Goodreads Challenge – June, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

This is a novel written in modern times but in the very convincing fashion of a Victorian crime thriller. Michael Cox is a history buff of the era so he is a safe pair of hands. The story reads confidently enough, especially for a debut, but reading through the acknowledgements it’s obvious that this has been a long labour of love.

Edward Glapthorn, or Glyver, or others, is our protagonist who opens the story with the most convincing first line I’ve probably ever had the pleasure to read:

“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”

Move over Jane Austen! This is exactly the sort of opening line we get told about in writing classes. Grab the reader’s attention, get ’em wanting to read more. And Cox certainly does that.

The world-building is good, with a whirlwind of locations in London (eateries, roads, locales) traversed, often with a helpful Editor’s Note (not that such a thing means a great deal to me, to whom London is a big fog). But beyond that we are immersed in a cultural creation, too, which reminds me greatly of one of my favourite books, AS Byatt’s Possession. Here too we have a poet of the era, convincingly invented, with the irresistible name of Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. And this is our villain, who we barely even see, in a psuedo-Rebecca role. The first half of the novel is devoted to pursuing this man, though we aren’t given the real reason until partway through, at which point Daunt decreases his importance as an agent and instead what he is blocking becomes the bigger goal.

Cox succeeds in creating the typical Victorian style. Hot on the heels of being swamped by Radcliffe’s somewhat clumpy, clunky prose, Cox streamlines it, but only to a suitable point. In Victorian literature, a character doesn’t just leave a room; he admires everything, from the chaise-longue by the window to the writing desk made by the famous carpenter to twenty volumes on the bookshelf. and usually a nugget of information is concealed within all this description, something which throws a speed reader like me.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I read the last 100 pages on the journey down to Castle Combe in a hurry to finish it for the end of the month. At times Edward’s voice started to annoy me, but we were luckily provided with a short reprieve in the form of another character’s account. His hedonism and reliance on substances while he went through his existential crisis phase (or woe-is-me Harry Potter 4 & 5 phase) felt a little stale, but it fit with the obsessive aspects of his personality. The ending was quite satisfying (no spoilers here!). It only took me so long to read because again I had a few other bits to do and I took about a week off reading it.

If you like Victorian literature, murder mysteries or crime thrillers, I definitely recommend it. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for ages. I will also recommend the other book I mentioned, too, Possession by AS Byatt, as I love that book and it goes further to actually create the poetry.

Now I’ve taken on maybe a bit more than I can chew here with July’s choice.

I had a couple of non-fiction reads in the pile that I’ve been steering clear of and so I decided to pick one up. I love anything to do with the sea and one of my own books is going to be partially set at sea in a naval environment, so I’m on with Ben Wilson’s Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy. I’ve read about fifty pages and am really enjoying it, but as it’s a historical narrative it’s taking a good bit longer as I need to concentrate. The font is teeny tiny and a fair few things I don’t have a clue on. Why do all kings have to have similar names? So far I’m keeping up, but Wilson’s style is conversational to the point of being on first name terms with Edwards I – III, to the point where I don’t know which one is being talked about.

I am entertaining the idea of reading one of my fiction books alongside, maybe Lucky Jim, to give two months to read this mammoth beast of a book. I’m determined not to fail in my quest!

How is your reading going?

May Goodreads Challenge – The Magus

For May I chose The Magus to read from my remaining books. I’ve read John Fowles before – The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favourite books so I had high hopes about The Magus.

It is a big book – not just in length but in content. The blurb talks about our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, being held by a master trickster – but make no mistake, the master trickster in residence here is Fowles himself.

It took me a long time to read it – not because it was uninteresting or particularly hard, but because it just is a very big book. That being said, the last 200 pages roared by as the plot kicked it up about four gears.

Nicholas Urfe, as a typical rudderless middle-class graduate of the post-war era, finds himself teaching English in a Greek school for boys on a remote, isolated island. It follows nicely from Romance of the Forest with a travel literature edge. Fowles captures Greece wonderfully – his prose reminded me of holidays to Crete and Lesvos and brought back lovely memories. I also liked the TEFL aspect, especially so as Nicholas had similar feelings of unfulfilment regarding teaching that I had experienced in my short tenure.

The book is best thought of as London and England bracketing either side of the fat Grecian middle section. Nicholas flees a girlfriend, disappointment in his own failings and general disillusionment to an island that then reflects these three things again back at him. The master trickster he meets is a strange patriarch, Conchis, who Fowles paints expertly as a man who shifts in all but shape. There are powerful moments detailing Conchis’s life, in particular the recollection of his days serving on the front in WWI, but in typical Fowles style (a la French Lieutenant’s Woman) the rug is pulled out from under the reader’s feet. As a result, the story is lush, deceptive, and twists and turns at every page.

