Books 2022 with special reference to Adrian Tchaikovsky

What have you been reading this year? Please feel free to tell us below!

What have I been reading?

Well, I’m continuing slowly to work my way through medieval British literature (Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale” is really funny), and some 20th century poetry; and I’m also enjoying a Victorian reread of (not all of) Anthony Trollope. I’m currently on “Phineas Finn,” one of his Palliser series, written at a time (1867-8) and from a perspective when voting by (secret) ballot is an extraordinarily radical proposal, and even female characters who watch House of Commons debates and patronise new young MPs like our hero don’t (bizarrely) expect or want the vote for themselves.

It has to be said that not a lot happens in many of Trollope’s Barsetshire books; this changes as the books get longer! But in any case his narrative voice, described by someone as “third person, omniscient and chatty” is the great charm.

Last Christmas I made a careful list of the books I was given, and when I read them. Nearly all done now!

I’ve very much enjoyed being introduced to Madeline Miller’s modern take on Greek mythology (“The Song of Achilles” and “Circe”) – this is an interesting new mainly female  subgenre of historical fiction, not quite copying the pioneering work of Mary Renault (1905-83.)

I read my first Matt Haig (“The Midnight Library”) a tale about a suicidal woman who is somehow enabled to try out, as it were, all the different possible lives she might have lived. It’s a clever concept, but for my taste too self-consciously feel-good-encouraging. And I enjoyed philosopher/playwright/novelist Michael Frayn’s novel “Headlong” about the joys and temptations of uncovering a hidden masterpiece by Breughel.

I confirmed that I can’t get any joy out of Paolo Coelho, although many do.

At the risk of boring the non-SF readers among you, I can also boast that in 2022 I’ve finally finished the 10-volume epic saga “Shadows of the Apt” by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

If you’re not a speculative fiction buff, this name may mean nothing, but he is very very big in certain quarters, and indeed spoke at Nottingham Waterstones only last Wednesday.

I don’t think I’ll read any more by him.

A while back, devoted some paragraphs to my claim that Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series was overrated. The late and missed Judith Leader responded to the blog by asking why I’d bothered to read a series I didn’t like – twice.

She had a point; and you may well ask why I’ve read ten books, ranging from fat to very fat, if I’m about to say (and I am) that they’re not my kind of thing. “Shadows of the Apt” is a saga of a very long war, and there are a great many battles, large and small; and a lot of descriptions of machinery. (Also some magic, some of it highly unpleasant.) None of this is really what I go for.

My excuses are that: I was given the first by a friend and liked it; we then acquired quite a lot of the middle of the series; the set-up was intriguing; I liked it enough to go on.

For those who are interested, people in Tchaikovsky’s annoyingly unnamed world are divided into “kinden,” all of which have physical characteristics, cultures and bizarre talents (telepathy, wings, shooting killing bolts from the wrist) oddly inspired by creepy-crawlies of various kinds. The saga tells of the lengthy war in two parts between the Wasp Empire and nearly everybody else; with an unexpected extra development in books 9 and 10. You can be clever, and assume the Wasp Empire’s culture is inspired by Ancient Rome, and I’ve just deduced that the Beetles may be 19th century Britain.

If you think this sounds good, don’t let me put you off, because in many ways it is original and exciting and thoughtful. The main protagonist at one point makes the exact speech that everyone wants to make to Vladimir Putin. But I think it could have done with being half the length, and with not more than half the characters.

I also think it’s cheating to use quite a lot of space dissing organised religion, but still allow two of your nicest protagonists to walk off into an unspecified life after death. Do we get eternal life without a divinity?

Anyway, what have you read?

This is possibly enough to say about this year’s books, but I should warn you that next year is the bicentenary of Charlotte M Yonge, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about her here.

Love from the PPI Blogger – and Merry Christmas!

  • Clint Redwood

    9th December 2022 at 6:02 pm Reply

    I’m still struggling to read new fiction, but this year, partly as reminding myself of the story I wished to quote from, I re-read Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Written in the late fifties into the sixties, it is fascinating to see what amazing foresight he had, but also the surprising gaps in his vision.
    For example, tens of thousands of years from now, everyone still smokes. The height of writing technology is a dictation machine that converts speech to printed handwriting, but if you make a mistake, you need to throw the page away and start again. The idea of a word-processor, that allows editing between entry and printing, just hadn’t occurred to him.

  • Stephen Hall

    12th December 2022 at 9:52 am Reply

    I recently heard Alistair Campbell amusingly having a go at Rory Stewart (and his public school and Oxbridge educated ilk) for never saying they’d recently “read” a classic novel, but always that they’s recently “reread” it. The implication being that they didn’t want to admit that they’d reached middle age without having already read Middlemarch (or whatever). However, in your case Penny I am in no doubt that your set of Trollopes was already well-thumbed!

    My (for the first time!) working of my way through a classic series of novels this year has been advancing through the second volume (out of eight) of Antony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. Here I’m meant to say that he’s the English Proust but funnier, but I haven’t read Proust. The classical perfection of his prose style is beautiful though the sentences are very long and require some concentration to hold all the many clauses in your head before, with relief, you arrive at a full stop. A typical plot might be: I stayed in a villa in France and met some interesting people; I went to a party in London and met some interesting people; I went to a funeral and met some interesting people; then I went for a weekend in the country and met some interesting people. It is in the pen portraits of the interesting people that the great art resides. And he can be very funny: “Parents are sometimes a bit of a disappointment to their children. They don’t fulfil the promise of their early years.”!

    I think ADTTMOT (so far) is wonderful, but only to be attempted in small doses. One a year feels about right, before you crave some action and plot.

    Will you be telling us, if we are only initially willing to commit to reading one Charlotte Yonge novel, which one it should be?

  • Penelope Wallace

    23rd January 2023 at 2:52 pm Reply

    I’m a bit late in responding to both Clint and Stephen here. Nice point about Asimov – in Peter F Hamilton’s galactic civilisation thousands of years from now, the favourite breakfast food is still croissants.
    Stephen – I wouldn’t say “well-thumbed,” but “Phineas Finn” is a reread from long syne. A cunning point though about people claiming to have read what they feel they ought to have read. I have the tendency to say “I’ve read…” when it is truthful, but would have been more truthful if I’d added, “and I can’t remember/didn’t understand much of it.”

    You may have inspired me to go back to ADTTMOT, which I read a small bit of, once.

    Charlotte Yonge: my answer would probably be “The Heir of Redclyffe,” her 1853 bestseller, which has an unusually small cast for her, and an unmeandering plot. I attach a link to a rather hilarious and enthusiastic Youtube video about it.

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