Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L C Tyler / Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder / Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley

The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L.C. Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I chose The Herring Seller's Apprentice by L C Tyler from a limited English language selection when swapping books at Camping Casteillets, Ceret, France, so was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed the read. Cosy mystery stories aren't my usual fare, but my eye was caught by the great title.

The herring seller in question is the wonderfully named Ethelred Hengist Tressider, general hack writer by trade whose most popular book series is crime fiction, hence the fish moniker - he sells red herrings! When Ethelred's ex-wife is found dead under mysterious circumstances, his literary agent Elsie desperately tries to persuade him to undertake an amateur sleuth hunt for her killer. Ethelred would far rather leave all that to the police who seem to already have their ducks neatly in a row.

The mystery itself is nicely plotted with some interesting twists and turns. It's not too difficult to figure out - even I managed - but the ending is satisfying. I know the Sussex area where The Herring Seller's Apprentice is set so got the local references. However, what really made this novel for me was the first person narration which has lots of black humour and is very funny. Ethelred explains elements of his crime writing craft as we go along and I loved the clever way theory melded with its practice. Knowing comments such a second Point Of View introduction being over-obviously flagged to the reader with A Very Different Font rang so true and the drippingly sarcastic descriptions are great fun. Poor Elsie!


Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

Dave picked up a copy of Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder in The Children's Society charity shop in Garstang last year (Great book selection there!). We both knew of its hype, but hadn't previously read it so were interested to see how good we thought the book really was. Sadly Dave gave up about a quarter of the way through so, discouraged, I had let it languish on the shelf until now.

Having finished reading, I now have mixed views on Sophie's World hence the three star rating. On one hand I was fascinated by the potted history of philosophy, most of which I didn't know anything about, and am hoping that at least some of what I read has lodged itself in my brain. There are a lot of names and dates to take in so I would probably need to re-read in short sections - like a textbook - in order to really start learning. However the history is written in such an accessible way that this is something I may well do over the next few months.

The fiction elements of Sophie's World were very disappointing though. I think I understand what Gaarder was trying to achieve with the inclusion of his fictional characters, but I just didn't find their conversations convincing. We are repeated told that Sophie is a fourteen year old girl, but she doesn't speak or act like one and I don't think Norwegian teenagers are so very different from British ones! Everyone appeared more like a plot device than a real person and I frequently found that irritating and distracting. For me, the fictional interludes were a respite from the increasingly intense philosophy, but I would have preferred Gaarder to have written a similarly accessible history of philosophy instead. Then again, without the fictional hook Sophie's World probably wouldn't have hit the bestseller lists!


Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from New Zealand

Buy the book from Abebooks
Buy the ebook from Amazon.co.uk
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository
Buy the paperback from Waterstones

I received a copy of Coming Rain from its publishers, Text Publishing Company, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Set in 1950s rural Australia, Coming Rain has a distinctive style which made it refreshing to read. Daisley frequently uses sentence fragments, but in a way that suits his prose and effectively pushes forward the pace of his story. It's not just poor grammar as in some other novels I have read! He also writes in Australian, presenting explanations of dialect words within the text but not dwelling on the translations. This effectively gives authenticity to the writing and made me feel as though I was discovering a new-to-me culture. Two storylines run in parallel throughout the book. One one hand we have two human drifters, sheep-shearers and general handymen Painter and Lewis, who travel in a clapped-out truck across the Australian desert to isolated farms to shear sheep. On the other hand we have two dingo drifters, a pregnant bitch and an adolescent male, desperately trying to find themselves food, water and safety.

It did take a good chunk of Coming Rain before I really settled in to Daisley's writing style. I understand this is his second novel so I might now look out the first, knowing that I could get more from it by repeating the first pages to get into the flow before continuing on. I frequently found myself distracted too by different subjects running into each other. We might start reading about the dingoes, then move to the men in the next sentence with no break or clue in the text as to the change. I am not sure if these overlaps were deliberate on Daisley's part or if my preview copy hasn't yet been fully edited. However I didn't notice any other typos or publishing weirdness. The device could be intended to highlight the similarities between the humans and animals - their paragraphs and lives being interchangeable - but I just got annoyed at having to keep stepping back from the narrative flow in order to work out what was going on.

The richness of Coming Rain is in the information given in passing. At one point we learn that the man now charged with persuading the dingos to go elsewhere - by firing at them with rifles and shotguns - is the same man who had previously persuaded the indigenous aborigine tribes to leave. It is a given that similar methods applied. We also see repeated examples of derelict white settlements littering this huge empty land and even the sheep farm at which Painter and Lewis finally arrive appears to be a shadow of its former self. The two men sleep in dormitories that could house dozens and only the farm owner's daughter is left to help out. In seeing the violent poverty-stricken lives of Painter and Lewis I was reminded of American novels such as Cormac McCarthy's Suttree or John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Coming Rain has the same melancholy feel of desperate pride and harsh life. Daisley understands these lives completely and shows them without apology or any softening of the edges.


View all my reviews on Stephanie Jane or on Goodreads

No comments:

Post a Comment