I have been slammed at work lately and hadn't had the energy to post about the books I've been reading, but I wanted to write a catch up post of what I've read since rereading Remains of the Day:
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer- Vandermeer rarely does the same thing twice, though there is a commonality in environmental themes, deep weirdness/surreality and good prose. His most recent is a eco-thriller in the foreground with societal collapse going on in the background. Despite its differences from 2019's Dead Astronauts (it is largely plotless while this has a propulsive plot), I felt the same after reading both: deeply disturbed at humanity's chances of long term survival, but strangely comforted that the world and some type of life will likely succeed us.
Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood- One of my annual rereads. A farce about the movie industry set against the rise of fascism before WWII that is also a great fictional restatement of Camus's idea that the only philosophical question that matters is "Why keep living?" It manages to be hilarious and incredibly moving without being jarring in its tonal shifts.
I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell- I read this in 2003 and remember loving it. But this time it was revelatory. A series of interconnected stories that deal with family and coming, not quite of age, but to an understanding of death. It is hilarious. It's part tall tale, part magical realism/fantasy, and part family saga all rendered in one of the best voices/prose styles I've encountered. This is rotating into my yearly reread pile and is easily canon.
North by Seamus Heaney- Heaney is solidly among my favorite poets now. This is up there with Station Island and Wintering Out. Up there with Auden, Yeats, Jeffers and Anne Porter.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter- Another book that I hadn't read in at least a decade. Fairy tales with all the darkness, danger and sex added back in from the sanitized versions. A great collection, and a clear forerunner of Kelly Link, Jeff Vandermeer, etc; IE literary fantasy, probably my favorite genre.
When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro- Ishiguro's take on the detective novel is to tell a story of the life of a detective. He is firmly among my favorite writers, but this is the only one of his novels that hasn't completely worked for me so far. I only have his story collection and The Unconsoled (which some consider his best) left to go completist with him.
Gateway by Frederik Pohl- I've had this one on the shelf for a few years and hadn't gotten to it until this past weekend. But it is one of those rare scifi novels that won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, which is generally a good marker for great books, and this is a great one.
It alternates chapters as the narrator, Robinette Broadhead, relates both his current therapy sessions on Earth and his past on the Asteroid called Gateway. Humanity has discovered a trove of mysterious alien ships that were abandoned there, and humans can go light years away and bring salvage back. This is good, because the situation on Earth is grim. There is a palpable sense of dread throughout the book.
Despite that hard scifi premise, it's essentially a human story about grief and regret. Bob is a fully realized character and it is his emotion that carries the novel against that background. I don't know what it was up against for those awards, but it certainly was worthy of them.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt-I've read all three of Donna Tartt's novels and loved them. Despite the difference in genre between the three, she has consistently great prose, and has a combination of hifalutin and pulp that works perfectly for me.
It had been a decade or so since I last read this, her debut, and it is even better than I remembered. A young man from poorer means goes to a relatively exclusive college and falls in with small tight knit group of privileged students who all study classical greek under the same professor. Very early on, the reader learns that one of the members of the group was murdered by the rest of them resulting not in a whodunnit but a whydunnit which proves as suspenseful as most anything I've read. Her characters are fully realized, and the prose and voice of the novel works. It's a nearly perfect book, for my tastes at least.