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I’ve been reading… popular fiction

I’ve been reading… popular fiction

I’ve been reading… popular fiction

 This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series 2016 Reading Review

hitmanHitman Anders and the Meaning of It All (Jonas Jonasson)

What a tragedy!

Having loved Jonasson’s first two works (The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden) I anticipated this book with great excitement, marking its publication date and looking forward to reading it. How disappointed I was!

The strength of Jonasson’s former books lay in their brilliant farce stretched across time and space, engaging with the ‘real world’ of the 20th Century while holding sufficient distance to forge ludicrous scenarios that hung on hilarious coincidences. The contrast between assorted real world events and the plot’s absurd episodes proved delightful.

Hitman Anders continues to benefit from the author’s dry sense of humour and penchant for the preposterous, but for me it failed dismally on two counts. For a start, the book was much more provincial, barely stretching beyond its Swedish context and largely limited to a few years of time. It thus failed to create sufficient points of contact with the real world to frame its farce in a convincing setting. The aforementioned contrast of the first 2 books was missing here.

Secondly, and more significantly, the substantial religious elements to the plot were persistently insulting to me as a Christian and frequently blasphemous. I considered abandoning the book regularly, and am still unsure why I finished it.

Some may consider me unnecessarily prissy about the whole thing. But even if my sensitivity to its religious content is excessive, its failure to perform at the level of its predecessors leaves me still unable to offer it a hearty recommendation.

In short, this was the biggest disappointment of the year. I do not recommend this book.

jediWilliam Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return (Ian Doescher)

What more can I say that I haven’t already about this great series of books. I’ve been widely mocked when I’ve mentioned them in the past, but the genius of the idea still tickles me whenever I pick up another scene and find myself transported to ‘a long time ago…’.

This conclusion to the original trilogy picks up where the previous two left off; the plot follows exactly the plot of the film, so there were no surprises on that front. Doescher’s new challenge was how to “Shakespeare-ify” the ewoks; as he concedes in his epilogue, the rendering is not especially Shakespearean. In my view, the form he has chosen to take works about as effectively as the little fuzz-balls did in the movie itself. Take from that what you will.

Consistent to form and entertaining to the last, this is an apposite contribution to the series. As for his failure to add anything novel to either the film or the Shakespearean series, I’m torn between criticism and gratefulness. Why not have a read and make up your own mind? The book is not the one with which to start, but if you enjoyed the first two, give it a go.

Next? Episode I.

touchTouch (Claire North)

Having enjoyed Claire North’s ‘The first fifteen lives of Harry August’, I was eager to read another of her books, and the premise of this one seemed fascinating. What if you could swap into somebody else’s body simply by touching them. What would it be like?

Unfortunately the premise was probably the most interesting aspect of the book. It was a well-constructed plot that was interesting enough, but I found the first part of the book too slow to draw me in – it took a long time to get into it. Unlike the earlier work, its premise has much more limited potential. It’s still a truly imaginative idea that was well developed, but it struggled to captivate me in the way that the former book did.

If you’ve read the other book and enjoyed it, then this may also entertain you (I’m happy to give you my copy), but if you haven’t, go for that one first.

oveA Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)

I probably bought this because it kept appearing on my Amazon list of recommended books, more than anything else. It sits in that genre of ‘popular fiction’ that you know won’t be too heavy, and with which you can sit down on a rainy day to gently pass the time away.

What made the book most interesting for me, however, was its view of life and death. Centred around the eponymous hero shortly after being widowed, the book explores the relationship he came to develop with his wife and the sorrow he feels after she is gone. It is much more light than the premise might suggest, but nonetheless it is in many ways an extended meditation on death. What will you leave behind when you die? The protagonist assumes a reunion with his wife after dying, which goes unquestioned in the book as the inevitable destination of the departed, and the sum of his relationships is considered as the achievements of his life.

The direction and conclusion of the story make it ultimately a ‘feel-good’ novel, but it’s hard to leave with a smile on my face in the knowledge that it stands so distant from reality. The hope of the protagonist, and our comfort at the end, requires that we have the same understanding of life and death as its author. Because of that, it does more to expose the worldview of an agnostic culture than satisfy the Christian reader; but for that reason, I also think it’s a fascinating read.

brillianceFavourite: Brilliance (Marcus Sakey)

I like Sci-Fi. I particularly like the idea of having super-powers – which is why I’m willing to overlook the great evils of the original X-Men film franchise, or the even more appalling “Jumper”, and enjoy the idea of being endowed with some superhuman skill.

It’s for that reason especially that I enjoyed reading this introduction to the Brilliance trilogy of books. Although the super-powers are comparatively less magical than many from the comic-book universe, the more tame skills given to the ‘brilliants’ are consequently a bit more believable. Following a government agent on the hunt for the political leader of the rebellious brilliants, it’s a relatively simple plot with fairly standard characterisation, but entirely appropriate to the genre. At points I found it a little slow, but I think that is more a product of my inattentiveness than a fault in the book.

Frequently discounted on Kindle (and therefore purchased for only 99p), and recommended by my flatmate, this fast-paced thriller was complete with the necessary twists and turns to make it readable and gripping from the opening page. If you like low-level sci-fi, it’s a good option.


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