Journeys in the Wild

This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years. I’m not sure what took me so long to read it but I suspect it is the sort of book that one needs to be in the mood to read. Suspected might be the better word. As it turned out, it is a joyful, beautifully concise, honest and interesting diary of a career spanning three decades in wildlife filming. It helps that Gavin Thurston’s chosen occupation sits high on my ‘what would you want to be if you weren’t a doctor’ list. But I challenge anyone  not to enjoy this. 

A lovingly put together story of dedication, travel, appreciation and above all respect for our natural world. The message carried within is as pertinent as it ever has been. 

 

Great-Uncle Harry

I’ve read a Michael Palin book before (Endeavour) so was aware that he writes well and thoughtfully. The subject of this was original and intriguing – the life of his great-uncle Harry, brought to life through diaries, documents and old photos. It helps that he lived at a time that fascinates me somewhat – the late 1800s and the early 1900s – but it is written with obvious fondness. A good account of what it might have been like to live through those times, taking in Gallipoli, the Somme, rural England, imperial India and far away New Zealand at a critical time in history. Thus a good historical text as much as a biography. 

The Long view

I took a punt on this one and it paid off. There are a lot of non-fiction books out there and many of them cover similar subjects and tread well trodden paths. This one is, as far as I know, quite unique. It focuses on our short termism, both in subjects like politics but also in life. Our perspectives, the author argues, need to be widened to consider not just the next year or even few years but much further into the future. 

It is compelling and well argued and one just wishes many people in positions of influence and power would give it a read. On a personal level though, poignant and thought provoking. 

The Wager

From the author of the excellent Lost City of Z and of Killers of the Flower Moon, I was excited about this one. It didn’t disappoint. It is superbly researched and well crafted account of a  17th Century expedition around the cape of South America that does not go according to plan. The writing is smooth and readable and structured like a master storyteller. For any armchair explorers out there like me, this is the stuff.  

Brazzaville Beach

William Boyd’s writing style is so unique and identifiable. He is a real master at being concise and seems somehow able to inject x factor into even the most innocuous activities of his characters. That notwithstanding, the story here is excellent and follows Hope Clearwater, who is beautifully characterised via a no holds barred account of her life. The novel interchanges two periods of her life throughout the book. One with her hopelessly doomed marriage to a physicist in England and another tracking chimpanzees in Africa. Brutal, moving, thrilling and philosophical – Boyd never disappoints. 

One Medicine

I picked this up on a whim at Hay literature festival. Only short, so it can be read in a day or so. The premise is an interesting one – the idea that human and animal medicine have a huge overlap and adaptations animals have made to the world around them have a huge application in human medicine. 

The first half of the book seemed to stray a little from the core premise of the book to me and at times it was a little self indulgent, dare I say a bit melodramatic. But there is almost a palpable shift half way through (almost from dusk till dawnesque) in which the book really begins to delve into interesting medical trivia and genuinely intriguing information concerning the overlaps in animal and human physiology. When it does return to the more personal storytelling at the end, the melodrama is gone and the closing thoughts are genuinely quite moving.

Murder on Lake Garda

The third book from Tom Hindle who I’ve come to realise is relatively local to me! Never met him though. I loved his first, thought his second was rather mundane, but I’m pleased to say his third is a return to form. While it still doesn’t quite reach the level A Fatal Crossing reached, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through through a murderous Italian wedding. He paints a beautiful picture of the grotesque nature of spoilt rich people and, although the solution at the heart of the mystery is not too difficult to guess, it still provides a lot of fun. It’s a bit like a feature length episode of Death in Paradise – which in my eyes is a good thing.

A Colder War

I have enjoyed some of Charles Cumming’s other spy novels and enjoyed the first of the series that features MI6 agent Thomas Kell. While there are hints of Cumming’s later written efficiency, this book always felt a bit hollow – like a Spanish villa that ran out of funding before it was completed. The book doesn’t really do much other than display some procedural intrigue while the ending is abrupt and feels unfinished. It was written some time ago and as far as I’m aware, there have been no others in the series leading me to believe he abandoned the franchise. I think probably that was a good idea. The main character was a bit mundane. Enjoyable enough read though. 

Killers of the Flower Moon

This was a phenomenal non-fiction book well worth all the praise it gets. I avoided the film (as I did with Lost City of Z, his previous excellent effort) as I didn’t want any preconceptions – the book for me is the main event.
Just a fantastically well paced, concise and thrilling account of an extraordinary and terrifying conspiracy and scandal from the American West in the 1920s.

Although non-fiction, he manages to arrange events in a way that constantly creates suspense – chapters end with shocks or twists in the same way a thriller would. But not in a cheesey cliched way. Clearly Grann has a huge talent for this sort of thing and I can’t wait to read his next one (The Wager).

Perfume

This literary and mildly fantastical novel is all about a wretched soul, born in Paris in the 1700s with a seemingly superhuman ability to smell. He also turns out to be a bit of a pyschopath.

Not quite sure whether there is some sort of allegorical element to things but if nothing else, it impresses due to the sheer variety and eloquence with which it conveys fragrance. It also manages to paint a vivid and abrupt picture of the grotesque and macabre. Perhaps it is a comment on the sheer variance of humanity from sheer beauty to utter repulsiveness. I think they made a film starring Ben Wishaw. I won’t lie, I’ll probably give it a miss. Enjoyble read though and not too long so if you don’t like it, no harm done.