Friday, 10 June 2011

A Few Books I've Been Reading

I am an unapolagetic China Miéville fan, and was lucky enough to meet him when he came to Sydney last year. At that point, he had just come off the back of two successful novels, The City and the City and Kraken, which was my favourite novel in 2010. Both of those books had propelled him a little more towards the mainstream and had garnered awards and praise from many critics. He is such an interesting writer, with books full of complex ideas and strange characters inhabiting a genre known as the new weird.

It's quite tough to outline what Embassytown is about in a concise manner. I found it to be his toughest read to date, there are some concepts that are, at times, difficult to get your head around and in true China fashion, he doesn't go in for lazy exposition. The most concise way I can outline the plot is to say that it's set in the distant future at the edge of the explored Universe and is about communication between two species with vastly different ways of thinking about language. It's huge, bewildering, engrossing. It's a rare book that is really an amazing experience. At the end I was left wondering whether this book was a true expression of one of the most powerful imaginations in modern writing, or just an academic experiment in genre fiction. Either way, I plan on visiting Embassytown again at some point.

Still heavily in genre territory, I recently took a look at The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. I'm not into paranormal creature novels as a rule, but I started to hear some amazing things about it and then a Twilight fan told she me hated it. I had no choice but to read it then.

The protagonist is a 200 year old werewolf named Jacob Marlowe (awesome name) who is, as the title suggests, the last of his kind. But Jacob is tired of life, he's been around a very long time and has experienced so much that he's had his fill. Those who have hunted werewolves to the brink of extinction are going to come for him at the next full moon. Needless to say, a few things occur in the interim that make Jacob change his mind (I won't say what as it would majorly spoil the plot). Contrary to my Twilight friend's opinion, this is a great read. Jacob is a wonderfully heavy-drinking, chain-smoking character and the book is dark, funny, violent and explicit. With nary an angsty teenage vampire in sight.

This morning I finished reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson, author of The Men Who Stare at Goats. It starts off with an intriguing premise, several academics contact Jon to enlist his help in tracking down the person who has sent them a mysterious book. The book seems to be a clue or full of clues to a larger puzzle. This mission winds up taking Jon on an exploration of the madness industry.

'The psychopath test' of the title is a checklist used by doctors to determine whether someone meets the criteria for being determined a psychopath. Jon applies the test to prison inmates, powerful business men and himself, questioning definitions and categorisation and the creation of such checklists along the way. The book is written in an anecdotal style, which makes it quite engaging and leads to some unexpected turns and revelations. It's entertainingly written, quite satirical at times, but sure to make readers think more deeply about the issues involved.

So those are a few books I've read recently. They all seem to deal with insanity in some form or another, which might be worrying...

Written by Mark

Feel free to leave a comment if you'd like to share with us any books you've been reading lately.

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