Hello blogging friends – I’ve missed you; did you miss me? I had a lovely week’s holiday with indifferent weather, perfect for guilt-free sofa-based reading. I returned to a heaving bloglines account and spent the morning reading through everything you’ve been writing this past week. And I mean everything. But I haven’t commented because something’s gotta give. Anyhow, before I went away I noticed a few posts in the blogosphere wondering what holiday reading actually was. Well, it will surprise you not at all that I’ve come back from my week away with an answer of sorts. It just so happened that the books I’ve been reading have been on the lighter end of the scale, comfort reads, if you like. The first book was by Douglas Kennedy who I’d never read before and was called Temptation. It was about a would-be Hollywood screenwriter, David Armitage, who after years of futile effort finally finds himself top of the fickle LA listings when his television sitcom Selling You becomes a monster hit. In no time at all he has an acrimonious ex-wife, an investment portfolio, more offers of work than he can handle and an intriguing invitation from a reclusive millionaire who wants to make films to spend some time with him on his island retreat. Philip Fleck is worth $20 billion and the plot centers on the possibility that such a man could (and indeed does) act like God in contemporary LA where every kind of integrity comes with a price ticket. David’s tortuous entanglements with this man leave him almost destroyed, but as with all great plot-driven narratives, our man has the brains and the insight to fight back. Looking back over this summary you may well be thinking, oh dear, embossed lettering a foot high, endless sex scenes and descriptions of every meal. But no, don’t go there! If you’re in the mood for this kind of thing (and I was), it’s actually really good. Smart, snappy dialogue, a good central character, and rather an intriguing meditation on the fascination with wealth and its immorality that seems to underlie a lot of American light reading. Why do we want to read about the super rich? I cannot tell you how little I care about possessing state-of-the-art anything in my house; at the very least I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to work it, and yet I caught myself happily siphoning off the details of this billionaire’s domestic appointments and had to laugh at myself.
After that I was in the mood for more fun, and so I read a murder mystery by an author I’d seen recommended on the blogs (and many apologies to the blogger in question as I’ve forgotten whose site it was). The author is Sarah Stewart Taylor and it was her first novel O’ Artful Death introducing her detecting protagonist, the improbably named Sweeney St George. Sweeney is an academic who works on funerary art, gravestones and the like, and I’m a sucker for academics in stories, whatever role they are playing. Sweeney has a flowing mane of titian curls, a taste for vintage clothing and a tragic past. Hmmmm. The story was a jolly confection that joined suspicious deaths in the past and the present through the inhabitants of an artists’ colony in Vermont, and it was all focused upon a highly unusual gravestone by an unknown sculptor. My goodness I wish academic research really was this dramatic and this fruitful. And I really wish I were that glamourous and that determined as a researcher. If I weren’t the kind of shoddy academic who said, oh well, whatever, when books I wanted in the library weren’t available, perhaps I could have exciting adventures too. It was extremely entertaining, definitely one of those crime stories that’s interested in the puzzle rather than reality, and it was deeply implausible in a way that didn’t really matter.
You’d think I’d had enough by now, wouldn’t you? But no, I then picked up Lisa Scottoline’s Devil’s Corner, partly because the Maureen Corrigan book I read recommended her, and partly because I always used to like Sara Paretsky books when I was younger. This novel’s all about drugs in Philadelphia and the female protagonist is a gutsy lawyer called Vicki Allegretti, an assistant U.S. attorney (I have no idea what that is) who happens to stumble into a revenge shooting when supposedly meeting with a confidential informant. This is a speedy read; I’ve covered 200 pages in not so very many hours and I certainly haven’t needed to chew. But I can’t say that I’m getting on with it quite so well because the main protagonist is annoying me. She’s been told by just about everyone not to investigate this case, and she just listens, waits until they’ve left, and then puts her coat on and heads off to chase after drug dealers. She’s made so much fuss and been so conspicuous that any gangster worth his salt would have had her murdered by now. I think this is a feminist thing, because it’s a continual stream of men in authority doing the telling, and my suspicion is that she will uncover corruption in high places, etc, and therefore have been justified in her behaviour. But perhaps it’s the mother in me that means I cannot read along while someone acts with mindless, stubborn recklessness and not feel at least slightly disapproving. Or perhaps I’m just getting old. Oh and there’s this subplot concerning an incredibly perfect male (married) best friend who she adores from afar. I give it another ten chapters or so before he leaves his wife and and moves in with her; yeah, right. But if I put all issues of credibility to one side, it’s a fast-paced, enjoyable read that makes no demands on me whatsoever.
So, what is this thing called holiday reading? Well, in the case of the three books I’ve read, it’s been about suspending disbelief and allowing the world of narrative simply to entertain me. These novels have asked nothing of me other than a brake on reality checking and trust in the ability of stories to do all the work, make the journey and provide the answers. In that respect I’ve been taking a holiday in the world of reading, entering its parallel universe and leaving behind the cares of intransigent daily life in which there is so rarely justice, resolution and closure.
And what a splendid holiday that is every once in a while.
[I’ve just managed to press the wrong button and publish a half-written, long-abandoned blog post. I deleted it almost instantly and do hope that means it won’t show up in people’s feed readers. Whoops!]