Skip to content

Reading Time: holiday edition

I spent a very happy couple of hours pondering what books to take to NZ with me. I knew I wanted something challenging, but not off-putting. Last time we went to NZ I fell deeply in love with Virgina Woolf, from the moment I started reading The Waves (I was sitting on the front porch of a cabin, next door to a vineyard, overlooking the sea, while M napped and a cool sea-scented breeze blew. My life is so awesome.) So I was happy to give the decision some weight. I settled on the first two books in today’s Reading Time.

My Name Is Red – Orhan Pamuk 

Holy cow, what a cool book. Set among Sultan Murat III’s miniaturists in Istanbul 1591, it’s a murder mystery, an investigation on the meaning and power of art, a romance (with the threat of social ruin and heartbreak ever hanging), and an examination of the social forces driving the changes in art through history. Packs a lot in. And it’s fantastic stuff: vivid and beautiful. The Sultan’s miniaturists are working on a book of illustrations and rumours begin to emerge that their work is sacrilegious in their techniques, incorporating elements of portraiture borrowed from the Frankish style of painting. When one of the miniaturists is murdered, the whole studio falls into fear and suspicion. My favourite part is the way the narrative structure echoes the miniaturist style of painting. There’s dozens of voices, and each chapter is only a few pages long. You get the story from a huge range of perspectives, although those of the main characters dominate overall. It’s a book that requires attention and thought, and the reader is deeply rewarded. Awesome, beautiful, challenging and engaging.

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

I grabbed a near-mint copy of Midnight’s Children from a bookshelf of free books at my last workplace (it was a cool book-swap arrangement): because it had an awesome cover and because I’d heard about the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses, although the fuss was a little before my time. I’ve had this book for years and got around to reading it while I was on holiday — and holy crappaddles, why didn’t anyone TELL me it was so good? It’s electric! It’s the story of the life of Saleem Sinai, one of hundreds of children born in the hour of midnight on the day of India’s independence. This moment of synchronicity irrevocably binds Saleem — and all the other Children of Midnight — to the fate and turmoil of their spiritual sibling, India. The bond between Saleem, the other Midnight’s Children, and the country form the framework of the stories of his life, which he is relating retrospectively. The parallels drawn between the personal lives of the people around him, the new and troubled nation, and his own turmoil make the book layered and fascinating. And what a fantastic read it is, too: funny, glittering, fast, exciting, sad, and real. There’s a feel of dynasty and of magical realism that put me in mind of A Hundred Years of Solitude, although the dynasty is only four generations and the cultural tone completely different. I could bang on about how great this book is for quite some time, but I think you get the gist.

Life of Pi – Yann Mantel (Author’s note: technically, not holiday reading, but read while off sick, so it still counts.)

I always liked the cover of Life of Pi: the one with a blue sea, white boat, orange tiger. It was lovely; it was years ago: the book was published in 2001. This week, I finally settled down to read it and BAM: took me two days, bitches. This is some good reading. If you haven’t heard, it’s the story of the life of Pi Patel, an Indian boy who is shipwrecked when his family’s ship (en route to Canada) goes down. He’s left alone on the lifeboat with Richard Parker, a Royal Bengal tiger, another shipwreck survivor: Pi’s family owned a zoo and were shipping their animals to America. Pi’s strength, courage and resourcefulness are incredible, and the story is swift and absorbing, exciting and dramatic and sad and scary and beautiful. It’s also a book that lingers: the final pages leave you thinking, churning backwards through all you read before and examining it again with new considerations. There are few characters, a limited setting, and a tight plot, but there’s so much to think about that it’s a very rich and very good book. (Also I think there’s a movie of it.)


Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *