June 14th, 2011


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June Books 15) Mythago Wood, by Robert Holdstock

I think the only other Holdstock novel I had read was the rather odd one about Newgrange spirals turning up on another planet, probably thirty years ago. This is an intense exploration of inner space via an English countryside wedded to past historical periods, and the narrator's own family history of venturing into, and being transformed by, this particular unknown. I felt reading it that I have read both Aldiss and Priest trying to do something similar but not succeeding as well. Having finished it at the start of a long plane flight, I think I'll find it haunting my dreams (when I finally get to bed).

June Books 16) The Left-Handed Hummingbird, by Kate Orman

This New Adventure takes the Doctor, Ace and Benny back and forth in time to crucial points like the murder of John Lennon and the sinking of the Titanic, on a trail originating in Mexico in the fifteenth and also twentieth centuries. There are consciousness-altering drugs and prose which reminded me of Ian McDonald, and a satisfying resolution to the pursuit of a mostly non-corporeal baddie. Interesting to read it while in the middle of listening to the latest Big Finish audios with the Seventh Doctor, Ace and their new team-mate.

June Books 17) Man Plus, by Frederik Pohl

Having polished off the Hugos a couple of months ago, I'm getting started on those Nebula winners I have not previously written up online. Man Plus is mostly a horror story about a man who is turned into a cyborg in order to explore Mars, but Pohl overlays it with a couple of other themes. First, he has a near-future projection of the political paranoia of the 1960s and 70s at both US and international level, a very cynical portrayal of how things work at the top which is I guess reflective of the post-Watergate era. Second, he has the secret manipulators of human politics, who gradually take form as first-person narrators as the story goes on, which runs the risk of being actually a bit twee and clichéd until we get the sting on the last page. So it's an impressive combination of themes; shame about the women characters, though.

June Books 18) Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood

Interesting character exploration of a woman imprisoned for murder in mid-19th century Canada, and her encounter with an early psychiatrist who tries to get to the truth of the crime; yet in a sense he is also imprisoned, by the sexual mores of free society. Grace knows herself to be an unreliable narrator, and part of the attraction of the book is the way she works through it.

Atwood has gone to a great deal of trouble to reconstruct Canada in 1843, when the murders took place, and 1859, when the doctor tries to treat Grace. I was perhaps unreasonably miffed that she made no serious attempt to give Grace a developed background in Northern Ireland - just a village around a harbour near-ish to Belfast. It totally failed to ring true to me. I would like to think that Northern Irish writers who set parts of their books in Canada generally try a bit harder.

June Books 19) Hunger, by Knut Hamsun

Quite a short book, written in 1890 by a young Norwegian writer who went on to won the Nobel Prize (and in his old age became a Fascist). It seemed to me to fit fairly comfortably between Dostoyevsky and Joyce, with the former's existential angst and the latter's intimate but also intensely geographical observation of humanity. Hamsun's hero is prettty deranged but very convincing in his derangement.

My edition also features a 20-page essay by translator Sverre Lyngstad explaining why an earlier translation, by Robert Bly, is terrible.