As I've discussed in a previous post, reading is a big past-time for me and something I fervently recommend to others whenever I get the chance. But deciding what to read can be hard, wander into any bookshop and you'll immediately be greeted with endless isles, tables and shelves of works; their covers all emblazoned with bestselling, groundbreaking or gripping, all of which have been published to rave reviews. With everything purporting to be unmissable, it becomes near impossible to cut through the noise and not only find a book that grabs your interest but a book that resonates long after the last page has been turned.
So welcome to the Backlog, a series where I pick some exceptional reads both new and old that deserve your attention regardless of what kind of reader you are.
The three books we'll be discussing this edition will be:
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles : An increasingly surreal European black-comedy.
The Ring by Koji Suzuki : Japanese Horror with a twist.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy : A perfect and poignant Neo-Western.
"...The stable door was firmly closed as part of standard equine post-bolting procedures."
- Care of Wooden Floors
Care of Wooden Floors came as somewhat of a surprise to me conjured up from the depths of the Goodread's recommendation algorithm. I was initially grabbed by the title thinking that I had been recommended a home-improvement manual by accident and so had a look at just what this book was. A quick skim of the premise later and I decided to take the plunge.
Care of Wooden Floors follows our unnamed narrator as he is tasked with looking after the luxury eastern-European apartment of his high-flying composer friend Oscar. The task is simple enough; feed the cats, do not touch the piano, and do not damage the wooden floors. Given the fact this book is labelled as a comedy you can probably already guess where this going.
I won't be divulging spoilers here but Wooden Floors really took me by surprise, I was initially unsure of the premise of simply following someone looking after a flat for a few weeks but after a couple of pages I was hooked, ploughing through the book in only a few sittings, always waiting eagerly for the next...'escapade' to occur.
Care of Wooden Floors is the equivalent of watching things continually unravelling while you peek out from between your fingers. A fantastically enjoyable read that continually throws curveballs of "Oh God, what now?" at you where you can't help but feel morbidally curious for what our narrator will have to endure in this strange foreign land.
"It was just that, somehow, nobody here seemed quite...lifelike."
- The Ring
I was originally only aware of of The Ring through it's various cinematic adaptions, ignorant of the fact there was an actual novel behind it all. However one day I felt like reading something a little different, I had been working through various translated Korean and Japanese novels when this fell into my lap so I decided to give it a go.
The Ring reads like a slow-burn thriller at its' finest, a race-against-time to challenge what seem like insurmountable odds. We follow Asakawa, a Japanese Reporter, whose journalistic eye is grabbed by the recent deaths of four teenagers who all suffered heart-attacks at the same time on the same day.
With those around him dismissing the event as a freak coincidence, Asakawa decides to investigate, retracing the groups steps in the days leading up to their tragic end. His investigation leads him to stumble across a dishevelled video-tape that the 4 watched exactly a week before their demise and as such Asakawa decides to view the tape for himself, only to be greeted with a curse stating he will die in 7 days unless he...the tape cuts out.
What follows is a hair-raising ride as Asakawa battles with trying to understand whether the curse is real, whether the deaths were just a coincidence and what he must do to revert the curse if it is real. And just what kind of unspeakable evil is capable of conjuring up a possessed video tape anyway?
A gripping read that effectively builds suspense while keeping you on your toes.
"There is no description of a fool, he said, that you fail to satisfy. Now you're goin' to die."
- No Country for Old Men
I picked up No Country for Old Men while it was on sale digitally for 99p; the last couple of books I had read at that time had failed to really grab me so I felt I could use some kind of filler content while I searched for something better.
How wrong was I.
No Country for Old Men is currently the most impactful and perhaps even haunting book I have read this year. What lies amongst its' pages is an incredibly real and grounded look at ethics, free choice, and mortality in the unpredictable modern world.
We are introduced to Llewelyn Moss, our protagonist, while he is hunting near the Mexican border. As he is stalking some prey he notices a convoy of cars on the horizon; the windows shot in, its passengers left for dead and...a briefcase containing \$2.4 million dollars in drug money. What follows is a rapidly escalating game of cat-and-mouse as Llewelyn attempts to outrun the psychotic Chigurh, an unceasing hitman hired to retrieve the money at any cost.
As this plays out, we also follow the story and reflections of Sheriff Bell, an aging law enforcement officer attempting to solve the drug money case while struggling to come to terms with a world of crime that he has never seen before.
Drug money, hitmen, law enforcement; it would have been very easy for No Country to simply turn into a fairly typical run-and-gun thriller and that was the mindset I initially went in with. Instead I got a work of fiction that has more in common with a philosophical essay than the notion I originally had. We get an intense and grounded look at a cast of characters with their own unique and believable motivations, strengths and weaknesses that all want to do what's right through their own somewhat distorted lenses.
Llewelyn knows that the drug money will ensure that he and his wife are set for life and Sheriff Bell is a straight-shooting man of the law intending to bring justice to those that deserve it.
The standout here however is Chigurh, despite being a colossal looming force of destruction in the story, almost always one-step ahead, he is not without depth and somewhat-twisted compassion. He does allow those he has been sent for to redeem themselves with non-other than...a coin toss. His target calls the toss correctly, they live; they call wrong and...you can guess the rest.
My point with referring to this book as some kind of philosophical work is that we routinely see characters who are struggling to weigh up what is good in a world that, to some characters, is unrecognisable to that of which they grew up and were moulded by. In its' fairly trim ~300 of pages, we get a thorough examination of what it means to be human and to truly live in a society that might have just left you behind.