I’m starting my first blog post of the year with a resolution and a new feature – a book review. I’m a member of quite a few Facebook groups where the one question that pops up every December is what’s your favourite book of the year. As I find it impossible to remember anything without writing it down, one of my resolutions for 2022 is to keep notes of my bedtime reading so that I can answer the question honestly when the time comes this year.
I could do all this on the Goodreads website. I joined Goodreads long before I was a writer but keeping my virtual bookshelves up to date has fallen by the wayside. Goodreads is a useful tool for keeping track of books read, but I’m not setting any targets. I don’t want a reading challenge. I’ll read what I want, when I want to. That’s why I won’t join a book club. Having to read for anything other than pleasure is too reminiscent of studying for exams. The minute reading becomes a task it ain’t fun, no matter how intellectually enlightened I’m supposed to feel at the end of it. Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (English O’Level) left permanent scars. Old man goes to sea in a boat, catches a fish, ties fish to his boat, other fish eat his fish, he returns to port empty handed. Did reading that book enhance my life? Not one iota. Totally pointless.
Many of the so called literary classics are far more likely to put teenagers off reading for life than instil a love of books. I do wonder who’s decreed some of these titles life enriching. Likewise, all those prestigious literary prize winners, and books listed in the Sunday papers as the “must reads before you die”.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude inexplicably falls into this category and is another book that left a permanent mark on my well-being – and not in a good way. Even worse, I read it under my own volition during my super school mom phase when it cropped up on my daughter’s US High school English syllabus and I wanted to be helpful with homework. If there’s one thing guaranteed to confuse your readers it’s to give multi-generations of the family all the same name. Just saying.
These “must read” lists are certainly not based on popular demand because talking of pointless stories, as in the ones above, we all know which author topped all the fiction charts in 2021 and is quite likely to do it again in 2022 with his latest offering.
Which brings me very swiftly onto my first book review of 2022. Yes, The Man Who Died Twice has been my bedtime reading for the first half of the month. It’s very easy to be critical, especially as an author who was unsuccessful in finding a literary agent or publisher prepared to take on her own cosy crime featuring a feisty pensioner. Envy is a nasty thing. We all know celebrities these days only have to be able to write a shopping list and they get snapped up by a publisher, blah, blah, blah.
The trouble is I’m actually a great fan of Richard Osman on TV, I like his sense of humour. His first book, The Thursday Murder Club appeared in my Christmas stocking in 2020, and my main complaint, with my author hat on, apart from the extremely complicated plotline, was the constant head-hopping between characters – and there were an awful lot of characters to keep up with. I’ve lost count of the number of novel writing courses/workshops/articles I’ve been on/read where wannabee authors are told not to switch points of views between characters – or at least not that many characters! Everyone in this story threw in their five pennyworth. That aside, I recognised the book for it what it was – a novel deliberately written to have mass appeal by a witty TV scriptwriter/producer, and who can blame him for trying. The Marketing Department at Penguin must have been rubbing their hands with glee when the manuscript landed on their desk.
Back to my review. Basically, for anyone who has been shut in a cupboard for the last few months, The Man Who Died Twice picks up where the first caper left off, four diverse pensioners in a swanky senior living village, setting out to solve a crime – in this case involving M15 and some stolen diamonds. It’s all very implausible, quintessentially British, and just like the first book, it has all the hallmarks of effortlessly transferring onto the silver screen with Dame Judi Dench and Penelope Wilton tucking into their sandwiches as they take the mini-bus into town to catch a Mafia boss.
Perhaps because I was used to the writing style and I knew the characters and accepted their flaws (although I still find Joyce extremely annoying) I preferred this story to the first. If you’re after intellectual self-improvement, forget it. This is not the book for you. But if you’re up for a lightweight romp through the Home counties, are happy with short snappy chapters, can overlook the ridiculous plotline, and keep track of all the characters and their histories…you’ll probably be well satisfied.
A 3 out of 5 from me.