Following my trip to the library, from whence I hauled home 11 new books, this weekend has proved to be a veritable reading retreat. I finished off one book I had already started and devoured a further two.
First up was The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble. I read this one for a number of reasons, but it isn’t something I would usually have picked up. Way back in January, when I signed up for the Winter Classics Challenge, one of the books I wanted to read was The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong, the diaries of an eighteenth century Korean princess. I never got around to reading it for a number of reasons, but it was suggested to me that I might enjoy Drabble’s fiction novel, inspired by the same diaries. I did not. In short, I found the novel full of trite, irritating asides, and it never really went anywhere. I can see that the idea behind the novel was interesting, but Drabble’s realisation of that idea left a lot to be desired.
Thirteen Cents, by South African author K. Sello Duiker was a far more engaging read. Drawn from the author’s own experiences, the novel is a brief snapshot of a few months in the life of a street orphan in Cape Town. Having lost both parents, 13 year old Azure with his blue eyes and black skin is left to survive alone. He sleeps on the beach and makes his living by prostituting himself to men.
“A boy? I’m not a boy. I’ve seen a woman being raped by policemen at night near the station. I’ve seen w hite man let a [11 year old] boy get into his car. I’ve seen a couple drive over a street child and they still kept going. I’ve seen a woman give birth at the beach and throw it into the sea.”
Not exactly enjoyable, but certainly gripping. Although this is a gritty read, the narrator’s strong tone and refusal to be a victim holds it up. I thoroughly recommend this for an eye opening read – think City of Men (I’ve only seen the film, but I remember being horrified – very naively). I couldn’t have got further from magical realism if I’d tried!
Finally, yesterday’s read was The Fatal Eggs by Bulgakov. Who could resist a book with such a tempting title? It actually turned out to be a sci-fi dystopian vision of possible future scientific discoveries. A (somewhat) mad scientist in Russia discovers something in a strand of DNA that causes all organisms exposed to it to grow to gigantic proportions extremely quickly. Before he has had time to experiement with anything more significant than amoebas, Russia is struck by some form of poultry flu which wipes out their entire chicken population. The state initiates a project to use the new technology to grow more chickens in a short period of time, but everything goes wrong when instead of chicken eggs, they are sent the eggs of another type of animal. The consequences are disastrous. Not the type of thing I usually read, but I enjoyed it.