Monday, October 12, 2009

Recent Reading

A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday, a subject generally of even less interest to you than it is to me. What's good about birthdays, though, is that I normally get some new reading material (I really am very easy to buy for).

I haven't yet read Philip Kerr's The One from the Other, a continuation of his dark exploration of mid-century Berlin (although my dip into the prologue looks very promising). I have, however, read Bernard Cornwell's Azincourt, a fictional recreation of Henry IV's finest hour.

I find Cornwell immensely frustrating. He has all the gifts of a first-rate historical action novelist, but equally a series of vices which only become worse over the time. No-one does the carnage and chaos of the battlefield better (and Agincourt sees him at his best), and his research is impeccable. Less enjoyable is his characterisation, where not for the first time he falls back on some hoary stereotypes: the chippy young maverick, the foul-mouthed hard-but-fair commander, the quiet but strong heroine, the charismatic but cruel villain. All this is perfectly serviceable, but because Cornwell is capable of better (I have good memories of his King Arthur trilogy which I don't want to spoil by re-reading) my irascibility is roused. Bernard joins his namesake Patricia on the list of writers who have exhausted both their muse and my patience.

Luckily I have plenty (far too much, in fact) to read. Time to treat myself to something fresher!
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David Isaak said...

Ah, alas Patricia Cornwell.

But, then, there are very few series novels that don't begin to seem tedious to me after a time. A series seems to be the ambition of almost every writer (and their publishers and agents), but few are really satisfying to me after a while.

Tim Stretton said...

But sometimes, just sometimes, you get Patrick O'Brian...

David Isaak said...

One of a kind.

I like multivolume tales, mind you, but in general I prefer for them to be one big story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Vance's Lyonesse trilogy. Gene Wolfe's Book fo the New Sun. The thing George RR Martin has running now...if he manages to pull it all together in a final volume, that is. But I almost never read to the end of an indefinite series of novels.

Phillip Roth's Zuckerman novels live in sort of a middle ground. Zuckerman shows up every so often, sometimes the narrator, sometimes not; sometimes the protagonist, sometimes not. But it certainly isn't a series. A lot of Faulkner is the same--set in the same fictitious county, with the same families interacting, but not really a series.

On the other hand, if O'Brian would have kept writing the Aubrey/Maturin stories, I would have kept gobbling them down. As it is, I'm reduced to re-reading them.