Books

I did a reasonable amount of holiday reading in Mallorca, in between walking along the front and falling asleep on the sofa.

Jed Rubenfield’s The Interpretation of Murder is one of those murder mysteries using historical characters, which are popular at the moment (if you like them, Giles Brandreth has done a couple of good ones where Oscar Wilde fights crime). In this book, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung visit New York in 1909 and are soon caught up in the investigation of a murder and a very similar assault, where the victim survives but can’t remember her attacker.

The book evokes the New York of the era convincingly, a bustling and corrupt city. Modern New York is coming into being: the builders of skyscrapers are vying for superiority, while cars are beginning to replace horse-drawn carriages on the streets. Rubenfield has obviously researched the details, down to the colour of the taxi cabs.

This isn’t a ghastly “Freud and Jung: together they fight crime” story (with car chases), but rather a weaving of their theories and disagreements into the plot, transplanting real debates to the time of their real visit to the USA (although the crime is fictional). With Freud it’s all about sex and death, and so it is with the book, which makes it perfect holiday reading.

John Irving’s Until I find you has all his signature tropes: the wrestling, the young man sexually initiated by older women, the death of a family member, the bizarre and sometimes hilarious set-pieces involving sex or death which make it perfect holiday reading (maybe not quite all the tropes: I don’t think this book had any bears in it). Initially, the book follows the toddler Jack Burns, illegitimate son of an organist and choir girl, as he and his mother trek around Europe in pursuit of his father. Jack’s mum is a tattooist, so we get an insight into the odd world of tattoo parlours, as well as a tour of Europe’s great church organs. Jack’s settled in a girls school, before training as an actor and eventually making his way to Hollywood. Eventually, he sets off again in search of his father, realising that things weren’t quite as they appeared to his younger self.

To say the book is about memory and loss makes it sound terribly portentous and gloomy, but it’s neither. Irving’s an accomplished story-teller, whose work reads to me as if it was made to be read aloud, with the author interjecting asides as the story unfolds. The humour and sadness of the book arises from events described in a straightforward way, without embarrassment or embellishment. I remain a fan.

Umberto Eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana was a bit a curate’s egg. It’s another book which explores memory, this time in the most direct way, following the narrator, Yambo, as he recovers from a stroke which has caused his episodic memory to fail him. Yambo is a book dealer, and still remembers things he’s read. He tries to construct a past for himself, turning to his family and friends, and then to his childhood house, full of the books, records and comics he had as a child. Like Irving’s protagonist searching for his father as an adult, the return of Yambo’s memories in the latter part of the book causes him to re-interpret what he thought he knew about his past.

Yambo was a child during the Second World War, so the book focuses on the rise of fascism in Italy and the necessity to appear to be going along with it, even while resisting privately. The war stories were the most interesting part of the book for me. There’s an awful lot of examination of Yambo’s comics and storybooks which I didn’t care that much for, formative though they were to his character, and the ending left me unsatisfied.

Jan Mark’s The Eclipse of the Century came with a recommendation from Philip Pullman on the cover, so I thought it’d be worth a go. The protagonist, Keith, has a near death experience, but instead of seeing heaven, he sees Quantoum, a remote town in Central Asia. Once he’s well again, he decides to go there. Walking down the disused railway track, he finds a ghost town, abandoned by imperial powers. What remains is a museum inhabited by a bunch of oddballs and deserters of various armies, and the camp of the Sturyat tribe, nomads with a strange religion.

Keith’s arrival and his struggle to work out who’s who are a little slow, as everyone is deliberately obscure in a way which makes the story longer, even the people who don’t really have a reason to hide things from Keith. As things start to get weird, Mark picks up the pace, making it a more satisfying read. There’s some fun mockery of New Age woo-woo in there, too. Unfortunately, the book ends abruptly in the middle of the denouement without resolving what’s going on. I wondered whether there were pages missing from my copy, but I don’t think there were. You’ve got enough clues to figure out what might possibly be happening, but to cut off at that point left me unsatisfied with the book, alas.

3 Comments on "Books"


    1. But I (who am not the anonymous writer above) will say where there is an “a” missing: before the words “little slow” in the last paragraph. 🙂

      Reply

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