3 Audiobooks

Journal: 067

Coming over this Easter, from Perth to Melbourne with detours to a mine in Western Australia, a station in western NSW and a farm on Wilsons Prom., I listened to the three novels the old fashioned way, on CD. Why? Because it’s still easy to get them like that from the local library. But I will start my next Audible book ‘soon’. I did try a couple of Borrowbox e-audiobooks but there was a problem with the download.

I wouldn’t have written up these books at all, probably, but there is a problem with my load and I’m held over till tomorrow (Thurs) morning, so I’ve a few hours to kill.

Waiting for Tomorrow (2015) is a novella by Mauritian/French author Natacha Appanah, original title: En attendant demain, translator: Geoffrey Strachan.

This is the first of the three I listened to, so some of my memory cells have been overwritten by subsequent events. Briefly, I enjoyed it. And the author expresses some anger at the treatment of POC, including the use of the term ‘people of colour’, by, in particular, progressive Parisians.

The story moves around a lot, and is told from the POV of all the main characters. Today, Adam is to be released after 5 years and x days in jail. Anita, his wife of Mauritian descent, is waiting for him. Their daughter might be in a coma. Adele is dead. We go back to Adam and Anita meeting, marrying, moving back to Adam’s home town in the provinces (on the Atlantic coast). Adam an architect and mediocre painter; Anita, with a novel in her bottom drawer, getting piecework on the local newspaper. Adam’s annoyance at her ‘wasting her talents’.

Laura is born. Adele enters the story. Another Mauritian, undocumented, working in a bar and as a nanny. She meets Anita, begins living with Anita and Adam. There’s some drama. Adele dies. The ending is suspenseful and satisfying.

Snare (2015) is apparently #1 in the Reykjavik noir trilogy. I’m not sure what its title is in Icelandic but the translator was Quentin Bates. In an Afterword author Lilja Sigurdardottir says that Icelandic is spoken by only 400,000 people and it is important that the language be preserved, but also that it is a privilege to have her work translated into English.

The protagonist of Snare, Sonia, is a mule for drug smugglers, bringing cocaine into Iceland from Denmark and England. The plot is a little fanciful and the action sequences annoying (I’m sure they’re done well, but I don’t like action).

The charm of the novel is in the characterisation. Sonia has left her husband, but has inexplicably put her divorce into the hands of a lawyer friend of her husband’s who puts her into a settlement that gives her no income, no family home, and only one weekend a fortnight access to their son. Sonia is in an on again off again lesbian relationship with Agla, a senior manager in a failing bank, and a workmate of Sonia’s husband.

The quantity of drugs Sonia is expected to transport increases exponentially, a customs officer begins to notice her frequent, short international trips. the son is kidnapped when it looks like Sonia is refusing to continue smuggling. It all comes to a very exciting head. But the personal situations would have been just as interesting without the ‘noir’.

After two similarly aged female protagonists – similar enough that I began to confuse Sonia’s backstory with Anita’s – A Gentleman in Moscow (2016) was a complete change.

A G in M is Russian historical fiction written by an American, Amor Towles, apparently a literary author of some reputation. It is well researched with very many allusions to the great Russian authors. But. Towles is an American and his biases show. Not least in his choice of an ending which of course involves a complete repudiation of the Revolution and of communist society.

Count Alexander Rostov, and aren’t Americans fascinated by titles, is about 20 at the time of the October Revolution (1917). His lands are lost and he narrowly avoids execution only to be condemned to indefinite house arrest in the attics of Moscow’s principal hotel, the Metropol.

Over the course of 40 or 50 years he becomes head waiter in the hotel’s main restaurant and gains a foster daughter, who shares his 10 ft by 10 ft bedroom throughout all her teenage years despite all the other rooms in the attic being unoccupied.

It’s an interesting, if overlong story, but it’s Hist.Fic. and it’s not by a Russian, so I don’t see any point for anyone not a long distance truck driver with endless hours to fill, reading it.

26 thoughts on “3 Audiobooks

  1. Well, I and my reading group (most of us) enjoyed A gentleman in Moscow. It was apparently inspired by the writer’s seeing people who spend a lot of time living in luxury hotels. I enjoyed seeing how the gentleman managed his changing circumstances. The scene with the bottles having had all their labels removed was a hoot. I did though think it had a point.

    As for Reykjavik noir. Not Icelandic noir but Reykjavik noir. That’s very specific. I love that you listened to it even though you don’t like action. I don’t like action either which is why I don’t really read crime much.

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    • There’s a lot of thought and good writing going into crime these days (a bit like dystopian SF). I enjoy the cerebral and descriptive elements but fights and car chases and shooting don’t make sense to me, as writing or as film. There’s no logic to a bullet hitting or missing, just the author/director’s whim.

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      • Maybe it’s just me, but I feel as though a lot of crime writing in recent years is slanted towards exploring themes of in/justice and that appeals to a different reader in me than mysteries and whodunnits do. Not sure if that fits with this Icelandic story, but it does fit with the Icelandic TV series Trapped (which I’ve wholly enjoyed, even though it moves really slowly and often just settles into rugged landscape shots).

