Book reviews: The Bone Clocks; Funny Girl; The Narrow Road to the Deep North

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So I stacked up the books since I last wrote and I’ve already forgotten them a bit so I’ll give some quick and snappy reviews as best as I can!

David Mitchell and me… *sigh*. I kind of feel like we should get on. We both like multi-character, mixed perspective narratives, we both like sci-fi and weirdness, and yet… I have only read Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, so maybe his other books are better, but I just don’t get on with him, and I really wish I could. It was our book club book for September and proved pretty divisive. As with Cloud Atlas, I preferred some sections/characters to others, but it was just so flabby, and felt like several different books shoved together for the sake of it. I kind of liked the literary satire… as a short story, not part of an ambitious novel. The other characters were just not believable. Or awful. Or both… I dunno, he has his fans, and he is clearly talented, but it all just leaves me feeling cold and that it isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is.

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Funny Girl is a very average Nick Hornby novel. I don’t know if it’s because he is better at telling everyman stories than everywoman ones, or if this one just didn’t have enough pull for me in terms of set-up/plot, but it was readable enough and five minutes later I’d mostly forgotten it. I like the opening; the chapters that set up our leading lady and her dreams to get into comedy, and I did like all the discussion of the sitcom she was in, but the rest of it was kind of forgettable. The novel is one of those that blurs fact and fiction with reference to real names and TV shows mingling with the fake ones. I don’t know that I liked that too much, as I was spending the whole thing wondering which was which and wondering if I should check the internet – and I think that all basically took me out of the story. The problem is that I think Hornby wanted to pay homage to the 60s, to TV comedy, to funny women… and forgot to build a really compelling story around them all. There are some nice scenes and touches, but it felt more pastiche than an original story in its own right.

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With this year’s Booker shortlist recently announced (I have downloaded samples of them and hope to read and blog them soon to see which I want to read further), it was about time I read last year’s winner. And, no offence to Richard Flanagan, but The Narrow Road to the Deep North feels like it was one of those novels that wins because it’s no-one’s actual favourite, but everyone on the jury likes it enough to agree on it. That’s not a bad thing – on such grounds are best-sellers made, but it did leave me a bit underwhelmed. It’s OK, I liked it, but it didn’t grab me by the throat or anything, and instead of keeping in central character Dorrigo’s head throughout, it deviated with journeys inside other characters, none of which were anywhere near as compelling as if it had stuck with him throughout. It’s a solid book, but it isn’t spectacular.

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