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The Symposium - Muriel Spark

A short book of a fairly entertaining nature. Similar in some ways to Spark's Memento Mori, in terms of its deathly preconceptions and curiosity in unlikely and unpredicted murders, although there are fewer here. The main action rotates around a dinner party, with flashbacks which build the histories of the attendees and explain the tangled webs between them. It's a much sharper social satire than the other Spark I've read, partly (I think) because of an omniscient narrator who can unpick characters deftly and precisely, and because there's a broader range of society to satirise in the characters on show. A quick read, and while not exactly light, entertaining in a pleasingly dark sort of way.

Labyrinth - Kate Mosse

Yes, I picked this purely because of the title, although I have started to gather that Kate Mosse is somebody who is One Of Those Names in a certain sort of fiction. This is historical fiction set in the modern era and back in medieval France around the time of the Cathars and their suppression by the orthodox church. It turns out that there is a whole secret brotherhood whose job it is to pass secret knowledge down the ages, and the labyrinth is a method of doing that. It's deep mysticism/secret plots stuff built on a historical novel bottom, with some thriller elements with baddies trying to get hold of the secrets in both eras, and it's not a bad read. I'm not sure I'm going to follow up more Mosse as a result, but as an example of the genre it's not too terribly done and the prose is pretty readable. Plus there are pleasing numbers of active, strong female protagonists, which is cheering.

Allegiant - Veronica Roth

Mainly read because I'm a completeist. Much weaker than the first two. The team discover a World Outside The World They Knew, and suddenly a lot of people behave in ways which just don't feel consistent with their characters, and...yeah. Plus Tris' final story arc made me Really Quite Cross for a whole range of reasons that I'm not going to go into here for reasons of spoilers, but honestly, self-sacrificing narratives of feminine identity are just so frustrating, especially for female characters who have been allowed a bit of agency up to that point. Grr. I mean, all the ends are tied up so you don't wonder what the hell happens next, but it's all just rather unsatisfying and doesn't live up to the promise of the first book.

The Sand Child - Tahar Ben Jelloun

A profoundly odd and challenging book, but a provocative one, which tells the story of a girl born to a father who decides to raise her as a boy. The book is set (I think) in Morocco (at least the author is Moroccan), and so raises all the questions about gender and expectation and culture and so on and so forth that one might expect. There's deliberate narrative experimentation with styles - for instance, some sections are told through the voice of a story-teller, the end of the protagonist's story is told three times in three different ways, the end of the book collapses into a different sort of story entirely. But it's a fascinating piece of literature from a totally different context, and I'm glad to have read this exploration of the issues of gender and nature/nurture from such an alternative perspective.

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

A surprisingly wonderful, lyrical and reflective book which tells the story of Cal, born Calliope, a hermaphrodite of Greek ancestry who has a tendency to invoke the Muses to sing of his family history and the string of events which led to his genetic make-up and its eventual discovery. It's a family history which flits briefly into the present of the narrator, but mainly stays back in the time of his grandparents and parents moving from Greece and making a living in Detroit. There's a lot of historical flavour here, and thoughts about what it means to be American versus Greek. I suspect there's also quite a lot here about Greek myth and various other classical reception things, some of which jumped out at me, but in the main I focused on the Homeric echoes - an epic singing of rather different things to normal epics, but pulling out a family story that's tender and sharp. I loved the characters and the realisation of the society that they belong to; this was a surprisingly swift and very engaging read.

Foundation - Isaac Asimov

This is part of my continuing project to get myself up to speed with the sci-fi/fantasy masterworks, as it were. It's also the first Asimov I've ever read. (I have some weird recollection of secondary school and being tempted to pick some up but not doing so because I temporarily muddled Asimov with Newton and assumed it would all be about numerical theory. But that's by the by.) The tricky with this, I think, is that Asimov is interested in ideas, and in exploring the ways in which different eras might evolve and progress to do different sorts of things. The characters are not great, and the 'heroes' all seem to have uncanny powers of going 'aha! I have solved this difficult situation by being terribly, terribly cunning in a way nobody has foreseen!', which is a tiny bit irritating, but I'll live with it. Also, no women apart from an unnamed dynastic wife who it is clear is destined for a sticky end, which is rather cross-making, but there we are. I gather there are sequels, and am now curious about what on earth happens next. Oh, and now I understand the Douglas Adams joke at the end of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy about the old man living in a hut on his own, so you learn something every day.

Date: 2014-09-28 05:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Re Sand Child (glad you liked it!): there is a mesmerizing recent Indian film with a similar story called "Qissa: tale of a lonely ghost," which you may want to add to the "to look out for" list. The two works are especially fascinating when consumed close together, I think.

Date: 2014-09-28 05:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ooooh, thanks for the recommendation. Doesn't seem to be on Netflix, but I'll try and keep my eyes open.

Date: 2014-09-28 09:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I saw it at the Munich film festival this summer and it's a German-Indian co-production that's going into general release in India this weekend, so this is one for the cinemas. I'd say later this year or early 2015.


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