Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Five Books For Your Delectation And Reading Pleasure

Yep, you guessed it - despite the cries for mercy and constant begging from the seven people who read my two previous "list o five" posts we're back with more lame-ass reviews of books wot i like and hope you might like too.

I'll be looking at five books, maybe six, and even hoping to include a few non Sci-Fi novels amongst these tomes. One or two are great favourites - the others are good reads and I would appreciate any comments relating to other books i might like as well as any thoughts you may have had on these books along the way (assuming I am not the only person in the universe to have read them)

#1: "The Long, Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul" by Douglas Adams
Who? One time co-hort and co-writer to (Monty Python's) Graham Chapman, Script Editor to Doctor Who (Tom Baker era) and creator of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy (a franchise in radio, books, TV and film)

The plot: Holistic Detective Dirk Gently is hired by a man who is clearly insane. Clearly insane because he believes he is being hunted by a green scyhte-wielding monster intent on collecting on a contract.

As such Dirk (aka Sylvad Cjelli) fails to take his responsibilities very seriously until his client is unexpectedly murdered. With a scythe.

From thereon in Dirk, who mostly specialises is scamming old ladies, is slowly dragged into a web of intrigue involving the gods of Asgard (specifically Thor), a one-hit wonder, a missing fighter pilot and a very frustrated soft-drinks dispenser

OK - so I should be honest here and say that Adams is my favourite writer, but that for me this is the novel that is most satisfying from a being-a-book point of view. There's something about the early hitch-hiker books that smacks a little too much of radio adaptation and the first Dirk Gently novel (Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) would have probably impressed me more if I had never watched Dr Who - The Long, Dark Tea-Time is both funny and extremely cleverly written with seemingly throwaway references suddenly turning out to be vital and vica versa

Top moments include when Dirk encounters the son of the deceased deliberately watching TV at him and the description of Dirk's bedroom (the light crossing the room like a crowd of angry policemen doing a lot of "what's all thising"). It's one of the few books I can repeatedly read without getting bored.

Other books by the same author: Probably best to start with the first Hitch-Hiker's novel (or even better get the original cast recordings of the radio show), but the best of the bunch for me is the last, "Mostly Harmless". Also "Last Chance To See" is a great book and very different from Adams's usual works

#2: "The Shining" by Stephen King
Who? Horror writer of some repute during the 80s and 90s, now a franchise so big that even regularly publishing his washing list doesn't seem to slow his book sales

The plot: for those of you who live on Neptune and have thus never seen the Stanley Kubrik film starring Jack Nicholson a janitor takes a job at a remote hotel, looking after it during the closed winter season. He takes his wife and his Psychic son Danny along with him. Once there the janitor, who is also an alcoholic and failed writer, attempts to dry out and finish his novel but is slowly driven insane by the ghosts in the hotel that are feeding off Danny's powers.

OK - so having mentioned the Kubrik film I must urge anyone who watched said film and thought "how naff was that" to not let this stop them from reading the book, which is way better. It's one of the few books that has actually chilled me and kept me gripped throughout and the writing is crisp and tight throughout. Admittedly the main character is an arsehole and therefore a bit hard to like, but the pace drags you along.

Other books by the same author: I think it's generally accepted that anything much after 1995 is a no-no, but "IT" and "The Stand" are great long novels and well worth a couple of weeks of your time.

#3: "High Fidelity" by Nick Hornby
Who? UK author who mostly started off by writing about his obsessions and was, for a period, very successful.

The plot: Again, there's a very good film of the book starring John Cusak and Jack Black, but for those of you who don't know - the central character is a kidult (immature adult) who after a particularly spectacular breakup found himself somehow running a specialist record shop where he spends most of his time insulting his few customers. After yet another breakup he finds himself having something of a mid-life crisis and going back to visit all his previous girlfriends to find out what went wrong

This is mainly a book about male obsessions and weaknesses and as a bloke it's impossible to read it without identifying with at least some sections of the book. Hornby writes in the first person throughout as the "hero" slowly realises that it is time to stop living his life in search of fantasy and be happy with what he has.

