Friday, 18 December 2009

Comic detective fiction

Psychic Siamese cats and men with big moustaches. Man-hungry PR ladies in the Cotswolds. Victorian Egyptologists pursued by ghosts. Welcome to the world of comic detectives!

I was much entertained by this genre in the last few years, when my brain was cloudy and spirits were low. "Light as a souffle" suddenly became a welcome sign rather than a comment which put me off reading. I now alternate these books with more serious stuff when I feel like a bit of time out. Here is some of what I found:

1. Lilian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who.. series
2. Agatha Raisin and.. by MC Beaton
3. Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody -the Victorian Egyptologist sleuth.

One aspect which attracts the reader is a main character whose failings are as appealing as her or his strengths, such as Amelia Peabody. Through the odd comment as she narrates her stories, we find she is bossy, proud, likes giving advice - but putty in the hands of the right man, although she won't always admit to that. Agatha Raisin is extra appealing as she hasn't got a happy-ever-after marriage and she is down to earth in her mixture of bitchiness and generosity.

Another is a perfect, comfortable yet interestingly different world eg where neighbours are friends, reporters become millionaires and live in fantastical barns and coincidences make the world smaller and happier, less alien to us. Similar to the TV version of 'Lark Rise to Candleford' for British viewers. Community spirit is very much alive in these stories -often remote communities where everyone knows each other: a perfect pretext for much character interaction and comedy from the eccentricities of the inhabitants. This is, alas, escapism and wishful thinking for urbanites - and anyone who longs for the days when we lived more closely together.
Any of us who would like more friends - and also to be entertained by the conflicts that come up when we are not friends. And the extra spark added by a murder. ...So we yearn for more love, while our intellects love the intrigue and are coldly curious by the evil intent. Well, that's enough of philosophising - where's the next Agatha Raisin?

The Invisible Mountain by Carolina De Robertis

Another book, another country. This time, one I've never read about - Uruguay, written by an American of Uruguayan descent, about 3 generations of women in the twentieth century. One from the depths of the country, one a poet and one a revolutionary Tupamaro - and much more than that for each.

It is interesting to read the 'Q&A' from the author's site and find out how she pieced the story and characters together - that some of the more fantastical, Gabriel Garcia Marquez-like incidents were actually true! (When you read Marquez' autobiography you discover similar unlikely true stories.) Even so, there is a touch of 'magical realism' among some very down-to-earth events.

The other author this reminds me of is Isabel Allende - maybe because she also has strong Latin American female characters and a story that spans generations on occasion.

Anyway, a great book - took me a bit to get into it, but then I got completely absorbed by it and 'lived to read' another chapter.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Intro and first book - Young Turk by Moris Farhi

I have read so many books since leaving my last job, and I keep meaning to record my enthusiasms for some of them before I forget - for the benefit of those with less time who might miss them. So here we go!

My most recent good read is 'Young Turk', by Moris Farhi. It's a book of interwoven episodes about different but related people, all growing up in Turkey during or after World War 2. Some are comic, some have a lot of lyrical sexuality, and some are serious. I was reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez at first, as some have that 'magic surrealism' he was famous for, however the tone grew more serious and idealistic, alongside the poetry and comedy, as the book progressed. Farhi is Vice President of International PEN and campaigns for writers imprisoned for their beliefs. A passion emerges for a Turkey that was envisaged by Kemal Ataturk, of all the different peoples, religions and cultures in Turkey allowed to express themselves and yet united in being equally Turkish. This was thwarted by politics in the 50s, it seems, when 'Kemalism' meant everyone had to have the same culture and religion to be Turkish.

I learnt a lot about Turkey through this book, and felt it to have a similarity to modern Britain in the 'multi-culturalism' debate. Serious though this is, it's expressed in a lively, passionate and very readable way and I loved the book.