Restless by William Boyd

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I had a bit of a case of “good book at the wrong time” here; but in the end it came out pretty well.

I started reading this book in the middle of moving house and it was suffering from my only getting to read a few pages at a time. The book flips between two stories: one in “present day” 1976 with eternal postgrad Ruth Gilmartin working as a tutor in Oxford, looking after her young son and worrying about her mother; and the second story being written down by Ruth’s mother, once Russian and called Eva Delectorskaya and part of the British security services in the middle of the second world war.

I like this sort of double handed storytelling in general but it wasn’t until I found time to sit and read the book in huge chunks that I really began to enjoy it. I seem to have said this here recently too – some books just aren’t any good in small doses!

Eva’s spy story is quite a thriller in places but the modern portions of the book aren’t so exciting. I kept forgetting it was supposed to be 1976 too. I enjoyed the book and if it had been written as a straight WWII spy caper I’d probably have found it a bit much so the “looking back” aspect must have added something to it. But in the end it just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.

I’ll pick up some more Boyd to read though, sometime soon. This is the first book of his that I’ve read.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.

The Raven on the Water by Andrew Taylor

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Another reissue of an out-of-print early nineties Taylor. I hope there are more out of print reissues coming!

This one is mostly a story of what happened to a group of children, mainly 12ish year olds, in the summer of 1964. The summer is being looked back on from the “present day” (ie 1990ish I guess). One of the children died at the end of the summer and one of the other children, as a grown up, is wondering what really happened.

Both the children and their parents appear in two versions – one 25 years older than the other. The thing that made the book for me was how well drawn the characters were and how the characters themselves and the relationships between them had changed over the years. The plot itself – and the involved imaginary game of the children – I didn’t think was so hot but overall I enjoyed the book because the characters were so convincing.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.
Purchased on 8th July 2007.

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani

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This is a book that I’d expected to like from the blurb, but I didn’t really hit it off with it.

It’s all about Rumi, a supposedly “gifted” mathematician, who takes her O and A Levels early and is aiming to get to the University of Oxford at an early age spurred on mostly by her father. I liked Rumi and found her family to be pretty convincing characters but, perhaps because of my own maths degrees, I never found the school background to be very realistic.

I found the end of the book, where – this isn’t really very much of a spoiler – Rumi gets to university and proceeds to go a bit off the rails to be both more interesting and credible than what came before.

This is (yet another) book that was longlisted for the Booker Prize this year. (I’ve got a little carried away reading the longlist!) It didn’t make the shortlist and I think that the judges got that right as there are at least six better books on the list.

More information about this book can be found on goodreads.