What I was, am, and will be reading

I have not posted any reviews recently, partly because I have read a few novels for Euro Crime*, and partly because the book I finished most recently hasn’t inspired me to write it up. I enjoyed it – it was A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve, set in (I think, the period is not given explicitly) 1960s Kenya. The title refers to two life-changing trips to climb Mount Kenya which I found somewhat unconvincing, but the main novel is about a young American couple, the husband an insubstantial but priggish doctor/medical researcher (shades of Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil) and the wife, when she does anything, a freelance photographer (a Shreve leitmotif). The book is told from the point of view of the wife, and is very engaging, as she gradually becomes involved in the lives and concerns of various Kenyans, as opposed to the ex-pat Europeans with whom she officially associates. Overall, anyone who likes Anita Shreve will like this book, but I felt one weak point was that the subsidiary characters appeared and then vanished, or appeared too late in the novel, for the whole to really gel.

After I finished that, I embarked on a 950-page whopper, He Knew He Was Right, by Anthony Trollope. I have about 200 pages to go and it is a lovely book. Part Jane-Austen-like, in its detailed depiction of the romances and small social concerns of the high-society and country-society characters, and part political and social comment, it is above all a great story with wonderful characters who are all so vivid on the page. One might think, as the book starts, that this is a conventional Victorian novel of a marriage, a storm in a teacup, and a predictable outcome, but it isn’t at all, it is much, much darker than that.
A couple of details (among many!) that interested me. First, it is claimed that the book is the first to use the term “private detective”, in its character of Bozzle, an ex-policeman who is hired as an investigator by one of the characters. Bozzle is the only working class character, and unfortunately is presented as a venal man with a (presumably intended to be comic) terrible accent (none of the upper class characters has his or her speech represented phonetically!). This lugubrious depiction seems very heavy-handed today, unlike that of the (long since vanished) other, “classier” characters, but as a historical footnote of “first private detective” it is of interest. Second, the admirable minor character of Priscilla Stanbury, who stands out so brilliantly though she does not appear that much and is not that relevant to the main plots, was apparently an inspiration to George Eliot in her magnificent creation of Dorothea, the protagonist of her masterpiece, Middlemarch. (Both these pieces of information are courtesy of footnotes by the editor of this volume, John Sutherland, the well-known literary critic, controversial prize judge, and commentator.)

So, what’s next? I have the next two Joe Pickett novels by C J Box in print editions (Trophy Hunt and Out of Range), as well as the next one after those (In Plain Sight) in Kindle format. Only a few of this series is available in e-format, oddly. Other, previously downloaded but not yet read Kindle books are The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett, and (in a mad moment of £1 Christmas download weakness, as I did not like Therapy with its ridiculous, constant “shifts of ‘reality’ “), Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek. In print format, most pressingly (recently purchased) I have A Short Cut to Paradise by Teresa Solana, translated by Peter Bush (can’t wait!), One Day by David Nicholls (purchased in another moment of mad weakness to make up a 3 for 2 deal in Waterstones, somehow I doubt I am going to like this although I have a recommendation from several young women who share a house, who all liked it) and a “two in one” Anita Shreve-fest (I think Strange Fits of Passion and Where or When, but don’t hold me to it, I haven’t checked).

*Reviews recently submitted to Euro Crime are Meet me in Malmo by Torquil MacLeod, Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder (translated by Marlaine Delargy), A Question of Belief by Donna Leon, and Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves.