|Out now in paperback|
I'm a voracious reader and depending upon length, I can get through a couple of books in a week. I read most of my fiction on my Kindle Paperwhite, late at night or in the early hours of the morning, with the light off - so that I don't disturb my longsuffering husband, although the thud as the Kindle slides onto the floor when I fall asleep has been known to wake him up with a jump.
Except that for a few weeks now, I haven't been able to find anything that I really want to read. Which is crazy when you think about the number of books published each year.
Partly, I put it down to the fact that, having galloped through all of Fred Vargas's brilliant Commissaire Adamsberg novels, I'm feeling bereft without him. 'He' being Adamsberg. I know Vargas is female. But it's like the end of a love affair. Nothing quite matches up to the beloved, so everything I've tried to read since, with a few notable exceptions, has seemed a bit 'meh'.
If you don't know these books, you could do what I did, on the recommendation of my good friend Alison, who first introduced me to this writer: begin with the magnificent, magical Ghost Riders of Ordebec - captivating pretty much from the first page - and then go back to the beginning of the series.
I may just have to read them all again, I'm missing Adamsberg and his world so much.
Since I finished the last one, trying to read more slowly to prolong the pleasure, I've tried for a couple of months to find something equally involving, thought provoking and multi layered. I've searched and I've downloaded samples. And I've become ever more frustrated and angry.
Hyperbole. That's the problem.
Every book from the major publishers is now touted as the best thing ever. The over-promotion is almost bound to result in disappointment. Right now, at the tail end of a particularly grim period, I find myself looking for well written fiction, good storytelling, believable characters and a reasonable mix of triumph and tragedy. I don't need the best thing since sliced bread. I just need something well made and satisfying.
Last night though - and I'm naming no names - I came across a fairly new crime novel that had been praised to the moon and back. I downloaded a sample. I've learned the hard way about being tempted into buying something without first reading a chapter or two, unless I already know and love the author. It's one of the benefits of reading on a Kindle that you can do just that, and then go on to buy the book with ease. Even at 2am.
Except that when I opened the sample, instead of finding the first chapter, I found ELEVEN PAGES (I counted them in a rage, and I don't use a particularly large font size on my Kindle) of quotes telling me how wonderful this writer and his books were, just in case I was in any doubt. Now all publishers and self publishers add a few positive reviews to our books. I've just checked a couple of my traditionally published titles and there's a page of well chosen quotes. Even Ice Dancing, above, just out in paperback, has a single page. It's normal. But they're meant to reassure the potential reader, not browbeat them into submission.
By the time I had waded through page after page of turgid and exclamatory praise, I wasn't very well disposed towards the book itself. I read on a bit to see if it matched the promotional overkill. It didn't. It was ordinary. And a bit glib. There was a certain satisfaction to be had in deleting it, but I'd rather have had a really good read.
Still, all is not lost. I've gone back to Poldark - I read the first two books during the winter, and now I've turned to Book Three. What a relief to lose myself in vivid, well structured writing, great storytelling and above all engrossing characters - the kind of book you look forward to reading and then enjoy so much that you can hardly bear to put down. That magical, enviable sense of entering a world of someone else's creation - one that Vargas's quite different, but still wonderful Adamsberg novels gave me too.
If you haven't already read them, do try them.