Other books by the same author: "About A Boy" - very similar plot, also turned into a movie starring Hugh Grant

#4: "The Truth" by Terry Pratchett
Who? Proud to have been the UKs most shoplifted author Pratchett is the man behind the Discworld series of novels - a sort of fantasy/humour crossover about a flat world that exists on the back of four elephants, who in turn stand on a giant turtle (and, as such, a highly magical world). Think "The Lord Of The Rings" with jokes, only more elegant, and you're along the right lines.

The Truth follows the adventures of the Discworld's first newspapers and, like most of his novels, is actually a reflection and parody of our own world. For once Pratchett moves away from his usual stream of recurring characters and gives us a new hero and the book benefits from both this and his usual intelligent wit. Much like Douglas Adams Pratchett is a master of language and uses it to make his point so subtly that you don't realise he's stabbed you with it until later.

Other books by the same author: Probably the best Discworld novel to read first is "Mort", but any that don't feature the Wizzard Rincewind are good (I've never liked this character, and apparently nor has Pratchett)

#5: "Ressurrection Men" by Ian Rankin
Who? Edinburgh born author and multiple winner of crime-writing awards, famous for creating the character of Inspector John Rebus, a former SAS man who had a breakdown and joined the Police and has, due to his attitude towards the job, slowly found himself increasingly isolated and turning into an alcoholic

The plot: John Rebus is on last-chance saloon. His attitude and behaviour has landed him back in training with another bunch of rapidly failing Policemen. During the next few days he has to learn to work as a team to solve the unsolved crime they have been given.

Only things are not as they seem, because John Rebus is actually undercover investigating the other Ressurrection Men on the course to try and find out where the money from a crime went missing - only as they are given the unsolved case Rebus begins to wonder if it is actually himself that is is under investigation...

And that, in a nutshell, is why I love the Inspector Rebus novels - there's always three or four different plots going on together, forcing you to concentrate and dragging you in - sometimes the plots come together and sometimes they don't, you just never know. Ressurrection Men is, along with "The Naming Of The Dead" one of the finest in the series and despite occurring towards the end of the series is as good a point to start as any. Rebus himself is sufficiently flawed to be believably human and the crimes are solved by dogged policework that never stops sounding feasible (none of this gathering all the suspects or uncovering a red headed league)

Other books by the same author: "The Naming Of The Dead", "The Black Book" - the first two Rebus novels ("Knots And Crosses" and "Hyde And Seek") are a bit weaker than the rest, but after that they get very good, very quickly.

#6: "And Another Thing" by Eoin Colfer
Who? Author of the Artemis Fowl series for children

The plot: OK, so I have to admit that I didn't exactly approach this novel with an open mind.

When I heard that someone had been asked to write a sixth Hitch-Hiker's Guide novel (Douglas Adams having died of a heart attack) for the 30th anniversary of the series my initial thought was "probably best left alone"

The main reasoning for this seems to be that Douglas himself had always intended to write a sixth at some point, if only because he was unhappy with the downbeat feeling and ending of the fifth.

Picking up from which: Arthur Dent (who has already survived at least one destruction of the Earth) and his companions are unexpectedly saved from another destruction of the Earth and, further to a chain of unlikely events, embark on a mission to help an immortal finally end his life. Whether this actually happens or not is something I will leave aside for the moment.

The book mostly deals with how the characters (who include the former galactic president, a particularly froody reporter for the guide, Arthur's stroppy teenage daughter and a man who has spent all millenia insulting people) react to their survival via a) recruiting Thor to help the immortal die and b) attempting to save the survivors of Earth from the beurocratic Vogon Constructor Fleets.

So - after I got over the initial "how dare they?" phase (which probably lasted the first hundred or so pages) I found myself reluctantly not hating it and, finally, quite enjoying it.

