One week since I last finished a book and I feel like I may have a struggle ahead. I’m still in the office on a Friday evening, waiting for my husband to finish his Christmas party so we can go home. I could start another book…..but it’s in the car! I’m looking forward to it though, because the one I finished today was not great.
I kind of feel you do have to read some ‘not great’ books in order to really appreciate the fantastic ones. When I finish a book that has really consumed me, as Human Traces did, I feel a type of a mourning and I can’t fully commit to another great book straight away. In any case, I have a confession to make. Although I wrote the last post while I was on a flight to London I decided that I could buy books on a technicality – I hadn’t yet published and publicised my pact. Plus, I was going to London, it was my first visit to the English speaking world since June, how could I not visit a bookshop? (Well ok, maybe Gibraltar counts as English Speaking world, but its bookshops don’t).Anyway, now that I’m writing this I can’t use that argument any more, even when I’m at home over Christmas….though I imagine I’ll get some books as presents.
So I bought this book, Last Snow by Eric Van Lustbader. I never heard of the author before (although it turns out I have another book of his….any guesses how?) so basically the thing that sucked me in was the Russian setting. I’m a sucker for a story set in Russia. It didn’t really occur to me that it was going to be such a stereotypical American action story. Maybe it’s because I’ve read mostly decent ones lately, but this just seemed like pure tripe. I had to finish it though, I really did, even though D asked me why I couldn’t just abandon it.
Well part of it was due to this idea of finishing and part of it was the movement of the action to Kyiv with mention of Alushta. I’ve never read a story based in Alushta before and just reading the name brought me back to summer 9 years ago. In the book the characters fly to Simferopol and then drive to Alushta. I took a 29 hour train journey from Belarus; it was fun. I had just realised at a wedding before that I was able to communicate in Russian and on the train I tried it out with some of the different characters we met along the way. I did suffer through some snores in that 54 bunk carriage though. I also read a lot of books. Back then I was reading a lot of British Council library books and classics that were sold at the weekend market in Minsk. From Simferopol we took the longest trolleybus journey in the world to Alushta. I’m not exaggerating. Wikipedia tells me it’s true.
Alushta – I can’t say that it was the most beautiful town, but I had a great time there. It’s probably the Russian equivalent of going to Mallorca or Tenerife. People are not exactly going for the culture. But I loved it. Looking back it seems like a carefree time. Of course I know it wasn’t the case, but I was about to go home, I had very little money but enough to enjoy myself in Eastern Europe. I didn’t have a job, but I didn’t have any obligations either. Two of my books that I’ve started on would have been set there, by default I suppose because I needed a Crimean location and that was where I’d spent most time. I think I’d need another research trip though first!
So to drag myself back to the book….Alushta was just a name and a location for a villa, nothing more, a name picked from a map most likely. I didn’t warm to any of the characters. There were twists and turns but they either did not surprise me or I just didn’t care. This guy is good, no wait he’s bad, oh no he’s good again. I couldn’t even tell you if the plot made sense, I cared that little. I have to mention the most ridiculous scene though, which is set at the airport in Simferopol, when a number of characters try to make a run for it across the runway. Maybe, just maybe it might have worked on film, something starring Tom Cruise or some other old style American action hero. You know, it would have been one of those scenes where your brain would have told you it’s stupid but you’ve switched your brain off and you’re just enjoying the popcorn. But reading it in cold print it’s just plain old stupid.
The book is part of a series and I could have chosen to read 20 pages of the next episode but I didn’t bother. My mourning is over and I’m ready for a book I hope I’ll sink my teeth into….another illicit London buy.