Of late I have been mostly reading.
In no particular order, I have read two novels by Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore and as mentioned before, Sputnik Sweetheart.
I picked up Murakami because one of the readers of my novel, yet to published, said it reminded him of his work. Hmm… if only.
Murakami is up there with Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee in my estimation. If you have never read him, do. Japan boasts two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Murakami deserves to be the third.
I have two other of his works lined up, Norwegian Wood and Dance Dance Dance.
Henning Mankell, creator of Kurt Wallander, has also commanded my attention and I've just completed three books in rapid succession: Sidetracked, The Fifth Woman and One Step Behind.
I caught the tail-end of an interview with Mankell by James Naughtie last week on Bookclub. (I am catching up with it as I write. So can you here.)
I find Mankell très sympa as an individual not least for his work in Mozambique. It is a quality which shines through his writing; the feeling that the author is genuinely concerned about and interested in people. (I also like the translations which occasionally strike one as clumsy in their use of English, but, having visited Sweden frequently over a period of years, they capture the intonation of the impeccable yet idiosyncratic Swedish style of English.)
I dare you to pick up a Wallander book and put it down without completing it. I would say they are perfect holiday reading if that didn't sound belittling of their quality and depth.
I have also been reading a lot of the later John le Carré novels, including The Constant Gardner and A Most Wanted Man. I am doing this for personal reasons that I will not expand on for the moment. All I will say is I find him hard work. He has always been awkward to a degree but it seems there was a time and place for what he had to say and the way in which he said it. Now he looks exposed and all that remains is the struggle with his language.
I have also bought two books which boast they have sold 2.5 million copies apiece, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.
Barbery deserves her success. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a terrific read, learned, intelligent and witty - it helps I read phenomenology for my Masters but don't let that put you off. My only gripe is the ending. Unless I am missing something I found it a cop-out.
Zuzak's novel I abandoned after two chapters. It reads like a how to write your first novel with boxes complete with ticks visible on every page.
Finally three oddities: first, Coma by Alex Garland, he of The Beach fame. More a novella than a full novel, it is a brave and generally successful exercise that sets out to explore the boundaries of consciousness from the perspective of someone in a coma. (To add interest, it is illustrated by his father and political cartoonist, Nicholas Garland who I met many years ago.)
The second is Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Jackson is not someone I have heard of. She was born in 1916 and died in 1965. To quote from the introduction by Jonathen Lethem, she 'is one of American fiction's impossible presences, too material to be called a phantom in literature's house, too in-print to be "rediscovered," yet hidden in plain sight'.
I am not a great fan of horror - though that may not be the best descriptor, spooky would be better - but I thoroughly enjoyed this. It is a simple story of two reclusive sisters living with an aged uncle in a grand house. But why do the locals hate them so?
Finally, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. If I explain the premise you will get the flavour: literary crime is on the increase, not puny acts of plagiarism but wholesale kidnapping of characters to be held for ransom, or the story gets wasted. Now Jane Eyre is missing.
At times Fforde's invention becomes too frantic but on the whole The Eyre Affair is good fun.