I enjoyed it, though it was strange, and at times felt a little laboured. (I am in the middle of my own editing so I’m seeing everything bloated and over-egged so I might just be projecting outwards.) As a mystery it was good to figure bits out, though sometimes the cycles of mystery were so dense it was hard to decide what the actual point of it all was. It felt a little too high-brow for me at times: a lot about psychology and psychiatry, which went over my head, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t (though I guess that was purposeful). Nicholas, our narrator, also did my head in from time to time. He was full of his own self-importance, but then again, all his flaws got called out on. This is a story about how our own selfishness and egocentric behaviour can drastically affect those around us – and Nicholas is forced to confront his own shortcomings. I’m not sure if he will really learn from his mistakes, but over the course of the novel he comes a step closer to comprehending that he is not the only player on the stage.

The ending was wholly ambiguous and I made my own conclusion, based on a Disney-fuelled happily ever after.

It is very much a sort of book that will haunt you, and it also makes you not trust anybody or anything they ever say, which is very helpful in everyday life.

My next book is The Meaning of Night, a contemporary Victorian crime thriller, which Maura is cuddling up to below.

April’s Goodreads Challenge: Starting Line

I get to come into April with a bit of a clean slate. Alongside my allotted monthly books I’ve been catching up with Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool series, in anticipation for book 3 coming out soon. I finished the second book last month so have a relatively low on-the-go pile.

While waiting about in the lambing shed I started re-reading a book I’ve attempted many times – Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, Book One of the Dark Tower series. I’ve read lots of Stephen Kings over my time, including what is probably one of the scariest books ever, It. Have you seen the trailer for the new film coming out this year? It looks absolutely terrifying. I mean, clowns, hello! The scariest things out there. When I have kids we are so not having clowns at kids’ parties. And Pennywise isn’t even the big bad in It – he’s just a facet, a mouthpiece.
Continue reading “April’s Goodreads Challenge: Starting Line”

My Goodreads Challenge 2017 – March

This month I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I chose it for my Challenge because I had bought it to read for the PGCE I never finished (like most things in my life) and everybody was raving about it. It’s sat languishing on my bookshelf for long enough.

This is one of those books that everyone raves about, but when it gets down to it, they’ve not read the book, but heard rave reviews about the stage adaptation. Their granny’s mate or little brother’s English class went to see it and it changed their lives.

Continue reading “My Goodreads Challenge 2017 – March”

Reading Challenge 2017

As most people know, I love me a good book. Some people buy clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup, and others buy cigarettes, magazines, whatever, but I like my books. Always have done, and so Casa Katy is filled with books. When I moved out of home I determined to only bring with me books I hadn’t read and wanted to read, which meant that Windy Farm is now full of books I’ve read that I can’t bear to part with just yet or that I will probably never ever read but look pretty good on a shelf somewhere. Last year I didn’t do as much reading as I wanted to. I finished the Wheel of Time, which was a biggie, and I even tried to re-read A Song of Ice and Fire but I got three chapters into Clash of Kings and remembered why it took me so long the first time.

Towards the latter end of 2016 my little life had a bit of a switch-around. Not only did Scott and Fly move in, but I left my job, he then left his job, and we turned to joint endeavours (the farm), which led to days being full of lots of outside work and then evenings full of falling asleep on the settee.

But no more! This year I am committing to the Goodreads 2017 Challenge. I was going to do a reading challenge on my own, but I saw others engaging with this, and since I never make much of a go of my Goodreads account, I thought I would combine the two.

To make it simple, I’m sticking to one book a month. The other morning I went through my bookshelf and pulled off a big mix of books to read. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some I’ve started before, some have just languished, their secrets untold. I have visions of reading them in a seasonally appropriate order, so maybe the heavier non-fiction bits might be the sun lounger reads of a hot sticky summer. Who knows!

I’m starting off my 2017 Reading Challenge with The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’ve had this book for a while now and held off reading it for a couple of reasons, usually the typical started it and something else came along, but in all honesty, I swerved from it because in setting and topic it is quite close to my own story in #MFB, being that they are both set in a magical university. I suppose I worried I might be too influenced by Grossman and subconsciously assimilate some of his themes and features into my own writing. (I also had this highly egocentric fantasy of being read/reviewed/interviewed about #MFB and being able to say “actually I read The Magicians after I finished #MFB so no it didn’t influence me in the slightest”.) But a big part of being a good writer is being a good reader. So I’m going to give it a go.

Plus, I recorded the TV series on my Sky+ box and it’s sat there taking up space, so once I’ve read the book I will watch that before we move and I lose all my recordings. PS. Does anyone know if you can keep your Sky+ box and your recordings if you move from one house to another??? The boy may be heartbroken if he loses all of his Heartbeat episodes.

So I will read The Magicians, my book for January. My rule is that if I finish early I won’t start another book on the list, I will either persevere with other outstanding books (Middlemarch, here’s looking at you) or start something else, and then come 1st February, pick the next one.

Here is my reading list in full! Tell me about yours. What will you be reading? Or what have you read recently? I’m always on the look-out for good books!

Katy’s Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

The Ice Museum – Joanna Kavenna (non-fiction)
Empires of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy – Ben Wilson (non-fiction)
A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
Magician – Raymond E Feist
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox
The Romance of the Forest – Ann Radcliffe
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
The Magus – John Fowles