Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Nemesis by Philip Roth

It's the sweltering summer of 1944, and Newark is in the grip of a terrifying epidemic, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming paralysis, life-long disability, even death.

Decent, athletic, twenty-three year old playground director Bucky Cantor is devoted to his charges and ashamed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. As polio begins to ravage Bucky's playground - child by helpless child - Roth leads us through every emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering and the pain.

This is an exceptionally good book and Roth's invention of Bucky Cantor is one of the best characters I have had the pleasure of reading.

For decades I have claimed that my favourite book is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird as the characters of Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout left a lasting impression on me since I first read it at school when I was just thirteen. I have also re-read it on numerous occasions during the intervening decades. However, this book comes very close to knocking it off the pedestal from which I have held it for so long.

This is a very powerful book and contrasts the war raging across Europe to that of a localised war taking place in Newark as a polio epidemic sweeps through, claiming many lives in the process. The pace of the book is fairly slow but echoes the events taking place within the plot perfectly and at no point did I want things to hurry along.

Atmospherically, Roth creates a sense of being there. I could feel the heat being experienced that summer as I read this book through the tangible descriptions the author creates. He is succinct with his words and thus packs his writing with meaningful narrative.

Written with a gritty realism whilst at the same time demonstrating sensitivity, Roth has written an intelligent and powerful novel which will remain with me for a very long time.

ISBN:  978-0099542261

Publisher:  Vintage

About the Author:

Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and include American Pastoral (1997) (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). In May 2011, he won the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Saint Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

When millionaire banker, Preston Still, kills his wife's lover by pushing him down the stairs, he looks to the family au-pair to help him dispose of the body.

But the au pair belongs to the Saint Zita Society, a self-formed group of drivers, nannies and gardeners, who are servants to the rich - and whose intentions are not entirely benign.

Accident, murder, illicit affairs, and a young man recently released from a hospital for the criminally insane come together with devastating consequences in Ruth Rendell's gripping crime novel.

When I was in my twenties I devoured everything that Ruth Rendell had to offer and, for no reason whatsoever, I haven't read any of her books in the intervening period. So, reading this novel was like being reacquainted with an old friend with whom I was able to just pick up from where we last left off.

There are a lot of characters in this book which would have been hard to keep track of if it had not been for the useful street map with a key to who lived in which house at the beginning of the book and which I referred to on several occasions whilst reading the first few chapters. As my reading progressed through this book and the characters were fleshed out this became less necessary.

It is the coming together of this contrasting cast of characters that Ms Rendell always did so well. In this book she brings together characters from different classes and cultures and allows the reader to observe the way in which they interact with one another as the plot line develops. I think what this book does so well is to allow the reader to be the judge of whether the various characters dealt with the consequences of their actions appropriately.

I found this book thought provoking. Ms Rendell never sugar coats her characters, and therefore, they are not always terribly likeable. However, the plot is played out so intricately around the characters that they are very easy to engage with.

Reading this book has reawakened my admiration for this author and I am looking forward to reading and re-reading more of her work. Here, she wrote an excellent psychological thriller that will keep you turning the pages. Her death last year remains a great loss to the crime fiction genre.

ISBN:  978-0099571032

Publisher:  Arrow

About the Author:

Ruth Rendell was an exceptional crime writer, and will be remembered as a legend in her own lifetime. Her groundbreaking debut novel, From Doon With Death, was first published in 1964 and introduced the reader to her enduring and popular detective, Inspector Reginald Wexford, who went on to feature in twenty-four of her subsequent novels.

With worldwide sales of approximately 20 million copies, Rendell was a regular Sunday Times bestseller. Her sixty bestselling novels include police procedurals, some of which have been successfully adapted for TV, stand-alone psychological mysteries, and a third strand of crime novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. Very much abreast of her times, the Wexford books in particular often engaged with social or political issues close to her heart.

Rendell won numerous awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for 1976’s best crime novel with A Demon in My View, a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986, and the Sunday Times Literary Award in 1990. In 2013 she was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.

Ruth Rendell died in May 2015. Her final novel, Dark Corners, was published in October 2015.