Review: books I read in 2011

The Top 3

  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) by Ursula K. Leguin. Although this book is set on an imaginary planet of ice (where characters wear great fur outfits), it covers topics of racism, cross-cultural understanding/misunderstanding, fear and acceptance of difference, and political intrigue. The chapters alternate between two culturally different characters’ points of view as well as some historical background to each of them. A beautiful story.
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan. This book has won some awards- and rightly so. I enjoyed the setting (and critique) of the American music industry. I also found the book quite moving, sad in places and I suppose bittersweet. Each chapter is set in a different time frame and/or location through the eyes of separate, but interrelated characters. I cannot seem to do this book justice so you may wish to read The Guardian review to get a better idea. Not recommended for the Kindle – apparently the powerpoint diary chapter doesn’t display well.
  • The Year of the Hare (1975) by Arto Paasilinna. A hilarious story about a Finnish journalist who isn’t enjoying his boring city life and unexpectedly drops out of conventional society. He rescues an injured hare and takes it with him on his trip into the wilderness- picking up part-time work and saving cows from bush-fires along the way.

The Disappointment

  • IQ84 (Books 1-3, 2009-10) by Haruki Murakami. This book was not the masterpiece it was supposed to be. I felt I could hear (read?) the voice of an author growing into an old conservative Japanese man. The main female character seemed stereotypically oppressed. (Maybe this is just a realistic interpretation of the position of the female in Japanese society.) On one hand, she was sickenly obsessed with her image and clothing and on the other, she was a driven, tough, intelligent vigilante. This book has some stange fantastical moments. It is written well and weaves together seemingly separate characters in an enjoyably slow, yet engaging, pace. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it is just a conventional love-story dressed-up as fantasy. You are much better off skipping the 900-odd pages and going back to the author’s earlier work The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1998).

The Old Favourite

  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1998) by Haruki Murakami. I never thought I would read books twice, but I really do love this novel and re-visited it in 2011. It is a very creative, unique and well-told story. There are alternate realities included.

Speculative Fiction with a Drop of Fantasy

  • Parable of the Sower (1993) by Octavia E. Butler. What happens when corporations take control of water supplies; poverty, fear and violence is on the rise; and people live in compounds to protect themselves? In a not so distant future, a teenager leaves her compound, in search of a better life. It’s a believable situation with a fantastically strong, positive female lead-character on a journey.
  • Transition (2009) by Iain Banks – Oh what a fast-paced and thrilling action-novel this is! There is lots of movement and surprise in the story. There is a torture scene I skipped, but apart from that, highly recommended.
  • The City & the City (2009) by China Mieville – This modern author has some very fascinating ideas and a fascinating first name. This book made me think about space in a new way. It also made me think about 3D modelling and computer games. Lastly it made me think of Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars which is a mind-blowingly futuristic novel for 1961, a classic which I prefer over The City and the City. In Mieville’s book I found the dialogue between characters too artificial. There was also something about the writing style which irked me.
  • The Female Man (1975) by Joanna Russ – I don’t really know what this book is about. I was trying to catch up on female sci-fi authors and discovered this one about several time-travellers of ambiguous genders. It’s a weird book. I heard it was radical for its time. I found it quite radical.
  • Vermilion Sands (Short-story collection, 1971) by J. G. Ballard. Interactive/replicating sound sculptures, flying stingrays, flying machines, plants which respond to music, disturbed women. Nice creative Sunday afternoon stuff.
  • The Drought (1965) by J. G. Ballard. There is a character named “Quilter” in this story who adorns himself with a dead peacock. It is a queer (odd) and compelling read – as most Ballard novels are. Instead of trying to escape the situation which has brought hardship, the central character immerses himself within it. I love reading Ballard and have to make sure I evenly pace myself with his novels- unfortunately no new titles are going to be published posthumously.

Crime / Thriller

  • In the Woods (2007) by Tana French. Irish crime. I got sucked right in to this compelling crime book. Lots of interesting characters, especially the investigating detectives. Very good entertainment.
  • The Broken Shore (2008) by Peter Temple. Australian crime. Short, punchy writing style with great descriptions of regional communities. Very good.
  • Garnethill (2007) by Denise Mina. You can read my polite review of a shit book here. Extremely poorly written.
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