Thursday, November 01, 2007

Yesterday I finished Whitethorn Woods, the latest book by Maeve Binchy.

Binchy's books don't fall into any of the categories of books I normally read but somehow I ended up reading one in the early 90s and I loved it. I quickly read the rest of her books and I read each new one as they come out. But there is an exception - I strongly prefer novels to short stories so I haven't read her collections of stories, and she has tended more and more towards short stories. Even her latest novels are really sequences of inter-related short stories, and Whitethorn Woods is no exception. There is a slight over-arching story about the fate of a local shrine, but that is clearly just an excuse to tell a number of vignettes about local characters in a small Irish town that is dealing with the challenges of a modernizing Ireland.

Binchy's books are all set in Ireland, and most deal with the tensions between the sexes, between the old and the new, between the rich and the poor and between the rural and the urban. She is excellent at creating sympathetic characters and showing them responding to very realistic challenges.

This book is good but I particularly recommend some of her earlier works, like The Copper Beech, Circle of Friends or Firefly Summer.

Amazon Link: Whitethorn Woods

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I just finished Next by Michael Crichton.

The most interesting thing about this book is the change of style. Crichton is best known for writing techno-thrillers, most with some variant of "there area some thing's human's shouldn't know/do". As such, they are usually pretty straight forward narratives with just a few wooden characters dealing with some kind of crisis, with large sections of exposition on new science/technology mixed in.

In his latest book, it feels like he is trying on a new style - more similar to that of Carl Hiasen or Elmore Leonard - with many characters, more dialogue and multiple, interlocking plot threads. It's an interesting experiment and I'm curious to see if he maintains it for a few books but his first attempt is of mixed quality. Crichton doesn't have the ear for dialogue that Leonard has or the ability to paint a scene and use a setting to add colour like Hiasen. He also seems to be trying for a lighter, more humorous touch but he doesn't quite pull it off.

Amazon Link: Next