So this is the end of 2011. TV programmes , newspapers and magazines show us all the highlights: of arts, of politics, of books, of science and of ups and downs in general of countries across the world. With a house full of people and lots of good cheer it’s difficult to find the space and time to give a quick round up of my own reading year, so I’ll give it a miss. I’m sure you don’t mind!
Nevertheless, here’s a very quick round up of my most recent reading if only so that I can wipe my hands clean off some of the books that seem to linger on, either on my Kindle or on bookshelves, waiting to be reviewed. It is as if I am not able start afresh until I have dealt with them: I’ve had a number of books on the go recently, and I’ve now got to own up to the fact that I will simply not finish some of these.
There’s Umberto Eco’s ‘The Prague Cemetry’. What is it with these highly praised literary writers who write the kind of books that I used to enjoy so much. At least I think I did! And now, this one, just seems to go on and on: the writing is beautiful, some of the words used are simply out of this world and you wish you had them at your fingertips for the rest of your life; the story starts of in an intriguing way (‘hey, this is different, this has promise’) and then half way through you get this uneasy feeling that this is not going anywhere, the characters are beginning to feel forced, others get completely lost, you become confused between the narrator, the ‘voice’ of the main character and then there is an alter ego, who may not actually be an alter ego but a figment of the imagination, or someone who was in fact murdered by the main character. For a bit, you think it’s you, you’re just not up to it anymore, not up to reading truly philosophical and literary books full of ideas. Then you begin to suspect that perhaps it’s not you, rather, this writer should have had an editor who should have been much, much stricter and who should have told him /her to just cut it out and to stop indulging. This sums up my thoughts about Eco’s latest novel. The book starts very promising, as I said, with a man sitting at a table in front of a window: he’s elderly, wrapped in a dressing gown but pretty soon the narrator intervenes, claiming that he his not sure himself who this mysterious figure is and promises that together with the Reader (capital R) ‘we will find out’. How? Well, by reading the diary that this mysterious person is writing in. Intriguing, yes, and so you think this could be good. Only half way through the book we have become aware that the diary writer, a Captain Simonini is not one but two people, or perhaps he is not and it is all in his imagination, but there is also this alter ego the Abbe Dalla Picoola who enlightens some of the darker episodes that Simonini claims to have forgotten.
Conspiracy theories abound, in particular about real events in history, and early on there is quite a breathtaking rant about jews ‘the most godless people’ who are adulterous; there are the germans who live in perpetual state of intestinal embarrassment due to an excess of beer and those pork sausages on which they gorge themselves’; there are the French who are mean, ‘a national vice which they take to be a virtue and call thrift’. Italians are untrustworthy, lying, contemptible traitors. Simonini got to know priests at this grandfather’s house and he has a vague memory of their ‘shifty looks, decaying teeth, bad breath and sweaty hands trying to caress the back of my neck….’. etc.
The first part is actually very amusing and well written, and then…. Then the book seems to get lost somehow in its own fantasies and as I mentioned before, indulgence. Simonini is one of the most unsympathetic, awful characters ever invented, and it is a shame that some of the other characters that come and go seem to do just that, come and go and it becomes quite difficult to keep track of who is who.
I don’t think I will actually finish this book, as I have now lost it and I don’t think I can bear trying to work out what this great conspiracy of the jews in the Prague cemetery was all about and who invented what and why and who killed who and why and who in the end was the winner and who the loser. Great first quarter of the book, and then it’s downhill.
I do wonder whether this is simply because editors no longer are being given the time or the opportunity to interfere or whether there simply are no longer enough good editors around: this books should have been cut by at least a quarter, if not half. The story is good, I’m sure, but far too long-winded.
So, that one is out of the way.
Another book I have read, and felt slightly disappointed with was Camilla Lackberg’s The Stonecutter. But that may be due to the fact that I am now realising that a number of these nordic thrillers are written to a formula and I am now slightly bored with the formula. It was ok, but not anything to write about. People are so very ordinary, nevertheless, these amazing killings take place and cause such mayhem in tiny isolated communities and villages.
Then there are some that I will definitely take with me into 2012:
Christopher Hitchens ‘Arguably’ is one of these. I am very much enjoying his essays and will come back to them. I’m also reading Richard Powers’ Generosity which is another quite ambitious novel that somehow does not quite cut it, nevertheless I will persevere and read it to the end, if only because it is trying to do something that is interesting, even if too self conscious to actually succeed. At least that’s what I think. I enjoyed his previous book The Echo Maker.
So then, this was 2011 – many happy reading hours to each and every one of you in 2012!
- The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco – review (guardian.co.uk)