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Quick summaries...

32 - The Quickening Maze - Adam Foulds - a novel based on the final years of the poet John Clare and the crossing of paths he may or may not have had with the Tennysons while he was incarcerated in a madhouse in Epping Forest. Quite well written with some nice uses of language, and a reasonable attempt to look inside the head of someone suffering from Clare's condition. It has that particular thinness of prose that I'm associating with modern historical novels, but it grates less than in some other examples I have read.

33 - Frog Music - Emma Donoghue - another historical novel, based on a true life story pieced together from police reports and other oddities of San Francisco in 1876. The protagonist, Blanche, is dealing with a number of things, including her profession (prostitute), her sponging boyfriend, his oddly protective/close friend, a dose of the pox, and her infant son, rescued from a baby farm. Into all of this comes a new friend, who dresses in men's clothes, and upends all sorts of things that Blanche thought she knew were settled. A bit histrionic in places, but an interesting piece of novelisation around a historical fragment.

34 - The Sacred River - Wendy Wallace - a rather damp novel set in the nineteenth century that combines a range of historical well-worn tropes in a not particularly interesting way - Egyptian hieroglyphics and excavations, the white woman bringing civilization (in the form of an eye clinic) to the Egyptian poor, consumption, pre-Raphelite painters with a penchant for sleeping around, artistic revenge, political upheaval, illegitimate babies, etc. etc. All, frankly, combined in a rather pedestrian manner that doesn't do much I've not read several times before.

35 - The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin - one of the classics, which I wanted to read after the recent Radio 4 adaptation. Which, on reflection, was not particularly good. I can see why the book was particularly important and ground-breaking - the handling of the gender issues must have been really significant. It feels a bit aged now, but only because its ideas have become so mainstream.

36 - Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers - one of the less successful Wimsey novels, mainly because of the over-cleverness - Sayers provides so many different options for explaining the murder that you get confused about who is who, and don't particularly care about it in the end. The Nine Tailors has the same problem.

37 - Romanitas - Sophia McDougall - a modern day 'what if Rome survived' murder story, which I have been meaning to read since a conference I went to where McDougall was the keynote speaker. The plot circles around political intrigue and so forth of various kinds (dynastic assassination, you know the sort of thing), in a world cleverly shaped on ancient history. Some of the interesting things are big, like the continued existence of slavery; others are small, like different words for telephone and television. It's all jolly good world-building, and there's good plot too. Looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

38 - Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie - another much more recent sci fi piece, another play with gender where everything uses the female pronoun. Which is kind of awesome. Especially as the main narrator is a ship who has been betrayed and there's lots of stuff about cloning and assimilation and STUFF. Generally good stuff all round. Generally innovative and interesting.

39 - The Hive - Gill Hornby - a very silly book that wears its beehive metaphor on its sleeve rather too obviously (protagonists called Bea and Melissa? Actual beekeeping?). Based on a primary school and the mothers who have children there. You can probably guess how this all goes.

40 - The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop - Gladys Mitchell - a different sort of murder mystery, another Mrs. Bradley. Full of psychology and odds and ends. Involving dismemberment and a kleptomaniac vicar. There are various weird possible explanations offered, but it's easier to follow than some of Sayers' stuff - in fact, the approach to mystery is just totally different in general. So there we are.
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December 2016

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