Serial killers

Face facts, life has bad patches. I’m in one right now: post Italy holiday blues; Skype meltdowns in the middle of calls to the grandies; and Pneumonia.

GormenghastTime was I would have bounced back from all of this, but now it feels more like I am seeping. Seep-back requires that you do nothing. This is so much harder to do than one might have thought.

What I really needed was a good book. And the best books for holidays and dark times are serials. The first serial I ever read was way back in my twenties – The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake – a cultish read at that time. I loved these books and I remember, in particular, that my understanding of the importance of setting and naming in a novel stems largely from these reads. Ah Steerpike, Titus Groan and Fuschia!

DissolutionForty years passed before I read another serial: The Dissolution series by C.J. Sansom. Far surpassing anything else written about the time of King Henry VIII, these books get down and dirty with England at the time of Henry’s reign and they do this through a hunchback lawyer – Shardlake – as the main protagonist. If you’ve read Hilary Mantel and have tired of Philippa Gregory, do yourself a favour and try Sansom’s clever murder mysteries set in Cromwell’s time.

My Brilliant FriendAnd that was it for me and serials. Until we went on holiday to Italy, and right at the last minute I remembered that I’d been given the first book of The Neopolitan Series by Elena Ferrante: My Brilliant Friend. I popped it into my hand luggage, and what a wise move that turned out to be.

Written in Italian and translated into many other languages, I have become a Ferrante groupie. I now know that this is the pseudonym of an author who wanted her real identity kept secret (but who has just been outed by a nosy journalist). I’m also now aware that there are actual Ferrante tours of Naples  which visit all the main locations mentioned in the books. And I’ve learnt that a TV series on the Neopolitan Novels is currently being filmed in Italy.

But mainly I fell onto the couch, and into another world of family and friendships and fall-outs. A world that does not stop after one book. A world peopled by characters so real you want to slap them, or as said by reviewer John Freeman writing for The Australian:

Imagine if Jane Austen got angry and you’ll have some idea of how explosive these works are.

I’m saving the fourth and last book for my Christmas read, my not-so-Secret-Santa gift to myself!

Any suggestions for other very readable series?

Giddying up

Cover for PurityAvid readers know that nervous start you get when you find out a favourite author has written a new book but you didn’t know about it. Or perhaps that’s just me. Addiction is the a-word that applies, not avid.

Anyway imagine my dismay when I noticed that Jonathan Franzen has a new book and I did not know about it. Which means there are four people ahead of me on the Holds list for Purity

So in order to help my fellow addicts (I mean avid readers) I am alerting you to the following books by popular authors on order at Christchurch City Libraries. Get your name down now and avoid disappointment. You’ll never be higher on the list.

Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell. Fiction or thinly veiled fact about Sex and the City? “If you think that you’re just cray-cray” says Bushnell. You be the judge.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat Pray Love. And Read.

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman. Paris, Pissaro, passion. Good old Alice.

The story of the lost child by Elena Ferrante. The fourth in the Neapolitan novels.

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash. He’s not as popular as he should be. Now is the time to redress that.

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs. Her 18th outing. She must be doing something right.

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. Adriana’s take on the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Cover of Killing MonicaCover of The marriage of oppositesCover for Speaking in BonesCover of Above the waterfall