October Book Reviews
A quiet month on the book front, due to circumstances about which I’ll be going into more detail anon. The next few months are likely to be just as quiet if not more so on the fiction-reading front, but other things are going to be filling in. So more details on that soon, but for the moment, here are some views on books that came my way last month. (Three of which, by the way, were birthday presents – so thanks John!)
The Boys From Brazil, Ira Levin: A classic of the thriller genre, with the best villains of all – Nazis – pitted against an aging, tired hunter faced with a an unthinkable plot. Levin lays out all the elements of the plot carefully, playing each card at the right time all the way up to the final confrontation. If you’ve seen the movie, then the central twist has already been revealed, but knowing it hardly spoils the book, and in fact the book even explores its ramifications more deeply, though the very last page might be a little too cliched.
Revolution 2.0, Wael Ghonim: A personal memoir of the revolution that toppled Egypt’s government in January and February 2011, told by the Google marketing executive who inspired much of it, this is an eye-opening tale of just what can be achieved through social media. Despite his post at Google, Ghonim’s point of view is a solidly Middle Eastern one, and his revolutionary activities were born out of a love of his country and a desire for justice—two traits that saw him abducted just as the revolution was reaching its height. This is a personal story rather than a blueprint for similar activities elsewhere, and it is unapologetically focused on Egypt, but anyone who is interested in how governments and the Internet are likely to interact in years to come, it’s a must read.
Doctor Nikola, Master Criminal, Guy Boothby: The tales of Doctor Nikola, a gentlemanly criminal mastermind, and his more rough-and-tumble adversaries and compatriots, were exceptionally popular in their time, and two of them are collected here. Boothby’s prose has not dated as well as some, and his action is now too reserved for pulpish excitement and his writing too stilted to get anywhere near the imprimatur of serious literature. However, as a window into British Victorian attitudes and a snapshot of a world where there was still adventure and mystery beyond the horizon, it’s a fascinating diversion.
Charles Dickens: A Life, Claire Tomalin: England’s most representative author gets a thorough going-over from Claire Tomalin, revealing the exceptional talents and the the darker corners of someone who did his best to live up to his own legend. Splitting her attention more or less equally between the man and his works, Tomalin isn’t afraid to point out where Dickens fell short, and indeed she does so with such regularity that you have at times to wince for a man who was protective of his own reputation in his lifetime. Yet with all his flaws and failings, Dickens still manages to come through as someone deserving of his status, and this is an exceptionably readable portrait of a man of genius and the world he inhabited and depicted with unsurpassed skill.