Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for June 27th, 2011

Crossfire

Posted by nliakos on June 27, 2011

by Dick Francis and Felix Francis (Putnam’s 2010)

I guess this must be Dick Francis’ last novel; he died in February of 2010 (Click here for the NY Times obituary).  I have probably read all of his books (for years, I waited anxiously for the next one each December; I couldn’t even wait for the paperback before buying it). This one follows the same formula: fundamentally nice guy with connection to British racing world gets mixed up in and finally solves crime after suffering excruciating pain inflicted by criminals. The protagonist usually falls in love with a lovely woman along the way; in this book, that doesn’t happen, but everything else goes according to the usual plan. Tom Forsyth, having lost a foot in Afghanistan, returns reluctantly to his mother’s home in Lambourn to find that she and his stepfather are being blackmailed. Tom single-handedly tracks down the blackmailers and brings them to justice, although he almost loses his life in doing so.  I have read so many versions of Francis’ basic plot that I can’t understand why I still find it appealing, but as always, I devoured all 336 pages in less than a single day. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I just like the protagonists of Francis’ books: they are smart, brave, tough, and honest (see previous post) and I just want to see how they defeat their adversaries. Apparently, knowing that this will happen does not dilute the pleasure of reading to the end.  This is not great literature, but for a pleasure read, Francis is still one of my favorites. I will miss him.

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Number9Dream

Posted by nliakos on June 27, 2011

by David Mitchell (Random House 2001)

This one has been on my to-read list for years. I have not read Mitchell’s first novel, Ghostwritten, and did not know what to expect. There was a lot I did not like about Number9Dream: the mixing of “reality” (i.e., what is supposed to be actually happening to the narrator, twenty-year-old Japanese “hick” Eiji Miyake as he searches Tokyo for the father he never knew) with dream sequences and descriptions of video games and (to me) gratuitous violence.  Much of Chapter 5, “Study of Tales,” consists of pieces of someone else’s stories about characters called “Goatwriter” (any relation to Ghostwritten?) and “Mrs. Comb”.  Waiting in line at the MVA, I just skipped over them; they seemed both confusing and unnecessary to the story. I was more interested in Eiji’s blooming love interest, the young musician Ai (“Love”). I liked Ai, and I liked Eiji. He’s an essentially good person, and I always look for a likable protagonist. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Japanese life, like this wonderful image from p. 323: “Tokyo is a model of that serial big-bang theory of the universe. It explodes at 5 PM and people matter is hurled to the suburbs, but by 5 AM the people-matter gravity reasserts itself, and everything surges back toward the center, where mass densens for the next explosion.”  (Is densen a word??)  You can forgive a lot of someone who can write that.  🙂

There is much to like in this novel about obsession and forgiveness. What do parents owe their children? Where is the line between an unhealthy obsession and a determination to see something through to the end?  Is it possible to rise above what was done to us as children and to forgive?  But the price for these thoughtful insights is a lot of (to me) inconsequential descriptions of waking and sleeping dreams, unconnected fictional passages, and gruesome violence. I was glad I stuck it out until the (weird) end, but it was not always easy, and several times I almost threw in the towel.

(Robert MacFarlane basically agrees with me in this review in The Observer.

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