Having been in education one way or another ever since the age of four, for me September always signals the start of a new year. I can wipe out all the mistakes I made over the last twelve months (and what teacher doesn’t finish every year with the fervent intention to get it right next time round) and start afresh with renewed purpose. Of course, I never manage to live up to my aspirations and so when I look back on the reading I had planned for September I’m not surprised that I didn’t hit quite all of my goals. I did manage to read the new crime novels by Val McDermid and Abir Mukherjee and I am halfway through Helen Field’s latest, so not too bad there. I will almost certainly finish the Field (Perfect Silence) this evening because I am completely gripped. She is a writer who gets better with each book. Not so, unfortunately, McDermid whose characters’ actions are moving progressively into the realms of the absurd. I have already given up on her Tony Hill series and I’m not sure I shall go back for another dose of the Karen Pirie books, Broken Ground being the fifth in that particular sequence.
I read three other crime novels this month. Jo Spain’s The Darkest Place, I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I think her work gets stronger by the book, and I can readily believe in the situations she presents and her characters’ reactions to them. Kate Rhodes’ Ruin Beach is the second in her Ben Kitto series set in the Isles of Scilly. Like the earlier novel, Hell Bay, it provides a wonderful evocation of the physical setting and I find Kitto as engaging a character as Alice Quentin, Rhodes’ other protagonist, proved to be. I’ve just picked up a copy of Fatal Harmony, the latest Quentin novel, and that will be on the list for next month. The third crime story was not such a success. Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler has his ninth outing published later this week and as you will see if you read my forthcoming review, I wasn’t enamoured. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
My Reading Group books for September were Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire – not a favourite – and J G Ballard’s The Empire of the Sun – a much better book. I also read two other, what I would call, contemporary novels, the intended Prague Spring by Simon Mawer and Patrick Gale’s Take Nothing With You. I blogged about both of these and thought they were excellent. This month’s disaster was the book I read for the Years of My Life project, Lorna Hill’s A Dream of Sadlers Wells. My childhood memories were shattered and I can only be grateful that I didn’t go mad and order half a dozen others from the series. I was tempted. The book I didn’t get round to was my back catalogue choice, Anne Tyler’s Back When We Were Grown Up but only because there wasn’t time for everything and when I checked I found I could renew this at the library whereas some of the other books I had out had waiting lists on them. I shall try and read it during October, although it might get pushed to the bottom of the pile again for the very same reason.
So, what is to come? Well, this month’s Reading Group picks are Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart, which in fact I’ve almost completed because I need it for this afternoon, and Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer winning All the Light We Cannot See. I think it would be fair to say that I am appreciating the Ryan, rather than enjoying it; it is not a book in which you can find much to enjoy apart, of course, from the sheer brilliance of the writing. Where crime fiction is concerned, as predicted last month, the new Sarah Ward The Shrouded Path and the latest Robert Galbraith, Lethal White, turned up from the library and will have to be read quickly because of reservation lists. As well as the most recent Kate Rhodes, mentioned above, I also have a review copy of Shell Game, Sara Paretsky’s latest V.I. Warshawski novel, which is published mid-month. I think very highly of Paretsky’s work which, as the best crime fiction always does, inevitably shines a light on an aspect of current social concern. This isn’t surprising when you know something of the writer’s own background and if you haven’t read her collection of autobiographical essays Writing in an Age of Silence then I strongly recommend it. I note from my library reservation list that there are new Ian Rankin and Frances Brody novels due out in a matter of days. They too will have long waiting lists so I may have to add them to the pile as well. I’m afraid I never have to seek an excuse to pick up a new crime novel.
But, the month isn’t going to be totally dominated by Reading Group requirements and crime fiction. Also needing to be returned to the library in the next couple of weeks are Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, either of which will fit nicely into my contemporary fiction slot and both of which I am determined to read. Then there is this month’s selection for The Years of My Life project, Barbara Pym’s Some Tame Gazelle. I have several friends, both blogging and other, who will have sharp words to say if I don’t get round to that soon. Add to that the neglected Back When We Were Grown Up and there is more than enough to keep me busy for another month.