The list so far…
So far this year my summer reading has been both productive and rewarding. I have managed to read my way through a number of novels and non-fiction and, as is my nature the mix has been eclectic to say the least.
When I say summer I do include a winter break in Malaysia for those wondering how I managed to have read what I have and it was my experience of Penang which influenced some of my reading.
I shall start with my current read, Don DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’, I have been meaning to tackle this eight hundred plus page classic for some time now and for those who have not yet read it then you really must. It is, for me the ultimate window into American life from the Cold War until the nineties. I shall undoubtedly write more about it in due course but suffice to say that two hundred pages in I recommend it without hesitation.
Whilst in Malaysia I bought a copy of Pico Iyer’s homage to Graham Greene in The Man Within My Head, an intriguing look at how Iyer’s love of Greene’s work led to comparison’s in his own life and relationships and a full review can be found here.
If espionage is your thing then Charles Cumming supplied some easy reading in Typhoon, a modern-day thriller set in the new Hong Kong. Cumming does a fair job but for me it has made the list for making a long flight semi bearable and reinvigorating my love for the genre and location.
Anthony Burgess’ remarkable trilogy of books set in Colonial Malaysia was an absolute joy. He captures this remarkable country and its people in a way so few others can, like Delillo, he wrote with such depth and clarity along with a dark humour that engulfs the reader and leaves one totally submerged in the time and the place. The first volume Time For A Tiger is a veritable tour de force in observational literature, one can almost taste the warm beer and feel the cold sweat, the dust and the heat.
For lovers of the literary and political essay I can recommend the re-releases of Christopher Hitchens earlier works, Unacknowledged Legislation features Green and Kipling amongst many others, I followed that with Prepared For the Worst and For the Sake of Argument, all three containing classic Hitchens subtlety and brutality in equal measure.
The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Daoud proved a very worthy follow up to Albert Camus’ The Outsider in a style very reminiscent of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, surely one of the best novels of the decade.
Staying in the Asian subcontinent I enjoyed reading Nazi Goreng by Marco Ferrarese, a no-holds barred novel about modern Malay youth culture and the scourge of racism between the ethnic communities, a problem seldom spoken of outside the state’s borders. Venturing north and back to Vietnam in 1969 next for the classic war story by Bao Ninh, The Sorrow of War is based on the author’s own experiences of fighting for the North Vietnamese, an account so honest that the existing communist regime banned the book. It is a must read for anyone who seeks to look at war and conflict with an open mind.
Graham Greene seldom disappoints and in The Human Factor we see Greene at his near best. Maurice Castle epitomises the helpless, lost soul of espionage. Used by the top floor and bent double with misguided loyalties it is a powerful reminder of how cheaply lives have been considered and wasted for an apparent greater good.
The English Monster by Lloyd Shepherd was an interesting read. A historical crime novel with a touch of the supernatural he writes evocatively of London and its surrounding highways and waterways with a story beginning in the 1500s but based upon the river police of the 1800s.
Finally, a classic Kingsley Amis for a sense of nostalgia. Take a Girl Like You is pure Amis territory. Who else could create a character called Jenny Bunn? It is a warm, funny account of post-war Britain, of female virtues and the attempts to corrupt them by sex-starved middle class, suburban men. Nobody ‘got it’ better than Amis.
There have been more but I shall leave those for a look back on 2015 later in the year. Feel free to share your favourites so far.
Categories: The Reading Room