Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Hound of the Baskervilles - Arthur Conan Doyle

There are many different reasons that people decide to try a new author or a new series of books.  For me, with Sherlock Holmes it was this book that was the reason.  Scanning down the list of 100 must-read novels on the Telegraph website I decided that this seemed a good pick.  But, not one to do things by halves, I started from the beginning.  And now that I've read the target novel I plan to continue to read the others.

The Hound of the Baskervilles tells the story of the Baskerville family, and the mystery and misfortune that has surrounded them.  Although Holmes and Watson are introduced to the affair in London much of the story takes place in the Dartmoor area, where the Baskerville residence is situated.  After one prominent member of the family has met their death in strange circumstances, should the surviving heir be worried of meeting a similar fate?

I confess, it took me quite a few chapters to get into this book.  However, I should also confess that this is likely to be my fault.  Starting a new story when over-tired or sat in a noisy office will never do it justice.  Once safely curled up under a blanket on the sofa, though, I couldn't put it down.  And for this reason I am now over-tired again.

The story is engaging, so much so that even in the last few chapters once the culprit is revealed there is still the urgent need to read on and find out more.  After the short stories it was nice to return to a Sherlock Holmes book with sub-plots and twists.  So many different threads of clues to unravel and then neatly stitch back together.

This isn't a book where characters develop or the world changes drastically.  Instead it is a book that is very true to itself.  It is a detective story, and a very good one.  I would recommend reading earlier Sherlock Holmes stories first, so as to get used to the style of delivery, but if you've ever thought that this is a book you should read then you were right.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Sorting things into categories is a habit that is picked up at a young age.  It makes things neat and provides a sense of order.  When it comes to books, those categories could be target age or size but normally would be genre.  So when someone puts a book on your bedside table and describes it as "a good book that doesn't really fit a category" it's a little disconcerting, and kind of hard to know what to expect.

The Shadow of the Wind is set in Barcelona in the 1940s and 50s and follows the life of Daniel, a young boy whose life is changed forever by a book.  As he grows up, the desire to know more about the life of the book's author starts to take over, and it turns out he's not the only one that wants to know more.

I can see why my husband couldn't categorise this book, even putting aside the fact he remembered little other than that it was good.  It's a story of someone's life as they try to find the story of someone else's life.  And like any life it has a variety of tones and events.  There is romance, there is lust, there is longing.  The theme of loss, of losing someone close to you, runs strongly throughout.  At the same time, the harsh brutalities of war are showcased.  And the whole thing is held together with a detective-style thread of discovery.  So much for neat little boxes.

But actually, you don't need to be able to put something in a box to enjoy it.  I was swept away into Daniel's world and found myself wanting to know the same things he longed to discover.  That's not to say that it didn't annoy me at times.  In a first-person situation it's only natural to get frustrated with the narrator, and occasionally to want to bash some sense into them.  It's the things like that which make a good book a good book.  If you don't care enough to feel then something has gone wrong.

I like the idea of a book making such an impact in your life.  Sure, I would hope for a little less pain than was inflicted on Daniel.  A good book should make you think.  If you feel the same after reading as you did before then it seems questionable how highly you really rated it.  It's fair to say that this one made me think, and I'm placing it in the category of books that I would recommend.