There was a moment a few days before the end of May when I realised just how few books I’d read that month. So, in a desperate bid to up my numbers and feel less guilty, I listened to a couple of short audiobooks at work. They’re both books that I’ve had in my Audible library for a while and ones that would take less than a working day to finish. Both great reasons to pick a book. Who cares about plot anyway? I didn’t have a great deal to say about either of them so I’ve bundled them together here.
Holes by Louis Sachar
I definitely remember wanting to read this when I was younger but, for some reason, I never did. It was one of those books that was just everywhere and the cover was so intriguing. The one with the lizard on the front. Yet, I never actually read it. Then the film came out starring Shia LeBeouf and I got the desire to read it again. But I didn’t. I’ve had the audiobook for a while, so, when I needed to quickly finish something last month, I decided to go for it. Would it be worth waiting over two decades to read?
Firstly, this wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. I don’t really know what I expected but the story was more complex than I thought. The way that the past and present were interwoven throughout the story was clever. I sometimes find narratives that flip between time periods to be kind of annoying but I think it just about worked here. There was no sense that the twists were being held back for any other reason than organic storytelling.
Yes, it’s a book full of coincidences and the whole thing is really contrived. That’s the point. It’s a modernisation of those classic novels where everything works out perfectly at the end. It’s a fun and engaging story that I no doubt would have loved back in the day. I think Stanley is a great character to have as a protagonist for any novel. He’s overweight and doesn’t fit it. Apart from his lack of luck, he’s a pretty average guy, which makes him really interesting. He’s also very naive and incredibly kind. We need more Stanleys in novels.
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
If I said that I knew nothing about Holes then I knew even less about this one. I think I must have bought the audiobook when it was an Audible Deal of the Day or when there was a BOGOF offer. Either way, it was in my library and was short enough for me to finish in a day at work. It started off being a bit like Waiting For Godot and then took us to some dark places. Possibly not the best thing to be listening to when I had quite so much to do but it certainly kept me captivated.
It’s hard to place this book into a genre because so little actually happens. Or at least, so little happens that isn’t a flashback. It’s part crime thriller, part family melodrama and part mystery. Mostly though, it’s a deep character study into an Irish man who gets caught up in the drug world. Told through the framing narrative of him looking for his daughter with his old friend. The best scenes of the books are the ones where the pair sit waiting at a ferry terminal. As a two-hander, this novel really is a joy to listen to. There’s something about the dialogue and banter that works so well.
This is a very beautifully written and surprisingly emotional tale. It gets to the gritty reality of crime and the consequences for the people who end up in that world. It does what so few crime thrillers do these days as it avoids hyperbole. Barry understands that the real pull of this book isn’t the crimes themselves but the people. If you’re a lover of character study and enjoy unravelling plot strands, then this is for you.