Thursday, 13 September 2007

Books, recommendations, and apprehension

At the last meeting of our book group, we discussed Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta. I really enjoyed it – it’s a collection of short stories, loosely bound together by the premise that all the storytellers are stranded in an airport waiting for a flight to Tokyo airport, which is closed due to a snowstorm. Thirteen passengers from a connecting flight cannot be accommodated in any hotels in the unnamed city they end up in, so are reduced to sitting around and telling stories all night. Quotes on the back of the book reference the Arabian Nights, Canterbury Tales etc – although this was rubbished by everyone in our group.

Apart from the last story, which was quite honestly just rather unpleasant and even distasteful in some areas, I thought the book was excellent. The tales reminded me in some respects of a book of Chinese Fairy Tales I had when I was little; and were magical, fantasy-filled, contemporary, intriguing, and full of vividly drawn characters. The style reminded me very much of Haruki Murakami, an author I rate very highly; and I think this may have coloured my view of the book as a whole, as I enjoyed the reading of it so much. I was, however, in a minority (that’s a minority of one) among my fellow book group-ees. A lot of folk didn’t like the style, didn’t think the stories had any point to them or anything to teach us about the human condition; lack of characterisation and plot was a common theme. And everyone loathed the last story of the thirteen.

So it doesn’t bode well for the next group meeting, at which we are discussing the frankly stupendous The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by the aforementioned Haruki Murakami. I recommended this book to the group a while ago; it made it onto the shortlist; and then was selected for October’s read. Last time I recommended this to a book group was a long time ago when I was attending the Blackwell’s Reading Group, and to a man they all hated it. Since then I’ve met a lot of Murakami devotees (and read about more, including the infamous Scott Pack who apparently is a Murakami completist and collects all known editions of the great man’s work. I haven’t yet gone that far) and so am feeling slightly more confident about this next meeting, especially as I know at least one person in the group was impressed when she read it before. However, I am still a little apprehensive about how it will go down (as it's also quite a chunky tome, and so needs a considerable investment of time).

I’m also slogging through The House By The Thames. It's been hard going, which I was slightly surprised by, as the subject matter has the potential to be really absorbing. But it's too focussed on the occupants of no.49 Bankside and corresponding census information (yawn) and not enough on the periods of London history that I find so fascinating. Not a bad read but just not that gripping.

1 comment:

Ali said...

I'm so sorry I didn't make it, because I LOVED Tokyo Cancelled (or more accurately, am loving it, because I still haven't quite finished). Can't believe the others didn't.
Sounds like I may have to temporarily abandon it for Murakami though. See you next month.