My month in books: March 2020

Well. This was a month.

While I spent most of March indoors, I actually didn’t do all that much reading. This is mostly because my time was occupied by Animal Crossing. But I did manage to get through four rather different novels.

The first book I finished was Slow Horses by Mick Herron. I don’t read a lot of spy thrillers, but this came highly recommended. And it was fine – diverting enough while I was reading it, but now that I’m writing about it several weeks later, I find I’ve forgotten most of it. I think I just didn’t click with any of the characters, which made it hard to get that emotionally involved in the story.

Next up was Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson. I went on a huge Kate Atkinson kick at the end of 2019 – as anyone who had to listen to me witter on about Life After Life can attest – and with three more of her books in my to-read pile, it was only a matter of time before I came back to her. Human Croquet turned out to be quite an odd duck. I really enjoyed its characters, especially the teenage narrator Isabelle and her bitter Aunt Vinny. However, Atkinson is partial to late-in-the-game reveals that massively change the context of the book, and I’m not sure she sticks the landing here. But it certainly left me wanting to talk about it.

Every time I mentioned I was reading Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, someone would comment, “Oh, that’s really dark.” Inevitably this meant that it was less dark than I was expecting, although it may be that the impact was dulled by the horrors of reality going on around me. I was reading this when we went into isolation, and this quote really stuck with me:

Odd times to be a child in. An odd country, an odd life which he had no desire to make sense of. To endure, full stop, that was all he wanted.

Odd times indeed. A close friend had her first baby this month, and I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that the baby’s only experience of the world is one that’s so different to what most of us are used to. Kurkov was writing about corruption in post-Soviet Ukraine, rather than lockdown in Britain, but I’ll take whatever literary solace I can get. I did like Death and the Penguin though, particularly the titular penguin.

The fourth and final book I read in March was Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames. This was the sequel to Kings of the Wyld, which I finished last month, and I enjoyed it just as much. If you’re at all into fantasy, I highly recommend this series, especially if you need a good distraction from present circumstances. Where Kings was inspired by 70s rock, Bloody Rose is more 80s, and I enjoyed spotting gag mercenary names like Men Without Helmets or the Duran brothers. But these aren’t just joke novels – the characters are fantastic and the storytelling is genuinely absorbing. I savoured a few chapters of this book every night for two weeks and was very sad to finish it. So I will happily pick up whatever Eames writes next.

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