TBR Thursday 240…

Episode 240

Two in, two out this week, so the TBR total remains the same – 217. My reading slump is improving but the reviewing backlog is still growing! I may not be here again next week till I write a few more…

Here’s what should be reaching the top of the pile soon………………ish.

Fiction

The Moustache by Emmanuel Carrère

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I loved Carrère’s true crime book, The Adversary, so couldn’t resist this even though I can’t quite imagine how two books could sound more different! I suspect this one may actually be more his usual style than the other was – it sounds intriguingly quirky…

The Blurb says: One morning, a man shaves off his long-worn moustache, hoping to amuse his wife and friends. But when nobody notices, or pretends not to have noticed, what started out as a simple trick turns to terror. As doubt and denial bristle, and every aspect of his life threatens to topple into madness – a disturbing solution comes into view, taking us on a dramatic flight across the world.

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Science Fiction

Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton

Courtesy of Orion via NetGalley. I’ve taken nearly 500 books from NetGalley over the years, and reviewed the vast bulk of them. However every now and then one gets left behind in the rush, so I have a dozen or so very old ones lingering still unread. This is one of them – it’s been on my list since 2016, I’m ashamed to say. It still sounds as intriguing as it did back then, and it’s had a lot of positive reviews. There seems to be a dispute among reviewers as to whether it should be described as science fiction or literary fiction, which makes it sound even better to me… 

The Blurb says: Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.

At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?

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Fiction

Love by Roddy Doyle

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I’ve never read anything by Roddy Doyle and am not at all sure he’ll be my kind of author. But Cathy at 746 Books has been gradually wearing down my resistance with her great reviews of his books, the blurb sounds intriguing, and frankly I find the cover irresistible…

The Blurb says: One summer’s evening, two men meet up in a Dublin restaurant. Old friends, now married and with grown-up children, their lives have taken seemingly similar paths. But Joe has a secret he has to tell Davy, and Davy, a grief he wants to keep from Joe. Both are not the men they used to be.

Neither Davy nor Joe know what the night has in store, but as two pints turns to three, then five, and the men set out to revisit the haunts of their youth, the ghosts of Dublin entwine around them. Their first buoyant forays into adulthood, the pubs, the parties, broken hearts and bungled affairs, as well as the memories of what eventually drove them apart.

As the two friends try to reconcile their versions of the past over the course of one night, Love offers up a delightfully comic, yet moving portrait of the many forms love can take throughout our lives.

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Vintage Science Fiction

The Man with Six Senses by Muriel Jaeger

Courtesy of the British Library. I loved Jaeger’s The Question Mark, previously also published by the BL, so am looking forward to this one…

The Blurb says: Hilda is besotted with Michael, because Michael has a gift. Through some mutation, his mind is able to perceive ‘lines of energy’ and ‘the vast ocean of movement’ – things beyond the limits of the five senses and perhaps even common understanding. But the gift, as so often in life, comes with a price. There are those who, in their resentment, come to covet the gift, threatening the blissful period of learning and freedom of thought that seemed so possible a future for Hilda and Michael. And then there are the expectations of society, whose demands for the idealised normal spell danger and disarray for the pair.

Muriel Jaeger’s second foray into science fiction sees her experimenting again with an impressive talent for blending genres. The Man with Six Senses is a sensitive depiction of how the different, or supernaturally able, could be treated in 1920s Britain, but also a sharp skewering of societal norms and the expectations of how women should behave – and how they should think. Thought-provoking and challenging, The Man with Six Senses still resonates today in a society whose expectations and structures still continue to trap those who fall outside the limits of acceptance.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrère

Comprehending the incomprehensible…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

On January 9th, 1993, Jean-Claude Romand killed his wife, his two young children and his parents and then failed to kill himself. Emmanuel Carrère tells us that, on reading about the case as it was splashed all over the newspapers, he quickly decided to write about it. It wasn’t the facts that interested him so much, though – he wanted to understand what went on Romand’s head. By corresponding with Romand, talking to his friends and neighbours, attending his trial and using his own understanding of what drives people, Carrère sets out in this book to comprehend the incomprehensible.

Romand’s act seemed to those who knew him to be completely out of character and to come out of the blue. But the police soon discovered that he’d been living a lie for most of his adult life. What started with a relatively small deception – that he had passed an exam when in fact he hadn’t turned up for it – snowballed until he had invented an entire imaginary career for himself as a doctor working in research for the World Health Organisation in Geneva. Amazingly, he carried this false identity off for many years, convincing not only friends and neighbours but also his wife and parents. To finance his lie he needed a source of income, which he got by embezzling his elderly relatives out of their life savings. It was when, finally, discovery seemed inevitable that he decided suicide was the only way out. His explanation of why he decided that his family too must die is chillingly narcissistic but has a kind of warped logic to it. But was his suicide attempt real? The prosecutors suggested he never intended to die – in their view, his plan was to lie his way out of responsibility.

Having recently read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, in which he too sets out to understand the minds of murderers, I saw a lot of similarities in the approach of the two authors. Each tells the story of the lead up to the crime, taking us back into the childhood and early years of the murderers in an attempt to understand them. Each takes us through the crime itself, sparing us none of the horrific details, but avoiding gratuitous description designed purely to shock or titillate. And each shows us the aftermath, both on the murderers and on the community affected by the crime.

