Saturday, 19 October 2013

Four books I read this year that surprised me

Luther: The Calling (Neil Cross)


Somebody on my tumblr feed offhandedly mentioned the BBC crime drama Luther starring Idris Elba. I love Idris Elba, so I went to investigate. I was pulled in by the series' classy, gritty opening sequence featuring Massive Attack:

Research into the series led me to find that the show's creator, Neil Cross, was an award-winning UK crime novelist; and that after the first two seasons of the show aired, he wrote a prequel novel entitled Luther: The Calling, which then won him another award. An award-winning media tie-in novel? I was intrigued, and skeptical. I went to Amazon and picked it up immediately.

A few hours later I was putting it down to take a breath and process some of the truly gruesome imagery, something I don't think a book has ever done to me before. The TV show, while enjoyable, unfortunately didn't live up to the expectations the book left me with, probably a symptom of Neil Cross making the jump from prose to television; nonetheless, highly recommended.

Sideways (Rex Pickett)

I've seen the movie adaptation of Sideways more times than I can count, so I was excited to finally dig into the original book. I was delighted with the narrative and also taken aback by how the two protagonists somehow manage to be even worse individuals in the book than in the film; but most importantly I feel like Sideways is exemplary of a film adaptation which deviates significantly from the source material but still remains tasteful and faithful to the spirit if not the letter of the text. Entire characters and sections are cut in the film, the opening and ending are significantly different, and several key scenes play out very differently. In some instances I preferred the film version and in some the book.

In every case where a change was made, I could recognize clearly how a certain section would be too bloated in the transition to a screenplay. I enjoyed the book's version of events equally as much as the film's and I never felt annoyed at an omission, or that the change undermined the integrity or intention of the narrative. Truly it was a case of trimming fat, streamlining the book to make the jump to a visual medium. I find it difficult to articulate much further so I'll leave with a glowing recommendation for both the book and the film (the film in particular one of my favorites ever), as well as urging you to experience both if you're pursuing a career in writing or film.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)

This stands out as the only entry on this list where the surprise came in the form of stark disappointment. I was introduced to Haruki Murakami early this year, and I found in him a new favorite, devouring five of his novels over the course of a few months. My latest purchase from his back catalogue was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, widely considered to be his best and most sprawling work.

If I would call Kafka on the Shore his least accessible novel of the ones that I've read, Wind-Up Bird is the only one I'd honestly just call... boring. I forced myself through to the finish, never finding that resolution, or at least satisfaction, I'd come to expect from Murakami. Long-winded detours and an absence of much in the way of plot made this an honest-to-goodness slog. I wonder why?

I understand there is a stage adaptation of this book, which I hope I'll one day get to watch, or if nothing else gives me hope for an eventual film; perhaps if the story was presented to me visually I'd find more to connect with and really discover what it was trying to say. Failing that though I really did not enjoy this book at all save for a few scattered parts-- a huge disappointment considering how much I've fallen in love with Murakami's prose. That's my opinion, at least; I'm keen to hear from anyone who has a more positive interpretation of it.

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

Full disclosure-- I was prepared to hate this book. I'm a wee bit of a snob when it comes to reading so I am often loathe to dive into the fantasy section or read anything that's popular with the YA crowd; this came highly recommended from a friend with a much stronger literary background than me, however, so I begrudgingly put aside my pretensions and gave it a look.

To my shock and delight, something that reminded me a bit too strongly of the "indie steampunk" set at first glance turned out to be quite a delicious and well-paced read. Phantasmagoric imagery, prose that was intricate without being too purple and some overt references to Shakespeare to satisfy my snobby tastes; there was not too much or too little of The Night Circus and I'm quite excited to read Morgenstern's next novel whenever she gets around to releasing it. In spite of myself.

That said, I will never not think 'Erin Morgenstern' is a terrible pseudonym. My apologies.

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