Sunday, August 29, 2010

Song for Sunday

Rose Elinor Dougall – Carry On

Band/artist of the week: The National
Song of the week: S Club 7 – Don't Stop Movin' (what happens when the offspring commandeer iTunes to help decide what their favourite song is for Show and Tell ...)


Giles Foden has a knack for unearthing fascinating side stories from real events and using them to construct novels and non-fiction. He's best known for his first novel, The Last King of Scotland, where a young Scottish doctor on a medical program in Africa ends up as the personal physician to Ugandan President Idi Amin.

Turbulence intrigued me for the most part, but was ultimately a bit of let-down. It is a literary thriller, based around solving one the most intractable scientific (or more specifically geophysical) problems of the Second World War: predicting the weather over six consecutive days to allow the D-day landings to be planned and executed.

Henry Meadows is a technical officer in the Met Office who is dispatched to Argyll in an attempt to retrieve crucial information from the reclusive Wallace Ryman. Ryman is an authority on turbulence whose work is viewed as crucial to aid the forecasters in providing accurate and reliable advice to the military top brass. Unfortunately Ryman is a rationalist and a conscientious objector who is indifferent to the project and whatever information he does share doesn't seem to be particularly relevant.

The first two-thirds, set in Argyll, when Henry is trying to befriend and get the information from Ryman works well. Then the story turns on a dramatic event which seems less traumatic than it should be. Henry's breakdown after isn't convincing and the book drifts off. Although events become more dramatic, they also seem less convincing and by the end very little seems to be real.

There is also the added distraction of a tacked-on, modern-day coda running throughout which doesn't shed any light on the historical events or add anything to our understanding of Henry or his actions. The final chapter is billed as an address to a conference about the forecasting for the landings and marking the fortieth anniversary. Again it seems unecessary and contrived, as if he didn't have the confidence in the core narrative and felt that it needed something extra. It is a great story and if Foden had concentrated on getting this right, ditching all the padding and authorial tricks then it would be a far more engaging book.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Booker longlist

No Amis. No Rushdie. No McEwen. Hurray!

The Booker Prize longlist was published last week and, although I haven't really been interested in it as prize since I stopped working in the bookshop (circa 1996), I had to take a look anyway. Just so that I could be mildly outraged by the judges narrow view of what constitutes literature and chuckle condescendingly at their predictable choices.

The last Booker winner I read was Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty in 2004 and I didn't rate that much. Life of Pi in 2002 was the last one that I actually enjoyed and before that it was Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha in 1993.

So, this year's list brought on an attack of slight incredulity including as it does two books I have already read that are fantastic (The Slap and The Stars in the Bright Sky), another that I can guarantee will be excellent (and is already on my to-read pile next to the bed – The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet) and another five which I quite fancy (C, February, In a Strange Room, Room and The Betrayal).

My take on The Slap is here and I will be banging on about The Stars in the Bright Sky at some point in the near-future. The bookies reckon Parrot and Olivier in America or The Long Song are in line for the fifty grand, but that only shows what turnips they are. My pick would have to be David Mitchell for The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet because lots of people reckon he should have won in 2004 for Cloud Atlas and although the judges say they 'put aside literary reputations and judge the novels on their individual merits' it is strange how often an author's past near misses help a book's chances.* And if I was a betting man I would put some money on Christos Tsiolkas for The Slap. I just have a funny feeling that it might be his year ...

*The fact that it is historical fiction won't hurt either.

Song for Sunday

Early Day Miners – Comfort/Guilt

Band/artist of the week: Arcade Fire
Song of the week: Rose Elinor Dougall – Find Me Out