Books in brief: early January

It’s a blogging anniversary – four years ago today, I published the first post here on Follow the Thread (a review of the movie Once). A further 728 posts have followed it, and there are more to come. Here’s one now – let me round-up some of the books I’ve been reading in the last few weeks…

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Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (2012). A judge retires to her old house in the central highlands of Malaysia, recalling the old Japanese gardener she knew there in her adolescence – the Japanese Emperor’s one-time gardener, no less. This is a very still, quiet book: its language can be overly ornate, but does create that atmosphere also well. Eng also paints a complex picture of morality and history.

Ali Smith, Artful (2012). Four lectures on aspects of art, delivered by Smith at the University of Oxford in early 2012. Essayistic reflections on art are folded into the ongoing story of a woman haunted by her dead lover (who may or may not have returned). This is thought-provoking stuff, and I suspect it would be excellent read aloud by the author. Perhaps not the ideal book for me to choose as my introduction to Smith’s work, though.

James Renner, The Man from Primrose Lane (2012). David Neff, a successful writer still sorely missing his dead wife, investigates the mysterious murder of a recluse – and finds his reality growing more and more unstable. There’s considerable charm in the raggedness of Renner’s debut novel; and, especially in the middle, the slippage between perceptions and realities is quite exhilarating. On the flipside, the book sidelines its female characters, and it collides two genres in such a way that they tend to undermine rather than reinforce each other.


Pierre Szalowski, Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather (2007; tr. Alison Anderson 2012).
Montreal, January 1998: a boy’s parents split up, he calls to the sky for help – and a severe ice storm descends. New relationships are forged as the community is brought closer together. Szalowski’s prose is light and breezy, perhaps a little too much so –the novel aims for a deep emotional connection which I never quite felt.

Kobo Abe, The Face of Another (1964; tr. E, Dale Saunders 1966). A scientist disfigured in an accident determines to create the perfect mask; when he succeeds, he finds himself thinking of the mask as a separate entity. I found this an interesting book – in terms of both its philosophical reflections on what faces mean to us, and its characterisation of the protagonist, with his increasing lack of self-awareness – but it was also dry, and my enthusiasm for writing about it further waned as the pages turned.

Patrick Neate (ed.), Too Much Too Young (2012). The second annual anthology from Neate’s “literary club night”, Book Slam. Twelve stories from writers including David Nicholls, Marina Lewycka, and Nikesh Shukla, each taking its title from a song. It’s a diverse set of stories, with the passing of time as the most common theme. My pick of the volume is Chris Cleave’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’, in which a man shows his grandmother (who has dementia) how to use the internet, leading to poignant contrasts of past and future.

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3 thoughts on “Books in brief: early January

  1. Pingback: Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 | Follow the Thread

  2. Pingback: Event report: Salon London’s Summer Essentials | Follow the Thread

  3. Pingback: “Here I am again : me and a girl and a wall” | Follow the Thread

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