Holiday Reading Update

Hello all, again it has been a while. I seem to be a feast or famine kind of blogger, but I am getting internet in my flat (finally!) which will make my life an awful lot easier, and my blog a lot more content-filled.

I decided to do a quick round-up review of the books I read on holiday as it has been a few weeks now. I had a wonderful holiday, and lots of much-needed relaxation was enjoyed. The first week was pretty hot (averaging 44°C some days), and I struggled to concentrate whilst I was acclimatising. The second week was moderately cooler and much more bearable (about 39°C) and allowed me to up my reading speed.

I am slightly ashamed to say I only read 4 books on holiday, in fact, arguably only 3 as the third was finished on my return. My boyfriend will never let me live down the fact that he read more books than I did. On his list were James Kelman’s How late it was, how late, Juan Pablo Villalobos’ Down the Rabbit Hole, Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. And he even had time to start on Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I started with the epic (in size and yarn) Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, and to be honest, if we’re going by page count, I definitely read more. But that’s by the bye…I’m not bitter, I know it wasn’t a competition. But still…

SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram had me completely submerged in its story, its sights and smells, so much so that I had my boyfriend on a fruitless search for good Indian food in a Turkish tourist town. Despite some of its more unbelievable elements, I really did enjoy it and the writing itself was beautiful. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the main character, nicknamed Lin by an Indian friend, has escaped from prison in Australia and managed to flee to Bombay, where he enters a compelling and overwhelming new world. Within little time he is living and setting up a medical centre in a slum, getting commission for supplying tourists with drugs and currency on the black market, spending several months in an Indian prison, working under the protection of local gang lords and even taking supplies to Afghan infidels.

It is meant to be based on a true story but parts of it are incredibly far-fetched and even a bit long-winded at times. The descriptions of his time in prison, the beatings, torture and daily humiliation of living in such squalid conditions was too long for my liking, but perhaps that’s more about my tastes than the books itself. There were some incredibly funny moments – one of my favourites was a misunderstanding leading to one of Lin’s acquaintances sending a bear to his slum as he’d misunderstood the meaning of a ‘bear hug’.

My favourite character in the novel is Prabaker, and his unique version of English and his mischievous nature. There is however something slightly cringe-worthy about the portrayal of the Indians, as comic characters, as idealistic and somewhat naïve. It is a big commitment, this book, but it is funny and so tragic at points that it was worth it. I tried to force it on my boyfriend but he took one look at the size of it and headed for the pool bar and its cooling water spritzers.

HEADHUNTERS by Jo Nesbø

Headhunters by Jo Nesbø was a present from a friend and it was good holiday read. I think I sped through it in one day. I don’t have much to say about it to be honest, other than it is a good thriller and doesn’t require too much intellectual exercise. It is over-the-top, and completely plot-driven, I don’t think there was one sentence that was superfluous to the plot. That said, it was a page-turner, entertaining and dark in a way that Scandinavian writers have a knack for.

THE PINK HOTEL by Anna Stothard

I can’t remember where I came across The Pink Hotel but I was intrigued enough to buy it. The story sounds promising, a 17 year-old girl travels to L.A. after finding out about the death of her wild child mother, by whom she was abandoned at the age of three. She winds up at a place called the Pink Hotel, which her mother had co-owned with her most recent husband. The main character, un-named, stumbles into her mother’s wake and makes off with a suitcase full of her belongings. In her desire to find out more about her mother, she takes to wearing her clothes, reading a book that had been sitting on her bedside table, and tracking down her mother’s ex-lovers. I found it slightly disturbing, how much the character tried to emulate her mother, her sly way of creeping in to other people’s lives. It is really a coming-of-age novel, and I did enjoy it, I just found myself feeling a bit uneasy about the main character, her motivations and actions. If you have read it, what did you make of it?

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton was a prize from Heavenali (part of the Literary Blog Hop Giveaway organised by Leeswammes). I loved the style of it, its sharp and cutting prose and its slightly scathing view of high society in New York at the end of the 19th century.

Lily Bart is an ageing singleton, close to becoming a shelved spinster, as she has refused to bow to social conventions and marry rashly. I loved her strength and her wild, defiant nature. This is accompanied by a naïveté too, that allows her to be manipulated by those upon whom she relies for social standing. She is betrayed rather callously by the cool and self-preserving of Bertha Dorset and gets herself into serious trouble by accepting the help of a friend’s husband to earn money from investments and escape the debt that suffocates her need for an extravagant lifestyle and future prospects.

Lily is aware of the appearance of her actions but sometimes acts on impulse regardless, later regretting actions that she enjoyed as she comes to face their consequences. It reminded me of the precarious natures of the lives of the rich and privileged, as portrayed by the characters in Stephen Fry’s film début Bright Young Things (based on Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies which I have yet to read). There is a sense of hopelessness that surrounds Lily, and even with the attentions of young potential bachelor Ned Silverton, one can’t help but suspect whilst reading the novel that she is doomed to failure, that her plans will always go awry and she may just in fact end up alone and penniless – a fate that she fears with all of her being.

I really enjoyed it and wish there were more accounts of Lily Bart’s adventures – she would be a fun literary character to party with!

Also, in case you wondered, I counted 9 copies of Fifty Shades of Grey around the pool (There may have been more but kindles are pesky in that I can’t do my nosey about other reader’s selections!). Not since The Da Vinci Code do I remember a book being so omnipresent. Hmm… I’m still not tempted.

If you’re off on holidays (perhaps a little late in the holiday season now but oh well…), happy reading!

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