I've just returned from a week in Greece, and took the chance to read some fiction (or, at least, a break from economics). Here's what I enjoyed:
- "Bright Lights, Big City", Jay McInery. This is something I should have read a long time ago, and I'm not sure if it's a good thing that I still enjoyed it. Having been exposed to television shows like 'Sex in the City' or 'The City' plus the scores of films set in NYC, it is nice to feel that you're seeing a cliche develop. A tight, well constructed novel that delivers
- "Dirt Music", Tim Winton. I'm getting to like Winton a lot, and enjoy the Western Australian landscapes. The combination of shore (leisure=surfing, industry=fishing) and outback (self-dependency, individualism, walkabout) provides an excellent stage upon which to develop distinctly Australian characters. 'Breath' is his best, whilst 'The Riders' was let down - I think - by a confusing ending. 'Dirt Music' is a combination of both - it has all the nihilism and naturalism of 'Breath' without the awkward legends of 'The Riders'. Again, the end was disappointing, but it sucks you in
- "Eucalyptus" by Murray Bail. This seems to have been well-received, althout I saw the plot and delivery as being slightly annoying. One man plants some trees. Others try to name them. Combined with a narrative that regularly slips into asides and speaking directly to the reader, this seemed a book I'd enjoy having read (as opposed to a book I'd enjoy reading). However, once I realised that this is a fairy tale - in every sense (i.e. not really a "modern" fairy tale), I lapped it up. Beautifully constructed, using an innovative (but obviously incredulous) plot device to explore human relationships and human development
- "Engleby" by Sebastian Faulks. Wow. Not since Donna Tartt's 'A Secret History' have I been so captivated by a collegiate exploration of adolescence and morality. Engleby is one of the most believable characters I've encountered in literature. This is completely engaging, and Faulks does very well to build gradually rather than opt for any cheap plot twists. Having said that, there is (what I experienced as) a plot twist fairly early in the book, and from then on everything was coming, but majestically delivered. Faulks also provides a wonderful social history, since the book brings us from the early 70s to the modern day. Thunderous stuff
- "Hermits" by Peter France. A nice overview of some of the key hermits from history. Could have done with editing properly (at times it's simply a collection of quotes), and lacks a proper delineation between secular hermits and those motivated through religious calling. If you've never heard of Charles de Foucauld, or Thomas Merton, this is a fair place to start
- "Minoan Crete" by Litsa Hatzifoti. We bought this after visiting Knossos, to get a little more perspective on this pheonomenal place. There is something haunting and incredulous about touring the ruins of what's possibly the first city in Europe, the site of the legend of the labyrinth, that has since been partially rebuilt using concrete slabs by a Victorian gentleman. I know nothing about archeology, but Arthur Evans must surely be the source of perennial arguments!
- "Greek Mythology". Why didn't I get taught this at school? Great stuff. Dogs with 2 heads and the tail of the snake? Check. Animals with the heads of 3 dogs and a normal tail with a snake's head at the tip? Check. Creatures with 100 bodies? Check. If only people treated the myths of Christianity with as much tongue-in-cheek enjoyment
P.S. Photos are up on my flickr site if anyone's interested. I recommend Crete strongly.