Unblogged (and soon to be overdue) books

January 11, 2021 at 7:16 pm (Book review, books)

So recently I was cruising through the various rooms in my house when I encountered a stack of books sitting stolidly on the edge of a bookcase. They’d  been read but not blogged. Horrors! The world is awaiting my comments on these volumes! Actually the library is waiting, as in, Woman, are you planning to return these any time soon? There are others wanting to read them, you know…

Okay, so let’s make a start:

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam.  City dwellers Amanda and Clay have found (via Airbnb)  a quiet place to vacation on Long Island. So they drive out to their getaway home. With them are their two children, fifteen-year-old Archie and Rose, age twelve (or thereabouts). Upon arriving, they’re all pleased with what they see. The house is well turned out and has a swimming pool. There are woods nearby. It is quiet, a welcome respite from the perpetual noise of Gotham.

Rumaan Alam extracts much humor from the foibles of America’s upper middle classes. He describes Amanda’s initial food shopping expedition in detail, noting that that she was sure to throw into the basket “Ben & Jerry’s politically virtuous ice cream.” (As we are regular purchasers of this product, it is now designated in these exact terms on our shopping lists.) At the outset, the tone of the novel is lighthearted, but it does not stay that way. Events occur which are unexpected, strange, downright threatening. The light has more and more trouble penetrating the darkness.

Oh, they are leaving the world behind, all right…. Or is the world leaving them?

Rumaan Alam is a terrific writer. His prose is urgent and graceful at the same time. And as for the tale he relates herein, I can only say that it’s been a long time since I was this thoroughly unnerved by a work of fiction.

Highly recommended.

The Searcher by Tana French. Cal Hooper, a former detective with the Chicago police, has traded the chaos of the big city for a whole new life in a small town in Ireland. The house he has purchased is run down, to say the least, but fixing it up provides him with a much needed project.

He enjoys this  rain. It has no aggression to it; its steady rhythm and the scents it brings in through the windows gentle the house’s shabbiness, giving it a homey feel. He’s learned to see the landscape changing under it, greens turning richer and wildflowers rising. It feels like an ally, rather  than the annoyance it is in the city.

Trey Reddy, a teenager, appears out of nowhere to give him a hand with carpentry and painting. Welcoming the help, as well as the companionship, Cal finds himself drawn into a classic mystery: Trey’s brother has disappeared, and Cal’s help is needed in order to  find the missing sibling.

There’s some lovely writing in this novel; it contributes greatly to the sense of being in the midst of rural Ireland:

Eve smack in the middle of a temperamental Chicago neighborhood, dawn sounds rose up with a startling delicacy, and  the air had a lemony, clean-scoured tinge that made you breathe deeper and wider. Here, the first light spreads across  the fields like something holy is happening, striking sparks off a million dewdrops and turning the spiderwebs on the hedge to rainbows; mist curls off the grass, and the first calls of  birds and sheep seem to arc effortless miles.

Well, zowie, the woman can write! On the other hand, the dialog, while realistic and believable, at times drags on for too long. In fact, the novel as a whole could have been shorn of a hundred or so pages and  been none the worse for it – better, in fact, with the plot being somewhat tighter. Even so, Cal and Trey are beautifully drawn characters, as are numerous others.

Tana French is a writer that readers and reviewers consistently rave about. Her books don’t always work for me, but by and large, this one did.

Anne Perry

A Christmas Resolution by Anne Perry. In recent years, it has become Anne Perry’s custom to pen a work at Christmas time with an appropriate theme. This short novel – almost a novella, really – is set, as we’d expect from this author, in the nineteenth century:

Celia approached the vicar, who stood alone for a few moments in the shadow of the rounded arch above the doorway, sheltered from the rising wind.

With such an opening sentence, we know full well that we are in Anne Perry Country. Celia wishes to compliment the vicar on that mornings sermon. Alas, the Reverend Arthur Roberson is a melancholy figure. He is oppressed by matters of the heart.

A Christmas Resolution is characterized by a mixture of charm, earnestness, and peril that is so characteristic of this author’s works in this genre. We are soon involved, with Celia and her husband Detective John Hooper, in an urgent effort to prevent Celia’s dear friend Clementine Appleby from making an ill-advised marriage.

Okay, so not  a very original plot premise, but one is lulled into a sense of mild anxiety without having to be overly concerned. We know things will turn out all right. Clementine will be saved! Even the vicar might be delivered from his unhappy state.

In other words, a pleasant diversion for which I was grateful, what with the world being in its current state.



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