Excursion to Tindari

by Andrea Camilleri

This was the first of the Inspector Montalbano books that I have read, in English. I have struggled with short sections of some of the stories in Italian, and even with my limited grasp of the language, I relished Camilleri’s inventive use of language and especially his humour.

The translation takes some getting used to at first, but after a while you see that the translator manages to capture quite effectively some of the linguistic tricks, with a light touch. He also provides an effective glossary and notes – though I only discovered this after I finished the book!

I can honestly say that reading this story was as much fun as watching a Montalbano story on TV. I am returning to the TV films with renewed enthusiasm,    and I’ll be reading more of Camilleri – in English, at least.

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The Innocent

by Ian McEwan

Selected by my book group.

As in many of McEwan’s books, the story is disturbing.  A seemingly random event changes the life of the main character forever, and he deals with his own feelings about the event: guilt, shame, an inability to prevent things from unravelling.  This seems to be a common thread in McEwan’s novels.  The ‘happy ending’ that is hinted at seems to me to be even more unlikely than the events of the main narrative.

I found the middle chapters, with the fight scene and then the dismembering of the body, almost too gruesome.  I confess that I skim-read these chapters, hardly daring to look at the page.  I think this is partly because McEwan draws the reader in, with minutely described and very vivid settings.  So when he is describing something shocking, you feel as though you are in the room.

Leonard is the ‘innocent’ of the title, in several ways.  He is sexually inexperienced at the start of the narrative, and falls ravenously into the arms of the experienced Maria.  He is politically naïve as concerns the relationship between the British and American occupying powers.  Both he and Maria seem innocently to believe that they will get away with their plan to dispose of Otto’s body (which in fact they do, though not in the way they had intended).  The story is told from Leonard’s point of view, but the reader is not necessarily swept along by his reasoning, and the scenes where Leonard is tramping round Berlin with two enormous suitcases full of body parts are so grotesque that they are also quite funny.

I think this is an excellent book group choice, as it offers plenty to discuss.  I found the gory bits so repellent, however, that I would only recommend it to readers with a strong stomach!

6/10

The Stand

by Stephen King

Many people have rated this Stephen King’s best novel. I was intrigued to find out why, so I set out to read it over Christmas and New Year.

The characters are interesting and very well drawn. Unlike many of King’s novels, there is no one central character, but a cast of several characters whose ‘back stories’ are cleverly developed in this massively long novel (I read the 1990 extended version). The back stories of these characters add to the story and the reader’s overall enjoyment.

The plot is a real page-turner, as with most of King’s novels. There are baddies and goodies, a demonic arch-baddy who appears to have supernatural powers and an unlikely spiritual leader of the ‘good’ side. The heroic characters have flaws, and they develop as the story progresses.

Unlike many of King’s novels, whose geographical setting is entirely or predominantly in Maine, this story ranges over wide areas of the USA, both in elaborating the back stories and, more especially, in the ‘road trip’ elements constitute large chunks of the story: first, as the survivors of the cataclysmic event battle their way towards their goal communities, and in the last few chapters as the survivors of the ‘stand’ struggle back towards the community they have helped to form.

The novel tackles the subjects of faith, good and evil, the breakdown and formation of societies, social responsibility … to name just a few of the ‘big’ themes that sit alongside the personal, direct minutiae of daily life that King is able to paint so convincingly.

Is it my favourite Stephen King novel? It’s too early to say; I have only read four of his novels plus some short stories. But I was not disappointed in this one.