Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Books I Read In March

'Monstrous Regiment' by Terry Pratchett
This is one of those Pratchett books which highlights the problems of a writer becoming so great that no-one feels they can edit their books any more.  I found this the least humorous of the Discworld books I have read.  There have been many I have laughed out loud to, but this one really dragged.  It is very much in the style of 19th century stories about ruritanian kingdoms, in this case Borogravia a central Discworld duchy which has been inconclusively at war with its neighbour for many years.  It follows a group of new recruits, most human but also including a troll, an Igor and a vampire.  It is not too much of a spoiler to reveal that the bulk of them turn out to be women who have joined up either to escape abuse or to find a lost male relative/partner.  The trouble is that the characters wander around the countryside for much of the book with no clear destination in sight, leaving the reader feeling much the same about the book.  

There is gentle satire about army life, war movies and women dressed as men.  However, it is incredibly flabby and many elements are laboured and repetitive.  Some references, such as the vampire having flashbacks of the Vietnam War of our world, will not engage even adult readers let alone the general target audience of teenagers.  The book is terribly overwritten and even the conclusion in the castle that the unit relieves drags on and on.  Pratchett seems to have forgotten that the sharpest humour comes from tightly-written text not in hammering home supposed jokes.  This book would have been better for being cut by a third, around 150 pages.  It is well worth putting it alongside earlier Pratchett books, such as 'The Colour of Magic' (1983) published twenty years earlier and seeing how much shorter that book is.  I was very disappointed with this book.  I will not stop working my way through Pratchett's books but maybe will expect less of the newer ones.

'Hawksmoor' by Peter Ackroyd
This book came highly recommended to me by a friend, I think in part due to the similarity to my name and certainly because he loves the parts of London featured in the book.  I was very irritated by the book and regret having read it.  I was glad it was less than half the length of 'Monstrous Regiment'.  Though published in 1985 the book fits in with too many of those rambling, often drug-influenced books of the 1960s and 1970s.  Instead of the real architect Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) who built six churches in Central and East London in the 1710s, it features the fictional Nicholas Dyer (1654-1715) as the architect overseeing these six churches and an additional fictional one.  Like Hawksmoor, he worked for Sir Christopher Wren and alongside Sir John Vanbrugh.  The book keeps jumping back and forth in time between 1712-15 and 1984-5.  In the modern day a Detective Superintendent Nicholas Hawksmoor is investigating the murder of boys and men at the seven churches built by Dyer.

There are so many problems with this book.  First Dyer writes in an 18th century idiom with lots of capital letters thrown in and random spelling.  He is a Satanist and is intent in not only on building occult shapes into the churches but sacrificing boys and men in the foundations to give power to those he sees as gods.  This would be fine as a concept but his narrative rambles so badly that it is literally very easy to 'lose the plot'.  He seems to morph into an unnamed tramp who lives from the 18th century into our time. There are lots of coincidences between things Dyer and Hawksmoor encounter.  Both men appear to go mad.  Dyer's churches may be incomplete before he is replaced by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor is certainly taken off investigating the impossible murders (the time of death nor the weapon can be told, there are no DNA traces).  The two characters end up wandering around London in their insanity.

Unfortunately this description gives more structure to the narrative than is actually the case in the book which regularly dissolves into random descriptions.  For the first couple of chapters it seems fine but then completely loses the plot. Twice it flits into being a play script rather than a novel.  It is as if Ackroyd had a jumble of ideas in a folder and simply jammed them into the novel and then lost interest, tossing it aside in a shambolic state.  This is certainly one of the books I regret ever reading and I recommend you staying away from it.  I am upset that its title is so close to my surname and I dearly wish a far, far better book had been given that title instead.