Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Books I Read In January

With me reading much more fiction last year than for many years past, it seemed sensible to alter my book reviewing to monthly rather than annually which had meant there was a very long list to cover by the time I reached the end of December.  Thus, this is the first monthly review.  However, given that year I am intentionally reading the largest books I own to reduce the storage space and the weight if I need to move them again, the number may not be sufficient to warrant this approach.  However, I start giving it a go here.

'Tourist Season' by Carl Hiaasen
This is the first novel in an anthology of Hiaasen's first three solo novels that I bought second hand at the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury back in the mid-1990s.  His writing is crime fiction set in southern Florida in the 1980s.  Supposedly the books are satirical and though this one has some quirky characters, perhaps I am too far from the time and place to recognise the satire.  The story is about an odd band to terrorists seeking to drive away holiday makers and especially people with holiday homes or retirement homes in Florida so that the over-development can be reversed and some sort of ecological balance be established.  Whilst sometimes incompetent they carry out a series of murders.  Brian Keyes, a private investigator is drawn into combating the terrorists; his ex-wife is now married to one of them and he is also assigned to protect a beauty queen who is one of their targets.  The tone is rather erratic, probably due to the efforts at humour.  However, the characters seem well drawn even when peculiar, incompetent or nasty.  You feel that if he had avoided the humour it could have been a far more intriguing novel but conversely could have been a lot worse in the way that satire often can be, very laboured.

'The New France: A Society in Transition 1945-1973' by John Ardagh
This was recommended by a former friend of mine.  It is an interesting collection of writings about France by a journalist who knew the country well.  The first half is a very analytical account of how the country was modernising with great detail of the development and challenges in different locations in France.  I do not know if anyone has produced a follow-up which took the story further.  It reads very much like a series of articles rather than an integrated book.  It is packaged in a serious academic way which may be to its disadvantage and I could see it being better received if it had been published ten years later, i.e. 1983, as a jolly discussion of Britain's near neighbours rather than being packaged as something almost academic.

Ardagh had the advantage of meeting with so many of the key players and ordinary people wrapped up in what was happening.  I first went to France as a toddler and visited as child during and soon after the period he discusses.  I was not aware how sharply divided on social class basis France was but feel still that there is a juxtaposition of the very modern and the ancient side-by-side even today.  I had studied 'Paris and the French Desert' at school but this book really highlights that regional imbalance.  Ardagh is far weaker when he digs into cultural issues.  He is very weak in trying to analyse the changing role of French women and he gets distracted notably when writing about movie director Jean-Luc Godard and his trip to a Club Mediterannee resort.  He does show well the impact of the 1968 uprisings and of the De Gaulle regime on France and for that I feel I understand this phase of French history, particularly the latter years, far better.  I certainly imagine that Ardagh would be stunned to find how enduring Johnny Hallyday has proven to be given he had clearly written him off as beyond the end of his career as early as 1973.

No comments: