I quite a few books last week but not all of them really warranted a full size review. So, I decided that it was in everyone’s interests if I just shoved them all together in one post. That way, I don’t have to struggle to find the words to fill a whole post on a short book and you aren’t subjected to my waffle. It also means that I won’t make the mistake that I did earlier in the week and give me review the wrong title. Sorry for anyone who read my review of When No One is Watching and expecting it to be about Come Again instead. Not sure how that happened.
Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers by Rob Grant
I’m a big fan of the Red Dwarf TV show but I’d never bothered to read any of the 4 books that came out of the show. I guess I just don’t really get the need to adapt this kind of show into a novel. Comedy doesn’t always translate well into books and a science-fiction sitcom made by the BBC in the late 80s/early 90s definitely wouldn’t have been my first choice for a literary adaptation. Especially because so much of what made the show great were the actors themselves. That’s not to criticise the writing of the show but the chemistry of the main group of actors is really what made this show stand out.
I listened to the audiobook version of the novel, so was treated to Chris Barrie’s narration. His impersonations of his co-stars are to be commended, obviously, but it just wasn’t the same. I guess it’s always going to be difficult when you’re so familiar with the source material. Speaking of which, I was majorly disappointed with just how familiar this book was. The majority of the book is made up of stuff lifted straight from the show with a few odd changes and additions here and there. I can’t say that putting the show into a novel form really did anything to elevate the story or the characters. Maybe there’s a tiny bit more backstory there and I guess you do get a bit more history of the Cat’s people. Still, I spent a lot of time just feeling as though my time would be better spent watching the show again.
The writing itself wasn’t terrible but it did feel kind of more like a pastiche than anything else. All of the science-fiction elements were all very tongue-in-cheek and it all felt a bit sarcastic. If I hadn’t already seen the show, I don’t think I’d have been impressed. Which really makes me wonder who this was written for? Fans of the show will just be subjected to a slightly worse version of the first 2 series but newbies won’t get the point of it. I guess this is what it always was; a desperate and weak cash grab.
Fox 8 by George Saunders
I knew this book was short but I hadn’t realised just how quick a read it was. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to digest here. Though it lacks sheer page numbers, Fox 8 offers plenty to think about. Although, when I first opened it and saw the comedy spelling and mispronunciations I was a little worried. This is the kind of book that could so easily have fallen into the literary gimmick category and just not worked on any other level. Fortunately, George Saunders has managed to write something that is unlike anything I’ve read in a while.
The story is narrated by the titular Fox 8 as he recounts his life. The young fox has learnt how to speak human (or “yuman”) by listening through windows at night. When his home is destroyed to make way for a new shopping mall, Fox 8 and the other foxes struggle to find food. So, he bravely agrees to enter the mall and bring back supplies. Unfortunately, Fox 8 gets separated from his group and a tragedy encourages him to get as far away as possible. Will he be able to find his friends or will he have to find a new home?
This is a lovely little story that is presented as a dark fairy tale or fable. It is both hilariously funny and heartbreakingly sad in equal measure. It doesn’t really seem fair that there is so much going on in such a short book with but it’s such a wonderful reading experience. The book offers the basic bedtime story about an anthropomorphic fox and it’s super cute. Then there are the environmental and social issues. Fox 8 says much more about our attitude towards the natural world than anything else. Fox 8 has such respect and love for the Yuman race. Reading this, it’s sad that we can’t live up to his image of us.
Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie
I’m of the opinion that Agatha Christie is one of the best crime writers that we’ve ever seen. Her shrewd mind and attention to detail allowed her to create some of the most tantalising murder mysteries ever written. She understood human nature and she had a vast knowledge of poisons that really added depth to her writing. I think it’s totally unjust that she is so quickly dismissed for writing supposed “cosy crime”. That said, it is hard to deny that as she got older, her writing did suffer. Of course, considering how long her career was, that’s only to be expected. It just means that it’s often difficult to compare her later works to her earlier ones.
Elephants Can Remember is a novel that is obsessed with memory, which ends up being a bit of shame. At this point in her career, it seems as though Christie was struggling to keep on top of her own plots. Some of the small details of the case don’t always fit and there are certain dates that tend to change between chapters. It’s nothing major but it’s just further proof of how much messier her books from this period were. The novel shows a slight decline in writing quality and there is plenty of repetition. As such, this isn’t one of the best Christie reading experiences.
Something that is a huge shame because of how much potential the actual mystery has. I do think that, had this been written when she was at her best, this novel could have been one of her more exciting ones. Instead, it just becomes blatantly obvious what is going on. Instead of inserting clever red herrings all over the place, the plot focuses on meaningless details that never really go anywhere. It’s just all a little sad.It’s been suggested that Christie was suffering from dementia in her later years and this would certainly explain the deterioration of her writing. She shows a more limited vocabulary and indefinite word usage. If this were true, it might also go some way towards the focus of the novel. Perhaps Christie had something to prove about her declining health and memory? Was this novel her attempt to show that she was still as perceptive as ever? If it was, it’s a huge shame that it didn’t work.