Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?


Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

To begin, let’s go to the end of Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister, the final book in the Palliser series, as reviewed by capedoctor:

With a central theme of 19th century British political life and intrigue, the resonance with current political chaos is astonishing. Although there is no resemblance whatsoever between the eponymous prime minister and Mr Johnson, the smooth journey of landed gentry into political office, the transience and superficiality of political alliances and the jealous protection of self-interest and patronage seems not to have changed much in 150 years. Added to this are Trollope’s eloquence as a writer, his power of understatement on crucial social and political issues and so many other reasons why I personally keep going back to the great Victorian novels.

In a nutshell: it’s not her best, but it was still supremely satisfying to read, and I find myself still thinking it about it a week after finishing, which doesn’t always happen with any author.

But even a less-than-perfect Patchett is better than lots of stuff, and I’m very glad I read it.

I haven’t read a Patchett novel before (although “Bel Canto” has lingered on my informal “to read” list for a while), and I bought it purely on the strength of its ludicrously gorgeous cover (always a risky move – I’ve been burned before). So far it has been the perfect book for being curled up under a blanket with a gross cold.

A retelling of the Iliad but set in 1996 Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Achill is a sniper with the IRA who chooses to sit out his cohort’s raid on a local army base. He’s furious because he has been personally betrayed over a relationship, and he refuses all entreaties to change his mind, especially those from his friend, Pat. Henry is a British soldier who first fought in the Falklands, and now he’s been sent to Northern Ireland. Everything leads to the consequences of Pat’s refusal to fight.

Barnes is on top form here, telling a tale where the protagonist is roughly the same age as himself, and starting when the young man (19) falls in love with Susan (48). Every word is chosen with care, and the writing is top class.

Although I won’t see the Japan that Booth travelled through or have the level of engagement with local people in remote rural areas that he did (he was a fluent Japanese speaker whereas I have got to the heady heights of evening college level 2), Booth’s beautiful prose which is alternately elegiac and comedic, remains an inspiration for my coming travels. His early death robbed us of a gifted travel writer whose love for his subject is burned into every page.

Atwood’s ideas about Gilead have obviously been maturing for many years, helped, as she acknowledges, by feedback from readers and the opportunity to work on the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. This book is so rich in subtle details. I felt that the TV series, by making her horrific vision visible, actually diminished the impact of the story. She has an incredible, almost offhand, way of suggesting the horrors that have taken place. This book explores how Gilead came to exist and the insidious way in which precious freedoms were lost. The testaments of the three principal characters interleave to build up the picture of the rise of the theocracy and the bravery of the women who fought it. I think the book is a stunning achievement. Margaret for the Nobel, I say!

Jim Carrey has written a novel about the inner darkness of a Hollywood actor. This actor is fictional.

This piece on the collected words of Auberon Waugh has an excellent headline.

“The Cockroach is so toothless and wan that it may drive his readers away in long apocalyptic caravans.” Something tells me the New York Times reviewer didn’t enjoy Ian McEwan’s latest.

UN report on magical realism warns of increased incidences of women’s tears flooding the entire world. (Hat tip to Swelter.)

The books of Susan Sontag ranked.

Good news! Nothing is real.

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