1001 Books August 2019 Round Up
So who were the winners and losers from the 1001 list in August?
The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childer – TBR Challenge – What they say: While on a sailing trip in the Baltic Sea, two young adventurers-turned-spies uncover a secret German plot to invade England. Written by Childers—who served in the Royal Navy during World War I—as a wake-up call to the British government to attend to its North Sea defenses, The Riddle of the Sands accomplished that task and has been considered a classic of espionage literature ever since, praised as much for its nautical action as for its suspenseful spycraft. Two English sailors turned inept spy – check. Secret German plot uncovered – check. Classic of espionage literature – check? not really my genre. Nautical action – hmm I would say small bursts of actioned in a wide field of description and detail. Suspenseful spycraft – hmmm I would say inept bumbling about reveals hidden secrets.
My thoughts: I can see why this book would have been scary at the time it was published as the possibilities it discussed would have been believable and the level of detail made it even more so.
If you want to read this one I would recommend getting an edition with the illustrated maps, my edition didn’t have these and it made the plot hard to follow. Perhaps I would have found it more exciting if I could have seen the maps they were talking about instead of relying on my vision of what the narrator was describing.
3 Stars – read it if you love geographical and nautical details with the odd bit of spying thrown in for luck.
Trawl by BS Johnson – BOTM #1 – What they say: The novel describes, in the first-person, a three-week voyage aboard a deep-sea fishing trawler in the Barents Sea, not unlike the one Johnson undertook in preparation to write the book. Isolating himself from the world he knows, as well as from the ship’s crew, the narrator reflects on past events and relationships, hoping for some kind of redemption. This convincingly authentic and harrowing attempt to get to the heart of the human condition is one of Johnson’s finest novels. They have failed to mention that our narrator spends the whole voyage being seasick – if anyone has seen the episode of Family Guy with them all throwing up then you have the general idea about how this voyage went.
Bryan Stanley Johnson was an English experimental novelist, poet and literary critic. He also produced television programmes and made films. This definitely comes across in the novel I can easily imagine Trawl being reimagined by Hollywood.
My thoughts: I enjoyed this detailed look at a 3 week trip on a trawler ship. I liked the descriptions of the sea, the crew, the way life on board worked and the technicalities of fishing.
In with the narrative about the current day trawl our narrator is telling himself the story of his life and his past loves so that he can move forward with the new woman he has met. The whole point of the trawl for him is to give himself some time alone to put his thoughts in order and to put his past to bed.
An interesting look at the rambling thoughts of one man and how what we tell ourselves or each other about the past doesn’t really matter it is the future that is important.
3 Stars – if you like rambling character driven narratives and are not put off by bucket loads of vomit.
Fear of Flying by Erica Yong – BOTM #2 What the 1001 Editors say – “An uninhibited tale of sexual liberation and self-discovery, as well as being a self-consciously feminist text” Yes there is sexual liberation and feminism but why are those the only things highlighted in a book that contains a lot more?
My Thoughts: Based on the description I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. The language may well put some readers off, there is a lot of use of the C word if that is a trigger for you stay away.
I liked the fact that the erotic fantasies are the woman’s fantasy and that the book is aimed at a female audience rather than a male one. I like the way that Isadora was insecure, naïve, uncertain and sad it made it easy to relate to her and to her decisions even if as a reader I didn’t agree with them.
“All my fantasies included marriage. No sooner did I imagine myself running away from one man than I envisioned myself tying up with another. I was like a boat that always had to have a port of call. I simply couldn’t imagine myself without a man.”
I liked the ironic look at therapy and the ironic look at older fictional works where the only representation of female views were written by men.
“We had entered an experience through the same door, but then wandered off into separate tunnels, staggered through separate darknesses alone, and emerged finally at opposite ends of the earth.”
The discussions about truth and honesty especially in regard to post-war Germany and the idea of Jewishness were also intriguing.
“I felt like one of those fanatical Israelis who track down Nazis in Argentina. Only I was tracking down my own past, my own Jewishness in which I had never been able to believe before.”
“All I am saying is that most people are not heroes and most people are not honest. I don’t say I’m good or admirable. All I am saying is that I am like most people.”
I liked the way well known Nazi slogans were adapted for the text.
“I never questioned that at all. The truth-I was certain-would make us free.”
“Sex was no final solution.”
And the subtle humour displayed throughout:
“There are no atheists on turbulent airplanes.”
“Like most Americans, I naively assumed that an English accent meant education.”
3 Stars – there is a lot more to this book than sex and if you can get past that and the C word I think you should give this a go. I am sure there are gems I have missed and I would love you all to report them back to me.
I tried to combine the list with Women in Translation month. I read Leaden Wings, The Ravishing of Lol Stein and The Back Room. The first two were good, the third not so much.
I had a hard time with the language in Fear of Flying.