I have not finished any ARCs, lately, and I don't actually have long to go before I'm totally ARC-free, apart from older titles from last year's slump (partly deliberate; partly a plague thing, since many publishers temporarily shifted to e-galleys only). So, it's mini review time! All of these are under 200 pages.
The Malady of Death by Marguerite Duras is only 60 pages long, novella length at best, and that's why I read it. This year has been my most sluggish reading year in ages and I just needed to feel like I was reading productively, if only for a short time.
The story of a man who hires a woman to spend several weeks with him by the sea, The Malady of Death is very erotic, like everything else I've read by Duras. The male protagonist claims to have felt no love or desire in his life and is apparently trying to find out if he can acquire them. His lack of love is what the female, who claims not to be a prostitute, calls "the malady of death" — perhaps because there's something dead inside him.
Interesting, weird, thought-provoking, and a little unsettling, The Malady of Death is pretty much just a woman lying naked on white sheets with the sound of the black sea, the man exploring her body, without any feel for how time is passing. I'm sure the black and white emphasis is relevant. In the last few pages, the author describes how she believes the story should be staged if put on as a play or filmed.
Talkative Man by R. K. Narayan is my first by Narayan and I was impressed and delighted but thrown by the fact that I thought it was going to be about the Talkative Man, the narrator. It was not. Instead, the narrator tells the story of a man he encountered in the past.
When a stranger arrives in Malgudi (a fictional town in India) and takes up residence in the train station's waiting room, the Talkative Man (whose name is only mentioned once — mostly he goes by TM) is asked by the station master to find the stranger lodgings so that the station master won't lose his job if an inspection takes place.
The stranger, Rann, is disinterested in everything he's shown so TM moves him into his lavish home. But, what is Rann up to? He claims to be doing a job for the UN and writing a book. But, there's something shifty about this secretive world traveler. When TM figures it out, he comes up with a plan to save the young lady Rann is planning to run away with, a girl he's known since she was a baby.
Wonderful writing and not among the books Narayan is best known for. I can't wait to read more by him.
All Systems Red by Martha Wells is the first in the Murderbot Diaries series. Murderbot is what the part-human, part-robot narrator calls itself (it is neither male or female).
Murderbot is a security unit that has hacked its own governor module, meaning it isn't entirely controlled by outside forces. Instead, it can download updates to its system, shove them off to the side without actually inputting them, and pretend to follow the rules. When not on duty, it spends time watching videos.
Murderbot is not a big fan of humans and just wants to be left alone. But, on this particular job, the humans are friendly, a team of scientists conducting tests on a planet, where their corporate sponsors want to find out if mining the planet's resources will be profitable. There are two teams of scientists on the planet but when communication with the second team is suddenly lost, the scientists must find out what's going on.
All Systems Red is by far one of my favorites of the year, so far, for the action, the humor, the plot. I loved everything about it. I bought the first two (novella length) books in the series after a friend recommended them and then after reading All Systems Red, I bought the next two. And, you may have noticed that I bought the first full novel, last week. So, now I've got the entire series and I can bake my brain on Murderbot books, the next time I need a wild escape.
Jacob the Baker: Gentle Wisdom for a Complicated World by Noah benShea is the story of a man who writes down little bits of wisdom that pop into his head. He's also, of course, a baker. When he accidentally bakes one of his little bits of wisdom into a loaf of bread, the woman who bought the loaf of bread shows up to ask if he can share more bits of wisdom in further loaves to be given to her friends.
This begins Jacob's notoriety as a man of wisdom, from whom people seek answers. Jacob is patient with those who ask him for his thoughts, but sometimes he just wants to be alone. Still, he feels like it's important to share what he understands about life.
When I opened this book and started reading it, I thought I was going to hate it. I liked Tuesdays with Morrie, a similar kind of book, but generally speaking I'm not a fan of books filled with platitudes. And, yet, I enjoyed Jacob the Baker, primarily because of the protagonist. Jacob is very human. He's just a naturally philosophical guy. If he doesn't know the answers, he's not afraid to say so.
I liked all 4 of these books but All Systems Red and Talkative Man were 5-star reads, Jacob the Baker was interesting and somewhat meditative but not a book I'll hang onto, and The Malady of Death is a book that's a little too creepy for me, but definitely thought-provoking.
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