What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

September 2019

 - Tuesday, August 27, 2019
John: Over the last several weeks I have read the first ten books in the Patrick O’Brian books featuring Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.  I’ve had this whole series sitting on the shelf awaiting my attention for possibly 15 years. And having finally begun, I find myself to be no exception to the readers I’ve seen fall prey to the O’Brian addiction—I find myself compelled towards the next episode, while trying to limit myself because I don’t want them to end. Aubrey is a Commander, and later Post Captain, in the Royal Navy at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Stephen Maturin is his friend, musician, Physician, naturalist, naval surgeon and spy. The books are set in the same period as Jane Austen’s work but show a very different side of Britain (where the non-inheriting second and third sons in an Austen novel may choose the navy as a career). This is Britain as a World Power. The battle scenes are exciting but O’Brian doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. Giant splinters from the breached structure of the ships leave men dead and horribly injured. O’Brien has managed to create characters with complex inner lives and while much happens on the high seas, Jack and Stephen’s lives are very different, and equally compelling ashore. This is compulsive reading and I am looking forward to the remaining eleven books in the series. 

Andrew: I’ve just started Inland by Tea Obreht and so far it is worthy of the swag of rapturous reviews it has received. It has one of those first sentences that immediately drops you into a time and place and compels you to keep reading:  ‘When those men rode down to the fording place last night, I thought us done for.’ Serbian-American Obreht made her name with The Tiger’s Wife which was set in an unnamed Balkan country, but with this, her sophomore effort, she confidently shifts to the American West of Arizona in 1893.

Louise: Ann Patchett’s new book The Dutch House has been a refreshing reading experience for me. Every other book I’ve read recently seems to be about sociopaths, and it’s nice to read about characters I’d be happy to meet in real life. It’s beautifully written—a very literate book—and full of fairytale and allegory. All of this is underneath the surface, while the narrative drives along with a most compelling plot, and extremely engaging characters. 

Janice: It has been a while since I read a Fred Vargus and I’d forgotten how good they are. A colleague gave me a copy of the latest and I was delighted to find that Vargus has not lost her touch with her latest—This Poison will Remain. I had forgotten how much I loved Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsburg, head of the Paris Serious Crimes Squad. Another of my favourite fictional policemen, who love their food and wine, and rely on instinct and feelings to solve crime. 

 Morgan: On Drugs, is—I have to use the word—mind-blowing. Brilliant in its analysis, lyrical in its prose and intellectually rigorous (he can’t help himself!), this is a book about addiction, mental health and the desire so strong in Fleming to re-invent himself. ‘I loved the idea that one could simply swallow something and be transformed as a result;  the notion transfixed me.’  Fleming’s writing is superb and to use another well-worn phrase, this book is searingly honest and very powerful for it. There’s no sentimentality, no self-pity and no lecturing. A memoir not to be missed.