a reading rut. I have about three books on the go at the moment, none of which are particularly inspiring me. I’ve mistakenly chosen heavy tomes – Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro – when I think I really want to be reading something lighter, something more action-packed and fun. I think what I really need to be reading right now is The Hunger Games, about ten years after everyone else. Do you have a copy I can borrow?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
I think I might be the last person on earth to read this book; I remember the excitement about it when it first came out but for some reason have never actually picked it up and read it – until now. Inspired by the upcoming stage show, which hopefully will make its way to Leeds at some point, I tracked down the book and finished it in hours. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I’m annoyed at myself for not reading it all those years ago. It’s sweet and endearing, but also captivating and, at times, very sad. I just wanted to scoop up all of the characters into a big hug, especially Christopher – the autistic protagonist, who is both charming and occasionally infuriating. I actually didn’t see the twist coming, although Paul tells me that I’m ridiculous because it was obvious, but I was captivated the whole way through.
The Evil Seed by Joanne Harris
I picked this up in the Oxfam book shop after finishing Chocolat earlier this year. This is Joanne Harris’ first novel, and it comes with a disclaimer in the front that she was reluctant to allow it back into print, embarrassed by her first attempts at writing. It is certainly miles away from Chocolat, it could have been written by another person entirely and so I can see her hesitation. There are a couple of compelling moments in this book, which is a fantasy/mystery/thriller style – but overall there felt like there was little nuance in the story-telling (if you’ve read it, tell me you didn’t guess much of the detail right from the start?) and the ending was unsatisfying. I’d stick to Harris’ more famous titles, and give this one a miss if you like her work.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
This was my second time reading Trainspotting, and I was no less impressed this time around than I was the first. It’s a little hard to get into as it’s written in a heavy Scottish dialect, and it’s sometimes a little confusing as to which character is speaking at any one time, but it’ll soon hook you in. It’s hard-hitting in so many ways – sex, violence, drugs, politics, there are some uncomfortable scenes and important issues raised. Some of the characters are eccentric and sort of loveable, some are completely abhorrent, and there are stomach-churning moments throughout. This isn’t a spot of light reading, it challenges you and makes you think. It’s twenty years old now, which is a lifetime, but so much of what is raised is still relevant – perhaps even more so in light of the recent debate on Scottish nationalism. If you haven’t read it, you really need to.
Orange is the New Black: My Time in a Woman’s Prison by Piper Kerman
After loving the show like everyone else, I decided to pick up the original memoir – after being reassured that there were no spoilers to be found. I raced through this, it was absolutely fascinating, as well as heart-wrenching and heart-warming in equal measure. The capacity for human kindness and mutual support in the face of adversity is astounding, and is in plain sight in the book, even more so than the show. As a fan of the show, it was fun to spot favourite characters and to see which bits they had dramatised for the sake of TV, but it was also a little disappointing in this regard. In the Netflix show, Piper is flawed but somehow likeable – she is very selfish and self-serving but is invested in her image as a good person; she’s very compelling. In the book, however, Piper paints herself in a very flattering light, pointing out the moments where she shows great compassion and selflessness to her fellow inmates. Now, I obviously don’t know Piper Kerman in real life and maybe she is an incredibly loving person, but I did feel a little disappointed; she describes her suffering and her past misdemeanours but the overwhelming sense is of the good that she does during her time in prison, and I did feel like it could be a little more balanced.