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      • On the other hand, I don’t know Trapped.
        I really dislike whodunnits. If I have one in front of me I just read it straight through without attempting to “solve” it, or even guess. So, modern ‘literary’ crime fiction suits me better, though not American so much because it generally involves police breaking the law and I think the popularization of that on screen has got the US where it is today. But criminals breaking the law (as in Snare)? Well, that’s different. Sort of.

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  2. Shame you didn’t enjoy the Amor Towles. The relationship with the young girl was a bit fanciful but otherwise I enjoyed seeing how this guy created a new world within the confines of the hotel and the relationships he built with the staff.

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    • Towles seems to be a fine story teller, but Americans have imbibed a century of propaganda about communist Russia, and I think that shows in some of his assumptions.

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      • I can’t disagree with this of course … I think it does … but I still enjoyed the read because it was a great story. Sometimes I fear we can become too politically earnest to enjoy a decent, interesting story. However, in the first paragraph of my post I did ask “Why did an American investment banker write an historical fiction novel about a Count in Bolshevik Russia?” I had my own reading of the novel. Think Austen!

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      • Agree to a point, but I’m not quite so uncompromising as you (!) I do like to give people the benefit of the doubt and see that they are many ways of viewing the world, even if we believe our way is the right and decent one. Towles’ book is a humane one, though you can read it a bit differently if you choose – I guess! A couple of us in our reading group, including me, did wonder about his intentions. One member felt it was intellectually corrupt (or words to that effect) but I think she just wanted a different book. Not historical fiction, so perhaps not a good analogy, but take Austen. There are those who complain that her books were set during the Napoleonic Wars and other interesting political times (abolition movement), but she didn’t write about those.

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      • Trust an American to be unable to write about post Revolution Russia without an aristocrat hero and an escape to the west. As for your JA red herring, WG, her subject was a period and a class she knew well; Towles’s isn’t.

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      • I did say it wasn’t a perfect analogy, but the point is “the subject”. What was Towles’ subject? Anyhow, I let it drop here, and wait for your review!!

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  3. As an historical fiction fan AGinM was exactly my cup of tea. It has had a resurgence again during covid times. something about the isolation and making a life within a confined space and making the best of the situation appealed to many. At the time I wrote, “a charming, nostalgic story to while away a few lazy days… It’s undemanding but entrancing at the same time.”

    My thoughts, though, on the Russian (Chinese and Cuban) revolutions require a MUCH longer piece!

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    • I must come up with a review which will make you expand your opinions. Each of the communist revolutions you cite took feudal, agricultural societies to functioning welfare states in one generation.

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      • I don’t disagree with this at all.

        The idealism and initial desire to reduce poverty & hardship & distribute services more equitably was admirable. The reality hasn’t lived up to the dream.

        I’d love to read your thoughts though! My history teachers were 60’s hippies. They laid on the road in front of LBJ’s car & walked out of the Beatles concert. I couldn’t completely buy their all revolutions are good mantra (I’m too entrenched in being the peacemaker!) but sometimes that’s the only way to change a totally corrupt, entrenched society. Trouble is they tend to get replaced by another equally corrupt state.

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  4. I agree with you about Gentleman – too long, and the niggle about an author’s perspective. That said, I enjoyed aspects of this book (although some scenes seemed to be written for film) – the high jinx, and the focus on particular relationships.

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    • I don’t know the film at all, with Covid I’ve only been to the cinema once in 12 months. But I might try another of Towles’ books, if the library has one. He seems a good rather than a great, or even particularly innovative author.

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  5. It’s a shame all the Icelandic books that get translated are too violent for me! Mind you Halldor Laxness’ Independent People is excellent and would get you through quite a few journeys!

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  6. What happened with the download from the library? Were you on Wi-Fi when you tried it? Also, does your phone have enough storage to keep one book on there? I’ve encountered patrons who have zero space on their phone for a download, which is impressive in 2021.

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  7. Nattacha Appanah’s The Last Brother was a quick but strangely disturbing and disorienting story; I’d be interested in Waiting for Tomorrow. But, I’m not sure it would work for me on audio; I do love stories with multiple POVs but I’m not necessarily such a careful listener that I wouldn’t prefer a printed copy for that device. I giggled at the comments above, about the DLing and the moon and back; it’s so hard to adjust to new tech, even when it’s not NEWnew and only new-to-usNEW, but once the new habit takes hold it’s a good feeling.

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    • I rarely have any trouble with complicated stories, though I sometimes wish I could go back a line and check something (which I can as it happens with the Audible app) but then, that’s a function of me having plenty of time and not much else on my mind (ie. long distance driving). I WILL get my own BorrowBox account – our library which said it wouldn’t sack any staff when it introduced self checkout has basically sacked them all, there’s certainly no help desk, but I’m a member of other libraries so I’ll go to one of them and get them to help me set it up.
      (Melanie sees it as her duty to keep me in line, and does it very well).

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