Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Phil bought this for Christmas 2004…. and it has sat on the “Books to read” bookshelf ever since…. It’s not that I didn’t want to read Cloud Atlas, just that as a hefty hardback I knew that it would be awkward to read in bed, which is where I do most of my reading.

However, it turned out to be a classic “I’ve started so I’ll finish”, in the sense that I just kept having to turn the pages, to read “just one more chapter”. I loved the way the book’s structure and story set mirror a book’s physical make up of each of the signatures (I’ve just had to look that up on Wikipedia), where you only get a continuous selection of text printed on the middle pair of pages.

I also really liked the way David Mitchell gradually revealed the connections between the stories and their narrators, and carried forward a narrative stretching from the 19th century to an unspeficied number of centuries in the future.

If you enjoy fiction in flavours raning from historical, to modern, to science, then read this novel!

Buy it: Amazon link

The Evening of the World: A Novel of the Dark Ages – Allan Massie

There’s been a bit of a lull in my keeping my Reading pages up-to-date, initially because we spent Christmas and New Year in the Falkland Islands, where our access to the internet was over dial-up, and subsequently because I’ve been busy/not in the mood since our return. And I’m sure that I would have read something between finishing Crimson Rose at the start of December and our two-day flight out to Mount Pleasant Airport, East Falkland.

Time for a catch-up…..

The Evening of the World: A Novel of the Dark Ages by Allan Massie promised much in the blurb, but proved to be a struggle to complete. I am sure that had I not been flying at 30,000 feet with only one other novel to last me to Patagonia I would have given up. It was too mystical for my taste, and I didn’t click with any of the characters.

One month on, the only elements of the story that I can recall are that it is set at the time when the Roman Empire is on the wane, and that the lead was a Roman nobleman/warrior. At the start of the tale he has a strange encounter in a mysterious forest in Italy, and soon after fights one of the Knights of the Round Table.

Buy it: Amazon link

The Virgin’s Lover – Philippa Gregory

Another excellent historical read from Philippa Gregory (on loan from Janette), this time covering the early years of Elizabeth I’s reign, the rise to power and fall from grace of her favourite Robert Dudley, the political machinations of Cecil, the religious uncertainty of the early decades of the protestant religion, the marital manoeuverings of various European powers, and the untimely death of Lord Dudley’s wife, Amy.

Philippa Gregory succeeds in making you appreciate that not only is history written by the winners, but also that the focus on political history masks the domestic and day to day events and relationships that underpin those politics. However, in revealing the day to day behaviours of the great and the good, Philippa Gregory also draws a cast of characters most of whom we know of already yet none of whom are particularly likeable. Although this in itself does not mean that the book is any less worth a read, it does mean you are not drawn into the novel so readily. In fact, what I particularly liked about this novel was the author’s end note, which in essence states that, “This is based on a true story”, the bare outline of which I knew. However the detail of that truth delivers a far more fascinating scenario than I’d hitherto imagined.

Hmmm, what next? I had a few false starts before I got to this book … do I go back to The Saskiad (the promise of the random paras I read in the second hand shop in Hereford didn’t stand up to closer scrutiny), or further back to White Mughals (a bit heavy going, although very good on the detail) …. or on to something completely different?

Buy it: Amazon link

The Colour of Heaven – James Runcie

I fear that historical novels are never ‘as good’ once you’ve read Dorothy Dunnett….

The plot of this relatively slim volume sounded promising enough – young orphan adopted by glass-making family is sent on a quest for Lapis Lazuli, the pigment that produces ‘the colour of heaven’ – but the telling is just too thin. Runcie skates over the thirteenth century’s scientific discoveries and their dissemination (spectacles) and the pre-Marco Polo travel and trade (travelling from Italy to present-day Afghanistan) with the concomitant meeting of cultures. And as for the love story, wholly unnecessary (unless Runcie is looking to sell the movie rights to Ridley Scott).

Dorothy, do it justice!!

Buy it: Amazon link

Passing Under Heaven – Justin Hill

Set in 9th century China at the twilight of the Tang Dynasty and their Empire, Justin Hill’s novel is a gem. It tells the tale of the doomed lives and loves of Minsiter Li, a Government Official from a powerful family, who buys as his concubine Little Flower/Lily, a beautiful and educated orphan from the northerm fringes of the Empire. When their love thwarted by pride, custom and family, Lily turns to poetry and becomes a courtesan to the rich and powerful…. so far, so clich