Here’s a breakdown of the books I read in October. Have you read any of these?
2023 by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu
I’m a big fan of the KLF; I still enjoy listening to The White Room, and I have many memories attached to their songs, so I was excited to receive this book as a birthday present. I was curious to see how they would work as authors, and what kind of story they would tell.
As the title indicates, this is set in 2023; I think it is meant to be an homage to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, while also being a satire about celebrity and fame.
Lady Gaga is reimagined as M’lady Gaga, Simon Cowell has been murdered, and Michelle Obama is the first female president of the United States. Indeed, most of the characters are slightly twisted versions of current celebrities, living in a world that is not so far removed from our own; it features, for example, exaggerated versions of Starbucks, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, as well as self-references to the KLF’s songs.
This book is either genius satire or the biggest pile of shit I’ve ever read; I haven’t yet made up my mind.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
A YA novel about two young women (one is a pilot, the other a spy) who are sent on a secret mission to France during WWII.
The mission does not go to plan, and the story is narrated by one of the girls who has been captured by the Gestapo. She is repeatedly tortured in an effort to extract a confession; indeed, it is her written confession that we are reading.
I got hooked on the story, drawn in by the engaging characters as well as the attention to detail. This is a riveting, female-driven wartime adventure. Once you start, you will want to know how it ends; will she escape from the Gestapo?
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
Freddie is still grieving the loss of his brother who was killed in WWI some ten years earlier, and travels to the French Pyrenees in an attempt to refresh his heart and mind and shake off the suffocating grief.
He ventures into a mysterious village, and that’s when things take a strange turn. This is a great book to read on a dark evening, tucked up by the fireside.
For Fukui’s Sake by Sam Baldwin
One man’s account of his experiences teaching English in rural Japan. This book felt so personal because I, too, spent a few years teaching English in exactly the same place as Baldwin; Fukui prefecture. In fact, I was there just a few years prior to him, living in the next town, so our paths very nearly crossed, and certainly, there are Japanese people there that knew us both.
It was fascinating reading about his everyday life in Fukui, because his experiences so closely resembled mine. I’m not sure if readers who have not visited Japan would find it quite so interesting, unless they enjoy fish-out-of-water stories or are intrigued by Japanese culture.
In many ways I could have written this book, but Baldwin beat me to it! I have written a blog about my time in Fukui, though, based on the journals I kept at the time, here.
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
If you’re looking for a quick, lighthearted book to distract you, then this is not it.
I had high hopes for this, as Margaret Atwood proclaims it Essential reading for our times on the front cover; although I appreciated the subject matter, I found it difficult to really care for any of the characters.
Quick synopsis: Snow is a political thriller set in Turkey during the 1990’s, when a coup takes place. The book explores issues about East meets West, Turkish and European relations, and conflict between secular and extremist Islamic groups. Thrown into the mix are the themes of love, loneliness and the nature of art.
Snowdrops by A. D. Miller
So we move from Snow in Turkey to Snowdrops in Russia.
Judging by the cover (I know, I know) I was expecting a fast paced thriller or a murder mystery, but this was neither.
However, there is plenty of mystery and intrigue, a femme fatale and a honey trap; potent ingredients for a crime story.
Nick is a British expat working in Moscow, who falls for the wrong girl and gets caught up in corruption; I can’t say much more without giving it away. An enjoyable story that evokes the mystery about modern Russia.
Oh, and it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, which is usually a pretty good indication of a book’s quality.
East, West by Salman Rushdie
I didn’t realise that this was a collection of short stories until I was halfway through; I don’t usually like short stories, but as I was enjoying them I decided to stick with it and finish the book.
I’m so glad that I did.
The first time I had heard of Rushdie I was a schoolboy when a fatwa was placed upon him in 1989, after the publication of his book The Satanic Verses.
I had never read any of his work, but now I feel inspired to track down his other books.
These nine short stories sometimes evoke fairy tales, but all are about relationships; friends, family, and love.
India and England appear throughout, reflecting Rushdie’s own life, weaving connections between the two cultures.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
And finally, the one that got away.
This was another birthday present. It has had very positive reviews, and I really, really wanted to like it… but I just couldn’t get into it. I managed fifty pages and then gave up, so sadly this one doesn’t count towards my goal of 52 books in a year.
Life is too short to read books that feel like a chore. I’m sure other people have loved it though; are you one of them? Let me know in the comments below!