Saturday, January 09, 2016

2015 in review: Other fiction books I read

I've already blogged about the six Douglas Coupland novels I read this year. Here is a list of the other fiction that I read (or finished reading) during 2015.

A Little Love Song - Michelle Magorian
This was my 'Book Group Secret Santa' book. Set in World War II, two teenage girls move to the country for safety and suddenly are able to live free of adult influence. It was quite sympathetically drawn although had a bit of a too happy ending, but it dealt with some mature themes despite being ostensibly a book for older kids. One bit, involving a person hiding orange peel about their person, made me laugh out loud.

Bonjour Tristesse - Francois Sagan
This is a Penguin Classic and came in a set of other classics. In its favour, it's quite short, so you can get the feeling of 'Yeah, I read a classic; without killing yourself to finish an epic tome. It's about a cynical teenage girl who uses sex and emotional manipulation to get what she wants from life. It was apparently considered scandalous when it was published, but I got a bit bored with it. The main character is unlikeable, which I know is kind of the point, but I found it was difficult to engage with her or her reasons for doing what she did.

Tuf Voyaging - George RR Martin
This was a reasonably interesting science fiction story split into four separate stories. The first one was excellent, probably some of the most enjoyable science fiction I've read for a while as space-wanderer Havilland Tuf finds and lays claim to a starship of almost unspeakable power - a planetary and genetic engineering vessel that can be used for good or evil. What lets it down after the first story is a drift towards slightly racist stereotyping as Tuf helps a culture that is overpopulating its planet. That the people of the planet are known with an 'ese' suffix makes you think of China or Japan and the descriptions of the people seem to follow this up. So that left me feeling uncomfortable. Then there's Tuf himself who is all-wise and able to second-guess anyone and unbelievably lucky and always right about everything. Which was plain annoying.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson
This started well and then got stupid very, very fast. I liked the concept more than the story. The initial chapters of the eponymous old man's disappearance is funny and engaging. But then the flashbacks of his life begin and it all gets a bit ridiculous.

Moominland Midwinter, Tales from Moominvalley, and Comet in Moominland - Tove Jansson
Here's a three for one offer. I'd read Moominland Midwinter as a kid and really enjoyed it on a re-read. Moomintroll wakes up mid-hibernation and can't go back to sleep so leaves the family home and explores the alien wintery Moominvalley. It's quite fun and has some great characters, like the traghic and scary Groke who just wants to be warm, but extinguishes all warm things it sits on. It's the best Moomin book I've read and I've read most of them.

ales from Moominvalley was a bit hit and miss. There was one short story about the Moomin family taking in an orphan girl who had been rendered invisible through living with relatives who constantly belittled her and put her down. I quite liked that. Moominmama is the lead Moomin character, which doesn't happen often. There's also a story of when Moominpappa goes sailing with the enigmatic Hattifatteners, who terrified me as a child, but now seem a lot more comic.

Comet in Moominland was one of the first Moomin books and is pretty weak. For example, Moomintroll and Sniff travel to the observatory in the Lonely Mountains and back to Moominvalley but cross completely different topography each way - crossing a dried up sea bed on the way back of an ocean that wasn't mentioned on the way there.

One thing all the Moomin books have in common is that I can't shake the feeling I am reading an in-joke. The characters are obviously based on people Tove Jansson knew and no doubt her family and close friends wet themselves laughing when they read the stories, but for me that was frustrating because I felt excluded somehow.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
This isn't really about a monster. It's about cancer and loss and the darkness of grief. It's ostensibly for kids. Someone who knows more than me about bereavement said it was one of the best things they had ever read about it.

The Red Pony - John Steinbeck
A depressing set of stories about not making promises you can't keep, and not setting your heart on something that is out of your control to have - like promising a boy a red pony of his own when there is every danger the pony will get sick and die, which of course, it does. Set on a ranch on California in the early part of the twentieth century, the description of living there feels authentic. I like Steinbeck's writing style, but this is a short book and as such sometimes feels a bit superficial even though it is dealing with deep themes. This particular edition came with an essay about the book as a preface, which I didn't read until afterwards. This proved a wise move as it was chock full of spoilers from the get go.

So, that was my year in fiction.

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