Friday, 17 February 2017

Reading the Right Stuff

There is nothing more pleasurable than relaxing with a good book - at least from my point of view. To pour that cup of tea and snuggle down among the cushions, knowing that you are going to be entertained, is one of the nicest things in a sometimes scary world. 
I read Icarus by Deon Meyer and loved every twist and turn in the plot. Not for the plot itself, maybe, although that was interesting, but for the characters within the novel's pages and the description of the area around South Africa's Cape Town. I felt like an insider in the Police Department. I browsed through the glossary of Afrikaans terms at the back of the novel and smiled at more than one. And I learned enough about wine growing to make my next purchase a South African wine. Really great stuff. Deon Meyer writes the Benny Griesel series and this was one of the novels in that series.

I have just finished reading Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall. Hall is a black American writer who lives in Los Angeles where the story is set. Again, this was a terrific read and I enjoyed every minute. And again, this was largely due to the characters and Hall's mastery of the writing craft. She pulled me into the story in the first few pages. I was inside The Jungle, and The Jungle represents every failed inner city housing programme in every country around the world. Here are two sentences which size up the book and Hall's wonderful style of writing: "The neighborhood was bad when I was a kid, but in a candy-is-bad-for-you kind of way. Now, though, it was bad for you like swallowing Drano followed by rat poison chaser".  Need I say more?  Rachel Howzell Hall writes the Detective Elouise Norton series and this novel was one in that series. I had not heard of her before and am very grateful to my local library that this novel was among some of their recommended reads.

Currently I am reading A Question of Faith by Donna Leon, set in Venice, it is a Commisario Brunetti story. I have to admit that I tried reading Donna Leon several years ago but gave up as I couldn't warm up to her style. This is my second time around and I am enjoying it. Last month I picked up Through a Glass Darkly by Leon at the library, though feeling somewhat sceptical about it. However, it grew on me.  I have been to Venice a number of times: once during a bad storm in late October when the city felt eerie and mysterious after dark and a few years later in the middle of a heatwave in July.  Having wandered the city on my own, stood on the Rialto bridge in the pouring rain and bargained for sweatshirts with Venezia emblazoned across them for my kids (who weren't remotely impressed), I feel I know the city in the novels.  Leon writes in a very different style than Meyer or Hall. Although we read about the corruption and the frustrations of some of the city's inhabitants, I don't think we feel it too deeply, at least I did not. Not like Hall's depiction of The Jungle in her novel, at any rate. But perhaps that's a good thing. It does make for pleasant reading and mild curiosity about how the story is going to pan out. Donna Leon is a very popular writer and she deserves it. Her prose is elegant, her characters are attractive.
I am not a fan of violent graphic crime novels, although I do like them to be realistic. Above all, I like good prose and that is what I have found in all three of the above novels - and hats off to Deon Meyer's translator, whose name escapes me at the moment.

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