Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Parallel readings

I've been reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. Making slow progress. Not because I don't love it, which I do, but only because it's a bit bulky for journeys and certainly can't be slipped into a pocket (I was curious to read it and didn't wait for the paperback). So it's a stay-at-home book. It's also a sitting-up book -- preferably with lumbar support.

These days I tend to have more than one book on the go, sometimes because I'm reading them for different purposes. I've been reading Moll Flanders and Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, for example, because there are oblique connections with something I'm trying to write (and I'm a big fan of The Handmaid's Tale). Sometimes the reason is technological. I listen to books on CD, but only when I'm driving. So there are also car books and train books.

For a couple of weeks in February I had Sebastian Faulks' A Week in December in the car, and William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms in my pocket. This was confusing. Both novels are set (more or less) in contemporary London. They're both (roughly speaking) thrillers, third person narratives that follow a variety of different characters not obviously connected. I found myself experiencing a composite novel about a hedge-fund manager, a climatologist on the run for a murder he didn't commit, a Polish footballer, a policewoman, a terrorist, etc, and wondering how the hell Sebastian Boyd was going to pull all these threads together.

In the end, Ordinary Thunderstorms survived this mangling better than A Week in December. Partly because it's a better book. To be fair to Faulks, he got the raw end of the deal. Inevitably there are moments of blankness in the car when the business of driving grabs your attention, and your accelerated heartbeat has nothing to do with the latest twist in the plot.

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