Sunday, November 29, 2015

Some light reads for the holidays

Irish writer Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void I just had to read because his earlier novel Skippy Dies was just so damn good. In fact it was brilliant. The guy writes with flourish and his characters are real and rounded and utterly engaging.

This one takes a bit of time to get into. By page 100 you may still be tempted to bail. It wasn't very funny and I  couldn't decide whether it was serious or satirical. Murray just wasn't striking the right note.

But then it got very interesting. The Irish, who were so full of themselves prior to the collapse, were the target and their severe economic troubles during the GFC the context. The characters work for a major Irish bank and the drama of their working lives, including the shameless bosses, the losers, the outright wankers, the government regulators, the shameful deals, scams and delusions - it's all there in colourful detail.

The main character Claude is a young, bright guy with integrity and aspirations and he yearns for a love life too. 

It all comes together delightfully in the end. And I was so glad I persevered. 

This was a bestseller in France in 2013 and was shortlisted for France's prestigious, Booker-equivalent, Prix Goncourt. The English translation has just been released.

God knows why this rather pedestrian, populist piece of nonsense would be so highly regarded. But that's France for you.

It's very French in its dynamics. It's the story of a
Muslim and a Jew. Two young men share a struggle to be accepted and to succeed in their careers and reach the highest social circles. The Muslim is forced to reinvent himself and deny his Muslim origins. Moving to America he adopts the identity of his Jewish 'friend'.

It's ridiculously melodramatic and overripe at every turn. Of course the women in their lives, sexual objects, are supremely beautiful and very rich. And the men themselves very handsome and they ascend to the heights of power. 

This is cliche central. Don't bother.

The third novel in J.K.Rowling's 'Robert Galbraith' series is easily the best of the three, and you certainly don't need to have read the previous two. 

It has the same pattern: the cops pursue the wrong suspect, and our PI hero Cormoran Strike the right one.

What makes the series absorbing in my view is the premarital relationship drama between Robin, Strike's admin assistant, and her upper class, rather arrogant, toffy, banker and wanker fiance Matthew.

And the developing relationship between Robin and Strike. Rowling does this side of things supremely well. 

As for the crime stuff you do need a strong stomach. Rowling seems to love unspeakable brutality and viciousness in her evil men. She gets really low and relentless, shoving your face in their abysmal atrocities. 

As usual however the ending is a fizzer, with zero emotional impact. This it shares with its two predecessors.

The day after I'd finished it I couldn't remember how it ended or who was the culprit. The only thing that stuck with me and that will suck me in to reading the fourth in the series were the absorbing relationship dramas. 

Rebus is back thank god. Holidays coming up after all. 

Even Dogs in the Wild is good but far from Rankin's best. He seems to have decided to shove all his previous main characters, both goodies and baddies, into the one novel and it simply doesn't work. It's like having Superman and Batman in the one comic. Wha..?

John Rebus and Malcom Fox cosing up to each other? Oh please. We end up two distinct strands in the narrative, and it's all forced.

I think Rankin is getting sentimental. He loves his characters too much. The dialogue is often excruciatingly twee.

Though it's well enough plotted and the ending is, as usual for Rankin, highly satisfactory (unlike Rowling), this one's for the aficionados only. 

Australian crime novelist Garry Disher's last book Bitter Wash Road was simply superb. I raved about it here.

But this one, another in his Wyatt series, is a major disappointment. It's a very ordinary and unexciting piece of work.

It's all guns, murders and low lifes in Noosa, with no suspense or any attempt at larger meanings. And, with possibly one exception, none of the characters are really brought to life or are in any way engaging.

Disher also commits a classic mistake - kill off characters you cant be bothered to involve in a more satisfying resolution.

So forget this totally forgettable effort.