The August 2020 Reading Roundup saw me read quite possibly my worst novel of the year. I also finally fell in love with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials!
The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman ⭐
Okay – off to a pretty bad start.
This book is terrible and I take no pleasure in saying that. I love Richard Osman, but I did not love his debut crime fiction novel.
Aside from the fact that it’s a very poorly written book, The Thursday Murder Club commits the ultimate crime of being woefully boring.
The plot meanders here and there, seemingly going nowhere. The characters are cliché. The layout of the book is confusing. It doesn’t feel finished.
It’s not a good book, and a shoe-in for my most disappointing novel of 2020.
Northern Lights, Philip Pullman ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Now, this was a much better read (well, listen – I borrowed the audiobook from the library).
For some reason, Pullman’s His Dark Materials series has always evaded me. As a child, the story didn’t resonate with me. The focus on the politics of steampunk Catholicism, or the Magisterium, flat out disinterested me.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first tried to read Northern Lights, but I suspect that I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate it. Which is odd, because it’s a children’s book, but given how popular it is, I suspect that I was the problem!
Anyhow, a few years later – and a stint in the University of Nottingham’s Agnostic, Humanist, and Secularist Society – I returned to Pullman’s universe.
I’ve been wanting to give Northern Lights another chance for quite a while. So, whilst I was browsing the BorrowBox library catalogue, I came across an audiobook version of the story.
It’s very well voice-acted, and the narration is from Pullman himself*. Bonus!
This time, I really got invested in the story and I truly appreciated the overarching philosophical and theological discussions. It’s a brilliant, brilliant story and I cannot wait to read (or listen to!) the other books.
*A side note; Pullman has a brilliant voice – rich as Christmas pudding. He could read the phonebook and make it exciting!
The Last Wish, Andrzej Sapkowski ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have a complicated history with The Witcher.
I played the first of the three video games and thought it was incredibly average (to be fair, it was made by CD Projekt when they were a tiny studio).
The gameplay was dull, the ‘collectible cards’ you received for sleeping with women was pathetic and juvenile, but I was kind of invested in the world.
I then played the sequel, The Witcher 2. After a short while, I decided that perhaps The Witcher universe just wasn’t for me, and uninstalled the game.
So, when I walked into Waterstones Derby when the 2020 UK lockdown ended, I’m not entirely sure why I picked up The Last Wish.
I’m glad I did!
It’s a compelling book from the start. Helped, I think, by the fact that it’s a collection of short stories. This allows newcomers, or indecisive people like me, to get a grasp of the fantasy world Sapkowski has created.
Geralt is a much more relatable protagonist in the books. He experiences doubt and he isn’t a stock male-fantasy protagonist like he is in TW1. There’s also some brilliant philosophical musings in this collection of short stories.
I have heard people say that the translation is a little iffy, and you can tell in parts, but it really isn’t as bothersome as others make out.
In short, The Last Wish changed my entire perspective on the franchise.
The book took me a while to finish because only a couple of stories in, I fired up The Witcher 2 on my PC and binged it to completion.
I’ve since bought The Witcher 3 on Nintendo Switch, and it’s jaw-droppingly good…
But seriously, even if you aren’t a fan of the video games or TV show, give this one a try if you’re into fantasy fiction!
In Absurdia, Glenn Whalan ⭐⭐⭐
In Absurdia is a trip.
It’s a dizzying, disorientating piece of absurdist fiction that’s harder to pin down than an otter coated in vaseline. After finishing it, I needed a lie down.
Conveniently, it was bed time.
At times it’s touching, sometimes hilarious, and other times, it’s really quite bizarre. I’m not entirely sure what just happened.
And yet, I enjoyed the time I spent with Glenn Whalan’s debut novel. I’ll definitely be checking out his work in the future.
What have you read this month? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!