A book that made me laugh out loud recently was Florence King’s CONFESSIONS OF A FAILED SOUTHERN LADY. I missed it when it came out in the 1980s and only caught up with it now because it was chosen by my reading group. It’s supposed to be autobiographical (I imagine some of the tales have improved in the telling, but that’s fine) and describes King’s life as a child and young woman in the forties and fifties, being brought up mostly by her grandmother who is determined to mould her into a southern lady. It’s very funny and very rude and both touching and poignant in places.
It’s been a good month or two for reading with a holiday in Denmark and two long ferry crossings allowing more time than usual. I don’t tend to read much crime when I’m writing a novel myself, so holidays are a good time to catch up. I enjoyed THE COFFIN TRAIL, the atmospheric first novel in Martin Edwards’s new Lake District series. I was saving Andreas Camilleri’s EXCURSION TO TINDARI as a treat and I wasn’t disappointed. Inspector Montalbano and his colleagues are marvellous creations and I can’t get enough of the Sicilian setting.
I read Jonathan Kellerman’s GONE with a certain amount of cynicism. Alex Delaware’s strong arm tactics while suffering from cracked ribs and concussion did strain my credulity (I was suffering from bruised ribs myself when I read this and I could hardly get out of bed let alone crowbar open a door or wrestle with a murder suspect). But that’s macho male crime-writers for you. Carla Banks’s FOREST OF SOULS on the other hand I found moving and thought-provoking; it moves backwards and forwards between war-time Belarus and the Manchester of today to uncover the motive for a present day murder.
I’ve been a fan of Qiu Xialong’s novels since I came across the US editions on Amazon a few years ago. And now there’s a UK edition of the second one, A LOYAL CHARACTER DANCER, which I enjoyed reviewing for SHOTS website. It is a police procedural set in Shanghai, featuring the charming Chief Inspector Chen Cao, poet and gourmet. I don’t read Qiu Xiaolong’s novels primarily for the plot – though they work perfectly well as mysteries – but for the pleaure of following Inspector Chen around a fascinating and unfamiliar world, dropping in at the Moon Breeze teahouse to drink bubble tea and sampling chicken and duck blood soup in the bazaar.
I am mildly embarassed to admit that I bought a copy of David Allen’s self-help book on getting organised, GETTING THINGS DONE, but if you saw the state of my study you’d understand. Has it worked? Too soon to tell, but I think I know where everything is now – and I’m writing this piece, aren’t I?
But my book of the month has to be Anca Vlasopolos’s NO RETURN ADDRESS: A MEMOIR OF DISPLACEMENT. Although it deservedly won an award in the States, it hasn’t been published over here, but it’s readily on the internet. I sought it out after meeting Anca at an academic conference (Trollope and Gender at Exeter University) where we both gave papers earlier in the summer. In NO RETURN ADDRESS she describes her childhood in Romania and her memories of her parents, both remarkable people: her mother, an Auschwitz survivor , her father, a political dissident who died young, his health broken by years in prison. After years of limbo in Brussels and Paris she and her mother settled in Detroit and made a new life there. It’s beautifully and vividly written and will stay with me, I know.