Six Degrees of Separation – From Taddeo to…

Chain links…

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Books Are My Favourite and Best. The idea is to start with the book that Kate gives us and then create a chain of six books, each suggested by the one before. It’s ages since I’ve done one of these, but somehow this month’s first book set me off on an unstoppable chain…

I haven’t read this, and won’t! Here’s what Goodreads says about it…

Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts and destroys our lives. It’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.

Dear me! Now if this was a book about chocolate I could understand it, but sex? I can only imagine the author and/or blurb writer are in the midst of puberty because, trust me, girlies, the all-consumingness of the desire for sex happily ratchets down to sane proportions once maturity kicks in. The desire for doughnuts, however, is a different thing altogether…

This made me think of books with too much sex, which leaves me spoiled for choice really. I think I’ll go for…

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. This is a highly regarded book about WW1 and has many good points. However, it has some of the worst written sex scenes it has been my misfortune to read. In my review, I said…

…the two lovers rarely talk other than to decide where next they can have sex. And unfortunately, Faulks just doesn’t have what it takes to make sex sound like fun. As he gives us detail after detail of each positional change, each bodily fluid and its eventual destination, each grunt, groan and sigh, I developed a picture of poor Elizabeth, the love interest, as one of those bendy toys that used to be so popular. As so often in male sex fantasies, her willingness, nay, desperation, to have sex with Stephen knows no bounds, so we’ve barely finished the cigarette after the last session before we’re off again.

This reminded me of how often I’ve noticed that male authors of a certain age, just before they hit their second childhood, seem to go through a second adolescence. Which brings me to…

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving. I abandoned this one too early to review on the blog but I left a brief, bitter comment on Goodreads…

Abandoned. I was already finding the book repetitive and a bit silly, but was willing to persevere till I hit the extended graphic oral sex scene at the 18% mark, which other reviews lead me to believe is the first of many. Not good enough otherwise to tempt me to read hundreds more pages of an elderly man’s sex fantasies. Note to self: Remember to stop getting books written by men over the age of 60 – it must be hormonal…

Of course, it’s not possible to think of middle-aged men and their sex obsessions without thinking of the poor male protagonist of…

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Here we have a middle-aged man who springs a sudden surprise on his wife. Again I think my feelings about him came through loud and clear in my review…

High Court judge Fiona Maye’s comfortable life is rocked when her husband of many years announces that he would like her permission to have an affair. The poor man has his reasons – apparently he and Fiona haven’t had sex for seven weeks and one day so you can understand his desperation. (Am I sounding unsympathetic? Oh, I haven’t even begun…)

And while we’re on the subject of male authors and their fantasies, it would be unfair to neglect Brodie Moncur, the protagonist in…

Love Is Blind by William Boyd

Another one that brought out my inner snarkiness. Here’s an extract from my little blurb for the exciting story of this book…

…he falls in love with Lika Blum, the girlfriend of an Irish pianist. Then he stays in love with her for the rest of the book, has sex with her quite a lot, and fantasises about having sex with her most of the rest of the time. He has sex with her in Paris, the South of France, Scotland and St Petersburg. And maybe other places – I forget.

Of course, the Europeans shouldn’t be left out. Books written by middle-aged men show that we all have things in common, whatever our nationality. Which brings me to…

The Midas Murders by Pieter Aspe

The last book I will ever read from this author, as this quote from my review will explain…

It’s in the attitude to women that the book really shows itself up to be an unpleasant piece of work. Van In (along with every other man in the book and therefore presumably the author) never looks at a woman without commenting on her breasts, her rear, her legs or her availability in the most derogatory terms. Hannelore has descended from being a colleague to being an object for sexual fantasising – the biggest fantasy being that an intelligent, beautiful and successful woman would find anything remotely attractive in the drunken, sexist and shabby Van In.

And suddenly that comment whisks my memory off to the Faroe Islands, where yet another middle-aged male author fantasises about beautiful, intelligent women falling for the most unlikely of men…

The Last Refuge by Craig Robertson

Here’s what I said about this charmer…

Given that Callum is a violent drunk with a shady past, living in a shack, suspected of murder, penniless and with no obvious future prospects, why are we supposed to believe that an intelligent, successful professional woman would be interested in him? If an author wants me to believe that, then he must be shown to be charming, fascinating, a great conversationalist, someone who saves kittens from being run over by trucks – something to make him seem attractive – but Callum is none of these things. We’re not talking about 17-year-olds here, where ‘bad boy’ syndrome might apply – we’re talking about mature, nearly middle-aged adults. But with Callum we are supposed to believe that not one, but two, women find him attractive – standards on the Faroe Islands must be pretty low.

