I have been reading a real mix of things over the last few days, like I have been selecting at whim from one of those sampler boxes of chocolates.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan is a very funny comedy of manners set amongst the stupendously rich (and crazy) descendants of the 17th and 18th century Chinese diaspora. Based mainly In Singapore, this satire reads like a cross between Dynasty, Pride & Prejudice and one of those sex-and-shopping blockbusters from the 70s and 80s. It is kind of fabulous, a quick read, really entertaining and very interesting about the nuanced hierachies, apart from money, which motivate and power this unusual world.
Also, in a bookseller-humour move, one of my colleagues displayed it next to Mohsin Hamid’s excellent novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. Nice.
In contrast, New Zealand writer Breton Dukes’ new collection Empty Bones and Other Stories is drastically different, as far from glitz and sparkle as you can imagine. The stories explore little slices of New Zealand life, many of them with an unsettling edge and various unlikeable characters. I loves his evocation of the warm, mangrove-edged far-North, and his descriptions of Dunedin and its scarfie (student) lives, precariously balanced on alcohol, friendship and youthful brio. The stories are raw, and funny and intense all at once, and I have found myself thinking about them a lot since I read it.
Then I had to read the new thriller from Icelandic sensation Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who when she isn’t writing excellent crime, is a civil engineer. Her work is atmospheric, often informed by the unusual and particular history and culture of Iceland, and she doesn’t indulge in bloodbaths to ramp up tension. Silence of the Sea is as good as her previous novels, with an interesting structure: a luxury yacht, being brought to Iceland from Portugal, crashes into the dock – the crew have disappeared as have the family that was on board – the man who works for the committee repossessing the vessel, his wife and two of their young children, twin girls. We get to follow the investigation into what has happened from Reykjavík, and the distressed families and friends left behind, and every other chapter tells the story of what is happening on board – there are incidents, people and thoughts that the reader is privy to, that half the characters in the book will never know about. Chills up the spine time.