Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ten of the best

There's a recent article in The Guardian on the Dave TV Channel's pick of the best and worst books of the 21st century. These kinds of best/worst lists are always a bit of a mix, and can mean anything or nothing.  Still it's worth a look to see what got on the best list. 

• Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling
• Life of Pi by Yann Martel
• The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
• The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
• Atonement by Ian McEwan
• The Help by Kathryn Stockett
• The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
• We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
• No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
• Pompeii by Robert Harris

I've read the first five, as well as Pullman's book.  The other three have all been made into movies, the only one of which I've seen is The Help, which was great entertainment, with some social commentary mixed in. Pompeii, by Harris, I've never heard of.  Which means nothing...or anything.

I can't say that I remember Order of the Phoenix being particularly striking amongst the Potter books, though by that time things had got very dark in Potterland, and were a long way from the relatively cheery opening title in the series. However, by way of comment about Rowling's series, I still think they're immensely readable and generally better than the movies (with the exception of number 7 in the movies, which managed to make the long haul in the centre of the book a good deal more interesting). 

Life of Pi I found disappointing, ultimately. Its pseudo religious angle didn't grab me at fact made very little sense, and often seemed unconnected to the rest of the story. There are brilliant moments scattered throughout the book, a great deal of stuff that makes the stomach kind of queasy, and a curious ending which not only seems to me to let the author off the hook, but to make what has already been a pretty grim story into one that's far worse.  I haven't seen the movie, since I read the book only a month before the movie came out, and didn't fancy facing everything all over again quite so soon. A bit of distance between a book and a movie helps.

The Time Traveller's Wife, for me, was overlong; it never quite knew when to stop. The fantasy idea was great, and well executed, for the most part, but there was just too darn much of it.

The Hunger Games. I saw the movie before I read the book, but reading the latter made me realise just how much the moviemakers assumed their audience would already be aware of. Popular and all as this book is, and full of suspense (even after seeing the movie), it nevertheless is a curiously disturbing book, as I wrote back in January.

The same can be said of The Amber Spyglass - not only does Pullman take the disturbing elements of the first two books in the trilogy into previously unknown territory, he continues to get all spiritual in a very peculiar way. He's already had a fair go at the 'Church' in the first two titles, but here he tries to imagine a kind of after-death world where achieving nothingness is seen as a relief.  Well, maybe it is for Pullman. I disliked it intensely, and disliked even more his negative caricature of God (and Pullman's claims that he's basing this on Milton's great poem, Paradise Lost). I wrote briefly about this back in 2005, and haven't changed my mind about what I thought then...

I wrote about Atonement only a few weeks ago. I'd seen the movie a couple of years back, and thought it very good; the book was also very good, with a few reservations.  It deserves to be on this list, as no doubt do dozens of others that are better in every respect than most of the other nine titles...

But you can't fit all the best books into ten slots, so!

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