2023 JANUARY READING ROUNDUP
My first read of the new year was a dazzling novel, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida. I’ve already listed it as an entrant on my new 2023 Books of the Year List.
It’s a contemporary novel about a youngish American woman who constantly has to re-invent herself, in order to survive. The beginning of the story sees our unnamed narrator flying to Morocco, to escape the drama of a nasty divorce. But she encounters bizarre travel disasters upon arrival, that multiply daily.. The middle of the story see her tossed into the cast of a movie being filmed in Morocco, but this episode changes again. The last section of the book finally explains the backstory, which is shocking and heart breaking, the words betrayal and perfidy are insufficient. And then we see her yet again, in another persona, continuing on her journey. To what, and where, we don’t know. The finale is open ended.
A cleverly crafted story, that is unpredictable. A wonderful read.
All my January reads were good, but one more book needs an individual highlight: The Perfect Golden Circle – Benjamin Myers. The cover is striking, with its central golden circle, against a stippled corn-yellow background. The theme is quirky: two social misfits, in Britain, secretly creating crop circles of dazzling complexity. Why, how, where and when they do this, is revealed, but in oblique fragments. A thought provoking read, that is highly original.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty – Vendela Vida. Contemporaryfiction, a murky mystery unfolds in a glamorous setting. A female runaway who survives against all odds. An adventure story, and the exploration of identity, that is personally liberating. Excellent!
The Perfect Golden Circle – Benjamin Myers. Two oddballs create crop circles in Britain. Calvert is a scarred Falklands SAS veteran, Redbone is an ex punk-rocker. He’s the visionary circle designer, Calvert is the Ops guy. It’s an unlikely friendship, that has great depth. The novel celebrates the search for perfection, and male friendship. An outstanding read. I guarantee this novel will rank amongst the 2023 highlights, for quirky originality.
Shrines of Gaiety – Kate Atkinson. Soho, London 1926, The Great War is over, and people just want to have fun, drink dance, flirt, do drugs, have fun. Which is where the redoubtable Nellie Coker and her 5 nightclubs come into the story. She’s an indomitable character, a force of nature. The book is worth reading just to make her acquaintance. But there are other strong women, young Freda from York, a provincial with stars in her eyes; Gwendolen, who nursed during the war, living life on her own terms. Beneath the gaiety lies the seedy underbelly of crime, exploitation of girls, murders. Soho deserved its notorious reputation. Kate Atkinson does not disappoint – a cracking good read. Recommended
Sea of Tranquility – Emily St John Mandel.Speculative fiction/SF. The theme is time travel and deliberate disruptions to historical timelines. The tone is calm, measured; the prose is simple and factual. It’s a novel best read in one go, in order to grasp and appreciate the swirling complexities . Fortunately the book is not a dense read. I made the mistake of reading halfway, allowing a week to elapse, before finishing the story, whereupon I had to skim read the first half in order to appreciate the second half. An intriguing story.
Nothing Ventured – Jeffrey Archer. More art theft, fraud and crime on all levels, including police forces. The beginning of young William Warwick’s stellar career in the Scotland Yard Fraud Squad. A well plotted and written story, with good court room scenes as well. The book is worth reading for the outrageously cheeky final line – I gasped and then laughed. But you need to read the entire novel in order to grasp the joke. A good read.
Hidden in Plain Sight – Jeffrey Archer. William Warwick continues his Scotland Yard career, this time helping to bust a drug empire, but as a dual plot line, Miles Faulkner is up to his old tricks with art fraud and defeating the machinations of his vengeful, soon-to-be Ex-Wife. Again, episodes in the court room; Justice triumphs at the end, but there’s a nasty sting in the tail. Entertaining read.
The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver. Fan though I am of Lionel Shriver, this novel defeated me. It’s a dystopian story about the collapse of a wealthy American family due to the vagaries of the stock/bond/and world currency markets. The financial background was too arcane, and the characters did not appeal to me. Splat! Out it went.