I’ve been a bit of a book fiend recently so I thought I’d do a quick post on some of my favourites from the last month. They’re all very different, but I enjoyed each of them for various reasons.
The Fionavar Tapestry Trilogy: Fantasy is my naughty little reading secret. I adore it, especially when it’s as good as this trilogy by Guy Gavriel Kay. Set in the realm of Fionavar, the series tells the tale of five strangers, bought from our world into another in order to save it from the dark forces of the Unraveller – the evil god set on destroying the Weaver’s tapestry of life. It’s beautifully written with evocative characters and the right balance between vivid battle scenes and quiet moments of intricate, tenderly-written details. There’s Kim, the seer with another’s soul and a ring that calls the dead to war; Dave, the outsider who sees the goddess hunt and receives the horn that summons the Wild Hunt; Paul the Lord of the Summer Tree who should have died but didn’t and carries the spirit of a god; Jennifer who is Guinevere, who was raped by the dark but survived to give her child a choice; and Kevin who defeated winter with his love. Kay knows that loss is integral to good fiction so he has no problem with killing off some of his characters, but their deaths are crucial to the story, which makes them meaningful and bound in sacrifice and sadness.
The Mother Tongue: Another Bill Bryson, told in his typical humorous, laid-back style, with myriad anecdotes and facts flooding every page. If you’ve ever wondered about the history of the English language and how it has come to dominate globally, this is the book you should read. I wish I could bottle up all the knowledge I glean from Bryson and store it in my brain, but it’s simply too much, and somehow escapes before I can properly process it. “People don’t talk like this, theytalklikethis. Syllables, words, sentences run together like a watercolor left in the rain. To understand what anyone is saying to us we must separate these noises into words and the words into sentences so that we might in our turn issue a stream of mixed sounds in response. If what we say is suitably apt and amusing, the listener will show his delight by emitting a series of uncontrolled high-pitched noises, accompanied by sharp intakes of breath of the sort normally associated with a seizure or heart failure. And by these means we converse. Talking, when you think about it, is a very strange business indeed.”
Little Paris Book Shop: Nina George’s sweet, beautifully written prose tells the tale of a man who lost his love, so buries part of himself and becomes a literary apothecary, operating from a floating barge of a bookstore in France. He diagnoses the problems sorrowing peoples’ souls and treats them with books – the best kind of medicine for the human spirit. The story follows his path to his own healing, rooted in friendship, blossoming romance, finding the past and letting it go, and, of course, his beloved books.
A Fine Balance: A warning in advance; this book will make you cry. Rohinton Mistry is one of the best writers I’ve ever had the privilege of reading. This book yanked at my heart from start to finish, full of matter-of-fact pain with brief reprieves of stolen happiness. Set in India during the turbulent time of ‘The Emergency’ when chaos and forced castrations ruled, the novel brings together four people from very different walks in life. Dina Dalal is a strong, defiant and beautiful woman who lost her husband but has to find a way to continue; Ishvar Darji and his nephew Omprakash are tailors to whom life deals multiple knocks but they keep sewing the wounds together again; and Maneck is a young student who is forced to leave home to find opportunity. We follow each of their stories and then watch them collide, at first with prejudice and hesitancy, and then with love and acceptance. Mistry won the Giller Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for this book – don’t get complacent when you read it; part of its beauty and its pain is its realness.