Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review of Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Our latest bookclub choice, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, was a lovely read. It reminded me of Steinbeck's writing somehow. Set in a small town Holt in Colorado, it has a timeless feel to it and yet feels like it is set in the 60s. The book centres around a few main characters - two bachelor brothers in their sixties who live 17 miles from the town, a young girl who falls pregnant and is disowned by her mother, Tom Guthrie who is a teacher at the secondary school, his two young sons, his wife undergoing depression who moves away and another teacher Maggie Jones. The plot serves to tie these characters together in one way or another during the course of the novel. As with all small towns, everyone seems to know each other's business and there are undercurrents of tension and of fear as well as neighbourliness and support.

The plot is fairly simple and moments of tension are rare. However, when they did occur, I could feel my reading speed up until I knew the characters were okay again, at least for the moment.  The language is beautiful and makes reading this novel such a pleasure - it almost seems musical and lilting. I was initially slightly irritated by the absence of punctuation marks around the speech but got used to it quickly and their absence seemed to add to the flow of the language.  The descriptive passages are long and speech is brief which seems to also symbolise the brevity of speech amongst the characters. It seems as they get to know each other better that speech becomes less necessary and the same goes for the reader - we don't need their speech as much - the beauty is in the quality of the imagery. The 2 older brothers in particular have a lovely attitude, they seem to take life one day at a time, respect nature and only plan ahead when it is necessary. I also liked their reflections on nature, on birth and death, their love for the land and their animals as well as their growing regard for a young pregnant girl.

There's two more books in the series and I'm looking forward to reading both of them Eventide and Benediction, both of which deal with characters in the same town in years to come.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Holes by Louis Sachar - A brilliant book for boys

My son was reading this book as a class book in school. When he first brought Holes  by Louis Sachar home, I'd read about 80 pages of it and thought it rather a strange book for a class book. Telling the story of a young boy Stanley who is sent to a detention centre for a crime he didn't commit, an extremely harsh detention centre in a hot desert area where the boys spend every day digging colossal holes, looking for something that is of great importance to the female Warden. The Warden seems to terrify everyone, she seems to know everything and seems cruel and ruthless.

Will seemed to enjoy it immensely and bringing it home today to use for his homework, he was saying they had finished it in school and they were all looking forward to watching Holes on DVD, starring Sigourney Weaver, I presume she is the Warden.  I decided to finish it and once I got into it again, I couldn't put it down. I was wondering how the school children had managed to only read it chapter by chapter.  Reading about how they are treated cruelly, harsh punishment meted out, friendships striking up between boys, Stanley teaching Zero to read and discovering his mathematical abilities, the tension grows as Zero runs away. Is he dead?  Stanley also runs away and their adventure starts. This is where tales of their ancestors, of a 'Calamity Jane' style woman Kate Barlow's past, a treasure, all come back to play and tie events together.

This is the perfect book for boys, aged 10-14 especially if you're having difficulties getting them to settle to read a book. It has enough tension and violence to keep them interested, the characters being mostly male will help them to empathise, and the sense of adventure is gripping.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Harry Hole Series by Jo Nesbo

I love reading crime novels but just don't get the time to read that many. One of my favourite crime authors is Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole series - if you haven't read any yet, it's a great series to get into and would make a great gift for someone who loves this genre.

I had thought The Redbreast: A Harry Hole Novel was the first but it was the first to be translated into English. The Bat is the first of the series and was translated some months ago. It is good but not as gripping as the others, you can tell it is a first novel I guess.  The Cockroaches is the second but as far as I know it hasn't been translated yet. There are 8 in total with Phantom being the last.

The novels are set in Norway, yet another successful crime series from a Scandanavian author. Each novel can stand on its own as the main detective, Harry Hole, delves deep into yet another murder, battles with alcohol, disobeys orders from his superiors, is threatened with suspension, falls in love, misses his true love Rakel and her son and in the end, solves the crime but is scarred in some way, be it the loss of a co-worker, the breakdown of a relationship or a battle with alcohol. The series has an underlying story line of suspected corruption in the police force which isn't fully solved until the last couple of novels.

Some of the books  are quite gruesome. We may not know the character well enough to be badly affected when she or he is slaughtered but yet the descriptions can be gruelling to read at time. I think the most gruesome (and perhaps the best) were The Leopard and The Snowman .

Phantom is hte last novel in the series, I was a little disappointed in the ending initially but when I thought about it, it was left open enough to not be twee and had plenty of surprises as well as disappointments. Having read the full series, part of me wanted a happy ever after but although it is fiction, it perhaps reflects life more than we would like it too.