O Lost: A Story of the Buried Life by Thomas Wolfe made me furious and I'm still trying to sort out why. Part of it, doubtless, was that I needed to read it by today and only left myself a week to do it in. It's a pretty long book: 660ish pages of smallish print and it sort of wanders in vast spirals, which makes it hard to follow if you're in any kind of a hurry. It's also a rough draft. The final version, much edited (I guess, I haven't read it), was published under the title Look Homeward, Angel. This version is, I'm told, a bit racier, and he hadn't changed the names for any of the characters except himself (it's semi-autobiographical, I guess), but it also lacks cohesion. The main reason, though, I think, is that I can't for the life of me understand the allure of reading a book about highly flawed people doing highly flawed things and ending up right where they started. Me, I like books with spaceships or zombies. I like murders and heroes and people who DO things. I like to read about people I can look up to. O Lost is about a dysfunctional family in a southern town slightly before (and during) WWI. The father drinks; the mother complains; the children drink and complain. In the end they're all older but still, basically, the same. I'm not, I promise, a complete boor. I liked Jane Eyre and loved The Brothers Karamazov, hell, I even liked Middlemarch but in this book, where I could find not one single character who set an example, and not one single truly memorable thing happened... it just upset me. It also upsets me that this is the kind of book I see so often being praised to high-heaven.
Deep breath. There I'm done.
On the other hand, I loved The Likeness by Tana French. Ms. French has only recently come to my attention and I am so very very glad she has. I'm also intrigued by the way she seems to be in the habit of taking a peripheral character from one novel and making that one the main first-person character in the next. It pulls her books together without tying her to anything. The Likeness did not draw me in as powerfully and immediately as In the Woods, but it still did a damn fine job. I don't know what it is about Ms. French's writing, but I can SEE the places she talks about. I can HEAR her characters' voices. It's really only a matter of time before I go out and buy copies for everyone I know (including myself, since I borrowed them). In this one, Cassie (Rob's ex-partner from the first book) is sent to work undercover to determine who murdered a girl who looks just like her and who has somehow acquired the false identity she used while working undercover previously. What I like best about Ms. French's work is the subtle undertone of weirdness to what are, otherwise, straightforward detective novels.
So that's the very worst and the very best. I also read two other books that fell somewhere in the middle.
The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle is about an expedition to South America to discover a raised plateau on which prehistoric beasts still live. The beginning was brilliant and the ending was unexpected (and therefore pleasing) but the middle got a bit dull. Edgar Rice Burroughs is my one true adventure-novel love and I found it difficult to get enthralled in an adventure novel where there were no pretty ladies getting captured by a race of pterodactyls.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larson is one of those books that, suddenly, everybody is reading, and with good reason. A discredited investigative journalist is hired to discover what happened to a girl who went missing thirty years ago, while a young female hacker investigates HIM. There were a few flaws in the novel which I think can be put down to translation issues (a few sentences I read over and over without extracting meaning) but, on the whole, it's a gripping story. I liked the hacker-chick better than the journalist and paid a bit more attention to her parts. (Cutting for possible triggers)The only thing that lessened my enjoyment is a personal hangup, and that's that I don't deal well with reading about rape. I don't have any real triggers (or anything to trigger, far as I know) but I find it immensely uncomfortable and, had I known it was in there, I might have avoided reading the book (good as the rest of it was). For anyone who DOES have triggers, be careful. There's only the one rape-scene, but it was enough to sort of put me off for the rest of the book (and, be warned, there are other, less-graphic rape bits in there besides the main one).