Saturday 18 March 2023

Audio Book Review: The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer, translated by Howard Curtis, narrated by Greg Lockett, Stephanie Dufrense, Todd Kramer.

I'm on a roll. This is the second book I have read by this author. I now realise I'm reading them in the reverse order to which he wrote them, but not that the books are in any way connected. The Enigma of Room 622 and The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer are both thoroughly engaging thrillers.

This one is set in the USA, in the Hamptons and is a detective driven crime novel. Once again Dicker has the reader unwrapping the onion, layer by layer as she encounters all his twists and revelations in this compelling read. Once again I couldn't put it down. Once again Dicker plays with timelines.

Here we have the sleepy resort town of Orfea in 1994 and in 2014. In 2014 amateur actors are putting on the lead play in the town's literary festival. In 1994 during its opening festival the town mayor, wife, his son, and a jogger are gunned down during the first play. Dicker twists with the play on parallels, dipping back and forth between the two time periods. His back stories to his character are well fleshed out creating people who would come alive on any screen dramatisation. The audio version I listened to likewise had a suit of narrators - Greg Lockett, Stephanie Dufrense, Todd Kramer.

Tuesday 14 March 2023

Book Review: The Enigma of Room 622 by Joël Dicker, Translated by The Enigma of Room 622 narrated by Chris Harper

The Enigma of Room 622

The Enigma of Room 622 by Joël Dicker
Translated by Robert Bononno
Narrated by Chris Harper 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Just the tonic! I needed a riveting, engaging book. This is a murder mystery written within the framing story of a writer writing a novel about solving an unsolved murder mystery whilst coping with having been left by his girlfriend. The murder is solved by unwrapping the case as if a writer was about to write a book about it, as each layer is unwrapped the clues are there to help the reader, but of course the plot seems to twist and turn. 

I will not say anything about the plot twists as that would absolutely spoil the book. Suffice to say the way the book is written swings back and back quite freely on different timelines within the story and I now some folks don't like that but it didn't cause any issue for me keeping up with when we were. I read this almost 600 pg book in 4 sittings, and would have done it in 3 if I'd been more organized about other things. 

I'd never come across this author before I read this review in World Literature Today (WLT). Its very pleasingly narration meant I enjoyed the book so much I've ordered two of his others books from my local library The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair and The Disappearance of Stephanie Mailer

Monday 6 March 2023

Book Review: Ghost Music by An Yu, narrated by Vera Chok

Ghost Music

Ghost Music by An Yu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really had no idea what to expect when I started this book as I knew nothing about it or its author, and only had a passing recommendation from someone I only recently met. But it was unputdownable.

It is a first person narrative by a young married childless woman piano teacher, Song Yan, living in Beijing. Her mother in law comes to live with them. She had trained as a concert pianist but had chosen married life. But that is not going well and she realises she doesn't really know her husband at all when she discovers first that he had a sister. Other revelations follow. The strains of her marriage and the strains of living with one's mother in law take their toll. She receives a series of mysterious and unexpected deliveries of Yunaan mushrooms, her husband and mother in law's province. Although addressed to someone else, these cannot be returned as there is no return address. Her mother in law and her set about cooking the mushrooms that continue to arrive each week. Then she receives a letter from Bai Yu, her father's favourite concert pianist who walked away from his career and disappeared years ago. That letter ignites her and she goes to its address, one of the old courtyard hutongs in the back alleys of old Beijing.

These are the events around which this beautifully written and told story is crafted. How that is done is nothing short of extraordinary. With all the hallucinogenic effect of mushrooms they percolate into her dreams, she sees then in cupboards, growing from floorboards, in her walls and there is news that her husband's home town is covered in an orange dust. The effect is magical, making this anything but a domestic drama novel. But this is NOT magical realism. For me it is far more reminiscent of the best ghost stories ( The Turn of the Screw, The Others, The Orphanage but with shades of Nostalgia as if they had been blended by Tarkovsky in his own special way he had with colour, music and movement.

Throughout the book music plays a central role - her relations with it, with the piano, with the children she teaches, and at perhaps the most intimate of ways the untouching shadow-playing with Bai Yu. I'm no musician but I am sure someone will write about the choice of the pieces that are in this book. Debussey's Reverie is the main one and I did look it up - "Reverie is not full of excitement and explosions of calm, peaceful and priorities atmosphere and reaching a dream like state. Often used for mindfulness and meditation" quote from . That choice can be no accident. It totally fits. 

This book HAS to be made into a movie and scored appropriately. But making a movie of this will take a deft hand, as so much is in what is not said, in the gaps between the notes, those moments which are 'more resonant than the mere absence of sound' . And it is here that this novel indicates to me a great writing talent. It handles these equivalent to off camera moments well, it handles silences well, by using the ghostly hallucinations to explore the understanding, coming to terms with and resolution of the ordinary everyday strains and constraints of life and marriage. 

Audio version is beautifully narrated by Vera Chok who has also narrated An Yu's only other novel Braised Pork

I really urge you to read this book.

Book Review: Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark , narrated by Nadia May

Loitering with Intent

Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My in person book group mentioned that they had never read any Muriel Spark, not even The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie! So we, of course, had to rectify this. As a fellow Scot I recall she was on my secondary school reading list over 50 years ago (TPMJB and The Ballad of Peckham Rye) and the movie version with the marvelous Maggie Smith came out around then as well. I suppose the success of the movie may have been the reason why many people had not read the book. Over the years I have at least read The Abbess of Crewe, The Girls of Slender Means, The Driver's Seat but none of her later ones . I also recall watching a documentary in praise of her by Ian Rankin, sadly I've not found this available in full online. But there is a BBC Interview with her available of Youtube ; another BBC celebration of her by Kirsty Wark and the National Library of Scotland has her Archives .

Loitering with intent was a fast and very enjoyable read. A retrospective first person narrative of a writer, Fleur Talbot recalls the time she spent of her first novel and her job with the mysterious Autobiographical Association and its founder and leader Sir Quentin Oliver in the period 1949-50. This is a self help group therapy club for upper class misfits led by a power maniac. When does live and literature become one? Fleur notices that her novel seems to be foretelling what is happening in real life. Then the only typescript of her novel is stolen.

The novel is high melodrama. It is also a farce worthy of Brian Rix, Alistair Sim and Alec Guinness. I loved the character of aging Lady Edwina, Sir Quentin's 'mummy', whose 'fluvative percipitations' disrupts everything, everywhere. If you read it will sound so outdated nowadays, but go with the flow and I do not think you will be disappointed. The writing will sweep you along. Not surprisingly it was shortlisted in for the Booker in 1981, along with Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers (one of my 5* for both movie and reads) the year Salman Rushdie won with Midnight's Children. The Audio verison is narrated by Nadia May. A thoroughly enjoyable read