But there are also differences, which in fact made me prefer this one. While both authors speculate beyond the known facts from time to time, especially with regard to motive and character, Carrère always makes it clear when he’s doing this, whereas sometimes Capote presents fiction as fact. This meant that I had a much clearer picture of what was evidence-based and what was Carrère’s own interpretation. Carrère inserts himself more openly into the book, which I found a little disconcerting at first. But gradually it gave me an understanding of how he too became affected by this crime, and of how his opinion of Romand changed over time. I found the personal insight he brought to the subject perceptive and well-judged, and I appreciated his honesty about his doubts over the ethics of giving a platform to this narcissistic murderer. He at one point quotes a friend, journalist Martine Servandoni, who told him:

“He must be just thrilled that you’re writing a book on him! That’s what he’s dreamed about his whole life. So it was a good thing that he killed his parents – all his wishes have come true. People talk about him, he’s on TV, someone’s writing his biography, and he’s well on his way to becoming a saint. That’s what you call coming out on top. Brilliant performance. I say, Bravo!”

Carrère doesn’t put forward a defensive counter argument. He simply makes it clear that he is aware of the question, and leaves it for the reader to decide. And of course the reader too is part of this dubious morality – a question that is raised every time there’s a gun massacre or terrorist attack. Should we give any publicity to people who step so far beyond society’s norms? And yet the desire to understand is irresistible. Carrère’s own doubts become more marked as he tells of Romand’s life in prison where he had at the time of writing become a kind of celebrity and had “discovered” God’s grace. Carrère leaves us to question whether he has truly found redemption or just one more lie to hide behind.

Emmanuel Carrère

A fascinating and very well written account that has given me much to think about – what makes someone behave like this, and what should our reaction be? I am chilled to discover that Romand is now eligible for parole and may soon be released* – I say I believe in rehabilitation and redemption but do I really, in every case? Against my rational will, part of me thinks he should have hanged or, being French, been guillotined. Or perhaps he should have been bludgeoned to death, as he did to his wife, or tricked and then shot, as he did to his children. Or shot in the back, as he did to his father. Or perhaps someone he loves should wait till he’s old and frail and then shoot him in the chest as he looks trustingly at them, as he shot the woman who bore him, loved him and supported him all his life. As a minimum, all of me thinks he should never be set free.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Vintage.

*Happily, since I drafted this, the court has rejected his parole request. For now…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 185…

Episode 185

The TBR has been up and down over the last couple of weeks – loads of books in, loads read, leaving the final count up just 1 at 226. It’s felt a bit like a game of snakes and ladders…

 

I wish I could do that! Anyway, here are a few more that should slither my way soon…

Natural Science

Courtesy of Atlantic Monthly Press via NetGalley. I read a previous book of Tim Flannery’s on climate change and was impressed by his obvious expertise and arguments more than his style, which seemed a bit didactic and overbearing. But I suspect that was because he was so outraged at the lack of world action, so I’m hoping he’ll be approaching this less contentious subject a bit more calmly. It’s already in the running for the prize for longest blurb of the year, and it’s only January…

The Blurb says: In Europe: A Natural History, world-renowned scientist, explorer, and conservationist Tim Flannery applies the eloquent interdisciplinary approach he used in his ecological histories of Australia and North America to the story of Europe. He begins 100 million years ago, when the continents of Asia, North America, and Africa interacted to create an island archipelago that would later become the Europe we know today. It was on these ancient tropical lands that the first distinctly European organisms evolved. Flannery teaches us about Europe’s midwife toad, which has endured since the continent’s beginning, while elephants, crocodiles, and giant sharks have come and gone. He explores the monumental changes wrought by the devastating comet strike and shows how rapid atmospheric shifts transformed the European archipelago into a single landmass during the Eocene.

As the story moves through millions of years of evolutionary history, Flannery eventually turns to our own species, describing the immense impact humans had on the continent’s flora and fauna–within 30,000 years of our arrival in Europe, the woolly rhino, the cave bear, and the giant elk, among others, would disappear completely. The story continues right up to the present, as Flannery describes Europe’s leading role in wildlife restoration, and then looks ahead to ponder the continent’s future: with advancements in gene editing technology, European scientists are working to recreate some of the continent’s lost creatures, such as the great ox of Europe’s primeval forests and even the woolly mammoth.

Written with Flannery’s characteristic combination of elegant prose and scientific expertise, Europe: A Natural History narrates the dramatic natural history and dynamic evolution of one of the most influential places on Earth.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. I’ve nearly caught up with my backlog of vintage crime review books now – just another couple to go (unless the postman has other ideas). I read another of Julian Symons’ books, The Colour of Murder, just before Christmas – review to follow – and enjoyed it, so am looking forward to this one. And it’s in the running for shortest blurb!

The Blurb says: When a stranger arrives at Belting, he is met with a very mixed reception by the occupants of the old house. Claiming his so-called “rightful inheritance,” the stranger makes plans to take up residence at once. Such a thing was bound to cause problems in the family—but why were so many of them turning up dead?

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True Crime

Courtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I have had this since July 2017 but it kept sliding down the TBR as I got distracted by new shiny things. I was originally tempted towards it when fellow blogger Marina Sofia revealed that she had lived in the same neighbourhood as the killer, though fortunately at a later date. It’s in the running for least informative blurb of the year…

The Blurb says: On the Saturday morning of January 9, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…”

With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense Emmanuel Carrère begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, 18 years of lies, five murders and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.

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Classics

This one fits into two of my challenges, the Classics Club and the Five Times Five. I’m always slightly ambivalent about Steinbeck – his prose can be sublime but I find he veers towards bathos in his attempt to manipulate his readers’ emotions. I’m hoping this one might avoid that pitfall. It’s in the running for most intriguing blurb…

The Blurb says: A Depression era portrait of people living in an area near a sardine fishery in Monterey, CA known as Cannery Row.

From the opening of the novel: “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses. Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, ‘whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,’ by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, ‘Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,’ and he would have meant the same thing.”

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?