I’ve been pretty rubbish at keeping to my plan to read more this year, but I’m finally taking myself in hand. My work commute is turning out to be just the perfect length to dip my nose into a novel and moving into the Personal Filofax has made room for a paperback in my bag.
Over the past fortnight I’ve finished two books which couldn’t be more different in their subject matter, nor more similar in their construction. One was an okay read, the other was a joy from cover to cover. One made me wish that it was possible to pick up a new book and not be confronted with multiple points of view and finding each new chapter has switched narrator. The other had me glued to the page despite having multiple points of view and constantly rotating the narrator. I have no idea why this is, other than the old cliché about exceptions proving the rule. One I would probably recommend to other readers, the other I would probably not.
The Red Address Book concerns an old lady who is going through the address book in which she has recorded the important people throughout her life. I think it would be fair to say that I found it challenging to keep getting small glimpses of parts of her life and the people in it, then skipping back to the present day, then skittering off to another part of her life. It began okay, but lost my attention a little around the middle. Unfortunately, towards the end a second point of view character was introduced who I didn’t feel much empathy towards. Now, whether it was the fragmentation of the story, or the fact it was translated from the original Swedish and perhaps lost a little in the translation, or whether there was an underlying sense of not being totally wrapped up in the characters, I found this book quite middle-of-the-road. There is a bombshell about three quarters of the way through which left a bit of a sour taste. I didn’t dislike the story in any way, and I read it relatively quickly, but I didn’t feel much affection for it.
This Is The Way You Lose The Time War is a sci-fi novella narrated by two individuals representing opposing factions – technology and nature – who battle backwards and forwards through multiple time streams to try and win the war for their own sides. Except it’s also a narrative of their growing relationship expressed through letters which must be destroyed because the factions they work for cannot be allowed to find out about them. There is a bombshell about three quarters of the way through which is an utter delight. I loved this story, and was happy to put up with the fragmentation caused by the narrative style because the whole premise of the story was that the characters work outside any recognisable timeframe.
So, which would I recommend and which would I not? Funnily enough, I think The Red Address Book is likely to be the story which would appeal to more people. The sci-fi elements of This Is The Way You Lose The Time War would put off some readers and the love story couched in abstract, almost poetic language, isn’t likely to appeal to those who like regular science fiction. As someone who likes science fiction, poetry and letter-writing, this book was probably written specifically for me.
I still don’t subscribe to the idea that every book has to be written to include the viewpoint of every character. I have to choose my next read carefully – I want something with a solid narrative arc and a more old-fashioned style of writing. I think Georges Simenon will fit the bill nicely.