Well, it appears that I might be wrong about obsessive desire! It does seem to rear its head (if you think that’s a pun, it’s your mind, not mine… 😉 ) with great regularity. Why does no one ever write books about doughnut fantasies??

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So Taddeo to Robertson via sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, and sex!

Hope you enjoyed the journey. 😀

Dancing with Darcy is far more fun – even better than doughnuts!

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

the children actBanal, unconvincing and arrogant…

😦 😦

High Court judge Fiona Maye’s comfortable life is rocked when her husband of many years announces that he would like her permission to have an affair. The poor man has his reasons – apparently he and Fiona haven’t had sex for seven weeks and one day so you can understand his desperation. (Am I sounding unsympathetic? Oh, I haven’t even begun…) This shattering event happens just before Fiona is to preside over a case where a hospital is seeking permission to give a blood transfusion to a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witness suffering from leukaemia, over the religious objections of the boy himself, his parents and the elders of his church. In her emotional turmoil over her marriage, Fiona allows herself to become personally involved in the case, throwing her carefully nurtured professionalism to the winds. This is the story of what happens to Fiona’s marriage and to the boy…

His face had been tight as he shrugged and turned to leave the room. At the sight of his retreating back, she felt the same cold fear. She would have called after him but for the dread of being ignored. And what could she say? Hold me, kiss me, have the girl. She had listened to his footsteps down the hall, their bedroom door closing firmly, then silence settling over their flat, silence and the rain that hadn’t stopped in a month.

I have a strange relationship with Ian McEwan’s books. I find his writing style very compelling and occasionally he writes a brilliant book – Atonement, Enduring Love. At other times I find his subject matter banal or designed merely to shock. This one falls into the banal category. He has set out to have a go at religion or, as he likes to term it, supernatural belief, and has chosen a hackneyed plot to do so. The whole idea of whether the state should intervene when a child’s life is at risk because of a religious belief has been debated ad nauseam and McEwan has nothing new or even interesting to say on the subject. But that’s not his purpose anyway. He is really setting out to show how religion is an evil thing from which children require protection. He makes it crystal clear that he believes that children brought up in a faith are really victims of indoctrination and need to be saved – the suggestion hovers unspoken that it is tantamount to a form of child abuse. The central case concentrates on the Witnesses because, of course, they’re an easy target, but he manages to get in criticisms of Jews, Muslims and Catholics too. He openly suggests that the beliefs of Adam’s parents are superficial and that they will be glad if the court overrides them as that will get them off the hook and see them alright with God and their church – and he implies that that superficiality is common to all who profess religious beliefs. In fact, and I speak as an atheist here, his denigration of the sincerity of religious belief left me feeling furious and a little soiled. I find the attitude held by some atheists that theirs is the only possible right answer displays an arrogance greater than that of most religious people of whatever faith.

He came to find her, wanting what everyone wanted, and what only free-thinking people, not the supernatural, could give. Meaning.

Of course, it’s quite possible to disagree vehemently with an author’s point and still find the book to be worthwhile. Certainly this one starts off well. The description of Fiona’s shock at her husband’s request is done well and the story of how their relationship develops from that point has much about it that feels convincing. But McEwan has obviously done a ton of research on how the courts work and on the life of a High Court judge, and he has determinedly shoe-horned it all in at the expense of any sense of forward momentum for large parts of the book. While his descriptions are written well for the most part, sometimes he gives far too much detail of stuff that is both trivial and irrelevant, leaving me impatiently turning pages in the hopes that we might return to the story sometime soon. And while I found the characters of Fiona and her husband believable, I found them both to be cold and rather detached, not just from each other but from life. McEwan suggests that Fiona is realising too late that perhaps she should have made time to have children – largely so she’d have someone to sympathise with her over her husband’s desertion, it would appear. Again I found this banal – wouldn’t it be interesting if just once an author didn’t suggest that a woman can only find fulfilment through breeding? Unsurprisingly the husband didn’t seem to feel the lack of children at all…

Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan

But from a literary point of view it’s the story of the boy, Adam, that’s the real problem. We are told several times that he is mature for his age but, despite having the vocabulary and speaking style of a middle-aged Oxford don, he acts more like a thirteen-year-old adolescent than someone on the cusp of manhood. His reaction to Fiona’s decision left me entirely unconvinced, while his personal reaction to this 59-year-old woman verges on the ludicrous, as does her behaviour towards him. Not only does she behave unprofessionally, which she at least recognises, but her behaviour is inhumane – or perhaps more accurately, unhuman. Adam’s behaviour is manipulated clumsily to make McEwan’s point about the evil effects of a religious upbringing, meaning that he at no point seems like anything more than a cipher. And the ending is so deeply coloured by McEwan’s clear hatred of religion that it has no ring of truth or compassion to it at all.

