In association with


Nottingham Public Library Book Chains - the books wot I read

Buddha Da, by Anne Donovan
This is the first novel, but the second book, by Anne Donovan, and is something I read as part of a Nottingham Public Library programme called Book Chains. (Donovan's first book was a highly regarded short story collection.)
The most noticeable thing about this book, which presented quite a challenge to me as an American, is that it is written in a Glaswegian Scots dialect, except when the few non-Glaswegians are speaking. It is told from three points of view, Jim, his wife and his 12 year old daughter Anne Marie.
Jim, for reasons not clear even to him, decides to take up meditation with some Tibetan lamas in the Buddhist Centre in Glasgow. As he progresses on his baffling spiritual journey, he gives up meat, alcohol, and sex with his beloved wife, Liz. Liz is caring for her ailing mother, wishing she could have another child before she is too old, and just trying to get on with life, and understandably sees Jim's behaviour as self-centred in the extreme. Anne Marie has the most adult attitude of the three of them, and is carrying on with growing up, ditching old friends, picking up new ones, and producing an award winning CD combining Latin chant with Tibetan Buddhist chanting and Indian house music. In the end, it is the body rather than the spirit that resolves all these conundrums, leading the little family to a whole new spiritual plane. This is a lovely and engaging book, highly recommended.

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel
This book is one everyone is talking about, possibly because it won a prestigious award (the Man Booker). It is very absorbing, and the main character is one of the most likeable in all the fiction I have ever read (and that's a lot.) I don't know if the last two chapters are supposed to be a surprise, so I won't say anything specific about them, except to say that there was something of a let-down for me in the unresolvedness of the ending. It didn't seem right to me that a book so drenched with humanity and wisdom should have this little escape clause in it (if that's what it was.) Still, I strongly recommend this book.

River of Darkness, by Rennie Airth
River of Darkness, published in 2000 to an enthusiastic critical reception, is noted for "blend[ing] the traditions of the golden age mystery with elements of the contemporary psychological suspense novel." The story is set in 1921 and concerns a psychopathic serial killer and a Scotland Yard detective inspector. Both are survivors of the Great War. The detective inspector went into the war as an idealist and came out the other end fighting against cynicism and deeply scarred, with no expectation of ever being happy again. The killer went into the war already a psychopath and found a hellish paradise in war and a vocation that, with a few grisly props and a reliance on his training, will last him for life. From this chilling premise, Aird builds an absorbing tale of a cat-and-mouse game with enough twists to keep anyone guessing. The story is lightened up with a young novice constable's awkward coming of age in the force, and his hero worship of the main character, DI Madden, as well as a redeeming love interest and a few brilliant comic touches. There is a sequel, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, set 11 years later, which I plan to read soon.