Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Worst Reads in 2010

Worst books. I read a few clunkers but no really bad books this year. Just luck, I suppose. Since romance novels are one of the best selling genres and read mostly by women, I thought I would check them out. I tried about a dozen and have to say “not bad.” But not great either. The historical romances serve up wonky history. The sex often verges on pornographic. The heroines are feisty but also suffer oh! so deeply, and the heroes have rippling muscle and talk a lot, using long paragraphs to describe their feelings. Fiction indeed.

1. Reading By Lightening By Joan Thomas. Gloom and woe as a dysfunctional family struggles to survive in a mean and ugly prairie farm. One has no idea what the people look like but we get plenty of descriptions of down and out prairie towns and the general tawdry and unpleasant countryside. I got to page 90.

2. Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory. Poor stuff. The protagonist changes her character during the book as if the author could not make up her mind about her. There is no 20’s setting beyond a cloche hat and a bob. The main outbreak of the Spanish flu occurred in 1918 and not after the war. There is a lot of motor car driving. The last quarter deals with the kidnapping of a child and one feels it was added in to extend the plot.

3. Midnight Fugue. I did not like this book, a Dalziel and Pascoe mystery. Too many characters, too many points of view, too much jumping around. I skimmed most of it. Dalziel is called The Fat Man. Pascoe plays very little part in this book. Neither are likeable but then no one in the book is likable. Like many British books the emphasis is on booze and sex. No one seems to have any other interests. If I want a British police procedural, give me a Peter Robinson any day.

4. Barbara Delinsky – The Summer I Dared. Maine setting for a romance about lobster fishers and a wussy wife. A lot of rippling muscles and family sniping. The lobsters were more interesting than the love affair.

5. The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan. Young woman marries and has three children who all die of diphtheria. And things get worse. They migrate. Gloomy family with two more children move a lot because father gets fired. Older daughter is strange etc. Oh how dreary. Could not finish.

6. The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon. Aristotle in Macedonia. The view of Greek life is sickening—the attitude towards women, sex, slaves, war etc. Nothing Golden about it. I read most of this well-written book but tire at the end. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

7. The Dead Republic by Roddy Doyle – another disappointment. The third Henry Smart book. The first, A Star Called Henry, was wonderful. Second set in the US jazz age was silly and the third continues using real (although now dead) characters such as John Wayne. The problem is the jumpy narration, a protagonist who seems brain dead, confused, senile, unable to remember where he lives or the date and we don’t know why. As the pages turn, we don’t care.

8. Beethovan’s Mask. By George Jonas. Neo com rants interspersed with his family’s escape from Nazi Hungary. The International Court is a feminist conspiracy blah, blah,blah. The author is a friend of Barbara Amiel.

9. Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather – Her first novel. All goes well until the protagonist gets killed by falling French Canadians. Rather dims the pathos.

10. Eat the Rich by P.J.ORourke – a treatise on economics by a right wing comic. Nothing wrong with U.S. of course but Albania is a mess. Sweden is good but broke etc. Funny stuff without a moral compass and little social analysis. He hated Russia andits baroque art. The world exists to sneer at. It must be magic to be a member of his family – poor sods.

11. The Century's Daughter by Pat Barker. Well written story of a working class girl born in 1900. All the men are rotters so she has to introduce a kindly social worker who is flummoxed by the violent gang culture of Britain, a type of culture that seems to fixate British writers such asWilliam Boyd in Ordinary Thunder Storms and the crime writer Ruth Rendall who has a young woman kidnap a child to remove it from its lower class parents. I wonder if a middle class Brit, wandering into White Chapel in 1880 would have been just as appalled and found just as much crime, violence and depravity but Barker seems to think crime and depravity are new, different now.

12. The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny.Purple prose makes this cozy almost silly. One could copy out bit after bit. Of note are her constant repetitions, her lists with the word “and” separating each item, the emphasis on trendy foodstuffs, the use of various adjectives: butter is always sweet butter, brie is always melting brie and so on. There is even a sweet pea soup, an interesting idea. There are bouquets on every table and a fire in every grate even in unused rooms. The floors are all wide planks. This is not the Quebec of my francophone relations who prefer solid food and wall to wall. Even more annoying are the snippets from some sort of horror folk tale in an attempt to create spooky tension. So bad it was good and I read to the end. Go figure.

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