Thanks to Hannah, whose blog I follow, for giving me the idea of blogging book reviews, though I don’t expect to blog as many as she does (she’s a university student of English, so I have an excuse).
I could post them on my blogspot blog (http://sibathehat.blogspot.com), which is meant for pretty well everything that isn’t poetry, but after all, books are literature and I mean to review mainly fiction – so here goes here.
AND ANOTHER THING by EOIN COLFER
This is a continuation of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” humorous science fiction series. Adams had left this series apparently finished and gone on to other projects, but it seems there was some discussion of a further book in the series, perhaps because the previous one had such a depressing ending. It didn’t happen because Adams died suddenly. Penguin Books got Colfer, whom I had not heard of (he’s written a successful children’s SF series) to take up the torch.
I took a while to be persuaded. Colfer had succesfully imitated Adams’ style, but the frenetic logically counter-logical anarchic fantasy humour seemed to be lacking or laboured. Then, around the arrival of Zaphod Beeblebrox at Asgard, it took off. Weird things happened in line with a ridiculous logic and there were pieces of vivid and hilarious description. Attitudes to religion and particularly cults were revealingly lampooned (I am religious, but I have no problem with this kind of fun: of course there’s much deceit and vanity in religion, but since that’s true of everything else too, it seems no reason to reject the whole idea).
Still the jokes weren’t quite as madly inspired and I doubt if any will develop a life of their own on a level with the meaning of life being 42 or God’s message to his creation being “We apologise for the inconvenience”. In some ways, though, it was better because more serious. Satire needs deep seriousness and passionate anger, and Adams seemed to me to lack these. His passages of jokey tragedy seem a bit like toying with misery. In this territory, the gold standard is Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut saw horror mixed in with irony; Adams liked writing about it. Colfer’s book is a bit more like a novel in that it has somewhat more human depth and sympathy.
So it was worthwhile. OK, it wasn’t Adams, but as I felt the Hitchhiker series went one book too far anyway, the last one being rather thin, I felt no inclination to denounce the false prophet.
THE STATE COUNSELLOR by BORIS AKUNIN
Akunin (his real name is something very long, scrabble-hand-like and Georgian) has made a mark over here with clever, literate crime novels, but this is the first one I’ve read. It is very well written and thoughtful, a perceptive picture of Tsarist Russia about twenty years before the Revolution. Good and bad men struggle to keep the ship of state afloat against revolutionaries whose motivation is mostly very understandable. The senior detective Erast Fandorin and a revolutionary cell leader engage in a murderous dance while a shadowy third figure manipulates them. Fandorin and his foe have a lot in common, but they never share words.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did guess the identity of the third figure some way before it was revealed, but that shows I got deeply into the book. If it has a weakness, it’s that Fandorin is an oddly shadowy figure, giving very few clues to his emotions, his political or religious beliefs if any (in a book that has plenty of politics) or even why he becomes attached to a revolutionary girl.
I shall read more Akunin.