Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Books of the week

It's been a long while since I read so many books in such a short time; 6 in the last 3 days. It's also been a long while since I've been so disappointed. I'm normally a fairly tolerant reader, but this was just too much for me to handle.

First, O'Hara's Choice []. The two Leon Uris's I've read before this (QB VII and The Trinity) were both brilliant, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, it was nothing like the others. It was enough to make me swear off Leon Uris for life, but then I heard he died just as he finished the book. It would be charitable to assume that he suffered from senile dementia as he was writing it... either that, or reading it made him so ill he died. It tells of the fate of the Marine Corps after the Civil War, and the romance of perfect Marine Zachary O'Hara with Amanda Kerr, daughter of a shipbuilding magnate. It's a cliched clash of two strong-willed people, with the second-worst ending of any book I've ever read.
I can't think of anything good to say about this book, so I won't bother.

The honour of worst ending to a novel has to go to Shock []. I suppose it serves me right for reading Robin Cook, but I expected something from a writer who's been published so many times. The characters are wooden, the dialogue awkward, and the plot unrealistic. The two protagonists are female grad students at Harvard, who donate their eggs to an infertility clinic for $45,000 each. Curious about the fate of their eggs after a while, the two girls go undercover and infiltrate the clinic. It turns out that the clinic is unethically (and illegally) engaged in research on cloning, besides removing an entire ovary from most women instead of the single egg they promise to take. It appears that Cook couldn't think of an ending, so after the two heroines are captured, he takes the reader straight to an epilogue in which the clinic staff decide to flee from fear of prosecution. We hear nothing more of the fate of the girls, nor if the criminals are brought to justice. If you own a copy, please send the paper to be recycled. You'll be doing future potential readers a favour.

The third disappointment was The Da Vinci Code []. After reading so many rave reviews, I was sure it would make up for the other two. Unfortunately, I was wrong again. Surprisingly, many of the reviewers on Amazon seem to agree with me; how on earth did this become a bestseller? Sure, it's controversial, but that's the best thing you can say about it. Robert Langdon, a noted symbologist, and Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist from the Direction Centrale Police Judiciaire in Paris are accused of the murder of the curator of the Louvre, who is also the Grand Master of the secret organisation called The Priory of Sion. The Priory is believed to guard The Holy Grail, but with the death of the Grand Master and his three senecheaux, its secret location may be lost forever. Langdon and Neveu try to find the Grail, while keeping one step ahead of the law.
I have two major problems with this book. First, it's cliched; man-woman combo are accused of murder and on the run from the cops. They solve the mystery and (of course) fall in love. The symbology, which could save the book, is its second flaw. Fine, detailed descriptions show that the author has done some research, but a discussion of the symbolism in Disney movies does nothing for the plot. Besides which, some of it is just plain wrong! The only reason I kept reading was because I thought there had to be something that merited the reviews it got. I was wrong; save yourself the time and energy.

A return to a couple of old favourites restored me to life. Around the World in 80 Days [] needs no introduction, I'm sure. It's been a few years since I last read it, and it was good as I remembered. Gerald Durrell's The Mockery Bird was the other. Unlike most of his books, this isn't a description of a collecting trip or the peculiarities of his family. Perhaps that's why it's one of my favourites. The pleasant island of Zenkali is facing an upheaval because the British Government wants to construct an airfield and naval base, upsetting the islanders and their way of life. The Government's plans are eventually scrapped when two species believed to be extinct are rediscovered, because their habitat would be in danger from the proposed airfield. Though it deals with the serious subject of (so-called) Progress vs Conservationism, the Mockery Bird amuses as well as instructs. It's an absolute joy; a book I know I'll read aloud to my children someday. Equally funny is Durrell's Rosy is My Relative, one of his few other works that's purely fiction. In fact, I think I'll dig out my copy right away. Reviewing "My Own Country" will have to wait until tomorrow.

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