Tag Archives: City on Fire

Books Read (But Not Reviewed) in October 2015

Cover imageBit of a thin month on the read (but not reviewed) front thanks to the sheer door-stopping size of one of the two books I finished. Philipp Meyer’s The Son was raved about last year – fulsome tweets were legion and it was a Waterstones Book Club choice, although presumably only for thoroughly committed readers or those with time on their hands as it’s well over 500 pages of tiny print. It’s the story of Texas told through the voices of three people: Eli McCullough, kidnapped by the Comanche with whom he lived, and grew to love, for several years; his son Peter caught up in his father’s battle with Mexican settlers, and his great-grand-daughter Jeanne who presides over the multi-million dollar oil business the family ranch has become. It’s undoubtedly good, although not for the faint-hearted – there are some stomach-churningly violent scenes – but far too long. I found myself desperate for it to end but unable to give it up.

Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s feminist classic La Femme de Gilles was a useful antidote in terms of size although not emotional impact. First published in the 1930s it’s told from the point of view of Elisa who realizes that her beloved husband Gilles has become besotted with her sister. Elisa isCover image quietly distraught and all the more so when she gathers that she’s the source of gossip. She decides to take the extraordinary step of becoming the love-struck Gilles’ confidante. It’s a beautifully expressed novel, translated by Faith Evans whose illuminating afterword demonstrates her passion for the book. Well done Daunt Books for reissuing it. Seems to be a bit of a trend in bookselling. My own local, Mr B’s, has set up an imprint under which they’ve reissued one of my favourite books: Tim Gautreux’s The Next Step in the Dance.

And the 900-page plus City on Fire? Reader, I tried but it was all too much, and Squeaker wasn’t impressed either. Try holding that kind of weight aloft as your cat shifts uneasily in what she considers her rightful position on your lap. I wanted to like it with its appealing 1970s New York backdrop but for someone whose preference is clean, spare prose it was never going to work – nothing, it seemed, is left unsaid.

Books to Look Out For in October 2015

Golden AgeBit of a lean month for those of us who tend towards the more literary end of fiction. The novel that stands out above all others for me is Golden Age, the final part of Jane Smiley’s The Last Hundred Years Trilogy. Some Luck followed the Langdon family from just after the First World War, when Walter established the family farm, to the beginning of the ‘50s where the appropriately named Early Warning picked it up, beginning with the Cold War years and ending in 1986 with a new twist in the family story. Golden Age takes the Langdons into the twentieth-first century and I can’t wait to catch up with them. Smiley’s microcosm of an American century reflected through the fortunes of one family has been a triumph so far. Highly recommended.

A volume of short stories seems the antithesis of Smiley’s hefty endeavour. I’m a reader that likes to get my teeth into something hence the Smiley fandom but Colm McCann is one of my favourite writers and we’re promised a novella as well as three short stories in his new book. In the eponymous work an elderly man is attacked after meeting his son for lunch. Detectives must piece together what has happened based on any information they can glean. ‘Told from a multitude of perspectives, in lyrical, hypnotic prose, Thirteen Ways of Looking is a ground-breaking novella of true resonance, exploring the varied consequences that can derive from a simple act’ say the publishers. I can vouch for that ‘lyrical’ prose based on my reading of McCann’s novels.

Amélie Nothcomb’s Pétronille might be a handy counterbalance to what sounds like a somewhat serious read, even if it is distinctly post-modern with its friendship between Pétronille Fanto, a woman who refuses to drink alone, and a writer called Amélie Nothcomb. According to the publishers it’s a ‘literary Thelma & Louise, with a little bit of French panacheCover image and a whole lot of champagne thrown into the mix’ which makes it sound well worth a read. This is Nothcomb’s twenty-third novel, and she has quite a following.

Naomi J. Williams’ Landfalls is a debut set on board two ships which set sail from France in 1785, on a voyage of scientific and geographical discovery, returning four years later. It’s told from the perspective of different characters, all of whom have their own agenda, taking its readers from a remote Alaskan bay where tragedy hits to St Petersburg. The structure sounds an ambitious but very attractive one and if it comes off I think this could be a very absorbing novel.

Finally, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire is here partly because at a stonking nine hundred and sixty pages it can’t be ignored. Set in New York, it explores the interconnections between a multitude of people surrounding the shooting of a young girl in Central Park on New Year’s Eve, 1976. It sounds immensely complicated so I’ll let the publisher’s blurb speak for itself: Cover imageFrom the reluctant heirs to one of New York’s greatest fortunes, to a couple of Long Island kids drawn to the nascent punk scene downtown. From the newly arrived and enchanted, to those so sick of the city they want to burn it to the ground. All these lives are connected to one another – and to the life that still clings to that body in the park. Whether they know it or not, they are bound up in the same story – a story where history and revolution, love and art, crime and conspiracy are all packed into a single shell, ready to explode. Then, on July 13th, 1977, the lights go out in New York City.’ A similar theme to Colm McCann’s book, then, but with considerably more pages. This is the kind of novel I get all excited about when I see it in a catalogue then watch its progress up my reading pile with a sinking heart. I have a copy and so I will be sampling it but whether a review will materialise or not remains to be seen.

That’s it for October. As usual a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis, although in the case of the Hallberg there’s not much more to say. If you’ve not yet caught up with my September previews, here are the paperbacks and here are the hardbacks, parts one and two.