‘Of course they didn’t want me to die! They love me. Why didn’t they say that, instead of going on about the joys of heaven? That’s when I saw it as an ordinary human thing. Ordinary and good. It wasn’t about God at all. That was just silly. It was like a grown-up had come into a room full of kids who are making each other miserable and said, Come on, stop all the nonsense, it’s teatime! You were the grown-up.’

Overall, this is one I rather wish I hadn’t read. The quality of the prose is the only thing that raises it above 1-star status, but I feel I’ve had enough of McEwan now. I think he has finally removed himself from my must-read list…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 36…

Episode 36

 

So there I was, all ready for another hard day’s blogging, when all of a sudden my computer heaved a mighty sigh, rolled over…and died! (Oh sorry! I should have warned you this was a sad story – I’ll wait if you need to get a tissue… ) Perhaps it was due to its great age, or perhaps it just couldn’t take one more cat video…we’ll never know, I guess. But after I’d given up my attempts at resuscitation, and was gazing brokenly at a black screen, a little thought came into my head. The TBR!! When did I last back up the TBR list??? Devastation rolled over me at the thought of losing the whole list… devastation, closely followed by something that felt not unlike the sun peeping out from behind a cloud, or losing a tin of spinach and finding a box of chocolates…

Turns out the last back-up was May. Furthermore it turns out that there are over 60 books that were on the list back then that I’ve still not read! And sadly/happily the list was easily resurrected from pre-orders and wishlists. So what have we learned here, people? Either – ALWAYS backup your TBR list or… NEVER backup your TBR list. I hope that advice is helpful to you.

So after all that, this week’s total is… 115! Here are a few that will be reaching the top of the pile soon…

Crime

 

confessionsCourtesy of NetGalley, I’m sure I was tempted into this by another blogger, but the computer fiasco means I can’t remember who. Thanks, anyway – it looks interesting…

The Blurb saysHer pupils murdered her daughter. Now she will have her revenge.
After calling off her engagement in the wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation. But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a diabolical plot for revenge. Narrated in alternating voices, with twists you’ll never see coming, Confessions probes the limits of punishment, despair, and tragic love, culminating in a harrowing confrontation between teacher and student that will place the occupants of an entire school in danger. You’ll never look at a classroom the same way again.

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Factual

 

rebel yellFrom NetGalley again. I’m not sure what kind of mood I was in when I requested this one, but it seemed like a good idea at the time…

The Blurb saysStonewall Jackson has long been a figure of legend and romance. As much as any person in the Confederate pantheon, even Robert E. Lee, he embodies the romantic Southern notion of the virtuous lost cause. Jackson is also considered, without argument, one of our country’s greatest military figures. His brilliance at the art of war tied Abraham Lincoln and the Union high command in knots and threatened the ultimate success of the Union armies. Jackson’s strategic innovations shattered the conventional wisdom of how war was waged; he was so far ahead of his time that his techniques would be studied generations into the future.

Rebel Yell is written with the swiftly vivid narrative that is Gwynne’s hallmark and is rich with battle lore, biographical detail, and intense conflict between historical figures. Gwynne delves deep into Jackson’s private life, including the loss of his young beloved first wife and his regimented personal habits. It traces Jackson’s brilliant twenty-four-month career in the Civil War, the period that encompasses his rise from obscurity to fame and legend; his stunning effect on the course of the war itself; and his tragic death, which caused both North and South to grieve the loss of a remarkable American hero.

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Fiction

 

the children actIan McEwan’s previous books have covered the whole range from Love It to Hate It for me, but though I’m always a bit apprehensive I’m driven to read them as soon as they come out. This one will arrive on my Kindle around 1 a.m. on 2nd September…

The Blurb saysFiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well-respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

 

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NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

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