Monday, 20 February 2012

The Queen of the South

This was a Christmas present and after carting round all 623 page of it I'm a confirmed kindle girl. Perfect it ain't - and can anyone tell me what happens to my downloads after I die? - but it's now my preferred medium.

Anyway, I digress. The Queen of the South is the story of a fictional Mexican woman, Theresa Mendoza, who, after a hideous childhood, becomes the girlfriend of a drug trafficker.  She enjoys the good life but, when he is murdered, seemingly for creaming off a little extra profit during runs, the story starts. His death at the hands of a powerful drugs cartel alerts Mendoza to the danger she's now in. These people don't like loose ends, and Mendoza is a loose end.

Mendoza goes on the run with the reluctant help of a trusted godfather-like figure and manages to get to Spain where she gets a job in a bar. She also gets herself a new boyfriend, another trafficker, and ends up once again, a trafficker's moll.

Stung by her past, this time she gets involved in the business. She learns about the speedboat her boyfriend owns, how to maintain and drive it, and the territory, the cargo and players they deal with.

Almost inevitably this one also comes to a sticky end and Mendoza ends up in prison. Her cellmate is refined and well-educated and is the catalyst for Mendoza's return to the world of drugs when she is released but this time, she becomes a major player.

It came as no surprise to find out the author, Aurturo Perez-Reverte, was a journalist before he turned his hand to fiction. This story has been meticulously researched. I'm not always comfortable when male writers have female protagonists, or vice versa. Somehow, somewhere, it always seems to come slightly apart. In this case, there was no ambiguity. Undoubtedly the fact that Mendoza is a woman in a man's world helps. Sex scenes are kept to a minimum and Mendoza's femininity - of which there isn't a lot - is portrayed sartorially.

I read that Perez didn't want his books translated to English. I'm glad he lost that battle.

Friday, 27 August 2010

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

I haven't got going on The Book Thief yet but I've ordered this for next month's book group. With my London group I read Never Let Me Go - that was a while ago and I liked it but it was bizarre. I remember it as being dark and giving the subject matter (children being farmed for body parts) it probably was but I can't remember enough about it. The Remains of the Day - I just don't remember reading this but I think I have - I'm probably getting confused because of the film - so I'll have a go at this as well. So I'm on The Book Thief, I've ordered An Artist of the Floating World, I've read Never Let Me Go and I may or may not have read The Remains of the Day so it's now third on my list.

Update: I've started An Artist of the Floating World. Early days but it seems to be very readable. It flows well.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Book Thief by Markus Zusack

This is the other book that I'm planning to read this month. I don't usually attempt to read so many - I'm a one-book girl - but I'm going to have a bit of extra time on my hands this month and this one's been waiting for me...

Update - I've managed to read the first couple of chapters. Looking forward to the next bit but too soon to say anything else.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I'm starting this because I enjoyed Three Day Road so much. We'll see if they stand up to comparison. Read the first chapter last night - it's going to be good.

OK - I have a few chapters under my belt and so far - brilliant. I'm finding this one benefits from my full attention rather than something I can read as part of an evening of multitasking. The story so far - it's 1910 and a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, arrives in France to stay with the Azaire family. He's there to learn about the textile industry but becomes embroiled in a torrid affair.
The attention to small details of the era evoke a sense of suburban/rural France at the time. Descriptive and detailed but not longwinded. Can't wait to get back to it.
PS I've just had a friend round for dinner who noticed what I was reading and mentioned something about this book. He's given me the courage to say it - it's a very well written description of the physical side of the affair...
Update: I finished reading this while, would you believe, I was on holiday in France. If you have any interest in The Great War or life in the trenches - and let's face it - too many of us lost at least one relative in this - you have probably read this book already. If not, buy it.

On the negative side. The introduction of Elizabeth, Wraysford's granddaughter, neatly ties up the loose ends but drags the novel down. Single, successful, biological clock ticking, having an affair with a married man - she's a complete cliche and an irritating one at that.

The characters are vague - so much of the book is at pains to explain what makes them tick yet I wasn't always completely sure I understood them. This is only an observation, not a criticism. As a portrayal  of men living through an extraordinary experience and through extraordinary times - that the characters were slightly out of focus worked very well in my opinion.

If only he'd left Elizabeth a bit more out of focus.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This month's book. I've read it before but reading it again is no hardship. I love this one.

Update: have been reading this in France where much of the novel is set. First, we're given a glimpse of the lives of the glamorous Divers - Dick and Rosemary - and the equally entertaining characters who are drawn in and drift out of their lives. On the face of it, their lives are on some level enviable. They're rich, beautiful, glamorous and entertaining. They live lives brimming with fun a pleasure.

Now that would be a dull book - like reading celebrity magazines back to back - I mean the first one might be mildly entertaining but after a while it's one photo and the same photo appears in the next mag and someone who knows just as much as you or me gives his or her interpretation - yawn...

TITN starts off by giving us a snapshot of this impossibly glitzy couple. And of course, it is impossible. When we are fed a little more, and as the story unfolds, we come to understand the extenuating and repellent circumstances upon which their relationship is built. We see that even the beautiful people are subject to the same pain we are and, with about a quarter of the book to go, nothing could induce me to be a part of their lives. To be continued.

UPDATE: We watch as the two main protagonists each change, act and react to their situations within the context of their relationship. As one grows stronger with an occasional dip, the other enters a slow, tortuous period of decline.

Out of interest - how many of us have a friend who, no matter how much we love him or her, drains us of our energy and good humour? To live with that and deal with it constantly must be incredibly hard work. Is this ultimately the effect Rosemary has on Dick or is he the master of his own destiny?

I think this is one of those books that alters your opinion of the situation with each reading.

The ending has a sad inevitability to it.

PS The language is rich and enriching. I occasionally need to reach for my dictionary but there's nothing wrong with that.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

I didn't get as much out of this book as I should have thanks to it going missing for about six weeks and other commitments so I probably can't do it justice. Once I got going on it I took too long to recover the plot which lessened the pleasure. Still, I really enjoyed it. 

Based in Barcelona. A young boy chooses a book for himself and become fascinated by the author. A sinister figure seems intent on getting his hands on the book and destroying every copy he can find. By retaining possession and by trying to find out about the author, the sinister figure and what is driving them, the boy opens up a can of worms. The plot is one of first love, everlasting love, murder, brutality, revenge and growing old. If this hasn't already made it to the big screen it will.

Some parts of the novel are outstanding. There are several scenes where the boy, now a young man, finds himself in a decaying and abandoned mansion. One of these scenes was one of the best pieces of suspense I've ever read. It was so atmospheric that I felt fear clutch at me despite the fact I was in a brightly lit house with three other people.  Very effective.

While a substantial part of the book deals with unhappy and soul destroying circumstances, lives and relationships, there are wonderful characterisations and moments of humour. Plenty of twists to keep you on your toes.
I'm giving it 4/5.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Not the happiest book you'll read but name a really happy book that's any good? This one's a bit of a page-turner. I felt a bit naughty for enjoying it as much as I did. I'm going to write a bit more about it when I have more time.