Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Kate's Reading Challenge 2010: Books 15 - 17

I've gotten a little behind with my blogging (and more to the point with my reading year - yikes!) so here are my latest three reads:

No.15. "The News Where you Are" by Catherine O'Flynn (Penguin, 2010)

I absolutely loved "What was Lost" (Catherine's debut, Costa Award-winning novel) so I was so excited about Catherine's new book due out in July this year and I'm pleased to say that I wasn't disappointed!

"The News Where you Are" centres around Frank - a regional newsreader who has become a local legend due to the shame-worthy gags he cracks on the nightly news. The real joke of course is that Frank accepts his role as the clown of the local news as a result of his typically english overly-polite manner; which ultimately makes rejecting the writing of needy gag-writer Cyril totally impossible! But Frank's jokey on-screen persona leads him to consider his life outside of work, and to think about the legacy that he will leave behind as the builidings designed by his father (an architect) are gradually pulled down.

Catherine O'Flynn has created a really strong cast of secondary characters including Frank's wonderfully curious daughter Mo, his lively predecessor on the news Phil and his bitter co-presenter Julia. Just like "What was Lost" this novel is funny and tender in a way that now seems signature to Catherine O'Flynn.

Started: May 17th Finished: May 28th

No.16. "The Manual of Detection" by Jedediah Berry (Windmill Books 2010)

A real intriguing and kooky debut novel that reminded me a bit of Jasper Fforde (but a bit more fantastical).

The story begins in a train station, where Charles Unwin, an efficient and humble detective's clerk is taking his daily detour on his route to work in order to spot a mysterious woman in a plaid coat. On one particular morning Charles's little side trip finds him unexpectedly and unwillingly promoted to the role of detective and in his bid to discover the cause of his sudden rise through the ranks Charles becomes embroiled in a tangled and rather strange mystery... Why do the inhabitants of the city keep falling asleep at such odd times? Where have all of the alarm clocks diappeared to? And what has happened to the iluustrious detective Travis Sivart? With only a rather dubious detection manual and a very sleepy assistant to help him, Charles finds himseld in the face of a real challenge.

Each chapter of this cleverly-constructed novel begins with an extract from the aforementioned manual, giving a the book a lovely clarity, which I found essential as the plot became progressively more wacky! I must say that towards the end of the novel the story had become a little bit too fantastial for my taste, but overall this is a really enjoyable, imaginatively put-together novel.

Started: May 29th Finished: June 10th

No. 17. "Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto" by Maile Chapman (Random House, 2010)

Sorry to get a little ahead - this one isn't actually due out until August but when I saw the taglines on the proof which included rave reviews from Audrey Niffeneger and Junot Diaz (author of "Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao") and the comparison to early Ian McEwan I had to read it!

The concept of the book is really interesting: it's set on the top floor of a women's hospital in 1920's Finland, where a group of wealthy "up-patients" are residing with their various minor complaints. All are physically able, most are mentally sound, and they enjoy a life of structured luxury consisting of saunas, nutritious meals and the undivided attention of qualified nurses. The result resembles something akin to a spa or a rehabilitation centre, with women returning to Suvanto on a seasonal basis. Attending to the every whim of these "patients" is unflappable Sunny a nurse from America who struggles with the Finnish language, but enjoys the solitude that her job affords her.

All is calm until the ranks are shaken by the arrival of Julia a fiery Danish dance teacher who refuses to warm to the hospital's friendly atmosphere and Dr Peter Webber who is developing a new surgical stitch and wants to refocus the top floor of Suvanto to house expectant mothers.

In places Chapman's writing is absolutely sublime, she captures the unsual combination of clinical and luxurious so perfectly and holds throughout the novel an understated tension which makes this a really exciting book to read.

Started: June 11th Finished: June 19th

1 comment:

The Generalissimo said...

Nice to see you back reviewing Kate - I've missed your sensible stuff amongst all this football malarky!

I've just finished Catherine O'Flynn's book - having devoured it in a day - and absolutely loved it. All the characters are real and very sympathetic in their own way and I enjoyed the way the plot unwound.

I'm really looking forward to hearing her read at Mr B's next week. I think I shall try and reread at least parts of her first book before them to remind myself just how good she is.

Now - we just need to persuade her to produce the next one with less than a 3 year wait! Susanne