lizabelle: (So many books)
[personal profile] lizabelle
The Gathering - Anne Enwright

I was underwhelmed by the blurb for this book, even when it won the Booker. "Family gathers together and the cracks start showing" - I seem to have read this kind of book so often. Nevertheless, Enwright very much achieves what she seems to have set out to do here, in a way that's moving and very readable. I thought it was brilliant, but the subject matter is too sad to make it enjoyable. Four stars.

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

This was longlisted for the Booker last year, and I do wonder how much damage that did it. Any association with the Booker Prize inevitably raises expectations, and mine were thoroughly squashed after a few chapters of this. Which isn't to say that it's a terrible book - it was very readable, the setting (the end of the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union) was fascinating and the writer has a lovely turn of phrase. But the execution felt sloppy (sometimes literally in regard to punctuation), the characters a little too one-dimensional, and in the end, I just couldn't get enthusiastic about the story. Two stars.

The Women in Black - Madeleine St John

Fun! This is simply a perfectly poised novel - very light reading, and in some ways I suspect an exercise in wish-fulfilment, but (as a reviewer on the back cover mentions) like the perfect little black dress. Set in 1960s Sydney, it unfolds the lives of several "women in black" (working in a David Jones-like department store, who change into their regulation black dresses on arrival at work each morning) as they intersect during one busy Christmas. Four stars, and I'll be reading more Madeleine St John.

Blackout - Connie Willis

I have been trying very hard not to buy new books recently (you can see a pic of the overflow from our creaking bookshelves here), but when I noticed a new novel by Connie Willis, in her time-travel Oxford universe, how was I supposed to resist? Besides, it's set during the Blitz, and I have a bit of a thing for war stories. So I dug out my Dymocks voucher, which I'd been hoarding for emergencies, and two days (and five hundred pages) later, I'm now desperately awaiting the sequel.

I'm a more critical reader than I was when I first fell in love with To Say Nothing of the Dog, and Willis's writing contains a few too many adverbs for my liking. Also, so many of her characters seem so very nice, and while in some ways that's a plus - I do tend to believe that people are basically well-intentioned - their endless self-sacrifice can get a little tiring.

With that out of the way, I utterly loved Blackout. Willis is a wonderful storyteller, and she has a knack for describing and intricately entwining chaotic situations and keeping the reader on tenterhooks throughout. Several narrative strands hold the story together, primarily those of three twenty-first century historians on assignment during World War II Britain to observe ordinary Britons at war. Polly works as a shop assistant on Oxford Street and spends her nights sheltering in church with an assortment of characters. Eileen is caring for a group of evacuated children, while Michael is headed for Dover to observe the heroism of Dunkirk. Slowly but inexorably, things go very wrong.

Sadly, we have to wait until autumn to find out what happens, when All Clear is released. In the meantime, I'm giving Blackout five stars.

Finally, have a link to The Morning News Tournament of Books, because it makes me gleeful.
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