Colfer is an amiable enough writer and whilst he lacks the command of English that Adams used he manages to capture the characters well enough to make this feel like a Hitch-hiker's novel.

For me the only place it falls down is in the over-use of pseudo-slang and quotes from the Guide, both of which Adams had rather veered away from in favour of something more intelligent. Adams would probably have shoehorned in some storyline about eco-preservation as well, based on the exerpts from "The Salmon Of Doubt" (the story he was working on when he died)

Also (former Galactic President) Zaphod Beeblebrox is a little over-used, especially as he has been absent for so many of the novels, leaving some of the other characters with nothing much to do but wait about.

Still - if you take this as an adventure that occurs within the HH universe and contains some of the same characters you will probably like this - but i would seriously suggest getting up to speed with the originals first.

6 comments:

Marion said...

You've got some great reads listed here. I love Douglas Adams.

Have you read any Tom Robbins' tasty tomes? He's as quirky as they come, but untouchable as far as being the king of metaphors, IMO. My two favorites of his are:

Jitterbug Perfume
Skinny Legs and All

Also, I love Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. His character of Prabaker is my favorite fictional character of all time. I felt like he took up residence in my brain and still lives in a little room there.

I could go on for pages. I'm reading "The Historian" by Elizabeth Kostova at the moment. It's a fictional story about Vlad the Impaler and the legend of Dracula. It's pretty unputdownable. (This is my 3rd read of it...it's one of those books I love to read annually). I have a huge list of my favorite books on my profile page. So many great books, so little time. Thanks for posting this. I always enjoy reading what other people like to read. Blessings & Happy Reading!!

Gwei Mui said...

Great selection.

Argent said...

Long dark Teatime - I have read and probably need to read it again to thoroughly absorb it.

The Shining - Books are nearly always better than their films. One day....

High-Fidelity - Hornby is a good, amiable writer. I think he wrote 'Being Good' which I liked.

The Truth - It's Pratchett. What can I say? Read and enjoyed.

Resurrection Men - I've rea done Rebus novel and enjoyed it and I do enjoy Police books so migt give this a go.

And Another Thing - heard the Radio 4 serial version and quite enjoyed.

Book to add to the list: The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak. Set in Wartime Germany, it follows the life of a small girl - the Book Thief of the title. The story is told by Death, and when Death tells a story, you'd better listen. Seriously brilliant. By turns funny and moving.

The Historian, as mentioned by Marion - excellent!

Shantaram - have got but not read yet.

Check our the Raw Shark Texts as well.

Friko said...

Nothing there for me, I'm afraid. The Hitchhiker stories
went with the times; Rebus is okay but Rankin gets a bit samey, and I don't know the others at all.

SciFi and Fantasy are not my bag and I like my thrillers bloodless and intellectual. Sorry, I'm a wuss.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

hi Marion - thanks for the list. I will try and look out for The Historian as soon as i finish all the new books that seem to have recently accumulated for my attention!

Gwei - thanks for visiting

Argent - The Book Thief sounds interesting. Long Dark Tea-time is a great book, though i feel sure that Adams fans will disapprove of my choice in favour of a Hitchhiker's tome.

Friko - i understand what you are saying, to a point. Shakespeare comedies are not funny any more and could be considered to have "went with the time" - but i think that truly great writing transcends the time it was created and if you read a Douglas Adams novel the first thing you will notice is the clever way he uses language - very few writers even come near him

But you should be careful of dismissing a genre - writers like Pratchett use the trappings of Sci-fi/fantasy, but their works are much greater than that. I myself find the likes of Asimof and Iain Banks very hard going.

And the Rebus novels may not be bloodless, but they are certainly intellectual

Michael said...

I love The Shining. There's so much I remember from that novel and it's been 25 years since I read it. Love the movie too. Perfect for a steamy summer evening.